One Thing You Lack

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The Rich Young Ruler (Luke 18:18-30)

Sermon Audio Link

Passage:

And a ruler asked Him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.'” And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But He said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed You.” And He said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” – Luke 18:18-30 (ESV)

Sermon Audio Link

Sermon Notes:

• The Question

How does one obtain eternal life?

• The Rich, Young Ruler

Calls Jesus “Good Teacher” in a manner of flattery, as there is not one example in the entire Talmud of a rabbi being addressed this way; addressed with an attribute possessed only by God. Jesus doesn’t correct him by saying He is not good, but rather that only God is good and invites the young man to reflect on his own words. Have you ever heard someone say something and thought they should take a moment to think about what they just said, and maybe the answer they are looking for already resides in the very words they spoke?

His question carries the assumption that salvation or eternal life must be earned and that something in addition to the work he was currently doing was required.

• One thing you lack…

But is it really just one thing, or three?

It sounds like three things: 1) sell what you possess, 2) give it to the poor, 3) follow me. How are these three (commands/demands) requests really one?

The young ruler claims that he has kept all the commands Jesus mentions since his youth, but Jesus only mentions the commandments dealing with our fellow neighbors, not those that deal directly with God. He uses His request to expose what the young man lacks, and how he desperately fails to measure up to the law. The very first of the commandments is to have no other God before the one true God of Israel… Jesus shows how money is sitting in the place of God in this young man’s heart, and it deeply grieves him when asked to depart with it.

These demands may be summed up like this: “Your attachment to your possessions needs to be replaced by an attachment to Me.” It’s as though the man stood there with his hands full of money, and Jesus said, “You lack one thing; reach out and take my hands.” To do this the man must open his fingers and let the money fall. The “one thing” he needs is not what falls out of his hands, but what he takes into his hands.

The poor are always the beneficiaries when this transaction happens — when a person treasures Jesus above money. That’s why Jesus mentions the poor. We are all spiritually poor without Christ. But the main focus is what is happening between this man and Jesus. Jesus does not merely expose the closed-handedness of the young ruler, He alludes to the truth that if the young man rightly understood who Jesus was, if he knew the good character of God, he would cry out for mercy, not complacently seek reward. All the fitness God requires is for you to feel your need of Him…

• God loves to give good gifts.

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Illustration — “Delighting in our cat, Winston”

Kathryn and I do not have children (at least not yet), but we do have a young cat. Even in the caring for this small animal, as two imperfect people, we delight in providing good things for him. We love giving him wet food, treats, new toys of any kind, letting him sleep in our bed and snuggle with us. We truly enjoy giving him good things, and watching him respond with excitement and joy.

The Father enjoys delighting in His children by giving them good gifts… but how does one receive something when their hands are full? Often times our hands are full of idols, unready to receive God’s love. And we mistakenly think that idols are just bad things, but that is almost never the case. The greater the good, the more likely we are to expect that it can satisfy our deepest needs and hopes. Anything can serve as a counterfeit god, especially the very best things in life.

“… I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak… We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” – C.S. Lewis

• The One Thing

Jesus tells the rich young ruler, He tells all of us: You lack one thing. You lack Me. Stop treasuring money and start treasuring Me. You want to inherit eternal life? You want truth? You want to enter the kingdom of heaven? You want to be justified? You want to be righteous before God? Only by your attachment to Me will you inherit eternal life, be saved, find truth, enter the kingdom, be justified, and have any real meaning to your life. If you would be perfect — which is the only way into God’s kingdom — follow Me. Be connected to Me. Depend on all that I am for you.

There is no “go and do likewise” command present here in the discussion. Jesus isn’t asking this of everyone He talks with; He doesn’t tell everyone everywhere to give away everything they have. That is not the point here. Jesus uses a humorous illustration to explain how difficult it is for those who appear materially blessed to have God first in their heart; Jesus doesn’t say that anybody who has material blessings cannot be saved.

If you gain the whole universe, and have not Jesus, you are infinitely impoverished compared to the one who doesn’t just have the treasure, but is the Treasure. If you are bankrupt and indebted beyond your ability to ever reimburse that whom you owe, the option to just do a little more seems rather silly, doesn’t it? “One thing you still lack. . . . Me!”

• Disordered Love & Trust

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Illustration — “The pain of the illusion of loss”

Winston’s need for what appeared to be torture in order to heal… the rich young ruler’s need to let go of his idol of wealth in order to see God as what he truly needs.

While Christianity was able to agree with pagan writers that inordinate attachment to earthly goods can lead to unnecessary pain and grief, it also taught and teaches that the answer to this was not to love things less, but to love God more than anything else. To rightly reorder your love. Jesus even tells people that they should hate their family in a hyperbolical (extreme, purposefully exaggerated) comparison. You should love God so much, that other relationships look like hate by comparison, but actually, if you love God that much, you cannot help but pour out your love for all of His creation.

How weird would it be if I enjoyed my wife’s material possessions more than I loved and interacted with her? Wouldn’t it seem odd if I was faced with a decision to choose our TV or our marriage, and I chose the TV? That would look like a pretty dumb decision and quite a dysfunctional relationship, would it not?

The disciples (viewing this through their cultural lens), ask who then can be saved?! Jesus makes is clear no man can save himself, it is impossible. But God saves. As long as we think we are not that bad, the idea of grace will never change us. Only when our greatest love is God, a love that we cannot lose even in death, can we face all things with peace. Grief and sorrow is not to be eliminated, but seasoned and supported with love and hope.

“God is not only more demanding than people care to think, but also more generous than they have dared to hope.”

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• So, what are you holding onto?

There is nothing wrong with being wealthy, it is not inherently evil to be considered financially rich. But Christ called this young man to give up his wealth in order to follow Him, exposing that he valued cash above Christ. Today we see two VERY controversial issues constantly talked about in the media: homosexuality and a women’s right to “reproductive freedom.” For some, those are two hot topics they are not willing to let go of. For others, it may be literally anything… Whatever materials, family, pets, rights, liberties, etc. that we possess, we were created not to view the created as ultimate. Does that make sense? We are valuing created things above the Creator Himself when we see things merely as our own, to do whatever we wish with our possessions. Jesus is showing us here that we should consider it all worthless compared to Him.

So try to take some time to search your heart for what things you may be holding onto or valuing more than a relationship with God. I pray that we don’t make the common mistake of thinking extensively about someone we know who should really hear this message, and consider these words ourselves… because just like me, without Jesus: You lack.

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Come and See

Jesus Calls Philip and Nathanael (John 1:43-51)

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Sermon audio

Today in America, we have virtually unlimited resources in which to educate ourselves, yet sadly ignorance, bigotry, sexism, racism, hypocrisy, and contempt still plague our society. Have you ever wondered why that is?

The genre of the passage we are about to read is gospel. It combines three literary ingredients: what Jesus did, what Jesus said (discourse and dialogue), and people’s responses to Jesus. This particular passage is a calling and encountering story of Nathanael with Jesus Christ.

Passage:

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to Him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered Him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” – John 1:43-51 (ESV)

Skepticism:

Pride

Nathanael is at the very least an intellectual snob, a geographical elitist, and maybe even a bigot.

The more pride we have, the more other people’s pride irritates us.

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Contempt

There is a contempt for people from Nazareth. Nathanael asks, “He’s from Nazareth? Really?! From THERE?! Are you serious right now?” In Nathanael’s eyes (and many others), Nazareth was a pathetic, backwater, primitive, ghetto of ghettos region of Galilee. This was that group of “those people.”

Again, the more pride we have, the more other people’s pride irritates us.

During the first basketball game I ever attended in Allen Fieldhouse, in Lawrence Kansas, they played (among many things) a clip from an old Clint Eastwood movie, The Outlaw Josey Wales.

I grew up in Kansas when I was younger and there is still a lingering distaste there for anything from Missouri. Back in the 1800’s, parts of cities were burned to the ground, people murdered in public, and even livestock slaughtered over the differences between these two states. The man who led the raid that served to spark the Civil War at Harper’s Ferry was none other than a Jayhawker from Kansas, John Brown.

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This movie clip was used because the Kansas Jayhawks were playing their hated border rivals, the Missouri Tigers. In this clip their is an older woman talking to a shop-keep about how they wouldn’t be purchasing anything from Missouri, they would never touch any muck from that state; they were Jayhawkers, and proud of it. At this point, the gym erupted; at times during the game it reached the decibel level that closely resembles that of a jet engine at takeoff. Needless to say, there is still a contempt in the state of Kansas for those dirty black and yellow slave-owning, secessionists from Missouri.

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Now while the story of Kansas and Missouri seems pretty obvious why there is contempt and bitterness there, we still see pride and contempt in shallow, sometimes petty ways in our lives today. Think about where you work, where you went to school, where you grew up… there is always “those people.” Sometimes it’s even a distaste for those who we think we’re spoiled or over-privileged.

Random examples:

• Costco – Walmart
• Texas A&M – University of Texas
• Pepsi – Coke
• Papa John’s – Pizza Hut

Belief:

Acknowledgment

You are the “Son of God” and the “King of Israel” are the two terms Nathanael uses to declare his belief that Jesus is who Philip said He was.

Quick shift (maybe too quick)

Just one sentence and Nathanael is all in. He’s pushing all his chips into the game because of one, single phrase by Jesus.

Think

Jesus never discourages thinking or the search for truth. Reason and logic is never to be feared. Doubt and questioning is not to be ignored or looked down upon. Doubt is healthy inquiry. Disbelief is a willful choice.

Have you ever witnessed large numbers of grade school students have moving experiences at some kind of church summer camp, be fired up and passionate about their faith for a season, but fail to grow in that faith over the next few years, only to have it seemingly snuffed out by skeptical professor in college who has a couple sarcastic quips for why Christianity is such a farce? Am I the only one who has seen this happen a concerning amount of times?

A faith without some doubts is like a human body with no anti-bodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask the hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. If you never take the time to better understand what it is you claim to believe, how do you know your faith wasn’t just an emotional experience? A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if they have failed over the years to listen patiently to their own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection.

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Closing:

John wrote this Gospel with evangelistic intent. However, the depth of teaching in his writing shows that he wanted readers not only to come to initial saving faith in Jesus, but also to grow into a rich, well-informed faith.

So, I’d like to plead with you all today, come and see… this man from Nazareth, this Son of Man named Jesus… He is the awaited Messiah, He is God become man, Word become flesh, He dwelt among us, turned the world on its head, is shining light into the darkness, and has even defeated death. In Christ, you will see greater things than you could ever imagine. Faith is the beginning; and once you have seen, now you are called to follow. Don’t settle for just some emotional response today, but join me in a life-long journey to better understand and know Jesus for who He is: our Messiah.

Context… it really does matter.

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Pre-Gospel

It is in the third chapter of the book of Genesis that the author tells us something has gone very wrong. Something has gone wrong in you. Something has gone wrong in me. Something has gone wrong in the world. The entire cosmos has been fractured. Whether you’ve read the book and agree with what is presented or think it’s merely full of fairy tales, you would have to be a blind fool to argue with this particular part. Because something is definitely broken. What we see in the Bible is that what is broken in you is a severed relationship with your creator God that has led to a brokenness in all of us that has overflowed into a brokenness in all the systems we have built, in the food we try to grow, in the goods we try to steward, in the governments we try to run, in the businesses we attempt to lead.

This brokenness in us, that severed connection with God because of sin, has overflowed out of us onto the structures we have built so that we live in a broken world. (That’s not even getting into the effects of sin on the creative order itself. That’s just the damage we do as image bearers of the God of the universe.) God, in the midst of our rebellion against Him, in the middle of our accusation that we are smarter, more capable, and owe Him nothing, responds not with destruction, but actually intervenes on our behalf, for His glory.

So regardless of what you think about God or how you believe God feels toward you, here’s what the Bible tells us. The Bible tells us that from the very moment of the fracture of the universe, God begins to lay out His plan to send a Savior who would rescue us from the mess of our hearts that has spilled over into all of life. Again, it is in Genesis, chapter 3 that the author begins to explain that as sin enters the world, it fractures everything. (This is also expounded upon more throughout Scripture, in Romans 1-2; 5, 1st Corinthians 15, Ephesians 2, and many more.) Adam and Eve believed the lie that they would make better gods than God and that they could run things better than He could, and despite His goodness and His grace, they would prefer to be their own masters.

So we are told that sin entered the world and fractured it. After this tragedy, man and woman feebly attempt to hide themselves, and God begins to pronounce judgment, first on the Serpent, the Devil, the embodiment of evil. Here’s what He says to the Serpent. Genesis 3, starting in verse 15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”

This is what theologians call the proto-evangelical. It’s the pre-gospel gospel. It’s the first messianic prophecy we get in the Bible. It’s not complex. There’s no build-out of the cross, no mention of atonement, no imputed righteousness explained, nothing like that, just God right in the middle of the fog of war, man and woman shamed, naked, distressed, world broken… He curses the Serpent and says, “One will be born of woman. You will bruise His heel, but He will crush your head.”

Now I’m not sure that as you’re reading this we could agree on everything, but I have to believe we can agree that a crushed head loses over a bruised heel. The world is still burning when God says, “I’m going to fix this.” There’s still this smell of smoke and death and destruction. Nothing has settled. Nothing yet restored. The universe is freshly fractured. The new normal hasn’t even begun to work yet when God says, “There will be a man born of woman who will crush your head.”

Things move forward in Genesis 12, verse 3. This is said to Abram, who will become Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel. The Bible states that God declares to Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (See also Romans 4-5)

Context

Again, some of us are going to have to ditch what we think about God, because the God of the Bible simply won’t line up with what you think about Him. You have a God who, in the midst of man’s rebellion says, “I’m going the crush the head of the Evil One,” and now we move just a few chapters forward and He says, “Actually, through the line of Abraham, I’m going to bless all of the families on the face of the earth.”

So we don’t have a God who’s strictly vengeful against those who are disobedient, but a God who is working on behalf of those in the midst of rebellion to save and rescue some for the glory of His name, and the good of their souls. Too often we get presented with this idea that the God of the Old Testament is really cranky and perpetually ticked off, just waiting for someone to slip up so He can slam them… like the God of the Old Testament is nothing more than a power-drunk cop hiding in a speed trap just waiting to fill his quota of giving out tickets and ruining people’s day; but then when Jesus comes He kind of calms down and wants to be friends with everyone (except those darn Pharisees, of course). Yet, when we broaden our understanding of the great metanarrative of the Bible, we can see God’s grace, His plan for redemption already being played out and set in motion early on… as early as the third chapter.

So as we are reading the Bible, even the very beginning, we must have the entirety of the individual book and the other 65 books as a framework. There is a kind of rule when it comes to reading the Bible: the Bible interprets the Bible. Some people may be like, “Oh, of course, how convenient?!” But this is true about every book you’ve ever read that has any kind of unity in it. If you want to take a book from a series like Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, or even The Hunger Games, Twilight, or the Divergent series, and pull just one or maybe even two sentences out of it and go, “By this sentence I’ll decide all the rest of the book.” (Albeit these are popular fictional examples, but it applies to every genre – and a lot of people will be familiar with at least one of these works.) Then you’re going to get off in your interpretation, and your understanding of the whole story. The Bible is 66 books telling one story. Verses must be read in light of one another. Every verse sits within the context of a chapter, within a book, within the entire canon. Any text without pre-text and context is merely a proof-text.

Outdated

When we look at the Bible and declare it outdated or nothing more than some enslaving piece of literature garbage that should have stayed in the dark ages, we are essentially committing chronological snobbery. We delude ourselves into believing that we are now at the height of human development and know better today than any of those before us. How many times have you heard that scientist or researchers have discovered that what they previously held to be safe or helpful has now been found to be hazardous or harmful? How many times have you heard the opposite, that something that was dangerous is now actually considered beneficial? Just look at some commercial advertisements from the past 50 years. You’ll quickly see that it’s quite possible something we hold to be so normal today, may be deemed rather stupid or silly within the next few years.

True freedom and wisdom is not being unshackled to create your own truth, but is actually liberating submission to the Truth. Freedom is not the complete absence of any restrictions, but rather the presence of the right restrictions put in place. For example: a fish out of water. The fish is not more free when released outside of the confines of the water, but instead his ability to enjoy life is drastically hindered and he is sure to die. Only if God can say things that make you struggle and expose your pride, will you know that you have met a real God, and not a figment of your imagination. The Hebrews and early Christians would say of their book(s) that if the Scriptures are not fitting with the time, culture, societal norm, or your desires; it means there is something wrong with the times and your heart, not the Scriptures.

For us to attempt to void the Bible of any authority is subjective and trajectory hermeneutics; in that there is no objective truth or discernible message in the Bible that transcends time, race, gender, age, ethnicity, geography, people group, etc. and as “times change” and history moves forward across its linear path, then the way we see the Bible must also change to fit the cultural perspective of our time. Philosophical rejection of the Bible, in part or in whole, is often used to justify moral resistance. People don’t want to be told what to do. People seem to want a king, but then hate the king. Cultural-relativism-‘Christianity’ is not Biblical at all, but merely has a fairy-tale version of Jesus as the mascot of a short-sighted cause. We cannot go on ‘explaining away’ forever: or we will find that we have explained explanation itself away. We cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things forever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it.

If we view the Bible as completely subjective and void of any absolute truth or authority, this leaves everyone with nothing more than a list of rules to live by that can be taken or left depending on how one feels. This viewpoint doesn’t really give any of us any true hope or meet our needs on any real level more than any other book or compilation of thoughts. I think the Bible is a pretty crummy guide to life or manual for how to live (especially if it is disconnected from the Gospel). The Bible doesn’t answer a lot of questions directly and when we see it as merely a manual, it becomes dangerous… we’ve seen what happens in history when men and women ignore the greater context and pick things out of the Bible to use to fit their agenda. It almost never ends well.

The way we view the Bible really matters… theology matters… context matters… it matters… because, yes, what we know about God shapes the way we think and live. What you believe about God’s nature – what He is like, what He wants from you, and whether or not you will answer to Him – affects every part of your life. Theology matters, because, if we get it wrong, then our life will be wrong… We’re either building our lives on the reality of what God is truly like and what He’s about, or we’re basing our lives on our own imagination and misconceptions. We’re all theologians. The question is whether what we know about God is true.

Theme

The thing with the Bible is that it’s not primarily about us, it’s about Jesus. The Bible isn’t primarily about what we can do to make ourselves happier and live more moral lives, but rather our deep need for Someone outside ourselves to save us. The essence of other religions is advice about how to live. The essence of Christianity is news – here is what has been done. Jesus isn’t part of the story; He is the point of the story, from Genesis to Revelation. The focal point of Scripture is Jesus and His gospel, which is the good news that God saves. It is the historical narrative of the triune God orchestrating the reconciliation and redemption of a broken creation and fallen creatures from Satan, sin, and its effects to the Father and each other thru the birth, life, death, resurrection, and future return of the substitutionary Son, by the power of the Spirit, for God’s glory and the Church’s joy.

If we try to read the Bible (or any book for that matter) apart from the greater context, we will miss the meaning of the text.

 

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Recommended Articles:

Old Testament Law and The Charge of Inconsistency by Timothy Keller

A Command or an Explanation? by Hunter Hall

Christians are weak and stupid…

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There was an article published rather recently that went a little viral with other articles explaining the findings of a research project. I’ve read and seen multiple versions of basically the same article (for example: New Meta-Alnalysis Checks the Correlation Between Intelligence and Faith), explaining the same information to various degrees. The gist of many of these articles was the apparent conclusion of a study which essentially found that on average those who would classify themselves as theists are less intelligent than atheists.

Now this reaction does have some empirical justification. Because the recent meta-analysis of studies on religion and intelligence did indeed “find” that yes, overall, people with higher IQs and test scores are less likely to be religious. Researchers analyzed 63 studies on religion and intelligence from the past 80 years with differing results to discover the slightly negative correlation between the two.

This particular article even quotes the Greek playwright Euripides in an interesting manner, and mentions that it was penned 400 years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth (at least they admit His existence… see the mind-numbingly bad “documentary” Zeitgeist: The Movie for some alternative “theories”). This quote reminds me of some contrasting words also written hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus Christ, and even hundreds of years before Euripides too. They are the words of the Jewish king David, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1, 53:1; cf: Deuteronomy 32:21, Ezekiel 13:3)

The Irony of the Study

Everyone has faith in something or someone. It is an impossibility to be faithless. Even the most ‘secular’ mind, even the most staunch atheist has a tremendous amount of faith. So, before we get offended or give this study more weight and credit than it deserves, we should consider some other knowledge that has been available for much longer. Let’s start by looking at Romans chapter 5, verse 6… “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” I just want to stop there for a second… At the right time… while we were weak…

Some of us were weak, and at the right time, God came and grabbed us; He opened our blind eyes and softened our hard heart. This didn’t just happen in second grade Sunday school or at VBS. He came and grabbed some of us in high school, in college… in our 20s, in our 30s, in our 40s, a few of us even in our late 60s, 80s, etc. God showed up. The common theme for when He showed up is when we were weak. This is one of the things I’ve heard the world say, which is evidenced clearly in the above articles mentioned, many related articles, and the recently published meta-analysis research study: that Christians are more likely to be weak minded or less intelligent. Well, I just want to agree with it… I mean, they’re trying to slam us, but it’s true…

“Spiritual pride is the illusion that we are competent to run our own lives, achieve our own sense of self-worth, and find a purpose big enough to give us meaning in life without God.” – Tim Keller

“Christianity is a crutch.” We should just be like, “Absolutely! I am weak. Because my legs are broken. My legs are busted. I need that crutch.” “Religion and faith (including Christianity) is for the weak-minded.” Yes. I have a weak mind. Give me a right mind (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23). “Weak people need it.” Absolutely, weak people need it. My skeptic brothers and sisters, you just don’t know you’re weak. So ultimately, is Christianity a crutch? Yes. Are we crippled? Absolutely. Because, “… while we were weak, at the right time…”

In fact, as Christians we should be earnestly praying that God would open up our eyes to our weakness, and we would finally lean on the crutch instead of hobbling around on our busted femur and blown-out knees (Hebrews 12:12). Right? Because “… while we were weak…” God loves the weak. He oftentimes saves and uses the weak to shame the strong. Do I even need to cite all those examples here? For the fun of typing some names: Moses, Leah, David, Paul, Timothy, even Jesus Himself on the cross… God even says multiple times, things along the line of “give justice to the weak and fatherless,” and that He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy; that in order to enter the kingdom of heaven you must come as a child (Matthew 18:1-6; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17). From oppression and violence He redeems their life, and precious is their blood in His sight (Psalm 72:13, 82:3-4; Acts 20:35; Hebrews 4:15). See, God loves weakness. In our culture, we hate it. That’s a huge problem. Do you understand? It’s a huge problem for us to despise weakness like we do.

We seem to think we should not be seen as weak. No, brothers, be seen as weak. God’s power flows most vividly and most powerfully through the weak vessels (Matthew 26:41; Mark 14:38; Romans 8:3-11, 26-30). Paul goes on to tell us this more than once, and in more than one epistle:

“For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1st Corinthians 1:17-31 (ESV)

“We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute.” – 1st Corinthians 4:10 (ESV)

“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” – 2nd Corinthians 11:30 (ESV)

“But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2nd Corinthians 12:9-10 (ESV)

“For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.” – 2nd Corinthians 13:4 (ESV)

“For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for.” – 2nd Corinthians 13:9 (ESV)

Paul wants to continually remind us; therefore, God in the Scriptures wants to continually remind us of our weakness and need for Him. It becomes imperative for us to know this. While we were enemies, Christ died for us (Ephesians 2:1-10). While you were an enemy, Christ died for you. When you were weak, at the right time, God saved you; or for some He is working to show you His saving grace. That means God has a plan for you.

God has a plan for those of you in your weakness. That may have been depression, violent anger, illness, severe anxiety, struggles with grades in school, pornography, eating disorders, addiction to drugs and alcohol, stealing from others (be it stores, neighbors, family, or the company you work for), and all sorts of other deviances in that moment and at your weakest, when God saved you. God, by His life, by His resurrected life, by the power of the Holy Spirit, can and will transform your life, and He’s going to use you in magnificent ways. This is the gospel. The gospel, the good news, is that while you were an enemy of God, while you were weak, Christ died for you.

When you were at your weakest, at the appointed time, God rescued you. This is the gospel. This is good news invading dark spaces. Are you in rebellion? Absolutely, me too. God’s response to your rebellion is to rescue you out of that rebellion, to snatch you out of your rebellion against Him. So, here is where it gets even more beautiful, that God came to save that which we might deem weak, unwanted, unintelligent, unloveable, and unworthy.

Include everybody, or you’re out!

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In our culture today, we have so many relativistic proclamations which claim to promote inclusivity, but often come with the total exclusion of anyone who would disagree:

“Don’t you dare tell me there is any absolute truth that governs everyone or preach that one religion, faith, etc. is any more true than any other… however, here are the foods you should and shouldn’t eat… here are the companies you should love/hate… this is the way you should and shouldn’t raise your kids… the government is corrupt and full of greed, but we need it to enforce (the illusions at least of) equality… we should protect and defend the weak, defenseless, and those without a voice, but abortion is a woman’s body and right to simply choose regardless of anyone else’s belief or influence… we should legalize this and outlaw that… if it’s not hurting anyone else then it shouldn’t be declared wrong, unless you’re contradicting that declaration… leave all religion and faith out of the public square, only “secular” logic and rational proposals should be allowed (even if it has been proven a philosophical impossibility and is a laughable facade of a stance to try to take)… our beliefs are personal and private, so keep them to yourself, unless we agree or you don’t say that I’m wrong…….”

Descartes noted in A Discourse On Method that “there is no idea so strange that some philosopher has not seriously taught it.” Similarly, there is no practice so strange that some society has not legitimized it; for instance, genocide, cannibalism, etc. Nor is there anything so innocent that some group has not forbidden it; for instance, entering a temple with a hat on, or without one. So anyone who thinks values are not relative to cultures is simply ignorant of the facts, so goes the argument…

This idea of “moral relativism” we see so much in our culture today, is basically the view that ethical standards, morality, and positions of right or wrong are culturally based and therefore subject to a person’s individual choice. We can all decide (at least for the most part) what is right for ourselves. You decide what’s right for you, and I’ll decide what’s right for me. Moral relativism says, “It’s true for me, if I believe it.”

One of many examples we see in the news these days comes from the former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Faye Wattleton, describing her view on morality in a piece called Self-Definition: Reality, “… teaching morality doesn’t mean imposing my moral values on others. It means sharing wisdom, giving reasons for believing as I do – and then trusting others to think and judge for themselves.” She claims to be morally neutral, yet her message is clearly intended to influence the thinking of others… an intention that is not, in fact, neutral. Wattleton goes on to argue that each of us should respect another’s point of view, and all views are essentially equal valid; but then she implies that any point of view other than this one is immoral, un-American, and tyrannous. If you disagree with Wattleton’s position that all points of view are equally valid, then your point of view is not valid. This argument commits logical suicide; it simply self-destructs.

“Moral relativism” can also be understood and classified as a worldview. In such a view, we are to determine for ourselves which position to hold where morality is concerned, we must first determine what we believe about the origin of life. Do you believe life evolved, unguided out of some form of nothingness, or do you believe life was created by some greater being, deity, uncaused cause, prime mover, alien or alien race, some god, a few gods, a multitude of gods, etc.?

Evolution and moral relativism go hand-in-hand for the most part; evolution teaches that life is accidental, without eternal meaning or purpose. Therefore, anything you do is essentially okay, because it ultimately doesn’t matter after our recorded history ends. If you believe we are created, however, moral relativism cannot ultimately work. Creation implies some Creator. All things created are subject to a set of laws, whether natural or divine. Moral relativism says anything goes (within reason, kind of)… but does it?

The philosophical idea and worldview of moral relativism usually includes these three claims: That morality is first of all changeable; secondly, subjective; and third, individual. That it is relative first to changing times; you can’t turn back the clock. Secondly, to what we subjectively think or feel; there is nothing good or bad, but only thinking makes it so. And thirdly, to individuals; different strokes for different folks. In sharp contrast, moral absolutism claims that there are moral principles which are unchangeable, objective, and universal. Moral relativism on the surface and at first glance can sound so reasonable, so tolerant, and so neutral. But there’s a fundamental flaw in its self-defeating and self-refuting reasoning and logical conclusion.

What is really disturbing in the morally relativistic view is the perpetuated implication such a view is neutral, unbiased, and tolerant, when it is not. Each person is entitled to their point of view, but nobody is neutral. The only place of true neutrality is silence. Instead of trying to perpetuate the idea of some faux moral neutrality, we should speak up, give our opinions, contend for our view, and forfeit any contradictory claim to neutrality.

C.S. Lewis points to the nature of most quarrels and differences of opinion as a clue to what we truly believe. Inherent in those quarrels is a concept of fairness, as in “how would you like it if someone did that to you?” When we make that statement, we are appealing to some kind of standard of behavior that we expect the other person to know about. Where do you think that standard originated?

In his 1796 Farewell Address to the nation, George Washington stated: “… Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. . . . Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle…” And then there is William McGuffey, who once wrote: “Erase all thought and fear of God from a community, and selfishness and sensuality would absorb the whole man.”

“Morality is always dreadfully complicated to a man who has lost all his principles [or moral absolutes].” – C.K. Chesterton

In the midst of all this, Christians often get called hypocrites for their “exclusive” and “intolerant” views… However, a Christian is not someone who is perfect, sinless, or above any correction; nobody in their right mind would ever claim or even think that to be so. A Christian is still human, they are still in desperate need of grace (Ephesians 2:1-10). They are not a finished product of sanctifying grace as long as they’re still breathing (Philippians 1:6; Hebrews 2:11-18). When a Christian says or does something stupid, while they should be held to a higher standard because of the faith and doctrines they espouse, they equally need grace like everyone else. Just because a Christian knows Jesus is God, does not mean they will never fail to live in accordance with that knowledge. The Gospel clearly says the law cannot save anyone, and that is why God saves through grace (Romans 3:21-31, 6:15-23; Hebrews 12:1-15).

In the end though, yes, I’ll admit that the church is indeed a mess. It is a group full of people who are completely jacked up and have some baggage. To even attempt to deny that is to be a liar. Now God has, in His divine plan, put a covering over the church so that we might be protected from the worst of all of this. However, God has never been a big fan of kings. God has never been a big fan of consolidating power into one person or even one nation to rule them all. So while we strive to be a voice of reason and hope in this culture, we must not over assume our role and wander into the delusion that true heart change can simply be facilitated through strict legislation.

The Christian faith cannot be mandated or forced upon people through strict set of rules, laws, and regulations. The book of Habakkuk tells us the story of how God used the Chaldeans to discipline Israel. And if you think about the distribution of power in ancient Israel, the kings were submissive to the prophets and the priests made sacrifices for both of them. In fact, if you remember king Saul, who was it that rebuked Saul and removed his crown? It was Samuel, the prophet. So the king of Israel was told by Samuel, “You have betrayed the Lord. You are no longer king.” Let that sink in. Where in the world does that work? Where does the monarchy established by God then lose his crown by the word of the prophet who then must seek his own right standing before God through the sacrifice of the priest?

You can see this in the triune nature of God, and you see this today in how God ordained the church to function. There is one King and His name is Jesus. He is the Shepherd of the church (Micah 5:4; Mark 6:34; Hebrews 13:20). He is the head of the church (Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18). He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). We can see this clearly in Colossians 1:18, “And He is the head of the body, the church.” Jesus is the Shepherd of the Church, and we are graciously called to follow Him.

After all, Jesus told His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments… Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him… If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.” – John 14:15, 21, 23b-24 (ESV)

So, we all need to understand and admit there are layers of emotion, motivation, and rationality that everyone has built on top of their principles for their particular worldview. In one sense, this puts us all on a level playing field: there is no neutrality, as everyone has a worldview. In another sense, we must admit to ourselves that not all worldviews are created equal, and each one obviously has different consequences.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not less than an understanding of biblical truths and principles, or simply the correct set of beliefs, but rather it is infinitely more. The truest spirituality, the most humble worldview framework, the real essence of salvation is knowing a Person (John 17:3). As with knowing any person, there is repenting and maturation and work and weeping and rejoicing and celebrating and encountering. The gospel calls us to enjoy a wildly passionate, intimate love relationship with Jesus Christ, and it calls that the core of true salvation and freedom, and the greatest reality.

Compassion

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Henri Nouwen explained it well that “Compassion is not a bending toward the underprivileged from a privileged position; it is not reaching out from on high to those who are less fortunate below; it is not a gesture of sympathy or pity for those who fail to make it in the upward pull. On the contrary, compassion means going directly to those people and places where suffering is most acute and building a home there.”

Our God has displayed ultimate compassion in His Son, Jesus Christ. By putting on flesh, stepping down into darkness, walking this earth, feeling pain, temptation, loss, weakness, abandonment, betrayal, hatred from others, unjust persecution, and wrongful sentencing from the government… witnessing the death of friends, and even experiencing death Himself on the cross and disconnection with the Father, the triune God has shown us He is not immune to pain. Rather, God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that He was willing to take it upon Himself. In Jesus Christ’s birth, life, and death He suffered in love, identifying with the abandoned, persecuted, and godforsaken. The Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, eloquently observed, “For love is exultant when it unites equals, but it is triumphant when it makes that which was unequal equal in love.” Might we be moved by His grace and reflect this great love to the world instead of trying to merely subdue it with suffocating law. Because everything that isn’t gospel, is law.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, He may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” – John 15:1-17 (ESV)

“For it was fitting that He, for whom and by Whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the Founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why He is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” And again, “I will put my trust in Him.” And again, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.” Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but He helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.” – Hebrews 2:10-18 (ESV)

The Problem of Evil and Suffering

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This is a brief reflection on how evil and suffering may be, if anything, further evidence for God and our eternal need for His grace. For if you have a God great and transcendent enough to be mad at because He hasn’t stopped evil and suffering in the world, then you have at the very same time a God great and transcendent enough to have good reasons for allowing it to continue that you can’t possibly know or understand. But you can’t really have it both ways. Most of our modern objections to God are based on poor or warped views of “fair play” and justice.

As a Christian, we should realize better than others that most of what we’ve needed for success in life comes from us having to go through some very difficult and painful experiences. We should be able to look back on our lives and see that sometimes that illness, disappointment, or an extremely difficult period we struggled through was not God turning His back on us, but rather an irreplaceable season of personal and spiritual growth. Just as Job’s patience in suffering turned him into an example that has helped hundreds of millions of people, and just as Jesus’ temptations prepared Him for His history-changing and world-saving career, so God’s Spirit leads us into our wilderness for our good.

Advice on suffering from one who has never suffered deeply is always shallow, stale, and unconvincing. Wounded healers are needed, and in Christ, we have a great physician who suffered more than we can imagine. Therefore, it is a detrimental mistake to think that if you abandon your faith in God it would ever somehow make the problem of evil or suffering any easier to handle. However, many people claim that “all the philosophizing in the world does not just let God off the hook.” God, however, more than cripples this complaint by what He has done through Jesus Christ. God deliberately came to earth to “put Himself on the hook” for us and experienced the greatest depths of pain and suffering imaginable on our behalf.

Christianity does not provide the reason for every single experience of pain and suffering, but it does supply us with deep resources for actually facing pain and suffering with hope and courage rather than bitterness and despair. On the cross Christ went beyond even the worst physical, emotional, and spiritual human suffering and experienced cosmic rejection and pain that exceeds ours as infinitely as His knowledge and power exceeds ours. In Christ’s death, He suffered in love, identifying with the abandoned and godforsaken. God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that He was willing to take it upon Himself. We cannot even begin to fathom the depths of His love and there will never be a greater love than that of Jesus Christ (John 15:13).

To suffer for Christ out of love and obedience in the face of pain, rejection, and suffering is the greatest thing we could ever do with our lives (2nd Corinthians 5:11-21; Hebrews 2:10-18). We should, especially as Christians, find joy in our pain and in turn praise Christ through our sorrows. For in the end, the beautiful promise of the Gospel is that even if we lose everything in this world, we still have Christ. We still receive the greatest thing there is in our relationship with Christ, because “for to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). We cannot comprehend the immense value and worth it is just to know Him and be known by Him.

“For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him.” – 1st Thessalonians 5:9-10 (ESV)

Also, as Christians we need to know that our suffering is not in vain. Because for those who suffer, the Christian faith provides a resource not just for the teaching of the Cross, but also for the fact of the resurrection as well. Christ promises a future that is not just a consolation for the life that we suffered through or the life that we never had, but a restoration of the life we’ve always wanted. Jesus insisted that His return will be with such power that the very material world will be purged of all decay and brokenness. Christ promises that He will not only heal all things, but all that might-have-been will be.

Our hope is that in Christ and the restoration He is going to bring, everything sad is going to come untrue and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost. So that some day, things that look like broken glass to us here will make sense… as small parts of a beautiful stained glass picture of God’s redemptive work throughout history.