Archive for December, 2008

If you are at all interested in what an insightful and intelligent theologian has to say — I’d heartily recommend this interview.  Dr. R.C. Sproul has been a hero of sorts of mine for over 15 years now.  He outlines here several of the current challenges facing us younger evangelicals. 

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…The biblical gospel of atonement is of God satisfying himself by substituting himself for us.

The concept of substitution may be said, then, to lie at the heart of both sin and salvation. For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be. Man claims prerogatives which belong to God alone; God accept penalties which belong to man alone (John Stott, The Cross of Christ, page 159).

Atonement comes down to simple terms: God himself in the person of Jesus Christ hung and suffered in my place.  He took my sins upon himself.  And he died my death.  Essentially, he stood in the shoes I would have otherwise been required to wear.  Atonement simply means my redemption. 

4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (Galatians 4:4-5, ESV).

I’m not sure why we have all the debate about the nature of atonement because it seems to me harder than the side of a barn to miss.

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If the gospel message has been more powerfully proclaimed in six minutes — I haven’t heard it done. 

HT: reformation21.

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2962938133_7d1f17dac4_bTo the spiritual perplexity which exercised so many of the rarest souls of the nineteenth century, God appeared as a Being whom men desired to find but could not. But such a formula, though it truly represented one side of their situation, can never represent the whole of any human situation. For God is also a Being whom it ill suits any of us to find but from whom we cannot escape. Part of the reason why men cannot find God is that there is that in Him which they do not desire to find, so that the God whom they are seeking and cannot find is not the God who truly is. Perhaps we could not fail to find God, if it were really God whom we were seeking. And indeed the deepest reality of the situation is that contained in the discovery, which alone is likely at last to resolve our perplexity, that when we were so distressfully seeking that which was not really God, the true God had already found us, though at first we did not know that it was He by whom we had been found. There is a saying, ‘Be careful what you seek; you might find it.’ And some who have sought God only as a complacent ally of their own ambitions have found Him a consuming fire.   –John Baillie (1886-1960), Scottish theologian

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459685534_5029b8a9a1_oIt happened in the spring of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the people of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.  – II Samuel 11:1 

Lives aren’t built to change at Target on a Friday.  But sometimes they do.

I had meant it to be a routine trip to round out the week, and try to get a day’s jump on my wife’s birthday. She turned 32 on Sunday, wanted a camera, and I tracked it down at a Target six or seven miles from my house. I went in, without hesitation pulled out an oft-used piece of plastic from my pocket, and bought it. Expensive, but worth it.

Minutes later, I slipped my truck into reverse and angled out of a slim parking spot. That’s when I heard the grind of metal on metal, the crinkling of a bumper, the thud of my heart. I didn’t stop the vehicle right away, as if driving a bit would make the problem go away.   

It didn’t. 

Peaking out the window, I saw the damage and knew the remedy would be costly. I had scraped the side of a Mercedes SUV. One that had a “For Sale” sign in the back window. 

In the past 18 months, I’ve had my own cars run into when they were parked. I’ve spent probably $400 or $500 to fix them. My mind works like this: perhaps it was my turn to hit and run. The owner of this Benz can afford it. No one saw me.

I began creeping away from the scene. It didn’t surprise me that I could take my foot off the brake and let the truck quietly creep through the parking lot, graciously escaping the carnage, leaving the owner to deal with it.  Turning off my heart.

But something yanked my eyes back to the big crater in the side of that Mercedes. Something asked me if I would be able to look myself in the mirror that night when I washed my face, and brushed my teeth 20 feet from my son’s crib.

The answer was yes. I probably could. But I stopped the truck anyway and asked a more important question. What would Jesus have me do? Two words — “unto others” — invaded my thoughts and held my mind. Wouldn’t let me go. Wouldn’t loosen the grip. 

So, I parked the truck back in the slim parking spot, rummaged through the glove compartment for a business card. Found one and shut the door. Opened it again to find a pen.

“Hi. I unfortunately ran into your vehicle and damaged the rear. Please call me for insurance details. John”

18 words, probably would end up costing me $40 a word or so, I figured. And so I sat there, holding that card. My name, my identity dancing on the front of it. And then I slipped the truck in reverse again and began to drive away. Card still in my hand.

Eventually, I stuck the little piece of paper with my name and number on the front and the note on the back  under the windshield wiper and crawled home hoping the owner never called.

Typically, we aren’t aware at the moment our lives have hit some notable inflection point. Though we would like them to be, such points aren’t orchestrated in an auditorium or on retreat or when the stadium is full of spectators. Inflection points happen when the stands are empty, when we ebb through banal routines and are confronted with the unexpected.  Usually, in solitude. Usually, in a hurry. Usually, off guard. This is when we ride the tipping point of a needle, ascending or descending toward a changed life.

King David. He was supposed to be with other kings that spring day when he slept with a soldier’s wife. I don’t think he figured his indulgence would become such a fateful inflection point, but it did. 

I’ve always read II Kings 11:1 to be a warning. If you are supposed to be at war, and don’t go, you’re inviting an inflection point. And not really a welcome one. In an artful brush of foreshadowing, Samuel writes of a king who decided to stay home when kings typically went to war. When kings went to work. David stayed home. His life changed.

Hitting a parked SUV — as mindless as that activity is — pulled me into a somewhat cosmic schoolroom where the lesson had everything to do with purpose and meaning and cause and effect. Reaping and sowing and golden rules. An inflection point of another kind. 

When faced with the unto-others ethic, how would I respond? Simple, almost too basic for contemplation, this ethic slapped me in the face and almost defeated me. 

Ironically, I was wading through a season of disappointment at the more formal schoolroom I had been attending: church. I was leaving the building empty of late, wishing for home runs, but settling for walks or strikeouts, an occasional single. I had grown tired of seeing the deficiencies in my leaders that I saw in myself.  It seemed that Christ was attending the 9:30 service, and gone by the time I got to the 11:00 service, he was already at lunch.

And here was Jesus, in a parking lot. As if the rear bumper of a silver Benz were all the pew I needed. 

What amazes me most is that I drove home praying that God would bless me for my obedience. I prayed that he would repay me somehow. I thought of the new house or new kitchen my wife and I had dreamed of. Thought of the lost income we had suffered when Kimberly decided to stay home full time with Jack. Thought of golf clubs and beach front. And expected God to pick a category in which he could repay me.

As if living the life of obedience was a transaction. 

The fact of the matter is the note I left ended up costing me $500. The lady who I hit, and her husband, did little to assure me that they were adequately appreciative. I probably won’t be renewing my subscription to The New Yorker this year, we’ll scale back the kitchen project, probably skip a month of retirement savings, and who knows what else. My wife took back a pair of shoes. 

God has yet to pay me back.

A couple nights later, it hit me. This is the hard part of the Gospel. The part where I could have driven away, no one would have known. Plenty of people would have done it. The part where I could have considered myriad financial constraints on my life, and concluded the responsible thing to do was bolt.

But this was God asking me, in a quite unique and mysterious way, to contribute to his kingdom. It seems quite obvious to plop such contributions in a red Salvation Army bucket, or send it in for a capital campaign needed for a new church building or ship it off to an orphanage in India. I’ve given money to buy poor kids backpacks full of school supplies. I’ve paid my way to the mission field. Gave a pair of khakis to a fellow Bible college student who needed pants.

Repairing the Mercedes was a new form of offering, hard to digest and abrasive. What if I told you I gave my tithe to some rich guy who shops at Target? What if I told you I shared the Gospel in a parking lot, when nobody was around?

It’s been particularly easy in my life to perform the Gospel when there are crowds. To slip money in the big dish that floats down the row on Sunday morning, or pray in front of my small group. I’ve found it easy to make changes to my exterior character as my infant son grew into a formative child.

But the stands were empty that day at Target.

What do I mean by stands being empty? I mean no one is around. No one is cheering.

I experienced this when training for marathons. The best part of running a marathon is the actual running of the marathon. People are cheering at every corner, as hundreds or maybe thousands of others match your steps pace for pace. There are volunteers giving water, and the finish line is filled with adoring spectators who wish they could accomplish what you did.

But marathons really happen during the 16, 18, and 20 mile training runs. 

I’ve run too many of these. They are lonely endeavors.

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2415747134_81f8c5fbe5_b1‘But’ — people say to me — ‘if you consider that apart from fulfillment of the Christian teaching there is no reasonable life, and if you love that reasonable life, why do you not fulfill the commands?’ I reply that I am a horrible creature and deserve blame and contempt for not fulfilling them… Blame me, and not the path I tread and show to those who ask me where in my opinion the road lies! If I know the road home and go along it drunk, staggering from side to side — does that make the road along which I go a wrong one?  –Leo Tolstoy

For a large portion of my Christian experience I lived day in and day out with this ever preset fear hanging over my head.  It finally became a weight I just couldn’t bear anymore. 

Years ago I read about the overly revered Ghandi saying that he didn’t mind Jesus so much, it was his followers who he had the problem with (what he said was this — I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ).  I think I better understand his point now (I don’t believe what he stated was meant to be as inspiring as it was to be a knock) — and on many occasions I have echoed his sentiments (even if I was looking at myself in the mirror when I have agreed).  Maybe he was on to something, while at the same time he could have expected too much. 

We do hear a lot of rumblings about how much like the heathen we Christians are.  How we go to church on Sunday and by Tuesday we are singing off the devil’s song sheet.  Then again, we get made out to be Hitler because we believe what the bible says about the sanctity of life.  Or, ask Rick Warren what it’s like to raise awareness on such a huge scale in regards to the global AIDS epidemic and do something about it and then be ostracized because you actually believe God meant what he said when he said that marriage (Matt. 19:4-6) was to be between one man and one woman (for the record, I’m no huge fan of Ricks but I do consider him a brother and admire his labors of love for the Kingdom). 

It really can be confusing.  If we do good and have an ounce of pride we are holy rollers and if we do bad we are hypocrites.  I fall into both traps.   

The problem I have with guys like Ghandi and his proteges is three-fold:

1. Jesus isn’t the only one with an issue when it comes to his followers getting into trouble from time to time and making some kind of mess while attempting to live the life of a true disciple. 

2. Hard as we try, we aren’t little Jesuses.  We haven’t been removed from our bodies of sin — yet. 

3. Every group, even Jesus-followers — includes a few pretenders.  

I have always been afraid that my life was going to be such that people would reject Jesus on account of me (due to my numerous failures as a believer, in particular).  And because of my inability to live the perfect Christian life I thought I was supposed to live, I was ultimately going to be responsible for hordes of people going to hell.  Not because I didn’t tell others about Jesus, but because I wasn’t all that good of a Christian (I have since changed my goal from being a good Christian to something altogether different by the way). 

Even when I was a good upstanding youth pastor not even involved in a hint of scandal or abuse, I had this curse.  Besides the occasional sheep beating/tongue lashing that I’d rather forget about in which I’d lay a major guilt trip on my teenage parishioners who weren’t living up to my demands at the moment — I was what you’d call ‘above reproach’.  However, as straight of a line as I walked, I knew in my heart of hearts I didn’t cut the mustard. 

Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven may be a lame slogan — it can even serve as a cop out — but it can be pretty good theology if in the right context.

For more, check out “Imperfect Christians” on The Mind’s Eye. 

What do you think?

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Cross Theology

321317386_85de127cb3_bBut far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.   -The Apostle Paul, Galatians 6:14, ESV       

The cross emphatically says that I am entirely whole, I am unconditionally loved, I am unequivocally forgiven, and I am unashamedly righteous. 

As a card carrying Protestant and proponent of a biblical and reformed theology—I easily relate to the notion that I am a sinner saved by grace, so, I get the total depravity part (after all, it is the first leg under the five legged stool called Calvinism).

However, it would be the aforementioned I struggle with.  I don’t feel very whole, or forgiven, or loved, or righteous.  I much more readily feel like a sinner, so it is not uncommon for me to revert back to my being just that I suppose.  Call me holy or call me a saint and I am liable to call you crazy.  And so, when I consider the Cross I immediately see my need for it—what I don’t see so quickly, are it’s far reaching and irreversible accomplishments that impact me and change all of what I have defined myself by.

Within the theology of the Cross resides the confidence that I am God’s own.  It is by virtue of the Cross I am not my own; I have been bought with a steep payment.

The Cross changes everything—and on a personal note, the Cross changes me.

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