Saturday, August 11, 2007


Comic Art

Are you prepared to be confused? Well you should be, because this week our look at the "Omnipotents" ventures into the character of Immortus. He is a time hopper, much like Kang the Conquerer (link to 7/28 CA on same), in fact HE IS Kang in certain time streams and futures. See them in battle here at the right.(Confused yet, it's gonna get worse)

Here is your first serious warning in trying to follow all this. Do not confuse the Marvel Comics Avengers villian Immortus with the DC Comics Teen Titans villian General Immortus. This is what happens when you have a really cool name and a publisher that allows multiple versions of the same story to exists side by side becasue each time history changes, it splits into a new time stream.

Ah, but there is more confusion to come. You see, Immortus, sometimes Kang, is Nathaniel Richards, a descendant of Reed and Sue Richards of Fantastic Four fame. The FF is where time travel first got really serious in the Marvel Universe (they captured Doc Doom's time machine and started mucking about) So as this little heirloom made it through the generations, that someone would "go bad" would be inevitable.

Now, first of all, I think Immortus looks really cool, you have to love that pope hat. Nobody ever said so, but I think Kang was just an effort to update his look because people thought he was dated, even if they did not tie the characters together for a decade or more - everybody knew they were basically the same guy doing the same things.

As youcan see form the panels below, Immortus also dates to the days of really corny comics. I just love that! A master of time creating mischief with a newspaper ad. Now that is creatuve writing.

If you are not thoroughly confused, just wait. Later in this series we will examine another character that is really the same character. But we will wait, to do it all at once would make it too easy to understand.

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Friday, August 10, 2007



Usually when I read something at the Out of Ur Blog and I mention it here it is to be critical, or at least argumentative. No so this post on measuring church "success" by Skye Jethani
At my church I am aware of a number of families and individuals who won’t be attending Sunday worship very frequently this summer, and I’m thrilled about it. These people won’t be in worship because they’ll be overseas helping missionaries, or taking inner city kids to a camp in rural Michigan, or they’ll be making meaningful connections as families on vacations- something valuable in a culture where families are struggling. Don’t misread me, I think gathering regularly as a community for corporate worship, confession, and learning is both good and important. I just don’t think it’s so important that it should be the singular measure of missional impact, or even the primary one.

It has become very popular to talk about “life transformation” as the purpose of the church, and numerous studies have shown that worship attendance alone does not seem to impact people’s behavior or values. (Ron Sider’s book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience comes to mind .) However, people who connect in meaningful and transparent relationships, the kind possible in small groups or with a mentor, do show more evidence of life change. Wouldn’t this be a much better and more helpful number for church leaders to measure? Do you know how many people in your church connected relationally with another brother or sister in Christ last week? Probably not, but I bet you know how many sang songs and passively listened to a sermon.

Granted, Sunday worship attendance is easier to measure than small group attendance or relational connections but I don’t think that’s why we do it. Dallas Willard has said that most churches are designed to grow their ABCs (attendance, buildings, and cash) not disciples. The ABCs form an unholy trinity; a cycle that cannot be escaped easily. Sunday attendance is vital and meticulously measured because that is what funds the church—people give money on Sunday. The money is necessary to pay for institutional needs such as buildings, staff, and programs. And, of course, these tangibles are needed to attract more religious consumers to pay for more buildings, staff, and programs.
I have talked about the issues related to church metrics and the necessity of same for institutional maintenance numerous times on this blog. This is, I believe, the point where culture and church clash the most. I also am not sure we can ever have a winner in the clash, at least not until Christ returns and remakes the world as He originally intended.

Being in, but not of, the world will require that we sometimes do things the world mandates provided they are not anti-thetical to God's purposes, even if they are not within God's perfect plan. Church metrics is probabaly one of those things. the question is, how do we live in the tension?

The answer is straightforward in concept, if not in execution. we need to insure that the ledership of the church, those people that must gather, reduce, read, react and act upon the metrics are persons of maturity and proper Christian perspective - people who will not idolize the numbers.

The numbers are not the problem directly, rather it is how we use them that is the problem. It is that we capitalize on them to create that as the goal of the church for the wider congregation.

Why not, for example talk about the budget and leave for the congregation to conclude that more money means more people, etc, then fill in the gap with aim at evangelism, not church growth (there is a difference you know - at least as things are set up here)

That is just one inadequate suggestion for this most persistent of problems in the church.

One thing I know will work for sure - prayer!

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Friday Humor

A pastor's wife was expecting a baby, so he stood before the congregation and asked for a raise. After much discussion, they passed a rule that whenever the preacher's family expanded, so would his paycheck.

After 6 children, this started to get expensive and the congregation decided to hold another meeting to discuss the preacher's expanding salary.

A great deal of arguing and inner bickering ensued, as to how much the clergyman's additional children were costing the church, and how much more it could potentially cost.

After listening to them for about an hour, the pastor rose from his chair and spoke, "Children are a gift from God, and we will take as many gifts as He gives us." Silence fell on the congregation.

In the back pew, a little old lady struggled to stand, and finally said in

her frail voice, "Rain is also a gift from God, but when we get too much of it, we wear rubbers."

The entire congregation said, "Amen."

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Thursday, August 09, 2007


Stereotyping and Manipulating

There is some good advice for pastors in this MMI post describing "Four Types of Friends a Pastor Needs" and yet, I found it objectionable. I hope it will be instructive to go into why.

Do we really want to have people in our lives to fill roles? what happens when those people change and they no longer fulfill those roles? Are they no longer our friends? And if they are not, what kind of love have we really given them?
Phil 2:3 - Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself;
Seems to me that nothing could more assault this admonision from Paul than to categorize our friends into roles and define their worth to us on the basis of those roles.

In the first place, this approach defines friendship on the basis of what it means to me, not what it means to my friend. That is certainly not "regarding the other as more important that yourself." Secondly, it removes from the other the ability to be who they are in relationship to you.

Seems to me that the Christian idea of relationship would start by accepting another person in whatever place they are at face value.

"Well sure!" comes the retort, "but not everyone we encounter is a 'friend.'"

Isn't that just the least bit disingenuous as well!? Haven't with such a statement we reduced people, especially those we minister to to the role of "ministry object."

And at bottom, that is the real problem I have with all of this. It is objectifying people. It reduces us from individuals with wills and emotions and thoughts and spirits to just things to be stacked neatly into categorical boxes and allowed to proceed to within certain distances from "the throne" (ourselves) based on which category they belong to.

And isn't that a description of an aristocratic court? Is that really following the example of our Lord. You know, the God who is the only true royal ever and yet...
...who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, {and} being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Phil 2:6-8
Maybe we ought to think a little less about how to "handle" the people around us and think a little more about how to be one of them.

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Illuminated Scripture

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Joe Carter Is A Jerk

Look, I didn't say it - JOE DID!
In almost every one of my relationships there comes a point when the other person—whether acquaintance, friend, or coworker—realizes that I’m kind of a jerk.
Now, I must confess, I don't know Joe all that well, only met him 3-4 times, but I have yet to experience this epiphany. However, I'll take his word for it, since I don't think he is terribly unique in this.

Well that and because the place this little confession leads him is sooooo good:
For thirty years the Holy Spirit has been leading me to hate sin and I have responded, albeit modestly. As theologian R.C Sproul says, "Sin is cosmic treason. Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself."

For me, gratitude comes easy, which is why it is easy to hate sin since it is rejection of ingratitude. What is more difficult is grace. Grace does not come naturally, which makes it easier for me to ignore the promptings of the Spirit in that direction.

We Christians often say we should, "Love the sinner, hate the sin." I've certainly made headway on half that cliché. For the sanctification of this jerk to progress, though, I need to start acting on the other half.
I am quite tempted to go on a rant here because I do think Joe has neatly summarized the greatest problem with his particular brand of our faith, the Southern Baptist, but I think it best to keep this on the personal level. We all share this issue to one extent or another.

Even those that many of us think are leaning a little too strongly to the grace half of the saying become less graceful towards those that they deem ungracious. We're kinda funny that way, we can end up legalistic about not being legalistic.

The key, I think, is to remember that grace removes sin, conquers it, sends it away. Think about Christ's ministry for a minute. Did Jesus battle sin? No, save for the legalism of the established religious heirarchy. The prostitutes, publicans, and sinners around Christ were not chastised and admonsihed, shamed and marginalized, rather they were shown a different way, because Jesus knew they knew their own disgrace, all they needed was the opportunity to head in a different direction. The grace of Christ gave them that opportunity.

Which, by the way, is why the one sin Christ did battle was the legalism in the estqablished religious authority. You see that legalism made the path they offered no more inviting than the one the sinner was currently on. That legalism was not different enough to adequately reflect God's true nature, and therefore malaigned that name.

How often do we chastise the sin in others, or even ourselves, but fail to provide the alternative? Joe is right, hating sin is only half the equation. If we do not provide the path of and to grace, we are left sitting in our sin, now simply chastised for being there. If we do not ourselves take the path of grace we too are stuck in our sin, and we offer the world nothing.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007



Mark Daniels asked about hostility towards unmarrieds and long-marrieds without children. (Since I have qualified as both at different periods of my life, I'm beginning to wonder if Mark is trying to tell me somethingSurprised) He does so based on a post by Ann Althouse, essentially reprinting his comments thereupon. Needless to say, I feel pretty strongly about this topic, but Mark said something very insightful that I think expands it a bit:
Some people feel that adults have to go through certain proscribed life-hoops in order to truly be considered an adult. They tend to believe this all the more if they have, in fact, gone through those hoops, no matter the quality of their marital or family relationships. They see themselves as part of an adults' club and looking down their noses on those who haven't gone through the hoops is one of the "privileges" of membership. (OK, good save Mark, you can still be my friend! Wink)
More generalized, Mark is saying that we bear hostility and disdain for the non-conformist. I think he is right and I find it fascinating.

Before I get to far here, I need to say that there are suitable reasons for hostility and disdain in this world. Much as many will disagree, I think even hatred, there are some things that love, God's love, demands that we hate. However, having said that, simple non-conformity is not one of them.

I once witnessed Macedonians ("Christians"!?) mercilessly beating an Albanian (Muslim) simply because they encountered the individual and they hated Albanians. Of course no one I know gives beatings to single people, but the animus behind the beating and the disdain appear to be quite the same. Recently, it was necessary to arrest and charge Christians for disturbing the peace in the US Senate while they protested a Hindu prayer.

Of course, as I have followed the course of Mitt Romney's presidential aspirations, I have countless tales of animosity towards Mitt simply becasue he is Mormon.

These are all examples of religious non-conformity which is often justified because of the truth claims about faith. Christianity is somewhat unique amongst faiths; however, becasue its founder, Jesus, taught and practiced tolerance of the non-conformist. Jesus Himself was a non-conformist, for it was His non-conformity, and the hatred that created the the established culture, that resulted in His crucifixion. Before you think I am going all hippie here, Jesus was not a non-conformist for non-conformity's sake, He was working to establish a new order - that should never be forgotten.

Which leads to the real heart of where our negative emotion regarding the non-comformist arises. Non-conformity threatens the conformist. Non-conformity challenges the assumptions and prejudices and comfort of the established.

A fact which encompasses all the reasons Mark Daniels discussed in his post - jealousy, suspicion, fear - non-conformity says, quite simply, "there might be another way." Amazingly, most of the time there is not; the wisdom of society tends to be pretty good - I certainly can attest to the better nature of marriage compared to singleness. Which is what makes the negative emotion associated with non-conformity amazing to me because it reveals a lack of confidence in the established order.

If one is sure of his position, the threat from the different is minimal. Which is why, when Christians are involved in the kinds of things I discussed above I am truly disheartened because it means that those Christians lack confidence in their faith, and their God. One of the reasons I do not have a problem with a Mormon candidate is I believe our faith to be the true faith and I have confidence in God to make that truth apparent, regardless of who occupies the White House. And so with a Hindu prayer in the Senate. It is as if people forget that God's authority supercedes even that of the government.

Next time you feel that suspicion or disdain or even hatred, ask yourself where it comes from. Examine first your own lack of confidence. Determine if the threat is real. You will find an immense and wonderful and powerful God upon whom you can rest with confidence and in Whose grace you may abide for eternity.

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Kitty Kartoons

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Monday, August 06, 2007


Restoring Credibility

Back in June, MMI linked to a story about a Gallup poll reflecting an increasing lanck of confidence in the church as an institution. Money quote from the story:
Confidence in the church dropped in the wake of the television evangelism scandals of the late 1980s and early 1990s. It then fell significantly in the wake of revelations surrounding the Catholic priest abuse scandal in 2002.

“I would say that [the drop is] because organized religion is organized and it’s religious,” commented Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington. “And what Jesus was about was inviting people to follow him on a spiritual journey and that’s a little different deal.

“I don’t think people are looking for religion,” added Batterson, who is hosting a conference this week to help churches create an impacting “buzz” in their communities. “I think they’re looking for God. And unfortunately, they can’t always find God in religion and so I think the Church has to find ways to incarnate the truth so that people can hear the Good News in a language they understand.”
What a bunch of gobbledy-gook! "Hear the Good News in a language they understand" - INDEED! How about see the gospel lived out in the lives of the people that are the face of the church. You want to rebuild the credibility of the church? How about directly and stiffly addressing the abuses discussed in the first paragraph of that pull quote!

Batterson's comments are misdirection and designed to perpetuate the kind of "front" that allows the crap that caused the precipitous fall to show up to begin with. The problem isn't the message, the problem is making the REALITY OF THE MESSAGE apparent.

Simply put, the church lacks credibility because it has not behaved in a credible fashion. The gospel doesn't "sell" anymore because we are not selling the gospel. The gospel is about transformation, not message. If the "gospel" heard does not produce results then what was heard was not the gospel.

If the church wants to continue to exist it needs to take its own message seriously. If we are going to transform the world, we must first be transformed.

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Sunday, August 05, 2007


Sermons and Lessons


William Mackergo Taylor, Congregational divine, was born at Kilmarnock, Scotland, in 1829. He was for many years pastor of the Broadway Tabernacle, New York. He had an impressive presence and his delivery was marked by a magnetic earnestness. During the first ten years of his ministry he spoke memoriter, but subsequently wrote out his sermons with detailed care and preached them from manuscript, but their delivery was without the freedom and freshness of extemporaneous address. He came to regret this, for he said: “If I might speak from my own experience I would say, that memoriter preaching is the method which has the greatest advantages, with the fewest disadvantages.” He died in 1895.


Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do, then, with Jesus, which is called Christ?Matthew 27:22.

During my late visit to my native land I had the great enjoyment of seeing, and somewhat carefully studying, Munkacsy ‘s famous picture of “Christ Before Pilate.” Rarely, if ever, had I been so much moved by a work of art; and I propose to give, as nearly as I can recall it, the sermon which it reached to me as I sat silently contemplating the figures, which, even as I looked at them, seemed to grow before me into life.

But, first, I must try to describe to you the picture itself. The canvas is large, and the figures, all of which are on the line of sight, are of life size. The scene is in the pavement or open court before the governor‘s palace, which was called in the Hebrew tongue Gabbatha, and in which, after all his efforts to wriggle out of the responsibility of dealing with the case, Pilate ultimately gave up Jesus to be crucified. At one end of the court, on a raised bench, and drest in a white toga, Pilate sits. On either side of him are Jews, each of whom has a marked and special individuality. The two on his left are gazing with intense eagerness at Christ. They are evidently puzzled, and know not well what to make of the mysterious prisoner. On his right, standing on one of the seats, and with his back against the wall, is a Scribe, whose countenance is expressive of uttermost con¬tempt, and just in front of this haughty fellow are some Pharisees, one of whom is on his feet, and passionately urging that Jesus should be put to death, presumably on the ground that, if Pilate should let Him go, he would make it evident that he was not Caesar‘s friend. Before them again is a usurer, sleek, fat and self-satisfied, clearly taking great comfort to himself in the assurance that, however the matter may be settled, his well-filled money-bags will be undisturbed. Beyond him stands the Christ in a robe of seamless white, and with His wrists firmly bound; while behind, kept in place by a Roman soldier, standing with his back to the spectator, and making a barricade with his spear, which he holds horizontally, is a motley group of onlookers, not unlike that which we may still see any day in one of our criminal courts. Of these, one more furious than the rest is wildly gesticulating, and crying, as we may judge from his whole attitude, “Crucify Him! crucify Him!” and another, a little to the Savior’s left, but in the second row behind Him, is leaning forward with mockery in his leering look, and making almost as if he would spit upon the saintly one. There is but one really compassionate face in the crowd, and that is a face of a woman who, with an infant in her arms, most fitly represents those gentle daughters of Jerusalem who followed Jesus to Calvary with tears. Then, over the heads of the on-lookers, and out of the upper part of the doorway into the court, we get a glimpse of the quiet light of the morning as it sleeps upon the walls and turrets of the adjacent buildings. All these figures are so distinctly seen that you feel you could recognize them again if you met them anywhere; and a strange sense of reality comes upon you as you look at them, so that you forget that they are only painted, and imagine that you are gazing on living and breathing men.

But, as you sit awhile and look on, you gradually lose all consciousness of the presence of the mere on-lookers and find your interest concentrated on these two white-robed ones, as if they were the only figures before you. The pose of Christ is admirable. It is repose blended with dignity; self-possession rising into majesty, There is no agitation or confusion; no fear or misgiving; but, instead, the calm nobleness of Him who has just been saying, “Thou couldst have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above; therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.” The face alone disappoints. Perhaps that may be owing to the lofty ideal we have of the divine Man, so that no picture of our Lord would entirely please. But though the painter has wisely abandoned the halo, and all similar conventionalisms of art, and has delineated a real man, for all which he is to be highly commended, yet the eyes which look so steadily at Pilate, as if they were looking him through, seem to me to be cold, keen, and condemnatory, rather than compassionate and sad. It is a conception of the Lord of the same sort as that of Doré, in his well-known picture of the leaving of the Praetorium, and the eyes have not in them that deep well of tenderness out of which came the tears which He shed over Jerusalem, and which we expect to see in them when He is looking at the hopeless struggle of a soul which will not accept His aid. It is said that the artist, dissatisfied with his first attempt, has painted the Christ face twice; but this, also, is a partial failure, and here, so at least it seemed to me as I looked upon it, is the one defect in his noble work. But if there is this defect, it is one which it shares with every other effort that human art has made to delineate the Lord. The Pilate, however, is well-nigh faultless. Here is a great, strong man, the representative of the mightiest empire the world has ever seen, with a head indicating intellectual force, and a face, es¬pecially in its lower part, suggestive of sen¬sual indulgence. There is ordinarily no want of firmness in him, as we may see from the general set of his features; but now there is in his countenance a marvelous mixture of humiliation and irresolution. He cannot lift his eyes to meet the gaze of Christ; and while one of his hands is nervously clutching at his robe he is looking sadly into the other, whose fingers, even as we look at them, almost seem to twitch with perplexed irresolution. He is clearly pondering for himself the question which a few moments before he had addrest to the multitude, “What shall I do with Jesus which is called Christ?” He is annoyed that the case has been brought to him at all, and as he feels himself drifting on, against his own better judgment, toward yielding to the clamor of the multitude, he falls mightily in his own conceit, and begins to despise himself. He would, at that moment, give, oh, how much! to be rid of the responsibility of dealing with the Christ, but he cannot evade it; and so he sits there, drifting on to what he knows is a wrong decision, the very incarnation of the feeling which his own national poet described when he said, “I see and approve the better course; I follow the worse.” Thus, as we look at these two, we begin to discover that it was not Christ that was before Pilate so much as Pilate was before Christ. His was the testing experience. His was the trial; his too, alas! was the degradation; and at that coming day when the places shall be reversed, when Christ shall be on the judgment seat, and Pilate at the bar, there will still be that deep self-condemnation which the painter here has fixt upon his countenance. It is a marvelous picture, in many respects the most remarkable I ever looked upon, and, even from this imperfect description of it, you will easily understand how, as I sat intent before it, it stirred my soul to the very depths.

But now, with this portrayal of the scene before us let, us see if we can account, first, for the hesitation of Pilate to give up the Lord, and then for his final yielding to the clamor of the people. Why all this reluctance on his part to send Jesus to the cross? He was not usually so scrupulous. A human life more or less gave him generally very little concern. He had all a Roman’s indifference for the comfort of those who stood in any respect in his way; and had no compunction, as we know, in mingling the blood of certain turbulent Jews with the very sacrifices which at the moment they were offering. Had Christ been a Roman citizen, indeed, he would most likely have been very watchful over His safety, for in regard to all such the imperial law was peculiarly strict, but the life of a mere Jew was a very small thing in his es¬timation. Wherefore, then, this unwonted squeamishness of conscience? It was the result of a combination of particulars, each of which had a special force of its own, and the aggregate of which so wrought upon his mind that he was brought thereby to a stand.

There was, in the first place, the peculiar character of the prisoner. A very slight examination had been sufficient to convince him that Christ was innocent of the charge which had been brought against Him. But in the course of that examination much more than the innocence of Christ had come to view. He had manifested a dignified patience altogether unlike anything that Pilate had ever seen; and His answers to certain questions had been so strangely suggestive of something higher and nobler than even the most exalted earthly philosophy that he could not look upon Him as a common prisoner. He was no mere fanatic; neither was He after the pattern of any existing school, whether Jewish, Greek, or Roman. There was about Him an “other-worldliness” which brought those near Him into close proximity, for the time, with the unseen; and an elevation which lifted Him above the tumult that was howling for His destruction. Probably Pilate could not have described it to himself, but there was something which he felt unusual and exceptional in this man, marking Him out from every other he ever had before him, and constraining him to take a special interest in His case. Add to this that his wife had sent to him that singular message ”Have thou nothing to do with that just man, for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him,” - a message which, in those days of mingled skepticism and superstition - for the two always go hand in hand - must have produced a deep impression on his mind. Moreover, there seemed some fatality about the case. He had tried to roll it over upon Herod, but that wily monarch sent the prisoner back upon his hands. He had attempted to release Him, as the Passover prisoner for the year, but neither was there any outlet for him in that, for the people had preferred Barabbas. And so the responsibility had come again to his own door, and could not be passed on to another. Still again, he saw that the Jews were acting most hypocritically in the matter. It was a new thing for them to be zealous for the honor of Caesar, and he could easily see through the mask they wore into the envy and malice which were the motives for their conduct. The deeper he went into the case he discovered only the more reason for resisting their importunity, and, however, he looked at it, his plain duty was to set the prisoner free. Why then, again we ask, was his perplexity? The answer is suggested by the taunt of the Jews, “If thou let this man go thou art not Caesar‘s friend; whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.” He foresaw that if he resisted the will of the rulers he would make them his enemies, and so provoke them to complain of him to the emperor, who would then institute an inquiry into the administration of his office—and that he was not prepared to face. He had done things as a governor which would not bear the light, and so at the crisis of his life he was fettered by deeds of the past from doing that which be felt to be the duty of the present. You may, perhaps, remember that expression of the prophet, which thus reads in the margin: “Their doings will not suffer them to turn unto their God”: and that other, which affirms, concerning Israel: “Their own doings have beset them about.” Now these descriptions most accurately define the cause of Pilate’s perplexity here. His conduct in the past had been such that he had not the courage to take any course which might lead to an investigation of that. If he could deliver Christ without provoking that, then he would most cheerfully do so; but if by delivering Christ he would provoke that, then Christ must be given up to the cross. Hence his perplexity at the first, and hence, also, his yielding in the end. His past misdeeds had put him virtually into the power of those who were now so eager for the condemnation of the Christ. On three several occasions his arbitrariness had been such as all but to instigate a rebellion among the people, and his cruelty and contempt for justice, when he had a personal end to gain, were sure, upon appeal to the emperor, to be severely punished; so to save himself from banishment and disgrace, if not even death, he delivered over Jesus to the will of the Jews. lie wished to do right in this case more than ever he had wished before; there was something about it which in his view made it more important that he should do right now than ever before; but through all his past official life he had, by his enormities and oppressions, been unconsciously weaving round himself a net, in the meshes of which he was now inextricably caught. His guilty conscience made him a coward at the very time when most of all he wanted to be brave. He had come to his “narrow place,” where he could turn neither to the right hand nor to the left, but must face the naked alternative “yes” or “no”; and he fell because in his former life, when he was thinking of no such ordeal, he had sold himself by his evil deeds into the power of the enemy.

Now, what a lesson there is in all this for us! Men think that they may live for the time being as they please, and that at a convenient season they can repent and turn to God. But the present is conditioning the future, and making it either possible or the reverse for us to do right in the future. He who neglects the laws of health every day, and lives in intemperance and excess of all kinds, is only making it absolutely certain that when fever lays him low he will die, for he has eaten out the strength of his constitution by his follies. And, in the same way, he who sets ‘all morality at defiance in his ordinary conduct only makes it inevitable that when his convenient season does come, when his time of privilege and testing does arrive, he will fail to rise to the occasion, and be swept away into perdition. The tenor of our ordinary life determines how we shall pass through exceptional and crucial occasions, therefore let us bring that up to the highest level by doing everything as unto God, and then we shall be ready for any emergency.

Nor let me forget to add here, that in spite of all his efforts to keep back investigation, Pilate’s day of reckoning with the emperor did come. The Jews complained of him after all, in spite of his yielding to them now; and as the result he was banished, and afterwards, so tradition says, he committed suicide. Thus the ordeal and the disgrace came, notwithstanding all he did to avert them, and be had not under them the solace which he might have enjoyed if only he had stood firm on this great and memorable occasion. Therefore let us all, and especially the young, take to ourselves, as the first lesson from this deeply interesting history, that we should be careful not to hamper ourselves for the discharge of duty in the future by guilt of the present. By our conduct now we are either coiling cords around us which shall hold us fast at the very time when we most desire to be free, or we are forming and fostering a strength of character which, through God, will triumph over every temptation. If “to be weak is to be miserable,” it is no less true that to be guilty is to be weak. Preserve yourselves, therefore, from this danger, and seek above all other things to keep your consciences clean; then when you will need all your strength for a crisis, you will not sit, like Pilate here, in nervous perplexity bemoaning your helplessness even while you yield to the adversary; but you will shake the temptation from you with as much ease as the eagle shakes the dewdrop from his wing. Keep yourselves pure: so shall your youth be full of happiness, and you shall go forth out of it with no encumbering past to clog the wheels of your endeavor. How happy he whose youth thus leaves him with a smile and sends him forth upon the duties of manhood with a benediction! But he, how miserable! whose early years heap bitter maledictions on his head, and push him forward into active life with a conscience already laden with guilt, and a soul as weak before temptation as a reed is before the wind.

But while there is thus in this history a lesson for all time, I think Munkacsy, by the appearance of his wondrous picture now, has made it evident that there is also something in it specially adapted to these modern days. It is with artists in the choice of their subjects as it is with ministers in the selection of their themes. Both alike, consciously and unconsciously, and most frequently perhaps unconsciously, are affected by the spirit of their age. The atmosphere - literary, moral, political, and religious - which is round about them, and which they are daily breathing, does, insensibly to themselves, so influence them that their thoughts are turned by it into a channel different from that in which those of a former generation flowed. Hence, whether the painter would admit it or not, I see in this picture, at this juncture, at once a mirror of the times and a lesson for them. The question of Pilate, “What shall I do, then, with Jesus which is called the Christ?” is preeminently the question of the present age. No doubt we may say with truth that it has been the question of all the Christian centuries, and each one of them has faced it and solved it after its own fashion. It has tested the centuries even as it tested Pilate, and those in which Christ was rejected have been the darkest in the world’s history; while those in which He has been hailed as the incarnate God have been the brightest which the earth has ever seen, because irradiated with truth, and justice, and benevolence and purity. But tho we are always prone to exaggerate that in the midst of which we are ourselves, it seems to me that in no one age since that, of the primitive Church has this jesting question been so prominent as in our own. All the controversies of our times, social, philosophical, and theological, lead up to and find their ultimate hinge in the answer to this inquiry, “Who is this Jesus Christ?” If He be a mere man, then there is for us nothing but uncertainty on any subject, outside of the domain of the exact sciences; and we must all become agnostics, holding this one negative article of belief, that nothing can be known about anything save that of which we can take cognizance with the bodily sense. But if He be incarnate God, then He brings with Him from heaven the final word on all subjects concerning which He has spoken; and though in His person He is the mystery of mysteries, yet, at once received, He becomes forthwith the solution of all mysteries, and faith in Him is at once the satisfaction of the intellect and the repose of the heart. It is perfectly natural, therefore, that all the controversies of the day should turn on Him. The lives of Christ which have been written during the last thirty or forty years would make in themselves a very respectable library; and the cry even of the skeptic is, “I could get on very well with unbelief, if I only knew what to make of Christ.” Yes, that is just the difficulty. Christ is here in the Scriptures a character portrayed in literature; He was in the world for thirty-three years, and lived a life exceptional in every respect, but most of all in the moral and spiritual departments, so that of Him alone perfection can be predicated; He has been ever since a most potent factor in history, for through His influence all that is pure, and noble, and exalted, and lovely and of good report, has come into our civilization. Now, these things have to be accounted for. If He was only a man, how shall we explain them? And if He was more than a man shall we not take His own testimony as to His dignity and mission? If we are to be unbelievers, we must account for Christ on natural principles; but if we cannot do that, then we must conceive Him as He claims to be conceived. There is no alternative. Those in the age who have the spirit and dispositon of Pilate will anew reject Him! but those who are sincere and earnest in their inquiries will come ultimately out into the light, for “if any man be willing to do his will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God.”

And what is true of the age, as a whole, is true also of every individual to whom the gospel is proclaimed. For each of us, my hearers, this is the question of questions, “What shall I do with Jesus which is called Christ?” Shall I reject Him and live precisely as if I had never heard His name? or shall I accept Him as the Lord from heaven in human nature, trust in Him as my Savior, and obey Him as my King? I must do the one or the other; and yet how many are seeking, like Pilate, to evade the question? They try to escape the responsibility of dealing with it as a direct alternative of yes or no. But as one has well said, “necessity is laid upon us. The adversaries of Christ press upon us to give our verdict against Him. We are troubled and perplexed, for we have long heard about Him, and have had each of us his own convictions. We would still remain neutral. We try - and try in vain - to escape from the mission? If we are to be unbelievers, we must account for Christ on natural principles; but if we cannot do that, then we must conceive Him as He claims to be conceived. There is no alternative. Those in the age who have the spirit and dispositon of Pilate will anew reject Him! but those who are sincere and earnest in their inquiries will come ultimately out into the light, for “if any man be willing to do his will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God.”

And what is true of the age, as a whole, is true also of every individual to whom the gospel is preached - It is this: You can not evade the decision, but be sure that you look at the Christ before you give Him up. Nothing is so remarkable in the picture to which I have so often this day referred as the evident persistency with which Pilate keeps his eyes from Christ; and few things are so saddening as to meet with men who profess to have, and really have, difficulties about Christ, but who have never read the gospels or the New Testament with any attention.

Let me urge you earnestly, therefore, to study these gospels and epistles before you give your voice against the Lord, and I am very sure that if you ponder them thoroughly you will soon accept Him. Give over trying to solve all the difficulties and so-called discrepancies in the Scriptures which form the stock-in-trade of the infidel lecturer - all these are but as dust which he raises that he may blind your eyes to the really important question, “Who is Christ?” Settle that, and if you do, all other difficulties will vanish. Turn your face to the light, and the shadow will fall behind you. Look at the Christ before you give Him up. And remember, if you do’ reject Christ, you have still to account for Him. It is unreasonable for you, if you believe only in the natural and material, to leave such a phenomenon as Christ unex¬plained.

Yes, and I must add here that if you reject Him you must yet account to Him. Go, then, and ponder this text; yea, may it continue sounding in your inmost heart until you have determined to receive and rest upon Him as your only Savior, and say to Him, like Thomas, “My Lord and my God.”

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