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

Two Men Went to the Temple (Luke 18:9-14)

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I was recently given the privilege to preach at our home church, Vintage Church in Allen, TX.

Sermon audio link.

Sermon notes (rough draft of transcript):

Two Men Went to the Temple (Luke 18:9-14)

Opening Question:

What if our sin problem isn’t that we’re wicked? What if it’s that we’re good?

Scripture passage:

“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” – Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)

Opening quotes:

“The greatest threat to the church isn’t atheism or materialism, but moralism that celebrates a righteousness which doesn’t come from Christ.” – Paul David Tripp

“Satan’s masterpiece is the Pharisee, not the prostitute.” – Tullian Tchividjian

Characters:

1. The Pharisee (like the elder brother in Luke 15)

This guy was varsity. He followed the law in a way that would embarrass the rest of us. If morality was a sport (and to some people it is), this guy wouldn’t have enough fingers for his championship rings. [Go over his listed credentials.]

Kind if like when I’m building a résumé for applying for a job, or an application to get into a certain school, I have found myself at times building some kind of a spiritual résumé, almost like a checklist, or some list of qualifications that could somehow prove to myself cognitively that I’m worthy of God’s love and affection. Am I alone in this? Am I the only one who has ever sat there and compared myself to my neighbor, a co-worker, another person who performed worse than you in a similar situation? Have you ever had the thought, however fleeting, at least I’m not a hardened criminal, I’ve never stolen that much money, never killed a guy, it’s not like I’m Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Jeffry Dahmer, or Charles Manson… I’ve just made a few mistakes in life, but for the most part, I’m a pretty good guy. You will always be able to find someone worse than you; at least you should be able to do that. Anyone else feeling strangely able to relate to the Pharisee here?

[Our neighbors and their pet’s story… Costco customers and their shopping carts story…]

2. The Tax Collector (like the younger brother in Luke 15)

There is no cultural equivalent to a tax collector in first century Rome. A tax collector was a wicked, sinful, piece of trash who was more than deserving of being burned alive. They purchased the right from Rome to collect money (up to 90% of annual income) from their own people. It’s worse than them just taking an extra $20 from everyone. They purchased the right to collect taxes for Rome… for the empire that ruled and reigned over most of the known world at the time… how did they do that? With a standing army… they have jets, hummers, missiles, or satellites… So they needed a lot of tax money to afford that military. Tax collectors were the mediators helping to fund a massive army that was responsible for the rape, murder, torture, and crucifixion of hundreds of thousands of men, women, and even children; many of whom were the same race, ethnicity, and people group as the tax collector taking money… in this case, the Jews. To the Jews, tax collectors were men raising money to support the atrocities taking place against them and their family. Zacchaeus was not simply a cute wee little man, he had done disgustingly vile things. Would it not raise some eyebrows if our pastor went over to a guy’s house for dinner who was known for financially supporting sex-trafficking, drug cartels, and the brutal murder of innocent women and children?

Yet, Jesus tells us the tax collector went home justified… but not the Pharisee… this would have been very shocking to the original listeners.

What was the Pharisee not seeing?

The Pharisee (and a few verses later the rich young ruler, also) fails to understand what many of us fail to understand: that Christianity is not a religion. He thanks God for his exceptional morality and righteousness, but misses the fact that his “goodness” is still woefully short of the bar (Isaiah & Philippians: bloody rags and poop). The mantra of religion is, “I obey, therefore I am worthy and accepted.” The Scriptures, however, teach vehemently against this idea constantly.

The message we usually hear from the pulpit at church is “repent of your wickedness.” Stop sleeping around. Stop doing drugs. Stop getting drunk. Stop watching rated R movies that aren’t about the crucifixion of Christ. Stop partying. Stop cussing. Stop skipping church, because if the door is open, you should be there. I would agree that many of these things are sinful and need to be repented of, but that’s not the message of Luke 18. Instead of calling out the overtly wicked, Jesus says this: “You good husbands, you good fathers, good wives, good mothers, good students, you small-group-leading, church-going, tithing, morally righteous men and women… you need to repent.”

When we grasp that we are unworthy sinners saved by an infinitely costly grace, it destroys both our self-righteousness and our need to ridicule others (the Pharisee thanked God he wasn’t like other men, like the tax collector). Trying to somehow earn your salvation through good works is just as God-belittling, Scripturally ignorant, cross-mocking wickedness as anything on the secular pagan, dark side of the fence. We tell ourselves, “I’m a better man than my father was… my neighbor George is a horrible dude, I’m not like him… I’m a good husband… I’m a good dad… I’m a good wife… I’m a good mother… I’m a good student… I’m a hard worker… I’m involved in the church.” Jesus says, “Repent! That does not save you. None of your works save you! That does not justify you.” When we understand this rightly, we don’t stand next to the cross and tell everyone else to repent, we lay down on our face and tell others there is room.

Looking at the passage in the context of the continuation of the text:

Luke 18:15-17… We must enter the Kingdom of God like a child.

“What did you have to do with being born? Did you work hard to earn the privilege of being born? Did it happen due to your hard work and skillful planning? Not at all. You don’t earn or contribute anything to being born. It is a free gift of life. And so it is with the new birth. Salvation by grace – there are no moral efforts that can earn or merit it. You must be born again.” – Tim Keller

Luke 18:18-30… The story of the Rich Young Ruler. One thing you still lack. PERIOD. PAUSE. He lacks something; he lacks Christ’s imparted righteousness. Jesus exposes his heart by asking him to give up his excessive wealth.* The young man is asking for insight on behavioral modification, not grace.

*Cross reference this story with Luke 12:32-34. Very important passage in understanding that Jesus wasn’t simply giving another rule to, but was exposing a heart issue in the rich young ruler. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Continuation Question(s):

So what does this old story from a couple thousand years ago about these two very different men have to do with us today?

Secularism and religion are both all about your personal performance. The Gospel is the performance of Another applied to you. I believe that the bulk of our weird American evangelicalism is built on this idea that “my behavior makes God owe me, and that what saves me is my good works.”

The basic premise of “religion,” that if you live a good life, things will go well for you – is wrong. Jesus was the most morally upright person who ever lived, yet He had a life filled with the experience of poverty, rejection, injustice, and even torture. Jesus says in the gospel that everyone is wrong, everyone is loved, and everyone is called to recognize this and change. The essence of other religions is advice about how to live. The essence of Christianity is news – here is what has been done.

That whole illustration, those analogies with scales when it comes to being good or bad, they all need to be tossed out and forgotten. There are no scales!!! You’re either fully justified and redeemed by the blood of Christ on the Cross and His resurrection, or you’re not justified at all.

There are two ways of being lost, two ways of trying to save/justify yourself, two ways of trying to avoid God or somehow put Him in your debt. One is to keep all the rules, and the other is to break all the rules (like the two sons/brothers in the Luke 15 parable).

Before we continue, please nobody try to take this where it’s not going. Discipline is not legalism. I still love, pursue, and date my wife. I still work on loving her better and growing deeper in relationship with her, I’ll admit I fail at doing that as well as I should, but none of that is to get her to marry me… we’re already married.

Closing remarks:

Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way saying the law is of no value. Any theology that denies God’s moral law, and then domesticates sin by its absence, does not have Christ’s atoning love, God’s justifying pardon, or the Holy Spirit’s kind company. But the law cannot save.

Do you possess a desire for, strong affection for, and an exaltation of the person and work of Jesus Christ in the cross and in His resurrection? Or do you hang all of your hope in your righteousness on managing your own morality and church participation?

If your hope, confidence, and satisfactions are in being a good husband, being a good wife, being a good father, being a good mother, being a good churchman, a good kid, a good student, a good worker, a good citizen, just a good person at all… you’ve severely misplaced your hope in something that cannot and will not save you. No matter how law abiding or well behaved you are, we all end up 6 feet deep in the ground (or cremated if that’s more your style).

Repentance means coming back to the cross and confessing your infinite short-comings. We repent that we’ve become satisfied with just trying to better serve God rather than actually knowing or enjoying Him. We need to ask God once again for mercy, for His grace.

So, do you need to repent of goodness? I know I do. Do you need to ask forgiveness for your illusion of righteousness? I know I do. Constantly, I find myself trying to justify myself. We must throw ourselves on the mercy of God. Put our confidence in His cross, not in the fact that we’re “better” than our neighbor, or even that we’re better this year than we were last.

The Bible says it very clearly that if we could earn the favor of God with our behavioral modifications, then the cross of Christ was for nothing. In Galatians 2:21, Paul tells us: “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

So is your confidence in your goodness? Repent. We have no confidence outside the goodness of Christ. Your goodness is a myth. Repent of worshiping your own righteousness and set your mind on the things of the Spirit – set your mind on Jesus Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Whatever you accomplish today and tomorrow, you are no more justified than you are right now in the already finished work of Jesus Christ. Work from your rest and rest in His already finished work.

Implications of the Incarnation

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“But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” – Isaiah 9:1-7

The dawn of peace, on Christmas Eve, was the final night the world would sleep… fearful of the dark. For the love of the Father, was now in flesh appearing. To really understand the immensely spectacular good news of the Incarnation, we must first understand the immense need we all have for God’s grace. As well as how in order for Him to extend His grace He had to put on flesh. Forgiveness is the act of absorbing the wrath, pain, and consequences of another’s offense out of the motivation of love. According to Scripture all men have sinned, fall short of the glory of God, and are deserving of death. In order for God to save us from the rightful consequences of our rebellion, He had to absorb the penalty Himself. The triune God put on flesh through Jesus Christ. The Son of God was born into humble circumstances; born in the small town of Bethlehem, to a family that did not sit on any throne and had little money to their name. Jesus Christ was born to die. He was born to die as our perfect substitutionary atoning sacrifice, our Advocate, our Savior, and our Mediator.

The point of the Bible is God; it’s not you. Jesus isn’t part of the story; He is the point of the story, from Genesis to Revelation. God is about God. God is for God. When God is working, He is working for God. When God is forgiving you of your sins, that is for the praise of His glorious grace. When He is shepherding you, when He is protecting you, when He is providing for you, He is doing so in order that He might be worshiped, enjoyed, and praised. In fact, the Westminster Catechism says that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” You exist to worship, praise, love, and make much of God. That’s why you’re here, that is the reason for your existence.

Now that jostles us, because that’s not where we live. Everything in our culture goes a different way. Our culture screams “You’re the point. It’s about you. You deserve this. Why shouldn’t you have that?! You’re entitled to this!” And every marketing campaign, even some churches, are built around this philosophy. “It’s all about you. You deserve this or that. We should make way for you. What do you desire? What do you want? You’re the point. God loves you; He’s for you. You’re the point. This is about you and your happiness.” And we all need to realize that we’re not the point. In fact, if we look at it Biblically, you’re not even in second place. So God says He’s uppermost and then that you are to love others better than yourself. You’re bringing home the bronze. You’re down the list. You didn’t even make the cover. You’re a distant third at best.

Now let me tell you why this is strangely the best news in the universe. If God is after the praise of His glorious grace, then He is not after our begrudging submission, but rather He is after our joy. So all the commands in Scripture are about God lining you up with how He designed things to be for your greater joy. Now, some of you reading this may want to pump the brakes and petition God so you can explain how your circumstances trump this reality. You already have hypotheticals ready to be tossed into the discussion on why parts, if not the whole, of Scripture should be ignored. You want to explain to the God of the universe that He doesn’t seem to know your spouse. And if He knew your spouse, there is no way He would tell you that what the Bible says in regards to how you handle your spouse is the right move for you, because they’re crazy, they’re hurtful, they’re selfish, and you can go on and on about how your situation is different. Some of you want to talk to God about what has been done to you, about your inclinations, your orientations, your bents, your weaknesses, your struggles, etc. and how it all just isn’t fair.

Please don’t tune me out just yet. Let us lovingly press forward a little bit more. If we began watching a movie you’ve never seen before and didn’t know anything about, and just for the sake of demonstration let’s say we picked the movie “Cowboys and Aliens.” And as we begin watching the movie, I let you look at the screen for a few minutes and then pause it, and ask you to explain the movie to me. “So what’s that movie about?” You might respond that “It looked like a western.” “Is there anybody from outer space in this movie?” “Probably not. . . because it’s a western. . .” “What about space ships? Are there any space ships flying around in it?” “There couldn’t be. It’s a western. . . with Cowboys and such. I mean, your questions lead me to wonder if there might be something I am missing, but I know what I saw and there are not any aliens in this movie.” You’d have no idea there are aliens from outer space and that it’s a major part of the plot in the movie.

So think then, of how unbelievably arrogant it is of you to say you know better than God when you are here for a second in the scope of eternity and that you know better for you what’s going to lead you into joy than the One who spoke all matter into existence, the One created all things, wired all things, designed this entire universe. You really think your ideas about sex, money, marriage, parenting, and every aspect of life are better than and beyond the One who designed those things. It really is like us reading a sentence in a book and then fiercely claiming, “I’ve got this, I know exactly what this book is about, how everything in it works together, how it’s all related, how all the events are interwoven, and even what all the characters are thinking and doing simultaneously. I’ve figured it all out, don’t try to persuade me otherwise.”

However, if it is true that God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him; and that God is all about His glory, the honor and praise of His Name, if God is a God of love, justice, honor, compassion, and grace… then He is not some kind of cosmic police officer. He is not the ultimate joy killer, bent on making sure nobody has any fun by establishing freedom robbing rules to crush the hearts of men. Instead, the God of the Bible put on flesh and became our empathetic Savior. He isn’t just our sympathetic Savior, He doesn’t just sympathize for us, rather, He suffers first hand the pain of the Fall. God’s wrath flows directly from His love. If even we, as imperfect humans, can understand that when you see someone you greatly care about and truly love very deeply, doing something that is self-destructive or acting in a habitual manner that is hurting them, you will get angry; just as when you see someone else hurting the one you love, this angers you. If you were to simply not care about them, do nothing to help them, nothing to intervene, nothing to come to their rescue or shoulder any of the burden of recovery, how loving would that be? That would be hate at its greatest level: indifference. God though, being the God of love and justice that He is, takes our fallen condition and rebellious hearts very seriously. Sin is separation from God. To be truly separated from God is to have your life source cut off; the result of sin and separation is death. The cost of reconciliation must be paid with a life, with blood.

Nothing is truly free and true forgiveness is always the result of costly sacrifice. As humans, we can see this in many examples of life: if your neighbor were to back into your car and cause damage to your car; you simply forgiving them and not requiring them to pay for the damage and loss of the former good condition of your car would not cover the cost of any repairs or fix the car. If your car was totaled and no longer able to be driven, simply telling your neighbor not to worry about it doesn’t cure your transportation issues. You would then have to bare that cost yourself, to repair and restore the car costs something, and someone has to pay the price in order for reconciliation to take place. (Even if you have car insurance, the cost still has to be paid for and the repair cost covered by someone.)

God, in order to restore us back to a relationship with Him, paid the cost Himself. God is not immune to pain, loss, and suffering. Through the Son, Jesus Christ, God put on flesh, became fully human, He became 100% man while remaining 100% God, He lived a perfect blameless life, He walked this earth, He resisted temptation, He ate bread, He drank wine, He loved family members and friends, He was called crazy by His family at one point, He witnessed death and loss, He wept over the condition of this world, He wept over the death of His friend Lazarus, He bled, He felt weakness, hunger, exhaustion, rejection, betrayal, desperation, and loneliness. Jesus Christ lived in a manner undeserving of death. However, His love for us is so great, that He drank the cup of wrath that was rightfully ours to drink, and He took the full penalty of sin upon Himself. He who knew no sin, became sin for us, so that He was crushed for our iniquities, He was broken for our transgressions and rebellion. On the cross, Jesus was separated from His eternal loving relationship with the Father and the Spirit. He did all of this so that we may have life and never really be alone; He gave His own body as a ransom for ours.

Jesus was born to die as our Mediator so that we would not have to suffer the end result of our rebellion; He experienced complete separation from the Father so that we would never have to be alone. At the hour of the cross, Jesus knew this was the hour for which He was born. You and I are going to die, but we don’t know when or how. Jesus knew, He knew when and how, and more importantly He knew why. When He was on trial, standing before Pilate, Jesus told him that it was for this purpose and at this time that He chose to come into this world. He told Pilate that no one takes His life, but He gives it willingly. Jesus was the greater Moses in that He was rescuing mankind from slavery to sin and death, not just Egyptians. Jesus was the greater Abraham, the greater David in slaying the giant of death not just a large Philistine man, the greater Joseph, Elijah, Solomon, Job, Samuel; Jesus was the ultimate Passover lamb. What dominated Jesus’ mind throughout His life was not so much the living of His life, but the giving of His life. When Christ was on the cross, He was experiencing what every other human being in history deserves and which He alone does not deserve. And He experienced it alone. He did this so we would never have to experience being fully cut off from God and His love. God’s love for you was so great that He satisfied His righteous wrath with the perfect life and death of the Son, Jesus. God knows loss at a greater depth than we could ever possibly begin to comprehend. The gift of Jesus Christ, the birth, death, resurrection, and future return of the Son is the greatest gift this world could ever receive.

The motivation behind us living in accordance with this gospel of Christ, is grace. The reason Christians are so persistent about the cross and the reason they’re so persistent about how the Bible teaches that your salvation is meritless, that you didn’t have something intrinsically good that God thought He could use for His kingdom, but that He just rescued you out of where you were in your mess, is because when grace finally hits the heart, finally hits the mind, it’s this really beautiful, transformative grace that makes you want to herald it. Because, what did you have to do with being born? Did you work hard to earn the privilege of being born? Did it happen due to your hard work and skillful planning? Not at all. You don’t earn or contribute anything to being born. It is a free gift of life. And so it is with the new birth. Salvation by grace – there are no moral efforts that can earn or merit it. You must be born again.

So, when that truth sets in, you will feel the grace-enabled passion to live life more fully, resting in Christ’s love and sharing that truth with all those around you. The gospel 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. The gospel isn’t a “list of rules,” it is the good news that those “rules” were already fulfilled in the life of Another.

If you think about it, all of us have been designed by God to be heralds by nature. Think about it. If there’s a movie you love, a song or album that moved you, a restaurant that you really like, a favorite bottle of wine, a particular brew of beer, a sports team you cheer for, a shirt you really enjoy wearing, a vacation spot you like to revisit, what do you naturally do with it? You herald it! You say to your friends and family, “Oh, have you eaten here?… Oh, have you seen this?… Oh, have you gone here?… Oh, have you heard this song?… Oh, did you see that game?” So, when you experience the grace of Christ, when the right motivation of being saved by grace through faith is realized, when the greatest news available in this world is understood, when it really hits you… you will herald it with joy.

This is why we celebrate the Incarnation. This is why we make a big deal about Christmas. In Jesus Christ, God put on flesh, and became man. In Jesus, the world saw a man who was ferociously humble. A man who was love incarnate. A man who suffered and was tempted, yet did not sin. A man who was steadfastly obedient until death, even death on a cross. A man who while being the very essence, being of the very nature and substance God, did not consider Himself equal to the Father, but submitted to the will of God and gave up His life for people undeserving of His love. In Christ’s death, He paid our debt at infinite cost to Himself. God paid our debt with His own flesh. Jesus paid our ransom to uphold the justice and righteousness of our Father; so that He could justifiably look upon us and lovingly call us son and daughter. This good news is the substance and meaning of the Christmas celebration: that God became man, to save us from ourselves, and give us life. He came just like He promised, and His love will not be silent.

Some “Bible-thumping Bigot” Shared His Backwoods Opinion Again…

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By now most people have heard about the recent debacle with Phil Robertson, who was made famous as the patriarch on the A&E show Duck Dynasty. This kind of media attention is nothing new or earth-shattering, just earlier this year Dan Cathy, the CEO of Chick-fil-A, came under a lot of scrutiny after some comments made during an interview in regards to gay marriage.

As legislature continues to be passed on the legalization of same-sex marriage and the definition of marriage “evolves/progresses” and all of that, if you’re listening to the rhetoric, here is the accusation against Christians in the broad-stroke: they are bigots. We are intolerant. We are the American Taliban. We are right up there with the KKK and the Civil Rights Movement trying to deprive people of rights that are God-given or self-evident. Those are the accusations against us.**

Please don’t close the browser and tune me out just yet. All those accusations leveled against Christians, they had better be false accusations. I don’t pretend that our view will ever be understood by those outside the kingdom of God, but we are a people commanded by God to be marked by love, compassion, patience, mercy, and… even hospitality. Please understand this: You don’t catch sin from sinners. Do you get that?

I know some of us, in the attempt to protect our family and to make sure we all stay purer than we actually are, build walls. You don’t want your kids around those kinds of kids. You don’t want to be around those kinds of people. But you are those kinds of people! It’s God’s grace that rescues from that (Ephesians 2:1-10). We’ve all got to stop that nonsense. We shouldn’t be consumed with building walls. We should open doors. Our home is open, and my neighbors and co-workers can make accusations against me, but they better be false. I want them just to be confused to some degree. I just want my neighbors and co-workers to be so ridiculously confused. “This guy is a bigot, but he keeps inviting me over for dinner. He’s so closed-minded, but he speaks respectfully and kind to me. That guy makes me sick, but he keeps bringing me presents on my birthday and Christmas. That dude is such a jerk, but man he tips really well. That guy is like the American Taliban, but he sure is friendly.” I just want that type of confusion. (I’ll admit I don’t always conduct myself in such a way that would reflect the love of Christ, but it is my hope to do so.)

There has to be wisdom. I’m not telling you to operate in a way that lacks wisdom, but brothers and sisters, God has put us here for the purpose of being the light of the world, and you don’t hide it under a bush. Oh no! You don’t do that… No, we engage. We are to encourage. We are called to open up our home. There is some risk involved in that. Yes, there is always risk. Be wise, but trust God in those things.

I have some friends who would fit the prototype of someone who would probably be infuriated with Christianity and Christians, and sure enough, as we have had conversations, story after story of being judged harshly, of being ostracized, of being made to feel worthless, feeling like their lifestyle or beliefs are belittled… there has been some unfortunate legitimacy to some of the negative experiences they’ve had with those proclaiming to be Christians, but some of the perceived harshness was on them. Sometimes people feel hypocritically condemned even when there is no actual condemnation present. It’s not always on God’s people, it’s not always 100%. Because sometimes unregenerate, unbelieving people don’t know what to do with conviction. They don’t feel it as sweet discipline from God; they see it as harsh judgment.

In fact, some of you reading this today feel judged, and no one has actually judged you. You may be judging yourself right now. We’re not judging you. We should be striving to live in glad submission to Jesus Christ where we laugh a lot, where we enjoy good music, appreciate good movies, where we enjoy good food, where we enjoy good wine, but don’t do it in a way that is outside of the bounds of the Word of God, and then let others see the life that is made available to those who would put their trust in Jesus Christ, and see our imperfections. Because tolerance isn’t about not having beliefs. It’s about how your beliefs lead you to treat people who disagree with you.

God loves imperfect people. That’s why dressing up like you’re pretty when you’re not isn’t helpful. The bigot, closed-minded, and intolerant labels will inevitably be put on us at this point. It’s over. This is how we will be labeled. It will get worse. If you can’t handle this label and don’t want to be viewed like this, then you’re going to have to go underground with your faith, which means I don’t think you even have any. In the end though, let us hope that the accusations and the labels are false.

Because, as Christians we believe that God has reconciled us to Himself, not by demanding that we first and foremost adhere to a moral code, but rather by sending the Son of God, by sending Jesus Christ, unlike us, to live a completely perfect life. Jesus Christ was completely obedient to every command God gave Him. He was other than, although He was fully man. Jesus is fully man, but His obedience was perfect. His record was spotless. No accusation could rightly be made against Him.

So even when we are being criticized for quoting Scripture and stating our beliefs, the God of the Bible essentially says in Matthew 5, “Hey, they’re going to falsely label you. Cool, okay, stop worrying so much about that. They did that to Isaiah. You guys have something in common now. Oh, they’re going to falsely misrepresent you. Hey, you and Jeremiah would be good friends. You guys could sit around and talk about what it’s like to be ostracized and be pushed to the margins.” Jesus will also say, “Oh, I’m well acquainted with all that.” Was Jesus not repeatedly misrepresented, repeatedly accused of things that were absurd? There will be nothing you can do about the accusation. Just let it be false accusation, and strive to love your neighbor regardless of their actions or your own feelings.

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Related articles:

This is Not Worth Quacking About

It’s Not Us Against Them

The Robertson Family Official Statement

The Controversial Issue of Homosexuality & Gay Marriage

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.