A strange inverse relationship

Sometimes I wonder if there is some inverse relationship between the availability/accessibility of the Scriptures and how precious they are to us.

Here’s a video of the Kimyal Tribe in West Papua, Indonesia getting the entire NT. One of their pastors said now that they have the entire NT, thier hearts are “no longer heavy. They are light!” When was the last time your heart was light over the availability of God’s word? As the plane lands, everyone is singing praises to God. When was the last time you sang praises to God because of the Scriptures?

Here’s thier pastor’s prayer (translated) when the Bibles were placed in his hands:

“O, God. O, God. The plan which you had from the beginning, regarding your Kimyals, which already existed in your Spirit, the month that you had set, the day that you had set, has come to pass today. O my Father, my Father, the promise that you gave Simeon that he would see Jesus Christ and hold him in his arms before he died; I have also been waiting under that same promise, O God. You looked at all the differentn languages in the world, and you choose which ones would be put into your Word, you thought that we should see your Word in our language. Today, the day you had chosen for this to be fulfilled, has come to pass. O God, today you have placed your Word into my hands, just like you promised. You have placed it here in our land. And for all this, O God, I give you praise.”

And in tears they accepted God’s Word into thier hands. When’s the last time your picked up your Bible in tears that you can even have one to pick up?

Let us rejoice in God’s Word in any language, in new languages, in our language, in our hands, on our electronic devices. Let it saturate our lives, yet never lose the wonder that the Creator God has spoken, that he is sovereign, and that he has chosen to loves us.

God is the Judge – Not Us

A “conservative Christian” group has mounted an internet campaign and boycott against JC Penny in response to their announcement that Ellen DeGeneres will be their new spokesperson. They say that by having an openly homosexual spokesperson JC Penny is taking sides in the “culture war” and offending those with traditional family values.

Controversy like this isn’t new for Ellen, who was also at the center of some “conservative Christians” boycotting Finding Nemo and Disney because Ellen was the voice of one of the fish in the movie.

A question: “Is it even our job as Christians, to judge, condemn, criticize, non-Christians?”

Paul doesn’t seem to think so. See 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 . Neither does Jesus. See John 3:17. You can also check out any of Jesus interactions with the “sinners” of his day.

What would it look like for Christians to show Ellen, and others in the world, mercy instead of judgement, love instead of condemnation? Do you think Ellen and others in the world would respond differently to Christians who did their job and left the judging to God? Would this more accurately show forth the gospel than what is happening in this situation? What is this group communicating about the Gospel or the Triune God in their approach to Ellen?

Don’t get me wrong, sin has to be addressed in the Gospel. Mine was, and yours was. And to share the Gospel with Ellen and the world will involve a discussion of their sin and a call to repentance and faith. But shouldn’t that discussion happen in the context of a loving relationship, instead of a condemning internet campaign?

 

 

The Help

Over the Christmas break I watched a movie called, The Help with my wife’s family.  It is a story about life in Mississippi during the Civil Rights era. If focuses on life from the perspective of the black maids who work for southern white families.

While watching it, I was very angered and saddened by how poorly the black women were treated by most of their white employers. They were treated as if they were sub-human. But interestingly what came out to me in the movie, was that the more that the white women acted in a way that denied the Image of God in the black women, the more in-humane (or sub-human) they became. For are we not truly human when we are living in life in restored relationship with God, restored relationship with man, and restored relationship with creation, in accordance with God’s Word.

Another thought I had was what in the world was the Southern Church doing during this period of our history, and even before. The marks of the church are preaching the Word, administering the Sacraments, and the practice of discipline. These marks were severely distorted by the Southern church to allow slavery and behavior as portrayed in the movie to go on unaddressed, and in some cases approved and argued for by the Church. What did this communicate about the work of Christ and the truth of the gospel? If the church had worked to fulfill its calling during this time we might be in a different place today.

If you grew up in the South, as I did, another question I have is this- If I had grown up during that period would I have acted any different? Would I have ignored how Scripture spoke into my culture, my life, my prejudices?

What are the areas of our lives and culture that we are blind towards today? Where does the Gospel  need to speak into our lives? Where are we acting sub-human? Does the reality of Christ’s finished work on behalf of sinners impact how we treat others, how we live our lives today?

Brilliantly Hopeless

A few weeks ago, Christopher Hitchens, one of the most influential atheists of our day, died of cancer. In 2010, he did an interview, where he discussed how he was processing life and death, in the midst of his cancer. Below is an excerpt.

“One of my occasionally silly thoughts is: I wish I was suffering in a good cause — a cause larger than myself. Or, larger than just the mere survival,” he says. “If you’re in pain and being tortured, and you felt it was helping the liberation of humanity, then you can bear it better, I think. I just feel this is partly random, and partly the sort of cancer that gets people like me at about this age. It’s a part of life. It’s a dress rehearsal for an important episode of life, which is how you wind it up and how you agree to face that — which is something you’re aware of even when you’re in apparently good health.”

On Beliefs

In his writings about his diagnosis, Hitchens has asserted: “To the dumb question, why me? The cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: ‘Why not.’ ” Hitchens concedes that the dumb question “is bound to occur” — but not for long. He says he decided on his beliefs a long time ago, well before he became ill.

“I’m here as a product of process of evolution, which doesn’t make very many exceptions. And which rates life relatively cheaply,” he says. “I mean, most human beings who’ve ever been born would have been dead long before they reached my age. And I would think in most of the rest of the world — well, I know it — is still true. So to be relatively healthy at 62 is to be dealt a pretty good hand by the cosmos, which doesn’t know I’m here — and won’t notice when I’m gone. So that seemed the only properly stoic attitude to take.”

Oh, Mr. Hitchens, how I wish you looked to the personal Triune God and not the impersonal cosmos. How I wish you knew that there was One who’s suffering accomplished much for others, and invites us to participate in a mission much greater than ourselves. How I wish you knew the hope that is found in Jesus. (1 Thess. 4:13-18)

How would you respond to Christopher Hitchens, or others with beliefs like his?

 

Loving God and Animals

Reports came out a week or so ago that McDonald’s and Target were dropping their egg suppliers due to instances of mistreatment and cruelty towards chickens, by workers in some of those chicken plants. Are these companies dropping these suppliers due to their convictions that animals are to be treated with dignity? I don’t know it could be more of a PR move due to pressure by an animal rights group. Reports of animal cruelty come up rather frequently. It seems that those who are speaking up and pushing for animal rights are groups like PETA, the Humane Society, or other groups some might call “environmentalist radicals”. Where is the Christian voice in the midst of all of this? Maybe I’m not hearing it, or its not being reported. Maybe it is that we are just silent. Maybe we think we should be investing our time in more important things like “saving souls”. What does our general silence communicate? What does it say about God, and His character, His heart? Could our silence actually be anti-evangelism?

Genesis 1 and 2 tells us that God made man in His image, to reflect and represent His good rule and tender care on this earth, to demonstrate His glory. This involved caring for humanity and the other creatures and creation (Gen 1:26-28 Gen 2:15). Our sin distorted this responsibility and creation suffered (Gen 3:17-19 Gen 7:17-24 Rom 8:18-25).

But we see in Scripture that God cares for humans as well as animals. God saved not only Noah and his family but also many animals. The Noahic covenant in Gen 9:8-17 was made with Noah and his offspring as well as the animals (there are at least 4 specific references to animals in this passage). (Also see Exodus 20:8-11, 23:12 Deut. 22:4 Deut 25:4 Jonah 4:11)

If God created all things for His glory and He cares for them and has entrusted humanity to do the same, should not Christians as “renewed humanity” be visibly active in the world fulfilling part of our purpose and reflecting our Creator? Has God in His grace not restored this privilege to us? Are we neglecting this part of our calling? Do some non-believers image God more clearly in this area than Christians do?  Isn’t the good news that in Christ, God is restoring all of creation to its original purpose (Col. 1:19-20) ? Is it not our privilege as citizens of the Kingdom to live this out now? Every square inch of creation is His.

What does this look like for us? Is there more to being a Christian business than being members of a Christian association, or playing Christian music on the speakers, or closing on Sundays? Should it matter to us how animals are cared for before they end up on our plate? Can we more incorporate the Biblical worldview into our practice? How would our home life change as a result of embracing this calling? What impact would these changes have in our evangelism and engaging the world? What do you think are some reasons we fail to live this out?

For more on this see this free and somewhat brief article by Michael Williams, “The Chief End of Animals”. And for a longer and more expensive look, see Imaging God: Dominon as Stewardship by Douglas John Hall.

Friday Challenge

If we have anything to tell others about Christ, let us resolve to tell it. Let us not be silent, if we have found peace and rest in the Gospel. Let us speak to our relations, friends, families and neighbors, according as we have opportunity, and tell them what the Lord has done for our souls. All are not called to be ministers. All are not intended to preach. But all can walk in the steps of the man of whom we have been reading, and in the steps of Andrew, and Philip, and the Samaritan woman. (John 1:41, 45; 4:29.) Happy is he who is not ashamed to say to others, “Come and hear what the Lord has done for my soul.” (Psalm. 66:16.)

~ J.C. Ryle

Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Mark, [Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1985], 97, 98.

Resemble the Culture of our Communities or Remove Ourselves From Them? Neither, Restore Them By Seeking their Welfare.

What follows is a taste of what is covered in the first session of Gospel in Life: Grace Changes Everything. In his discussion on Jeremiah 29:4-14, Tim Keller shows us that the Babylonians were calling the Hebrew people to assimilate into the pagan culture of Babylon and thus lose their spiritual identity by becoming like the Babylonians. Yet, the false prophets were calling the Hebrew people to isolate themselves from Babylon and to become hostile towards it, so they would not lose their distinct spiritual identity. Do you see the tension?

Possibly you are experiencing the same type of tension in your community. On the one hand, you might feel the temptation to resemble the culture and thus lose your gospel identity; or on the other hand, you might feel the pressure from some religious leaders to segregate yourself from the culture so you do not lose your gospel identity. Yet, what does God say through Jeremiah to the children of God who are experiencing exile within pagan communities? Jeremiah is calling the Jews to something all together different from the positions above. In the video portion of this study, Keller states God was calling them to, “…serve and love their new place of residence, rather than resemble or remove themselves from it.” In other words, we are to serve our communities out of our distinct gospel identity.

At this point, some of you might be wondering what this looks like? As instruments in the Redeemer’s hands, the church is called to restore the original purposes of the city. Keller defines the word “city” as “any place of density, diversity and cultural energy.” Within the frame work of redemptive history, the city was meant to be:

  1. Places of refuge and safety
  2. Places of justice
  3. Places of culture development
  4. Places of spiritual seeking and finding

The city is still a place of these purposes, but the brokenness of sin has tainted these in such a way that cities are now:

  1. Places of racism, classism and violence
  2. Places to escape from God and his law
  3. Places of pride, arrogance, excess, overwork and exhaustion
  4. Places of cults and false belief

Yet, as God’s covenant people, we as the church should respond to the gospel in such a way that we become a part of God’s restoring grace by:

  1. Serving and loving those who need help and protection
  2. Bringing God’s love, peace, and justice to bear on a broken world
  3. Creating and  cultivating a culture of humility, moderation, excellent work and Sabbath rest
  4. Holding out Christ as the ultimate satisfaction

In closing, Keller goes on to say, “Work out the gospel in the city, in order to work the gospel into your own heart…Thus, we need the city to spiritually grow, more than the city needs us.”

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