Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Cross

The cross. To the natural eye we see a condemned Jew dying slowly, impaled on two Roman beams just outside the city of peace, Jerusalem. If indeed that is all there is then it is just a duplicate of hundreds of thousands of other executions throughout Roman history. With that view there is nothing special, nothing interesting, and certainly nothing divine about a son of Judah being punished for his crimes by crucifixion.

I believe a sinner can investigate and even search for a greater truth concerning this event, but only God the Spirit can illuminate a darkened heart to see the essence of redemption showcased in that act of violent death. And when a sinner sees and believes that this crucifixion alone is the redemptive gateway to reconciliation with his Creator, well then, words can only partially convey the experience the Scriptures describe as being “born again”.

In a world of ever expanding technologies and advances, the cross is still the only remedy for the sin that separates man from His God. The engineer, the landscaper, the politician, the convicted murderer, the P.H.D., and the 8 year old little girl can and sometimes do have one thing in common, they all can be eternally changed by simple faith in Jesus Christ and His work on that same cross. This event was and is to all who hear and believe, and there are no levels of salvation contained in its redemption. It is the simplest of messages as well as the most profound. The eternal conundrum is the cross where death brings life and life triumphs through death. What is called the “penal substitutionary” view of the cross simply means that Christ took the punishment that should have been ours.

One of the aspects of the Divine Person to which the Scriptures refer is His office as Judge, to whom we must answer. Let us remove and dismiss the Calvinistic view of almost anything since that is a straw man and does not actually represent most of evangelicalism, even those of us who espouse the penal substitutionary essence of that six hour event just outside Jerusalem. God is a judge.

Now the judicial essence of the Godhead is a mystery in many ways. If God is the Creator of everything and He is all knowing and all powerful, why could He not have made everything with an embedded truth that allowed Him to redeem through divine decree? And why could God not have created Adam complete with an inherent grace that would cover the sin God knew he would commit? And why would the Author of Life demand death as His eternal appeasement?

These questions both reveal our infinite limitations of understanding and our complete reliance upon the divine revelations for our truth. The atonement of Christ had a concert of participators.The Jews, the Romans, Pilate, humanity, the Father, and Jesus Himself all in some way coalesced to bring about the greatest injustice and the greatest judicial substitution of all eternity. Make no mistake, though, the plan was God’s before creation itself. It is indeed difficult to fathom, and surely most impossible to unravel completely through the words and thoughts of man.

But our calling by the words of Jesus Himself is to spread the core message of the gospel, that the sins of the world were paid for on that cross and that purely by faith - PURELY BY FAITH - EVERY SINNER can receive eternal forgiveness and be pronounced innocent before the God of all Holiness. It is indeed a counterproductive phenomenon to see many who demand a penal understanding of the cross, simultaneously limit the expanse and redemptive power of that same cross by suggesting an offer of atonement for a diminutive handful of divine lottery winners. But as I alluded to previously, Calvinism is illogical, unbiblical, fatalistic, and does violence to the unabridged human essence of God’s offer of atonement.

The justice that was fulfilled on Golgotha was understood even by the thief on the cross who acknowledged his own just punishment but also recognized the injustice being given to this Jesus of Nazareth. “He has done nothing wrong” is one of the truest statements ever made, but upon the illumination of the Holy Spirit we understand His death was a divine revelation that WE did something wrong for which He died.

There are several perspectives of the cross which are valid however I do not see how anyone can deny a punishment aspect on some level at Calvary. We cannot reject things primarily because those who espouse it use it as a badge of doctrinal hubris rather than a humble message that should reduce us all to selfless praise. This cross is not a doctrine that should be picked up and used to meet out a doctrinal justice that kills rather than redeems.

However you understand God’s wrath, or justice, or moral demands, however you see God’s divine emotions toward man, you cannot, you must not, ignore the colossal mystery that appeasement was eternally fulfilled through the human/divine blood of the Eternal Word called Jesus. No one can understand such an archaic method of punishment being the redemptive vehicle through which we can all find life, and it will always be THE divine mystery that rescued us from eternal damnation and will always redound to the glory of God. The loving horror that is the cross is infinite in its facets and glory, and we can and should revel in every aspects grace has afforded us.


* It is penal
* It is substitutionary
* It is redemption
* It is salvation
* It is forgiveness
* It is sacrifice
* It is Passover
* It is love
* It is grace
* It is mercy
* It is eternal
* It is ransom
* It is deliverance
* It is emancipation
* It is liberation
* It is rescue
* It is life
* It is infinite
* It is the divine gift
* It is the divine expression
* It is the example
* It is our model
* It is our God
* It is our Savior
* It is finished
* It is the door
* It is the way
* It is the offering
* It is the paradox

And one day in God’s throne room we will see Him as He is, complete with the wounded history on His hands, and on that “day” we will realize that we have never even touched the hem of His garment as it pertains to that cross. And yet we argue as if the cross was our personal possession. Let us preach it as the eternal weapon of love, not a doctrinal subject that needs defending. To preach it and live it is all the glorious defense that is asked of us, and in that we are challenged beyond our earthly ability. Jesus Himself would not be consumed with defending Himself and being distracted from that cross, and so should we follow in His steps.

So instead of demanding a penal doctrinal purity that results in self righteousness and bitter division, we all should instead remove the shoes from off our spiritual feet and bow down in tearful glory and worship the One who rises infinitely above all that we can ever ask or think. Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day, and that is the gospel in all its fullness, and an 8 year old little AIDs infected African girl, who will never even hear the different atonement theories, can believe that in her heart and be just as saved as Calvin, Spurgeon, or the Apostle Paul himself.

May the Lamb that was slain receive the rewards of His suffering!!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Supremacy of Scripture

When a teacher or preacher speaks of the Supremacy of Scripture he is almost always referring to a doctrine that understands Scripture as the supreme source for truth, and in fact the exclusive source for spiritual truth. In the language of the Reformation it is known as Sola Scriptura, which means that the basis for our beliefs is not tradition or experience or ecclesiastical dictate, it is the written Scriptures alone. And it is true that this doctrine has been eroding and that many religious organizations either completely deny it or dilute its essence.

Luther desired nothing but proof from Scripture when it came to doctrinal truth, and forms of that battle have continued into today. There are many books and messages that deal with the Supremacy of Scripture and the reasons for such a foundational doctrine. And this doctrine has provided a forum for what some call the "truth war" which indicates a battle between those who espouse the supremacy of Scripture and those who in one way or another do not. Some project their opinion with academic reasoning within Scripture while retaining some civility, while others speak and write with acrimony and self righteousness.

I am one who espouses the Supremacy of Scripture, for in the end the opinions of men are just that. But I continue to have a problem with some of those who are the leading and most outspoken proponents of that doctrine. Luther himself espoused the supremacy of Scripture at the possible expense of his own life, however after establishing the doctrinal foundation of Sola Scriptura he seemed to dismiss the core of that doctrine when it came to personal obedience. His reckless language, combined with his indulgence of alcohol, and his overt hatred for the Jews was in stark contrast to his doctrinal espousing of the doctrine of Scriptural supremacy. Without dismissing Luther’s importance in core doctrinal realignment, I suggest he did not strive to live up to the personal mandates of Scripture which are every bit an indispensible part of Scriptural supremacy.

What Luther’s example has shown us is that it is entirely possible to be an outspoken proponent of the doctrine of Scriptural supremacy while denying it wholesale in practice and tone. And such is the case in many quarters of today’s evangelical community. To what benefit is it to aggressively contend for the doctrine of Scriptural supremacy while overtly denying it in the methodology you use to defend it? That scenario becomes a paradox in orthodoxy which dismantles the very doctrine you are supposedly defending. The supremacy doctrine is never limited to the overarching eternal truths concerning the Godhead, it must include the admonitions and commands that are consistent with the personal manifestations of the Incarnate narrative, as well as the dictates of the epistles.

It is indeed counterproductive to argue doctrine in the abstract without the personal revelations, or at least the obvious and genuine pursuit, of the uncomfortable aspects of Scripture which are designed to restrict the carnal “end justifies the means” template of defending the truth. In the end, defending the doctrine of Scriptural supremacy by abrogating the preponderance of Scripture as it applies to love, grace, and personal humility is neither Christian nor Scriptural. It is an overt revelation of disobedience and rejection of the very doctrine you portend to defend. Christ Himself was the antithesis of masculine domination and powerful usurpation, which at its core is why so many were drawn to Him while others rejected Him.

So many today stand on the mountaintop of hubristic judgment of almost everyone who are at varying degrees of doctrinal variance, but are blind to their own Scriptural disobedience. The world knows nothing of our doctrinal squabbles, serious or secondary, but they can see clearly the tone and attitudes that are in direct conflict with the Christ we preach. The cross is the core of our redemption, but it also carries with it the essence of how we are to interact with the world and each other. These “Attila the Hun” expressions of doctrinal dialogues do despite to the Spirit of Christ, and may in fact win the debate but lose the Spirit.

What is our calling? Are we to win the “truth war” or are we to live and project Jesus Christ? And those who claim they are in fact one in the same are seriously misguided. Winning the “truth war” is indeed more about living Christ than it ever was about a round table discussion about doctrinal issues on YouTube that draw “amen’s” from the doctrinal Bourgeoisie and elevate the wisdom of men resulting in the applause of other men. The sounds of “did you see so and so on Larry King, didn’t he really give it to them” are only meant to create a greater self righteousness within those who have chosen sides at the expense of deep compassion for those who are blind and deep gratitude for those of us who have been enlightened by His grace.

We have been sold a doctrinal bill of goods that has camouflaged the truth inside a methodology that is in direct violation of the same Scriptural mandates. Would it be Scriptural to defend the doctrine of the Trinity by murder? Of course not, you say. Then how can it be Scriptural to defend Scripture by self righteousness, demeaning personal attacks, and hubristic dismissiveness? We cannot exalt the supremacy of Scripture if we ignore those Scriptures that apply directly to us.

And here lies the challenge. Are we humble enough to defend cardinal doctrines of the faith in such a way that leaves the outcome to God Himself, or are we to speak in such a way that leverages the battle upon the fulcrum of our own words and the core viciousness of our attacks? God looks after His own Word and His instructions to us are never in contrast to that same Word. Speak the truth in love, says the Spirit, not speak the truth in visceral hatred and that is in itself love. The constant stream of unchristian language directed at the same people over and over again reveals an unwillingness to trust God concerning His own Word and its defense. Is there a God, and has He spoken, and is He able to bring about His purposes in spite of those who have strayed doctrinally, or is He in dire need of our constant attacks and redundant reminders of the same Scriptural shortcomings of others? And is our Biblical teaching so fleeting, so shallow, and so temporary that without the continuing stream of identifying the same false teachers people will stray immediately?

The supremacy of Scripture is not some “pin the tail on the donkey” doctrine that we stick on others, no, it is also high time that we examine our own adherence to the personal aspects of that same doctrine. Doctrinal truth must be lived as well as preached.

Doctrine without works is dead.

Monday, March 09, 2009

A Living Resurrection

(Note: I am very technically challenged and I just discovered many comments that have not been published. I've published them all. Sorry.)

In keeping with the Lent theme (which I do not celebrate) it has become increasingly obvious that we observe the annual day of resurrection, commonly called Easter, as an historical event and not so much as a living power that drives our lives. The entire western world knows all about Easter, but how much resurrection power have they experienced by coming in contact with a living offspring of that same resurrection?

How many people are so moved by the wonder of our lives that they must ask us about “the hope that lies within us”? In so many ways we have made Christianity a religion, full of doctrines and organizational constructs, and have missed the weightier matters of the Spirit. Which is greater, the doctrines we espouse or the doctrines we live out?

And we are called to be grave diggers, that by the power of God’s gospel, preached and lived, are used of God to exhume dead corpses and breathe God’s very life and see the bones gain flesh and blood and join us as we go to another grave site. And so often we walk quietly by grave after grave with dry eyes and without the shovel of the Spirit, and worse yet some shovel more dirt upon the graves of the spiritually dead and call it “ministry”. Indeed.

I am old now and not in very good health but I long to have the Spirit do a fresh work in my life, one that will increase Christ and decrease me. A work that will, without manipulation and publication, lead those who know me to wonder what has happened.

* A work that drowns me in an ocean of forgiveness
* A work that opens new frontiers of grace
* A work that awakens me to a greater depth of God’s love
* A work that gives Scripture my life and not just my words
* A work that cannot be explained by facts and events
* A work that sees others high above myself
* A work that helps the Spirit touch people through me
* A work that both uses and insulates me in this very world
* A work that simply seeks, thirsts, and presses toward knowing Him

On April 12, 2009 most churches will observe Easter, and they will dress up and have palms and communion and many special pageantries to celebrate that event that changed everything forever. However let us not forget that today is a resurrection day for all of Christ’s followers. We are not bound by a date that changes every year, and we are not bound to an observance. We have most assuredly walked out of that same tomb, and we have come forth from the coldness of spiritual death.

We must be today’s representatives of today’s resurrection, you and I must be fresh from Joseph’s sepulchre today with the smell of resurrection power invading the dead air of our community. If we are different by today’s firstfruits then let it be known to all who we walk among that Jesus is alive forevermore, not just in April, but in the lives of all who have been changed by His resurrection power.

Have we not made the resurrection a point of doctrine and an annual observance and been blind to the glorious truth that it is surely not the day that we must observe but the Risen Christ Himself? And we do not observe the Risen Christ but He in reality lives through us. The “what would Jesus do” slogan should be “what is Jesus doing” as it pertains to our lives.

The resurrection does not approach, it is here, today. It beats in our spirits, it moves our hearts, and if released it can lift up the Son of God our Savior for all to see. And this question remains - What could God do through a people who did not see the resurrection as just an event, but also as a living personal experience? When will see us as bursting out from that tomb at the same moment that Christ came forth, and when will we see the eternal moment of that resurrection as fresh every moment of our very lives? Having our hearts attached to this world leaves us tethered to the inside of that tomb as dead men still lying on a slab shared by many.

But the resurrection must be manifested and revealed in such a dramatic way so as to elicit at the very least some interest, to say nothing of the power that is available. There is no life but Christ, and His life entered Bethlehem, walked in Galilee, died on Calvary, and rose triumphantly in a borrowed tomb. We are not just called to somehow defend the reality of that event, no, we are to live and breathe its reality through a life that should, must, reflect the unmistakable glory of being transported from death to life. The story is real, but the story lived out is as powerful today as it was in the lives of Peter and Paul. Our Easter pageants have been used of God to draw people to Jesus Christ, but every day should be personal and collective passion plays brought forth by the church of the living God.

Our story is that God came as a man, died for our sins, and rose from the dead to defeat the last enemy – death itself. God, the Creator of all things that are made, came and defeated the death we all fear, and we now are called to walk in the bold humility that both expresses its reality and our gratefulness. How excited would we be if indeed Christ had risen this very morning and we were returning from the empty tomb to spread the glorious news? What attraction would this world have to us had we just spoken with the Risen Lord on the Emmaus road? And what would interest us if we had just witnessed the Lord ascend from the Mount of Olives?

Men and women throughout the centuries have become so captured by this story that their very lives were His and His alone. The hazards of violence against them were opportunities to praise Him to be counted worthy to suffer for His sake. What do you give the Creator of everything? What would impress the One who is from everlasting to everlasting? He desires nothing but us…our lives. And those who lose their lives for Christ’s sake will find a life that they never dreamed existed. To live is Christ and to die is gain. So what can the world do to people who care nothing for their own lives and do not fear death?

The world is shaking, and everything that can be shaken will be shaken, and the human foundations of this present kingdom are crumbling. But in the midst of great fear and instability we, as the living creations of the resurrection, must be salt and light to the darkness of the world. We must show grace, we must show love, we must show redemption, and we must walk humbly in the ministry of that Good Samaritan, always watching the road for the battered lives of sinners ravaged by their own sin and the sin of others. Redemption is both our message and our lives, and we have an increasing opportunity to share both. Let us live the resurrected firstfruits, and as our lives are waved before God let us pray many seeds fall off our lives and get planted in the fields of people who are desperately searching for meaning and life.