Oswego Palladium Times Articles

THE PALLADIUM TIMES 

Church in Community: Disappearing Churches – September 27, 2014

by Pastor Kit Swartz

In his famous song from the 1960s, Pete Seeger asked, “Where have all the flowers gone?”   As we look around Oswego we could ask, where have all the churches gone?  Grace Presbyterian is now a parking lot.  The Methodist church on the west side burned down decades ago.  St. Louis’s Roman Catholic Church collapsed a few years ago.  The grand structures of the Church of the Resurrection (Episcopal) and the former St. Paul’s (Roman Catholic) are both gone.

More significantly, where have all the people in the churches gone?  It seems our community reflects the national trend of 20-40% of residents attending church regularly.  Some church buildings still stand but the people are gone.  First Presbyterian is gone and the building has been occupied by The American Legion since after the Second World War.  The east side Episcopal church is Valehaven Home, the east side Baptist church is gone and the synagogue that occupied that building is now in the process of merging with a congregation in Syracuse.  The Wesleyan church is gone as is St. John’s Roman Catholic Church.  Some other local Roman Catholic congregations are sharing priests and other resources due to declining participation.  In some cases, churches could not find a shepherd to care for the congregation and so the sheep were scattered.  Where have all the church people gone?

Some people participate in newer congregations.  Christian & Missionary Alliance, Elim Grace, New Covenant, Port City Assembly of God, and Reformed Presbyterian were each organized after 1960.  Still, the church community in Oswego is much diminished from that of “the greatest generation”.  It is often the case that the children and grandchildren of church people then are not themselves church people now.  As the buildings are gone, going or occupied for other purposes, the people are gone, going or occupied with other interests.  As we have lost much of our architectural heritage in church buildings, we have also lost much of our cultural heritage in church people.

All churches, without exception, worked hard to nurture faithful marriages, obedient children, a strong work ethic, honesty, generosity and community service.  The churches never had a perfect record in these things, but they usually produced decent people and solid citizens.  Not all decent people go to church and not all those who go to church are decent people.  Still, it seems reasonable to consider that the social and cultural challenges of broken marriages, single parents, violently rebellious children, teen pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, substance abuse, suicide and a general disinterest in the public good are to some considerable degree related to disappearing churches.

Your comments and questions are welcome at oswegorpc@hotmail.com

Invisible Churches – October 25, 2014 

by Pastor Kit Swartz

Last month we observed that church buildings and church people are disappearing from our community and that this seems to impact us negatively.  Today we consider how the remnant of churches and church people affect our community in a positive way.

The most obvious example of a church that performs significant community service is The Salvation Army.  It deserves their chosen slogan “Doing the Most Good” as they provide food, clothing and shelter to those most in need.

Other agencies are not so closely tied to a particular church but have historic and strong roots in local churches.  Catholic Charities is a church related organization that meets pressing needs in a very significant way.  Rural and Migrant Ministries of Oswego County provide primary medical care to the rural poor.  It had its genesis among Women Religious in the Diocese of Syracuse and continues to have significant participation and support from church people.  Unity Acres in Orwell is a ministry to homeless men that began and continues as a church related organization.  A number of people from various local churches work together to comfort and encourage those incarcerated in our county correctional facility.  The Thrifty Shopper store provides good items at very affordable prices.  As an arm of The Syracuse Rescue Mission, this enterprise is supported by church people.  The Pregnancy Care Center provides various supportive services to pregnant women and their families.  It was begun by local evangelical churches and church people who continue to support it with their time, talent and treasure.  The Connection Point and A Touch of Grace businesses are run by church people with the goal of providing goods and services that nurture our community.  Trinity Catholic School and The Oswego Community Christian School are staffed and supported by church people in service to the whole community.  Grace & Glory Ministries is run by the sacrificial service of many church people, helping youth learn important life skills.

Not as obvious, but equally significant, are the many non-church enterprises in our community that are served and supported by church people.  The Human Concerns Center is not a church ministry but many churches and church people participate in this important service.  Church people bless our public schools as teachers, tutors, aides, staff, students and parents.  Church people serve in local government, business and industry.  Church people work throughout our community to make it a better place.  It is not only church people who serve, but the religious commitments of church people motivate community service.

Even more, church people are committed to love their neighbors as themselves.  Without drawing attention, they take care of themselves and their families so the community is not burdened.  They take care of their fellow church members so the community is not burdened.  And they take care of friends, neighbors, coworkers and strangers so that the helping institutions of our community are not completely overwhelmed.  This is simply man’s humanity to man but, with church people, it is religiously motivated and directed.

In summary, some of what local churches and church people do for our community is obvious, some is not readily apparent and much of it is invisible.  Churches and church people deserve the appreciation and encouragement of our whole community for their labors for the common good.  And churches and church people have the calling from God to improve and increase their community service.  Churches and church people must do all we can for the common good.  We must not be just another special interest group that makes demands of our community and culture.  We are here to serve, not be served.

Your comments and questions are welcome at oswegorpc@hotmail.com

A Good Neighbor – November 22, 2014

by Pastor Kit Swartz

“Like a good neighbor” is a slogan for a well-known insurance company.  For this to be meaningful, we must have some idea of what a good neighbor is.  Following the rest of the slogan, a good neighbor is someone who “is there” for you when you need help.  For the insurance company to be there, it is necessary and right for you to pay a premium.  But good neighbors don’t require payment, they simply help you in any way they can.

The Great Commandment of the Christian life is “love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and your neighbor as yourself”.  Love for the neighbor is defined as fulfilling the law; namely, you shall not murder your neighbor but do all you can to protect and provide for their life.  You shall not commit adultery with your neighbor’s spouse but do all you can to protect and provide for their marriage.  You shall not steal from your neighbor but do all you can to protect and provide for their prosperity.  You shall not lie about your neighbor but do all you can to protect and provide for their good reputation.  You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor but do all you can to cultivate contentment in your own life so that you will not injure your neighbor in order to get what you want.

Many people don’t want the Ten Commandments chiseled into a big chunk of marble and installed in their public space.  Many people don’t want the Ten Commandments required of them by civil law.  But anyone would be happy to have a neighbor who keeps these commandments.  Who would not want a neighbor who is committed to help you, not hurt you; who won’t steal your stuff or run off with your wife and who won’t spread lies about you all over town?  Everyone wants a neighbor like that!

As Christians we are, and ought to be, a blessing to our community by being good neighbors.  This means keeping the Ten Commandments. We must devote ourselves to this and seek strength from God to do it.  Christians are not just another special interest group that makes demands of our community and culture.  We are here to serve, not be served.  And we serve by being good neighbors. As a good neighbor, we must be there.

Kit Swartz serves as Pastor-Teacher in the Oswego Reformed Presbyterian Church (www.oswegorpc.org)

Your comments and questions are welcome at oswegorpc@hotmail.com

Community Service:  Christmas Tradition &  New Year’s Resolution – December 27, 2014

by Pastor Kit Swartz

“We are happy to serve you” is the slogan on a famous New York City coffee cup.  This cup can be seen in many movies and TV shows set in The City.  It is so well-known that an artistic entrepreneur produced a ceramic version in both regular and espresso sizes!  “We are happy to serve you” is a wonderful motto for a Christian living in his neighborhood and community.  We are here to serve and we are called to be cheerful givers.

Service is the central theme of Christmas.  It is an essential element in its Christian roots and at least a nominal part of its modern observance.  Unlike most kings, Christ declared that He came to serve not be served.  The message of Christmas is that, though He is the Son of God, He took on our nature in order to serve us by dying for our sins so that we would live in His righteousness.  What an indescribable gift!  What an incredible service!  The Apostle Paul urges those who are spiritually united to Christ by faith to resolve to work out His service in our own lives.  A resolution at New Year’s to be “happy to serve” would be excellent. The goal of many is to compel others to serve them by means of political power, social pressure or financial incentive.  Many see themselves as superior and, therefore, in a position where they ought to be served.  But the essence of the Christian life is to see everyone around us in a position to be served and to see ourselves, in Christ, as their servants in His Name.

Service is a Christmas tradition and would be a wonderful New Year’s resolution.   Resolving to make “We are happy to serve you” a guiding principle in our marriage, family, workplace, neighborhood and community would certainly make for a happy new year.  What a powerfully transformative influence this manner of life would have on all our relationships and on the whole tone of our community life.  You might even want to get yourself one of those ceramic versions of the famous coffee cup as a daily reminder with your morning beverage.  You could get the regular or the espresso size.  I have one of each.  I need many reminders.

Kit Swartz serves as Pastor-Teacher in the Oswego Reformed Presbyterian Church (www.oswegorpc.org)

Your comments and questions are welcome at oswegorpc@hotmail.com

All Lives Matter – January 15, 2015

by Pastor Kit Swartz

Martin Luther King Day and Sanctity of Human Life Sunday are each celebrated in January in close proximity to each other.  This invites the consideration of a relationship between civil rights and abortion rights.  Dr. King was assassinated five years before Roe v. Wade, so the debate about his view on abortion rights will not end.  But he did connect civil rights to the Vietnam War in a speech given a year, almost to the day, before his death.  This speech indicated that his passion for the protection of life and liberty extended beyond issues of race.  So it is reasonable for us to see a thematic connection between these two annual celebrations.

In our current circumstances “Black Lives Matter” reminds us that racism remains a challenge to overcome in our hearts and in our streets.  Also, suicide is an ever increasing tragedy.  Like Dr. King, we should open our hearts to be concerned for every human being of any race and any stage and condition of life; black and white, young and old, whole and broken.

The issues involved in these great subjects are perpetual and the traditions of our civilization are well established.  Historically, such values are often communicated by basic questions and answers, often called catechism.  Here is one for your consideration in context of our January celebrations.

All Lives Matter: A Catechism for Human Life

  1. What is the 6th commandment?
    1. The 6th commandment is “You shall not murder”.
  1. What is murder?
    1. Murder is the killing of distinctly personal human life without just cause or without lawful authority from God.
  1. What is the consequence of murder?
    1. The consequence of murder is the fearful wrath and punishment of the Holy God.
  1. Is there any hope for murderers?
    1. There is hope even for murderers, both individuals and nations, in the forgiveness of sins and the gift of righteousness through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
  1. Why is murder prohibited by God?
    1. Murder is prohibited by God because He made distinctly personal human life in His very own image.
  1. Why is suicide a form of murder?
    1. Suicide is a form of murder because it is a killing of one’s own distinctly personal human life without lawful authority from God.
  1. When does distinctly personal human life begin?
    1. Distinctly personal human life begins at conception. In the 51st Psalm David speaks of himself as a person at his conception.  In Psalm 139, David speaks of God forming him, as a distinct human person, in the womb. 
  1. Why is abortion a form of murder?
    1. Abortion is a form of murder because it is a killing of distinctly personal life without just cause.
  1. What is the responsibility of civil government for murder?
    1. The responsibility of civil government for murder is to use its God-given power of coercion to punish those who murder according to the degree of their participation in this evil, weighing all aggravations and mitigations of it.
  1. What is the responsibility of a Christian for murder?
    1. The responsibility of a Christian for murder is to resist all temptations to it, to repent from any participation in it and to labor to bring the Gospel to all who are tempted to it or guilty of it.
  1. What is the responsibility of the church for murder?
    1. The responsibility of the church for murder is to teach and exhort its members in their duties respecting it, to witness to the state and the world of the sanctity of human life in all its forms and stages and of the evil of murder in all its kinds, and to bring the Gospel of forgiveness and restoration in Jesus Christ to all those who are guilty of this evil or oppressed by it.

Black lives do indeed matter.  Every human life matters to God.  Therefore, each and every human life must matter to us as well.

Kit Swartz serves as Pastor-Teacher in the Oswego Reformed Presbyterian Church (www.oswegorpc.org)

Your comments and questions are welcome at oswegorpc@hotmail.com

THE PALLADIUM TIMES 

Not! Unbroken – February 28, 2015

by Pastor Kit Swartz

“Unbroken” is a powerful movie about the amazing fortitude of the human spirit under vicious and relentless abuse.  The background of Louis Zamperini’s athletic gifts and driving ambition is carefully laid out in the movie.  It reveals attributes that enabled him to endure this crushing persecution.  All this leaves the viewer with an uplifting model of integrity and courage.  But it also leaves you with a sense of humiliation under your own failures.

The book by the same title continues where the movie ends, recounting the struggles Mr. Zamperini had when the war ended and he returned to his home in California.  The same anger and bitterness that sustained him, unbroken, against the horrors of war and captivity were now breaking him.  His brokenness was evident in alcoholism and the mistreatment of his wife.  Louis Zamperini was not unbroken now!  Where the brutal sins of others against him did not break him, his own sins against himself and others did.  Then, as the book relates, he heard about forgiveness and restoration through faith in Jesus Christ and was rescued from his brokenness.  He openly and happily testified to all these things throughout the remainder of his life.  His wartime heroics cannot be understood, ultimately and rightly, apart from his sorrows and joys after the war.

There is a great debate about why the movie did not include the story of his postwar life.  Some think that an anti-Christian prejudice is the reason.  But it is worth considering whether portraying conversions on screen is beyond the capacity of most audiences to comprehend as a real event.  Also, the point of the movie was to tell the story of an unbroken human spirit.  The rest of the story is about human brokenness and restoration in the very same person who had been unbroken.  All this is probably too much to attempt in a single major motion picture.

The story of Louis Zamperini’s conversion requires an audience to have a certain level of spiritual insight in order to understand and appreciate it.  Such insight is a gift from God, not a natural ability or human achievement.  3D movies require special glasses for the eyes.  The rest of Louis Zamperini’s story requires special glasses for the spirit.  This insight is a gift from God and prayer is the primary means to obtain it.  Ask and you will receive.

Louis Zamperini asked for restoration from his brokenness.  He asked for the forgiveness of his sins and the gift of Christ’s righteousness.  And Louis Zamperini received this wholeness that he asked for.  And so can you.  Ask and you will receive.

Kit Swartz serves as Pastor-Teacher in the Oswego Reformed Presbyterian Church (www.oswegorpc.org)

Your comments and questions are welcome at oswegorpc@hotmail.com

THE PALLADIUM TIMES 

Good Friday, Easter and Terrorism – March 28, 2015

by Pastor Kit Swartz

Throughout the history of Israel, the Lord raised up individuals to deliver His people from their enemies.  Moses, Joshua and the Judges are early examples.  But David is the most prominent example in the Old Testament.  Through David, God delivered His people from all their enemies on every side.  God raised up David for war and deliverance and then raised up his son Solomon for peace and prosperity.  God raised up Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon to discipline His criminally rebellious children (Israel) and then raised up Cyrus and Persia to deliver them.  The preeminent deliverer, of course, was Jesus Christ, the Son of David.  He delivered His people not just from a temporal enemy and weapons but from an ancient enemy, Satan, and his weapons of temptation, sin, death and hell.  Jesus delivered His people from their ultimate adversary by destroying his power of temptation with His obedience, his power of sin with His death (Good Friday), his power of death with His resurrection (Easter), his power of a place in hell with His ascension to prepare a place in heaven and his enslaving dominion with His liberating kingdom.  Even the Prince of Peace had to go to war in order to win the peace, and it is only by means of the future wrath of the Lamb against all the wicked that peace will be made perfect and permanent.  The Easter season is an ideal time to flee to Christ from all your enemies including, especially, Satan and his powers of temptation, sin, death and hell!

Terrorism in all its forms is the chaotic and destructive power of hell.  It employs the weapons of “ideolatry”: the arrogant and boastful idolatry of utopian ideology, whether atheistic or religious.  As an evil twin, it also employs the immorality of murder, rape, stealing, lying and envy.  Terrorism is a violation of the law of God. Therefore, it is also a violation of the very nature of things including the sanctity of human life.  Therefore, we need an “air campaign”; we need deliverance to come from heaven.  No mere man or nation is adequate for this.  Only Jesus Christ in His rule at the right hand of God is sufficient.  But it appears that few who hold earthly power are asking for His help.

I have no earthly authority or power to fight terrorism, but I am asking King Jesus for His help.  I am praying that He will make Himself known to modern terrorists like He did to Saul on the road to Damascus in the course of his acts of terror.  Jesus converted the terrorist Saul into the preacher Paul, from an apostle of hate to the apostle of love, from throwing people into prison to delivering people out of bondage and from taking life to giving it.  If not this, I am praying that Jesus will raise up someone like David among each group oppressed by terrorists to deliver their own people by destroying their enemies on every side.  If not this, I am praying that Jesus will raise up a great leader like Cyrus and a great nation like Persia to deliver the oppressed from their oppressors.  But I am also praying that, unlike such great kingdoms of the past, this great deliverer will not then become an oppressor.

For many nations of the world, it seems that we have forgotten our history and lost our minds.  We think that we can have peace without war when the truth is that there is peace only when someone wins the war and enforces the peace.  And the winner decides the nature of the peace.  Many nations justly destroyed Germany and Japan in the Second World War and then mercifully rebuilt these very same nations.  First justice, then mercy and, only then, peace.

If you do not secure justice against your enemies, then you will be conquered.  If you do not show mercy to your defeated enemies, then you will soon be at war with them again.  Justice and mercy are overwhelmingly costly.  But the only alternative is a dreadful peace in slavery to oppressors or constant war with the oppressed.  If we must go to war against terrorists, we must utterly destroy their wartime culture. Then, if possible, we must do all we can to rebuild them as a peaceful civilization.  A nation should never engage in war unless it is absolutely necessary to protect the liberty, peace and prosperity of the people they are responsible for.  That is a very difficult decision.  It is all the more difficult because it can be made too early or too late and war can be too much or too little.  It will never be perfect and it will always be horrible.  Why do we think our leaders can make it anything else?  It also carries with it the apparent futility of the moral obligation to rebuild for peace that which was destroyed in war.

There is a time for war and a time for peace, a time for uprooting and a time for planting; it is all pointless if there is no end to it when all things are put right by a perfect Judge.  Thank God that Jesus is coming to judge the world in perfect righteousness and for eternal peace.  The Apostle Paul says that His resurrection is the proof of this (Acts 17:31).  At that time, some scoffed, some considered and some believed.  What will you do this Easter and going forward?

Good Friday and Easter proclaim the victory of Christ against the ultimate terrorist and all his weapons.  Let us turn to Christ and ask Him to “deliver us from evil.”  Let us pray that He will deliver all those oppressed by any kind of evil in every place.  Happy Easter!  Pray for peace.

Kit Swartz serves as Pastor-Teacher in the Oswego Reformed Presbyterian Church (www.oswegorpc.org)

Your comments and questions are welcome at oswegorpc@hotmail.com

THE PALLADIUM TIMES

Grace, Mercy & Peace – April 25, 2015

by Pastor Kit Swartz

The Apostle Paul begins many of his letters with a greeting of “Grace and peace to you,” and a couple of others with “Grace, mercy and peace to you.”  In the original Greek, there is no connecting word or punctuation between the three elements, which emphasizes their close relationship.  Grace and peace go together because grace is where salvation begins, and peace is where it reaches its climax.  Grace is when God gives us the good things we don’t deserve.  Mercy is where He does not give us the bad things we do deserve.  We will now consider each of these three terms more fully.

Grace is when God gives us the good things we don’t deserve.  As the maker of all things and the one who appoints every event, God doesn’t owe anyone anything.  Rather, we as His creatures owe Him everything.  Therefore, any good thing we have and enjoy is a free gift from Him.  This truth invites us to ask Him for any good thing with the implicit commitment to use it in a way that pleases Him and is good for others.   This truth also obliges us to return thanks to Him for every good thing we receive and enjoy.

Mercy is when God does not give us the bad things we do deserve.  As sinners by broken nature and defective deeds, we rebel against God routinely in thought, word and deed.  We do things we know are wrong and fail to do things we know are right.  Though ruined by sin, our consciences are not entirely out of order unless we persevere in rebellion and lose the remnant of this sense of right and wrong.  Consequently, we also know that we deserve punishment, not reward.  Any good thing we do is simply what we owe to God, it does not deserve a reward.  Any bad thing we do is a betrayal of God and deserves punishment.

Peace is the outcome of grace and mercy.  Peace, in the biblical sense, is not just the absence of war, but also the presence of prosperity.  When we are delivered from bad things and given good things, then we have true peace.

How can God be just and still give us good things that we don’t deserve?  How can He be just and not give us the bad things that we do deserve?  It is because of what Jesus Christ has done.  Jesus, in His perfect obedience, earned many good things for everyone and, ultimately, all good things for those who give themselves to Him.  In His perfect death, He delivered everyone from many bad things and, ultimately, delivered His people from all bad things.  In His life and death, Jesus paid off the debt of our sins (mercy) and paid up the dues of our righteousness (grace) and, by these means, He earned peace and prosperity.  The fullness of these things belong to those who know Him, trust Him, love Him and serve Him.

Grace Mercy Peace.  Give thanks to Jesus for the measure of these things you now enjoy.  Ask Him for a greater measure of these things along with greater faithfulness in thanking Him.  Above all, give yourself to Jesus by trusting His promises and keeping His commandments so that you may enjoy His infinite, eternal and unchangeable grace, mercy and peace.

Kit Swartz serves as Pastor-Teacher in the Oswego Reformed Presbyterian Church (www.oswegorpc.org)

Your comments and questions are welcome at oswegorpc@hotmail.com

THE PALLADIUM TIMES

Mad Men – May 23, 2015

By Pastor Kit Swartz

The very popular television series by this title concluded recently.  I’ve seen only a few episodes but found them compelling in their deep emotional connection.  I recently visited the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City which has a major exhibition on the series including extensive video commentary by creator Matthew Weiner.  The thing that impresses me most in all of this is that the advertising industry in the 1960s and 70s is a window into an era characterized by self-indulgence and self-destruction.  And so we connect with familiar themes in unfamiliar or vaguely remembered history.  People are basically the same wherever and whenever they are.

The world of advertising seems to be a suitable thing to use as a setting for exploring human nature and relationships.  The following may be a useful definition of advertising: it is an enterprise that endeavors to evoke an emotional response in people in order to motivate and direct them to engage in behaviors that benefit the advertiser and those clients whom they represent.  A proof of the element of selfish interest is that advertisers often move people to engage in behaviors that are self-destructive such as smoking.  A verse from the letter of James in the New Testament is similar to our definition: “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”  Talk about “buyer’s remorse”!  The cruel fault in much advertising is that it abuses human weakness in order to serve itself.  It is simply tempting people to buy or do what will not help them and will even, perhaps, hurt them.  It seems to be more than a coincidence that advertisers routinely use words such as “tempting” and “irresistible”.  Ad men become “mad men” when they sell their souls to do evil by tempting others to engage in self-destructive behavior.  And it is a sad justice when the mad men destroy themselves by these same means.  Tempters are themselves tempted and, being carried away by their own lusts, are destroyed.

The Christian gospel is the opposite of advertising because it endeavors to evoke an emotional response in people in order to motivate and direct them to engage in behaviors that honor God and benefit them, usually at some cost to those who bring the gospel.  The gospel moves people to behaviors that build up, not tear down; behaviors such as comforting those who mourn, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, speaking truth in love to those who have lost their way, faithfulness in marriage, family and friendships, dealing honestly and justly in business, being content with what we have.  Contentment, by the way, is a powerful defense against the attacks of advertisers.  There are no dry lusts to be ignited into a raging fire by the sparks of their promotions.

We are mad if we allow advertisers to move us to pointless or self-destructive behaviors.  Solomon wisely said that, in themselves and apart from true virtue, “Laughter is madness and pleasure is pointless”.  We are worse than mad when we move others to injure themselves for our own benefit.  But we are Christians when, in humble reliance upon God’s grace to us in Christ, we pour out our lives to move others to turn to Christ for His salvation in order to live in a manner that glorifies God, blesses their neighbor and brings good to themselves.  The gospel is good news not mad advertising.

Kit Swartz serves as Pastor-Teacher in the Oswego Reformed Presbyterian Church (www.oswegorpc.org)

Your comments and questions are welcome at oswegorpc@hotmail.com

THE PALLADIUM TIMES

The Dangerous Error of Unconditional Forgiveness – June 27, 2015

by Pastor Kit Swartz       

Dylann Roof is accused of murdering nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday evening, June 17th, 2015.  Many family members of those slain declared their forgiveness of Mr. Roof.  This is certainly better than the violent and destructive responses to other recent tragedies and is rightly praised.  But, while generous and admirable, this declaration of forgiveness is also dangerously misleading.

The natural and necessary response of Christians when we are injured is to forgive others as we have been forgiven.  If we fail to do this, it is evidence that we ourselves are not truly forgiven.  But the Bible is equally clear that there is no forgiveness without repentance.  We ourselves are not forgiven without repentance and we cannot declare our forgiveness of others without their repentance.  To do so is to mislead people into thinking that they are forgiven whether or not they repent.  To declare forgiveness to Mr. Roof is to mislead him into thinking that he is forgiven even if he does not confess the sinfulness of his actions, turn from the hatred that motivated them and turn to Christ for grace to love and bless his neighbor.

Instead of declaring unconditional forgiveness, the Christian duty of the injured parties is to persuade Mr. Roof, humbly and lovingly, of his sin and of the forgiveness and restoration that is his through faith in Jesus Christ.  Christ died and was raised so that sinners like Mr. Roof – and you and me – would have forgiveness and new life.  But if Mr. Roof persists in his hatred, justifying his murders, he is not forgiven, is still dead in his sin and remains under that wrath of God in the final judgment.  To make Mr. Roof think that all is well is to endanger his soul and his eternal destiny.

Unconditional forgiveness is often advocated because it relieves those injured from self-destructive bitterness and the temptation to take their own vengeance.  But the Bible teaches that, if our faithful efforts to bring our victimizer to repentance fail, we must refer the whole matter to God and to the authorities He has established; namely, the church and the state.  The church has the authority to exile the unrepentant sinner from the church and the state has the authority to exile the unrepentant sinner from the state (e.g., prison).  These exiles are with a view to securing repentance and restoration.  Aggravations and mitigations must be considered but a true judgment must be made and a suitable discipline imposed for the good of society and for the good of the unrepentant sinner.

The declarations of forgiveness to Mr. Roof are generous and well-intentioned and, on those grounds, should be praised.  But they are also dangerously misleading and, for those reasons, must be corrected.

Kit Swartz serves as Pastor-Teacher in the Oswego Reformed Presbyterian Church (www.oswegorpc.org)

Your comments and questions are welcome at oswegorpc@hotmail.com

THE PALLADIUM TIMES

The Free Exercise of Religion – July 25, 2015

The beginning of the first amendment to the United States Constitution reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.  We will focus on the “prohibiting the free exercise” element.  The present difficulty is that historic, orthodox Christianity holds homosexuality to be evil and prohibits it by the power of the Spirit (e.g., excommunication) and the postmodern state holds it to be good and supports it by the power of the sword (e.g., ruinous fines, other penalties; gag orders; potential imprisonment).  How should an historic, orthodox Christian act in these circumstances?

First and foremost, an historic, orthodox Christian has liberty as a gift from God.  This is commonly called “Christian Liberty”.  It is the truth that, through faith in Christ, we are free from the bondage of compelling temptation and also from enslaving sin, endless death and hell.  We are freed into a compulsion to righteousness and also into eternal life and heaven.  This liberty is not given by the state and therefore cannot be taken by the state.  The state can take our property, freedom of movement and even life, but it cannot take our liberty.  We were created in the image of God with liberty, forfeited it by our sin and were restored to it by the life, death, resurrection and present rule of Jesus Christ.  If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.  Christian liberty is the first and greatest freedom of an historic, orthodox Christian.  No state can threaten this in the least.

Second, our supreme allegiance to God frees us from an absolute allegiance to the state.  We are bound to God as our Supreme Court and are therefore free from the laws and judgments of men that are in anything contrary to His Law.  This is commonly called “Liberty of Conscience”.  We are obligated by Him to submit to the laws of men including those laws that are unreasonable.  But, when those laws require us to do something God has prohibited or forbid us to do something God has commanded, we must obey God and disobey men rather than obey men and disobey God.  The Bible is full of such examples including, especially, the Israelite midwives in Egypt, Daniel and his friends in Babylon and Peter in Jerusalem.  The first commandment requires us to have no gods other than the true and living God, therefore we are free from all authority, however otherwise legitimate, in those specific things in which they require us to disobey Him.

What does this mean for us in our current circumstances?  It means that we may be forced into conscientious objection and civil disobedience.  This is not the fraudulent kind that looks for opportunities to disobey in order to draw attention to our convictions.  Instead, it is doing our best to love God and our neighbor, seeking to obey the state whenever possible but continuing to obey God when commanded to disobey Him.  We must do this quietly, humbly and with patient endurance.  The Israelite midwives were minding their own business when the state required them to participate in the murder of the male infants they delivered.  Because they were required by law to do that which God prohibited, they simply continued to do what they had been doing.  God’s law set them free even from the laws of the great state of Egypt.  Daniel had such integrity, even as a civil servant, that his enemies knew the only way to destroy him was by making his religion illegal.  He also simply continued to do what he had always done.  His practice was made illegal but that did not make it wrong and did not prohibit his free exercise of religion.  God’s law set him free even from the laws of the Medes and Persians.

But the Israelite women were liable to the wrath of Pharaoh and Daniel was actually thrown into the lion’s den.  So we must be prepared to suffer for our civil disobedience as well.  It is disobedience after all.  Suffering is often the price of gaining and maintaining liberty.  Christ died to give us liberty and we may need to suffer loss in order to enjoy liberty, exemplify it and pass it on to others.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you when you are persecuted for the sake of righteousness for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you”.  Salt burns decayed flesh and so is quickly washed away.  Light blinds those who love darkness and so is quickly extinguished.  But that is what an historic, orthodox Christian is called to be: the salt of the earth and the light of the world through faith in Christ.  Suffering for the sake of truth and righteousness is the normal Christian life.  The last two or three hundred years were an anomaly in the whole history of God’s people.  Most of the time, we were a persecuted minority not a ruling majority.  None of this argues against the legitimacy of one civil government contending with another to protect or restore the liberties of its citizens.  Such was the American Revolution.  But we are focusing on the duties of Christian private citizens who are facing tyranny.

Welcome to the old normal.  Suffer patiently in speaking truth and doing right.  Here we stand; we can’t do anything else.  God help us.

Kit Swartz serves as Pastor-Teacher in the Oswego Reformed Presbyterian Church (www.oswegorpc.org)

Your comments and questions are welcome at oswegorpc@hotmail.com  

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The Art of Forbearance – August 29, 2015

Forgiveness is expensive.  When we forgive someone for sinning against us, we pay the price for their sin rather than making them pay for it.  There must be justice, but in the Christian faith, justice may be satisfied by someone other than the offender.  In the Old Testament, the sacrificial system climaxed on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) when the High Priest confessed over the sacrifice “all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins” (Leviticus 16:21).  This picture and promise of actual and full forgiveness was accomplished by Jesus Christ when He paid the price for all the sins of all His people for all time (Hebrews 9-10).  His payment is sufficient for everyone, but effective only for those who turn from their sins to His righteousness.  So sin is expensive for anyone who forgives, but especially for God who gave His one and only Son to accomplish infinite, eternal and unchangeable forgiveness.

Consequently, forgiveness is not an appropriate means for dealing with small offenses.  Demanding repentance and offering forgiveness for a mere personal insult is like killing an ant with a nuclear weapon.  You ask too much of the offender in requiring repentance and, more importantly, you think too highly of yourself by offering forgiveness.  Sin occurs when we offend God by disobeying His law.  These are things that displease God even when they don’t displease us (our problem!).  But there are also those things that displease us that don’t necessarily displease God (not His problem!).  Repentance and forgiveness are the ways we are to deal with sin.  Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him; if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3).  But forbearance is how we are to deal with mere personal insults.  Forbearance neither requires repentance nor offers forgiveness.  Forbearance does nothing. Absolutely nothing.  Forbearance is simply putting up with personal offenses. Forbearance requires humility, gentleness and patience (Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 3:13).  Above all, forbearance requires love since “Love bears all things” (1Cor.13:7).  The promised result is peace (Ephesians 4:3; Colossians 3:15).

When someone sins against you by violating the law of God to your hurt, help them repent and, when they do, don’t make them pay the damages, but cover the loss yourself.  It is right from their side to make restitution like Zacchaeus did (Luke 19) but, from your side, don’t require it if your other obligations permit.  When someone merely offends you by violating your honor or preferences, don’t act as if you are God by requiring repentance and offering forgiveness.  Do nothing.  Just put up with it.  Reboot your soul by turning the other cheek and moving on (Matthew 5:39).  How much trouble would be avoided, and how much peace would be enjoyed, if we did not return evil for evil like The Three Stooges (1 Peter 3:9), but simply put up with merely personal offenses.

Kit Swartz serves as Pastor-Teacher in the Oswego Reformed Presbyterian Church (www.oswegorpc.org)

Your comments and questions are welcome at oswegorpc@hotmail.com

Audio and pdf outlines of sermons are available at www.sermonaudio.com , search “oswego”.

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I Do Is Enough! – September 26, 2015

Sexual assault and rape have become common complaints on college campuses.  Young people at this stage of life have strong sexual desire and capacity, and the college setting has many opportunities for these crimes.  Therefore, campuses are suitable places to begin reform.

“No Means No” was an early effort to restrain sexual assault and rape on college campuses.  Recently, California passed “Yes Means Yes” legislation and New York passed “Enough Is Enough”.  Both states are part of a movement that urges more than a negative response to unwanted sexual advances and, instead, requires an affirmative, conscious and voluntary response before sexual activity may be legally pursued.  “Yes” and a warm embrace are required rather than “no”and a knee to the groin.  Initiating sexual activity with someone who is asleep or incapacitated in any degree by drugs or alcohol is prohibited since there is no possibility of genuine consent.  Verbal or non-verbal affirmation is required.  Consent may be withdrawn at any time and consent to one form of sexual activity does not imply consent to another form.  New positive, verbal or non-verbal consent must be obtained for each new sexual activity.

There are many and various difficulties with these well-intentioned efforts.  If one person brings a charge against another for violating this law, what testimony or evidence can be presented?  It seems that it can only be the word of one against the other.  And what is the value of an affirmation in the heat of the moment?  Or is someone to inquire about sexual activity prior to saying “hello”?  Do not the circumstances of sexual desire impair judgment as surely as drugs or alcohol?  It is the very nature of sexual activity that you are free from all constraints, preferably including clothing and always including rigorous logic, so that you can fully enjoy the exquisite pleasures of sex.  And who can reasonably expect that withdrawn consent at any time can be effective in practice?

On the other hand, there is a very well-established means of expressing affirmative, conscious and voluntary consent to sexual activity.  It begins with two people building a foundation of mutual trust that leads them to make a legal commitment to each other.  There is no need for legislation to protect them from the liabilities of mutual distrust.  With clear heads and hearts, not incapacitated by drugs, alcohol or the heat of the moment, they affirm their consent “not unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately”.  They do this not alone in a dark room but publicly in the presence of many witnesses who implicitly pledge themselves to insure that these two people deal justly and kindly with each other.  The witnesses observe both a verbal consent and a non-verbal sign of consent; two witnesses that establish proof.  This well-established means of expressing affirmative, conscious and voluntary consent to sexual activity is, of course, a wedding.  Weddings and marriage are not infallible protections against sexual assault and rape but they have been much more successful than legislation is likely to be that is manifestly impractical.  Only “I do” is enough.

Kit Swartz serves as Pastor-Teacher in the Oswego Reformed Presbyterian Church (www.oswegorpc.org)

Your comments and questions are welcome at oswegorpc@hotmail.com

Audio and pdf outlines of sermons are available at www.sermonaudio.com, search “oswego”.

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Immigration – October 31, 2015

Immigration from south of the border into the United States is a long-standing and divisive issue.  Immigration from south and east of the borders into western Europe is a more recent, overwhelming and often tragic challenge, especially for the countries on the borders.  Emotions of fear and sentiments of kindness can sometimes prejudice clear thinking.  It seems prudent to consider basic principles and then to develop useful applications.  One goal is to be equipped to evaluate wisely the various solutions proposed by public figures.  A result is to be humbled by the great difficulty decision-makers face in trying to solve these complex problems.

You are invited to a Community Conversation at Bridie Manor from 7-8:30 p.m., November 12.  Note that neither Bridie Manor, nor The Palladium Times endorse this article.  The propositions for discussion, 10 of which are listed below, will be the reference points for the conversation.  They come out of Judeo-Christian convictions that underlie much of the cultural heritage of Western civilization.  It is hoped that these propositions will promote useful discussion.  All participants are invited to participate vigorously and are required to listen carefully and speak respectfully.  The propositions for this conversation are:

  1. Nations and their borders are God-given or, if you prefer, are legal precedents established by ancient usage or custom.  As such, they should be respected by nations and individuals.
  2. Nations have the right to admit or reject guests and to set the terms of their visits.
  3. Nations have the responsibility to protect their citizens by excluding immigrants who are a threat to their peace, safety and prosperity.
  4. Guests have the duty to seek prior permission to enter a country that is not their own.
  5. There are two kinds of immigrants.
  • Legal (or moral) immigrants are accepted by the host country and accomodate themselves to the culture and customs of the host country.  theses immigrants are affectionate toward the host country. They are committed to change themselves in order to fit the host country.
  • Illegal (or immoral) immigrants do not petition or are not accepted by the host country and/or do not accomodate themselves to the culture and customs of the host country. These immigrants are hostile toward  the host country. They are committed to change the host country in order to conform it to themselves.

  6. All immigrants, legal and illegal, are to be afforded all human rights; namely, no one is free to injure or kill them, to sexually exploit them, to economically oppress them, to bear false witness against them or even to maintain a hostile attitude toward them.

  7.  Legal immigrants are to be afforded civil rights, with the exception of voting and holding elected office.  They are to be afforded the legal protection and social provision enjoyed by citizens.  They are to be afforded all rights under the law, including the right to be paid for their labor in full and on time.  Their pressing needs (e.g., food, clothing, shelter) are to be met, primarily by the community rather than the civil government.  Citizens are to love and care for the legal immigrant just as they love and care for their fellow-citizens and themselves.  Nevertheless, the social provisions made by the civil government to citizens should be provided equally to legal immigrants.  If the community and the government are unwilling to deal with immigrants in this way, the immigrants should not be admitted to the nation.

  8.  Legal immigrants are obligated to obey all laws, including the payment of taxes, and to respect local customs, but they are not required to become citizens.

  9.  Citizens have the duty to love all immigrants, legal and illegal, and to care for the legal immigrant diligently.  Love for the illegal immigrant would be, primarily, helping them secure legal status if their illegality is merely formal (i.e., they are not hostile).  However, if the illegal immigrant is hostile, love for the neighbor would require protecting the community by asking the authorities to remove the dangerous immigrant.  Sanctuary cities should protect legal immigrants from injustice, not illegal immigrants from justice.

 10. A common motive for dealing graciously with immigrants is that many of us were hostile, illegal immigrants in one way or another or were not accepted by our community.  Also, many of us still do not fit completely in the culture we are a part of.  Therefore, we should deal wisely and compassionately with people who are like we were or still are.

We hope that you find these propositions sufficiently reasonable to be worthy of your time and effort in conversation such that you will join us at Bridie Manor on November 12..  A study outline and a lecture (pdf outline and audio) on immigration, both done in preparation for this article and conversation, are available on request to oswegorpc@hotmail.com.

Kit Swartz serves as Pastor-Teacher in the Oswego Reformed Presbyterian Church. (www.oswegorpc.org)  Your comments and questions are welcome at oswegorpc@hotmail.com.

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Thank Who? – November 28, 2015

Poetic license permits the grammatical error because I replace “thank you” with “thank who?” for the sake of rhyme.  My point is that thanksgiving has an object who is the source of the good things we give thanks for.

But we must begin by observing that something is missing.  The dark indulgences of Halloween hang over the light anticipations of Christmas excesses such that Thanksgiving is almost completely obscured.  Abundance consumes us as we vigorously pursue more of the things that fail to satisfy.  The post-Christmas blues testify to that emptiness.  We need to restore thanksgiving to its rightful place in our holidays and in our habits.

Thanksgiving is missing from our manners as well.  “Please and thank you” were foundational to the socialization of children, but such instruction is now often neglected and sometimes even prohibited.  The result is an entitlement culture where insolent thanklessness and violent demands prevail.  Even where thanksgiving is promoted, we are urged to thank one another as if there were no ultimate source of every good and perfect gift.  We need to restore “please and thank you” to our cultural traditions.

The essential refrain of Jewish and Christian worship is, “Thank the Lord for He is good!”  This instructs us to whom and for what thanks is to be given.  Many other important things are implied in thanksgiving, including adoration of the ultimate source of good things, confession of our unworthiness, humility in our need to ask for more and hope in our privilege of receiving all that we truly need and rightly desire.  Also implied in thanksgiving is our obligation to use the things given according to the will of the giver.  But even this obligation is for our good as well as for His glory.  The law of God is like a user’s guide that accompanies a gift.  It enables us to enjoy and benefit from the gift rather than misuse, ruin or even be harmed by it.  The purpose and result of all of this is our peace and contentment.

Conversely, ingratitude ends in restlessness and discontent.  If you “can’t get no satisfaction” it may be because you “don’t give no thanks.”  When we fail to praise and thank the ultimate source of good, we tend to think of ourselves as the source of gifts.  We are also inclined to think of ourselves as deserving of, and entitled to, every good thing.  We make demands of others and resort to injustice and even violence to obtain what we want and what we think we deserve.  Our sense of entitlement also leads us to use good things according to our own desires rather than according to the nature of the gifts and the intent of the ultimate giver.  This inevitably leads us to use good things in bad ways to our own harm.  The result of all of this is discontentment because ingratitude is insatiable.  A bucket with no bottom can never be filled and an ungrateful person will never be satisfied no matter how much good they receive.

Thanksgiving to God for His gifts is an essential means to a happiness.  Or, to put it in seasonal terms, a happy Thanksgiving is the key to a merry Christmas.  And particularly at Christmas, we thank God for His indescribable gift of salvation in Jesus, the Christ.

Happy Thanksgiving!  Give thanks, and you will be happy.

Kit Swartz serves as Pastor-Teacher in the Oswego Reformed Presbyterian Church. (www.oswegorpc.org)  Your comments and questions are welcome at oswegorpc@hotmail.com.

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Jesus: Who? What? Why? – December 26, 2015

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning!  (from the carol, O Come, All Ye Faithful).  When you greet someone for the first time, what do you say to them?  Ordinarily, you ask them what their name is and then what they do for a living.  A subsequent question, asked of yourself internally – unless you are rude! – is, “Why should I care”?  That is, what can I do to be useful to them or what can they do that would be helpful to me.  This can be reasonable and legitimate self-interest, not necessarily selfishness.  As we remember the birth of Jesus this Christmas, let us imagine that we are meeting Him for the first time and asking Him these three questions.  We look to the Bible as the legally binding testimony of faithful witnesses faithfully preserved for the answers to these questions.

Who is Jesus?  Jesus is “Immanuel”, which means “God with us”.  Jesus is described as the image of God, the Son of God and the fullness of Deity in bodily form.  This is the truth of the incarnation; God become also man; the Holy Spirit working in Mary’s body to conceive a son with two natures in one person.  These descriptions are sufficiently clear but far beyond explanation and full comprehension.  Still, they are understandable in a number of ways.  First, God created man in His image and simply put on His own image like a perfectly tailored suit.  Second, God prohibited man from making images of Himself because He reserved that right in order to make His perfect image in Jesus.  Any other form dishonors the perfect image of God that Jesus is uniquely.  Third, Jesus is described as the Word of God who is God and is the perfect expression of God.  Jesus said our speech reveals who we really are.  Jesus as the Word of God reveals who God really is.  Similarly, Jesus is spoken of as the face of God.  The face is that feature by which every person is distinctly known and identified.   God is distinctly known and identified in Jesus.  Fourth, believers are described as the light of the world that reflects God’s glory, but Jesus is described as the light of the world that radiates God’s glory.  Jesus is God and radiates His glory; we are merely human and only reflect that glory.  Jesus is like the sun; we are like the moon.  Jesus is fully God from God and fully man with man in one person, embodying reconciliation and fellowship between God and man.

What did Jesus do?  The name Jesus means Savior; the One who saves God’s people from their sins.  The One who, by means of salvation, accomplishes reconciliation and fellowship between God and man.  How did He do this?  Messiah is from Old Testament Hebrew, Christ is from New Testament Greek and both words mean anointed.  Priests, Princes and Prophets were anointed to their respective duties.  Jesus being called Messiah or Christ tells us that these are the things He “does for a living”.  Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit for this work when he was baptized by John the Baptist.  Common to all His work is overcoming man’s separation from God caused by our sin.  As a Prophet, Jesus is the Word of God – the Messenger and the Message – bringing God to man in full, complete, personal and final revelation.  As a Priest, Jesus is the eternal High Priest who offers Himself as the perfect sacrifice to pay the debts of our sins and the dues of our righteousness, thereby bringing us to God in peace and for blessing.  As a King, Jesus applies to us all the benefits He has achieved for us as Prophet and Priest.  From His prophetic work, He enables us to enjoy the knowledge of God in a personal, maturing and increasingly rich relationship.  From His priestly work, He enables us to enjoy a progressing separation from our sins and a growing experience of His righteousness resulting in intense and intimate communion with God.

Why should you care?  We are all made in God’s image, created for close, personal fellowship with our Creator.  But we have forfeited this privilege by our sin.  We are separated from God, dead in sin and unable to do anything to overcome our desperate situation.  We cannot bring God to us nor can we go to Him.  But at Christmas, we remember that – in Jesus – God has come to us in order to bring us home to Himself as His own beloved children.  This is the greatest homecoming of all!  You should care about who Jesus is because He is the only way to know God personally and fully in truth and love.  You should care about what Jesus did because He is the only way to go home to God for present and eternal blessing.  Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift in Jesus, the Christ!  Merry Christmas!

If you are interested in detailed materials related to this article or in an opportunity for conversation about these things, contact the author at oswegorpc@hotmail.com or (315) 343-7112.  Kit Swartz has served the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Oswego as Pastor-Teacher for over 35 years.

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Suicide: Trust Him for Your Life.  Trust Him for Your Death! – January 30, 2016

The third Sunday of January is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday (SOHLS) and usually focuses on abortion.  But suicide is also becoming prevalent in our culture, especially for the young, the old and the sick.  Suicide is a tragedy similar to abortion because both actions reject the special honor and protection due to human life.  Those who contend for abortion insist that the fetus is part of their body and that they therefore have a right to terminate it if they wish.  Those who contend for suicide insist that their life is their own and they have a right to terminate it if they wish.  So it is appropriate to consider suicide as we celebrate the sanctity of human life.

That human life is radically different from all other forms of life is self-evident.  The specially revealed reason for this distinctiveness is that man is created in the image of God.  Therefore, human life is protected by law.  Murder is explicitly prohibited in the Ten Commandments, The Sermon on the Mount and in the statutes of most nations.

Suicide, by definition, is self-murder and therefore explicitly prohibited by these ancient laws.   It is prohibited implicitly by the duty we owe to God as our Creator, the obligations we have to our community and the stewardship of our own persons.   The Great Commandment summarizes all of these things: you should love God, your neighbor and yourself by cherishing and nurturing your life rather than, in suicide, dishonoring God, defrauding your community and defaming yourself.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam all reject suicide.  Many other religions do as well.  All examples of suicide in the Bible are the final step of a life characterized by rebellion against God.  Judas Iscariot is the most notorious case.  Early Christianity rejected suicide but was sympathetic to the desperation that was often involved.  Augustine was vigorous in his rejection of suicide, insisting that everyone who committed suicide was destined to hell.  Aquinas followed him in this strong view.  Harsh civil and ecclesiastical penalties were enforced on suicides and their families even into the modern era.  Eventually, however, the Christian church in general recognized that suicide is sometimes a contradiction of an otherwise faithful life that, like other sin, is forgiven in faith-union with Christ.

Suicide should be rejected for the same reason as abortion: distinctly personal human life is not under our discretion.  The heart, lungs and liver are each part of a body but a fetus clearly is not like these.  A fetus is the beginning of a distinctly personal human life which becomes apparent by ultrasound as early as the knowledge of pregnancy and which will become apparent to the unassisted eye in due course.  The fetus is a distinct human person in the stewardship of the mother, not under her discretion.  Likewise, our lives are not our own to do with as we please.  We did not create ourselves.  We did not conceive, carry, give birth, nurture or raise ourselves.  Even as adults, we are dependent on Providence and on His many intermediate means for life, liberty and happiness.  If we are Christians, we have a further obligation to nurture and preserve our lives because we are not our own but were bought with the redemption price of the Only Begotten Son of God.  We owe it to God, our neighbors and ourselves to persevere in life.

But we face dilemmas that are new to our modern era.  When do medical procedures prolong life and when do they protract death?  Is choosing to end treatment taking our life in selfishness or giving our life in service?  Is choosing death according to our will or according to the clear leading of God’s providence?  Is going to war suicide or service?  Jesus went up to Jerusalem knowing that He would be crucified.  This was a willing sacrifice in obedience to His Father, not suicide.  These decisions require great wisdom and much counsel from people who love us and whose judgment we trust.  We should also remember that not all difficulties should be avoided.  Sometimes there is meaning and value in persevering through hardship.  Often, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem that, if endured, would have led to resolution and blessing.  Sometimes, suicide ends a life prematurely when there was much to be gained in a season of trial.  I had a friend who suffered greatly from ALS but, in courageously enduring the suffering, was able to witness his daughter’s wedding in his hospital room.  This was a great blessing to him, to her and to their entire family.  But, again, these are difficult decisions that require great wisdom and good counsel.

In summary, don’t kill yourself.  Let God do it.  He knows the best time and the best way for you to die and has His purposes in all things, even in your death.  Sickness, suffering and death are finishing school for heaven because “he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (1Pt.4:1).  For those who love God, He takes special care of them because even their death is meaningful to Him (Ps.116:15).  God promises to be with His people always, especially in the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23).  For those without God, there often is and always ought to be, fear of entrance into the outer darkness where there is great and unending suffering.  But, even in that fear, there is a final and urgent invitation to turn to Christ for eternal life.  Give yourself to God in faith and obedience, for His glory and your good.  Trust Him for your life.  Trust Him for your death.  Trust Him for eternity.

If you are interested in detailed materials related to this article or in an opportunity for conversation about these things, contact the author at oswegorpc@hotmail.com or (315) 343-7112.  Kit Swartz has served the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Oswego as Pastor-Teacher for over 35 years.

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Last Will & Testament – February 27, 2016

Will making is strongly encouraged to us in order to avoid complications in passing on our goods to our heirs.  Unfortunately, the testament part of a “last will and testament” has become obsolete and passing on intangible assets is also forgotten.  In the Scriptures, we have a model and means of recovering the fullness of a last will and testament.

Second Timothy is the Apostle Paul’s final letter and “last will and testament.”  He is imprisoned like a criminal under Nero’s persecution of Christians and he knows he will soon be executed.  So he entrusts to Timothy his final testimony to God’s saving grace to him in Jesus and his final will in strong direction for what Timothy should focus on in the future.

Paul follows the form we use for wills today by first clearly identifying himself.  He is Paul the Apostle, commissioned by God to preach the gospel of salvation as a gift from God and to teach how all the Scriptures speak of the person and work of Jesus.  He testifies that he has done all he could to make sure that these things were done extensively, though this work involved great suffering.  He then identifies Timothy as an heir of his spiritual wealth which Timothy had also received through his grandmother and mother.  All this is Paul’s retrospective testament to God’s saving work for, in and through Paul.

Paul also writes his prospective will for Timothy.  Like Jacob’s will for his sons (Gen. 49), Paul tells Timothy what he sees coming in the near and distant future.  He details a great decline of humanity into gross idolatry and destructive immorality including severe persecution of those who submit to Jesus in their belief and behavior.  In this context, Paul gives his will for Timothy for his life and labors.

For his life, Paul wills that Timothy pay close attention to the Bible.  He has been learning the Scriptures since he was a child from people he trusted, including his mother and grandmother as well as Paul.  The Holy Spirit spoke to Timothy through the Scriptures so that Timothy was given saving faith in Christ and also trained out of his sin and into Christ’s righteousness.  In this way, Timothy was made useful for service to God and to others.

For his labor, Paul wills the same thing: that Timothy would give himself whole-heartedly to the same preaching of the gospel and teaching of the Scriptures that Paul had given himself to.  In delivering his last will to Timothy, Paul puts him under a fearful oath in the heavenly court of God and gives Timothy a thundering, solemn charge to do this.  Nothing is to distract or discourage Timothy from this duty, not even when people go to other places where they are entertained instead of educated and exhorted, taught and trained, instructed and corrected.  This is a circumstance that is very familiar in our own day and that distracts pastors and people from the Scriptures.

It is worth noting here that the Lord’s Supper itself is Jesus’ last will and testament.  He testifies that “this is my body which is given for you” and “this is my blood which is poured out for you.”  In this, He witnesses to the things He has accomplished for His spiritual heirs, namely, the forgiveness of sins (blood) and the giveness of righteousness (bread).  Then, as His will, He bequeaths to them these benefits by saying “take, eat… take, drink” which are physical actions representing faith as the means of receiving spiritual benefits (John 6:40, 54).  These simple things draw on the whole of the Bible for their interpretive context, so the Lord’s Supper needs the whole Bible to be rightly understood and practiced.

There are many things out of these considerations that are useful to us.

  1. We should all humbly receive the last will and testament of Jesus, believing the testimony of His life and death for us and receiving the will of His forgiveness of sins and giveness of righteousness. Repent, believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ and enjoy His gift of freedom from your sin and freedom in His righteousness.
  2. We should all seek to receive a last will and testament from those who go before us and to give a last will and testament to those who come after us. In these things, we are inheriting and bequeathing not just our worldly goods but also the spiritual wisdom acquired over a lifetime of faith, hope and love in Christ.  Testify to God’s grace in your life and will faith and obedience to your spiritual heirs.
  3. We should all devote ourselves to the pure milk and hearty meat of the Scriptures as God’s primary means of equipping us for persevering faithfulness and as His primary means of defending us against deception in the present and future (2 Tim.3; 2 Th.2:1). Read and study the Bible; hear it taught and preached; believe the testimony and promises; keep the commandments.  This is God’s means for your present and eternal salvation.
  4. We should all do all we can to enable our Pastor-Teachers, like Timothy, to devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word (2Tim.4; Acts 6:4). This includes, primarily, studying and meditating on the Scriptures in order to preach the gospel and teach the Bible as well as to live in conformity to it.  Only in this way will we be equipped by them for service, perseverance and resistance to deception.  Use your gifts to serve in and with your church so that your pastor is set free from many pressing needs in order to devote himself to earnest prayer and diligent study.  It is for your own good and for the glory of God.

If you are interested in detailed materials related to this article or in an opportunity for conversation about these things, contact the author at oswegorpc@hotmail.com or (315) 343-7112.  Kit Swartz has served the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Oswego as Pastor-Teacher for over 35 years.

THE PALLADIUM TIMES

The Big Story of Easter – March 26, 2016

Palm Sunday with the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, Good Friday with His crucifixion and Easter Sunday with His resurrection are all familiar to most people.  These events are the historical climax of the Scriptures, but how do they fit into the overall story of the Bible?

The story begins with God creating mankind in His image for close fellowship as heirs and stewards of His work.  But too soon, mankind falls into sin and forfeits that close fellowship with God.  They also find that their stewardship of the creation is complicated with the frustration and pain of corrective discipline.  Even so, God promises that one of their descendants will be the means He will use to bring them back into close fellowship with Him and unencumbered enjoyment of His creation.  Noah’s name means “rest” and he was chosen in confident expectation that this promise would come to pass.  The earth was given rest through Noah from prevailing and extensive evil, but it was only a confirmation of the promise, not a fulfillment of it.  Even Noah and his family continued to suffer the effects of sin.

God renewed His promise in Abraham, choosing his descendants to be blessed and a means of blessing to all other peoples.  Through Moses, God established the priesthood to show that the sacrifice of a substitute is the way mankind would be brought home to God and the garden as pictured in the Holy of Holies at the heart of the temple.  The prophets declared that those who looked to God through the priestly sacrifices would manifest their homecoming to God through lives of faithfulness and obedience.  God promised King David that this One who would bring mankind back to God – the Messiah or the Christ – would be one of his descendants.

Jesus is the Son of David, the one who accomplished perfect righteousness, the unblemished sacrifice for sin, the High Priest of the original tabernacle in heaven and the prophet like Moses who is the very Word of God.  He is the one who, fulfilling all the promises and pictures of the Hebrew Scriptures, came from heaven to rescue us.  He rescues us from temptation by His obedience (whole life), from sin by His death on the cross (Good Friday), from death by His resurrection from the dead (Easter) and from the tyranny of evil by His gracious rule at the right hand of God (Pentecost).  He is the one who, by this work, opened up a new and living way for us into the Holy of Holies in heaven, the garden of intimate fellowship with our Creator.  He brings us home!

But He requires His rescued people to be patient while He enlists them in the arduous but joyful task of bringing all His people home.  When that is done He will come again, remove all wickedness and undo all the wicked.  In this way, He will put His previous work into full effect in the new heaven and new earth where righteousness – and God Himself – dwells.  That is the garden of full fellowship with God including all righteousness perfected and no serpent to trouble us ever again.

This is the big story of Easter.  The life, death, resurrection, ascension, present rule and future coming of Jesus is the fulfillment of all God’s promises, the point of all God’s pictures and the joy of all God’s people.

Follow Jesus back home to God.  Happy Easter!

If you are interested in detailed materials related to this article or in an opportunity for conversation about these things, contact the author at oswegorpc@hotmail.com or (315) 343-7112.  Kit Swartz has served the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Oswego as Pastor-Teacher for over 35 years.

THE PALLADIUM TIMES

The Death of Addiction – April 30, 2016

Heroin.  Cocaine.  Alcohol.  Every created thing can have its beneficial use but all of these are better known for their abuse.  Very often, voluntary abuse becomes compulsive and the abuser is addicted.   Heroin addiction is a huge problem in our area and across the country.  What can we do?  Is addiction sin or sickness?  Is it something to be addressed by confrontation or compassion?

A familiar biblical statement is helpful here, namely, “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23).  The abuse of good things is sin and the consequence of this abuse is addiction.  The wages of sin is death and the consequence of abuse is addiction, sooner or later, more or less.

Man was created good but fell into sin and, thereby, death.  He abused the good gifts of God (sin) and lost his enjoyment of them (death).  The proof of this is that everyone does what they know is wrong and fails to do what they know is right; this is spiritual death.  This behavior continues until we each die physically as well.  In our spiritual death in sin, we are helpless to change ourselves just as those who are physically dead can’t help themselves.  We’ve gotten ourselves into a pit that we can’t get ourselves out of.  We are helpless and hopeless.  Only God in His love can conduct an intervention to save us from sin and death.  Only God can forgive our sins and rescue us from death.  Only God can give us righteousness and make us live.

It’s the same with a drug addict or alcoholic.  He was created good, free to use things for the glory of God and his own enjoyment.  But he abused things in sin and got into trouble that he could not get himself out of.  The addict is physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually helpless and hopeless.  Only God in His love can conduct an intervention to save the addict from sin and death, abuse and compulsion.  Parents, counselors, agencies and others can do much to help the addict change, but there is a fundamental spiritual element that only God can provide.  Jesus said that whoever sins is the slave of sin and that only He can truly set us free.

So then, is addiction sin or sickness?  It is both and each aspect must be dealt with according to its nature.  Substance abuse is sinful, self-destructive behavior (see Galatians 5:21; Exodus 20:13).  We must urgently call the abuser to turn from his sin to God for forgiveness and help, to get clean and stay clean.  Addiction is death and, while we must speak to the “dry bones” of the addict (see Ezekiel 37) begging him to change, most of all we must pray to God because only He can make the dead to live.  We must both speak to the abuser seeking to bring him to repentance from sin and we must speak to God who is the only one who can raise the addict from the death of his compulsions.

Two final comments.  First, we should each examine ourselves for compulsive behaviors, things that are in control of us in the flesh rather than us in control of them by the Spirit.  It is easy for legitimate use to become abuse and to lead to addiction.  Coffee, soda, snacks; TV, sports, hobbies; never mind sex, alcohol, and pain medications.  You can quit at any time?  Just try to change your habits for a week.  You may discover that you are a captive with short and heavy chains.  Such addictions can take over our lives, ruin our health and destroy our relationships.  If you find yourself compulsive in the abuse of anything, ask Jesus to do an intervention and set you free.  Remember that He does this work through His word (Scriptures) and sacraments, with prayer and all of these things in the fellowship of a good church.  Use these means to seek His ends of the freedom that you truly need and rightly desire.  Second, it is not enough to stop abuse and addiction.  We must replace or displace them with the free use of good things.  A parable of Jesus warns us that if we don’t, many worse abuses and addictions are sure to take their place.  Here again, we need the intervention of God to clean out the enslaving sin and give residence to the Holy Spirit who will set us free and keep us clean.

The addict is spiritually dead in his compulsive abuse.  He is helpless and hopeless.  But nothing is impossible with God.  Addiction is spiritual death but Christ puts addiction to death and sets the captive free in newness of life.  Jesus says, “everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin… if… the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:34,36).  He also says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28).  Go to Christ and find freedom and rest from your addictions.

For detailed materials related to this article or a conversation about these things, contact the author at oswegorpc@hotmail.com or (315) 343-7112.  Kit Swartz has served the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Oswego as Pastor-Teacher for over 35 years. 

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