Don’t Stop Sinning

“…as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 5.21).

Christians use the stock language of “hating sin” and “killing sin.”  Those wanting to sound especially holy and smart speak of “mortifying sin.”  Sin is indeed an interloper in the Christian soul, a squatter in the Spirit-indwelled heart.  Because of Christ sin has no rights, privileges or legal claim on the Christian.  Therefore, it must be rooted out and put to death.  We are strengthened by the Holy Spirit to make progress against particular sins and toward Christlikeness. Though a lifelong process, the mortification of sin is a hopeful process because Jesus has removed its sting (1 Cor 15.55-57).  I’m far more empowered to kill something that cannot kill me back!

As pious as “killing” sin sounds how exactly do we go about it?  Is it enough to merely say we categorically hate sin really, really bad? Is our hatred of sin to be measured by how bad we feel after committing it?  Does killing sin mean spending our livelong days not sinning in certain ways?  Are we to wake up each day trying not to sin as a means of mortifying it?

Jesus taught us to be violently aggressive against sin.  We’re to cut out the wandering eye and cut off the offending hand, as it were (Mt 18.8-9).  Guerrilla warfare has no rules and sin is our fiercest guerrillero; therefore, killing sin is rarely easy and often messy. We’re not merely to hate the category of sin, but to kill “the deeds of the body” in the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8.13).  It’s one thing to hate weeds in my yard while staring at them from the kitchen window, but quite another to get dirty pulling up the particular weeds.  We’re called to hate and mortify sin by being done with, or at least making steady progress against, certain sins.

That said, the gospel provides a metric to measure hatred for sin and a corresponding tactic for killing it.  Sin reigns in death, grace reigns through righteousness (Rom 5.21).  The grace that saves is the grace that demonstrates its power (or, reign) in sin-killing righteousness.  In other words, saving grace is not only measured by how much sin we get away with while still remaining God’s children.  Grace is measured also by the amount of righteousness that replaces sin.  Grace doesn’t reign through licentiousness but through righteousness.

How can my hatred of sin be measured?  By the amount of righteousness that demonstrably opposes it in my life.  For example, we show how much we hate greed or theft by how generous we are with our stuff (Eph 4.28).  We show how much we hate sarcasm, gossip and slander by how much of an encouragement we are in everyday conversation (Eph 4.29).  We demonstrate how much we hate bitterness, wrath and anger by how kind, tender-hearted and forgiving we are to others (Eph 4.30; Col 2.8, 12). We demonstrate how much we hate selfishness and conceit by the amount of humble service we offer (Phil 4.3-4).

The tactic, therefore, for killing sin is not simply not sinning.  That’s like trying to overcome the fear of pink elephants by not thinking of pink elephants.  Strangely (or pathologically), in trying so hard to avoid thinking about them you actually cannot help thinking about them. Trying so hard to not sin actually can actually focus undue attention on the sin.  Laying aside entangling sin doesn’t mean focusing on its double knots, but fixing our eyes on Jesus (Heb 12.1-2).  Sin is best defeated by grace-reigning righteousness.  Sin must be evicted by the soul’s rightful resident: the Spirit of Christ putting Christ’s righteousness on display through us (Rom 6.12-19).

Killing sin is also not waiting for God to “zap” the sinful desires out of you.  If I had nickel for every time I’ve prayed, “God, just take the desires away so I can’t be rid of this sin!”? Not wanting to want is not enough to kill sin.  God typically doesn’t mysteriously take sin out of us while we sleep like he did with Adam’s rib.  God has rung sin’s death knell: grace.  And grace reigns through righteousness.

Therefore, if I want to kill anger it will be futile to spend every hour trying not to get angry.  That will lead to a lonely life and shallow love. And trying to avoid anger will probably only make me angrier!  I kill anger with tender-hearted compassion.  Instead of trying not to be angry I’m better suited to exercise compassion and my anger will starve to death.

I don’t kill greed by merely avoiding shopping and cutting up credit cards.  That only suspends greed until it finds seven more greedy friends to provoke a spending spree (Mt 12.43-45).  I kill greed by being generous.  Instead of trying hard not to be greedy, I should give myself away and my greed will slowly shrivel.

Killing gossip will take more than lip-zipping and deactivating a Facebook account.  That only suspends gossip until I boil over in some Godless rant.  Gossip must be evicted by Christ-centered encouragement of others.  Rather than trying hard not to gossip, I must work hard to encourage and gossip will become far less gratifying to my selfish soul.

Grace is freedom.  Liberty.  We don’t wake up each day burdened with killing sin by sneaking around it or ignoring it or “speaking” to it. That’s like trying to evict a squatter by acting like he’s not there or really, really, really not wanting him to be there. No squatter has left by professing to others how much we hate him. We cannot shame a squatter into leaving.  He must be evicted and replaced. We kill sin by replacing it as Christ has already “taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col 2.15).

We wake up each day in the power of God’s grace to pursue righteousness.  Christ’s righteousness.  Sin-haters are righteousness-lovers.  We will enjoy far more freedom from sin by pursuing in the power of the Spirit those things that evict sin than we will trying not to sin by our own power.  Let’s stop trying so hard not to sin against Christ that we don’t actually live for him.  Don’t just stop sinning against Jesus. Start living in him.

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11

09 2014

The Grace of a Guilty God

As part of God’s sanctifying providence Christians must endure difficult seasons of frustration. Some will be brief and others lengthy, but they will all test our affections and whittle away our worldliness. Our questions will not always be about God’s power or authority but about his care. Will he indeed mend the wounds he is right to cause?

Answers will be few for most of them or at least selfishly insufficient. Jesus does not require we know why but he does require we follow him (Jn 21.20-23). While Jesus may not provide specific answers now, he did set the context of our discipleship. Following him would be a cruciform life known as daily cross-bearing (Lk 9.23). Jesus initiated his finest into ministry by preparing them for death rather than success (Jn 21.18-19).

God knows this. He is not ignorant of the fact his providence will be confusing to us. That is why we have a humble, suffering, sympathetic High Priest (Heb 2.17-18; 4.14-16). He will not always provide answers (which are cheap) but he will provide grace, mercy and hope. Hope for the resurrected life. God knows we want to know why but he also knows that will be largely unsatisfying. We do not benefit from knowing why frustrating providences happen nearly as much as knowing they are temporary (2 Cor 4.16-5.10).

The last year has been one of those seasons for us. God be praised the gospel is true because I have prayed in ways that took him to task. In fact, I have wondered if we want better things for God than he wanted for himself. Frustrating indeed. God has been infinitely patient as I have asked him some important (and borderline blasphemous) questions.

How could God possibly know what it’s like to feel guilty? He never sinned so how could Jesus sympathize with guilt-ridden people? Jesus never said a rash word so how could he possibly know what it’s like to set forests aflame by his tongue (Jas 3.5)? Jesus never entertained a lustful thought so how could he possibly sympathize who commit adultery in their heart (Mt 5.27-28)? He never uttered a cross word so how could he possibly sympathize with those who murder in their heart (Mt 5.21-22)?

Jesus never reacted in unrighteous anger so how could he possibly sympathize with those enduring the consequences of rage? Jesus never doubted God so how can he sympathize with those struggling to believe? Jesus never feared that God would care for him (1 Pt 2.23) so how can Jesus sympathize with the fearful? Jesus was tempted “in all things yet without sin” (Heb 4.15). While he can sympathize with those who are tempted, how can he do so with those who fail to withstand it? Can he sympathize with those who are yet with sin?

Jesus knows what it like to be sinned against but how can he sympathize with those doing the sinning? How sympathetic can a Sinless Jesus really be with sinners? How can he really know what I’m going through? It is an important question.

And there can only be (and that gloriously) one answer: the cross.

Surely our griefs he himself bore, and our sorrows he carried; yet we ourselves esteemed him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on him (Isa 53.4-6).

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” (Mat 27.46)

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor 5.21).

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE ” (Gal 3.13).

Jesus does know what it feels like to be guilty. Jesus does know what it’s like to be rageaholic, sexual deviant, a doubter and rebel. Jesus did not endure the cross with a wink, but as one bearing the guilt of all the elect. There was a real transfer of Adamic guilt so there could be the real transfer of Christ’s righteousness (Rom 5.19).

I can barely stand (hopefully!) the guilt of one of my sins. How could one possibly bear the weight of guilt for the sin of ten people? Twelve? Forty? Yet Jesus bore the guilt of all the sins of all the church (Eph 5.25).

The gospel teaches Jesus knows fully well what it’s like to be guilty like us. In reality, the gospel teaches we actually do not know what it’s like to be guilty like Jesus. And we thankfully never will. We might know something of the guilt of our sin but we can hardly know what it’s like to be guilty of all sin.

Jesus is indeed our sympathetic High Priest. He does know we go through. Only he has made sure condemnation is not the end result for us like it was for him (Rom 8.1). He removed death and sin’s sting by having God leave the stinger in him (1 Cor 15.54-57).

Jesus is the only true refuge for guilty people because no one has felt guilt like he has. He can help. He will heal. He is faithful.

Friday Night Tights

Football is king in Texas. Our pastoral stint in the Lone Star state awakened me to the hysteria that is 6A high school football. With its own Jumbotron and state-of-the-art turf field, the local high school had facilities fit for most small college programs. The school also introduced each new season with a preview of the next four months’ of Friday nights. They showcased all the school bands. The various cheerleading/dance squads wowed the crowd with their award-winning routines. At least I think they did. I could hardly watch without becoming adulterous but the crowd seemed impressed.

I did not have to see much in order to be outright appalled, disgusted and burdened. It was near impossible to miss dozens of junior and senior high school adolescent girls parading around in scantily clad, highly suggestive uniforms. What little I did catch of their routines made me wonder if MTV was auditioning for an Eminem video. Parents applauded, boys ogled and drueled, and the girls soaked it all in like celebrities.

The football may be of a different caliber in Tennessee, but the exploitation of young girls in the name of team spirit is all too familiar.

Let’s be honest, the modern dance routines crowds expect from cheerleaders masquerade exotic dancing as halftime entertainment. We tolerate indecency because it will look great on their college applications. The so-called music to which they dance is X-rated entertainment. It cannot be much different that what an aroused sex addict would see in a so-called ‘gentlemen’s’ club. The only thing missing is the pole. But on a football field it’s wholesome and good for the team.

Our young men and women run rampant sexually largely because we’ve removed the fences, boundaries our children want but can’t provide themselves. We applaud sexually-suggestive material, objectify our daughters and encourage shamelessness. And then we wonder why teenagers get pregnant, obsess over vanity and boys treat women like meat in a display case. It’s because we put them on display every Friday night. What else are they to think? True love may wait, but can the parents? In the ironic name of modernity we’re raising cat-calling neanderthals and sex objects. Sadly, the girls do not even know we exploited them until they realize they cannot keep a guy’s attention without dressing or acting the part. These girls do not even know they’re being used until they are used up.

I cannot see any reasonable justification for Christian parents allowing their daughters to participate on school ‘dance’ teams. And I realize that is a broad generalization. There are undoubtedly exceptions that maintain tasteful team spirit. But I suspect what we see most Friday nights are more the rule than the exception. In what universe does bare skin, provocative poses and glorified pole-dancing foster education, discipline, excellence, chivalry or femininity?  I assure you no one is thinking about football at the time.

Would any father who loves his daughter want her so easily debased? Would any father give a crowd of testosterone-juiced men free reign to fantasize about his daughter? Would any father indifferently want to see his daughter tantalizing other men in any context? Even the very fathers who sit next to them in the bleachers?

Fathers, let’s be honest with ourselves, our wives and daughter(s). You know full well what those flat-billed, skinny jeans-wearing punks are thinking and fantasizing when your daughter takes the stage, sorry, field. You know what they’re saying about her behind their chuckles, pimple-faced grunts, and gutter slang. You know they are naturally bent towards vulgarity and even moreso when there’s nothing left to the imagination.  You know because you and I were those punks at one time.

Most fathers I know would just as soon get arrested as to knowingly allow that little twit another ogle at his princess. Fathers should be careful then of putting their daughters in the compromising position of being so humiliatingly objectified in the name of entertainment.

Consider the Scriptures.

I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil (Rom 16.19b).

Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature (1 Cor 14.20).

Should Christian parents encourage and invest in what lends itself to obvious evil? Should Christian parents applaud what opposes godly virtue, gospel fruit and biblical modesty? Do we grossly underestimate the extent of our sin that we blindly entrust to adolescent/pubescent audiences with what requires the most mature of adult discernment?  It’s not cute and innocent any more than a Kermit the Frog bong is cute and innocent.

The church can no longer play fast-and-loose with the next generation as though God condemns on Sunday morning what he winks at Friday night. There is no amount of baptizing worldliness we can do to justify our neglect and indifference. We praise girls when they’ve pranced around like showgirls. We chuckle when boys give the new girl the once-over. All the while we’re selling them out for another W on the schedule. Yet, when it comes to gospel instruction and biblical virtue we have little to say and little to commend. God help us from compromising the Kingdom another Friday night.  Let’s encourage, expect and celebrate far more the Holy Spirit than team spirit.

Relax, Your Church is a Mess (For Now)

If you are a Christian then you love the church because you love what Jesus loves.  Jesus died for her (Eph 5.2, 25) and it’s Christian to love those for whom Jesus died.  But Christ’s bride is one messed-up group of people because you and I are some messed-up folk.

Jesus did not give himself up for the church because of who she was but because of who he would make her to be.  Jesus knew full well his church would never be perfect in this life.  He would sanctify her until the last day when he raises her anew as a gift to his Father (Eph 5.26-27).  We serve an illusion if we think our churches will be spotless, wrinkle-free, holy and blameless before the day Jesus presents her on that day.  Jesus never intended to create the perfect church in this age. He would preserve a faithful people who ride together the ups-and-downs of sin, pain, sorrow and joy by faith until he comes again.

Meanwhile, we are one motley group of weak people running a very difficult race of faith.

The true marks of a church, according to the Reformers, are the right preaching of God’s word, the right administration of the sacraments/ordinances and the exercise of church discipline.  Any church aiming at those marks will go through some very painful circumstances.  It’s nosy business we welcomed when we were baptized.  When Jesus came on the Galilean scene demons came out of nowhere to go toe-to-toe with the one they knew would destroy them.  Likewise, striving for and maintaining healthy churches means meeting sin and Satan in the dark alleys of human hearts.  And no one comes away without scars in that fight.

Have you considered the reason why we have thirteen New Testament letters?  They’re all, in one sense or another, responses to church conflicts.  Be it sneaky false teachers or plain old infighting, local churches suffered grievous internal conflict. There were no perfect churches in the NT.  In fact, we’re surprised to see some groups of believers still considered part of the church!  Jesus’ seven letters in Revelation 2-3 were to confront imperfect churches.  Until the end of time, Christ’s church will not be what she will be when Christ gets done with her on the last day.

The ministry of Jesus invited conflict.  Therefore, true gospel ministry invites conflict in the “best” of churches.  We don’t relish the conflict, but we’re not surprised or excessively despaired by it. Conflict is often the means of testing faithfulness (2 Cor 2.9) and reminding us that we’re not There yet and therefore must keep each other’s eyes fixed on Christ.

We can ignore conflict by avoiding the hard work of communal accountability to the gospel.  Offenders and offended simply slip out the side-door so as to avoid any confrontation and stain of scandal.

We can exaggerate conflict by assuming Satan is successfully destroying the church.  Satan only has as much leash as God allows, though.  Let’s be careful of ascribing to Satan what are really our own selfish, prideful desires.  No offense is unresolvable. Either by humble reconciliation or loving church discipline, Jesus has made a way to deal with church conflict.

We can understate conflict by publicly ignoring it but privately gossiping about it until the cancer takes over major organs.  Jesus gives courage to elders to confront conflict early so no bitter fruit blossoms (Heb 12.14).  Otherwise, what are probably minor offenses explode into major rifts.

We can fear conflict by running from it so we soon have a church with people exactly like us.

Or, we can consider conflict biblically.  Conflict will happen in the best of churches.  That’s why we have most of the New Testament. Therefore, we should be honest about conflict.  The world doesn’t need to see a billboard of superficial, smiling suburbanites.  The world needs to see a community of sinners who have found Living Hope in the gospel and pursue peace with each other.

We should consider conflict as a means by which God exposes our own sin. He tests our love so we will enjoy even more of Christ’s power and provision.  He will allow conflict to show the world the precious value of Jesus over indwelling sin and personal hatred.

We shouldn’t be surprised by conflict if we’re striving to be healthy churches.  Satan has declared war on the church (Rev 12.17) and when we poke him he snarls.

We should see conflict in light of the big picture rather than our infinitesimally small world.  Christ is sanctifying a global community and we’re barely a sliver of it.  Whatever conflict we face in the American church should be seen in light of the persecution of Christians in most of the rest of the world.

We should consider conflict part of God’s means of sanctifying his people.  We still need Christ to redeem, repent and restore.

We shouldn’t consider a healthy church the one without any conflict. There is such a thing as false peace.  The healthy church is one who deals with conflict in a Christ-exalting, saint-loving, purity-protecting way.

While conflict shouldn’t dominate a church’s life, it will be a regular condition in the life of the church.  Such is life in the age of groaning (Rom 8.22-24).  There will always be someone(s) giving into temptation, incubating wicked thoughts, hiding secret sins, etc.  The joy of Christian ministry is not making sure everyone looks perfect but in making sure everyone is hoping in Christ and his perfections.

We live in the age of the hope of glory (Rom 5.2; Col 1.27), knowing the day is coming soon when we will finally, and in reality, be the glorious people for whom Christ died.  Until then “with perseverance we wait eagerly for it” (Rom 8.25).  So, relax, your church is a mess.  But not for too much longer.

02

09 2014

The Sacrament of Sunrise

20140828_064255The sun rose beautifully on Memphis today.  And when the sun rose the gospel rose with it.

I wonder if we might overplay our hand when we make the creation accounts in Gen 1-2 merely about, well, creation.  Is God merely trying to explain how things came to be, the science of origins? Or is God weaving in the created order the very fabric of the gospel he will work out in Christ for all the world to see?  Is Gen 1-2 simply about creationism or ultimately about the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Creation is certainly about more than chronology and cosmology. Creation is primarily about theology in general and Christology in particular.  After all,

…by [the beloved Son] all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created through him and for him” (Col 1.16).

For the Christian, “general revelation” (creation and conscience) becomes Christological revelation as everything “in the heavens and on earth” display Christ’s excellencies.  In that sense, all of creation is sacramental as much as it is elemental.

Each morning the sun “is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; it rejoices as a strong man to run its course.  Its rising is from one end of the heavens, and its circuit to the other end of them; and there is nothing hidden from its heat” (Ps 19.5-6).

Jesus said the Psalms prepare us for he is and what he does (Lk 24.44).  The New Testament and Jesus in particular repeatedly use the Psalms to explain who he is (Mt 22.41-46), what he’s doing (Mk 14.20f.; Lk 23.46) and what is happening to him (cf. Mk 14.34; Jn 19.24).  The apostles used the Psalms to ground the early church in a robust Christology (Acts 2.25-31, 34-36; 13.32-37).

Therefore, we should expect Psalm 19 to do more than fill our hearts at a seaside sunrise.  It should compel us toward thoughts and worship of Jesus.  Risking an allegorical hermeneutic, it’s no accident Jesus was known as the “bridegroom” (Mt 9.14f.; 25.1-13; Rev 19.7) and an unstoppable “strong man” (Mt 12.29) from whose “heat” no one can escape (Heb 4.13). The sunrise David described in Ps 19 shows the Christian more than its “intelligent design.”  It is as much created for Christ as it is by him.

As early as Gen 1.2-3 we learn each sunrise proclaims the good news that light, God’s light, always overcomes darkness.  God wove into the very fabric of the created order the reality that light will always overcome darkness.  And that prepares us for the reality Paul described in 2 Cor 4.6:

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 of Christ.”

God’s light-creating power at creation paved the way for his gospel-giving power at our redemption.  The light that overcame darkness at creation echoes the Light that overcomes the darkness of our hearts in new creation.  And no matter how dark the night is, the sun will soon rise and dispel it.  Every day, everywhere.

Just as marriage serves an earthly, parabolic and Christological function (Eph 5.22-33) that will one day end (Mt 22.23-33), so too the sunrise:

And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever” (Rev 22.5).

With every sunrise God declares the triumph of light over darkness (Ps 19.4).  And that feeds our hope for today, a day that will soon end in darkness.  Indeed, a life that ends in darkness.  The day is coming, though, when the sun rises for the last time and the Light of the world (Jn 1.4-5; 8.12) will no longer be veiled by clouds and shadows nor will it burn those who see it.  The night of weeping will be overcome by the morning’s joy (Ps 30.5) when the “Sunrise from on high will visit us” (Lk 1.78).  Every sunrise since Gen 1 has been building that eternal hope in us.  Night is temporary.  Light wins every time until He wins forever.

The God who “is Light, and in [whom] there is no darkness at all” (1 Jn 1.5) will allow for no night in the new creation.  Jesus will at last have overcome the darkness of our own hearts once and for all.

Dayspring of eternity!
Hide no more Thy radiant dawning!
Light from light’s exhaustless sea,
Shine on us afresh this morning!
And dispel with glorious might
All our night.

Let the glow of love destroy
Cold obedience faintly given,
Wake our hearts to love and joy
With the flushing eastern heaven;
Let us truly rise ere yet
Life hath set.

Through this dark and tearful place
Never be Thy light denied us.
O Thou glorious Sun of grace,
To yon world of gladness guide us,
When to joys that never end
We ascend!

Ah! Thou Dayspring from on high
Grant that at Thy next appearing
We who in the graves do lie
May arise, Thy summons hearing,
And rejoice in our new life,
Far from strife.

Light us to those heavenly spheres,
Sun of grace, in glory shrouded;
Lead us through this vale of tears
To the land whose days unclouded,
Purest joy, and perfect peace
Never cease.
(Christian von Rosenroth, 1664)

Post tenebras lux.

The Taming of Shamu and Jesus

You parents know what it’s like to traipse through Sea World thinking, “So this is what my parents went through!” As a kid, I strolled through Sea World without a care in the world as if the whole park were mine to explore.  All the while my parents counted pennies, peeled eyes, shared drinks and hauled souvenirs.  Now I was the one doing it for our children.  “Stay with us!”  “Don’t run off!”  “You’re splitting a drink with your sister.”  “We can’t afford another stuffed frog.”  “It’s time to go.”

We took our kids to Sea World-San Antonio on several occasions while living in Central Texas.  Everyone knows Sea World is nothing without Shamu, The Killer Whale.  I remember the first time I met Shamu, The Killer Whale.  It was San Diego and I was mesmerized. Terrified. I hated him. I loved him.

Like good parents we passed down the legacy of fear that was passed down to us.  We built him (at least I hope it’s a him) up to our kids for weeks.  We sat down in the “splash zone” eagerly waiting for the rain of terror.  Imagine my surprise when the Shamu show opened with a schmutzy video about anything being possible if I just believe.  Had we unwittingly stumbled into a ballet?  What about Killer did they not understand?  We were there to see Shamu, The Killer Whale.

Shamu and friends were paraded around to Kenny G music like puppies. They’d tamed Shamu, The Killer Whale!  He’s probably not even a he.  He was nothing more than Flipper in an orca suit. Where’s the fear and adrenaline that gripped me as a kid? Where’s the ferocity?  Shamu nearly ate me as child (or so I thought) and I loved it. Send Bud and Sandy for some real piscine predators or give us a refund!

Speaking of Sea World, Dale Ralph Davis has written some very helpful OT commentaries for Christian Focus Publications. Commenting on Joshua 10, Davis unleashed this insight:

“The popular image of Jesus is that he is not only kind and tender but also soft and prissy, as though Jesus comes to us reeking of hand cream. Such a Jesus can hardly steel the soul that is daily assaulted by the enemy. We need to learn the catechism of Psalm 24. Question: Who is the King of glory? Answer: Yahweh, strong and mighty! Yahweh – mighty in battle! (Ps 24:8). We must catch the vision of the Faithful and True sitting on the white horse, the One who ‘judges and makes war’ in righteousness (Rev 19:11-16). No mild God or soft Jesus can give his people hope. It is only as we know the warrior of Israel who fights for us (and sometimes without us) that we have hope of triumphing in the muck of life” (Davis, Joshua: No Falling Words, Focus on the Bible: 82).

Hand cream?  Maybe that’s why Shamu smelled so good.

Unlike Shamu, Jesus cannot be tamed.

27

08 2014

God’s Love Actually

Among other questions, the prophets answer the question, “What is God’s posture toward his people?”  Had God given up on saving a people for himself (Hos 4.6)?  Could God actually overlook or forgive his people’s rebellion against him (Mic 6.9-16)? Will God sit idly by while pagan nations run roughshod over the people he claims to love (Hab 1.13)?  How can we reconcile God’s apparent displeasure with his promise of eternal love toward the very ones with whom he’s displeased?  Does God’s love wax and wane toward those he saves?  Is God mainly angry or mainly loving?

In typical eloquent fashion C.S. Lewis wrote:

“The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word ‘love’, and look on things as if man were the centre of them. Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake. ‘Thou has created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created’ (Rev 4:11). We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest ‘well-pleased’. . . . What we would here and now call our ‘happiness’ is not the end God chiefly has in view: but when we are such as He can love without impediment, we shall in fact be happy” (The Problem of Pain, HarperCollins: 2001, pp40-41).

If you are in Christ, God is making you into someone he can love “without impediment.” That’s God’s goal for all the pain and pressure in our lives.  Scripture regularly refers to this process as fiery refining (1 Pt 1.7-9).  God loves us too much to let impurity, sin, immaturity, and earthbound desires live like squatters in our hearts.

We tend to think of God (especially the “Old Testament God”) as one who is constantly angry until we persuade him to love us (with obedience, sacrifice, etc.). We might assume God really wants to be angry with us but begrudgingly and dutifully loves us because Jesus finally makes him do so.  The prophets teach the exact opposite.  God is not angry until we persuade him to love. We are the ones angry with God until he persuades us to love (and be loved).  We don’t make God lovable.  He makes us lovable.  God loved us first (1 Jn 4.19).

God is happy whether we exist or not and whether we like it or not. He owns and rules every molecule in the universe to serve his own happiness (Ps 24.1; 50.10-12). He needs no help to be a happy God (Acts 17.24ff). What then is a God to do who owns all, rules all and needs none?  Give! There is nothing for God to get; therefore, if he is to do anything at all he must give.  For a God who has nothing to gain, even the lifting of his pinky finger is an effort to give.  And give he does.

God doesn’t create us primarily to get anything from us because he has no lack.  God creates us to give everything to us, namely, himself and all his glorious excellencies. To make us recipients worthy of all he gives God gives us Jesus to make us alive and able to love.  God gives Jesus to us and us to him so that what Jesus deserves to have he gives to us.  As the Father loves the Son “without impediment,” so he conforms us into the image of the Son so he would love us likewise (Jn 17.23-24; Rom 8.28-39). Now, every spiritual blessing is ours in Christ (Eph 1.3).

We tend to make God liberal with his wrath and stingy with his love. The opposite is true.  The cross is not the work of a stingy God, but of One who is passionately jealous for a people to love (Jn 3.16).  It’s far easier to expect God’s wrath than his love. The prophets lived and died to change our minds on that.

“Who is a God like you, who pardons iniquity and passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in unchanging love” (Micah 7.18).

26

08 2014

The Prerequisite for Salvation

“When [God] causes the gospel to be preached, it is certainly the case that he is not saying, ‘I have come to save Simon Peter or Cornelius the centurion or Mary Magdalene.’ He calls no one by the name given them by men at the time of their circumcision or baptism. Were that the case, we could certainly doubt our salvation, for then the thought would legitimately arise that not we but perhaps someone else with the same name was meant. But when you hear that Jesus Christ has come to save sinners, then you have the choice either of rejecting the title ‘sinner’ or of confessing that he means you because he has come to save you. Conclude boldly, then, that ‘Jesus Christ has come to save sinners, and I confess that that is also my name since I also am a sinner. Therefore, he has come to save me!'” (Jean Taffin, The Marks of God’s Children)

“Come to Jesus just as you are,” pleads the worked up and well-meaning revival preacher.  What he means is there are no intellectual, economic, ethnic or moral prerequisites for salvation.  You need not know more, behave better, or earn less before Jesus would save you.  Jesus does not require us to be anything before he would save us.  Or does he?

Jesus didn’t die for the self-ascribed godly, but only for those who know themselves to be ungodly (Rom 5.6). He didn’t come to save the self-proclaimed righteous, but only those who know themselves to be sinners (Lk 5.32). Jesus didn’t redeem those who attempt to impress God and are entitled to a reward.  He redeemed only those who are impressed with God and his lavish grace.  If you consider yourself godly and righteous then you cannot come “just as you are.” But if you know yourself to be ungodly and unrighteous then Jesus lived, died and was raised for people just like you.

Just as I am, without one plea
But that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bidd’st me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need, in thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
(Charlotte Elliot, 1835)

25

08 2014

The Church to #Ferguson, With Love

The church of Jesus Christ is the alternative kingdom to the kingdom of this age.  She is the evidence that Jesus has begun reclaiming, restoring and resurrecting what is rightfully his: a people devoted to and pleased by God’s glory (Eph 5.26-27, 32).  God shows us through the church he is repairing what has gone wrong with our world through, in and for Christ (Eph 3.8-11).  And since we are what’s wrong with this world, his work is primarily the transformation of sinners into saints.  The church is God’s testimony that his kingdom is one of changed people, not merely changed democracies, schools, economies or armies and where love is the rule of law (1 Jn 4.7-21).

The church is by no means perfect because those in her are not yet perfected.  She is at all times dependent on the grace, mercy and power of Christ.  But she is indeed the only reflection, even everso faint, of the world as it should be.  As Israel lived in Babylonian exile, so the church of Jesus Christ lives as aliens, strangers in a foreign land (1 Pt 2.11).  The citizens of Zion live among the Babylonians until the “great harlot” finally falls (Rev 18.1-3; 19.1-6). As an outpost of heaven the church sets God’s table in a wilderness for parched souls thirsting for lasting rest (Ps 78.19).

The church also reflects, even everso faintly, the world as it will be. Jesus will soon complete what he started.  He will finally rid the world of sin, recreate a world of righteousness and forever establish love – his love – among his people.  Indeed, the church is the hope of the world because she displays the Living Hope of her Risen Savior (1 Pt 1.3-5).

‘Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace for evermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.
(Samuel Stone)

While “she waits the consummation” the church exists as “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Tim 3.15).  As such, the church brings heavenly wisdom and gospel hope to a world clamoring for truth and justice.  This is no more true than in Ferguson, MO where a town is at war with itself.  What should the church say to the souls of Ferguson?

The Church to the Police:
You have weighty responsibility to say the least.  Whether or not any given police officer is a Christian, you have your authority by God’s common grace on all mankind (Rom 13.1-7).  As part of our trusting God we trust you to steward this derivative authority soberly, patiently and equitably.  For the most part we believe you do and should be grateful to God for his kindness to restrain and reward. We are sorry for complaining about speeding tickets and broken tail lights while you spend the majority of your time keeping our neighborhoods as safe as possible. For every officer-related shooting there are hundreds of officer-related gestures of peace.

You often hold the very power of life and death in your hands.  The decision to wield that power happens in split seconds.  You are not God and we cannot expect you to always make that decision in perfect wisdom and righteousness.  But it is nevertheless a decision for which you will be accountable to the citizenry and ultimately to God.  We hope you will take that extra second and if it be absolutely necessary, aim low.

The reason you have a job is because we became criminals in Genesis 3.  We wanted a world where we could be our own gods.  God has not ordained the police force to fix this sort of world.  He has chosen to recreate this world through, and only through, Jesus Christ.  You play an important role in this world, but not a permanent one.  In this painful world of violence and brutality, God has woven his grace by giving us the good news that Jesus changes the hearts of sinners like us.  Tear gas and batons will never end violence because they can never end anger.  You can arrest a criminal but you cannot arrest the criminal’s heart.  Jesus ends anger.

We pray each police officer fulfills his/her duty as a servant of the people and of Jesus himself.  As the gospel might infiltrate your own hearts and communities you will need less riot gear.

The Church to Violent Protesters:
Looting and vandalizing the neighborhood store has nothing to do with justice.  It has everything to do with exploiting Michael Brown’s death to serve your own selfishness.  Engaging in such barbaric behavior in the name of justice actually trivializes the very justice you seek.  In fact, you are punishing those who had nothing to do with what offended you.  That is not righteous protesting.  It’s cowardice. A young man, your friend, lies dead in the middle of a street and you break a store window to steal gadgets.  You might as well have stolen Michael Brown’s shoes on the way.

You are behaving no differently than the police you allege abused the power afforded them.  You are stealing from your unarmed, unprotected neighbor.  How is that any different than what you say the police did to Michael Brown?  Maybe your neighborhood could do with less trigger-happy officers.  Maybe it could do with less of you, too.

We plead with you to submit to Christ and his life-giving authority. Jesus gives you a life of love, not looting.  Service, not stealing. Giving, not taking.  You may get away with rampant destruction in this life. But God will not be so lenient.  He defends the helpless and vindicates injustice.  You want a Ferguson police officer held accountable?  Well and good.  But you should also know you will be held accountable as well.  Run to Christ before it’s too late.  He will have you and you will know God’s mercy.  Like Zaccheus (Lk 19.1-10), give back what you stole or plan to work it off at the store you looted.

The Church to Peaceful Protesters:
You are right to want truth and justice.  God has wired that in us all especially when a life is taken.  No life is insignificant even if that life is a difficult one.

And we are extremely sorry about the racism we tend to encourage.  I hope we don’t want to do it, but often our churches know better than we do.  Jesus never established a white church or a black church. Despite what our pews may show Jesus really did make “one new man” (Eph 2.15).  Forgive us.  Be patient with us.  Help us.

But you must know that as much as we demand justice in this life we will never have enough.  Our sin runs deep.  No one is able to ultimately right what has gone wrong unless that One can change our hearts.  You may get better police officers and remunerations, but they will be sad and temporary fixes.  Only Jesus can change hearts of hate into hearts of love.

While we pray your neighborhoods enjoy a season of peace and unity, we know there will always be another Ferguson.  In a few weeks, Ferguson will no longer be “breaking news.”  You will be a byword and the news will be on to the next tragedy.  But, that tragedy along with yours is all part of the same tragedy.  We wanted a world where death reigns and police need guns and young men rob stores.  As tragic as the events are in Ferguson, they are part of the same story. Our story.  Our story of sin, shame, Godlessness and despair.  We make war with each other because we first made war with God.

It was this tragedy Jesus assumed to himself. He immersed himself in our griefs and sorrows (Is 53.4), the very kinds of sorrows you suffer right now.  Unlike Michael Brown, Jesus never robbed a store, smoked weed or tussled with a cop.  Yet he chose to be treated like he had. He gave up his life so you would not have to lose yours.  Jesus ensures justice will be served but may be different than you expect. But you don’t have to lose your soul to hatred in the meantime.  He redeemed your grief so that as horrific as death is it will not win the day.

We hope you’ll not listen to money-hungry, attention-grabbing “preachers” who claim to speak in God’s name.  As soon as the photo-op is over they will board their private jets and return to their gated mansions.  Rather, listen to those local pastors who live and love among you.  They walk those streets everyday and love you. Protest if you must, but then go pray with your churches.

Whatever truth, relief and justice you receive in the coming months, know that the problem still remains.  It’s not ultimately a race problem.  Racism is the symptom, not the cause. It’s a sin problem. It’s our problem.  We all die because sin has already killed us (Rom 5.12).  It’s the problem Jesus died to remedy in us.  We need new hearts that share, love and live in Christ’s name.  Ferguson doesn’t need any more band-aids or superficial peace.  Like the rest of us, you need the unrivaled, unrestrained, undeterred love of God to sweep the streets.

We don’t just want a better Ferguson.  We want “the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” in a better country, a heavenly one (Heb 11.10, 16). Pax Christi.

From the Church, With Love

The Gospel is Masculine, But Not Chauvinist

“Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God” (Gal 4.7).

The gospel of Jesus Christ is decidedly masculine but it is neither discriminatory nor chauvinist.  In fact, the glory of the gospel is wrapped up in its masculinity, rightly understood.  Given the context of Scripture and the people among which the gospel spread, we want a masculine gospel.

God as Father with children almost exclusively called “sons” does not sit well in the increasingly egalitarian mind.  Gender-neutral Bibles attempt to tame the “maleness” of Scripture (and often of God) so as not to disenfranchise women.  Neither is the pulpit immune. Feminism has ridden the Trojan Horse of political correctness past the narthex all the way to the chancel.  Pastors and teachers feel compelled to emasculate Scripture so that “sons” always include “daughters.” “Brothers,” before anyone gets offended, always includes “sisters.”  We castrate Scripture lest any woman feels slighted by God or the church.

The gospel, however, does not need help including women in Christ’s kingdom.  The maleness of the gospel has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with “sonship.”  The gospel is about inheritance, not anatomy.  The greatest gift of the gospel lies in its “sonship” and that’s good news for women.

The typical Hebrew father passed down his inheritance to his sons. And his firstborn son was the primary beneficiary of the father’s wealth bestowed through the birthright (cf. Gen 25.31-34; 27.18-29; Mt 21.38).  The daughters of the family were not excluded or neglected.  Rather, a father would marry his daughter to a husband who would himself receive some measure of his father’s inheritance. Only in situations where there was no male benefactor would women lay claim to their own wealth (see Ruth, for example). “Sonship” implied an inheritance that would continually trickle down and serve the needs of those for whom the heir was responsible.

When God calls those he saves “sons” he is not intentionally excluding women.  Sons are not sons because of their maleness. They are sons because they inherit the wealth and riches of the Father. God’s children, however, are not second-rate sons.  They are all heirs to the wealth, riches and blessing of the Firstborn Son himself! Through “adoption” God makes all those who are otherwise excluded from his blessing heirs to all that the Firstborn Son is due (Gal 4.4-7).

For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.  For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba, Father!”  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom 8.14-17).

All who are being led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  Paul is not saying only men are led by God’s spirit.  He is saying all who are in Christ receive the status, position, hope, inheritance befitting of sons. The masculinity of the gospel does not define who are God’s children (males only).  It defines what exactly God does in salvation; namely, he makes those his sons who are not such by nature.

To become a son is to become an heir.  But not just any son.  They receive the full rights and privileges of the Firstborn Son – Christ himself (cf. Eph 1.3).  When Jesus tells his disciples he preparing a place for them so they will be where he is (Jn 14.1-3), he is not talking about a physical location.  He is talking about the place of the Firstborn Son.  All those God saves in Christ will be where Christ is: first chair next to the Father (Jn 17.24), heirs according to the promise (Gal 3.28).

The gospel is decidedly masculine but it is not chauvinist.  In Christ, God makes sons of those who are otherwise excluded from his riches.  God makes sons out of those the religious elite excluded from the Kingdom: slaves (Gal 4.7), children (Mk 10.14), Samaritans (Lk 10.30-37), shysters (Lk 17.9-14) and whores (Lk 7.36-50).  They all become sons when they become Christ’s.  The very people considered excluded from God the Father’s salvation become the full and rightful heirs of it.  Therefore, as much as we might want to denude the gospel by generalizing “sons” into “sons and daughters,” we actually rob the gospel of its full importance.  In wanting to include woman as God’s “daughters” let’s be careful we’ve not unwittingly excluded them as sons!  The glory of the gospel is that even the daughters of men become sons of God (Gal 3.28).

By referring to his children as “sons” God is not disenfranchising women (or slaves, children, shysters or whores).  In reality, he is restoring dignity to them all by giving them the wealth of his glory for all eternity.  Jesus assumed their shame to himself so they could enjoy the privileges of sonship. The gospel opens the storehouse of God’s glorious wealth those (1) not inherently permitted to it and (2) most unworthy of it.  Peter would even call the Christian wife a “fellow heir of the grace of life” (1 Pt 3.7).  God treats her as much like a son as he does her Christian husband.  Therefore, the gospel stood, and stands, against all forms of inhumane discrimination, be it gender, ethnicity, economic class, etc.  Unlike the kingdom of Caesar, the church would actually treat women, slaves, outcasts and cripples as equals in the kingdom of Christ.

Let’s not tame the gospel or attempt to make it more inclusive.  It couldn’t offer a more privileged position than that of the Firstborn Son’s place.  The gospel cannot bequeath more than the riches due Christ himself to all who desire them.

When God saves one of his children he does not leave her a daughter, slave or cripple.  Like David did for the club-footed Mephibosheth (2 Sam 10.13), Israel’s King makes his servants sons and heirs of his kingdom (Rom 8.29).  All girls allowed.