A Family Tragedy … 2

www-St-Takla-org--20-David-weeping-over-the-death-of-AbsalomOne of the most tragic portions of the Old Testament is found in 2 Samuel 18:33, “And the king (David) was deeply moved (upon hearing his son Absalom had been killed) and went up to the chamber above the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, ‘O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!’” Last week I asked you to think about what the key issue was that if properly addressed might have prevented this tragic family situation? Many of you responded very perceptively and I think that most of you noted it was because David did not deal properly with the rape of Tamar—in fact, he did not deal with it at all. He was not only the King but also the Judge of Israel and yet, he did not do justly. Amnon was not confronted, nor was he made to take responsibility for his deed.

Absalom was not only angry at his half-brother Amnon for the rape of his sister, but also angry at David for his lack of justice. While Absalom’s murder of Amnon two years later cannot be justified, it can be understood. Once again King David made a terrible mistake and allowed a crime to go unpunished, because it was committed by a member of his own family. David did not carry out God’s justice for disobedience to his laws and commandments and allowed his ambivalent family relations to get in the way of conducting righteous leadership.

Absalom returned to Jerusalem and two years later demanded to see his father David. “Now then, I want to see the king’s face, and if I am guilty of anything, let him put me to death.” Absalom essentially sought a full pardon, but showed no sign of repentance. He believed his father would not put him to death. When he went in to see the king “he bowed down with his face to the ground. And the king kissed Absalom” (2 Sam 14:32). King David indulgently forgave his son and gave him a semblance of reconciliation with the royal family, but totally ignored the need for repentance and justice. David was not authorized to pardon his son because of his conflict of interest. A court of impartial judges should have dealt with the matter.

These mistakes in godly leadership eventually led to the fulfillment of the curse Nathan pronounced on David years earlier for his sin with Bathsheba. 2 Sam. 12:10-12, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you.’” Does this mean that all of this tragedy was inevitable as a punishment, or did it mean that God knew David’s heart (just like he knew Pharaoh’s) and he knew the outcome? I think the latter. If David was half as concerned with his family, and sought God’s wisdom for it as much as he was about beating up on the Philistines, he could have prevented this tragedy. It could be argued that Absalom might have rebelled anyway, but it wouldn’t have been justified (in his mind, at least) by his father’s indulgent passivity.

A general application of all this is certainly the importance of dealing with issues as they arise. Don’t let them fester or else they might create complexities that seem overwhelming and impossible with which to deal. The other take away is meant particularly for fathers. If you were as passive and detached in your job or ministries as you are in your family, where would you be right now in your employment? Might I suggest you would be unemployed or without a ministry? Turn your heart and your attention towards home. May you weep for your children now, so you won’t need to weep for them later.

A Family Tragedy…

absalom-2 As a pastor, I have learned that I cannot fix people who come to me for counseling. It was a turning point in my ministry to realize this and that only God can correct the problems of the human heart. However, I still wish I had the ability to do something that I know is even more impossible. I wish I could go back to that very moment in my counselee’s life when things began to unravel and have them address that situation properly. I was reminded of this earlier this week when I was reading the tragic story of David and his son Absalom in 2 Samuel 13-18.

One of David’s many sons, Amnon, lusted after his half-sister Tamar and raped her. She was disgraced. She was no longer a virgin and no man would want to marry her. When her brother Absalom found out about it, he remained silent and “spoke neither good nor bad” to Amnon. When David heard what happened he was furious, but never took any action

Prince Absalom (for he was next in line for the throne) took his sister in and cared for; “So Tamar lived a desolate woman in her brother Absalom’s house” (2 Sam 13:20). He even named one of his daughters after her to cheer her up. Absalom hated Amnon, and this hatred festered for two years until he hatched a plan to have Ammon killed by some of his servants while attending a party at his house. Then he fled the country; a refugee from his father’s kingdom for three years. Now David had lost both of his sons and was grieved. His servant Joab knew how David longed to be with Absalom again and devised a plan for his return. Joab resorted to trickery and deception to get what he wanted.

David relented and sent for Absalom to return to Jerusalem, but he was not allowed to see David’s face again nor enter his house. David was torn between love and anger over his son’s behavior and his ambivalence was shown by just not dealing with the situation. Maybe you have a relationship like that. Your relative lives on the other side of town, but haven’t spoken in years because of unresolved issues.

Two more years went by (so that was seven years after the Tamar affair; five years after the murder of Amnon) and David still refused to see Absalom. Finally, Absalom forced the issue with Joab who got him an appointment to see his father. Here is what the Bible records about their long awaited meeting: “So he came to the king and bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king, and the king kissed Absalom” (2 Sam 14:33). That’s it? Well at least it was something, but what did it accomplish? How deep was Absalom’s repentance? I would say that he bowed down on the outside but he was standing ramrod straight with defiance in his heart. The very next verse details the beginning of his conspiracy to steal the kingdom from his father, which ends in the terrible tragedy of Absalom’s death and a heartbroken father crying out in grief. Where did it all begin? If we could go back and address the key issue, what would it have been?

I have my thoughts on the matter, which I will tell you next week. I’d like you to think about it too. Go back over the text again. What was the key issue that if properly addressed may have prevented this tragic family situation? Maybe you can let me know what you think.

Why I am not a Roman Catholic Christian…

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This is the third article on the new openness in the Roman Catholic Church. Although I am impressed with Pope Francis and find his inclusivity very welcoming, there remain significant reasons why I am not a Roman Catholic Christian. The Roman Church is sacerdotal in that it holds that grace is communicated solely by and through the ministrations of the Church. Therefore “outside the church there is no salvation.” And yet the early Christian Church believed that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

The Roman Catholic Church also has a remedy to our sin that differs from Scripture. As David Norris has said, “They maintain that man possesses within himself, within his own mind, all that is necessary to set things on the right track and God is obliged to assist where necessary. The Scriptures teach differently. The natural man is unable in and of himself to understand and accept Christian truth. As he now stands by nature, every man is devoid of spiritual life, is completely insensible to the realities of the spiritual world, and in no position to receive the things of God. ‘The natural person [unregenerate] does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned’ (1 Cor 2:14). The whole soul, feelings, intellect, and will, all need regeneration. The whole world, man himself, is not intelligible without reference to God. It is the false understanding of man and his capabilities that must be questioned, where he rather than God is made the ultimate reference point.”

The Reformers, Luther, Calvin and others believed not only that the power of God is needed to make us alive (Eph 2:5) and to understand the things of God (John 3:3), but that salvation comes not gradually but in a moment by His free mercy to all who through faith trust in the merits of Christ alone. The saving grace of God does not simply make a provision for all to access salvation, but it actually saves. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8, 9)..

Martin Luther in his Smalcald Articles wrote: “But the Gospel means nothing but a proclamation and heralding of the grace and mercy of God through Jesus Christ, merited, and procured through His death…. For it does not bid us do works whereby we may become righteous, but proclaims to us the grace of God, bestowed freely, and apart from any merit of our own; and it tells how Christ has taken our place, and rendered satisfaction for our sins, and cancelled them, and by His own works justifies and saves us… Whoever sets forth this, by preaching or writing, he teaches the true Gospel, as all the Apostles did, especially St Paul and St Peter, in their Epistles. So that all, whatever it be, that sets forth this one and the same Gospel, although one may use a different method, and speak of it in different language from another… But yet, if it tends to this point, that Christ is our Savior, and we through faith in Him, apart from works of our own, are justified and saved, it is still the same Word, and but one Gospel, just as there is but one faith and one baptism in the whole Christian world.”

I am a sinner by birth and by choice. I am dead in my spiritual life and cannot make myself alive. In my natural state I can hear about God and practice my religious duties, but it is like taking a bath in the muddy waters of the Ganges. I feel clean for a moment, but only on the outside. Then I hear the Gospel and God makes me alive; “I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; my chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose went forth and followed thee.” (Charles Wesley) In the Gospel I see my own depravity and that faith in Christ alone, not in the Church alone, brings the forgiveness of all my sin.

I believe that the task of the Church is to preach Christ and not mediate Christ. Gifts, sacrifices, penance, condign and congruent merit are not able to save nor perfect my conscience as a worshipper. Only the merits of Christ’s death can save me to the “uttermost” (Heb 7:25) and purify my conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Heb 9:14). Not the labor of my hands, can fulfill Thy law’s demands; could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and Thou alone. (Augustus Toplady) He/She who believes this is a Christian, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic.

Ouside the Church there is no salvation?

Creation-Of-Adam-thumb-400x266-300x199Last week we began a conversation about what the Pope said last May when he was celebrating Mass: “The Lord has redeemed all of us, with the blood of Christ; all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone. ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!” What did he mean by the blood of Christ being for everyone, including atheists? Will people who do not believe in Jesus get into heaven simply by obeying their conscience or their sincerity? I mentioned that although it sounds like a new openness in the Church, the Pope is not breaking new theological ground as much as going back and deeper into Roman Catholic Theology.

The Roman Church is sacerdotal which means that grace is communicated solely by and through the ministry of the Church. In other words, “outside of the church there is no salvation.” (Extra ecclesiam nulla salus). This very intolerant and exclusive sounding phrase first spoken by Cyprian (3rd century) against schismatics, in our modern ecumenical age has been “re-formulated” by the Church in a positive and inclusive way. Reading through the Catechism of the Catholic Church [(2nd edition) Part One, Section Two, chapter 3, article 9, paragraph 3] is insightful. There is a section on how the RC Church views Protestants as separated brethren: However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers . . . . All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church. That’s good to know.

There are also affirming statements reaching out to the Orthodox, the Jews, and the Muslims. What about others? The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as “a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life.”… To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son’s Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is “the world reconciled.” She is that bark which “in the full sail of the Lord’s cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world.” According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah’s ark, which alone saves from the flood.

“Outside the Church there is no salvation” How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body: Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.

This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church: Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation. “Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.”

Thus Pope Francis would still agree that “outside the Church there is no salvation.” However, he does not see it as an exclusive statement indicating damnation for all who are not in the Church as much as a positive invitation and welcome to all who are outside the Church. Keep in mind that Pope Francis recently quoted Pope Paul saying “It’s an absurd dichotomy to think one can live with Jesus, but without the Church, to follow Jesus outside the Church, to love Jesus and not the Church.”

So, with all of the positive vibes being communicated by the Pope, why am I not a Roman Catholic Christian? I’ll tell you next week. Have a good one…