Sunday, April 27, 2008

What About the Cross?

I Cor.1:18 - For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved…IT IS THE POWER OF GOD.

I will again sound the clarion call to all bloggers from all persuasions and doctrinal perspectives. What about the cross? I have written about the cross of Christ here, here, here, here, here, and here as well as inserted it in many other posts. And as I scan the blogscape I continue to see very little about the cross, the centerpiece and core of our faith. We seem to get caught up with almost anything but the cross, and many times we argue about the cross instead of spiritually ingesting the refreshing essence of that which purchased our eternity. We should pick it up daily and never get over what it means to us and our salvation. Paul says, “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings…”.

Survey the topics along the blog horizon and see the pitiful excuses for issues that most times crowd out the cross which showcases the willing recipient of its horrors. Have we grown weary of its glory or have we left its majesty to seek greater treasures? Are we so consumed with the doctrinal battles that we have forgotten to present the victory that has been already won? Would the apostles be amazed and grieved to see how little ink and verbiage the crucifixion gets in today’s evangelical genre? Paul knew nothing but Christ and Him crucified and yet we seem to know everything but that.

Shouldn’t the cross and its Christ be our constant focus and devotion with all the rest being the fringe? We were not purchased by doctrinal purity or eschatological accuracy or anything of our own making and design, we were won and forgiven through the blood of God Himself in human form who suffered, bled, and died as payment in full for our sins. Payment in full, I said, and can that ever fully sink into our hearts and minds? Does the thought of that sacrifice drive our passions and continue to forge our thoughts toward the church and the world? And yet peruse the blog addresses that claim to be Christian and log the articles that center of the cross of Jesus Christ.

See the articles on objections about Hannah Montana or the sins of Rosie O’Donnell or a critique of the world at large and their entourage of sins, as if we should be surprised. Read as the gay community is castigated as if they are above all sinners and should be treated as an isolated boxcar of lepers on their way to the ovens of Auschwitz. Read the political editorials about anything from illegal immigration to the fair tax and of course earthly criticisms of the presidential candidates. Hear the bloggers pontificate about their particular doctrinal viewpoint concerning things that probably cannot be fully known this side of heaven, but read their words of absolute certainty. And then there are the smorgasbord of YouTube clips, moral failures of pastors, silly evangelistic methods, Christian compromises, planned parenthood, interfaith gatherings, and an endless host of other blog nick knacks that draw readers but do not edify the spirit.

And the Biblical posts deal with some relevant issue or as an answer to some other blog or the creative musings of the blog master himself. But in the midst of this plush forest of topics and articles remains a seeming desert, a place that seems much less watered and in which no vegetation has been grown through care, water, and nourishment. And in the very center of this desert stands the cross, that which should be our very life has been relegated to a doctrinal aside and a post rarity. We no longer need its strength and to hear and read about it with any consistency, no, it has provided our initial monentum and we can take it from here. We have been weaned off the reflection of its glory and we are now content with the nutrients of newspaper clippings and rants and a continuous conveyor belt of the critique of others. But what about the cross?

Are we not indicted that we have become so blind as to be not only ambivalent about its vacancy, but to have the absence of the cross go amazingly unnoticed? And this post is not about the cross, this about the way the cross has been treated among Christian blogs. Should in not be the goal, and even a rule, that each month should have a post about the Savior and His cross? Just once a month, just one written journey back to Golgotha, at least once a month. Can you imagine the Ford company sending out their commercials about the shortcomings of the other companies, complete with all the measurements about some car and the dangerous driving of some, and only 1 in 50 ever mention the Ford name? And yet the church sometimes babbles like an incessant dog about all kinds of issues and topics without a tip of the hat to the cross.

There is no Christianity without the cross. It defines who God is and what he has done and in fact authenticates our label as Christians. Without the cross we are still in our sins and have been deceived into a religious system that has no power to save anyone. Without the cross there exists no path to a Holy God, no safety of redemption into which to run. Without the cross we have nothing but words of doctrinal interest without the backing of any divine witness that substantiates those truths. The cross is grace - the cross is mercy - the cross is forgiveness - the cross is redemption - the cross is eternal life - the cross is light - the cross is adoption - the cross is new birth - the cross is Almighty God reaching out in blood draining love and saying “Come, all is now ready for you”.

How can we get so caught up in ourselves and leave the cross? But what about all the heresy and even apostasy in the evangelical community? Yes, humbly and forcefully address it but please never think that when we are preaching and lifting high the cross that is not addressing it as well! Teaching, preaching, revealing, loving, and spreading the message of the cross is a colossal tool of apologetic assault on those who would create another focus of the faith. There will always be spiritual refinement in the church. The questions of the place of humanitarian works in our outreach; the questions about church structure; the questions about the role of women; the questions about translations; and all the other refining questions that can be used of our Lord to mature the church into a greater revelation of its Incarnate Head.

But at the center, at the white hot core of our mission and message, must always be the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. A beacon of redemptive light to the world and the life to the believer. I urge you brother and sister blogger, take one post a month, one article a month, whether it be from your own words or from some anointed servant of God, post about the cross. You may even draw some criticism but wear it as an undeserving badge of glory. There is nothing that glorifies our Great God than preaching His cross. Nothing…

God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Then drew near unto Him all the publicans and sinners for to hear. And the Pharisees and scribes murmered, saying, This man receives sinners...

And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then He says to them, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death, tarry here and watch with me”.

The Son of God, the All Sufficient Christ, is sorrowful even unto death. It would be easy to dismiss this and limit it to Jesus becoming anxious about His soon coming fate, and I am sure that mystery lives in this narrative in ways far beyond our pitiful descriptions. God is soon going to die, that alone is such a pristine mystery that no one except the Godhead can approach and enter. The death of God and the glory of its reality is known to only three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

But this sorrow, this heaviness of the Lord’s heart must have omnisciently traveled in many different directions. As He prepares to prepare the path through which sinners may walk and gain eternal life, is the Lord saddened by the thought that most will reject Him and seal their fate? Does He see what men will do to His atonement in the coming years? Is the heart of God heavy with the knowledge that sin will continue to increase and mankind will mostly turn their eyes and trust on themselves? Who can say for certain, the Scriptures only disclose His unimaginable sorrow.

And as I read those words and the transparency of my Lord’s Words about His heaviness, I cannot sometimes, and this is one of those times, become overwhelmed with emotion and sadness at how the church has turned their backs upon the Risen Christ and followed after the fairer things of this world. We desire the marriage feast of Cana, we do not seek Gethsemane. Can we not feel our Lord’s heart today as He grieves with heartsick jealousy over His bride? Sure the world pursues its idols, but His bride? Where is the broken love that considers obedience a privilege? Always wanting more, eternal life now being a fringe benefit of knowing Christ.

And feel the grief as the church, both true and false, compete in a back and forth with God’s Word being the very shuttlecock in the game of doctrinal badminton. And while stepping into the great honor of defending the faith and its Author, we are so often blind to our own sin. Please do not always stand behind the mirror, but step in front and allow God the Spirit to reflect the length of the journey you and I have yet to traverse in our own quest to be like Him. What would be our state if there were no false teachers, no apostates, and no doctrinal liberals? What then would be our platform for being like Christ? Where then would be our evidence before the Father if we could not conveniently present our valiant stand against doctrinal erosion as proof that we are pursuing Him and Him alone?

Could we provide incontrovertible proof that we have shared, felt, and sacrificially lived the love of God before even our enemies? Would our private speech betray us before God and His love? And if God would filet our hearts open for inspection, would humility be even an ingredient? And if He who holds the balances would place our judgment on one side and our grace on the other, would the judgment sink with the convicting weight that exposes who we really are? And with all this unveiling of our shortcomings, would the angels of God wonder why we never were moved with the weight of our own shallowness?

Oh no, not doctrinal shallowness, for in that ocean we fancy ourselves blue whales, but in the ocean of pursuing Christ in all His Incarnate glory and beseeching Him to polish us into a reflecting glass that shines Him and not us. Do not dismiss following Christ as something easy and comfortable, and just some stale and academic doctrinal test. Following Jesus and allowing His life to live through you is the zenith of all spiritual mysteries. It is much easier than we usually recognize to get caught up with living us and not Him.

Do we accept criticism, outrageous and unjust, with the grace that our Lord showed when they spat upon His face? Are we quick to answer a heretic or quicker to pray? Do we as defenders of the faith ever enter into the heaviness of our own hearts over the sometimes pitiful energy we put into our own pursuit of Him? Is truth our God or is our God truth?

But look! The school of the prophets is full but Gethsemane seems almost empty. The truth tellers are legion but the weepers are little in numbers. We have made arguing over what is sin a post graduate class, when in reality its all sin without Him. Every thought, every idea, every purchase, every life is a life of sin without Him. Gay and straight, married and divorced, rich and poor, male and female, it is all vanity and sinful without Him. And yet instead of our hearts being heavy with grief for their redemption, we inspect their sin and worse yet some make it some kind of sordid ministry to trot out the sins of sinners and claim some discernment when all you’ve done is exhibit your own Mosaic self righteousness.

And we as believers, as followers, and as imitators of Gethsemane’s Prayer Warrior should fall on our faces before the Gracious God who plucked us from the fire and placed our feet in His’ Son’s redemptive safety. The whole world runs toward a judgment about which no man can fully fathom, and our calling is His good news to these blinded sinners, the same blinded sinners around whose campfire we once warmed our lives. Our Loving Lord identified with these lost sinners and became of no reputation because of them and can we do any less? He cries over Jerusalem, the city of His death, and why then do we attack sinners as wicked enemies of our moralistic lifestyles? It is because we are us and not Him, but that is not God’s will.

God’s will is sinners, His heart is sinners, His gospel is sinners, and His cross is sinners. So the church is not some museum of perfect saints, inviting people to see our petrified and robotic lifestyles and claim we’ve arrived. No, the church, the Lord’s body has two distinctive pursuits and desires. Both these desires are interconnected and one runs into the other. The first and foremost is our journey and passion to seek and follow and obey and worship…Him. Jesus is our beginning and our end. He is our very life and without Him we have nothing. Forgiveness and repentance, comfort and conviction, worship and service, prayer and praise, learning and teaching, all of it and more flows from Him to every saved seeker.

But when you enter His throne room, His presence, you will be changed. No one can remain the same in His presence and if it is indeed Him, you can never be satisfied with anything and anyone but Him. And your passion will be to please Him and all He desires and all He commands. Listen as He speaks to you, what will He say? What prophetic utterance will He grant you? What mystery will He reveal? What does He desire from you, what is His command to you? Your eyes are fixed and your ears attentive to hear what might come from His lips. He looks at you and leans forward, and as He begins to speak His nail pierced hand covers His heart. And you hear Him say one word. What word is this, and what does He want from me, anything and I will make His desire my own.


Sinners? That is what He desires, sinners? The God of all creation desires sinners? Oh my, but why? He is so holy and so august and so complete in Himself and yet He yearns for sinners? What condescension is this and what could ever provide a sufficient explanation for what Christ seeks? The entire world fights and hates and kills and let’s children die with food available on other tables and yet this Redeemer thirsts for sinners. Ungodly at our best and yet He calls for sinners. In the highways and the hedges and the byways, go He says and call to me sinners. No, no, Lord, not this, not sinners. The eternal paradox, Jesus did not call the righteous, He cries for sinners. And not just sinners who have blended into society, no, this Savior invites the most vile and rebellious of sinners to His table.

Blasphemers, violent, murderers, adulterers, no sinner will be turned away who hears his voice. The Holy wants the unholy, and with such passion that His heart is heavy with this divine mission. The Father anoints the Son, the Son pays the price, and the Spirit descends to seek out sinners. So seek Christ in all you do, and you will discover God will use you to bring to Him His ultimate desire…


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Ashamed of His Name

Acts 20:29-30 - For I know this, that after my departing shall grevious wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.

This past weekend a conference was held in Seattle, Washington called Seeds of Compassion conference. It dealt with discussing the plight of suffering in the world and with an emphasis on children. A noble humanitarian effort. The speakers were going to be religious men and women from all perspectives of spiritual truths and the conference was headed by the head of the Tibetan monks, the Dalai Lama. Many would be given prominent places to speak and share their views on spirituality to those in attendance as well as in the distributing of recordings around the world. There were two Christians pastors that were also invited, Doug Pagitt of the Solomon’s Porch Church in Minnesota, and Rob Bell of the Mars Hill Church in Michigan.

These two men were given parts in a panel discussion, but no place to speak alone. A discernment blog called A Little Leaven has posted the two recordings of what Mr. Bell shared when given the chance. As you view these two video clips, remember that the overwhelming majority of people there were lost and followers of all sorts of different gods. If they were going to hear the name of Jesus, it would have to come from Mr. Bell. You can listen to both discussions in their entirety here. On the event guide side, scroll down to the last two events and click on the Interfaith Discussion. Christianity was not represented.

This is the type of Christianity that is being processed to the lost in today’s Christian world. In these inter-religious discussions we can hear idol worshipers bolding stating their spirituality while a Christian pastor speaks some gibberish which means nothing in a Biblical context. Many thousands of believers went to their death and many more were sent to prison for speaking the name of Jesus Christ, and yet today His name gets no mention before the gods of the heathen. Sports figures say His name sometimes on television but pastors are too sophisticated or intimidated to even give Him a slight mention.

If you are a sincere follower of the Lord Jesus you should, no, you must be offended and grieved as well. This is not New Testament Christianity, and all this double speak about the “journey” or the “destination” ministers nothing to anyone and fits in nicely with the New Age teachings on spirituality. We must continue to pursue love and grace, but in these issues the Lord Jesus is being misrepresented and by their silence they lie. We have taken what is sacred and meshed it with the profane. Even some “clown” churches give some form of the gospel and even speak his name. But this intelligent Christian representative of Jesus speaks some well crafted and intellectually palatable sentences that everyone on the panel can agree with, including a feeble reference to the resurrection without Jesus. Using the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as a rationalistic metaphor to personal well being, couched in some “endure suffering so you can be a better person” philosophical advice, is blasphemy.

Jesus is a stumbling block, or in the Greek, a scandalon (σκανδαλον). His claims are so outrageous, so divisive, so embarrassing, and so eternal that they are scandalous. And so we have men who claim to be building bridges, but they continually build bridges to...nowhere. Why? Because the Lord Jesus is a scandalon and will make others uncomfortable. Jesus Himself said He was the I AM, the Greek for YHWH, and they took up stones to kill Him. Jesus claimed to be God in front of a Jewish conference, but His professing followers are embarrassed to speak that name before men. And the Lord Himself said "If you will not confess me before men, neither will I confess you before my Father".

It would be better to stand outside the building and speak His wonderful name, than to sit on a platform with idol worshipers and say nothing, which is what Mr. Bell actually said. Rare are the platforms like this one that carries with it the opportunity to speak a word in season like “apples of gold in pictures of silver”. One could even supply some caveat like “I do not wish to start controversy but…”. Something, anything about our Savior should have been said. Jesus was tortured, nailed to a cross, and died almost naked in front of, as it turns out, all of history, and we cannot say His name in front of those for whom He died? What a disgrace to His everlasting redemption.

We as Christians are called to be Christ on many, and in fact, all levels. Is the servant above his master, asks our Lord. If they hated Me, Jesus says, they will hate you also. Why would some hate us? Not because we have set out to be hated and not because we speak words of hate. It is because we preach Christ, and Him crucified. And when we preach Jesus as Lord and Christ, some will receive that Word with joy while others will hate us for His sake. When all men love us and feel no sense of contradiction about the god of their hearts and Jesus the Christ, we then have done them a grave disservice and indeed we have besmirched the Lordship of His name.

There is only one Lord, and although we can speak words of grace, words of compassion, and words of hope, they must contain the Lord Jesus and His gospel. Panel discussions with other religions are ineffective at best, but worthless and disgraceful is the discussion where a follower of Jesus will not even speak His name. Every knee will one day bow before that name and many have been put to an early death because of that name. Millions are in eternity worshiping the bearer of that glorious name and more millions in hell curse that name. His name means salvation and there is no other name under heaven whereby men must be saved.

To be asked to be on an interfaith panel that is built upon religious pluralism probably is a reflection of the lukewarmness and pluralistic nature of that man’s ministry, for he would never have been invited had he been clear and uncompromising about the Lord Jesus. We now live in an evangelical world where Dagon invites the ark to dwell with him because God’s presence has left and the word Ichabod, the glory of God has departed, is unmistakably etched above thousands of church doors in the west. And like lava running into a town the deception continues to invade believers and unbelievers alike.

Knowing the Bible does not insulate you from deception, and knowing some type of rabbinical structures and procedures does not mean you have not embraced deception. To sit among the idol worshipers of the world and offer your intellect instead of the only hope they need is an exquisite showcase for liberal Christianity. This was not a discussion on plumbing, although an anointed preacher would find a way to present Christ even in that context. This was a conference on spirituality and as one of the videos clearly showed some were not afraid to present their spiritual views and quote from their holy books and describe their gods.

One lady quoted the Koran, some spoke of their god, and the Dalai Lama spoke of Buddha. But Mr. Bell said nothing of Jesus, while in the second session Doug Paggit mentioned Jesus as an adjective referring to his faith as a “Jesus tradition”. To say it was compromise is to give it more legitimacy than is warranted. It is a captured revelation of how far astray the evangelical world has gone until there is actually no Jesus left.

I appeal to all me brothers and sisters, all the discernment ministries, that we all grieve in our hearts for the day of betrayal has come and we must warn others with tears in our eyes and hearts. The craftiness of man has replaced the offense of the cross and the gospel message that tells the story of the glorious redemption in all its suffering majesty is now not worth telling. Someone may be offended but He was not ashamed to call us friends. We dare not go outside the world’s topics while Jesus came to suffer the contradiction of sinners against Himself. We should retain our public dignity while He was mocked. He was called Beelzebub while they call us "wonderful reverend”.

When I first came across the Emergent Church movement it was through a brother named Ken Silva and his ministry. I will be indebted to him for bringing to my attention a growing apostasy about which I knew nothing. It will always be a difficult challenge to exhibit love and grace while speaking against deception and error. May we consistently take inventory of our own lives and walk with Christ, and may Christ be our one surpassing passion.

Watch for other posts in which I will provide a written transcript of both Bell and Paggit’s comments and consider them line by line against Biblical truth.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Fullness of Christ

Eph.4:13-15 - Till we all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the sleight of men and cunning craftiness, whereby they lay in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love may grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.

Every demon in hell, at the behest of Lucifer himself, now roams the earth with one intended goal - to diminish Christ. Yes he desires to deceive sinners, yes he desires to spread false doctrine, yes he desires to deceive the church, but in the end he attempts to accomplish all that by pursuing one ultimate goal. He desires to diminish Christ in any and every way he can. Look at what Paul states, “the fullness of Christ”. You see, that must be our goal, his faithful followers, to pursue Christ with such a fervor and desperate thirst that we enter into His fullness. How many believers are satisfied with just a shallow taste, a small part of Christ and never pursue Him with vigor and their whole heart? Sadly, most.

Many times the devil diminishes Christ openly and with recognizable blasphemy. The cults have stripped Him of His deity and made Him just a human way shower. Many church growth movements have stripped Him of His power and made Him a pragmatic way to improve your life here on earth. The emergent movement has thrown Him into the liberal lion’s den to be attacked by doctrinal infidels. And so many ordinary pew dwellers have made Him a golden calf that they visit once a week in a large building only to leave Him there to visit next week. All of these are committing the deepest of sins for they have become complicit in Satan’s strategy to diminish the Risen Christ who should be our very lives.

I have become convinced in a very short time that most of these different deceptive streams are like black holes, once a person is captured and embraces the error his chances of repenting and being rescued are extremely slim. There are some, praise God, but surely not many. This does not mean that all who fall into a deceptive trap are unbelievers or even are not servants of Christ, but it does mean that they are an unwitting part of an overall strategy of deception that may find its greater scope in future generations. So we must speak to those who have not yet been taken in by deception and to them we must strongly exhort to remain faithful and reject fully these different “winds of doctrine” that diminish Christ. They are alluring and they massage the carnal nature that seeks something new, but they are dangerous and are only a repackaging of the earliest deceptions beginning in the Garden of Eden.

But now it comes down to this, do you and I seek the fullness of Christ in our own lives? After we have openly aligned our doctrinal stand with the historic and orthodox truths of the faith, do we pursue Him with all our hearts intimately and personally? If we do not then our orthodoxy is hollow, it may be doctrinally structured but without the depth of relationship that authenticates our Biblical orthodoxy as…well…Biblical. God is not satisfied with defending Christ, His desire is that our desire is Him.

But today the church chases the latest charismatic preacher, the latest innovative series, the latest glossy book, the latest tortured doctrine, and anything else that is new and fresh and makes everyone feel so “in vogue” and post modern. It is all such a spiritual merry-go-round of shallow newness regardless how seemingly intellectual are the wrappings. We have become enamored with language and its enlightening perspectives complete with caveats, cultural understandings, Hebraic parameters, and a plethora of relevant issues that alter God’s Word instead of the reverse. It would do us well to see human language as conduits of understanding through which God speaks His Word rather than slick tools that like Lego blocks can be rearranged to mean whatever we desire while ignoring what the Father is saying.

Linguistic exchange is an exercise in communication but does little to promote truth since all language comes with incomplete definitions as well as nuances and indeed different understandings. Opposite positions can be defended by two well intentioned communicators and persuade different sections of listeners who are processing the information differently. There are many variables at play, emotions, education, presuppositions, openness, prejudice, upbringing, friends, personal admiration, and even the opinions of those we love. So unless we judge everything theological by the written revelation we have nothing more than a communicative kaleidoscope driven by the particulars I mentioned previously. Rare is the instance when someone is demonstrably changed through discussions of positions already well established in our minds.

Only when the Scriptures are approached with an open and humble spirit can there be any genuine expectation of arriving at the mind of Christ. The books of men can be a stumbling block from every perspective and they usually serve to further cement familiar opinions because most are our own chosen expressions that we expect to deepen our views, not change them.

Summarily, discourse can only be spiritually edifying when something is said that drives us to the Scriptures not to disprove it but be taught by God’s Spirit. This is of course the most difficult of personal disciplines since we all come inherent with a self/personal view of the uprightness of our motives. In essence we measure ourselves by ourselves. So the Scriptures must be the standard by which we arrive at all spiritual truth even while buffered by our individual interpretations. Go to many churches and you will see people being convinced by the oratorical prowess of the preacher, or the strength of his personality, or even the earthly logic used as a pitcher to pour out Scriptural interpretation. And in reality the spiritual laziness that lives openly in the pews reveals a great hindrance as well.

So in light of all these speed bumps how can we seek, much less arrive at, the fullness of Christ? First, we must reject all men. What I mean by reject is to eliminate any idolization of any and all men. This is rampant within the church and even though Paul dealt with the “I am of so and so” principle in First Corinthians the church still practices it subliminally and overtly. There are misty eyed followers of men like MacArthur, Warren, Bell, Calvin, and a long list of others who not only live off their regurgitated offerings, they actually have emotional feelings for these men which can easily cloud their objectivity. There is nothing wrong with benefiting from some godly Christians and their gifts, but I believe we have taken it way too far.

The recent phenomenon that has arisen among certain evangelicals is the discernment ministry and mentality. This also has become a burden even when the teachings that are being challenged need to be exposed and uncovered as error or compromise. But there is a growing occurrence in some people’s lives and ministries that have sidetracked them from the fullness of Christ and a personal pursuit of Him and have led them to pursue error and receive the true teachings of the Savior as continuing proof of the Biblical rightness of their view. In essence, they have become trapped as defenders of truth and left being pliable objects of worship that views themselves as nothing and Christ as everything.

Even as they pray they construct phrases and sentences in such a way as to more accurately confront the error they see today instead of with humility and brokenness bow before Christ with no other sinner in mind but themselves. It is insidious and can be veiled in false humility, expressing humble truth to the Lord as a continuing way to prove their own orthodox perspective. That is nothing more than pride itself. And this phenomenon is an addiction that is assimilated into a believer’s life almost unnoticed because, after all, we are espousing and standing for truth. But when practiced our very thought processes can be manipulated into a perspective that both focuses upon the rightness of our theology and the error of others. So we end up with a devotional life that is centered upon a doctrinal battle instead of Christ Himself.

A person who is caught up in this type of mindset listens for phrases and sentences and hears them through the prism he has constructed to identify any wisp of error and also identify truth and receive it as a great orthodox response to the aberrant teachings of others. It is a well meaning matrix that actually dilutes truth and is the mental instrument that conforms the truth into a continual debate and not the sincere milk and meat that should be transforming all of us into reflecting the Person of Christ not just providing more exculpatory evidence of our own doctrinal innocence and orthodoxy. And in the final analysis, this type of mental perspective breeds a deep and many times discernable self righteousness that gives birth to a club and even pack mentality that does not reflect Christ.

The defense of Christ and His truth is a sacred ministry that cannot be the focus of any believer’s life. Each follower of Christ must have a precisioned and honed journey whose lonely goal is Christ and His pleasure. That means our calling is to become like Christ through a surrendered will and a thirst for Him and His righteousness. Defending truth must be an outpouring of that journey, not the journey itself. All of us should be keenly aware that while we are defending truth that we ourselves do not measure up to it and are demonstrably deficient in following it. Speaking truth without a tangible sense of our own record of transgressions and our own finite understanding of that truth must be the truth through which we present all truth. And all truth is Christ, so who among us can present and reflect the entirety of the Savior, and if not, what evidence can we provide to substantiate any pride or self righteousness?

The fullness of Jesus Christ is available by God’s grace to all who believe and follow and pursue with all their hearts. Christ must be our daily life and experience, He must be primal in our desire and central in our living. There can be no competitors either good or bad, and even our ministries cannot be become a distraction in our pursuit of Him. Everything we do for Him and in obedience to His calling must never take His place in our journey. The core of our journey must be the footsteps of Mary and not Martha, and all the ministry and offices and callings must be the accoutrements of faithfulness but they must not serve as Christ in our walk. Our Lord Jesus is the pinnacle and indeed the only goal to which we must aspire.

Distractions are enemies and good intentions are detours. Proudly embracing systematic theologies can sometimes hinder the systematic dismantling of our own flesh. Humility is the most elusive of Christ’s qualities, and pride can even surreptitiously project itself in the most self effacing language while in reality being just an ingredient in self righteousness. And since God resists the proud, the journey of a proud disciple of Christ comes to a dramatic halt even though his religious activities and his defense of the truth seemingly continue. Yes, this journey of following in the steps of Jesus comes with much self denial and little praise, much introspection and little outward judgment, much self pronouncements and little public pronouncements, much personal callings to repentance and little public calls for that same repentance.

When we enter the fullness of Jesus Christ in our own lives of devotion, worship, and learning, we will find that our teaching and preaching to others is an extension of that secret life of the Spirit, and the true and authentic devotee of Christ in all His fullness will teach and preach with an ever present and tangible sense of his own inadequacies. Not just inadequacies about his abilities, no, deep feelings of inadequacies about his heart and life as it concerns a total surrender to His Lord and Master. That is true humility, cultivated in many hours of prayer closet services with only one Preacher and one student. Meeting with Jesus in the power of the Spirit is a river, a river with many tributaries and eddies that flow throughout our beings. Some can be verbally expressed while others are sacred experiences of the heart that lose any translation as they travel out from our spirits. But with all the streams and tributaries flowing they still carry the water from the same river, and that river is Christ.

He is our portion and He is our guide, our mentor, and indeed our august Lord. It is His likeness alone into which we desire to be broken and reformed again. It is His nature that we beg to control us and our hearts, and it is His essence that we desire to come forth from our lives at the expense of any of our own personal and selfish projections. And in order for this Christ fullness to be realized the preparation must be complete. There can be no resurrection of Himself until there is a crucifixion. And since Christ has died “once for all” he will not repeat that redemptive act of grace, no, this cross we face now no longer has the inscription “King of the Jews” as a header. This cross has your name adorning its top, this cross has my name over its planks. This crucifixion will be painful and will strip us of us. This cross must end with death, death of ourselves. This crucified death will make way for the resurrection, not of us, God forbid, for that would only require another crucifixion.

This death provides the tomb through which Christ Himself will come forth in the power of His resurrection. This will not be a new you, this will be the eternal Him, living and bursting forth as Lord and Master of your entire life. There can be nothing like the fullness of Christ, nothing compared to a crucified life that is overcome by Christ in all His fullness. Contentment is complete, sacrifice is privilege, reputation is worthless, loss is gain, persecution is pleasure, and when Christ is present in all His fullness our lives are His…

And His alone.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Eternal Scandalon
Rom.9:33 - As it is written, Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling block and rock of offense: and whosever believes in Him shall not be ashamed.
I Cor 1:23 - But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block and unto the Greeks foolishness;
I Pet.2:6-8 - Wherefore also it is contained in the Scripture, Behold I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious, and he that believes on Him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe He is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense, even to those who stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.

The word in the Greek is σκανδαλον, which is translated “stumbling block” and transliterated in English “scandalon”. In a broad and colloquial sense we would say “scandal” and in the minds of men Jesus and His claims are scandalous. They are so absurd and so outrageous as to be a scandalon or scandalous. And as you can see from Scripture, it is Jesus Himself that is a scandalon to the hearts and minds of unbelievers. They can accept love, and they can accept mercy, and they can accept grace, but they stumble over Jesus which is the chief cornerstone without which the house of faith falls down and withers.

The man, the God man Jesus, is the first step of faith through which salvation is only possible. The disciples believed Him to be the Messiah, the One who the prophets of the Old Testament foretold. Not just another prophet and not just another teacher. Not just an anointed seer and not just a spokesman for God. Not just another Moses and not just another David. No, they said He was the Son of God, or as the Jewish mind would understand, God Himself in the flesh. And that is the eternal scandalon over which many continue to stumble.

In John’s gospel in chapter eight Jesus begins to refer to Himself as the light of the world. Of course the Pharisees took immediate offense that His witness about Himself was not true, but they just provided the Lord with an opportunity to add to His already growing scandalon. The Lord Jesus moves into some very uncomfortable territory as He claims that the two witnesses about who He is are the Father and Himself.(vs.18). And He presses further still be saying that He is from above while they shall die in their sins because they will not believe He is who He says He is.

Jesus prophesies of His own death in verse 28, and with that many believed on Him. The Jews begin to argue with Jesus about their heritage which they say is of Abraham, their father. Jesus points out their unbelief and His relationship to Father God. But then the Jews claim that Jesus is demon possessed because Christ said “If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.” And with that they ask if Jesus considers Himself greater than Abraham because Abraham is dead. You see the continuing transition? Jesus moves the conversation to the eternal and to the divine. And then Jesus makes a startling and arresting statement,

“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and was glad”.

Now He has completely crossed the line and they seize upon His seeming contradiction. If Jesus is not even fifty years old how can He claim to have seen Abraham? Hold on tight, because Jesus will now use a term we call the tetragammaton. It is the four consonant for God’s name which God gave to Moses. And the Lord God said that YHWH was “I AM THAT I AM”. Isaiah later shortened it to “I AM” without removing the power and the mystery. So Jesus says, “Before Abraham, I AM”.

What was He saying? The Jews knew what He was implying and they took up stones to kill Him because they knew that Jesus had just said He was God. Not just a god, but the One True God, YHWH. He was claiming to be the God of Moses, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Jacob. He used the tetragrammaton “eγώ εἰμί” in the Greek text meaning I am. This was the capstone of Christ’s scandalon and it is the stumbling block that without the Holy Spirit cannot be overcome. It isn’t just what Jesus said that was scandalous, it was the entire idea that anyone could be God. Jesus came right out and said He was God and that anyone who sees Him sees the Father God. Scandalous.

A modern Jewish Rabbi named Jacob Neusner wrote a book in 2000 titled “A Rabbi talks with Jesus”. In this book Rabbi Neusner imagines himself sitting and listening to Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount. He listens intently to hear Jesus deconstruct the Torah, the law. But as he listens, he hears Jesus teach such unfolding depths of the Torah that he is mesmerized when he imagines himself returning to the group of rabbis. These rabbis ask Rabbi Neusner “Did Jesus leave anything out of the Torah when He taught?”

Rabbi Neusner replies, “No, He left nothing out”.

The rabbis then ask Rabbi Neusner, “Did Jesus add anything to the Torah?”

Rabbi Neusner replies, “He added only one thing, Himself.”

And with this Rabbi Neusner admits that he cannot accept this from Jesus because if Jesus adds only Himself to the law, the Torah, it suggests that Jesus is above the law and indeed the embodiment of the law. And Rabbi Neusner says he must reject that because there is only one being above the law and that is Yahweh, God Himself. So if Rabbi Neusner is going to receive the Sermon on the Mount, he must accept Jesus as the Son of God.

So what we have in this book written by Rabbi Neusner is evidence that even Jewish scholars who examine the gospel writings with no bias to Jesus come to the conclusion that Jesus claimed to be God even though men like Rabbi Neusner reject Him in that context. And they reject the claims of Jesus because they are scandalous and He Himself is a scandalon.

In the endless ions of eternity men will only then begin to realize that Jesus was the only way to redemption and reconciliation with Almighty God. He who was born in Bethlehem, He who walked to dust of this earth, He who shared over three years with 12 ordinary Jews, He who spoke on the hillsides of Judea, He, Jesus, was the Creator of the universe dressed in human form and coming to die. It was He who parted the Red Sea, He who met Moses on Mt. Sinai, He who spoke to Abraham, He who anointed King David, and it was He who John the Baptist announced.

It was Jesus who made the mountains, Jesus who made the oceans, Jesus who made Adam, Jesus who created the stars, it was Jesus who spoke everything into existence. And it was Jesus who was punished, Jesus who was beaten, Jesus who was mocked, Jesus who was betrayed, Jesus who suffered and died for our sins, and it was Jesus who rose bodily from the coldness of death for us.

It was Jesus who the apostles preached and died for, Jesus who anointed the early men of God, Jesus who received Stephen into glory, Jesus who called the Apostle Paul, Jesus who used Martin Luther, Jesus whose power brought mighty revivals, and it was Jesus whose message the missionaries carry into the uttermost parts of the world.

The entire Creation and redemption is centered around this Jesus, who is Almighty God Himself, and many cannot and will not see Him as who He is, for them, He is a stumbling block. And even for those who will be separated from God forever, Jesus will remain a scandalon, a stumbling block. How could they end up in hell? How could God have overlooked their good works? How could God have only provided one way to heaven? How could heaven be gained only by faith? For them, His claims are much too scandalous.

Jesus Christ.
An eternal scandalon.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Relections of the Baptism of Jesus

Matt.3:13-15 - Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John to be baptized of him. But John forbad him saying, I have need to be baptized of thee and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he suffered Him.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem fulfilling many Old Testament prophecies concerning His coming and incarnation. His childhood and early adult hood are without much narrative specifics so approximately twenty years passes since his teaching in the Temple as a boy and before His ministry as the Messiah begins and is recognized. John Mark sets the stage providing the information that many throughout Judaea and Jerusalem were coming to be baptized by the son of Zacharius who was named by Gabriel as John. The “Baptist” as he was called, a priest, was baptizing men and women with the baptism of repentance. These were sinners going down into the water which had much symbolism to the Jewish understanding.

Water on one hand represented death, the death the entire world felt in the flood. These sinners were in fact acting out a metaphor of death to their sins and death to their own will. The fear of drowning was inherent within the actual immersion as well. Secondly the rivers represented a life giving flow. The Nile, the Tigris, the Euphrates, and the Jordan all represented a source of life for the fields and crops and indeed for people themselves. And thirdly, this act represented cleansing, the cleansing of their sin. The Jews were fastidious in their washings, and to be immersed in the Jordan River was a act of symbolism with which all could identify. And the mental picture of sinners from all over coming to the river where John was baptizing represents an awakening to sin that soon would be understood within the context of He who was now here. Repentance had begun, but it was the spiritual precursor to what lay ahead.

Among the unremarkable crowd lining the river banks awaiting their turn to be baptized stands Jesus of Nazareth. Nothing to warrant excitement or uniqueness, at least not to the naked eye. He was an average Galilean as far as anyone knew. But as He comes to John the son of Zacharius is moved by the Spirit to recognize something about Jesus that was different, much different. It must have been the Spirit since no earthly understanding or revelation could possibly see in Jesus something of the divine. John bows in deference to the authority and calling of Jesus and asks to be baptized by Him. Again we see the Spirit working within John’s heart.

But Jesus replies that it is good that He be baptized by John to fulfill all righteousness - now. (arti) The Greek for “now” indicates a certain temporary aspect to what Jesus had said and later we would see exactly why. But what did the Lord mean when He said “to fulfill all righteousness”? What fulfillment was He speaking of when Christ said that? In one glorious moment for the delicate and discerning ears of the Spirit, we can hear Jesus both project backward and forward simultaneously.

Think back to the greatest act of freedom ever wrought be the hand of Almighty God to the Jewish people, the exodus. Oh the imagery, oh the pageantry, oh the majesty of the crossing of the Red Sea upon the dry land provided by the miraculous power of the One who made the Sea and land itself. Jesus is about to fulfill the shadow that was captured by the exodus narrative when God’s people were released from slavery in Egypt and led to the promised land. And the Lord would not accomplish this from the sidelines or even overseeing it from the balcony of heaven, He would not even step on dry land. Jesus was revealing His ministry would take Him through the waters of trouble and the attack of the enemies of God without the dry ease over which the children of Israel traversed. Messiah’s future would dramatically fulfill the glorious picture of the exodus. Moses crossed between the pillars of the waters that could have killed them all, but Christ would go through and under those deathly waters and would for three days voluntarily drown in their destruction. And so was the exodus being fulfilled in Him.

And yet the Lord was pointing forward as well to the cross. This is the first glimpse of His mission and fate. Jesus did not need to be baptized for repentance, He indeed had nothing about which to repent. But He would submit to the ultimate condescension, identifying with the sins of mankind. He was God in human form, without sin, and yet yielding to the mystery of human death. He was not the son of Adam, He was the Son of God, but He would allow Adam’s sons to take His life as He laid it before them. Jesus was unfolding the prophetic element of His mission by succumbing to the same baptism as all the rest, just as He would succumb to death like all the rest. A glorious and pivotal moment in the life of the Incarnate Savior.

The mother of James and John, the apostles, asked Jesus that her sons be elevated to a place of prominence in heaven and Jesus replies,

“You don’t know what you are asking. Can you be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

The Lord uses the word "baptism" to refer to His death, a curious reference and one that again sheds light on the baptism of Jesus. They reply that they can, and the Lord confirms that they will indeed, but they still have no perspective on what that will mean. They will be martyred for Him, but He will die for the world. When Jesus enters the baptism of repentance, He does so for us, for in another glorious mystery Christ will become our repentance. When we as believers are baptized into Christ, we are baptized into His death and we receive the power of God’s Spirit to repent of our unbelief and of dead works. And when we are baptized by water, we are metaphorically plunged in that watery grave that pictures the death of our Savior and our identification with Him as He was identified with us for our redemption.

So this fulfillment of righteousness is now to be pictured as Christ goes beneath the water and is brought up again by John’s hands which picture the hand of God in the power of the resurrection. Is it any wonder Jesus called John the “greatest man of woman born” as he was privileged to represent God the Father? And the Lord Jesus is not just the new Moses, He stands as the new Jonah who is cast into the water and the troubled and fearful waters ceased. And like Jonah, Christ will come forth on the third day and he will have an incredible message of hope to this entire world pictured in Nineveh.

So Jesus is baptized in an extraordinary revelation of just how far He will go to both identify with us and redeem our souls. But go back a few moments and listen as John the Baptizer catches a glimpse of Jesus as He comes toward him desiring to be baptized. John exclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world!”. What a statement made by a priest who knew exactly what the “lamb” referred to. Sure the Prophet Isaiah had made reference to his being “led like a lamb to the slaughter” and the wilderness might have made that connection, but when John says that He “takes away the sins of the world” he makes an arresting and mind boggling identification that not only sees Christ as the Passover Lamb, but the Lamb for the entire world. At the very first revelation of who Jesus was, His mission is uncovered in the entirety of its universal expanse. He would bear and take away the sins of the world.

And so after John had baptized Jesus and as the Lord made His way up out of the water, the heavens were opened “unto Him” the Scriptures tell us. Of course God is everywhere and His Spirit can manifest Himself in and among anything, but the Father chose to give a further glimpse of who Jesus was. As the heavens opened a dove-like figure descends and lights upon the Messiah which the Scriptures identify as the Holy Spirit. This confirmation, this anointing, was made visible for the sake of John especially so all may know that Jesus’ mission and ministry would be in the power of the Spirit and not just to attract some earthly rabbinical followers, no, this ministry would come directly from heaven.

And then the voice, the actual voice of God the Father. "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." Another gift of grace offered for John and us as well, because Jesus knew who He was, He did not question John’s original hesitancy about baptizing Jesus, and Christ knew who His Father was even referring to Him at twelve years of age. This voice from heaven would lend authority and even publicly reference the love that the Father had for the Son as well as the first "I am" used concerning Jesus and the divinity the Jews would all recognize. And with the Spirit’s descending we are given a majestic and glorious look into the mystery we call the “Trinity”, the three person Godhead. The eternal redemptive plan of the Godhead continues to unfold and the Son of God, the Christ, has now been separated for the work for which He has been sent.

There is an obscure reference in John’s gospel that informs us that the Baptist saw Jesus the next day as well and again identifies Him as the Lamb of God, and two of John’s disciples heard John’s words and left him that day to follow Jesus. So in the mouth of two witnesses let everything be established, and in this case the two times John the Baptist identifies Jesus and the two witnesses of John’s disciples who left to follow Jesus. Everything around this baptism had been miraculous and culminated in the Messianic anointing as well as the commencement service for His ministry.

We have looked at the baptism of Jesus, one of many baptisms of John in the Jordan River, the same river that had parted to bring God’s people into the promised land, but this baptism would serve as a forward looking picture of the redemptive labor that would usher “whosoever believes” into an eternal promised land. It would do well for every believer in Christ to not only follow Him in believer’s baptism, but to meditate upon what this baptism meant in the life of our Savior and what it means to us.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Extravagant Domain of Redemption

Col.1:14 - In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins.

Redemption. So nice and clean sounding. So transactional in its definition and so religious in its understanding. We have suggested that redemption mirrors a person who enters a pawn shop in which a particular item lies captured by the debt that had been borrowed upon it and that man pays the debt and frees the item from the ownership of the lender. What an antiseptic and passionless object lesson with which to make an unwieldy and earthly attempt at a revelatory definition of divine redemption. To say that narrative scratches even the surface of the redemption offered by Christ is to say one drop of water defines the oceans of this world.

Without going any further it must be understood that this redemption about which we wish to reveal and explore is only made effective by personal faith in Jesus Christ its Author. Divine redemption is never conferred on a faithless sinner regardless of how he remains faithless, whether it is by the rebellion of his own will or the ignorance of the offer itself, the result is the same. Faith activates this redemption and without faith God will not be pleased to redeem that which was lost. Some would teach that all sinners were redeemed by Christ and that even those who have never heard are somehow redeemed by divine decree in spite of their unbelief but this is unbiblical and in fact blinds us as to a crucial element of our gospel commission.

To begin let us address what stands in need of redemption and why. The sin of Adam, the first sin ever committed by a man, was a monstrous transgression against the loving Creator and in fact doomed the entire human race that would come from the loins of Adam. Every person born would now come forth as a sinner with the sentence of death hanging securely over his head. It is impossible to fully estimate and digest what an affront sin is to Almighty God, and the extent of its judicial breach before the Judge of all living. We can describe it as minor and major, mortal and venial, black and white, but in reality it does deep despite to the infinite and eternal holiness of the Great God and it must receive the penalty of which it so richly deserves. Not just death, but the awful second death which is eternal death.

So there you are, presented with the most powerful evil ever devised in the spirit world and voluntarily received by Adam so that all of humanity stands condemned and damned before the sinless and Holy God. But God is never without a plan, never at the mercy of circumstances however unexpected they may seem. We can only appreciate but never fully understand the omniscience of Almighty God and His timelessness that “sees” every moment of every particle of time containing the history of every molecule in the entire universe with one perpetually comprehensive, pre-revisited, and interconnected observation unaffected by past, present, or future thoughts or events. So mankind stands in eternal need, but the Eternal God comes with an eternal plan. And that plan has at its center God Himself.

Redemption is not only God’s plan, it is God, because redemption is the loftiest apex of love and God is love. So the unexpected situation of mankind meets the unexpected revelation of God’s plan of love, redemption. Mankind has been lost but God will provide an avenue, the only avenue, for eternal reclamation we call redemption. But the price and power of this redemption must be deeper than anything ever imagined by a human heart or mind. What could possibly pay the entire price for the eternal breach of God’s justice? Is there anything good that can surpass the deepest evil called sin? It would be one thing to provide for one sinner’s redemption, a one for one exchange, but how could God provide redemption for the entire human race? The evil contained in the collective sin history of mankind is beyond an exhaustive inventory which would include the acts, motives, thoughts, and evil nuances of every fragment of human disobedience. So any act of redemption must deal with all of this sin, individually and collectively, past, present, and future.

The power of this redemption must surpass anything imaginable and with more spiritual power than it took to speak creation into existence. God could not just speak this into reality, this would require an act of such enormous mystery that no mortal could even believe it solely on his own mental perceptions. The Redeemer God would have to guide and empower any sinner to receive the knowledge of redemption itself, such would be the august nature of divine redemption. Its magnificence would be shielded from the natural understandings of the carnal religious instincts of human sinners. In short, the natural man receives not the things of God, neither can he know them.

Even the angels, living in the very dwelling place of God, are dumbfounded as to God’s redemptive plan because what will unfold will confound the wisdom of the angels themselves. Gabriel is summoned to bring a message to a priest named Zacharius that his barren wife would give birth to a son named John. God tells him that he would be struck dumb as a sign and that this son will be great in God’s sight. Before Gabriel can leave the Lord God gives him another message, this time to be delivered to one of the daughters of Abraham, a handmaiden from the loins of Judah. An insignificant and obscure young virgin living in a meaningless town called Nazareth. Can we imagine Gabriel as he listens in intent reverence and obedience as the Creator commands him to give this revelation to this virgin named Mary.

The angel named Gabriel could understand on some level the miracle that the Lord was going to bestow upon Zacharius, but when he received the message he was to give this Mary, well, Gabriel must have been at a complete loss. What was God saying? Why was the Holy Spirit going to interact on such an intimate level with a fallen daughter of Adam? And what would result from this overshadowing that would produce Mary’s pregnancy? What Gabriel could not understand and what a fallen man could never comprehend was that God would enter the human race through a borrowed womb and leave it one day through a borrowed tomb. That first impregnated cell would be Emmanuel, the sinless Son of God unfolding in one single, sinless cell separate from sinners and yet in a fully human form.

This was no ordinary conception, this conception was an incarnation that unfolded a revelation that unfolded a salvation that culminated in a glorious and eternal coronation. This was the blossoming of the seed that was sown before the foundations of the world, and in reality this seed is an inherent part of the very nature of the eternal God. The incarnation is the clearest and most powerful revelation of the Creator Himself. It wasn’t something the Father “thought up”, it was a natural outflow of who God is and has always been and indeed will always be. And by definition, the incarnation is God. And this plan was God Himself drawing His fallen creatures to Himself through Himself. And the mystery was that the most powerful act of redemption would be birthed through an obscure peasant girl who lived in an obscure village and would give birth in another obscure village in the most obscure places within that village. The mystery of mysteries.

This newborn of Bethlehem was redemption. This newborn of Bethlehem is redemption. God was, is, and always will be redemption. And on that day of Mary’s deliverance, somewhere in the land of Judea, grew a tree. Just another tree from the continuing creation of God, but a tree with a redemptive future. This tree would be hewn from the earth and molded into planks for Roman use. This tree would provide the wooden showcase, the wooden altar, the wooden bar of justice, upon which the redemption of Christ would be executed, literally and judiciously. Now to the earthly eye there appears nothing more than a Jew being punished at the strong hands of the Romans and the strong request of the Jews. To the angels there appears the Son of God dying but without a reason.

But to the Father’s eyes there is His eternal offer of redemption, offered to the rebellious humans made in His image and rejecters of His Word, the same Word that now dies. So when Adam rejected God’s Word in the garden, he was rejecting God Himself. And the only avenue of redemption is to receive God’s Word again, the Incarnate Word whose obedient sacrifice pays in full for Adam’s disobedience. In the garden it all centered around God’s Word and now at Golgotha it again all centers around God’s Word. Adam fell through disobedience, but this redemption can only come by faith since obedience is not possible for any fallen man, all his acts are unworthy in God’s sight. Only the act of His Son can be received as redemption, and the dominion of this redemption is extravagant.

So gaze once more at this dying form, covered in a scarlet robe of His own skin, and counted between two of Adam’s offenders. And lo He suffers at the hands of not just the Roman executioners, but at the hands of His Father who was pleased to see Him bruised. I for one can never digest that truth from Isaiah’s pen, that God the perfect Father was pleased to see His Son in this condition on behalf of those who despised and rejected Him. To us there is no justice in this, that the innocent suffers at the hands of the guilty. The fairness of it all breaks down in the human mind because redemption on this level sheds all of the neat, judicial transactional understanding and ends up with a bloodied and dead God, which on any and every level, cannot be fathomed. Bow your heads ye sons of that wretched man Adam and look away, but not for long, because you must lift up that prideful and rebellious head again and see what your sins have wrought and indeed demanded, and see what the Christ and His Father have provided through their holy arrangement.

This redemption could not be bought by silver or gold or precious jewels, this could not be purchased on the currency of a thousand cattle on a thousand hills, and not with the galactic wonder of creation as the payment. This redemption must be transacted by the Incarnate Son and His holy veins that since Bethlehem had contained the six quarts of forgiveness which when shed would be multiplied like loaves and fishes to provide the offer of redemption to Adam’s entire family. There is no limit to this sacrifice and no parameters to this redemption.

Personally. The sins of one lone sinner are so universally damning that Christ’s death would still have been required for the salvation of one sinner. Do not diminish the depth of redemption as it applies to your own sin and reconciliation, for your rebellious blemishes upon God’s judicial record would do enough insult to God’s holiness as to require all of hell itself just for your punishment were it not for Christ’s intervention. And your sins would not require one less stripe, one less thorn, one less punch, or one less ounce of bloodletting and suffering to pay for your own personal redemption. Please do not consider your transgressions as a small part of a greater whole and with that Christ’s sufferings for you required a tiny and easily endurable portion, no, your personal sins were so monstrous and so unthinkable before God the Father that the cross in its entirety was required at the hands of your sins alone.

Collectively. The redemption that was purchased at Calvary was a sacrificial offering for the sins of the entire world. Please do not limit it to some tortured and misguided definition of “world” contrived in the minds of theologians who cannot bring their pitiful minds to embrace the expansiveness of Christ’s redemption. The Messiah died for the sins of the entire world and every single sin of thought, word, and deed committed by every son and daughter of Adam. The Scriptures teach that Christ died for the sins of the entire world, and that our gospel is not to inform sinners that they are saved, but to inform them that they can be saved. That is not just some grammatical nuance, that is the difference between heaven and hell. So we, the redeemed, stand in the midst of a great company of forgiven sinners who owe our entire eternity to the redemption that has come upon us by faith and faith alone.

Eternally. The redemption and its extravagant dominion extends fully into eternally. This is no period of probation or trial, and this redemption does not lie in wait to evaporate upon the first sign of failure by a saved sinner. This carries with it the ironclad promise of eternal life whose dispensation clearly reflects its own Scriptural definition, eternal. There will be no annual inventory or no revisiting of any sins for a future assessment, oh no, this redemption erases the handwriting of sins that was against us and renders any resurfacing of our sins against us as impossible. We are secure in eternity, and it seems as if Christ Himself chose to wear His wounds eternally as an emblem of our redemption and greater still His glory. Rest and rejoice, my brothers and sisters, Christ has won our redemption forever.

So this divine redemption is without limit in its domain, personally, collectively, and eternally. And to understand just a portion of its wonder is to see its extravagance. The extravagant domain of redemption is revealed in the expanse of heaven itself, and more particularly, it lives in the very Risen Christ Himself for all eternity. And if you listen with the ears of faith, you just might hear the praises of the redeemed being offered up to the One Who sits upon the throne, the Redeemer Himself.

Do not wait until heaven, let us worship and praise Him for all eternity beginning now.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

An Inconvenient Truth

Matt.11:19 - But the Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.

The church, the body of Christ, should be, must be, a living organism that is in a mystery the person of Jesus Christ still living and active on this very planet. Of course we have our truths as revealed in the written revelation of God’s Word and these truths have been attacked and dismissed over the years by all sorts of enemies. Many believers have given their very lives when they refused to recant their faith in Christ and His Word. And that battle continues on many fronts, the Word is being challenged and the core truths that actually make Christianity what it is are systematically being massaged, changed, and ultimately deconstructed wholesale.

But in this post I would like to deal with another aspect of the life of the church and how we function. We live in perilous times, confusing times, times about which the Scriptures predicted. The human race is barreling down to a meeting with God’s judgment and sin is practiced now with complete and utter abandon. Greed and avarice, sexual sins of all kinds, blasphemy, idolatry, rebellion, violence, lying, theft, and sins that are being invented on a daily basis are now commonplace. Call it what you will, Babylon or Sodom, we are being inundated with the Godless living of the children of darkness, and their father, the devil, has eternal destruction planned for them.

But judgment for them is not our calling, redemption is our gospel. Yes, these vile sinners are in desperate need of transformation and conversion before they meet their eternal doom. Our glorious Lord and Savior has paid the price for them, and like His heart for Jerusalem, He beckons all to come to Him. And let us not forget that from which we came, and what would you call someone like us who receives the grace of God and yet still sins and disobeys God sometimes? Maybe...real vile? Now if we as the church and the representatives of Jesus Christ desire to reach out to these sinners we must be prepared for some inconvenient and vulnerable times of loving them in spite of their sin. Isn’t that what the Incarnate Christ did while he was here? He who was completely sinless walked and ate among sinners, sharing His love while only saving His condemnation for the self righteous leaders of the Temple.

And so we are faced today with a colossal task of standing firm upon God’s Word without wavering, and yet reaching out in love with the gospel of Jesus Christ to the most demonstrative of fallen sinners. The most repugnant, rebellious, and the most arrogant and unrepentant sinners must hear a voice that looks beyond their sin and speaks to their need. We as the servants of Christ must refuse to be offended and count our lives and reputations as nothing in favor of sharing Christ. Call it what you will, inconvenient, uncomfortable, and even distressing, but our mission and ministry must lead us to reach the most unpleasant of sinners and their lifestyles, and we must be prepared to suffer for His name.

We who hold sacred the immutable truths of Biblical Christianity must break up the fallow ground and go without the camp, bearing His reproach willingly and with a supernatural love for this sin drenched world. And in so doing we need to prepare ourselves for criticism. Oh yes, many sinners will mock us and reject our Lord, they will blaspheme the name of Christ, they will deride us as fanatics and archaic, and many other verbal assaults will be thrown at us. We should not shrink at our task, our privilege, because of some name calling or some strong incoming invectives that attack us on all fronts, no, we must remember Him who endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself. We must remember the apostles who rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for His name. Suffering for Christ is in reality not suffering at all, it is a sacred calling of the highest privilege.

And most surprising of all, if we are to be seen among sinners we must be prepared to suffer the slings and arrows of the evangelical community who will judge our motives, judge our methods, judge our theology, and especially judge those sinners among whom we witness. If you desire freedom and isolation from any criticism then you must remain far away from lost sinners and only witness by throwing money in a plate to help others or leaving a tract on a windshield or some other form of witnessing that doesn’t require personal and inconvenient involvement. And in so doing we can secure ourselves an acceptable place in our evangelical niche without dealing with the inevitable questions that must arise about anyone who would involve themselves in the lives of precious and repulsive sinners. If your reputation is important to you than this journey ends for you right here.

And now I wish to focus in on a particular segment of our society and yes many societies all over the world. We call it the gay community and in reality it is the ever growing number of practicing homosexuals. When I was young I do not remember ever knowing anyone who was a homosexual. Perhaps that was due to the clandestine nature of the sin back then and also because it most assuredly was much less prevalent than it appears to be today. But other than pronouncing judgment and using the homosexuals to prove our doctrinal masculinity, how do we reach out to them and more directly how does the gospel apply to them? Look out now, we are entering some turbulence and the pilot has turned on the seat belts light. These are issues about which the church has turned a decidedly deaf ear, and every discussion about the nature of grace, the nature of repentance, the nature of conversion, and everything associated with redemption is always entered into apprehensively and with fear and trembling, not about God, but about our reputation before men.

There are mercurial aspects inherent in language that when combined with someone gifted in communication any point of view can be equally as persuasive. That phenomenon is what politics depends upon as well as the inability for most people to come to a view based upon unbiased reasoning. I ask you to meditate on my words stripped of whatever meager literary weight they might contain. I can sympathize with some gay perspectives, especially when they seem to have been born with a same sex attraction. Some show signs as early as two years old and with that it is not a choice. Some appeal for us to accept their lifestyle as from God and I feel their pain.

However, Scripture does not agree and to God’s Word I must bow, even though if I were God I would think differently. Isn’t that the underlying issue about which we are dealing here? With the onslaught of some sins coming openly into the public square, and now with accommodating acceptance, there is also a great challenge to God’s church. The colossal balance between openly and with vulnerability showing God’s love while at the same time remaining faithful to the other aspects of God’s Word is one of the deepest refining aspects of today’s church.

The issue is far from established in the midst of such curious personal evidence that includes gay people who seem to aggressively espouse all the core doctrines of evangelicalism but have been so conflicted about their own sexuality that they have understandably found a way to ease the tension without rejecting Christ. If our hearts are not moved we are something akin to a modern Sanhedrin.

The discussion contains a myriad of vantage points and comes with such delicate and uncomfortable communication that it usually results in a massive retreat into well worn shelters of entrenched comfort that are painless mantras of regurgitated perspectives from days gone by. And those of us who hold to the primacy of Scripture have been placed unwillingly in the center of this kaleidoscope of doctrinal issues that many see as a frontal assault on truth while others see it as a refining process that can and should result in a more clear projection of the Living Christ and His gospel.

I for one do not enjoy being uncertain especially when it involves some area of “settled law” in my own heart. I am much more comfortable in using my past views as precedent rather than re-visiting anything. And discussing the salvation of homosexuals opens up in myself a room for discussion that travels way too close to the all important question of sin. Without changing the nature of Scripture entirely the ultimate question of sin remains the same, but everything else it seems has been brought forth as a legitimate journey toward truth.

Think on this - If a gay person professes Christ, embraces every core doctrine of the faith, desires to live every other part of his life for Christ, but because of his same sex attraction his views about that are Scripturally skewed, do we receive him/her into the fellowship because:

1. We can pray that they will one day change.

2. They like us do not have all the truth

3. God’s grace covers sins we haven’t grown to recognize as sin yet

4. Because of the strength of same sex attraction they may never summon the strength to be free

5. We love them in spite of the uncomfortableness of their sin

Or will we one day discover that God’s grace was so powerful that He was willing to receive sinners who embraced His Son without ever being completely transformed in every area of their lives. us? Oh yea, this is not going away and the street lights on this well lit journey just dimmed.

The hypocrisies of the evangelical world are legion, but that isn’t the issue. When a man leaves his wife, moves in with his mistress, and after divorcing his wife and marrying his mistress he returns to another church and joins the choir and he and his new wife are welcomed. That happens by the thousands in the evangelical community. I believe the discussion is just beginning on how expansive God’s grace is when it pertains to professing Christians who continue in their gay lifestyle. It cannot be reconciled Scripturally but how do we address them and is there any room for waiting within the church for the Spirit to do His ministry?

I guess what I am asking is can a gay person get converted, born again, saved, before he is ready to set aside his gay lifestyle? And if not, what sins must everyone completely abandon before they can get saved as well? Since only the Holy Spirit can guide us into truth, can an unconverted sinner without the indwelling of the Spirit of truth be expected to Biblically recognize specific sins and abandon them before he can be saved?

We as evangelicals who sincerely attempt to interpret and obey Scripture will have to face this fact:

Many homosexuals will never admit that their attractions are sinful, or at least before they get converted. So, now what. How do we receive - reject - love - those who desire Christianity without at least an initial alignment with the Biblical view? No one can change a person’s view except the Holy Spirit. When I was saved I still believed in abortion, evolution, smoking pot, and a litany of other issues and truths that the Spirit changed within me later, BUT I WAS WELCOMED INTO THE BODY OF CHRIST.

I do not want to know how to change people’s views, that is usually futile. I want to know how do we treat those who believe Jesus is the only Lord and Savior and yet come in with a deception about sexuality?? Is there a time frame we allow them to change?? Do we receive them as legitimate believers or not? And if not, do we tell them? The Biblical views about the sinfulness of that lifestyle notwithstanding, how do we show Christ to these people who come as I did with doctrinally unsound baggage? We can provide a discourse for them but that is still wanting. Do we reject them until they acknowledge their sin, or do we embrace them with all the uncomfortableness of their unbiblical views?

This is serious and the subject is not just “how do we change their minds”, no, the conversation turns now to us. The church has not had an introspective discussion as to our behavior and hospitality toward people like that because we are understandably worried about changing the Scriptures. We must work our way out of Jerusalem and into the least of these with some probing and inconvenient observations about ourselves.

Welcome to the end days complete with the community of ostrich evangelicals. And of course I must present my “non-emergent” credentials so I can avoid some of the mischaracterizations that usually accompany any conversation that escapes the usual confines of “orthodox” thought.
The gospel is the universal “offer” of salvation made individually effective by faith in Christ. Hence “Go and preach to every creature”. But in the context of this discussion what are the prerequisites for conversion as it pertains to repentance, sin, and the particulars of the lost sinner’s present circumstance?

And as an “Arminian” I must ask this question, “Can a lost sinner be deceived by a wrong and false gospel?”. For instance, If a homosexual person inquires about salvation in Christ but he is told he must forsake his lifestyle first or at least upon the very act of faith and that message is flawed, can that present a man made road block in the path of a seeker? Remember Jesus Himself said that the Pharisees were blocking the way for sinners to enter the kingdom due to their man made rules, and he said that publicans and harlots enter the kingdom before the teachers of the law. We teach with great and swelling words that salvation is by grace through faith, not of works. We are such great reformers, aren’t we, “the just shall live by faith” is our borrowed mantra.

And yet we require, we require, certain works in order to be fully saved. We don't require heterosexuals to abandon greed, lying, gossip, judging, prayerlessness, questionable movies, slander, lust, stealing, and almost any other sins. "But what if they never change?”. I guess we would be FORCED to leave it in God’s hands, what a novel experiment. Until then maybe we could pray, maybe we could teach, maybe we could love, maybe we could show some grace that doesn’t license sin but authenticates love. Oh yea, we are worried about the implications of that upon our systematic theology which professes a sovereign God but refuses to trust completely on that same sovereignty we so often tout. What would happen if we received some gays into our fellowship and they never changed? What would happen if they left the same? What would happen if they never really were converted?

Jesus even made a reference to Sodom that pulled the self righteousness from under has followers who assumed that their righteousness exceeded that of Sodom because they did not commit the same sins. The more I delve into this whole area I am confronted with a question of the veracity of the grace we claim. Can it only apply to the clean outside like the Pharisees, or is the grace of God sufficient to save a sinner right where he is and start a process of conforming a son to His older brother? Must this sinner present himself with the sanctification process already in gear before he can follow Christ?

In the end we are accomplished grace talkers, but when it comes to dangerous and vulnerable and powerful grace we shrink with the uncomfortable uncertainty of an 8 year old little girl in a room full of dignitaries. We are afraid of making a mistake, we are afraid of expanding grace, we are afraid of trusting God. And what was the slur thrown at Jesus most often? He ate and drank with sinners and even allowed women of known sinful sexual practices to worship Him. And when some woman of a fallen sexual lifestyle openly worshiped Christ he rebuked the self righteous thoughts of his disciples. Oh yes, the Lord Jesus received sinners without any preconditions.

We can sleep well tonight, they can never accuse us of that…