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?

 

 

Joseph is Underrated

Not many Sunday School flannel graphs, in my experience, have been dedicated to the importance of Joseph’s role in Jesus’s life and ministry. That is my poor excuse for not really thinking very deeply about Jesus’ adoption before now. But now the Lord has called me and my family to adoption, and the Holy Spirit is moving and teaching us many things about adoption.

I’ve been reading Russell Moore’s Adopted for Life, and it has a killer chapter in it: Joseph of Nazareth vs. Planned Parenthood. As I thought about it, it’s mainly the focus of the worldview that differentiates these two. One has God in the sights, the other has man. One has obedience and the other has convenience. What really had the biggest impact on me from this chapter is how much God accomplished through Joseph’s simple, albeit difficult obedience.

Moore said, “When Mary tells Joseph she is pregnant, his first reaction isn’t a cheery ‘It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.'” After I stopped laughing, reread Matthew 1, and thought through it; It’s pretty amazing what happened.

No, he wasn’t singing Christmas carols; he sought to divorce her until God came to him and explained his plan. Did God explain it all at once for Joseph? Nope – just what he needed for that time. He didn’t explain that in the coming months or so, you’ll need to take a small self-guided, self-funded tour of Egypt. That bit Joseph got when he needed it. But in the mean time, Jesus’ adopted dad was acting in obedience to his heavenly Dad.

What did Joseph accomplish? The obvious is that he protected the Christ, God in human flesh, from being killed. He fulfilled Hosea’s prophesy: Out of Egypt I called my son. (Hosea 11) Lastly, and the one that I like the most: In adopting Jesus, Joseph fulfilled another major prophesy about the Christ; namely, that he would be a descendant of David (Isaiah 16). You may agree pretty quickly as I did, but as I thought about it – well, Joseph wasn’t his biological father…

Wait a minute. The Scriptures are putting adoption on the same level as biological conception for purposes of inheritance and belonging. That probably sounds familiar, doesn’t it? When we, as Christians, place our faith in what Christ has done for us, we are adopted into God’s family and are fellow heirs with Christ (Galatians 3:29, Romans 8:16-17). [[The implications for how we are to think about, talk to, and consider adopted children in light of this truth is worth another post altogether – another time, God willing.]]

Joseph modeled obedience and in doing so he played a major role in the history of the redemption of God’s children. Did he know that he was fulfilling so many prophecies, or realize the impact of his actions on me and the world? I doubt it. Nobody’s writing songs about him. No best sellers. No ‘Hail Josephs’. Only cameos in nativity scenes for the father, the chosen father of the Savior of the world.

Have I mentioned he’s underrated?

How does all this fit together?

Have you ever looked at the Bible and thought, “How does all this fit together?” This is an honest question and many theologians have used the diversity of the Scriptures to force their views of disunity on Scripture. However, is there a theme that displays the unity of diversity in the Bible? Dr. John Frame of Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando highlights how Reformed theologians have found the covenant motif as a helpful way to see unity in Scripture:

Traditionally, these writers have found in Scripture two major covenants, sometimes called the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. The former embraces the pre-fall period. In it God offers an eternal life of blessedness (symbolized by the tree of life) to Adam and Eve on the condition that they abstain from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. After the fall into sin, God sets forth the covenant of grace: a promise of redemption through the divine Messiah received through faith alone. 

The covenant of grace, in turn, encompasses, on the traditional view, all the post-fall historical covenants, including those with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David, and the “new covenant” effected by the blood of Jesus himself, of which the earlier covenants are but anticipations. 

On this understanding, the whole Bible, diverse in content as it may appear at first sight, can be seen as a story of God making covenants and man responding to them. The books of law show what God expects of his covenant people. The books of history indicate man’s actual response. The psalms contain the praise, the laments, the questionings, the blessings and cursings that should be on the lips of a covenant people. The wisdom books contain applications of the covenant lawsuit against the covenant-breakers while at the same time promising covenant renewal. The Gospels and Acts present the history of the new covenant, which is applied to believers and to world history in the Epistles and Revelation (John Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God, p.146-147)

I found this explanation helpful and I pray it blesses you. If this is true and I believe it is, how will we respond to the contra-conditional and covenantal love of our Triune God?

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (Psalm 34:8 ESV).

Freedom to Say Life is Hard

I saw this article bouncing around Facebook the other day, Don’t Carpe Diem. The author was writing about experiences she has had when older ladies have stopped her and her small children in stores and said,  “Sugar, I hope you are enjoying this. I loved every single second of parenting my two girls. Every single moment. These days go by so fast.”

The author comments,

“Everywhere I go, someone is telling me to seize the moment, raise my awareness, be happy, enjoy everysecond, etc, etc, etc.

I know that this message is right and good. But, I have finally allowed myself to admit that it just doesn’t work for me. It bugs me. This CARPE DIEM message makes me paranoid and panicky. Especially during this phase of my life – while I’m raising young kids. Being told, in a million different ways to CARPE DIEM makes me worry that if I’m not in a constant state of intense gratitude and ecstasy, I’m doing something wrong.”

This article seemed to resonate with lots of young moms who found in this article the freedom to say that they “don’t carpe diem”, the freedom to say life is hard. It resonated with me as well. She captures grace and expresses it in real world terms.

I wonder, do we give people this freedom in the church, or do people feel the pressure to have it together all the time? Do people feel like they are doing something wrong if they don’t  live up to the qualifications we have set for being a “good” Christian? What does it say about the gospel if people don’t have this freedom?

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?

The Sovereignty of the Savior

Let me ask you some questions: Do you struggle with anxiety, people pleasing, inordinate anger, lust for influence, or hunger to rule? If so: Do you trust in the King of God’s Kingdom or are you trusting in the knockoff kings of your perceived kingdom? Who or what is the lord of your life? Your heart is giving allegiance to someone or something at all times. Is your allegiance in Messiah, who has come from heaven to earth to reconcile you to God?

In John 3, Jesus is clear in his discussion with Nicodemus; Jesus has authority to speak on the necessity of the New Birth because he is the Sovereign of God’s Kingdom. Jesus has absolute rule and ultimate power. Remember, Jesus is God in flesh. This is all true, but the way Jesus goes about ruling his subjects is counterintuitive to the monarchs of this world. Look at John 3:14-15 to see what I mean: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” Now, Jesus is referring to a disturbing story out of the book of Numbers in the 21st chapter. Moses was leading the people in the desert after they were brought out of Egypt. This is when God miraculously redeemed the Israelites out of slavery and they were on the way to the promised land. Although God had provided the Israelites with both drink and food while they journeyed, the grew incredibly discontent and irritable. So much so that they spoke against Moses and God, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.”

Whats Up with the Fiery Serpents?

Then the LORD sent the snakes, not just any snakes but “fiery serpents.” Maybe some of you have a different translation, where it describes the snakes as “venomous.” This is true as well, but the literal Hebrew here is “fiery serpents.” What is the big deal? Its not that these snakes where on fire, but they set you on fire when they bit you, in a figurative sense. The symptoms were scorching inflamed swelling around the bite that spread. Also, it wouldn’t be long until the victim would have a raging fever and unquenchable thirst. This all added up to what felt like a consuming fire within and eventually you would die. Some of you are thinking, “all of this because some kids in the cafeteria complained about the lunch at school.” On the surface it might come across as an overreaction, but this was the way God chose to show the Israelites what was ultimately killing them, the poison in their souls: the venom from the Serpent in the Garden of Eden.

When God created everything, it was perfect and good. Humanity was in perfect communion with God where he was their father and they were his children. Their was no need for a new birth, because the first birth was not tainted by any sin. But something terrible happened. The Serpent came into the garden and his venom passed into the souls of humanity and since then we have been born with a consuming fire within our souls of deep discontent and dissatisfaction with God. Thus we live with an unquenchable thirst for something to satisfy us and we never find it because apart from deep communion with God, we will be forever discontent, forever irritable and forever grumbling. This is what was wrong at a soul level with the Israelites and the same goes for us. God sent the fiery serpents so they could understand what was really wrong with them and we can learn about us through this story as well. So what happened next?

What the Bronze Serpent Was, I am

The people realized what they had done and they confessed to Moses they sinned against him and God. They asked Moses to ask God to take away the snakes. But God had a better plan. Instead of just taking away the snakes, he provided a way for all those already infected with the poison to be healed. We see here that God knows that forgiveness is not enough for us, we need to be healed of the damage that sin has caused in our lives. So he told Moses to “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” Really?, make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole? Does this sound a little disturbing to you? Make a huge representation of the very thing that was killing them and by looking to it they would be healed, what is going on here? This would have been disturbing to the Israelites as well, the serpent represented evil and the animal was an unclean animal by the standards in Leviticus. But remember, Jesus connected himself to this story by basically saying, “What the bronze serpent was, I am.”

Paul helps us make sense out of the story of Numbers 21 and how Jesus references himself to it. In 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul writes: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Do you see what is happening here? On the cross Jesus does not become sinful, but he becomes sin. We see on the cross a huge legal representation of what it killing us and if we look to him we will not only be forgiven, but we will be healed as well. We see here that there is a great exchange happening on the cross. Jesus, in our place, on our behalf, takes the poison of sin upon himself so we would not ultimate die of it. Although completely righteous, he takes on the punishment of our evil. Although he is spotless, he absorbs the wrath of the unclean who eventually look to him.

Jesus is the Savior King of the Kingdom of God, So Trust Him

All the Israelites had to do to be healed was look at the bronze serpent. Moses did not say that those who could climb the pole at touch the serpent at the top would be healed. This would leave the weak dying and only the strong would live. Moses didn’t tell the people to do anything but look at the bronze serpent. Jesus’ shifts the word “look” to “believe” and the word “live” to “eternal life.” So what does Jesus mean here? He wants us to realize that all the other oppressive rulers of our hearts, the ones we trust more than him are really a sham. He wants us to realize we have been bitten by the Serpent and there is an evil poison within us that is swelling with fire, raging in fever and creating in our souls an unquenchable thirst for everything but God. And the only remedy, the only medicine that will forgive us and heal us his Jesus. This is repentance. Then he wants us to stop trusting in our doing, and start trusting in what he has done for us. This is faith. Based on the story Jesus alludes to in Numbers 21, this is the essence of what he means by “believe”: repentance and faith. Here is the main point of verses 9-15: Jesus is the Savior King of the Kingdom of God, so trust him.

Yet many of us have been truly born again and yet we still continue to sin and we still feel the effects of the Serpent’s poison. Although God has imparted new spiritual life within us, we live in a fallen world and are still people who sin. Until we await the New Heavens and the New Earth as depicted in Revelation 21, where there will be no sin and God will be with us; how do we deal with the Serpent’s poison in the here and now? The same way. Let me ask you some questions: What are you grumbling about? Why are you so discontent? What is the Egypt of your life that you want to return to as if your life will be better? What oppressive slavery do you find yourself running back to? Your chains are gone, the prison cell is unlocked and yet you willingly walk back in and shut the door behind you? God has provided so much sweet manna for you and you want to turn back on him in your complaining and nagging and never-ending grumbling about your situation. You are exchanging the truth for a lie and it is killing you. The Serpent’s poison has entered your system and your situation is on fire, you are flaming hot and are experiencing an unquenchable thirst. Nothing will cure it, you have tried everything. Jesus is saying, all your unbelief and doing will never heal you. You must admit you are poisoned and you must admit the only cure is Jesus. Look to Jesus and he will heal you and continue to heal you. As you believe the gospel more fully and consistently, God puts to death the sin that is killing you. Obviously, we will not reach perfection in this life, but those who are born again will see the results of repentance and faith, which leads to godliness – not the other way around.  Oh, how we should rest in the Sovereignty of the Savior!

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?

 

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