Monday, March 14, 2011

Gospel Oriented Teaching

I posted this when I was randomly posting onto the blog last year. I think it might be a good jumping off point in my attempt to start wrestling with matters of the Gospel and public school teaching integration. Also, this is my first day as a long-term substitute teacher. I am going to take a break from the blog for a bit (hopefully for about a month or so but it might be until June) so I can more fully focus on the task at hand - my new classroom!! I have been waiting for this day for a long time. By the end of my job (the last day of school in June) I am sure I will have a few more thoughts on how to integrate faith and work in the classroom. But for now I have questions and need inspiration... We spend the majority of our lives in our professions. How does our faith play a part in all of that? I think this insight below gives us a glimpse.

2:15 - 2:37

"I have been thinking about you all summer. I love you already. You may not believe this but you can't earn my love. You could make straight A's all year and have perfect behavior all year or you can get detention 3 times a week and I am going to love you the same... And then I spend all year trying to prove it."

What does this look like in the classroom? Is this in fact feasible in reality? What specifically can we do to reshape our hearts to start working toward this aim? What are the obstacles that we must face in order to accomplish this aim?

I guess I will be trying to answer those questions in reality rather then theorizing on this blog... God help me!

See you on the flip side internet!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Common Grace - Isaiah 28:23-29

"When a farmer plows for planting... when he has leveled the surface... does he not plant wheat in its place, barley in it plot, and spelt in its field? His God instructs him and teaches him the right way... Grain must be ground to make bread... all this also comes from the Lord Almighty, wonderful in counsel and magnificent in wisdom."

- the prophet Isaiah (In his twenty-eight chapter, verses twenty-three through twenty-nine)

This is remarkable. Isaiah tells us that anyone who becomes a skillful farmer, or who brings an advancement in farming 'science,' is being taught by God. What appears as a discovery (the proper season and conditions for sowing, farm management, rotation of crops, etc.) is actually the Creator opening his book of creation and revealing his truth.

What an incredible insight into life! Could God really be much more apart of the world then we realize? Is he really active inside and outside of church?

I believe Reformed scholar Louis Berkhof would explain it in terms of God's Common Grace which, "curbs the destructive power of sin, maintains in a measure the moral order of the universe, thus making an orderly life possible, distributes in varying degrees gifts and talents among men, promotes the development of science and art, and showers untold blessings upon the children of men.”

Is this section in Isaiah saying that God is a part of everyone's life, no matter if they 'believe' in him or not? Does every good thing indeed come from his hand?

I think that is what it is saying. What we have held up as our own achievements in scholarship, innovation, and all other aspects of life cannot be claimed as our own. Everything comes from the Creator! There is nothing that the creation (us) can claim as our own. There is nothing that we can give God that was not already his!

And if God imparts knowledge everywhere then it is indeed 'grace' since it is undeserved and bestowed on who He chooses. This does not mean that we stop working hard for excellence, but it does mean that we should take ourselves and our achievements a lot less seriously. We are not as great as we think we are! It is good to let that sink in!

If there is common grace in our greatest achievements in science then God is at work much more then we realize in life. If you accept this notion you might find yourself with new motivation, inspiration, and awe in the discoveries and achievements in life because they are, all of a sudden, not just about you but about something much deeper and beautiful...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

We have to Understand the Cost

What do you think about this old illustration by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones? Do you see the connection to Christianity today?
If you came to see me and you said, "I was at your house the other day and you weren't there and a bill came due and I paid it." I would really not know quite how to respond. I would want to know something about the size of the bill. Was it a package with postage due and you spent a couple of more bucks? Well, then I could say thank you very much and that that was very kind of you... But what if it was that thing I was afraid of getting from the IRS with hundreds of thousands of dollars due in back taxes and you paid that...

I wouldn't know how to respond until I knew how big the debt was!

Humanity must understand the cost of the price paid on the cross to be moved by it. You will respond to the cross in the same manner as you see the greatness of your debt.

Do you owe Christ the amount of a few postage stamps... or do you owe him your life?

Monday, March 7, 2011

How must we come to God? Like a Child (Luke 18:15-17)

This creation that we are so crazy about has a limit. It does not satisfy our deepest longings. Regardless of the amount of awe stirred in you by creation, it will one day disappear. It will betray each one of us, leaving us wanting something new or wanting something more. No matter how great of a family, husband or wife, friends, or parents you have, they will some day die.

No life ever lasts, something new is always needed and nothing created ever satisfies...

We are blind according to (2 Corinthians 4:4). We cannot see the glory, or, in other words, the significance that God can have in our lives, that our very purpose is to be satisfied only in Him.

We walk in darkness and are dead because of our inability to see this.

(John 15:5)In saying we can do "NOTHING" Jesus is not saying we cannot do ANYTHING, because we of course can. I can get married, move to a different city every 6 months (j/k), go on a bike ride, give money to the poor, live an altruistic lifestyle if I wanted...

But nothing that is going to survive will be accomplished by myself. The only things that will live on after me are those things that are rooted in Jesus, our God who saves. No good or right act lives on into eternity apart from Jesus. Apart from him I can do nothing. Outside of Jesus, we are blind slaves, under a death sentence, that cannot do anything about it.

That is bleak.

Luke 18:15-17 with emphasis on 17.

Babies are born helpless, blind, powerless, in need of saving, in need of an identity, in need of protecting... they are in complete and desperate need of salvation or else they get death. If someone does not intervene and provide the baby will die!

I think the helpless nature of small children is more of what we should be thinking about when we read these verses in Luke. We are not asked to be ignorant or naive in our faith. Is mindless faith honoring to the Creator who gave us our very minds (which are capable of so much)? Is God unable to handle the weight of our questions? I am afraid that we are too fixed upon a child's innocence rather then their helplessness when we read these verses in Luke.

The reality of life is that we are as helpless as little children. We need to accept this if we are going to find a way out of life's dark realities.

We need to receive the Kingdom of God like a child... But how? By feeling the weight of our desperation, just like a child - we need to be saved, to be forgiven, to be healed, to be provided for, to be cared for, to be protected, to be given an identity...

We must come to God like a child comes to a parent - open-handed, filled with hope, trusting that the God of the Universe will do the things that will sustain us.

He has to save us or we are done for, because we cannot save ourselves. We are completely dependent on Him.

We often see faith in adult-like complexity. 'You are too slow God in this so I am going to handle it!' And because of this we do not submit and cry out to God, 'I will trust you! I will obey because I know that you know what is best for me. I am finding what I need in you... you define me.'

Our hope, faith, and trust must be in Him.

How do we get there? Like a child.

There is a lot of crying in the first few years of any life. If the bottle is not gotten there quick enough, if they sit in a dirty diaper for too long, if they get hurt there will be crying. There was a lot of crying at my old job as a Preschool teacher and still some as I meet children in Oakland schools (some are young, others are older, but I still see crying in them all when their most basic needs are not met).

These screams are primal example of how we have to come to the Kingdom of God.

I am hungry, help me!
I hurt, help me!
I am dirty, help me!
I don't know where to go, help me!
I don't know how to fix this, help me!
I am scared, help me!
This is not working, help me!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Saturday Quotes #3

This Saturday I present Kevin DeYoung's Just Do Something: How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, etc. What a title! I am not going to lie, I had to pick it because of that title!

The title tells you all you need to know about the book. If you have a weekend and are one of many Christians who uses the will of God as an excuse - look no further then this book for much needed medicine. We are called as Christians to create, influence, love, and live. The Spirit was never given to give man means for hesitation. We are free to work, love, and laugh hard and then we are free to rest. Let God do his job and get going on the job you are supposed to do - worship God with a life that pursues his heart.

“I’d like us to consider that maybe we have difficulty discovering God’s wonderful plan for our lives because, if the truth be told, He doesn’t really intend to tell us what it is. And maybe we’re wrong to expect Him to.”

“God has a wonderful plan for your life – a plan that will take you through trial and triumph as you are transformed into the image of His Son (Romans 8:28-29). Of this we can be absolutely confident. But God’s normal way of operation is not to show this plan to us ahead of time – in retrospect, maybe; in advance, rarely.”

“Passivity is a plague among Christians. It’s not just that we don’t do anything; it’s that we feel spiritual for not doing anything.”

“Live for God. Obey the Scriptures. Think of others before yourself. Be holy. Love Jesus. And as you do these things, do whatever else you like, with whomever you like, wherever you like, and you’ll be walking in the will of God.”

Friday, March 4, 2011

Reconstruction - Part 1 (Happy 150th Lincoln Inauguration Day)

After the presidential victory of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, six southern states seceded from the United States before he took office in March of 1861. The state to lead the charge was South Carolina. South Carolina officially adopted a declaration of their reasons just a month after the election stating that the threat to their institution of slavery was their primary reason:

" increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of [the Government's] obligations [to] the Constitution... [Lincoln] has declared that that 'Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,' and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction... On the 4th day of March next, [Lincoln] will take possession of the Government. [He] has announced... that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States... The slaveholding States will [then] no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy." SOURCE -

The Civil War was very bloody. The casualties by the War reached to an estimated 620,000 American lives. That is more then the casualties of any other American war, from the Revolution to Afganistan.

The first African slaves on record to be transported to an American colony came in 1619 to Virginia. This, however, was preceded by Spanish colonies (on modern-day American soil) by as early as 1520. By the time Lincoln wrote his Emancipation Proclamation (enacted on January 1, 1863) it is estimated that 3.5 million African slaves were living in the South. That number was equal to over sixty percent of the free population in the South at the time.

And so from 1520 - 1863, generation upon generation of African-Americans grew up only knowing a life of slavery. If you were born in a closet and were not let out you would think that that closet was the entire world. Similarly, slaves lived lives in which they were told they were less then human. That they were property. That they were not free. But in 1863, all of a sudden these slaves were given their freedom.

Jesus compared the human condition to slavery (John 8:34)... The difficulties that followed the Civil War during the Reconstruction are similar, in one sense, to those that Christians face.

Once you, Christian, were a slave to sin, and now you have been set free (Romans 6:17-18). In a very real sense it took most African Americans more then a hundred years to fully realize their identity as free Americans. This is evidence that it could very well take the Christian an entire life to fully realize and embody their freedom in Christ. By Christ's great bloody Emancipation Proclamation on the cross, 'It is finished!' the Christian became fully and finally free from sin... In one sense similar to the African American during Reconstruction, Christians are now charged to be filled with diligent cherishing and preserving of this freedom that Christ attained for us.

African-Americans were free from slavery after 1863. But how did that really effect their lives after that point? Even though a living document declared their freedom in America, was it a real truth that they were able to embody in their lives afterwards. Even though Christ on the cross obtained for us a tangible freedom for us from sin have we come to embody that status? Trying to put myself 'inside the shoes' of the slaves, I feel that former slaves must have had to remind themselves of their freedom everyday. I think Christians must also do the same (in a basic sense this is what we mean by 'Preaching the Gospel to yourself daily'.

Think about those encounters the former slaves had with the white people of their city after that time. What would have happened when they came face to face with their former slave-owners? They were free, but how could one not help but cower in fear in the presence of a former slave owner? Christians will also come face to face with their old oppressors after they received the status as free sons of God. What is your old oppressor? I am sure it still feels like you are in slavery... How will you not cower in fear? 2 Timothy 1:7 says the Spirit of God is in the Christian. Remember that! The same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead has the same power to raise you from your death. Trust Him! I know it is hard... Even when you cannot feel Him trust Him! He gave His life for you, He won't let you go now... This is how we grow in faith...

Disclaimer - I am not trying to water-down the brutality of slavery in America and I am not trying to take away anything from the African-American people. I am only struggling to understand how a people who were once enslaved and now are free can struggle to fully become free in a holistic sense (in mindset, culture, livelihood, spirit, etc). In one sense, people everywhere are also slaves, slaves to their passions and desires. The Bible promises the Christian that they have a Savior that will save them from that enslavement.

More on Romans 8:15 and a few more connections a Christian can take from the Civil War and the subsequent Reconstruction period afterwards on a post next week...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Law or Love - What Would Jesus Say About... Submission?

There are approximately 613 rules in the Old Testament. That is a lot! Many of the reasons for these Laws are hard to understand today. But according to the Bible they, at the very least, had plenty of meaning and significance for ancient Israel and Jesus. The Laws were meant to shape and guide the lives of Israel toward communion with God.

Today the average American Christian looks to Jesus and the New Testament for their shaping and guidance. American Christians try very hard to follow principles and rules set down for us in the New Testament.

The Pharisees also tried very hard to follow the rules set before them in the Old Testament and now there name is synonymous with 'hypocrite' in our modern world. What might be confusing for them if they were to have found out about such a label is that they very much did what they set out to do. They followed the rules set out in the Old Testament to the T. Their very livelihoods and reputations depended on it! But it is recorded in the New Testament that God came down as a man and exclaimed to the Pharisees, 'You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil?' (Matthew 12:34). Even though they thought that their tireless pursuit of the Law of God would make them righteous before God, God truly saw that it made them evil.

According to God, there is more to a righteous, religious, God-honoring life then just following the rules.

Jesus was not saying in Matthew that following the rules was wrong of the Pharisees. In fact, earlier had He said that He was on earth to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17-18). The Law was good according to Jesus, but later He sums up the Law giving clarity to how He (the author of the Law) truly saw it. In Mark 12:28-31 He is asked to sum up the 613 laws of the Old Testament. Jesus responds by boiling these laws down into "one principle - love, directed to God and to others. Here Jesus is going to the very heart of the core dilemma of ethics. Human thinkers have for centuries felt there was a tension between 'Law' and 'Love.' Do I do the legal thing, or the loving thing?" Today we have a similar tension in the Church.

Very quickly let me explain:

Let's apply this idea to one controversial aspect of the Christian life. Do Christian husbands love if they authoritatively demand submission from their wives? NO! And so even though they are following the letter of the New Testament law they are missing the point. They maybe missing the point as much as the Pharisees who were later instrumental in killing Jesus!

"Jesus is not so much picking one or two rules over the others [in His summary of the Law], nor is He choosing love over the law, but rather He is showing that love is what fulfills the law..."

"The law is not being fulfilled unless it is obeyed as a way of giving and showing love to God or others."

No matter how good we are at following Biblical principles (Law), we are missing the point if it is not obeying the greater law of love. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself.

Love God with everything you are. Dream about Him, long for Him, think about Him, spend time with Him, spend time doing the things He loves, talk about Him, passionately pursue Him with your heart, creativity, energy, strength... And love people just like you love yourself. Love them with all the energy, creativity, and time you give to loving yourself.

I think Jesus would say if you are not fulfilling New Testament principles (Law) like this then you are missing the point!

If you understand that you are helpless in fulfilling all that Jesus requires of you then you are one step closer to understanding what the Gospel is all about. And only then do you even have a chance at fulfilling what is actually 'required' of the Christian life.

*Everything in quotes in this post is taken from Timothy Keller's book 'King's Cross' on Page 134. I hope I did not take Keller out of context and butcher the incredible book that he has just recently put out with this post. If I have I am sorry. I am very open to critique and criticism.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Postscript (Submission)

I want to bring a little bit of clarity to my thinking on my last post. I want to briefly address, once again, the MODERN idea of submission in marriage. I am not qualified to address the entire issue of submission in the Bible. I think, though, that I can confidently critique the modern practice of the principle.

This 'principle,' of Christian wives 'submitting' to their husbands, HAS BEEN SIGNIFICANTLY ABUSED. If there is not a way for submission to happen in a loving way (Paul commands husbands to LOVE their wives) then I argued in the last post that we should abandon the law until husbands can learn how to actually love our wives. It might take us our whole lives or it might take until Jesus comes (If that happens to be the case then so be it!)... Maybe we need to learn how to count before we try out trigonometry! The law is only fulfilled through love...

And we are not 'loving' just to slowly get wives to submit. If you, husband, think you have the resources to lead then step up and show her. If you are demanding (vocally or subtly) your role as an exclusive leader then you have lost, not loved, and need to start over. And believe it or not, your wife might just have the ability to lead you too (I say dripping with sarcasm). For the love of God, lay your pride down so you can learn from her and grow in God's grace with each other...

P.P.S. For all of you Reformed nerds out there - I have this view AND consider myself to be on your team... Life is full of contradictions I know!

P.P.P.S. Complementarianism is NOT synonymous for the Gospel!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Wrestling With What the Bible Says About Marriage

Disclaimer: Please forgive me for this post. This is the hardest topic I have ever written about. There is so much to learn and I know I don't have it right here! This is my best attempt at being faithful to Biblical passages on marriage and that is not saying much. As you will see I wrote out more questions then sentences with periods in this post. I would appreciate any and all feedback you may have!

I have some questions on gender differences before I get into the topic of marriage: If a man and a woman were put into the position of CEO with 2 similar, but different thriving companies, and were given similar goals, would they go about their job using different leadership styles? Do men lead differently then women? By the end, will the man and woman have gotten to their goals in different ways? Is a woman the same type of manager as a man?

I don't think you can answer these questions universally and with absolute certainty. I think the answer is, it depends. Sure, I think generally there is an answer, but it depends when you are speaking about individuals.

I think Ephesians 5:21-33 is similar with the application of the principles it puts down for marriage.

Being a man and being a woman are two different ways of being human and by themselves, the Bible says, they are kind of imbalanced. I believe this is the reason the Bible never puts the same imperative on a man as it does for a woman when they are coupled together, and visa-versa. Both are more complete when they are with each other because they both have resources that the other does not have.

Another point I wanted to make here can be seen in verse 33 when Paul tells us that husbands are supposed to love their wives and wives are supposed to respect their husbands. Does this mean that wives do not have to love their husbands and husbands do not have to respect their wives? No, of course not.

I think that leads to this question: does the Bible give us exact guidelines on how to live, on what to do in every single situation? No, and I don't think that was ever the point. The Bible never gave me the exact answer on whether or not I was supposed to marry Danielle. The name Danielle is not even mentioned once in the Bible!

What are you supposed to do when... you are offered a new job across the country, see a homeless man in need on the streets, when your child does not share with the other kids, when you are not sure how to reconnect with a friend... there are a million scenarios we face everyday that are not specifically addressed in the Bible. What does the Bible say to do in these situations? It depends!

Whether you believe it or not, the Bible is not about us, it is about God. Because we are stamped with His image there will be implications for us in the Bible but we must not get carried away with our own self-importance. I don't think we can take hard-line literal approaches to every section and see ourselves working perfectly into the Biblical passages every single time. We are not God! Only Christ fits into the Bible perfectly every single time. We are to be molded and shaped for sure but through it all we must walk in love, the greatest commandment that Christ left us with, because the world (including ourselves) is messy, full of sin and very corrupt. There is much need for love and grace. And as we try and love with His help we will become more like Him. One of the ways in which He loves us is through the fact that He has given us the Great Helper, the Spirit of God, to help us with wisdom and resources that we do not have when the Bible is not crystal clear in how to exactly move throughout life.

The Bible is not a how-to guide or a manual on life. Wisdom is spoken of much in the Bible. There is much on the Holy Spirit and prayer. This is our help we must tap into when the Bible is not crystal clear. Galatians 4:6 says that our Great Helper, the Holy Spirit, is crying in our hearts, 'Abba, Father!' The Spirit, our Great Help, cries out for the only one who can help! In Him we were made to rest in and trust in.

According to Ephesians 5, who is the man suppose to look to as his example of loving his wife? Christ. Who is the woman supposed to look to in her example of submitting to her husband? Christ...

Let's get to the pink elephant in the room right now. SUBMISSION. Paul calls women to be submissive to their husbands in this selection of Ephesians. What does 'submission' mean? In the Greek it means 'a help.' I think a sharper translation is, 'to use your power in a way that enables and empowers somebody else.' Are not women, IN GENERAL, better at this then men? I think it depends, but I think there is some truth to the fact that, in general, they might be better. Are not some men better at this then women though? I think some might be. Are not both men and women both capable of this? I think so. Would not a marriage be stronger if both submitted, or in other words empowered, the other? (Forget the Bible for a second) Would this not cultivate a great marriage if both the man and wife submitted to each other, if they both empowered the other with resources the other did not have? Do not good marriages survive, inside and outside of the church, because the man and woman love each other in this way?

A person can only submit, can only be 'a help,' if they have resources that the one they are helping is without. I can only help a student with their homework when I have knowledge they do not have. I can only help the student if I know more about the homework then they do. A women can only help their husband if she has got resources that he does not have. And are not there resources that the man has that the woman is without? Is the woman unique in her ability to enable others in this way? Is not this the way women, in general, would take a leadership role (like the CEO position I talked about at first)? I might be wrong with this but I think that in general this may be the case.

Are there deficiencies in husbands that are not in wives? Are there things that husbands cannot do that wives can? Is it not this the case the other way around?

Let's look to Jesus' life as we continue. He was and is the perfect picture of masculinity - real leadership, real authority, no oppressiveness, real love without conditions, and sacrificial love that empowers others. At the same time Christ is our picture of femininity too. The glorifying of someone else with His resources, the enabling and empowering of somebody else in love... (Femininity is much more then this I am sure. Maybe it is not this. I know I do not understand it fully. I would love to hear about any other thoughts on how Christ embodies the strongest elements of femininity because I am sure there is much more to add to this discussion.)

I think the Bible says at least these things about the genders: neither masculinity or femininity are more divine, neither is higher then the other, and both are seen in Christ.

But is Christ's life only relatively an example? What I mean by that is are we supposed to pick and choose what characteristics of Christ we are supposed to emulate according to whether we are a man or woman? Maybe we are given unique gifts and are more apt to love in certain ways like Christ (I think the Bible affirms the general differences in the genders) but does that mean that we are supposed to deny the full influence of how Christ loved us in our lives? Why can't the man submit to his wife if he is empowering her with resources she does not have? Why can't the woman sacrificially love and lead if this is loving and strengthening the marriage?

The Bible gives us important principles about marriage in Ephesians, but is it saying that husbands must demand that your wife submits? Paul also says that husbands should love their wives. Would this kind of demanding, authoritative leadership be loving? Why do some Christian marriages choose submission for the wife and do not give equal attention to the love the husband is commanded to give her wife? If you are sacrificing one for the other you are not being Biblical. Whether you at fault for this or not, husbands should always be asking and being shaped by this question: how exactly does Christ loves the Church?

Christ was both submissive and loving, are not men and women called to be both? Because I am a man am I not to be submissive, am I not supposed to empower others if I have resources they do not have?

Will not the marriage magnify God's glory if we seek to emulate Christ as much as possible? Should we limit Christ's example in our lives?

The Bible is a powerful resource we have in life, but life is messy. The Bible affirms that. Trust the Bible, but also trust the Spirit's lead when the Bible does not give exact instructions and the messiness of life makes it seem less clear. Seek wisdom, seek the Spirit, it is crying out for us in the streets! Proverbs 1:20-23 The Spirit longs for us not to be simpleminded, the Spirit understands how complex life is! And if we had any doubts to that fact, God came down to identify and embody all of the pain and complexities that life gives. Look to Christ. Trust Him, He understands how scary life is, He understands how messy it is. Know you are not perfect (you are not God), and rest in the fact that God is perfect in love. Do your best to love your husband or wife with the gifts and resources you have, know that you will not do it perfectly (only God can!), and rest in the unconditional love that Christ has personally given us when we are shamed for not loving like we should. He is full of grace. He is our perfect husband. Let Him lead and empower our lives and marriages. He is crying out. Are you listening?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday Surfing

I hope these links provide for some good internet surfing opportunities over the weekend:

(1) Book Review of Timothy Keller's 'King's Cross'
Using a succession of images Keller walks through the book of Mark in a way that will "directs readers’ gaze toward the cross and will not allow them to look away." I am currently reading the book and have found myself frequently just having to stop. I am compelled to process and take it all in. I feel so in love with what Christ did for us as I read this book. And the integration of our world with Christ's life and the explanatory power it has on our world is brought out in the book. I am so thankful to Keller for showing this to me. I wholeheartedly recommend this book. This link is a fair review of the book as well.

(2) Shane Claiborne asks the question: 'What Would Jesus Cut? Bread vs. Bombs'
This is very timely and important for us to all wrestle with as we all face uncertain times in the economy. How would Christ grapple with the situation we are in? Is there any or hope or opportunity for redemption in the bleakness?

(3) Donald Miller's 'Thoughts on Being Worshiped'
I love Donald Miller! As he says himself about John the Baptist in this blog Miller 'takes the pressure off' on being a Christian. We are not perfect! Miller understands this and at the same time is very insightful into Christians need to be seen as perfect. Miller helps me take realistic looks at myself and shows me where I don't match up to Christ but that Christ lived and died so I didn't have to!

(4) Kurt Williams responds to Justin Taylor's critique of Rob Bell's new book
Kurt is a Facebook friend of mine and an old friend of my wife. I like his blog and really appreciate a lot of his posts. This one is quite helpful for me. He critiques a well-known Reformed blogger (I consider myself apart of the Reformed crowd) and in the process shines some much needed light into a weakness of the Reformed shade of Christianity. The critique's most influential section for me is quoted below.
"Ok, my neo-reformed brothers in Christ. Please quit being quick to “cast the first stone.” No, you will not agree with everything that Rob Bell has to say in this book, but lets be clear – you do not speak for all of evangelical orthodox belief. Please quit acting as though you do. It is damaging the larger body of Christ."

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Saturday Quotes #2

Every Saturday I plan to present to you direct quotes from books I have read.

Last week I posted selections from the first 2 chapters of Timothy Keller's Generous Justice. Let me give an overview of the rest of the book this week. I am sure there will be posts in the near-future that are inspired by the book. I will note those posts when they come.

"Jesus did not say that all this done for the poor was a means of getting salvation, but rather it was the sign that you already had salvation, that true, saving faith was already present... This meant that one's heart attitude toward the poor reveals one's heart attitude toward [Christ]."

"What does it mean to love your neighbor? ... Jesus answered that by depicting a man meeting material, physical, and economic needs through deeds. Caring for people's material and economic needs is not an option for Jesus... He said it meant being sacrificially involved with the vulnerable, just as the Samaritan risked his life by stopping on the road... By depicting a Samaritan helping a Jew, Jesus could not have found a more forceful way to say that anyone at all in need - regardless of race, politics, class, and religion - is your neighbor."

[Referencing the story of the Good Samaritan] "Only if you see that you have been saved graciously by someone who owes you the opposite will you go out into the world looking to help absolutely anyone in need."

"If a person has grasped the meaning of God's grace in his heart, he will do justice. If he doesn't live justly, then he may say with his lips that he is grateful for God's grace, but in his heart he is far from him. If he doesn't care about the poor, it reveals that at best he doesn't understand the grace he has experienced, and at worst he has not really encountered the saving mercy of God. Grace should make you just."

"Many religions teach that if you live as you ought, then God will accept and bless you. But Paul taught that if you receive God's acceptance and blessing as a free gift through Jesus Christ, then you can and will live as you ought."

"If the Lord takes his law so seriously that he could not shrug off our disobedience to it, that he had to become human, come to earth, and die a terrible death - then we must take that law very seriously too. The law of God demands equity and justice, and love of one's neighbor. People who believe strongly in the doctrine of justification by faith alone will have this high regard for God's law and justice. They will be passionate about seeing God's justice honored in the world."

"Many people who are evidently genuine Christians do not demonstrate much concern for the poor. How do we account for that? I would like to believe that a heart for the poor 'sleeps' down in a Christian's soul until it is awakened... When justice for the poor is connected not to guilt but to grace and to the gospel, this 'pushes the button' down deep in believers' souls, and they begin to wake up."

"It is not your money [God] wants, but your happiness."

"It is impossible to separate word and deed ministry from each other in ministry because human beings are integrated wholes - body and soul."

"If you wish to share your faith with needy people, and you do nothing about the painful conditions in which they live, you will fail to show them Christ's beauty."

Friday, February 25, 2011

God's Heart for Social Justice (a very small sample size)

Here is a list I was able to pull together. Do you have anymore to add to the list? There definitely are more verses on this subject in the Bible. A lot more!

Are there verses that are striking to you in particular that are on this list or elsewhere in the Bible? Proverbs 3:27-28 is the most striking on this list to me right now. In other words, it is saying there that our neighbor, who is need, deserves the excess good that I have. We feel entitled to our wealth in this life, but the reality is that the very purpose that God created life was for perfect community to flourish. Nothing that belongs to us on this earth is ours and if God desires for us to have community rather then excess we must take the desire seriously! We have to long for what God longs for... as Christians we must! Our neighbor who is in need has as much right to our stuff as we do - we owe it to him because none of it ours and God's intent is for our neighbor to have it!

God does not call us out here for our money (Everything is already His). Rather He is after our joy..

Deuteronomy 14:28-29
Deuteronomy 15:7-8
Deuteronomy 16:20

Leviticus 23:22
Leviticus 25:8-55
Leviticus 35:35-38

Jeremiah 21:11-12
Jeremiah 22:3
Jeremiah 22:13-17

Ezekiel 16:49-50
Ezekiel 22:29-31

Psalms 72:2-4
Psalm 82:3

Proverbs 3:27-28

Proverbs 14:31
Proverbs 17:5
Proverbs 28:27
Proverbs 29:7
Proverbs 31:9

Isaiah 1:17
Isaiah 11:1-4
Isaiah 58:6-12

Zechariah 7:9-10

Micah 6:8

Amos 2:6-7

Amos 4:1-6
Amos 5:11-15

Amos 5:21-24

Matthew 5:3

Matthew 6:1-4 (take notice of the word 'when')
Matthew 25:31-46

Mark 12:38,40

Luke 3:14
Luke 4:18-19
Luke 10:30-37
Luke 11:38-42

Acts 4:34-35 (This is a direct quote of Deuteronomy 15:4, which was the pinnacle of the social righteousness legislation in the Old Testament)
Acts 20:35 (Paul's last word's to the Ephesian Church, you don't use your last words without saying something that is all-important to you.)

2 Corinthians 8:14

James 1:27
James 2:15-17
James 5:1-5

1 John 3:17-18

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Luke 11:13

There is a powerful, almost off the cuff reference here by Jesus that is easy to miss. Within Luke 11:13 there is an assumption by Jesus that some of the 'best' human beings (he had picked his disciples) are so corrupt that they can be referred to as "evil." But nevertheless, in spite of seeing his disciples as evil, he loved with unconditional tenderness and delight and was willing to pay an ultimate price for their sake (John 13, 17:20-26).

I think Jesus's view of sin and humanity can be moving for us if we feel the weight of it.

What is Jesus' view of sin?

Well, according to Romans 1:21–25 at least, sin is a dislocation of the heart from its original center in God. This distortion is expressed as a desire from every person to be his or her own savior and lord (the serpent’s original temptation in Genesis 3:5 was “you will be like God”).

Soren Kierkegaard used very modern terms to define sin. I think his definition of sin as 'building your identity on anything besides God' is understandable to the modern ear. I use it as my working definition, which is just another way to convey the biblical themes of idolatry and self-justification.

Sin is something that everyone is doing all the time as we see from Romans 1:18–3:20. People who openly oppose God's moral law are doing this obviously, but it also says that moral, religious people are just as guilty. They are trying to be their own 'gods' by earning justification and trying to prove that they are not as bad as 'sinners' outside the church are. It is just as possible to avoid Jesus as Savior by keeping God’s law as by breaking it. According to the Bible, everyone is separated from God equally, regardless of the external form of behavior.

I think Flannery O’Connor's quick description of one of her characters in Wise Blood: A Novel explains it very well, “The boy didn’t need to hear it. There was already a deep black wordless conviction in him that the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin.” If Christians are able to live right, they will eventually not need to bother coming to Jesus at all. Sure they will acknowledge Jesus, but are they really holding on to him dearly as the one way to be saved? Acts 4:12: "There is salvation in no one else" [including yourself].

The fundamental motives to justify ourselves (I wrote about that on Monday) move our hearts away from God, where we can get ultimate and lasting justification. Even our greatest acts of altruism are done to the degree of what WE get out of them. I think the Bible says that our most true, self-sacrificing love is only just a shoot out of God's love. What is God's love? Although He was perfectly transcendent and full of love and completeness, He chose to come down to earth and be identified with us as a man. In order to reconcile us back to Him He sacrificed His life to pay OUR debt... This is the only act that can justify our pervasive sinfulness. Even our silly attempts to justify our actions come only out of the grace given to us by God, or to say it in other words, there is nothing we can give Him that is not already His!

And so, unless a person has faith in this God's power to justify our lives (Romans 4), they will never find rest from their sin. Romans 1:19-22 says, in one sense, that every man feels that they need to be reconciled to God, but may not fully ever realize the need with clarity. They know they cannot justify their actions by themselves, they just do not know where to turn.

And so, in an ultimate sense, everyone is equally a sinner in need of Jesus’ salvation by grace alone. No one is able to justify their actions to God by their own merit.

Once this radical view of sin is grasped, it revolutionizes a believer’s attitude toward others who do not share his or her beliefs. Here are two ways it can change you in this regard:

First, it means you sense more than ever a common humanity with others. It is normal for human beings to divide the world into the good and the bad (again, I wrote more about that on Monday). A human's heart is always seeking to justify itself and trying to make the case that it is one of the “good guys." This biblical view significantly changes Christians. If everyone is naturally alienated from God and therefore “evil,” then that goes for absolutely everyone - from murderers to ministers. We are ALL evil. We have no right to look down on anybody.

The biblical teaching on sin shows us the complete pervasiveness of sin and the radical error of dividing the world neatly into sinful people and good people. It eliminates our attitudes of superiority toward others and our practices of being excluded from those with whom we differ.

Second, it means you should expect to be constantly misunderstood - especially about sin. The gospel message is that we are saved by Christ’s work, not by our work. But everyone else (even most people in church) believes that Christianity operates on the principle that you are saved if you live a good life and avoid sin. But this is not the case! Therefore, when others hear a Christian call something “sin,” they believe you are saying, “These are bad people (and I am good). These are people who should be excluded (and I should be welcomed). These are people whom God condemns because of this behavior (but I am accepted by God because I don’t do that).” You may not mean that by the term “sin” at all, but you must realize and expect that others will hear that you are saying it that way. They have to. Until they grasp the profound difference between religion and the Christian faith, they will probably understand your invoking of the word “sin” as self-righteous condemnation, no matter what your disclaimers are.

For example, if most people hear you saying, “People who have sex outside of marriage are sinning,” they will immediately believe you look down on them, that you think they are lost because of that behavior, that you are one of the “good people” who don’t do things like that, and so on. If people hear a Christian say, “Well, these people are sinning, but I don’t think of myself as any better than they are - we are all sinners needing grace,” they will think you have spoken nonsense. They have a completely different paradigm in their minds about how anyone can approach and relate to God, and they are hearing the word “sin” through that worldview.

I think it is wise for Christians, in general, to avoid publicly saying particular behaviors are sinful. Rather, it might be best to help people first hear the radical message of the Bible about the true inward nature of sin, its wide-spread nature, and salvation by grace. And it is also good to try and explain to those in the church that don't get this that we are all ultimately lost and if they are too proud to see that then they are lost and in need of a Savior who saves by sheer grace, just as a drowning person offered a life preserver will only die if he won’t admit he needs it (Luke 5:30-32).

When Christians talk to their friends about sin, I think we must do so in a way that quickly puts the term in context — the context of the full message of Jesus’ salvation.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Justification - Translating Christianese

Intro - Translating Christianese
Christians share what we believe to be a common language. It carries with it words that we believe to hold common meaning. We don't, for instance, need to explain to one another who is Christ... But then again are we so sure that everyone holds the same view? Christ is Jesus, born of a virgin, was man and God, suffered on a cross, and rose again. Good. End of story. Or is it? How much meaning does Christ hold in your life? Do you see the storyline of the Christ throughout the entire Bible? Can we rely on the stories that talk about him in the Bible or can he only be seen to us today by what we can verify historically? Exactly what can be verified historically about this man? How little or how much of a man was he? Was he completely God or half God or both man and God?

I think we suffer from a common language that the blogosphere has termed Christianese. The term defines the phenomenon when Christians think they are speaking the same language when in fact they may not be. I will put more thoughts down later to this Christianese idea, but in the meantime I thought it would be helpful (at least for me) to try and more thoroughly define some Christianese words that we Christians too often throw around and assume the meaning is defined in stone for everyone when it may not be. This post by no means gives a complete definition of the term, but attempts to give more real world application and meaning to the term for me and, I hope, maybe helps another.


Luke 10:29

Is it hard for you to ever admit that you are wrong? And if you are able to admit that you are wrong at times, do you at least feel that you were misunderstood and the whole turn of events came about unfairly?

I think we all have an extraordinary ability to justify our actions. This ability is most clearly seen when we think others will see us at fault.

If you don't see this as being the case then permit me continue from another angle. Have you ever seen somebody spin a personal story in such a way that they looked better in their account then in what actually happened? I for one know that I have the peculiar ability to win an argument (every time!) when I recount the episode to another person after the fact.

It is almost as if something very deep inside of us (as if it were part of our very nature) demands that we justify our actions.

Another way in which we justify our actions is seen by how we divide up our world between 'good' and 'bad' people. What I mean by this is that we all see the world as liberal versus conservatives, religious versus secular, patriotic versus communist, or educated versus working-class... And all of it is just another way in which we can find justification for our actions, 'My 'good' people do this and so I am not doing anything out of the ordinary' or 'This may be a bad thing that I am doing, but at least I am not like those 'bad' people.'

And since most of us justify our actions and identify ourselves as being part of the good in the world, there are honestly not many left that actually see themselves as bad. I think this revelation should bring clarity to a few things, which I will get to in just a few paragraphs.

"I am just a businessman, giving the people what they want... All I do is satisfy a public demand... I have spent the best years of my life giving people the lighter pleasures, helping them have a good time, and all I get is abuse, the existence of a hunted man."

That was Al Capone speaking during the early decades of last century. For those that don't know, Capone was one of the most ruthless sociopaths in American history, someone who corrupted law and order in Chicago and destroyed lives at whim so that he could live a luxurious lifestyle.

The warden of the infamous Sing Sing prison was interviewed at about that time revealing some striking insight into man's ability to justify, "Few of the criminals in Sing Sing regard themselves as bad men. They are just as human as you and I. So they rationalize, they explain. They can tell you why they had to crack a safe or be quick on the trigger finger. Most of them attempt by a form of reasoning, fallacious or logical, to justify their antisocial acts even to themselves maintaining that they should never have been imprisoned at all."

Today we see the same justification from modern people. From the infamous Bernie Madoff to Al Quaeda to Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, these people feel justified in their behavior. Whether it was for a 'good cause' or they were misunderstood or others were also in on the behavior too, people must simply find a way to live with themselves and do that by finding the spin on the story that will give them peace.

I will not get into the many stories I know of people who were unable to find that perfect spin and who instead found suicide as their only relief.

Check out this clip from the movie Casino Jack (go to 1:30 for the clip and watch beforehand for a briefing on the man profiled). Kevin Spacey's depiction of the infamous Jack Abramoff justifying his behavior is striking. But is it all that different from what we would do if we ever found ourselves in his place?From the perspective of modern sociologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and criminologists, "deviance" (behaviors that violate cultural and social norms) is indeed often justified. The Neutralization Theory, proposed by Gresham Sykes and David Matza, explains how deviants justify their behaviors by providing alternative definitions of their actions and by providing explanations, to themselves and others, which explains their lack of guilt.

If Al Capone, the desperate men and women behind prison walls, Madoff, Janobi, Abramoff all don't blame themselves for anything - what about the people with whom you and I come in contact?

I think we all have a primal need to justify our behavior.

Can you take criticism? I have a hard time with it. Are you quick to justify your behavior when criticized? I sure do. Can you take responsibility for something wrong that you did if you know that you can get away with it? Have you EVER viewed yourself as guilty without somebody else pointing out your guilt first? If not, can we really be sure of our ability to judge our own morality and behavior? Are we not biased? Will we not always see ourselves better then we actually are?

Galatians 2:21 says if we were justified to God (the one I believe we all long to be justified with and reconnected to) through the law, or by our own merit, Christ died for nothing. But the Christian's great hope is that we are justified by faith to God that just as "one trespass [Adam's] led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness [Christ's] leads to justification and life for all men." (Romans 5:18). This means that the Christian has been given the freedom to not have to play games. We are given the freedom to rest from man's daily struggle to be seen in the best light. We don't have to justify our behavior because our God already has. Without shame we can assume the responsibility for our mistakes. We can reflect into the dark chasms of our souls with introspection and admit how evil we really indeed are. We do not have to pretend and we can be refreshed in doing so.

And we can look to others and forgive because we understand that we are just as broken. We can look to those people with genuine love because we are loved by God even though we too are evil. And incredibly we are loved by a God who simply does not condone the evil, but paid for it fully HIMSELF. And because of this we are broken and moved to love those who wrong us because we first were forgiven ultimately by the greatest act of love the world has ever seen.

Even while we were enemies of God (in direct opposition to his purposes for creation of wholeness and perfect community of brotherhood and love) he took our punishment to justify our behavior, so that we can live more fully, without shame and guilt, and with vitality and love - the purpose that God had planned for us to thrive under along.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Saturday Quotes #1

Every Saturday I plan to present to you direct quotes from books I have read.

Today I present to you selections from the first 2 chapters of Timothy Keller's Generous Justice. Maybe next Saturday I will post more from the book.

The Bible is seen by many as a great hindrance in doing justice work. I am so thankful for this book because it lays out how and why the Bible actually is a fundamental source for promoting justice and compassion for those in need. My view of the Bible is renewed and I am excited to read passages that I had at once thought to be excessively boring. And this new insight from the Bible is not just intellectually stimulating. I am surprised and so humbled that it sometimes pours out of me as if I were just a pitcher of water. I want to work for justice because a God who I am in love with is all about it!

Okay, here are the quotes I found to be most striking in the first two chapters:

"Israel was charged [in Old Testament times] to create a culture of social justice for the poor and vulnerable because it was the way the nation could reveal God's glory and character to the world.

"...if you are trying to live a life in accordance with the Bible, the concept and call to justice are inescapable. We do justice when we give all human beings their due as creations of God. Doing justice includes not only righting of wrongs, but generosity and social concern, especially toward the poor and vulnerable. This kind of life reflects the character of God."

"God often tells the Israelites to lend to the poor without interest and to distribute goods to the needy and to defend the fatherless, because, "the LORD your God...defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing (Deuteronomy 10:17-18)."

Referencing Deuteronomy 15:7-8
"The poor man was not to be given merely a token "handout." Rather, credit and help were to be extended until he was completely out of poverty. The generosity extended to the poor could not be cut off until the poor person's need was gone and until he reached a level of self-sufficiency. Now we can understand how the passage could say, "There should be no poor among you." God's concern for the poor is so strong that he gave Israel a host of laws that, if practiced, would have virtually eliminated any permanent underclass."

"Any large-scale improvement in a society's level of poverty will come through a comprehensive array of public and private, spiritual, personal, and corporate measures...

"The three causes of poverty, according to the Bible, are oppression, calamity, and personal moral failure."

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Frailty of Life

I got a call today with second-hand news that my dad got into a car accident. The grave tone on the other end from a dear friend told me that the rumors he had heard wasn't just pertaining to a fender-bender.

I wanted to throw-up. And then I went numb.

I tried to call my dad's phone as fast as I could. The pleasantries of saying 'I'll call you back when I know more,' and the time it took for our cell phones to connect was an excruciatingly long eternity.

Life is terrifyingly fragile I thought.

My dad picked up the phone. He was okay. We quickly moved to call other family members to check on their safety in case this news just had the first name mixed up. I held my breath before each one picked up. These verses came to mind as painful reminders of our reality in life:

James 4:13-14
1 Peter 1:24-25
James 1:9-11

Everyone is okay as far as we can tell now at the moment. It drives home the point though that I know in one sense but I often forget or do not feel as real.

Our lives are very fragile... and we will find a bitter end if we put too much stock into our life, if we put all of our hopes into it.

Life will betray us. In a moment, a call can confirm it's frailty.

The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). This is our lot.

In John 11, their is a story of Jesus bellowing with rage against death at the funeral of Lazarus. (Most translations soften the anger of Jesus in John 11. Look at the Greek wording if you want to verify all of this.) He is not simply crying for his friend. He knows he is able and will raise him from the dead in minutes. At the moment he sees the devastation of death. He sees everyone at the funeral torn apart. We cry out, 'It should not be this way!!' at the funeral of a friend or a family member.

The utter devastation of death makes Jesus bellow with rage. He knows that it was indeed not supposed to be this way. As God in man he might have seen the funerals we have all attended at that moment, and the ones that we still will yet. At the very least in the face of death there he bellowed with rage and demanded to see the body. With his voice the Word of God penetrated through death and brought Lazarus back to life. For the sake of those around him he revealed his credibility, his prowess over life itself which was destined to be consummated on the cross.

And this is what drove him to finish his course. This is what kept his eyes set on what the cross would bring. In his death he was able to swallow up death's power on those that desperately cling to His grace. In love he took death, the wage we deserve, head on, so that we might have life in full.

Thank God for a savior... one who in perfect love lived and died to save us from the destruction of death.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How Can We Make This Assurance Operative In Our Own Lives? Part 3b

Romans 8:28-39

(2) You also have to personalize the assurance in Jesus...

When people believe that God loves them and nothing can separate them from that love... A critic may ask - where does the love come from? Is it simply an abstract idea? I think the Christian can point to Jesus in a concrete way and say that He IS the love of God.

In the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross, all of the greatest forces in the universe set their sights against Jesus. He could have stopped the rejection, the torture, the death, and the eternal justice for our sins from coming down on his head by simply giving up on us. All he had to do was walk away. But as Jesus Christ was up on the cross nailed, bleeding, dying, and looking down on the people betraying him, and in the greatest act of love in the history of time, HE STAYED.

Bomb after bomb was coming down on Jesus to try and get him to drop us and to separate him from us, but even hell itself was unable to do it. He stayed. He held on to us and became our savior. He died for us. That is how we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God. And this assurance does not have to be an abstract idea for the Christian. Because incredibly God doesn’t just love us unconditionally, he loves us counter-conditionally. He loves you against conditions because of Jesus.

When you see that Jesus Christ never let YOU go no matter what came down on him then the assurance of his love can be personalized. And I think that is the only way that you can know with absolute certainty that no matter you do inside and what happens outside that God has not abandoned you.

If he wouldn’t abandon us on the cross, when hell itself was coming down on him, then he certainly would not abandon us now! If that couldn’t separate us from him do you think you having a bad week is going to do it? Do you think there is anything WE can do when hell couldn’t even destroy his love for us? When bad things are happening to us from all around and you say, ‘I must be abandoned!’ You must remember that if he didn’t abandon you then he is certainly not going to abandon you now. God’s SON was not even spared. And if he wouldn’t spare his son (think of giving up your own son, daughter, nephew, niece, brother, sister) to give us the ultimate gift of community with him and overwhelming love from him, do you think he is really going to let your life go off the rails now? He is not going to deny you anything you need.

If somebody spends a billions dollars on a present do you think he is going to skimp on the wrapping paper?

This is the love you have been looking for all of your life. No friend love, no married love, no popular acclaim, no parental love, no respect at work will give you what this will give you.

Even the best spouse, friends, and parents will die. You will be forsaken. But nothing, neither death, life, angels, principalities, powers, things present, or anything to come, nor height, depth, or anything in all creation will be able to separate you from the love of God, which is in Jesus.

Are you certain of that?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How Can We Make This Assurance Operative In Our Own Lives? Part 3a

Romans 8:28-39

Many people in America, inside and outside of the church, hold to a belief in a loving God. They all say that they believe in a God of love, a God that loves unconditionally and loves you no matter what you do...

But is the assurance changing lives?

This assurance will not change your life when God’s love is simply an abstract, cognitive belief. I believe this assurance can only change your life when it becomes 'personalized.'

I think you have to personalize the love of God in two ways. I will write about the first - the assured love of God in you - today and the second - the assured love of God in Christ - tomorrow.

How do you personalize this assurance in you?

It is fine to talk about how freewill and the sovereignty of God is only an apparent contradiction (I wrote about that yesterday). That is fine but it is only an intellectual exercise. We need to apply this to us and our relationship with God.

Do you have a relationship with God? Have you gone to God through Jesus Christ? What does that look like?

Think of a relationship with God as a door. As you are coming up to the door you see above it Matthew 10:32, “Whosoever will confess me before men I will confess before my Father.” In other words, as you are coming up to a relationship with God you are told you have got to do it. You have to make a decision and a commitment. You cannot be passive.

If you bite and cry out, ‘Lord accept me because of what Jesus has done,’ and you walk through the door, the minute you do you see behind you on the other side of the door John 15:16, “You have not chosen me I have chosen you,” and John 6:44, “no man can come to me except the Father draw him.”

Everybody, I believe, who has moved through that door will someday realize that in spite of all of the work that they did and the sweat it took to make the commitment, when they get in and start looking back they will begin to realize that the reason they are a Christian is not because they were more spiritual, more humble then other people, more of a lover of truth then other people... it was simply because God kept pushing and pressing and persistently seeking to love them until he broke them open to him. Therefore, what makes me a Christian is simply the fact that God comes to the Christian, not because they were smarter, better, more repentant, or spiritual. It is both a free AND a sovereign act.

I wrote about Deuteronomy 7:6-8 one time on this blog after hearing Tim Keller speak on it.

Read that passage. Do you see the circular reasoning? God is saying that He didn't love Israel because they were one of the great nations, in fact they were the one of the smallest and had very little going for them. It was because God loved them that he brought them out of Egypt... God is saying to His people here (the nation of Israel then, and now to His people across all borders) that, 'I love you, just because I love you, just because I love you.'

Dani (my wife) might ask me someday, 'Do you love me?' And I will say, 'Yes!' And then Dani might say, 'Why?' This is where I will have to be very careful. I could truthfully say, "You the smartest girl I have ever known, the prettiest girl I have seen. I love how we can talk for hours, I love the ambition and life spark you have, I love how you want to see everything. I love how we can walk and get lost in a city and have such a great time doing it...’ But that answer will not work. I think the only answer in which you can build an entire LIFE of love is, "I love you just because I love you." And this is not just sweet talk, it is not just pillow-talk nonsense. There is no other way for true love to operate.

If you say to another human being that you love them because of a certain factor then all of the identity shifts to that factor because that is the basis for the love. 'Well, then I better keep my figure! I better stay smart! I better keep in good shape so I can keep on walking through cities... But what happens if I somehow can't walk anymore? What happens if I lose my drive and ambition?'

The basis of the identity, of this person's loveliness, the basis of their value is then shifted to these factors, and then slavery to those factors if they seek to remain in that love... But what if God says, 'I love you just because I love you'. And what if the only way we love him is because he kept after us until he finally broke us open... This reality can transform a life.


It is because finally with this assurance you don’t have to be smart, sophisticated, fun, good looking, or have a lot of money. Those factors are marginalized now because you are finally loved for yourself! If you know the reason why God, people, or your spouse loves you is because... you have a great career, then you will never be able to handle a reversal of that career... or that you are talented, then you will never be able to truly handle competition and failure...

The divine, sovereign, electing grace of God tells us that He loves you just because He loves you. If that assurance is personalized it can transform you.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Controversial Assurance? Part 2

Romans 8:28-39

Paul is saying at the end of Romans 8 that there is an assurance that we can have that can absolutely change a life through Christ. But when Paul expresses this assurance we (in a modern-western culture) raise a question. It is very hard in our culture to even receive this assurance that Paul is talking about... to enjoy it and to use it unimpeded.

In our modern-western culture this assurance raises an issue. All of this talk, I will start explaining in the next paragraph, brings up controversial topics like predestination, calling, and election. This bothers us, but as it bothers us I hope we do not forget that other centuries and other cultures have not been bothered by it.
This is a problem for modern-western, enlightenment individualistic people. It is wise to identify the lenses by which we see the world. We must never absolutize any of our objections that our specific to our culture because they always arrive from within our culture. The objections should always be taken seriously because we live within that culture, but we must relativize them because we are not the only culture in the world and therefore should never declare that any cultural objection is an insurmountable obstacle to faith in Christ.

What is the controversy?

When modern-western people (a group which I am of course a part of) hear, ‘Christ will keep you in his love, so that no matter what we do we will never stop loving him and he will never stop loving us, and he is in total control of everything so that everything is working out according to his plan.’ The response could be something like, ‘What about freewill because it sounds like then that God would be doing all of this stuff despite our choices, and if that is the case, then what about human responsibility? What does it matter how we live then if this is true? If it is true and I am a Christian, then can I do anything because God is going to keep me loving him? And if he is going to work out everything into his plan, then what does it matter what I do? What happens to the responsibility of the choices I make?’

These are very good questions.

Today, in this theological debate, we are only given two alternatives to choose from: either we believe that we have freewill and are responsible for our choices and our choices matter, which means that the future is open and undetermined, OR something has set and fixed the future and our choices don’t matter.

But is this an either/or debate?

I think, in the Bible, we are not given a choice between one or the other. It seems to always be, in the Bible, that you are free and responsible for your choices and your choices matter and no one is forcing you to make those choices AND YET every single thing that happens as a result of those choices is working out according to the plan of God. It is not just that God foresees what you are going to do, but rather what you do fits perfectly into the plan he wants and the course he wants history to take.

Here are a few examples of this is in the Bible (there are many more).

The principle of it can be seen in Proverbs 16:1, “To man belongs the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the reply of the tongue,” and verse 9, “the heart of man plans his way, but it is the Lord who establishes his steps.” To you belongs the plans of the heart, but the result of the plan comes from God. To you belongs your plans, but when you actually speak or act that ALWAYS fits in with God’s plan. This is amazing. On one hand, your choices belong to you, they are yours and are not coerced and not accomplished or chosen by God and you cannot say you could not help it. You are free and responsible. And yet, the result is always exactly what God wants.

How can this be?

This does not have to be an either/or debate. Isn’t possible that God could fix things and work things out and at the same time not violate your freewill. We might not be able to imagine how we could do it but the question is can GOD do it?

J.I. Packer wrote once, “The relationship of our freewill and responsibility and God’s sovereignty and control of all things is... not a contradiction but an apparent contradiction.” He uses an example of light to explain this. We know that light sometimes behaves as waves and sometimes as particles. Sometimes it acts as if it does not consist of matter and sometimes it acts as if it does. How can this be? We reason that it should not be like this but it is. We do not know how it works, he says, but we know it does work this way and so we work with it, otherwise you are not going to know how to handle light. Just like our knowledge of light, J.I. Packer says, this debate is not a contradiction but an apparent contradiction since we do not have the knowledge to figure and reason everything out.

On the one hand, God is setting and fixing absolutely everything the way he wants it to be. He does not do it despite our choices, but through them. Our choices are part of his plan.

Another example of this put into practice is seen in Acts 27. For the sake of brevity see how this works out in the passage for yourself, but simply put, Paul has a biblical understanding of this debate here. Our choices matter absolutely, but they do not determine the future. Because they matter Paul is not passive in life, he says let’s do things the way they should be done (by trusting God, I think in the case in Acts 27), but because they (his choices) do not determine the future, he is not paralyzed in doubts. He is neither passive nor paralyzed. If you believe everything is fixed despite our choices you will be passive. If you believe that our choices determine our future you will become paralyzed. Paul in this case is neither.

You may say here, ‘Why would you be paralyzed if you believe that our choices determine the future?’ Everything that happens in history is interlocked in an infinite number of ways and any little change to one thing changes everything and if these changes are completely determined by us then we should be floored because we do not have even a speck of the wisdom necessary to make those choices. Take for instance the relatively modern search for a “soulmate” or “the one.” If just one person had children with someone else in the past then whole civilizations might have never have even come to pass.

We cannot possibly anticipate all of the effects and changes that our decisions make. The Bible, thankfully, tells us that we do not have to anticipate and predicate the consequences of our choices. It says on one hand that you are absolutely responsible for your choices, you are free and nobody is forcing you to do them and if you make bad choices there will be bad consequences, BUT God is the one in charge of the future and he is overruling everything so you can do your best and then relax because God will see it all through...

If we truly had freewill then it very well could be paralyzing to get out of bed in the morning since we do not even have the slightest insight as to how one of our choices may devastatingly change the future. Instead though we can be sure that all things work together for good for those that love God, even though it is all very intricate and we very rarely see how it all works out.

Here is my best attempt for us to get more of a glimpse: What would have happened if my great, great grandparents decided only to have eleven children instead of twelve? What would have happened if my grandma’s first husband would have come home alive from the war? What if John Wilkes Booth was stopped before he shot Abraham Lincoln? What if one man decided to launch a nuclear bomb during the Cold War? What would have happened if I had decided not to have become a lifeguard my Sophomore year of High School in which I met my future wife for the first time, which then led to, years later, meeting up with her again and eventually marrying her?

An infinite amount of ‘big’ moments in the past are made up of a difference of inches or seconds or small decisions, which are interwoven in infinitely complex ways that make up our future today... I think a question we have to seriously ask ourselves is: do we think the inches and seconds, that make all of the difference, happen by accident?

The Bible says that ALL things work together for good for those that love God and are called according to his purpose.

Very seldom do we even get a glimpse of how God is working all things together for the good of those that love him, but he is and therefore you can be assured that no matter what bad stuff is happening inside of you and outside of you he has not abandoned you and he loves you.