I Am Mephibosheth (Christ’s Glory in Fostering & Adoption)

“So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table as one of the king’s sons. . . . Now he was lame in both feet.” (2 Sam 9.11b, 13c)

“While we were children, [we] were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.
But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son . . . so that we might receive adoption as sons. 
So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Gal 4.3-4a, 5b, 7)

We woke up one April morning in 2008 with one child.  We would go to sleep that same night with three.  As foster parents, God schooled us about children, the State, welfare and depravity.  He still schools us in the gospel.  We’re all grandsons of Saul, lame in both feet, and dependent on the King’s mercy.I am glad to reprise some thoughts we had at the time and hope to encourage anyone considering foster/adoption.1. A real world of darkness and depravity is not nearly as far away as you think.  It’s not out there.  It’s right there.  Hell is real and gleefully torments the least of those among us and next door to us.  My middle-class, white, suburbanism could neither isolate nor inoculate us.  Nor should it.

2. During our process we heard from Christians a strange misunderstanding and misrepresentation of God’s sovereignty. Many said, “I couldn’t foster children because you put so much into them only to have them leave one day.  I couldn’t take that pain.”  Or, “What if the birth parents come and take their children back?” (obviously, there are careful legalities to prevent this).  How should we answer?

One, if a foster child returns home it will and should be painful.  That’s the price of love. We trust God will meet us with strengthening grace then. We believe God will help understand more of his own love and become more like Jesus through it.

Two, why not have the same perspective with biological children (or anything else for that matter)? Does God owe your “biokids” another day simply because they’re genetically yours? As certainly as God may send our foster children back home tomorrow, can he not call your biological child home all the same? We must hold all God’s gifts loosely. Thankfully and joyfully, but loosely.

Three, God did not temper his commitment to us by the amount of pain that commitment might cause. If we only did those things that carried little-to-no risk of pain we’ll never know the abundant life of Christ (Phil 3.10).

3. The State is God’s gift for restraining evil and rewarding good (Rom 13.1-7). But it is not a parent. God intends the State wield the sword, not a rattle. More Christians need to be involved in fostering and adoption. I say that as a recovering pious snot who who not so long ago thumbed his nose at “those people who need to get a J-O-B.”  It’s just not that simple.

Christians exhaust themselves complaining about the welfare system. Its the government’s fault kids are wasted and schools are dangerous. That may be true in part but our inaction has demonstrated faithlessness in the gospel to remedy social ills. We’ve buried our heads in the sand, refusing to put God on display to the world. Fostering and adoption provide a tremendous opportunity to prove that the gospel-centered worldview can and will do far more than “the system.”

In fact, the system is largely set up to perpetuate itself.  More federal dollars for more impoverished people mean keeping people impoverished to get more federal dollars. Children become the commodity that drives the market.

This is not a political issue, but a spiritual one. You want to see public schools change in fifteen years? You want to see children who know more about God’s glory in creation than man’s glory in XBox? Don’t look to a secular government for help. By faith, foster and/or adopt. Multiply that perspective throughout the church and our communities look much different in a decade.

Is our faith in the government or the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? Do we believe King Jesus to be a far better caregiver than Caesar?

Not all Christians should foster and/or adopt children, but more should than do. Let’s not couch this in terms of “calling.” We often justify disobedience to Scripture by claiming we’re not “called” to this or that (see Jas 1.27). There is one “Calling” and that’s to Christ (Eph 4.4). All efforts thereafter are outworkings of faith in that Calling.

Is fostering/adoption something you’d like to do? Do you have opportunity? Refuse to look on paper and calculate all the possible outcomes to all the “what ifs.” Don’t overthink it or you’ll never do it. Step out on faith, start the process and see if God prospers it. Be willing to put God on display for all your world to see. What better picture of the gospel could we paint for our communities than reaching into darkness to rescue helpless children from condemnation?

Know, though, it will be hard.  Very hard, with many dim, heart-wrenching days.

4.   Poverty is not necessarily sin and I am not a better parent because I could provide a few more toys.  I regularly and foolishly thought, “Clearly our home is better.  These kids shouldn’t go home to a one-bedroom apartment to live on food stamps.  Obviously, we’re better because we’re wealthier.”  May God have mercy.  We weren’t doing the world a favor.

Better that children have less and be loved more.  May God protect our children from becoming as snotty as I was.  Poverty doesn’t make anyone a bad parent. In fact, I wonder if affluence might do more to hinder good parenting than poverty.       

5. Fostering/adopting have helped us understand the gospel better. We have a small, but real, taste of God’s compassion for us. Staring into the eyes of abused children is to stare into a mirror. Children stuck in hellish situations is a part of a world where all of us are born slaves to sin. As bad as an abusive home is in this life it’s nothing compared to hell’s eternal abuse. To pity wards of the State is to understand God’s pity for me, otherwise a ward of Satan.

Fostering/adoption is making a child in fact what he/she is not by nature. God makes us in fact what we are not by nature: his children with all the rights and privileges of heaven. We are lame children who sit at the King’s table and feast on his finest menu. We don’t call him “Mr. God” but “Abba, Father” like Jesus (Rom 8.15; Gal 4.6). Therefore, to foster/adopt is to write a living tracts, a living parable, of God’s love for the least.

We also understand a little better that for there to be redemption, God must tolerate (in fact, sovereignly allow) abuse. Our joy in fostering has come at a huge expense.  A family had to dissolve and children had to suffer abuse. Likewise, God’s joy came at the universe’s ultimate expense: the death of his One and Only Son (see Acts 2.23; 4.28). It’s a hard truth to stomach but God must let sin takes its course so that grace can be grace.

While I’m thankful for two new children in whom we’ve invested for seven years now, I’m more thankful for children through whom God has invested in me. They’ve helped me understand that I was born on the other side of the tracks, too.

I am Mephibosheth.

Moonlight Graham & Christ’s Field of Dreams

Archibald Wright “Moonlight” Graham was a baseball player.  He was also a doctor.  He was immortalized in the classic American baseball film Field of Dreams.  And he can illustrate the glorious mystery of Christ’s incarnation.

Moonlight Graham spent seven seasons in the minor leagues, even having a cup of coffee with the Memphis Egyptians in 1906.  His claim to fame, however, was not what he did in the minor leagues.  It’s what he didn’t do in the major leagues.  After being called up to the New York Giants on May 23, 1905, Graham sat the bench until June 29 when he assumed right field in the bottom of the eighth inning.  He was on deck in the top of the ninth inning preparing for his first major league at-bat.  Claude Elliot flied out, however, ending the game.  Moonlight finished the game in right field but never played another major league game.  He was sent back to the minor leagues having never batted in the big leagues.

He earned his medical degree in 1905.  After hanging up his spikes in 1908 he doctored Chisolm, Minnesota for the next fifty years.

That much is true.

In the fictional movie, a much-older “Doc” Graham was afforded the opportunity to realize his dream on Ray Kinsella’s magical Field of Dreams.  Old and some long-dead players were transformed into their younger selves to play baseball.  “Archie” (the younger version of Moonlight Graham) hit an RBI sacrifice fly against White Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte.  It was enough to make grown men cry.

Here is where an illustration of Christ’s incarnation comes in.  Graham was suited up for another game when Ray Kinsella’s (played by Kevin Costner) daughter fell from the bleachers.  She wasn’t breathing.  As panic set in, Kinsella’s eyes met Graham’s who was in left field with the other players.  There was no time to wait on a doctor and Archie Graham knew it.  What he knew, however, that Kinsella didn’t was that if he crossed the baseline to help the girl he would never be able to return to the field.  His baseball career would be cut short again.

In a pregnant moment, Archie Graham stepped off the field and immediately became old “Doc” Graham again.  He saved the girl and went home to his wife who he joked might think he had a girlfriend.

Such is the pregnant moment of Christ’s incarnation.

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 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.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2.5-11).

Jesus did not become man for thirty-three years and then return to his pre-incarnate eternal form (whatever that was).  He became man and stayed man–the firstborn among many brethren (Rom 8.29).  He exists now as he always will: as the God-Man.  Our older brother, bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh.  Christus Incarnatus.

When the eternal Christ crossed the threshold between heaven and earth he knew he was never going back to the way things were.  He was baptized in our Jordan, immersed in our sin, tempted by the prince of our world, crucified by our hands, buried in our tomb and risen on our soil.  To save God’s children he had to become like us, live like us, die like us (Heb 2.14-18).  He humbled himself, laying aside his rightful privileges to breathe life into those who choked on sin and death.  The only scars in heaven will be his.

No wonder the apostles loved the word “mystery.”  Only God could condense Christ’s pre-world, pre-time glory into human form (Jn 17.5).  The eternal second Person of the Trinity, fullness of deity in bodily form (Col 2.9), exact representation of God himself (Heb 1.3) forever compacted in a Man.  A Man like us.  A Man for us.

The fullness of glory wrapped in the fullness of humility.  This is our God.  This is our Christ.  At the right time, indeed the fullness of time (Gal 4.4), he sacrificed so that we could come home.

Praying Like Jesus (Not Just More or Better)

Eugene Peterson writes in Tell it Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers:

Prayer can be learned only in the vocabulary and grammar of personal relationship: Father!  Friend!  It can never be a matter of getting the right words in the right order.  It can never be a matter of good behavior or proper disposition or skillful manipulation.  It can never be a matter of acquiring some information about God or getting in touch with myself.  It is a relationship, exclusively and unendingly personal.  And so it is imperative that we watch our language, for the personal is constantly and increasingly in danger of suppression by the arrogant and blasphemous claims of technology, the apotheosis of the impersonal (pp51-52).

The pressure to pray more and pray better weighs heavy on the Christian soul.  We all want to pray more and pray better.  By that we mean praying more words and better words.  Peterson, however, suggests it’s precisely when we try to pray more and pray better that we actually hinder praying at all.  We fear getting prayer wrong or boast in getting it right that we aren’t even praying at all, even (or especially) when pious words flow from our mouth in Shakespearean rhythms.  Either we pray or we don’t.  And what I often consider prayer isn’t.

We’ve assumed certain rules in prayer that do more to hinder prayer than help it.  Rather than “lift up our soul” (Ps 25.1) we lift up our words.  So the church’s opening prayer will sound much like last week’s, and last decade’s.  Of course, the offertory prayer must ask God to “bless the gift and the giver.”  The pre-meal prayer must include “nourishment of our bodies” as surely as prayers for the sick must address “the Great Physician.”

We assume prayer is “a matter of getting the right words in the right order.”  It’s all so rote.  So rehearsed.  So impersonal.  So prayerless.  The harder we try to make prayer sound “prayerful” the less prayerful we become.

Or, we attach prayer to our behavior or disposition.  We can only pray when we feel really holy or have spiritual capital built up against which to draw.  We pray as if God were some cosmic banker that charges overdrafts on our heavenly account so we’d better have enough clout to collateralize our requests.

Or, we use prayer as “skillful manipulation.”  Jesus would call this hypocrisy and I’ve done my fair share of it.  My heart feels one way (and necessarily cries out accordingly), but I say words that betray my heart.  Like a child trying to say just the right thing to manipulate her father, I try to pull one over on God by saying words he wants to hear while he is seeing the words my heart is screaming.  We can do that with other people but we never fool God.  Yet, our God patiently listens while I lie to him because Jesus suffered the punishment due liars.

Jesus warned us against convoluted and pretentious prayer (Mt 6.5-15).  Despite my bloated opinion of myself, God knows such is not prayer.  It’s “meaningless repetition” and “many words” that do nothing but perform before men.

Christ’s followers pray simply, honestly, genuinely and openly both alone and together.  We don’t pray as though God or men are grading our prayers.  We pray because God is a Friendly Father, a Fatherly Friend, who knows our heart.  And he’s not offended by it because Jesus assumed all the offense.

Prayer is not about our character but about God’s.  Not about our ability or fitness but about God’s mercy.  He knows what our heart cries so we do well to let those cries loose through our mouths.  Jesus has liberated us to pray with the lid off.  God knows, hears and is quite able to handle what he already knows about us.

This year, let’s not resolve to pray more or better.  Let’s resolve to pray.  Jesus didn’t teach us a class on prayer.  He prayed . . . and forgave.

So get around those who lose the rules and rhetoric.  Pray with those who resist pretense and protocol.  Pray with those who know Jesus as a faithful–and personal–High Priest.  Pray with those who know the Father, not merely impressive words about him.  Who habitually commune with him.  Pray with those who don’t merely repeat the word of God, but reflect the word of God by forgiving.

Let’s not pray as God’s customer, performer or employee but as his child.  His beloved child.  Like Jesus.

 

Christmas: The End of a Family Feud

For many families Christmas is as much about family feuds as it is family feasts.  But there is no greater family feud than that on display at the first Christmas.

As God entered our world through the ghetto, Satan stirred in the palace.  Herod the Great heard that someone Greater had been born (Mt 2.2).  And in Bethlehem no less, which only added to the Messianic lore (Mt 2.5).

There had been pretenders before.  For some 40 years, the ruthless Herod wasted no time “neutralizing” them be they kith or kin.  Messiah or not, this kid in Bethlehem would be no different.  Herod plotted to handle this threat himself but Plan A failed (Mt 2.7-12).  So he sent out his henchman to deal with yet another Messianic upstart.  Killing all toddling boys in Greater Bethlehem should do it.  Another rival up, another rival down.

Little did Herod know God had already outmaneuvered him the night before.  The Greater One slept peacefully in Egypt (Mt 2.13-15).

There was more to this power play than often meets the eye.  Herod the Great was a bit player in an age-old drama.  You see, Herod was an Idumean, or Edomite.  Edom was the land of Esau (cf. Gen 36.9).  Herod was a son of Esau.

Jesus was a Bethlehemite, from the land of Judah (cf. Micah 5.2).  Jesus was a son of Jacob.

The “slaughter of the innocents” was yet another iteration of the feud between Jacob and Esau.  The chosen younger son versus the rejected older son. The one whom God loved versus the one he hated (cf. Mal 1.1.-5; Rom 9.10-13).  Esau could never kill his brother Jacob, but not for lack of trying (cf. Gen 27.41).  Rebekah helped Jacob escape by night then (Gen 27.43-45) and God helped him again now.

But Esau would neither rest nor care about the collateral damage.  No wonder Rachel wept (Mt 2.18).  Her enraged brother-in-law was at it again and her children in Bethlehem suffered for it.  Still Jacob lived and would inherit what was rightfully his–the Father’s eternal inheritance.

The feud between Jacob and Esau was nothing new, either.  In fact, it was part the age-old family feud stretching back generations: Isaac vs. Ishmael, Abraham vs. Haran (via Lot), Shem vs. Ham and Abel vs. Cain.  It would manifest itself time after time thereafter: Joseph vs. his older brothers, David vs. his better brothers, Amnon vs. Absalom.  And so on and so on and so on.

It was always the unlikely younger son that triumphed over the older, rejected son. God always raised up a Seth: “another offspring” to carry on the younger son’s favor and call upon the name of the Lord (Gen 4.25-26).  Ultimately, however, this all stretches back to the very first feud: the seed of the woman vs. the seed of the serpent (Gen 3.15).  Her son would suffer bruises but the serpent’s son would suffer defeat.

Esau took his best and final shot at the cross where he’d finally gotten rid of his brother. Once a sellout, always a sellout.  No more Jacob.  The tyranny of God’s sovereign favoritism was over at last.  The seed of the woman was buried and her children scattered.  Esau would rule with birthright in hand.

Or so he thought.  Esau’s brother was a sacrificial lamb, for sure.  But he was also the Lion from the tribe of Judah (Rev 5.5).  His brothers will praise him because he always wins (Gen 49.8).  The Son has risen and the feud is over.  The Son of the woman has dealt the serpent its fatal blow (Mt 28.18; Eph 2.19-23). There is a New Jerusalem with a New King: Jacob the Great (Gal 4.21-31).  Rachel weeps no more.

Carol of Joy, Eileen Berry

We recently enjoyed the annual Festival of Carols at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis.  During it we sang this beautiful poem by Eileen Berry entitled “Carol of Joy” (2007, Beckenhorst Press) set to music by Dan Forrest. It’s nearly impossible to add anything substantial to, much less improve upon, the church’s traditional coterie of Christmas hymns but this is a worthy addition:

Green leaves all fallen, withered and dry;
Brief sunset fading, dim winter sky;
Lengthening shadows,
Dark closing in…
Then, through the stillness, carols begin!
Oh fallen world, to you is the song!
Death holds you fast and night tarries long.
Jesus is born, your curse to destroy!
Sweet to your ears, a carol of Joy!

Pale moon ascending, solemn and slow;
Cold barren hillside, shrouded in snow;
Deep,empty valley, veiled by the night;
hear angel music–hopeful and bright!
Oh fearful world, to you is the song.
Peace with your God, and pardon for wrong.
Tidings for sinners, burdened and bound,

A carol of joy!
A Savior is found!

Earth wrapped in sorrow, lift up your eyes!
Thrill to the chorus filling the skies.
Look up, sad-hearted.  Witness God’s love;
Join in the carol swelling above!
Oh friendless world, to you is the song!
All Heaven’s joy to you may belong!
You who are lonely, laden, forlorn:

Oh fallen, oh friendless world!
To you, a Saviour is born!

Incense Rising: The Aroma of Israel’s Fertility

“But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John.  You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.  For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb.  And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.'” (Lk 1.13-17)

Zacharias and his priestly squad were in Jerusalem for their bi-annual temple assignment.  His number came up to burn incense on which Israel’s prayers would waft to heaven.  This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a priest.  In Zacharias’ case, it was also a once-in-an-eternity event for Israel and the whole world.

Time had long past for Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth to have any children (Lk 1.18).  We can only assume they stopped praying for a son years ago after Elizabeth went through menopause. Still Zacharias performed his priestly ministry with all faithfulness and hope in Yahweh (Lk 1.6). So here he was, praying that Israel have a son–The Son–even if he never would.

Zacharias was the latest in a long line of priestly pray-ers.  In fact, Israel had been praying 400 years for Elijah to come (cf. Mal 4.4-6).  One hundred generations of smoke had filled Zion’s temple in hopes that pregnant prayers would bear a pregnant woman.  There had been many hope-to-bes and wanna-bes along the way but they never lived up to the promise.  No matter how hard Israel tried she simply could not produce a Savior.  God would have to do that for them, and in them.  With each passing generation one wonders how much hope passed with it.  But there were still some faithful few and there they stood while Zacharias took their prayers to the smoldering altar.

As Zacharias fanned the aromatic smoke Gabriel showed up unannounced.  Angels always do.

God had smelled the aroma.  God had heard the petition.  Elijah was finally coming.  Israel would have a son.  Israel’s son would be Zacharias’ son, too.  Little did Zacharias know the prayers he offered on behalf of Israel had included those dormant prayers he and Elizabeth had long stopped praying.  Israel would have a son because Elizabeth will bear a son.  And if Elijah was coming then Messiah wasn’t far behind.  Zachariah’s “joy and gladness” would pave the way for Israel’s repentance.

The whole scene explodes with heavenly majesty.  That Gabriel appeared where and to whom he did shows us Elizabeth’s infertility was also a metaphor for Israel’s barrenness. After 400 years of prophetic silence, royal weakness and Messianic absence, Israel was barren and “advanced in years” (vv7, 18).  Yet what remnant there was followed priest after priest year after year, decade after decade, century after century to the altar of incense. Praying.  And praying.  And praying until God heard the petition and opened Israel’s womb.

By opening Elizabeth’s womb God was doing something of Abrahamic proportions (see Lk 1.73; cf. Gen 18.11-14).  Out of barren darkness he would bring life and light (cf 1.67-79). Israel was fertile again.  The world could hope again.  God was recreating history.  Once again, the Aaron the priest (cf. Lk 1.5) and Elijah the prophet (cf. Lk 1.17) would prepare the way for David the King (cf. 1.69).  A new Spirit-born Adam was soon to breathe.

Like those faithful and prayerful Israelites, the New Israel eagerly awaits the return of her King after two millennia of delay.  Nevertheless, “the end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer” (1 Pt 4.7).  The incense still rises (Rev 5.8; 8.3-4), the Priest still intercedes (Heb 7.25) and God still smells the sweet aroma.  Maranatha.

Does God Love {Insert Your Name}?

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (Jn 3.16)

I once read a cartoon Scripture memorization pamphlet to my youngest daughter.  It was a story written to help her memorize John 3.16.  The pamphlet was nicely done and broke the verse down into helpful, digestible parts.

As we worked on the first part of the verse (“For God so loved the world”) the pamphlet suggested inserting her name for “world.”  I absolutely want each of our children to know and relish God’s love for them.  But I’m not so sure replacing “world” with their name in John 3.16 helps to that end.

We should absolutely emphasize God’s love for saving persons like you and me, but inserting our name for “world” distracts us from the glory of John 3:16.  If Jesus (or more likely John) wanted to individualize the verse he certainly could have.  He could very well have said “God so loved you” and does so elsewhere (cf. 1 Jn 4.10, 16) but he didn’t in John 3.16.  John used “world” for a specific reason and not as a synonym for you or me. The direct of object of God’s love in John 3.16 is not any individual person but the “world” in which all individual believers must first consider themselves a part.

For John “world” (cosmos) is not the earth in general or even all earthlings in general.  John considers “world” as the realm of hostility toward God, especially as that hostility is expressed toward Jesus.  The “world” stands for darkness-loving (3.19) Christ-haters (7.7; 15.18f.).  It’s the world Jesus is not from (8.23) and what Satan rules (12.31; 14.30; 16.11).  John’s “world” cannot receive the Holy Spirit (14.17) or provide peace (14.27).  It’s the realm where Christ’s followers are left as life-losing ambassadors (17.5-25) (cf. Jn 1.9f., 29; 3.17; 8.12, 26; 9.5, 39; 10.36; 12.19, 46f.; 13.1; 14.17).

The emphasis of John 3:16 is not on how many or what exact people God loved.  Rather, John stressed the kind of people God loved and the unexpected, remarkable way by which he loved them.  God loved his worst enemies by giving them his highest treasure.

We reserve our finest gifts for our beloved friends, not our worst enemies. God, however, loved the world (i.e. God-haters) by giving his only son to be hated by the very world he loves (Rom 5.8, 10).  And after that world hated Jesus to death God saved out of that world those for whom Jesus died (i.e. “whosoever” believes and obey the Son, Jn 3.36).  The scandal of the gospel according to John 3.16 is not primarily that God loved any given one of us (though he does), but that he gave his eternal treasure to those who’d always hated him as if they’d always loved him.  And if God treats his enemies that way then how he will treat his friends (Rom 5.10)!

I know my daughter because I know me.  Inserting her name will tempt her to think God loves her because she is so lovable.  But that’s hardly John’s point.  He is not stressing the inherent lovability of individual worldlings but the God who would love a realm so hostile toward him enough to give it his most precious Gift.  Inserting her name shifts the attention from the magnitude of God’s great love for great sinners to her perceived, personal “lovability.”  It individualizes what John meant to be categorical.  God loved the “world” (his sinful enemies) and she must first recognize and confess herself a part of that world.  Jesus didn’t come to save the righteous, but sinners (Lk 5.32).  Not the self-professed found, but the lost (Lk 19.10).  To know God’s love for her she must first confess to be part of the “world” that hated and rejected him.

The point is not that God loved [your name] because it’s [your name].  There is no inherent virtue in loving persons who are easy to love (Mt 5.44-48).  Only God is self-sufficient enough to love his enemies.  He loved the “world” and I must first see myself a part of that rebellious world.  Only then does God’s love reach its zenith and I am compelled to believe Jesus for eternal life.  The “whosoever” that believes must first confess to be part of the God-hating world he loved.

Inserting your child’s name in John 3.16 is by no means heretical or eternally dangerous.  I wonder though if it might distract from and weaken its force.  There are certainly other texts where it would be most appropriate.  But as for John 3.16 my daughter and I understand God’s love for us better if we insert our names in the world it rather than for it.

Is Today the Day the Lord Has Made? (What Children’s Choir Didn’t Teach Us)

“This is the day which the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
(Ps 118.24)

Many a church kid memorized Psalm 118.24 in children’s choir.  It was a catchy tune that still causes foot-tapping.  God be praised for those children’s workers who helped seal Scripture in our minds and hearts (even if I scowled my way through it).  As we get older we cannot help but wake up applying Psalm 118.24 to the day.

But is there more to Psalm 118.24 than meets the eye (or ear)?  In what day exactly did the psalmist consider worthy of rejoicing?  By “this” did the psalmist mean “today” and therefore any and every day?  Or did he mean a specific day unlike all other days?

Psalm 118 was part of a selection of psalms sung particularly at Passover (Pss 113-118).  They are majestic, transcendent, glorious songs of God’s salvation and the anticipation of the ultimate deliverance if his people.  Psalm 118 might well be the crescendo of these songs.

Psalm 118 called Israel to worship God for his tireless, inexhaustible mercy (vv1-4).  As puny as Israel was in the world’s eyes Yahweh was still her warrior (vv5-9).  Time and time again God exalted Israel over bully nations.  No sort of earthly leader could ever protect like God protects.  Israel and her king were goners, surrounded by the world’s finest of armies (vv10-14).  But God helped and saved.  Whatever discipline God inflicted on Israel and her king it was for the purpose of worship (vv15-18).  With Jerusalem secure the gates of righteousness were open to God’s people (vv19-21).

Now, we come to the context of v24.  We find the psalmist referring to “this” day as the day when man’s rejected cornerstone became God’s chief cornerstone (v22).  The day in which we rejoice is the day in which Israel’s king was rejected by men, but who was marvelously saved and exalted by God (v23).  Though no nation thought Israel or her king worth their snuff, God proved his love for them by delivering them.  The day the Lord has made is the day when his people are saved through the ministry of the despised but exalted cornerstone.  It is the day when God himself comes to finally deliver his oppressed people from the tyranny of their sin.  Jews would not sing this about any or every day, but of the day when God comes to forever destroy their enemies and mercifully and finally save them.  It was The Day to which the Passover looked, The Day above all days.   It was the New Exodus to rival and surpass the Exodus celebrated at Passover (see Lk 9.31).

Psalm 118 is popular in the life and ministry of Jesus.  The NT quotes v22 repeatedly in referring to Jesus (Mt 21.42; Mk 12.10-11; Lk 20.17; Acts 4.11; Eph 2.20; 1 Pt 2.7).  As Jewish families welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem, they sang to/about him the familiar refrain in v26: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD” (Mt 21.9; 23.39; Mk 11.9; Lk 13.35; 19.38; Jn 12.13).  God had finally come for them in that Jesus had humbly come to them.  Jesus was the Light of the world (Jn 1.4-5; 8.12; 9.5) who had come to give us light (Ps 118.27) and lead us out of darkness (Lk 1.78-79).

God has certainly orchestrated every day for our worship,but there is one Day that stands above all the rest.   In fact, there would be no reason to rejoice in any day if not for “this” day.  The day in which the psalmist rejoiced was the day when God would come to his lowly, weak, disregarded, sin-ridden people and gloriously bring them through the gates of righteousness into his kingdom.  We find “this” day to be fulfilled in the Passover day to end all Passover days: the day the Lamb of God was slaughtered for the salvation of sinners.  The Marvelous Day was the day when men rejected Jesus as a pathetic criminal but in so doing God made him the capstone of his true temple.

There may not be a better way to memorize Psalm 118.24 than the snappy children’s tune.  Let’s teach and sing it with great joy.  But let’s also do it with the same purpose for which the psalmist wrote it.  The day the Lord has made is not Sunday, with all due respect to the musical call to worship in many churches.  It is not any other day simply because we can cross it off on a calendar.  It is not simply another 24-hour period of breathing.

The day the LORD has made is not any old day the sun rises (albeit a gift from God), but The Day when the Son rises.  “This” day is not one defined by astronomical revolutions or lunar cycles.  God made this Day especially to be The Day above all other days – the Lord’s Day that dawned on an empty tomb.

Abraham the Pimp & God the Husband

Then God said to him in the dream, ‘Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against me; therefore I did not let you touch her'” (Gen 20.6).

Though credited with righteousness for his faith, Abraham did not always live up to the hype.  He was frankly a sneaky man with a trophy wife (Gen 12.11).  He was righteous alright, but only because God was gracious to consider him so.

After God promised him bright and international heritage (Gen 12.1-3), Abraham and family meandered down to Egypt to escape a famine in Canaan.  He knew Pharaoh would take a shine to (then) Sarai because men always ogled her at restaurants.  And what Pharaoh wanted Pharaoh got.  So Abraham resigned the fact he would lose his wife to Pharaoh.  Of course, to lose his wife also meant to lose his life (Gen 12.12). Pharaoh was too noble to steal another man’s wife unless, of course, that man was dead. He was above adultery but not murder.  Technicalities.

Crafty Abraham had a plan, though.  Convince Pharaoh she was his sister and he would at least save his own head.  “Righteous” Abraham sold out his wife to Pharaoh’s harem “so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you” (Gen 12.13).  Whatever faith Abraham had, he didn’t believe God could keep his promise.  God was no match for Pharaoh’s libido.  Abraham believed he would live on account of “Sister” Sarai rather than Yahweh.  If God had eyes he most certainly would’ve rolled them then.

God proved himself able to manage Abraham’s well-being despite the shenanigans.  He plagued Pharaoh’s house until he returned Sarai to her rightful place (Gen 12.17-20).  God has a habit of punishing those who try to own what is given only to his people (cf. Exod 7-12; 1 Sam 4-5).

Would to be a fly on Abraham’s donkey on that long journey back to Bethel (Gen 13)!  “So, honey, how was your stay at Pharaoh’s place?  Were the other gals in the harem nice?  You know I did what I did for us, sweetheart.”

Fast forward past his son-producing affair with Hagar (Gen 16), his rather painful reminder that God lovingly owns him (Gen 17) and the takedown of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18-19).

Abraham hauled his estate into Gerar, where he was sure King Abimelech would, like Pharaoh years earlier, take a shine to (now) Sarah (Gen 20).  God had already guaranteed Abraham a son by Sarah (Gen 17-18).  Therefore, unless God would commit theocide, Abraham could not die until he and Sarah had a son together.  Nevertheless, Abraham invoked Operation She’s-My-Sister again, something 20.13 indicates was a regular scheme. Sarai was quite the knockout in her younger years and Abraham quite the faithless coward. King Abimelech fell for it and Abraham slept alone.  Alive, but alone.

God did not visit Abimelech with plagues like he did Pharaoh.  No, this time God showed up in Abimelech’s dreams.  Return Sarah or you’re a dead man (20.7).  Abimelech pled ignorance.  He did, of course, take her on good faith she was Abraham’s sister and there was no DNA test available (v5).  God conceded the point but didn’t let Abimelech assume he was taking the high road.  The only reason Abimelech didn’t touch Sarah was because God restrained him (v6).

No one, not even frisky Pharaoh or lusty King, would impregnate Sarah except for Abraham.  They very well could have any other woman they wanted but they wouldn’t have God’s woman.

Abimelech took Sarah to have sex with her as part of his royal privilege.  But he didn’t.  Was it because he never slept with woman on the first date?  Of course not.  God orchestrated whatever means he pleased to keep him from touching her.  Maybe Abimelech had a migraine or ran out of blue pills.  Whatever the case God protected Sarah’s one-flesh union with Abraham even though Abraham clearly hadn’t.  Abraham had a prior son (Gen 16) but Sarah would have his only son, his beloved son (Gen 22.2).  God was saving Abraham (and us!) even though Abraham (and we!) didn’t know he was lost.  God would be Sarah’s faithful husband even if Abraham was her pimp.

Even when Abraham’s scheme was uncovered he still tried to weasel his way out using a loophole.  Instead of owning up to and repenting from his selfish deception, he admitted that Sarah was actually his half-sister and was therefore not technically lying (Gen 20.12-13).  Right, Abraham, right.  And Abraham even had the gall to justify his deception by assuming there was no fear of God in Gerar (v11) and therefore no decorum or respect for a wife’s husband.  Really, Abraham?  You pimped out your wife because Abimelech didn’t fear God? Doesn’t sound like there was much fear of God in Abraham!  In fact, Abimelech was the one who feared God enough to make it right.  He admitted sin (v9) while Abraham made excuses.

Still God struck all Abimelech’s women barren for his “innocent” treachery until Abraham prayed for God’s mercy (vv17-18).  Seems like just the opposite would’ve been more just. Yet, God will have his man often despite that man!  He is carrying out a sovereign plan that goes through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob no matter how pathetic those men were. Thankfully, by Genesis 22 Abraham had learned his lesson.  He would not try to weasel out of any more impossible situations but would trust God to make good on his promise.

God will save his people even if that people have little interest in being saved God’s way. Hence, the scandal of the cross and God’s sovereign initiative to save his enemies and conquer them through love (Rom 5.8).  The Beloved Son is also the Faithful Husband.  Like Adam before him, Abraham sacrificed his wife’s honor to protect himself.  Not Jesus.  He sacrificed himself to protect his Bride’s eternal purity (Eph 5.25-27).  Abraham traded his bride for his life.  Jesus traded his life for his Bride.  Abraham would rather sleep alone for his own sake.  Jesus would rather die alone for the church’s sake.  If you want a shot at Jesus’ Bride then you’ll have to kill him first.  But you should know he doesn’t stay dead and he is a very jealous husband (2 Cor 11.2; Heb 11.31).  No wonder Abraham rejoiced to say Christ’s day (Jn 8.56).

But enough about rascally Abraham.

What would we do if not for God restraining our sin?  God could invade our dreams to say as he did to Abimelech, “I also kept you from sinning against me; therefore I did not let you touch her.”  God is to be praised for curtailing our free will, restraining us from doing what we freely want to do?

We should readily confess our sin and thank God for his forgiveness freely given in Christ to all who believe.  We must also thank him for keeping us from sinning against him for the sake of Jesus.  God forgives the sin we commit and also keeps us from committing sin.  Let us not assume that we avoided sin because we’re strong or spiritually-minded.  We sin because we want to and we would sin far more were it not for God’s restraining grace.  So listen to your dreams tonight:

  • “I also kept you from sinning against me; therefore I disconnected your router before you could click on that tantalizing image.”
  • “I also kept you from sinning against me; therefore I had you shop in the same aisle as your enemy so you would consider love and make peace.”
  • “I also kept you from sinning against me; therefore I delayed your tax refund so you would not blow it on a silly gadget on sale this week so you could give it to others.”
  • “I also kept you from sinning against me; therefore I afflicted your daughter with an illness so you would not live prayerlessly.”
  • “I also kept you from sinning against me; therefore I zapped your satellite so you would not stay home from another Sunday gathering.”

The God of Abraham restrained Abimelech for the sake of his promise to Sarah in Abraham.  He restrains us for the sake of his promise to us in Christ.  Sweet dreams.

Tennessee Amendment 1: Rhetoric and Red Herrings

On November 4, Tennesseans have the privilege and opportunity to vote on an important constitutional amendment.   The famed Amendment 1 reads:  “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.”

(Full disclosure: I am generally for whatever Planned Parenthood is against and Planned Parenthood is vehemently against this amendment.  It is ironic an organization called “Planned Parenthood” is actually devoted to preventing parenthood.)

What the amendment proposes is that abortion is not a right Tennesseans have.  It does not outlaw abortion or prevent anyone from getting an abortion.  It simply means the State of Tennessee is not responsible to fund abortions in the way it funds the interstate system, public universities or Tennessee National Guard.  Anyone can still get an abortion, but they’ll have to use their private funds and/or private insurance.  Abortion would still be (unfortunately) legal but not a constitutional right the State is obliged to provide or protect.  No one will be arrested after an abortion but they won’t be receiving a government check before it, either.

Needless to say, the din of rhetoric increases on both sides.  Despite all the parsing of legal jargon, the issue comes down to whether or not what is gestating in a woman’s womb is a person or a thing.  Is the fetus a disease to be eradicated or a person to protected.  Is the fetus a he/she or an it?

While I think the state has the Romans 13-esque moral and theological responsibility to prohibit abortion altogether, I also know we live in a democracy and so I argue the case on that front.  And opponents of the amendment specialize in two glaring red herrings rather than honest democratic citizenship.

1.  Opponents claim this amendment gives all the power to the State to weasel its way into a woman’s bedroom or exam room.  However, the amendment clearly says the State doesn’t protect any right to abortion but that “the people retain the right.”  In other words, the State would not consider abortion a right but would consider the democratic process a right.  The amendment protects the democratic process to “enact, amend or repeal statutes regarding abortion.”  Frankly, pro-abortion folks should relish this opportunity.  It’s not constitutional overreach.  It’s actually opening the door for them to get more then they’ve ever had.

If the majority of Tennesseans want to fully fund all abortions by their tax dollars then they can elect like-minded representatives and senators who then decide to fund them. If the majority of Tennesseans want to mandate abortions for all rape-related pregnancies then they can elect like-minded representatives and senators who write the law thereunto.  If the majority of Tennesseans want to give 2-for-1 abortions then they can elect like-minded representatives and senators who write the law and fund it.  Frankly, the pro-abortion crowd should really take advantage of this amendment.  The State is granting them the power to persuade the citizenry rather than fight the legislature.

But, if the majority of Tennesseans don’t want to allocate tax dollars to abortion then they elect like-minded representatives and senators to prevent it.  In effect, the Tennessee legislature is giving the right back to Tennesseans pilfered by the Supreme Court in 1973.  Voting against the Amendment actually preserves governmental overreach rather than ends it.

If through Amendment 1 the State is imposing anything it’s the freedom of democratic process!  Its opponents claim the government is inserting itself while in reality the government is deferring itself to the citizenry.

2.  Opponents claim this amendment has no regard for women impregnated by rape/incest or whose life is endangered.  Let’s consider these in turn.

There is no mandatory reporting of pregnancies caused by rape/incest.  No woman has to tell anyone how she got pregnant unless the father wants to cause a fuss about it. Therefore, any statistics about the number of rape-related pregnancies is an educated guess.  That said, all reasonable, scientific, scholarly data (albeit dated) estimates there are several thousand rape-related pregnancies per year (around 3% of all reported rapes). That’s a national number so there can only be several hundred rape-related pregnancies per year in Tennessee at most.  More likely, there are several dozen.  Incest-related pregnancies are even fewer.

There are currently 6.5 million Tennesseans.  Therefore, opponents of Amendment 1 are asking 6.5 million Tennesseans to fund statewide abortions for everyone on the off chance a few dozen are rape-related.  Despite the moral absurdity of abortion, this is democratic absurdity.

What about pregnancy-related deaths?  What if giving birth to a baby threatens the mother’s life?  According the CDC, there were 16.7 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2010. The CDC defines a pregnancy-related death “as the death of a woman while pregnant or within 1 year of pregnancy termination—regardless of the duration or site of the pregnancy—from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management, but not from accidental or incidental causes.”  Therefore, for every 100,000 live births in 2010 only .02% of the mothers died as a result.

These mothers were not forced to die because abortion wasn’t available, mind you.  They either didn’t know they would die or chose to do so to save their baby.  To argue for abortion based on the danger of a mother’s health is a straw man.

In 2013, there were 79,954 live births in Tennessee.  If national statistics hold equally true in Tennessee, 16 mothers died as a result of their pregnancy.  Opponents of Amendment 1 are asking 6.5 million Tennesseans to fund statewide abortion for everyone on the off chance 16 pregnancies would endanger the mother’s health.  Again, its democratic absurdity.

Per the Guttmacher Institute, 16,720 women aborted their babies in 2011 in Tennessee at one of 14 providers.  All but a few dozen of those ended pregnancies were rape-related (maybe) or health-endangering.  Opponents of Amendment 1 are willing to allow the deaths of tens of thousands Tennesseans who have the constitutional right to live for the sake of a few dozen.

We must not be blindly insensitive to rape-victims or mothers endangered by their pregnancies.  Those are complex situations.  But they are highly exceptional situations that do not qualify for constitutional protections.  If women so affected want to end their pregnancies then they can do so.  It’s their choice!  That doesn’t mean the rest of their fellow Tennesseans (the majority of which oppose abortion) should help pay for it, though.

Their opposition is not really about women’s health, though.  It’s about a feminist (read: gender blending) agenda exploiting a few dozen women for sake of consequence-free sex. “Women’s health” and fearmongering about governmental overreach are merely the Trojan Condoms horse.  They’ll shamelessly use the painful and unfortunate circumstances of a few dozen women to get what they really want: autonomy via state-sponsored genocide.  They oppose Amendment 1 because  they know they’re in the moral minority and the democratic process wouldn’t support them.

As detestable is as it is to many of us, the Constitution does afford pro-abortionists the right to set up non-profit (or for-profit) organizations that can help fund abortions if they so desire.  They can raise all the private funds they can.  In fact, if the amount of citizens they claim are really pro-abortion then they should have no trouble finding deep pockets.  They just might raise more funds than our tax dollars ever could.  Just as churches establish adoption funds to help with adoption costs, abortion-friendly ministers can lead their churches to establish abortion funds.  If they’re honestly committed to women’s health and not state-sponsored genocide, they can then screen abortion-minded women to determine if there was a rape or if the mother’s health is jeopardize.  If so, the can then provide funds to end the baby’s life.  The State won’t interfere even if God will have a say in the end.

Amendment 1 is not outlawing abortion despite what its opponents argue.  It’s simply relieving Tennesseans of any constitutional mandate to fund abortion. The citizens retain the right.  You may not vote “yes” because of moral or theological reasons, but you should at least vote “yes” because it’s good democracy.  You don’t need to be a Christian to vote yes, but simply a good Tennessean.

You can be sure, though, the citizens of Zion will redouble her constitutionally-protected efforts to protect life through gospel proclamation and real pro-life efforts while we eagerly wait a country of our own (Heb 11.14).