Wednesday, June 4, 2008

You call it a...savings?

Piper posted this on his blog today. All to familiar...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Unity Through Diversity

I heard a discussion on the radio yesterday about the division between black and white churches in America today. I didn’t get to hear all of the discussion but what part I did hear troubled me. The statement was made that the most segregated hour in America is on Sunday morning, and callers were arguing that this problem must be remedied in order to achieve the unity that the Christian body should have.

The reason this is troubling is because it reflects a view of Christianity that is present in our culture today that is not only false, but is used as an argument against Christianity. People who disagree with Christianity based on this premise refer to Christianity as an “iron mold,” a cultural stamp that forces everyone to live their lives the same way. In other words, Christianity takes away cultural identity and pushes its adherents into the “Christian mold.” Christianity then becomes a narrow-minded way of seeing the world through an ethnocentric lens where everyone, regardless of their culture, should conform to the “Christian” way of life.

These arguments stem from a gross misunderstanding of what the Bible says about unity within the body of Christ. Christian unity does not mean that everyone is the same, nor does it mean that everyone worships the same way. This is what the callers I heard failed to understand. To say that blacks and whites must worship together in order to be unified not only misunderstands unity, but it flies in the face of the gospel, limiting it to a specific culture.

Paul is very clear when he writes to the Ephesians that unity within the body of Christ is achieved through diversity. In the first six verses of chapter four he explains that the basis for Christian unity is Christ and his teachings. We are unified because of what Christ has done for us and because of what we believe. However, verses 7-12 talk about the diversity that comes through Christ. Christ equips us all for different things, and uses our differences to achieve the best possible functioning of the body. The body works because we’re not all arms, and the gospel is universal because there’s no cultural mold that we must fit into.

It’s these cultural differences that separate us on Sunday mornings. It’s not that we aren’t unified because we don’t fit the same mold, but rather we are unified because the gospel has reached across cultural barriers. Serving and worship God looks different in China than in Nigeria because the gospel is universal, and that is one of the greatest arguments for Christianity. No other religion on earth has ever achieved the global presence and diversity that Christianity has by being able to cross cultures and adapt to meet people where they are. Other religions are tied to specific cultures inherently because humans cannot recreate what God has already done through Christ.

Let me be clear though, there are divisions in Christianity that need to be repaired, and racial unity is one of them. But being brought together in love across races is not the same thing as giving up your cultural identity to conform to another culture’s standard of worship. These differences are not divisions, but they are a picture of the universality of the gospel that comes from a Savior who reaches to all types of people, and a faith that transcends humanity.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Oh Dawkins

So I was doing some research for school and ran across this picture. Of course I had to read the article (You can link to it by clicking on the blog title). The bulk of it consisted of a debate between Richard Dawkins (the mouth of atheism) and Francis Collins (head of the Human Genome Project and a believer)

I don’t have much to say about it other than it never ceases to amaze me how blind and hard we are apart from God. The following is an excerpt from the middle of the debate that closely resembles Dawkins interview in Ben Stein’s movie Expelled.

TIME: Could the answer be God?

DAWKINS: There could be something incredibly grand and incomprehensible and beyond our present understanding.

COLLINS: That's God.

DAWKINS: Yes. But it could be any of a billion Gods. It could be God of the Martians or of the inhabitants of Alpha Centauri.

Wow. Another example of how the knowledge of God cannot be had apart from his gracious revelation to the believer.
We impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory…The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2: 7-8, 14-16)

The article ended with Dawkins last sentence:

DAWKINS: If there is a God, it's going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed.

Oh if he only knew…

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Faith and Works - Legalism

I feel like I need to clarify some of what I was saying yesterday to make sure that there’s no confusion. I said that in order for faith shown as genuine, it must lead to works. In other words, if we have true faith, we necessarily will produce fruit in our lives. It is true that works follow genuine faith, so much so that James can speak in the way that he does in James 2 and not contradict Paul.

But even though they are thoroughly bound together, they still play very distinct roles. Faith is the means of salvation for the believer. Faith in Christ saves apart from any works. Works flow from that and reveal the reality of it, but they do not contribute to salvation in any way.

The notion that good works contribute to salvation, or somehow gains favor in the sight of God for the believer, is legalism. I hesitated to even use that word because there’s a lot of misunderstanding and baggage that comes with it, but then again that means it needs explaining all the more.

First of all, let me make it clear the legalism is not a list of rules, and in fact it has very little to do with rules. The Bible is full of rules that we should live our life by, granted some people misinterpret them or misapply them, but that is not legalism. Furthermore, legalism is not based on whether or not your convictions are biblical or not. My interpretation of the demands of scripture is not what makes me legalistic.

This is how Tony Reinke describes legalism:

Legalism is (most dangerously) a soteriological [salvation] problem. That is, legalism is a false gospel. Legalism is the damning lie that says God’s pleasure and joy in me is dependent upon my obedience.

It is legalism that causes the Pharisee to look proudly into the sky in the presence of a tax collector. It is legalism that causes a missionary in Africa to think God is more pleased with him than the Christian businessman in America. And it is legalism that causes the preacher behind the pulpit to think God is more pleased with him than the tattooed Christian teenager sitting in the back row.

So to say that works are necessarily a part of the Christian life is not legalism. To say that these works put us in a better position with God is.

Faith in Christ makes us fully acceptable to God. When he sees us, he doesn’t see what we’ve done wrong, and he doesn’t see what we’ve done right (because even that is not good apart from his working in us), but he sees what Christ has done. He sees the perfect life that Jesus lived, which by his sacrifice was imputed to us.

Legalism happens in the church when we begin to apply the demands of scripture to our lives in such a way that we begin to see what we have done as good in itself and not boasting in the cross and the cross alone. Romans makes it very clear that the cross prevents boasting of any kind except to boast in the work of Christ.

The irony of legalism is that the strict fundamentalist and the license liberal both have the same potential to be legalistic. When the person who drinks a glass of wine looks down on the fundamentalist for all of the rules and believes himself to be a better Christian because of his interpretation of scripture, he is being just as legalistic as the fundamentalist who looks down on the drunk teenager for being a bad Christian. The question with legalism is not are my beliefs biblical, but rather what do they get me?

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. (Galatians 6:14-16)

Friday, May 2, 2008

Faith and Works

Grace is an unbelievable thing. To understand who we are in relationship to God as sinners, and then to see what we’ve been made into through Christ is beyond comprehension. We read Paul’s letters and understand that because of our faith in Christ, his righteousness was imputed to us so that we are no longer under the law. I heard Chuck Swindall put it this way: “The life that he [Christ] lived qualified him for the death that he died. The death that he died qualified us for the life that he lived.” In other words, his righteousness has been given to us so that we don not have to pay for the sins that we commit.

The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. (Romans 3:22)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1)

But have you ever heard somebody claim this doctrine when they didn’t want to do something for God? Ever heard someone justify themselves because of their “faith”? I don’t need to do that, I’m under grace. I don’t need to read my Bible, God understands, I don’t need to go to church, God’s grace is enough. And the list could go on forever. We use the doctrine of justification before God as a way to excuse our sins, and in doing so we fundamentally fail to understand what the gospel is about.

The life of a Christ follower, though acting under grace, must produce works. To be saved by faith is to be changed forever, and if there’s no change, there’s no saved. Jesus said himself that the works (fruit) produced in someone’s life is the indication of the heart.

You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:16-20)

James makes it very clear that if our lives are not characterized by works of righteousness, then we will not be justified. It’s almost a scary thing to think about, but works and faith are so intertwined that James can say this and not be contradicting Paul in the least. Faith alone justifies the believer, but a faith that is justifying is always manifested in works. I want to look at James 2:18-26 to see how serious of an issue this really is.

In verses 14-16 James has just introduced the issue and said that faith without works cannot save because faith without works is dead. He continues in verse 18:

18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

He makes it very clear that faith and works cannot be separated. He addresses the person who says that it’s not necessary to live out the Christian life because faith is enough, and he says faith is shown by the works. In other words, faith justifies and brings about the result of good works.

19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!

Here James addresses the person who justifies themselves by what they know about God. This is huge. He’s saying you have an understanding of God, you know a little about him, you’ve been to church, you know the answers…so does the devil! It’s not enough to know the answers, it’s not enough to have head knowledge, if the faith doesn’t produce a change, then the faith wasn’t authentic. The life of the believer should be consumed with knowing God. We should want to know the Bible, we should seek him above all else, and if we don’t have those desires, then we have to question our faith.

20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?

Faith apart from works is useless because faith without works isn’t really faith at all. Abraham was justified when he offered up Isaac because his actions showed that his faith was authentic.

22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”— and he was called a friend of God.

Abraham had faith, and that is what saved him, James is very clear about that. But Abraham’s works completed his faith in that his action necessarily followed from his faith.

24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

That’s a bold statement but it clearly shows how intense this connection is between faith and works. The life of a believer justifies them in that it reveals the reality of their faith. James gives another example:

25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?

Rahab had faith, but her faith was demonstrated in the fact that she did not turn the spies over in order to save herself. She risked her own life for their sake, and in doing so proved that she was justified and her faith was real.

26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

The connection between faith and works is just as real, and just as inseparable as the connection between body and spirit. If you don’t have a spirit, then you aren’t alive. If you don’t have works, then you aren’t alive spiritually.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Science vs(?) Religion

I’ve written multiple times now about the assumptions that we all make in everyday conversation because they are so subtle, and so often misleading, that they can get us in a lot of trouble. We are asked a question or confronted about a topic and we don’t have a response. We feel like we can’t argue against it because we don’t know how, but in reality we don’t even agree with the premise. We engage in conversations in an attempt to defend our position (or at least we should be), but we fail because we don’t recognize that we are working on their premises without questioning them.

One of the ways this most often happens with Christians today is in the case of science. We read scientific apologetics and learn about the holes in the evolutionist argument so we can demonstrate that science is wrong, and that it’s not the ultimate authority. We construct our arguments and debate the issues without ever realizing that we are doing so according to the assumptions of our cultural, namely, that science and religion are in conflict with one another.

There is an unspoken understanding that has come mainly through the media that says that religion fills in the gaps of science. In others words, the things that we don’t understand, we assume that God made them that way. I hesitate to refer to it as a gap theory because I’ve never heard it called that, but in a sense that’s what it is. Science can explain x, y, and z and religion explains all the rest.

The result that comes from thinking like that is the idea that religion and science are somehow competing; that whoever has the best explanations will win over the most people. It also implies that as countries become more modern and developed, and can explain more by science, then religion and the need for God will slowly disappear. (This can be shown to be completely false but that another topic)

So when we argue over scientific claims and search for ways to dispute evidence, we are ultimately falling prey to this assumption. We feel threatened when science makes new discoveries about the world and how it functions because it takes away the mystery that we once attributed to God.

But the fact is that there is no conflict between science and religion, and what’s more, Christians should be the best scientist of all. God is not in competition with science, he created it! Explaining the world around us through scientific discovery does not contradict our attributing it to God, nor does it in any way lessen our view of his majesty. If anything it should increase it! When we make discoveries of how utterly complex the world is around us, we are not learning more about humans and nature as much as we are learning about the Creator!

The idea that being able to explain things rationally takes away from God at all is absurd. Let me give you an example. Some of the most recent cars that have come out have voice command systems installed in them. Imagine that I got one of those cars and I was completely amazed that I could actually talk to my car and tell it what to do. I am incapable of explaining how Mr. Ford was able to make my car do this other than pure magic. So I spend several years thinking about how great Mr. Ford is because he created this magic car until one day the technology becomes popular enough that someone actually explains to me how it works. They tell me that it’s really just a computer with voice recognition software and it’s really all very rational. Now, because I can explain the way it works, I conclude that Mr. Ford didn’t actually make the car, in fact, it’s all completely random.

That seems like a ridiculous example to us but it’s exactly the way that our culture is attempting to explain away God! They say that they can explain to you scientifically how your brain works, thus God has no part in it. If I follow this logic then I completely dismiss Mr. Ford as a superstitious magician. But, if I realize how absurd that is and look at the situation for what it really is, I come to see that, not only did he know exactly how the car worked all along, but he made it work that way. He was so much greater than the “magic” I had attributed to him all along, that my only reaction is to stand amazed at the shear genius of what he had done.

How much greater is the relationship between God and his creation? Science doesn’t take away from God, it adds to his magnificence, and if we see it for what it is, it spreads his glory.

John Stott said it like this:

Natural law is not an alternative to divine action, but a useful way of referring to it. So-called natural laws simply describe a uniformity which scientists have observed. And Christians contribute this uniformity to the constancy of God. Further, to be able to explain a process scientifically is by no means to explain God away; it is rather (in the famous words of the astronomer Kepler) to ‘think God’s thoughts after him’ and to begin understanding his ways of working.

We shouldn’t be afraid of science, but we should embrace it as a tool for displaying the glory of God. We see him in it, we are responsible to him for it, and we honor him by it.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse (Romans 1: 19-20)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Shame of it All

At Wake Forest we run into a lot of professors who claim to be objective wielders of truth, when in reality they are so blinded by their own assumptions and completely non-objective presuppositions that they fail to see their own ironic flaws. I’ve already written about the importance of getting to the root of these assumptions in a previous blog (Effective Communication: Breaking Down Barriers), but I want to give a specific example of the way in which assumptions affect the conclusion.

I have a religion professor who specializes in cults and cult perception who has written a book about religious intolerance in America. In each section she and a co-writer address a different cult and discuss how and why American society is intolerant towards that cult, and of course how we should change. In the chapter that I most recently read she discusses the intolerance of people in the U.S. against Wicca. She asserts that the main issue is that Christian America sees Wicca (and Satanism) as the embodiment of evil, and thus intolerance is bound to persevere. After quoting a rather long list of Bible verses that directly condemn witchcraft and similar practices, she makes the following statement:

Sorry, God does not like, respect or want wiccans. There is no such thing as a Christian wiccan as some have claimed. And as long as you follow paganism, you will never see the truth and your mind will be forever closed (no matter how loudly you proclaim that it isn’t). That is the shame of it all. 1

Her conclusion is that Christians are intolerant because they refuse to accept witchcraft as an acceptable form of religion. Are you serious professor?! There are at least three very large assumptions that this quote makes, all of which are unfounded, nonobjective, and ignorant, and I want to discuss them so that we can see how important it is to address these things

God’s just like me.
From the very beginning of her statement she starts out on the wrong foot. Her implication in that first sentence is that God is bad because he doesn’t want to give everyone the same respect that she does. Her assumption then is that God fits into the mold that she has constructed of a “good” person. Her western, democratic, everyone’s-idea-is-equally-important mindset is projected onto God, and completely fails to see the bias in that. Not every nation in the world believes like we do. In fact, most nations in the world (other than America) have no problem with the idea of God being a loving judge. They assume that God is the judge of an objective good and evil. To presume that God must fit into her mold is a ridiculous assumption. But believing that everyone’s ideas are equally important and equally right is not just a fallacious western assumption, it stands in direct contradiction to scripture.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. (1 John 4: 1-3a)

God hates Wiccans.

This also comes from the first sentence of the quote, but is based on a very different assumption that is just as equally false. The assumption is that people’s identity comes from their actions. In other words, because someone practices witchcraft, then their identity is Wiccan. This is a false assumption that we all struggle with. Our identities do not come from our actions but from our nature. We are not sinners because we commit sin, but we commit sin because we are sinners, it is our very nature. I am not a liar because I tell lies (bet you’ve heard that one before), rather I tell lies because I am a liar by nature. Another great example is homosexuality. A person is not gay by identity, rather their sinful nature (whether biological or not) causes them to struggle with gay practices. So to say that God hates Wiccans is to say that God hates the person, when in reality he hates the sin.

The Christian claim to exclusive truth is narrow-minded and nonobjective.
That’s basically a summary of the rest of the quote. She says that because Christians claim that they are correct and that everyone else is pagan and ignorant, then Christians are close-minded. The parenthetical statement that follows implies that they are also nonobjective because they discredit the beliefs of others.

Well this is a very interesting claim because it is somewhat self-indicting. The idea that Christians are narrow-minded because they claim exclusive truth is ridiculous. That statement fundamentally fails to understand what Christians believe. We do not believe that Christ was a prophet who helps us understand the way to God. If that were the case, then perhaps we would be narrow for saying our prophet is right and every other prophet is wrong. Jesus didn’t say that he was a prophet; he said that he was God. Now that leaves us with two options, either he was who he said he was (God), in which case we do have exclusive claims to truth, or he was just a deranged man, in which case Christianity should be abolished. It’s impossible to say that everyone is equally right. Either Christianity is infinitely more important because Jesus was God, or it is inferior because it follows a crazy man. That’s not narrow, it’s just a fact.

Furthermore, it is impossible not to claim exclusive truth. A lot could be said about this but not now. In short, everyone claims exclusive truth. My professor may claims that there is no objective basis for truth, but that in itself is a claiming to be true. It’s an inherent contradiction. We all claim exclusive truths and to condemn someone for doing so is to condemn yourself.

The second thing that she implies is that Christians are nonobjective because they discredit the beliefs of others. Well, she has just tried to discredit the beliefs of Christians by making that statement, and I’m sure we would never conclude that she is nonobjective…

1. Corrigan and Neal. Religious Intolerance in the United States.

Monday, April 28, 2008


For those believers who have been raised in the church, there is often a tendency to not think about the doctrines we hold to and their implications as much as we should. We know the right answers and we’re satisfied with that without ever really thinking about what they mean. The result is the unfortunate answer “I’ve never thought about that” when we are asked questions about our faith. That’s not the kind of answer that reflects well on someone who claims that their faith is their identity.

This issue could be dealt with in and of itself, but it really just serves as an introduction here to a specific example – God’s omnipresence. God is everywhere. Right? We say that he is, and if anyone asks us to describe God it’s usually one of the most popular ways we do so. But do we really mean everywhere? What if someone was to ask the question: “Is God in hell?” How would you answer?

I’ve heard answers from both sides. Some say that God is in hell but they can’t explain how this could happen if God is love and hope and hell is torture and despair. Many say that hell is the absence of God, and that to be with God in it’s ultimate form is the essence of heaven, but to be completely separated from him is the worst punishment of hell. But what does this say of his omnipresence? This second view is vaguely true in that there is something about God’s character that is absent in hell, but completely fails to account for the fact that the Bible teaches that God is present everywhere.

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. (Psalm 139: 7-10)

In order to wrap our minds around what it means for God to be omnipresent, we must first understand that his presence is manifested in more than one way. God is everywhere, but he is not manifested in the same way in all places. There are three ways in which God’s presence may be manifested.

God’s Presence to Sustain
God’s sustaining presence is manifested throughout creation, and there is no part of it that is able to exist apart from his presence. Deists believe that God exists but that he is not active in the world. The analogy is that the world is like a pocket watch that God wound up and is now setting back and watching it run. This stands in contradiction to passages that teach that God is both active in the world and upholding its very existence. This manifestation of God’s presence is found in everything that exists, including heaven and hell.

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:3a)

God’s Presence to Bless
God’s presence to bless is the manifestation of his presence which brings good. This happens generally on earth in that human beings are allowed to live without being completely consumed in judgment for our sins, and even to enjoy the creation of which we are the crown. This presence is also manifested specifically in the lives of believers who are blessed with the ability to know God and enjoy him. This type of blessing is fundamentally different than the general blessings that all humans receive, but is still not the ultimate blessing that awaits the consummation of the kingdom of God. In heaven believers will experience God’s ultimate blessing through their enjoyment of him in the greatest sense possible. Thus, this manifestation of God’s presence is absent in hell. Hell is not the absence of God, but rather the absence of his blessing and the hope that is found in those blessings.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17)

God’s Presence to Judge
God’s presence to judge is the opposite of his presence to bless. It is manifested in the earth generally though the effects of sin, and specifically through sovereign acts of punishment both on the wicked and on Jesus on the cross. But this presence is manifested much more harshly in hell. God’s judging presence is the defining characteristic of hell, and the dominant way in which God is present in hell. Alternatively, judgment will be absent from heaven because there will be no sin.

God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day. (Psalm 7:11)

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead (2 Timothy 4:1)

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18)

Note: It is important to remember that God’s omnipresence is not the same as pantheism. Pantheism does not say that God is everywhere, but rather that he is everything. The question is one of nature. God is present in your computer (sustaining), but his nature is fundamentally different from it. Christians say that God is everywhere; Pantheists say that God is everything. I can spend more time on this later if it doesn’t make sense.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Cultural Christianity

When I think about living in North Carolina, and how blessed we are to live in a place where Christianity is legal, and even the majority depending on how you look at it, I feel overwhelmed and unbelievably grateful for what God has done in my life. However, at the same time there is a huge crisis for Christians living in the “Bible belt,” and even America in general – cultural Christianity.

When it’s popular to be a Christian we have to be very careful about how we define Christianity and understand its implications for our lives. If we aren’t careful, Christianity can become little more than a cultural phenomenon, a social tool to be used and manipulated however we see fit. Around here, not only is it popular to be a Christian, but it’s powerful. A large majority of the rich white population here are “Christians,” a category of social status to prevent being shunned. It’s really quite simple, if you want to be mainstream here, then you label yourself as a “Christian.” You may never go to church, or you may have been raised in church, but the label that you put on yourself is really all that matters. I’m a Christian, that means I’m a good person and going to heaven.

I don’t think I’ve faced a bigger issue in my ministry experiences than this, and it’s on the verge of destroying the church from the inside out. Unauthentic faith accompanied by the comfort of religion is a dangerous combination, and it’s not just an issue for a few select people, it affects all Christians. We put on a face, we know all the Christian answers, we look like Christians, and we even act like Christians – as long as it’s not too difficult or inconvenient.

The result is a compartmentalized faith and it’s an issue that plagues the church and frustrates our pastors to no end. We have family, we have work, and we have God. He has his place, possibly a very important one, but in general he stays there. As long as we live the “Christian” life, what more could he want? We just need to do enough to check him off for the day or the week and we’ll feel a lot better about ourselves. After all, he doesn’t expect us to be perfect. Right? (See Matthew 5:48)

But it’s not that we are Christians because we live our lives a certain way, we live our lives a certain way because we are Christians. We don’t give God part of our life; we live our life through him. Everything we do, think, and see, goes through the lens of Christ. It’s not the he is first and family is second; it’s that he is everything and family (or anything) falls into place under that. He is not part – he is.

C.S. Lewis said: "I believe in Christianity like I believe that the sun has risen; not because I see it, but because by it I see everything."

This is how the gospel works, it’s all or nothing. Christ doesn’t want part of you, he says put everything aside and follow me, or you will die in your sins. Partial Christianity leads to complete condemnation.

Jesus says:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness. (Matthew 7:21-23)

Not all Christians are completely devoted to Christ, but they all want to be. That’s what it means to be a follower of Christ. Of course we all struggle with other gods in our lives, but our hearts tell whether or not we have been truly changed. Acting in perfection is not required, or even possible; but the heart of a Christ follower is nonetheless devoted to the cause.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Brook Kidron

A lot of times I think it’s easy for Christians to see the Old Testament and New Testament as separate stories, and not a presentation of a unified story about the glory of God and his redemption of sinful man. We see the sacrifices of the Old Testament along with what some see as an angry and vengeful God, and we dissociate it from the loving and merciful God of the New Testament. But the two cannot be separated. No matter how the mind of man interprets or perceives Scripture, God’s unchanging, always loving, and always just character is revealed to us consistently and progressively. The way that the Old Testament points to Christ, and the typology that is present throughout, can produce nothing short of awe in the mind that sees it.

This week as I was thinking and reading about Passover, one particular event in the life of our Savior jumped out at me and left me broken. But before I can get to it there must be some context.

The blood sacrifices of the Old Covenant are one of the most commonly criticized and protested practices of all for those who do not understand their significance. Innocent animals were slain by the thousands at Passover time. During the Passover Jews from all over would travel to Jerusalem in order to offer a sacrifice for their sins. The purpose of this was not just to kill innocent animals, but to literally offer a way for the judgment of God to be appeased. The innocent animal stood in the place of the guilty human, absorbing the justice and wrath of God so that the people would not have to. The lamb would identify with the condition of man, becoming sin for him, so that the wrath of God could be poured out upon it as the very essence of a sinful nature.

For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul. (Leviticus 17:11)

The sin of man, placed upon the innocence of a lamb, and the wrath of God satisfied.

This is what Jesus did for us. He lived the perfect life and took on himself the full wrath of God against sin. He stood in our place, having done nothing wrong, and bore our burden, a burden beyond imagination. This is the context for the story that stopped me in my tracks…

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.
(Isaiah 53:4,5)

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

Historians say that during the time of the Passover there were as many 300, 000 lambs that were sacrificed. That’s a lot of blood. So much blood that the Jews had to come up with a way to get rid of fit all. So from the temple where the offerings were being made, which sat above the valley Kidron, they dug a channel that went down into the valley and into the brook Kidron so that the blood could drain away. The brook turned completely red throughout the process, covered by the mass amounts of blood flowing down it, and was on of the most “horrific sights” ever according to historical accounts.

But on the night before Jesus was crucified, during the week of the Passover, he left Jerusalem to go to Gethsemane – on the other side of the valley Kidron. Along the way he would have crossed over that brook, red from blood. Thousands upon thousands of innocent lambs were slain to take away the sins of the people, and now the blood was running by the feet of the Lamb of God. He knew where it came from, and he knew where he was going. But no one was taking his life, he was laying it down.