Seeing Jesus in a Selfie World

 For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4.6).


We could define generations by the new terms and catchphrases they coin.  It would be interesting to write a history solely using Oxford’s additions to its dictionary.   The War.  The Crash.  The Bomb.  The Pill.  Watergate.  Nannygate.  Lewinskygate.  Free love.  Tough love.  Self love. Dr. Spock.  Doc Martin.  Dr. Phil.  Boomers.  Jim Crow.  Jim Morrison.  Jim Jones.  Xers, Millenials.  Defriend.  Unfriend.  Refriend.  PED.  HGH.  LOLOLOLOL.  You name it and any generation is known by what it (bit)coins.

For better or worse we now live in the age of the “selfie.”  Thanks to a ubiquitous social media we can instantly show the world what we’re doing, wearing and eating or any combination thereof.  Of course, this assumes we assume the world really should want to see us in our natural (or not so natural) habitat.

Let’s face it (pun intended).  We all want to be relevant to someone.  We all hope someone “likes” us.  We’re now able to put ourselves in view, forcing the world to at least look at us.  We hope they are impressed enough to share and retweet.  If even for a moment we can fee like a celebrity.

The selfie, at its root, is nothing new.  Only now we have the means of broadcasting what has long been a fundamental human desire:  to be loved and paid attention to.  The selfie is simply the digital version of what we desire anywhere else in public.  But it’s a sad reflection on our ability to love and be loved.  Our love has become so cheap that what used to require a kiss, hug, smile, hand-holding walks or visit can be had for a mere click of an icon.  Digital love has become an addictive opiate requiring increasingly more online interaction to satisfy a deep need.  We are so deprived of godly love that we’ll take it anywhere we can get it these days.

The selfie is also nothing new in another respect.  Like all good things God makes and gives he made us to be windows to look through, not portraits to look at.  God hard-wired desires to love and be loved in his image-bearers so they will admire him in one another.  He made us to be loved for God’s sake.  But with the selfie comes its own temptation to idolatry.  Whatever anyone things of God, we just hope they like our new look, style or pouty face.

While I love an interesting selfie as much as the next guy, we must be very careful of its place in the Christian life.  In the church, there are no “selfies.”  Only Christ-reflectors.

“For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Col 3.3-4).

Like Christ who saved us, we gladly choose to stay hidden behind him in a world addicted to celebrity.  We are glad to be, well, ordinary if it means people see an extraordinary Jesus.

Doesn’t it strike you that to this day we have no physical description of Jesus?  We know he had a beard but so did every other Jewish man.  Beyond that we only know Jesus had “no stately form or majesty that we should look upon him” (Is 53.2).  If Jesus’ own cousin couldn’t, we certainly couldn’t have picked Jesus out of a crowd (Jn 1.31).  We should be careful of depicting Jesus too much, especially as a centerfold.  Jesus will be believed because of his word (Jn 4.39, 50), not because of his headshots.

In other words, Jesus did not care if the world knew what he looked like because he didn’t come to save through “selfie.”  He took “the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men” (Phil 2.7).  Jesus became Everyman.  Anyman.  He came as the Second Adam, the True Human, who reflected the God who made us.  He lived such that whatever people saw in him they saw the Father who sent him (Jn 14.9).  Jesus was God’s selfie.

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Col 3.12-13).

Paul’s imperative “put on” (endusasthe) can easily be translated “clothe yourself.”  Do we want people to see what we’re wearing today?  Let them see compassion, kindness and humility.  Let them see the glory of God in the face of Christ.  What is worth seeing can only be seen with eyes of the heart, faith in the Unseen Christ (1 Pt 1.8).  And that sort of sight comes by hearing (Rom 10.17).

How can we digitally represent compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness?  We can’t.  That’s the point.  Displaying Christ and the power of his gospel requires a flesh-and-blood community that passes peace and shares bread and wine.   Jesus created a community where lepers are touched, holy kisses are shared, the gospel is tasted.  Resurrected sinners use real towels to dry off real water.  There is no such thing as a digital church because there is no such thing as a digital God and therefore no such thing as digital love.

Do I care more that 600 “friends” see what I look like in a mirror, or if my co-worker sees what Christ looks like at lunch?  Do I care that the world think me popular, pouty and perfect or that my neighbor sees Christ crucified and risen for sinners like us?  Do I seriously care about love, Christ’s love, and losing my life so I can save it?

I do not suggest the random selfie is categorically sinful and satanic.  I do suggest being careful about it because sin crouches and Satan prowls.  What may seem like a harmless little picture might actually be another Asherah in my heart and home.  And the consequences of that are never digital or liked or make anyone LOL.

Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take my voice, and let me sing always, only, for my King.
Take my lips, and let them be filled with messages from Thee.
Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect, and use every power as Thou shalt choose.

Take my will, and make it Thine; it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own; it shall be Thy royal throne.
Take my love, my Lord, I pour at Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for Thee.

Frances Havergal, 1874

Christians and Organ Donation

If navigating the DMV wasn’t stressful enough, they force us to decide whether or not we will be organ donors.  Of course, the DMV would not wish a fatal vehicular demise on anyone.  But, in such an unfortunate event time is of the essence. If there are organs to be donated they need to be preserved and transported quickly.  What better vehicle for that information than our driver’s license.

I do not know about you, but I like the idea of being an organ donor more than actually donating an organ.  I feel guilty not checking the box or signing my driver’s license.  I feel so, ironically, heartless.  But there is just something about other people taking my innards that bothers me, too.  Altruism and barbarianism clash at the DMV, including the decision to be an organ donor or not.

On one hand, I love the idea of my pancreas saving the life of the next Mozart or Ozzie Smith.  They will write stories about and name hospital wings after me.  I’d be a hero.

What good are my kidneys in a casket?  Am I so selfish as to want my liver decomposing with me than helping someone else live?  If I would risk my life to save a drowning man then why wouldn’t I want to save him from intestinal cancer in my death, where there is literally no risk to my life?

On the other hand, I hate the idea of being “recycled.”  It might be just a pericardium but it’s my pericardium!  I’ve had it my whole life and we’ve been through everything together.  The idea of it living on in someone else feels so utilitarian.  Am I worth only the sum of my working parts?  I don’t want people hovering like vultures at the crash scene salivating over my corneas.

I speak tongue-in-cheek (and admittedly irreverently) largely out of ignorance.   I know the reality is obviously well between heroism and vulturism.  I hope those who have benefited from organ donation will forgive me for making light of such an important issue.  And it really is important.  I will think far more soberly should I, my wife or child be next on the list for a kidney or heart.

But is organ donation biblical?  Is it a particularly Christian thing to do?  Is the Bible relevant to this discussion?

Biblical authors certainly did not anticipate the possibility of organ donation.  That would have been as space age to them as smartphones were to our grandparents, or hovercrafts are to us.  Although, God did “transplant” one of Adam’s ribs (Gen 2.21-22)!

Scripture is silent on whether or not Christians should or should not be organ donors.  That does not mean, however, Scripture is irrelevant to the discussion (2 Tim 3.16-17).  We should however allow each other wide latitude in this decision.  One is neither unholy for wanting everything in the grave with them, or holy for donating their whole body to science.  Wanting to keep all your organs is not sinful.  Wanting to donate all of them is not inherently righteous.

Being an organ donor or not is a matter of Christian liberty, but that doesn’t mean it is a matter of Christian indifference.  While we cannot come to definite biblical conclusions we can benefit from some biblical principles.  Please oblige me to think out loud about four considerations.

1.  We must consider organ donation in light of the gospel.  We live in a world of amputees, malformed babies, cancerous livers and car wrecks.  That actual humans, the crown pinnacle of God’s creation, would suffer so inhumanely testifies to the extent and nature of our sin.  We cannot say a woman suffers ovarian cancer because of a particular sin, but that anyone suffers from anything is itself a cancer on an otherwise “very good” world (Gen 1.31).  While we cannot help but ask why this tragedy happened to me, the larger question – the question of Scripture – is why any tragedy happens to anyone.  Scripture is about answering that question and providing God’s remedy for it.

In Adam we invited this sort of world, a world where organ donation would be necessary.  We thought it was going to be a world where we are gods, but we’ve become anything but.  We invited a world where organs get diseases and shut down.  It’s a fallen world.  And God has redeemed this fallen world through Christ.  Jesus ushered in the world-as-it-should-be and will be.  He brought in the world where men never sin and always love.  In his world, everyone is reborn with vigorous hearts devoted to God’s glory and purpose.  And he died to suffer the ultimate penalty for those who chose this world over his.  He was raised so those who believe would be human again.

So, while a new pancreas might save someone or me, it saves only for a while.  It doesn’t save in the most-needed sense.  Eventually, sin, Satan and death catch up to the healthy organ.  The coroner will record cancer or trauma as the cause of death, but it is sinfulness that co-opts cancer to ravage our bodies.  God has not ultimately resolved the reality of kidney failure through dialysis.  He resolves what has gone wrong with this world through resurrection, which leads us to the next consideration.

2.  God promises a bodily resurrection (1 Cor 15).  For Christians, that will mean imperishable, powerful, spiritual, heavenly, Christ-like bodies.  As Christ was raised, so shall we be (Rom 8.11).  Therefore, that resurrection assumes everyone is raised intact.  That is, the Christian soldier who died legless because of an IED will be raised with both legs.  God will resurrect the Christian astronaut who was incinerated from a Shuttle explosion with all his/her body intact.  And the Christian who was buried sans kidney and liver will be resurrected to eternal life with both. (Although, I have no idea about the “voiding” function of those organs in heaven).  That is simply the power of Christ!

Consider John the Baptist.  He was beheaded by an enraged and puppy-whipped Herod (Mk 6.17-29).  John the Baptist was buried either without or at least separate from his head.  Yet, the no-one-is-greater-than John the Baptist will be resurrected with his head firmly attached to his body for eternity (Lk 7.28).

The apostle John saw “the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony” (Rev 20.4).  I am not sure how you see a soul, much less a beheaded one, but that wasn’t John’s point.  Although they were beheaded in this life John saw them gloriously vindicated and adorned (Rev 6.9).

Because of Christ’s own resurrection there will be no headless, or any other -less, Christians in glory.  Christ’s salvation is not a temporary measure  but an eternal one.  It is the Christian’s hope that Jesus has overcome this cursed world, and my cursed body in it, with the precious gift of his own life (Rom 6.23).

3.  Organ donation must be seen in light of God’s providence.  As horrible as the occasions are that require organ donation, God nevertheless stands behind those circumstances.  God oversees our diseases and fatal left turns (Jn 9.3).  And he sympathizes with us in Christ, who lived neck-deep in this world gone wrong (Heb 4.14-16).  God gave us this organ instead of that one.  By his providence, I was born to a mother who died from colon cancer rather than one who didn’t.

Whatever suffering he requires from his children in this life serves to invigorate their worship in the next (1 Pt 4.12-13).  This is hard, which is why only God can create this sort of faith in folks like us.  As hard as it is to understand, we often learn more from those Christians who die well in Christ than those who live longer for him.

God has wired us all with the desire to live.  We are image-bearers of the Living God so we want to live.  But God has prescribed we only live in, because of and for him.  As much as we want to live we cannot will ourselves to do so.  We are utterly dependent on the God who gives life and takes it away (Ps 90.3).  Our life is God’s to do with what he wills (Phil 1.21-26).  God designs our suffering so that we will want to live only and in Christ.  Therefore, new organs do not save us.  God saves us in Jesus for all eternity.

“If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15.19).

4.  Organ donation can be seen as an extension of Christ’s own age-to-come ministry.  When Jesus arrived on earth he brought him realities of the coming age.  He brought his world into our world.  In his world, the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead live: the gospel is preached (Mt 11.2-6).  God of very God, Jesus came to live as Man of very Man.  In fact, the True Man.  Man as God intended.  Man without sin.  Man with whom God is most pleased, and who is most pleased by God.

Therefore, any merciful act that alleviates suffering is a reflection of Christ’s own age-to-come ministry.  We demonstrate that Christians love the triumph of mercy over anguish.  We realize we can only offer temporary relief, but we hope that relief will lead to eternal worship of Jesus (Mt 25.31-40).  If Jesus was about helping the blind, lame and feeble then it is becoming of his followers to do likewise.  Organ donation or not, we should all pray to be more generous with what is ours.

Christians who donate organs, in life or death, are providing a merciful service to suffering souls.  God  be praised as they do so with Christ and eternity in mind.  Those who don’t are not robbing anyone of salvation.  God be praised he has re-birthed us in Christ through resurrection (1 Pt 1.3).

Whatever you decide, I hope you will afford me a little more time to decide.  I’m still waiting for my number to be called.

The Church: A Chosen People

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY (1 Pt 2.9-10).

We could hardly find a better text to describe the church than 1 Pt 2.9-10.  Peter piled up some of the most pregnant Old Testament terms to explain who the church is (“you are”) and what she does (“so that”).  And a timely word it was.

He wrote to a people who worshiped a King they’d never seen (1.8), wouldn’t retaliate against their enemies (2.13-25), who valued women equally as men (3.1-7), who received suffering as God’s blessing (3.8-9),  and who weren’t in the least bit “fun” (4.1-6).  They rejoiced in weakness while governing themselves in humility and love.

They also considered themselves part of an eternal kingdom (2 Pt 1.11) invested with God’s power (1 Pt 1.5; 2 Pt 1.3, 16).

Kingdom?  What possibly gave the impression they were part of a powerful kingdom?  They had no army but talked about weapons.  They had no wealth but talked about having riches.  They were weak but talked about their strength.  They had no capital or throne but praised their King.  They had no visible god but talked about a temple.  They had no priests but talked about sacrifices.  Their God called them to suffer rather than ease.

The church may have been many things, but a divine “kingdom” would not have been the last word to describe them.  How could they talk about eternal glory when there was little-to-no apparent glory among them?  If the church is God’s glorious institution then he has a strange way of showing it.

To a people largely irrelevant, overlooked, lampooned, disregarded, anemic and unimpressive comes Peter’s word of encouragement.  In contrast to the stumbling world (1 Pt 2.8) the divine “but” (v9) resounded to distinguish God’s people from all other people.  Like her Jesus, the church may not look like much now; but just you wait (Col 3.4).

Peter used Old Testament terms once describing national Israel to now apply to the new covenant church.  The church is what old covenant Israel would never be.  Jesus is the true Israel and therefore all those united to him constitute the new covenant people of God.  While the old covenant provided us the categories of redemption, atonement, mediation, obedience, grace, judgment and salvation, Jesus would be the one to fulfill all of them and forever define God’s covenant family.

To a people who gladly looked like the most “unchosen” sort of people, Peter announced that the church is “a chosen race.”  That is a way of saying the church would have never existed or continue to exist unless God chose to create and sustain her.  There would be no believers in Jesus and therefore no “people” unless God chose to have both.

Peter could have alluded to a number of texts but he was particularly interested in Deuteronomy 7.6-8:

“For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.  The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which he swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

Israel was no more likely to be chose by God than any other nation on the planet.  In fact, there was no such thing as Israel until God chose a polytheistic pagan from Ur to be the father of the nation.  God created Israel out of thin air.

What God did with Israel in the Exodus was a preview of what God would do with the church in Christ.  As the fulfillment of true Israel, the church is no more likely to exist than Israel was apart from God’s will.  There are no Christians or church unless the Father first gives Jesus a people who will most certainly come to him.

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will  certainly not cast out (Jn 6.37).

“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn 6.37, 44).

God would not stake his name and glory on a roll of the cosmic dice, hoping he rolls a seven and somebody believes.  We know this as Christians.  Why in the world am I a Christian?  Is it not because God invaded my rebellion, changed my heart and made me a Christian by granting repentance and faith in Jesus?  He doesn’t do that with/to everyone.  We will join the sacred throng to spend eternity basking in the peculiarity, eternality and inexhaustibility of his love for the likes of you and me.

Peter says as much in v10, where he quoted from Hosea 1.10; 2.23.  He used the story of Hosea to illustrate how it is the church is a chosen people.  Hosea pursued his adulterous wife to the red-light district, redeemed her, brought her home and purified her “’til death do we part.”  That is what God has done with all who are Christians and part of his Bride.  He chose us.

This makes many uncomfortable.  In world where everyone should get a trophy, we find it discriminating that God would have a chosen people.  That necessarily requires there be those who are unchosen and God would not be so unfair.

However, that God chooses a people for himself makes those uncomfortable who think everyone is worth being chosen.  How dare God not choose anyone who is obviously fit for his kingdom?  And by “anyone” we, of course, mean ourselves and our children.

But, if Dt 7.6-8 was not enough, we should remind ourselves again who exactly it is God chooses:

“There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one” (Rom 3.10-12).

“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom 5.6).

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. . . . For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (Rom 5.8-10).

“. . . the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that he may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God” (1 Cor 1.28-29).

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.  Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Eph 2.1-3).

“When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he made you alive together with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions” (Col 2.13).

These are the sorts of folks God chose.  If you want to populate a invincible, universe-filling, awe-inspiring kingdom you don’t do with it people like us: godless, goodless, useless, helpless, sinners, enemies, dead, wrathful. God chose to make a people for himself not just out of runts and rascals, but out of downright enemies who would otherwise remain dead in their sins.

None of us are just as good as the next guy.  All of us are as bad as the next guy.  And when you know you’re the worst player in the backyard you don’t protest when the captain picks you first.  You rejoice.  You don’t whine about his unfairness.  You worship.

When you join the local church you don’t join a mailing list or Facebook page.  You join former enemies of God who, from eternity past, were loved by God and saved in Jesus Christ.  People, well, like you.

God has not chosen any other people to be his people.  Not Americans.  Not Microsoft (or Apple, believe it or not).  Not the Tea Party or astronauts or vegans or white folk.  And definitely not Cubs fans.  There is only one chosen race and it is the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before him” (Eph 1.3-4).


03 2014

The Son of Man & the Psalms of Men

“O God, arrogant men have risen up against me, and a band of violent men have sought my life, and they have not set You before them.  But You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Ps 86.14-15).

In God’s magnificent creativity and grace he created us to be both historians and poets.  Tacticians and dreamers.  We report and reflect.  We describe and deliberate.  God made us sensual people whose minds turn electrical impulses into emotions.  We tell stories but life is in the passion evoked by those stories.

We need not look much further than the Psalms to see the full range of what it means to be human, really human.  Eugene Peterson describes the five books of Psalms as the output of Torah:

“For the five books of God’s creating/saving word to us there are five books of our believing/obeying word to God.  Five is matched by five, like the fingers of two clasped hands.” (Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity)

The Psalms have it all: creation (Ps 33.6; 134.3), fall (Ps 106.6), redemption (Ps 111.9) and resurrection (Ps 30.3).  And all of the redemptive-historical movements eventually converge in the son of David who “rules over the nations” (Ps 22.28).  Within the confines of biblical poetry, God has masterfully given narrative, prophecy, wisdom and apocalyptic literature room to roam.

The Psalms also teach us the righteous life is rarely easy and is often complicated.  There is often a war between the heart and mind (Pss 42-43).  The Psalms make no excuses because they were not written by Pollyanna, but by estranged fathers, wounded soldiers and tattered worshipers.  The portray God’s people in a fierce struggle with the world, their flesh and the devil.  We often know better than we do or feel.  And the Psalms can legitimate the sense of confusion we experience in a world under Satan’s sway (Ps 39.7-13).  Indeed the Psalms teach us what to know and how God’s people should and do feel about what we know.

The Psalms depict a world where what may be true now will not always be the case.  The wicked will not always prosper and the righteous will not always suffer.  There is hope because the day and night are God’s day and night (Ps 74.16).  Our God will “changes a wilderness into a pool of water and dry land into springs of water” (Ps 107.35).  The Psalms readily meet real and legitimate pain with real and legitimate hope.

And the Psalms broadcast the humility of Christ.  It is only fitting that we hear the Psalms often on the lips of Jesus, or others about him (cf. Mt 13.35; 21.9; 27.43, 46: Lk 20.42f.). But Jesus did not quote Psalms because he was a Bible Drill winner.  He did not even quote Psalms so we would know which ones were messianic.  He was not unveiling cryptic clues left by the psalmists so that we would connect otherwise disconnected dots.

Jesus quoted Psalms because he “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” (Phil 2.7).  In the incarnation, God was actually entering into a world in such a way that he himself would also pray/sing the Psalms.  Christ himself would endure the world, our flesh and the devil such that the Psalms would be the cry of his heart as well.  Jesus quoted the Psalms because that’s what God’s righteous people do who live surrounded by God’s enemies.

“Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise also partook of the same” (Heb 2.14a).

To partake of our flesh and blood was more than having bones and capillaries.  It meant taking on the devil and his enslaving fear (v15).  It meant the Son of God become as much the Son of Man: the Psalm-dependent man who would lament and rejoice, weep and praise, obey and suffer.  A man of whom the Psalms would be particularly applicable.  A man of grief and sorrows, our grief and sorrows (Is 53.4).  Only he alone was able to take that on without remaining a slave.  As the New and Better Moses (Heb 3.5-6), Jesus invaded Babylon to lead the last Exodus God’s people would ever need.

As we read the Psalms, consider our humble Christ who would so be one of us (Is 53.12) that he would be compelled to pray:

  • Give hear to my words, O LORD, consider my groaning (Ps 5.1).
  • Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me; O LORD, be my helper (Ps 30.10).
  • But my enemies are vigorous and strong, and many are those who hate me wrongfully.  And those who repay evil for good, they oppose me, because I follow what is good.  Do not forsake me, O LORD; O my God, do not be far from me! (Ps 38.19-21)
  • O God of hosts, turn again now, we beseech you; look down from heaven and see, and take care of this vine (Ps 80.14).
  • You pushed me violently so that I was falling, but the LORD helped me.  The LORD is my strength and son, and he has become my salvation (Ps 118.13-14).

And on and on.  Our God came to us, became like us, and lived a life that required the Psalms to obey, suffer and worship faithfully.  Not only are the Psalms about Jesus because he is God; but they are prayed, meditated on, and needed by Jesus because he was Man.  He is the Tree of Life chose to be planted and grow into a fruitful oak (Ps 1.3).  The Creator of the cosmos assumed a life where he would be humbled by its majesty (Ps 8.3-4).  He is the Good Shepherd who chose to be led as a sheep (Ps 23.1) and that to be slaughtered (Ps 44.22) as one who went astray (Is 53.6).  The One who heals wounds took on a life where he must rejoice in the One who heals his wounds (Ps 147.3). And by his wounds we are healed (Is 53.5).

The blessed man delights in God’s law (Ps 1.2) is also the one who takes refuge in the King-Son (Ps 2.12).  Jesus is both the Blessed Man and our Refuge.  And he more than anyone knows the life to which the Psalms would be most relevant. Take refuge in him as he took refuge in God.


03 2014

Slow to Type, Slow to Anger (Christians & Facebook)

Like the God who made us, we humans are incessant communicators.  We will use anything to talk to each other: a rock on a cave wall, a reed dipped in plant dye, a Dixie cup and long string, mechanical arms that stamp letters on paper, or digital pixels that bounce of satellites into computer devices.  God communicates therefore he created us to communicate.

Social media is not inherently evil any more than the teletype, telephone or mechanical pencil were evil when invented.  Today’s tweet was yesterday’s pamphlet.  Today’s status update was yesterday’s bulletin board note.  We humans will devise anything to communicate. Our problem is not what we use to communicate, but the way in which we use it.

James wrote that “beloved brethren” (i.e. professing Christians)

“must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.  Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (Jas 1.19-21).

In our oft-volatile relationships with one another, Christians are to do far less talking and far more listening.  We do far more receiving of the word than expecting others to receive it from us.

While James did not remotely envision Facebook or Twitter, his principle still applies.  Christians are to be slow to type and slow to anger.  Jesus has made sure his followers are no longer of this world (Jn 17.16) therefore we do not handle our relationships in worldly ways.  This includes how we are prone to vent on social media in the name of Christian piety.

We’re all guilty of it.  Someone offends us and we go off on them on Facebook in generalities, insinuations and innuendo.  We should lovingly, patiently, privately and prayerfully take up the offense with them.  Rather, we go off about generic “people,” the anonymous “you,” who treat(s) us this or that way.  We make it sound like we are the pious ones, defending virtue and Christian responsibility against “those people” who act so unbecomingly.  The world is lucky to have someone who will call out sin.  With a wink-wink, we summon our in-the-know friends to our sympathetic aid.  We hope “that person” reads it and is brought to tears in holy conviction (which never works).  We can then pat ourselves on the back for correcting a brother or sister.  If we are honest, our rants are really about serving our own egos than serving our neighbor as we pile up “likes.”

In reality, though, we are cowards.  We use God’s name in vain and treat our enemies as things/its, not persons.  We would rather throw a handful of rocks out of a moving car hoping one of them hits the bully who offended us.  Such is not “in humility, receiving the word implanted, which able to save your souls.”   Jesus does not treat us anonymously, but lovingly comes to us, calls us by name (Jn 10.3) and makes peace with us.  Christians should no more use social media to shame others any more than they would post a handwritten note on a city hall bulletin board.

I love a good tweet as much as the next guy.  I appreciate the renewed relationships social media has afforded across state and national lines.  But, we are citizens of heaven (Phil 3.20) and how we communicate in heaven informs how we communicate on earth.

Jesus provided the means by which we handle interpersonal conflict in the church.  If we are offended and cannot graciously overlook the offense (1 Pt 4.8), then we go to our brother (Mt 16.15).  We do not rush to Facebook to talk about him without really talking about him.  We talk to him because we love him.  The world is ruthless, vindictive, passive-aggressive and shameful.  The church is anything but those things; therefore, Christians are not to update statuses the way the world does.

Jesus continued that even unresolved conflict is still handled within the merciful confines of the church (Mt 16.16-18).  Christians should never assume the liberty, especially in the name of God, to publicly shame one another before the world.  We do not want to give the world any more fodder by becoming a slanderer (Col 3.8; 1 Pt 2.1).  Satan is the slanderer and accuser; and we want nothing to do with being like him.  Therefore, we keep the circle as small as possible as long as possible.

We do not want to sully Christ’s name or unnecessarily or intentionally shame our brother’s name.  So we handle our business in-house, where there is pastoral protection, love, humility and courage.  If we must eventually “go public” then we do so with our pastors/elders, not with our “friends” or “followers.”

Social media has its place and value.  But its place and value are limited and governed by the rules of Zion.  Jesus never made anonymous threats or offered generic love.  He dealt with our offenses personally, lovingly and decisively.  The next time we are compelled to Facebook to call out “you know who,” let us go instead to prayer.  Let us remember that God “has not dealt with us according to our sins” (Ps 103.10).  We may find that what we could not wait to write is actually not worth being said.  If you will not go to your brother then you should not go to your “friends.”

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn 4.11).     


02 2014

There’s More to Salvation than “Getting Saved”

A popular Christian radio show debuted a new book this week.  It sounded like a beneficial book that would help young girls mature in faith and love.  The author was most proud of her last chapter that presented “the plan of salvation” and “the sinner’s prayer.”  Her highest desire was that young girls would “read and repeat” (her words) and be saved.

As sincere and humble as the author was, surely God’s salvation is more, infinitely more, than simply reading and repeating. If not careful, even sincere gospel presentations can lead to a baptized “abracadabra.” Let’s not factor salvation down to its lowest common denominator. We hold out a salvation that is as full and free as it is eternally bigger than we could ever imagine. We don’t enter this salvation through a “read and repeat” method. We enter this salvation through God’s sovereign work to orchestrate all of history that we would believe in the Crucified and Risen Christ.

While we must not make salvation necessarily harder for sinners, we can hold out a salvation that is better than “read and repeat.”

What exactly does it mean to be saved? Does it mean what we mean when we say, “We saw three people get saved” at the end of an altar call? Is getting saved what one is doing by repeating a prayer, walking an aisle, getting baptized?

According to Scripture, “salvation” is far more than a one-time decision a person makes. In fact, salvation is the summary term for all that God has done, is doing and will do to bring sinners to their eternal home in Christ. “Getting saved” is not what we do at a moment in time. Salvation is what God does throughout all time to bring a sinful people into his eternal glory.

Scripture refers to what we call the “tenses” of salvation (past, present, future):

“Now, I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain” (1 Cor 15.1-2).

We have been saved. We are being saved. We will be saved. We can say salvation doesn’t happen at one time but begins at one time.

For example, when POWs see friendly planes screaming over their camp they exclaim “We’re saved!” They’re still in tattered clothes and on foreign soil, but the power of their captors is broken even if they still suffer a few vengeful blows. They still need to “be saved” in that they still must get warm and home. When the former prisoners are harnessed in the rescue helicopter they are saved. When they set foot on the carrier they are still being saved. As they salivate to hug their wives and kiss their children they look forward to being saved still. Their salvation includes everything necessary to liberate them and bring them safely home. In fact, their salvation began long before their capture when pilots trained and cartographers mapped.

Sailors on a stranded ship hear the rumble of a Coast Guard cutter and announce they are “saved” but there is still saving to be done. Their salvation began when they saw the faint silhouette of a friendly boat. But it will be complete when they are no longer in any danger. In fact, their salvation began when Coast Guard plebes trained long before they were ever lost at sea.

Salvation cannot be simplified into “read and repeat.” That weakens its glory and what God has done to save sinners. When we enter salvation we enter into “the eternal covenant” (Heb 13.20) God started before time began.

What then does salvation summarize?

God’s foreknowledge, predestination and election (Acts 13.48; Rom 8.28-30; Eph 1.3-6). The church has long debated the nature of election and predestination. She has always agreed, however, that no one is saved who is not first chosen for salvation. We may disagree as to the grounds on which a person is chosen (God’s sovereign decree or man’s foreseen faith) but we must agree that salvation begins with God’s election.

Atonement and redemption (Ps 106.10; Is 63.9; Gal 4.5; Titus 2.14).Our salvation included God’s provision of the only sufficient sacrifice for our sins. At the cross, Jesus actually redeemed sinners. He exchanged his righteousness for their sin (2 Cor 5.21). Like those POWs or stranded sailors, Jesus redeemed many who did not even know they were otherwise lost.

Regeneration, repentance, faith, justification (Jn 3.1-21; Rom 5.1-2; Eph 2.8-9). Our salvation includes God applying Christ’s work to us. Jesus purchased life for those dead in transgressions. Therefore, God applies that life to them through regeneration (new birth), repentance and faith. And upon their believing the gospel, God declares them right and at peace with him.

Sanctification/Perseverance (1 Cor 1.18; 2 Cor 2.15; Phil 1.6; 2.12-13). Our salvation did not merely happen when we believed. It began then (even though we could rightly say it really began in eternity past). All those who are saved are being saved still. Through sanctification, God keeps saving us as we again and again and again retreat to, trust in and hope for Christ. Jesus was clear: “it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved” (Mt 10.22). “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev 2.10).

Second Coming/Glorification (Rom 6.22; 1 Pt 1.3-9). Those who are saved are being saved. And those being saved still need to be saved from the sting of death. Our salvation is secure in Christ, but will be completed by Christ when he returns (Jn 14.3). We are justified (past tense) by faith, but are finally saved when we are with Christ physically forever in resurrection. We are only and finally saved when we are safely home with Christ, never to be attacked, condemned or wounded again by sin, Satan and death. We really do not see people “get saved” when they walk an aisle because there is far more salvation yet to come. In reality, we only see people get saved when we see them resurrected to eternal life (Jn 5.28-29).

“Getting saved” might suggest a weak understanding of salvation, but it’s certainly not a heretical one. Nevertheless, we should reflect on and stress the God-centeredness of salvation. If not careful, “getting saved” becomes more about what we decided, did and declared than what God has done from eternity past and will do for eternity future.

We don’t “get saved” as much as God saves us. We don’t present a “plan” of salvation, but the Man of salvation. We don’t call all people to “read and repeat” for salvation but to hear, repent, believe and endure to the end to be saved.

We have been, are being and will be saved by God in Christ, by Christ and for Christ. God began this work before we ever knew we needed salvation. And he will complete it long after we ever thought we understood it. God is doing far more, in fact, everything to see his children rescued from sin, Satan and his own coming wrath.

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3.5-7).

You can shout now. Your salvation has come and is coming.


02 2014

Don’t Be Worse than an Unbeliever

“Honor widows who are widows indeed; but if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God. . . . But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim 5.3-4, 8).

Dad turns 88 in April, Lord willing.  He has lived with us now for two years.  It’s been an adjustment for all of us to say the least.  The least.

Amy (who bears most of the burden) and I joke that we have four children: 9, 8, 6 and 87.  They all need cleaning up after, help with medicines and have their own sections on the menu. They might not hear very well or understand fast-moving conversations.  And they occasionally need a Band-Aid after falling on the patio.  We have to drive them all places and make sure they take showers.

Most days, we wouldn’t change a thing.  Other days, we reluctantly obey Scripture and trust God is merciful toward our protestations.

In 1 Timothy 5.1-16, Paul helped Timothy understand the church’s ministry to widows.  In an age without antibiotics, Crestor and nursing homes, widows were some of the most vulnerable in Paul’s day.  Especially as those widows had renounced the world and joined themselves to Christ and his beleaguered people.  Certainly we should assume the same principles apply to widowers as well.

According to Scripture, the church cooperates with (grand)children to care for their widowed (grand)parent.  Such is part of “undefiled religion” (Jas 1.7).  Paul provided two compelling reasons for insisting on this ministry.  One, it is acceptable in the sight of God (v3) and Christians love being acceptable in God’s sight.  Two, not doing it is eternally perilous.

I don’t know what could be worse than an unbeliever but I certainly don’t want to be it! The unbeliever is in a very bad spot as it is.  What could be worse?  Apparently, it’s one thing to be an unbeliever but quite another to be a faith-denier.  And Paul thought of no more fitting example of a faith-denier than one who would not care for his widowed (grand)parent.

We do not always serve Dad with joy.  We can grow easily frustrated, pouty and “put out.” We’re learning to “practice piety” and want his grandchildren to learn it as well.  I have two Jesus-loving brothers who share this commitment as well.  The Bible says we are to “make some return to [our] parents” (v4), knowing they have given us far more than we’re able to repay.  We are not doing anything children have not done for thousands of years, and especially what Christians have done for two millennia.

This does not mean every Christian (grand)child should, or even could, have their widowed (grand)parent move in with them or vice versa.  For any number of legitimate reasons some (grand)children simply are not able to care for their widowed (grand)parent.  Some widow(er)s don’t have any living children, in which case the church is all-the-more necessary.  Some widow(er)s require more medical attention than any child is able to provide.  A nursing home with readily available medical care would help extend their life.  Even then the nursing home should not be considered the primary caregiver, but as an extension of Christian (grand)children caring personally for them.

This does mean, however, that Christian (grand)children should pursue all reasonable and possible means to care for their widowed parent.  And I do mean all.  No option should be easily dismissed and you should not assume the nursing home to be first or best option.

Since our parents are living longer these days we must embrace and anticipate our biblical responsibility to care for them.  We simply cannot wait until a funeral to plan for their care.  Children of any age should be thinking about and arranging their lifestyles such they will be able to care for their widowed parent when the time comes.  It will require much prayer, faith and good old-fashioned obedience with hard decisions.  For what it’s worth I humbly offer some questions and considerations to that end:

  1. If you do not live near your parents, can you move closer to them (even if they are in a nursing home)? Yes, this might require a job and/or school change.
  2. Could your widowed parent move in with or closer to you? This will not be easy. Dad moved from the three-story “family house” of forty years into an “in-law suite” he built on our house. God whittled away his fears and resistance for a year before he was convinced.
  3. If you’re building a new house, could you include space for your parent in the plans? You may not need it for twenty years. Then again, you may need it in twenty days.
  4. If you simply cannot reasonably move, can you ensure your widowed parent’s church stays updated? Can they provided “surrogate” children to meet the physical and spiritual needs of your parent?
  5. Will you limit the amount of your children’s sports and activities so they “learn piety” by caring for their grandparent?
  6. Will you reserve your vacation days to stay available for your widowed parent? Yes, this will mean foregoing extended vacations for a while.

None of these questions have easy answers.  We struggle daily with their implications and demands.  So they all require God’s grace and strength.  We are thankful to have a generous God who loves making much of Jesus through it all.

We live in an age that disregards life arguably more than any other in history.  Unwanted children and aging parents are nuisances and easily shelved in group homes, or worse. Christ is our life (Col 3.4) and the church is the world’s most powerful champion for life. We should take Paul’s admonitions in 1 Tim 5.1-16 as simply as seriously as he intended. Defending the sanctity of human life means far more than voting for your pro-life candidate.  It means taking into our homes and lives those whom the world would just as rather ignore or kill.  That includes our widowed parents.

Abortion: An Inalienable Right?

2010-affiliate-header-91550Is abortion a legal right the state is obliged to protect? The CEO of our local Planned Parenthood organization recently argued just that. Since abortion is “the law of the land,” then Tennessee must make safe abortions as accessible as possible to all its pregnant citizens. As the anniversary of Roe v. Wade approaches, she is lobbying to defeat any and all legislative efforts to restrict abortions.

After all,

“Ninety-four percent of Tennessee counties have no abortion provider; almost 60 percent of Tennessee women live in those counties, forcing many women to travel long distances and take off time from work or school to obtain abortion services.”

The state (i.e. the citizenry) is therefore obliged to ensure abortion services are readily available to as many as possible in as short a drive as possible. Abortion then is an inalienable right the state must not only not oppose but must endorse.

Ms. Coffield ended her article with two startling assertions. These assertions necessarily assume a fetus is not an actual person and hence abortion cannot be murder. Let’s consider these assertions in turn.

“When Tennesseans go to the polls in November, they will vote their conscience with the knowledge that all decisions about pregnancy are deeply personal and complex. And there is no one better equipped to decide whether to continue or end a pregnancy than a woman, her family, her doctor and her faith.”

Of all those “better equipped” to make pregnancy-ending decisions (note: not life-ending decisions), there is one fundamental person missing: the father. Granted, the father might well skipped town on his pregnant one-nighter, but he should be afforded a seat at the table. He is half responsible for the pregnancy.”

Of course, the One best equipped to decide about pregnancy is God himself, who invented the idea. He most assuredly has the best vantage point to define and protect life (Acts 17.25). We do well to consult him above all.

Also, Ms. Coffield serves up a red herring by referring to ‘faith.’ Trying to co-opt the moral high road, she assumes abortion is a matter of faith. I would love to know whose ‘faith’ has ever demanded an abortion. Planned Parenthood should document when and where a Tennessee woman sought an abortion as act of worship or obedience to God. Abortion is not a civil right, protected by the freedom of religion.

Further, if these parties are “better equipped” to decide when to end a pregnancy, then why does that authority stop at birth? Again, Planned Parenthood’s whole argument rests on the assumption that abortion does not end a life, but a pregnancy. Even so, why shouldn’t a woman, her family, her doctor or her faith be trusted to end her pregnancy at thirty-five weeks? Thirty-six? After her water has broken? Two months after birth? Shouldn’t the state protect her right to end her pregnancy at any time? Why, after a certain number of weeks, should that right ever be taken from her?

Lastly, it is slippery slope when we gauge who is fit to make life-ending decisions on subjective measures. How does Mrs. Coffield know any of those parties involved are “better equipped”? Who decides what exactly “equipped” means in terms of such “personal and complex” decisions? Why am I, my family and backyard neighbor not better equipped to decide that our neighbor’s loud car should be given to someone else? What if my brothers and I are “better equipped” to end of the life of our aging dad? Just because a number of people decide to end a life doesn’t glorify the independent Tennessean straw man Mrs. Coffield constructs. Without objective, morally-absolute measures then who is and who is not “better equipped” will invite anarchy.

“Women don’t turn to politicians for advice about mammograms or cancer treatment. Personal medical decisions about pregnancy should not be made by politicians in Nashville, either.”

Really? I thought Roe v. Wade was a decision made by politicians. Ms. Coffield apparently has no problem politicians making personal medical decisions if those decisions swing in her favor.

Planned Parenthood actually considers an unwanted child to be akin to breast cancer! Abortion is to pregnancy what a mammogram or chemotherapy is to cancer. Not only is abortion not murder, it’s actually a cure! The state doesn’t interfere with any woman wanting to be healed of cancer. Therefore, it should not restrict any woman’s accessibility to abortion. Any woman who thinks her child is a disease should be afforded all the means of getting rid of that disease.

Again, the whole argument rests on dehumanizing the fetus. If mammograms or cancer treatments were killing 16,000 Tennesseans a year then we would indeed march on Nashville. We would demand legislation that prevented the unnecessary deaths of thousands from medical procedures. If abortion is the killing of thousands of Tennesseans then we should demand legislation that protected our fellow citizens from unnecessary death. If anything, the state should not only severely restrict abortion but also make foster and adoption more accessible and affordable statewide.

Planned Parenthood is feminism’s juggernaut. They have hijacked “women’s reproductive health” to advance a radical feminist agenda, one that actually and ironically strips women of femininity. Planned Parenthood exploits and preys on women while governmental grant money stuffs the coffers. Abortion obviously doesn’t help the child but it certainly doesn’t help women, either. In devaluing life, Planned Parenthood necessarily devalues womanhood and pregnant victims get swept in the torrent of regret and shame. Planned Parenthood does not want to plan families, but prevent them.

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! (Is 5.20)

The church of Jesus Christ has a weighty responsibility. Protests, picketing and polls have their place. But the church is at her best when she holds out the glory of the Word of Life (1 Jn 1.1) in her everyday life of biblical community. A church that holds her members to gospel faithfulness will produce life-loving, life-giving, life-protecting disciples.

Jesus loves broken, abused, abandoned, immoral women (Lk 7.38; Jn 4.1-42; 12.3ff.). He loves saving them when no one else cares for them. Jesus loves the unwanted and redeems the ungodly. He forgives and cares. Jesus loves saving cowardly men and making them into humble, wife-honoring husbands. Abortion only offers a far-reaching death. The church offers life in every sense of the word.

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Mt 11.28-30)


01 2014

Resolve to Have Better “Out Loud Time”

The New Year welcomes full gyms and empty bank accounts. For many Christians it also brings more attention to devotional plans and “quiet time” discipline. I certainly hope to be more diligent in that respect.

The “quiet time” has become stock language for Christians. By it we mean that dedicated time/space where we are alone with God in Scripture and prayer. Drawing from Jesus’ example (Mk 1.35), Christians “seclude” themselves to commune with God and drink the Living Water.

The “quiet time” has also become an industry in itself. From 3-minute daily devotionals to One-Year Bibles, Christians can find a variety of resources to improve their “quiet time.” You name it and there is a devotional for every flavor of Christian.

Call it what you will. But not only is devotional discipline necessary for the Christian, it is also his heart’s delight (Ps 1.2). No one can package the perfect “quiet time,” but the Holy Spirit cries out within us for the Father’s nearness (Rom 8.15; Gal 4.6). Devotional discipline is instinctual for those filled with the Spirit of Christ. Christians love being with God anywhere, anytime through the ministry of Christ.

That said, I wonder if we have overloaded the “quiet time” in Christian growth. Could we unintentionally emphasize the “quiet time” such that we hyper-individualize spiritual maturity? Could we unintentionally communicate that gospel growth happens best on one’s own? Should the congregational (communal, corporate, church) life serve the interests of my personal quiet time(s) or should it be the reverse? Does Jesus lay the priority of our growth on our personal devotional discipline or on our congregational discipline?

I humbly suggest from Scripture that our “quiet time,” though necessary, is always in service of the community. Therefore, we cannot evaluate our personal devotional discipline without also addressing our congregational discipline. We might well benefit more from reading, praying and singing Scripture together than alone. Sure, set the alarm 15 minutes earlier but also arrive 15 minutes earlier to church to pray with folks. Or, stay 15 minutes later after the Lord’s Supper to encourage and be encouraged in gospel grace. That new latest devotional book from the hottest celebrity pastor may not benefit as much as open Bible among friends.

God’s Word has always been the covenant community’s book. In fact, no one in Scripture had a “quiet time” as we know it because no one had their own personal copy of Scripture. No one in Scripture read through the Bible in a year because there wasn’t a complete canon, much less a personally-engraved one! Obviously, individual Christians meditated on Scripture but they did so from a congregational priority. David even wrote a congregational hymnbook to sing about what he gleaned from his “quiet times.”

How then were individual Christians sustained? They enjoyed the word of God as they gathered together in Christ’s name under its apostolic authority. Experiences in private devotion had their place, but the main course of their diet was the “edification of the church” (1 Cor 14.1-19). The “assembly” was where Christians heard God’s word and subjected their own meditations to the congregation (1 Cor 14.26-33). Any personal meditations flowed from and back to the assembly. Personal growth in and enjoyment of God’s grace was always to serve “the unity of the faith” and congregational maturity (Eph 4.11-16). The comfort God provided in personal and individual ways was to flow outward to comfort others (2 Cor 1.3-7). This is why they gathered often and joyfully.

God dispenses the ordinary means of grace (Scripture and prayer) through the church, wherein we gather regularly to read/hear the gospel, pray the gospel, sing the gospel, see the gospel in baptism and taste it at the Lord’s Table. The rightly-ordered church is our primary devotional resource! God has not left us on our own to draw near to him. He has provided a communal wave that we ride to him.

No Christian has the liberty to construct personal interpretations that conflict with “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (2 Pt 1.19-21; Jude 3). “The faith” was not handed down to me to be enjoyed primarily in my quiet time. It was handed down to the saints so that we would all persevere together in Christ (Heb 3.12-13). Only Jesus would “come to the garden alone” and that was to make right what was wrong with such a garden! He died to repopulate the garden so that we would never be in it alone.

Practically speaking, too, we are far less distracted when we are with others in Scripture and prayer. Alone we wander to bills, schedules, knee pain and chores. Together we are far more apt to concentrate, dialogue and focus.

We all need to “supply” Christian graces to our faith through personal devotional discipline and obedience (2 Pt 1.4-11). But that effort must never be divorced from increased congregational discipline. As we set our minds toward more faithful “quiet time” discipline this year let us equally consider how that will benefit the church. Let’s make sure our “quiet time” improvements include more “out loud time” with our Christian brothers and sisters.


01 2014

Violent Night, Holy Night

“. . . and the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.  And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne” (Rev 12.4-5).

For nearly 200 years we have loved the soothing Christmas melody of Silent Night, Holy Night. It is only befitting we sing such a peaceful song for such a Peaceful Savior. While angelic hosts broke the story of Christ’s birth, they did so in obscurity. God whispered. It took the better part of two years for King Herod to even learn about it and that from Oriental astrologers. Yes, that night was silent in the sense relatively few and unassuming people knew about the King’s arrival. God chooses foolish things to shame the wise (1 Cor 1.27).

But had God peeled back the curtain of the cosmos a far different scene was playing out. That night was indeed holy but it was anything but silent in the heavenly realm. It was quite violent.

John described the scene colorfully in Revelation 12, where he portrayed the interadvental period (i.e. the time between Christ’s two advents, or now) as a fierce, universal war. Jesus was born in Bethlehem into the cosmic war to end all wars.

He introduced a sun-drenched, moon-footed woman crowned with twelve stars (v1), who must be the embodiment of Israel (cf. Gen 37.9-10). She had painfully awaited the birth of her child: Messiah himself. In fact, she had been in labor for thousands of years.

The woman has a bloodthirsty antagonist: a seven-headed, ten-point dragon with not-a-few crowns himself (v3). A formidable foe. Satan himself (v9). As much as the woman wanted to give birth, the dragon wanted to kill her child (v4). He was the “serpent of old” and John sets the stage for another Genesis 3 showdown. Same old devil, brand New Adam.

Her son was born: a Shepherd-King who would shepherd-rule (Gk. poimano) the nations with ironclad authority (cf. Ps 2.9). With venom dripping from his mouth the dragon crouched, assured he would devour the child before he could assume his rightful place. But “her child was caught up to God and to His throne” (v6). In two verses John took us from Christ’s birth to ascension.

The dragon was no match for her Child no matter how hard he tried. Satan co-opted Herod, who killed all the boys two-years-old and younger in Metropolitan Bethlehem (Mt 2.16). All the boys except The Boy, that is. Satan cornered a famished Jesus alone on his home turf, the wilderness, but even the weakest Jesus was stronger than the dragon (Mt 4.1-11). Satan hijacked one of Jesus’ closest followers in a Trojan horse maneuver (Mt 16.21-23). The Child did not take the bait. The Devil threw his knockout punch on a fateful afternoon outside Jerusalem. Darkness, earthquake, dread, despair. Blood and water. A stone. The Second Adam was buried . . . again.

But her Child, with news broadcast again by an angelic host to second rate Jews, lived. Her Child lives! And the dragon lost what heavenly license he had to accuse the brethren before God (vv7-12). The First Adam failed to evict the dragon from God’s presence and place. The Second Adam did not fail. He bound the strong man and forever banished him from God’s presence and place (Mt 12.28-29). Satan no longer has the run of Eden any longer. There are no more Adam’s to deceive. The Second Adam – her Child – earned our way back into Paradise “because of the blood of the Lamb” (v11). The tender and mild Lamb defeated the ferocious and mutinous dragon.

The earth-confined dragon now attempts to cause the most damage in the little amount of time he has left (v13). If he couldn’t devour her Child he will seek to devour his brethren. He would persecute “the woman”: the New Israel, the Church, those who hold to the testimony of Jesus (v17).

But God protects the woman as he’s done throughout all of history (v14). Be it Cain, Esau, Pharaoh, Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar or Caesar (or Islam or ACLU or communism or, or, or) the serpent of old never has enough firepower to defeat the Church. God gives her eagle’s wings (cf. Exod 19.4) to fly into the wilderness where God protects her from the flood (think Red Sea or Jordan River).

We live in that wilderness now. We wander this age between promise and fulfillment, nourished by the Bread of Life and Living Water. God protects us now because of “the blood of the Lamb,” Christ our Passover has staved off our death angel (1 Cor 5.7). The Lamb kicked the dragon off the throne Adam vacated and forever sits at God’s right hand interceding for us (Heb 7.25). Satan’s venomous flood will not reach us.

Perhaps it was silent for us but that holy night was violent in the heavens. Even still, all is calm. All is bright.


12 2013