Letter from Pastor, Newsletter, & Calendar
Different, Yet the Same
It is 2023, whether we want it to be or not. There is no stopping this calendar change or holding back the changes that it might bring to our lives. Every new year brings changes, but I believe this one is the beginning of a major one, not only affecting the way we do things but also proving to enact major changes in how we will need to think, act, and live. We could characterize what life might be like for us by adopting the increasingly popular catchphrase, "Get used to different!"
"Get used to different" has become a slogan for many in the emerging culture surrounding "The Chosen." The Chosen is the title of a made-for-TV series centering around Jesus and those He has chosen to follow him. The producers of this new series have intentionally set about telling the old, old story of Jesus and His ministry on earth in a new and different way. This new approach attempts to present the gospel narrative through the eyes and lives of the followers of Jesus (His chosen ones) and the impact Jesus had on each of them personally. The phrase "get used to different" comes from Jesus' response to Peter's dismay that Jesus would call and appoint a dreaded tax collector, Matthew, to be one of His apostles.
This different approach, of course, has meant that the producers of The Chosen have taken extensive artistic license in filling in the background stories of each of the characters as well as many of the events mentioned in the Bible. The series has just begun its third season, and so far, in my humble opinion, it has truly been different from all previous attempts to present Jesus on film but has also been fairly accurate in presenting the Biblical record. It is not being produced simply for entertainment value. It is quite thought-provoking and does an admirable job of encouraging the viewer to become more familiar with Jesus and His teaching in the Bible, as well as to be actively engaged in sharing the Gospel of Jesus with others. I recommend it for your viewing.
I might also add that getting used to different applies to the whole marketing, production, and presentation of The Chosen series. It is intentionally produced to be free to the viewer. Anyone with a computer, smartphone, or smart TV can view it whenever he wants and as many times as he wants, all for free. It is solely financed by viewers paying it forward so others can see what they have found to be so valuable to them. This new and different way has freed the producers of the series from being beholden to big Hollywood or corporate interests or programming control. The chosen producers are answerable to the viewers.
Reading the tea leaves of big government and big business rhetoric and actions over the last few years, as well as the rather quick and seemingly willing adoption of wokism and the all-encompassing and completely anti-biblical ideology of social justice and equity by so many of our citizens, it's not difficult to predict that something different is definitely in our future. Now, if you were hoping for some changes in your life, I'm pretty certain this new difference will not be at all what you are hoping for. This "different" might prove to be what you dread!
Those whom Jesus chose to follow in the first century found their lives completely changed and different. I believe we will find the same in our lives. Following and proclaiming Jesus means being opposed, severely criticized by a secular and idolatrous culture, persecuted by those in power who feel threatened by you, and perhaps even imprisoned and executed. The rising tide of anti-Christian sentiment by big swaths of our society, and most especially among those who are in positions of power and influence in our land, will mean it will not be business as usual for us in the Christian Church who wants to remain faithful to Jesus Christ and His Word. For the most part, being allowed to worship freely as we desire and to boldly proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ without restriction has been the norm for us. Christianity has enjoyed favored status in our land and has always been considered fully protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But recent judgments reached by the Supreme Court, as well as new laws passed by Congress and state legislatures, have made it clear we had better get used to something different.
One recent government action makes this abundantly clear. 2022 came to a close with the U.S. Congress passing and President Biden signing into law the so-called "Respect for Marriage Act." This new law neither respects nor protects God's institution of marriage as the lifelong union of one man and one woman in one flesh. It not only legislatively legalizes the union of same-sex couples in all 50 states, but it in effect changes the whole definition of marriage from being a God-ordained union for the procreation of children, the loving service of others, and the stability and welfare of the family to being nothing more than a human arrangement for personal gratification. I know that some Christians are saying, "So what?" "We can still teach and observe marriage following God's Word." I'm afraid this opinion is naive at best. This new law also opens the door to litigation against anyone who disagrees with the new definition of marriage established by this legislation. Calling homosexuality a sin is already being called hate speech by many in our society. How long before a civil suit is filed against a pastor, teacher, or other Christian for teaching that marriage are the union of one woman and one man?
If it seems to you like I'm sounding the alarm that you and I will be facing outright persecution in 2023, then be assured that I am! I believe firmly that you and I need to be awake in the right sense of the term! We do need to wake up to the reality of our times and our world. As Christians in 2023, we are not going to be favored in our society or world. I'm not sure we ever were. Jesus has always taught His followers to get used to differences. Jesus has always maintained, "If they persecute me, they will persecute you." "Take up your cross and follow me." Other Christians living in such places as China, Africa, or Muslim-controlled lands have been awake to this reality their whole lives. If you and I have not already heard the alarm ring, this new year promises to jolt us right out of our comfort zone!
Be assured, however, that being different is really what Christ and Christians have always been in this world. It's time to be and live who we are as baptized believers in Jesus Christ. We are in the world but not of this world (John 17:16). We can't continue to imagine that we can remain friends with this world and with Jesus Christ at the same time. Jesus has said very clearly, "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other." "You cannot serve God and money" (Matt. 6:24). "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters" (Matt. 12:30). Likewise, the Lord's apostle writes, "You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God?" Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God (James 4:4).
Please understand, though, that getting used to living and being different is not a bad thing, especially when it is being a follower of Christ Jesus. Jesus is different. He is unique! There is no one else like him. He is our incarnate God—both God and Man, as we just celebrated this Christmas. As such, He is the sole answer to what ails our world. Only His atoning blood can save you, me, and the entire world of sinners! Thanks be to Jesus for being different!
Just as Jesus is unique for the sake of the world, so are you and I unique in this world for the sake of the world. As with His apostles and disciples of old and of every generation, Jesus has called and appointed us to let His light shine in this darkened world to save sinners (Matt. 5:14)., as the apostle Paul teaches us, God allows falsehood and heresies to be promulgated in the world and even in the church to make the bold confession of the truth shine even brighter (1 Cor. 11:19). If we allow ourselves to be swallowed up by the world's darkness so that we can avoid trouble, hardship, or persecution, we are not only betraying Christ, we are also showing a true lack of love for all the people of this world. They need us to be different!
Oh, by the way, thanks be to God, there is something we can be sure of and count on being the same in 2023. No matter what the year might hold for us, Jesus and His promise of salvation remain certain and will always be with us. Jesus says, "And you will be hated by all for my sake." "But the one who endures to the end will be saved" (Mark 13:13). Again, "Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them all things that I have commanded you." "And I will be with you always, even to the end of the world" (Matt. 28:19–20). And again, "...in the world you will have tribulation, but take heart; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). And finally, Jesus' unchanging promise is this: "Everyone who confesses me before men, I will confess him before my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 10:32).
Get used to different fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and enjoy what will always be the same in Christ!
Happy New Year!