The Heartbeat
"Who has believed what he has heard from us…?" – Isaiah 53:1

For some time now I have been making my way through the book of Isaiah as part of my devotional time. Recently I again read Isaiah 53. As a Christian, try as hard as I can, I simply cannot understand that chapter as anything other than a prophetic passage about Jesus. I know that unbelieving Jews have suggested it is speaking of Israel as a nation, but it sure sounds a lot more like a prophecy about Jesus. Indeed, the fact that a reading of Isaiah 53 is skipped over in synagogues today implies that even most Jewish leaders are troubled by it (thinking that, yes, it sure does sound a lot like Jesus).

So here is my question: why don't modern Jews just accept that that is what Isaiah 53 is about? Why don't…why won't…modern Jews accept Jesus as the promised Messiah?

"Do not be deceived…" – 1 Corinthians 6:9b

Everyone wants to be accepted. The irony of this entire issue of transgenderism is that the kind of acceptance that our society has expressed towards the transgender is rooted in what has historically been seen as Christian love and an understanding of God's grace. In church life we are all quite quick to confess that "we are all sinners, saved by grace." That notion of grace is what is behind our western society's acceptance of all "sinners."

There is a problem with this, however, and Alexander Pope (1699-1744) summarized it well in a short poem:

Vice is a monster of so frightful mean
As to be hated; needs but to be seen
Yet seen too oft – familiar with her face
We first endure, then pity, then embrace

"Do not be deceived…" – 1 Corinthians 6:9b

Following years of captivity, first by the Assyrians and later by the Babylonians, Jews were returning to their ancient homeland of Israel in the 5th century before Christ. Prophets of God like Ezra and Nehemiah chronicled this return, challenging the people to (finally) be done with idolatry, and to live holy lives pleasing to God so that they should never again need to go through such a time of purging.

One of the occurrences during this period of "captivity" was that many Jewish men had married non-Jewish foreign women. The marrying of a woman outside of Jewish ancestry was never considered a sin. The judge Samson did this as well as did Boaz, an ancestor of King David (and ultimately of Christ). But many of these non-Jewish wives were themselves pagan idolaters, an influence for unrighteousness. To the husbands of such women Ezra said, "Separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives" (Ezra 10:11). The end of the book of Ezra recounts how the Jewish men took Ezra's challenge to heart and separated themselves from these women.

"Do not be deceived…" – 1 Corinthians 6:9b

There is, of course, an entirely different way to view all of this. That is to say, instead of trying to understand St. Paul within his historic context, and by means of that suggested understanding do away with the sexual obligations placed upon us, we regard Paul's application of Mosaic Law as reflecting not merely God's intent for a certain nation for a certain period of time, but as God's intent for all of mankind forever. Indeed, this has been the church's take on Paul for the bulk of the past 2,000 years.

Certainly the case can be made (and has been made) that the church's understanding of what is required of us, sexually, can be gleaned from the Old Testament scriptures: that incest, adultery, homosexual practice, dressing so as to look like one of the opposite sex, and bestiality are all wrong. And why are they wrong? Because God has said they are wrong, even to the point of calling some of these an "abomination." That has been the approach of the church for nearly 2,000 years and for nearly 2,000 years that belief held sway in nearly all of western civilization.

"Do not be deceived…" – 1 Corinthians 6:9b

Having established that the scriptures call us both to a confession of Jesus as Lord (with an accompanying repentance from sin and baptism in his name) as well as to a holy life, the New Testament's presentation of a holy life appears to be deeply rooted in Old Covenant Law, the Law of Moses. Indeed Paul's continual call to a holy life seems inextricably tied to Mosaic Law.

2) The Old Covenant Law of Moses was quite explicit in addressing issues of sex, sexuality, sexual orientation and even gender identity. In order to move this along let's look at just one passage that is pertinent to today's subject…

"A woman shall not wear a man's garment, nor shall a man put on a woman's cloak. For whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God." – Deuteronomy 22:5

"Do not be deceived…" – 1 Corinthians 6:9b

We are dealing with the topic of transgenderism or what is called gender dysphoria. As Christians we believe that our salvation is rooted in Christ's work. We are saved by grace, through faith. But apart from some very simple basics of belief, the Bible also addresses issues of our behavior. That is to say, one gets the clear impression from the New Testament scriptures that it is not enough to "simply believe." HOW we live is seemingly just about as important as WHAT we confess.

So here is where things get muddy: in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul tells his readers in Corinth (a congregation of both Jews and Gentiles),

"Do not be deceived…" – 1 Corinthians 6:9b

Every generation deals with issues affecting a part of the population. Out of the struggles over these issues have come laws pertaining to income taxes, the draft, child labor, civil rights, equal rights, minimum hourly salaries, abortion, homosexuality, those with disabilities and a myriad of other "social" issues. And now, of late, is the topic of transgenderism or gender dysphoria (formerly identified as gender identity disorder). This affects a fairly small part of the American public (roughly 0.002 to 0.015 percent according to the American Psychiatric Association; some surveys have suggested it is far more prevalent than this), but what is decided about it has ramifications for nearly all of us.

"…without hope, without God, in the world." – Ephesians 2:12c

The material man is the man who believes that all that can be seen is all that there is. To this man there is no immaterial world; there is no world of spirits, or gods, angels or fairies. Psychology may be the study of the soul but there really is no soul. The material man may use the language of love or hate, of hope or despair, but at those times he is borrowing the language of a world in which he does not believe. For the world of the strict materialist is a world that is bleak: void of color, art, or dreams.

G.K. Chesterton, the quite brilliant English Roman Catholic writer of the early 20th century, in a book worth reading (Orthodoxy) writes,

"Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, 'I have not pleasure in them.'" – Ecclesiastes 12:1 (ESV)

A number of years ago I visited an unnamed older man whom I will here call "Jim." Jim was living at Brethren Village and was, by that point, in great need of care. He had been a school teacher who, in earlier years, had taken great delight in teaching by means of the Socratic method (asking questions). At church, while teaching, he enjoyed few things more than playing the devil's advocate so as to try and make his students THINK. But now, due to a stroke, he was unable to walk and unable to get around without assistance. Life was difficult and he often felt he had little support. And so it was that while visiting him I asked him, "If you could have one thing, what would you like?" It was to that question that Jim said, after a long pause, "A vanilla milkshake!" And so I said, "Then that's what you're going to get!"

"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day." – 2 Corinthians 4:16

In last week's Heartbeat I addressed the issue of "these bodies," speaking of our human bodies. This week I would like to go a bit deeper.

Since the time of my first COVID vaccination shot I have been fatigued. The timing of that first shot was such that I almost immediately was on a plane to Arizona. The Arizona trip was followed by a Nevada trip, and that by a Pittsburgh trip and then a New York City trip. Between these various trips happened to be plenty of projects both around the church building as well as around the house, plus counseling, writing, visiting, special meetings, board meetings, interviewing fellows interested in pastoring at Burning Hearts, etc. The bottom line is that I just couldn't seem to get caught up in terms of rest. The end result of this fatigue has been exhaustion coupled with some mental lapses (like forgetting to put grape juice in the cups on a communion Sunday!!!) This, in turn, has resulted in some good conversations with Ruth about life. Here is the upshot of those conversations:

"What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." – James 4:14b

My dad is now 93 years of age. At 5' 8 ½" I used to look him pretty much in the eye. But not any longer. He has shrunk…a lot. It has been my take on him for many years now that I have been blessed with the fact that he is nearly exactly 25 years older than I. So if I want to see what life is going to look like for me in 25 years, I simply look at my dad.

My dad was doing quite well up until about age 85. He was, for his age, quite strong and very mobile: able to walk briskly, play tennis, and do yard work. But then he had the first of his T.I.A.s – transient ischemic attacks – mini-strokes. My sisters and I happened to be with him when the first one came, on a Sunday morning. We could sense he wasn't right, we could hear the blurred speech, we felt uneasy with him driving his truck (with us all in it) to church. It was not a good day. I think of these TIA mini-strokes as small attacks upon a person's health, sort of a chipping away at who they once were. A little bit here, a little bit there. But over time that person who was once the essence of health appears as a mere shadow of their former self. That's the situation with my dad. And in 25 years…well, we'll have to wait and see what my lot shall be.

"For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. Purge the evil person from among you." – 1 Corinthians 5:12-13

Although I have addressed this issue many times before, allow me to speak to it one more time: the issue of how the church should view those involved in the LGBTQ+ lifestyle and manner of thinking.

Burning Hearts, like every Biblically-based church, must be welcoming towards all. Regardless of what a person may think, believe, act like or how they may appear (within reason. "Come as you are" has some limits) the church repeats the words of Isaiah 55:1 and Matthew 11:28: "Come." So if anyone should ask, "Is your church welcoming towards gays?" or "Would a transgender person feel welcomed at Burning Hearts?" my hope is that you could honestly say, "Yes." For all are welcome to come: to sing, pray, and open the scriptures with us.

"I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity." – Ecclesiastes 2:18-19

These words, written by Solomon, were prophetic. He may have not realized it when he wrote these words, but they were an outline of what was to follow him. For upon his death, his son, Rehoboam, became king over Israel. If Solomon was known for his wisdom, Rehoboam became known as a fool. By his own foolish decisions, the kingdom split in two. What had once been a glorious kingdom and even a world-class power (for 80 years or so) was decimated into two struggling entities. Yes, all is vanity.

"Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.” – 1 Corinthians 14:29 (ESV)

As I survey the modern church, few verses of scripture are as significant as 1 Corinthians 14:29 in helping us discern God's plan for us.

The modern church is divided over spiritual gifts. This division exists not only in reference to the "sign gifts" (tongues, interpretation of tongues, and healing), but also in regards to the gift of prophecy. This is somewhat ironic in light of the fact that the apostle Paul – the man to whose teaching on spiritual gifts we consider our guide – deemed prophecy as the spiritual gift which should be the most sought after (1 Corinthians 14:1).

Last Sunday, Ruth and I were in Fayetteville, NC visiting our son, David, and his fiancée, Liz. They are engaged to be married when David returns from an army deployment that will have him out of the country for the remainder of this year. We were glad we could make the visit and were also glad that they invited us to join them at the church they have been attending.

In Lancaster County, Pennsylvania we tend to think of ourselves as living in the "Bible belt" (and we do), but that belt in North Carolina is even bigger. It is Baptist country and the church, and church life, are a large part of most people's lives.

It is always interesting to visit another church. This was a large racially integrated church (probably 2,500 total) with three services. We went to the 9:30 am service. There were people in orange vests helping to park cars, people in orange vests at the doors greeting people ("Good to see you…glad to have you with us…good to see you…gland to have you with us…"), ushers in orange vests and finally (at the end of the service) counselors in orange vests. As we entered the auditorium the lights were low, with a loud recorded rhythmic beat of music going and on all three screens a stopwatch ticking down to exactly 9:30. At about 9:27 the seven band members got in place and at exactly 9:30 the service began. They got an A+ for punctuality!

"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…but because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions." – Ephesians 2:1,4 (NIV)

Most all of us have, at one time or another, have forgotten something. Maybe we walked down to the basement to only then ask ourselves, "Why did I come down here?" Or maybe we misplaced our keys, or our wallet. Or there may even have been one of those times that we cannot remember someone's name. As long as these are not daily occurrences we tend to write them off as no big deal – "part of getting older" we say. But for me, last Sunday topped any of these examples of forgetfulness. If you were not with us at church, you missed it. During communion, after passing out the bread (matzo unleavened bread supplied by Joan Carroll) I then lifted the lid on the tray of cups. The cups were all there but they were empty, no juice. For a second I literally thought, "Is someone pulling a trick on me?" I then looked at the bottom tray then lifted the lid on the other set of two trays. Empty cups…no juice in any of the cups. It then struck me, "I forgot to fill the cups!"

"For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive." – 1 Corinthians 15:22

The Bible teaches the resurrection of the dead. When the apostle Paul was being questioned by the Sanhedrin, and there realized that a belief in the resurrection of the dead separated the group, he capitalized on that division by siding with those who believed in the resurrection. And what Christian could ever do otherwise? For at the heart of our faith is the teaching that Christ "was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into hell; the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead" (Apostle's Creed).

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul states that everything hinges on this…that "if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins" (v.17). Indeed, if Christ was not raised from the dead, then we are still "lost" and we are "to be pitied more than all men" (vss.18-19). The sin of Adam had incurred death upon Adam and all his seed, but in Christ, the second Adam, all will be made alive.

It has been my experience that more than a few people that at one time named Jesus as their Savior and Lord now attend no church, often speak openly about their problems with the Bible and are quite weak when it comes to a profession of faith in Jesus. There can be many reasons for this, but one that comes up again and again is their problem with the early chapters of Genesis: things like the creation account (in six days), the age of mankind, or the idea of a global flood in the days of Noah. Some extend their issues with the Bible even further into Genesis as one man, just this past week wrote, "The Abraham and Isaac thing is a deal breaker for me."

These responses to various stories or portions of the Bible are, of course, hardly new. More than a hundred years ago popular agnostic speakers such as Robert G. Ingersoll made a decent living giving lectures aimed at making the audience aware of "problems with the Bible."

"In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes." – Judges 21:25

It was approximately 35 years ago when Ruth and I took our little firstborn child (Sarah) along with us to visit Washington, D.C. As part of that visit we went antiquing in Georgetown. At lunchtime we stopped in at a restaurant. After sitting there for fifteen minutes or so we came to the realization that we were at a "gay" restaurant. As a mixed couple we were an anomaly and as a mixed couple with a child a likely rarity. The food was good and all was fine. On the way out, for some reason we needed to take an elevator. It was while on that elevator that I, for the first time in my life, was consciously in the presence of someone whom I knew was not who they were suggesting they were. For with us on the elevator was a man, dressed as a woman. This was no Halloween get-up, no dressing for a skit or event. It was a man in a dress, trying to act and as much as possible be a woman.

"Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit' – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.' As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil." - James 4:13-16

It has now been several years since I began talking about walking across America in 2023. It all started when I took the time to write "My Life Story." THAT was a great endeavor, meant to give my children's children a Christ-centered overview of their Grandpa. But when I finished that autobiography I was struck with how it was all about things in the past, and only in the past. But what about the future? And so I began to think of things that I might do in the future that might be worth writing about. Ruth expressed interest in going on the walk as well and as one thing led to another, we now find ourselves with a 34.5' motorhome, a general plan for how the walk might take place and we're on the hunt for a couple to go with us (who would drive the motorhome 22 miles each day). I have put out the word that we are looking for such a couple but so far we have had no serious takers.

"Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness." – James 3:1 (ESV)

Former President Donald Trump's second impeachment trial is now past. Many made the case against him but, in the end, they lacked the two-thirds vote of the U.S. Senate to convict him. Some opposed the entire process as an "impeachment" has historically been used most principally to remove someone from an elected office. Given that Donald Trump is no longer serving as president the case seemed somewhat moot. But others argued that a precedent was being set by the proceedings – somewhat akin to a court awarding an injured party an exorbitant sum not so much to compensate them for their personal loss but rather to warn others of the threat that awaits them if they should err in a similar way.

Part of the case that was made against the former president is that given his position (as president) what he said, inferred, wrote, or defended could not and should not be viewed in the same way as any other American citizen. And so, it was argued, "this is not a case of freedom of speech" (protected by the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution). And "given his office, a president is held to a higher standard."

Upcoming Events

Young Adults Sunday School
01 Aug 2021 - 09:00AM
Older Adults Sunday School
01 Aug 2021 - 09:00AM
Worship Service
01 Aug 2021 - 10:30AM
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01 Aug 2021 - 07:00PM
INEVITABLE Musical
02 Aug 2021 - 07:00PM