These are my sermon notes for Sunday's Sermon on the Nuclear Family, Parenting and how to Raise an Enjoyable Child.
There are amazing blessings of living in a home with a caring mom and dad. How specifically does it work? I call this the Discipline/Delight model of parenting. And guess where I get it from? You guessed it, the verse we discussed last week - - 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Remember, Proverbs are guidelines and tendencies, not promises. But they are meant to help us steer and make good decisions. And this steering includes discipline (train up) and delight (he will not depart). The implication is that if you discipline correctly your child will want what you are selling, his heart will be drawn to it. One commentator writes,
“The Hebrew word ‘hanak’ “to train” implies both dedicating a child to God and instructing him according to who your child is (knowing him, delighting in him) and the proper instruction to lead him in the right ways.”
So to show you how this is done, I will present four possible ways to use both discipline and delight - -
One more thing: Proverbs 20:7 & 23:26 says that children learn most from your example. That is why God put them in the same house with you. It is in the warmth of the greenhouse where they watch, learn and begin to imitate. That is why I look in the mirror and say, “Wow, I remind me of my dad.” The image of God is meant to be passed. What are they to learn from you by example:
If you are a parent with kids, I wish you Godspeed!!
Don’t blame Jesus for the horrific crimes in the Roman Catholic Church.
Since the movie Spotlight aired 3 years ago detailing the clerical abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church in Boston, it seems the journalistic floodgates across our country have been opened wide. Just this week, the Pennsylvania grand jury report on child sex abuse lists hundreds of accused priests. What is going on?
The case of the systemic crimes against children in the RCC goes deeper than the mere moral failings of weak people. The repulsive behavior of a large portion of the clergy have been hundreds and hundreds of years in the making. People want to know why? They need to know why! If only for stopping one more child in the church from being sexually exploited.
There are many opinions on why there was such widespread abuse that went unchecked: The Church’s penchant for protecting the Roman Catholic leadership so the institution would not be dragged through the mud. The embracing of the homosexual lifestyle by many of the priests. The RCC’s love of money and their desire to settle all the lawsuits out of court. Some say it is because the Catholic Church have perpetuated a culture of secrecy.
Whatever the reason, it has led to some of the most appalling crimes ever committed on such a wide scale this country has ever seen against children. Some people want to downplay it, and make it a comparison of moral equivalence, "All churches have their skeletons in the closet." Not quite like this.
I think at the core the problem is more fundamental than mere secrecy and homosexuality. It is the reason I left the church in the first place. The RCC has faulty and dangerous theology. When you leave the truth, all you have are lies that destroy. I will name three areas I believe have allowed for the such unchecked behavior. And I will try to keep is short and simple...
Authority of Scripture
Martin Luther put it clearly and bluntly, "A simple layman armed with Scripture is to be believed above a pope or a council without it." Scripture should dictate behavior and policy, not the Pope, Cardinals, Bishops or Priests. Authority comes from the mouth of God - - not some man in a white robe holding a golden crucifix. Scripture states in Psalm 119:99, "I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts."
Sounds so simple, but it has been largely ignored in the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, most Roman Catholics don't even know the bible. Just a cursory reading of the New Testament should stop the veneration of priests dead in its tracks.
Matthew 23 is Jesus' scorching indictment about the Pharisees and Priests during his day and it has been largely ignored by most Roman Catholics. Just listen to some of his warnings, "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach." "Do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven." "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness."
Jesus is saying, "Priests are people too." Not some holy unblemished saint wearing a white robe, not a person you never question or fawn over because they can do the sign of the cross. The number one reason why clerical abuse happens is because no one in the Roman Catholic Church sees the priest simply as a fallen man. And the priests even buy into the lie about themselves. They have been playing a charade. Acting holy when in fact they are fallen like everyone else.
The worst play actor of all is the Pope. I would hate to be the Pope when he finally sees Jesus. He is a flawed man, and he acts like some statue carved by Michael Angelo. I would love to sit in a room with the Pope alone, I would like to punch him in the nose and say, "Get over yourself!" Even Peter refused to have people bow to him. (Acts 10:25-26 -- "As Peter was about to enter, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet to worship him. But Peter helped him up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.”)
There are so many other scriptures that people in the Roman Catholic church ignore. It is appalling how they allow such non-sense to go on. 1 Timothy 4:1-4 says this, "The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving."
Demonic teaching forbids marriage. Just think if many of the horny priests got married how that would have stopped so many children from being exploited?
Priesthood of Believers
This leads naturally into one of the most important doctrines of all, The Priesthood of All Believers. If you are a Christian, you are a priest. You don't need a mediator to go between you and God, you can go directly to him. (1 Peter 2:5, Hebrews 4:16) You don't need some guy with a special title to address Jesus for you.
The Roman Church doesn't believe this. Once again they put faulty men on a pedestal. Think about it: If scripture says we are all priests, and yet the Roman Catholic priest thinks they are the only true priests, then they don't really know the bible. So you are allowing ignorant men to lead you.
Many pastors in the Protestant church fall prey to this as well. They love the title and special significance. This is one of my pet peeves as a pastor. Especially when someone is sick in the hospital. People in the church think only the pastor can go because he is the only one who can pray special prayers. And so people dont go see other members in the church who are suffering because people they think it is the pastor's job to do that. No, it is everyone's job, because everyone is a priest!
Justification by Faith
My biggest problem with the Roman Catholic Church is that most of the priests themselves are not born again believers. They are religious, not righteous. They believe faith + sacraments + tradition + the writings of the Magistrate all save. When scriptures says clearly, "Therefore, being justified by faith we have peace with God." (Romans 5:1) And so when you have a man who is a sexual being, trying to abstain from marriage and sex, thinking they are the arbiters of all truth concerning God, and they are just as lost as every other sinner because they are not connected to the life of God by faith, you have all kind of trouble on your hand. Listen to Paul in Colossians 2:16-23:
"Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”?These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence."
Lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. See, clear as crystal. But remember, Roman Catholic's don't read their Bibles.
This is why I left the church, and why I hope more Roman Catholics leave because the destructive theology and fall-out from it will never change. Never.
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”
I had a life-altering moment, a breakthrough, a flash of insight, a bolt of concentrated wisdom, and some would even call it an epiphany. I haven’t had one in quite some time, but this one I just had was the kind of experience that when it struck me all of reality fell in line. For a brief moment I understood all things. Sharp focus and clear thinking has been granted to me for a short time, so I must write it down before the cloud of brilliance leaves me. Let me describe the moment for you...
I was making myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch yesterday in the kitchen while my daughter was in the living room eating a salad that I just made her. It was a hot summer afternoon. And when it is a Thursday and it is hot, not even my dog wants to go outside. My daughter had a busy morning, she finally could relax for awhile, stay cool inside, and so she sat on the couch getting ready to watch some mind numbing television. To my horror the show she chose to watch was one of those silly teeny bopper shows that have been made for kids to pass the time without thinking.
Normally I ignore it when she puts one of those shows on, but on this hot Thursday, I grabbed my sandwich and decided to join her to watch. The name of the show she was watching is called “Mr. Young.” The description of the show puts it like this, "Take Doogie Howser out of the O.R., put him in a classroom and you have the basic premise of 'Mr. Young.' The titular Adam Young is a whiz kid who entered college as a 9-year-old. At 14, now a college graduate, he begins his career teaching science to high schoolers -- including both his best friend and his crush, which presents a challenge for him in balancing his personal and professional lives. As if being a teen isn't hard enough!"
Sounds great, doesn't it?
To put it simply, "Mr. Young" is another one of those Disney kid's shows that are really, really, really, really bad. Think "Suite Life with Zac and Cody," "Hannah Montana," "Ant Farm", "Shake it Up", or get this name, "Dog With a Blog." When I say bad I mean cheesy, silly, ridiculous, mind killing shows that have terrible plots, horrid acting and children who are so over the top expressive that after five minutes of watching you are sure to develop the most intense migrane headache you have ever had.
So there I sat, watching, enduring, rolling my eyes, trying to put my fingers in my ears to stop the pain. And right before I got up to leave the room it hit me. The moment was like a man making a discovery on a Twilight Zone episode when a person realizes all of his friends and neighbors have been poisoned by the aliens who want to take over the world. Do you know when it comes to media many people believe violence is what is rotting our children’s minds? I can understand this. But I believe there is something that is far more dangerous and subtle that causes way more damage to our kids. And I mean this sincerely, but you will have to hear me out, because what I am about to say may at first sound preposterous, but if you consider my reasoning I will show you how it is akin to what is killing our souls on a larger scale.
The problem with the world is the “laugh track.” Yes, the laugh track. You think I am kidding, but I am not.
If you look deeper and try to notice, Disney utilizes the laugh track to make those really bad shows somewhat believable. They are used to convince your child that what they are watching is actually funny. Look into the eyes of the younger children when they watch, everytime the laugh track is played their eyes will glaze over and they then begin to buy into it. Crowd psychology is a powerful tool. The laugh track gets your kid believing everybody is laughing. But let me tell you, what the laugh track has them laughing at is not funny! Dont get me wrong, I love good humor, but what the laugh track has you laugh at is not humorous. It is bland insanity. The laugh track is a marketing gimmick used to get your kid to like a show that has zero substance.
Trust me on this!
I wanted to prove it for myself, so here is how I performed my own test: Everytime my daughter is watching one of those shows I will laugh along with the laugh track. I will try to have the same intensity of laughter to match the track and it is strange how she will begin to snap out of the trance the laugh track had her in previously. When I do it, boy does she ever get mad! But my response to her irritation is very pointed and intense, "Think about it, that was not funny. They are fooling you! What they just did there is bad writing, in fact it is mindless garbage. It is not funny! They want you to buy into their humor, which is not humor, or plot, or reasonable writing. It is trash and they sell it with the laugh track!” She is beginning to see, I am winning my daughter back to the world of the living . She is starting to think again. I can now teach her that a good story has to have a plot, not just a laugh track.
I still have alot of work cut out for her because that laugh track is so compelling. Mob rule rules!
I am convinced the whole world is operating on a laugh track. The majority of people I know are living lives that are not really wise, significant, or have any kind of plot behind their choices whatsoever because these days we are just expected to laugh, or cry, or go "ah" with the crowd and the hidden laugh track that is always playing behind the scenes of everyday life.
Do you know what the intention of the laugh track is? To take the bite out of life. Life has been neutered. We no longer believe we are living in a grand story, we no longer think the Gospel is wonderful, or dangerous, or important. We have been dumbed down by the laugh track that is always playing behind the scenes. Look at everyone staring at their hand held screens and mounted screens, they are buying into the constant drone of the laugh track. At least with a violent movie there is the potential for shock and horror. But the laugh track numbs us into stupidity, and it destroys urgency!
Proverbs 14:12 says that most mindless people are hurtling towards death without realizing it. That is because the laugh track is numbing them to the world around them. It is not funny! Recently ABC had a show on called "The Proposal" which is the perfect illustration of what I am trying to warn people about. It is a one hour show. Think about it, a one hour show with commercials - - so it is a 42 minute show. In that 42 minutes one person is choosing between 10 people to find the one person they are going to propose to at the end of the 42 minutes. 42 minutes! During this 42 minutes the crowd "Oohs and Ahs" over the banal non-sensical answers of the 10 people they don't even know. Tears of sentimental stupidity flow, and then under bright Hollywood stage lights the proposal for marriage occurs.
42 lowsy minutes!!!!
The cooing crowd makes mindlessness acceptable. We are now praising hollow idiocy. I blame the laugh track. At least with violence your child starts to see the world is dangerous, but with the laugh track nothing matters. There is no urgency, nothing is noble, nothing is dangerous, and everything must be tolerated with a forced laugh.
I HATE IT!
Is there really coming a day of recompense? Or did Jesus die so we could watch Mr. Young and Miley Cyrus? Yes, there is something far worse than violence. The laugh track! It may be the final sign of human degradation. We don't know how to think anymore. More's the pity!ency.
"The world of the fairy tale impinges on the ordinary world the way the dimension of depth impinges on the two-dimensional surface of a plane, so that there is no point on the plane-a Victorian sitting room or a Kansas farm-that can't become an entrance to it. You enter the EXTRAORDINARY by way of the ORDINARY. Something you have seen a thousand times you suddenly see as if for the first time...you do not have to go a great distance to enter it any more than you have to go a great distance to enter the world of dreams-you just have to go to sleep-or the world of memory..."
Frederick Buechner (Telling the Truth)
I was watching a rain drop.
Framed in a cloudy backdrop of gray, a single bead of lonely water fell silently out of the sky. It traveled a short journey from the bottom of the lacy dark canopy tumblng quickly down to die on a hard surface of dry concrete. It ended quietly. No cry or whimper, just the sound of a soft pat hitting the ground. Within seconds it was swallowed by the cracks and dimples of a thirsty sidewalk.
Is that what life is like for you? A sad straight line downward? Are you just existing to exist? Is there any magic or only dull tedium?
I am not by nature a depressed person, but there are days when I wonder is that all? Is my day only the same day, lived again and again, a drab existance covered in a cloud of emotional gray? Am I a rain drop?
Listen to this quote by Frederick Buechner, it is aimed at preachers like me who forget the real fairy tale we are daily living in:
"The truth, reality, is what it is. It is the TV news with the sound turned on and all the other sound turned on with it-the sounds of the house, of the street outside the house, the town, the countryside, the world...The truth is all the sounds that well up within the preacher as he sits down at his desk to put his sermon together-the sounds of the bills to be paid, the children to educate, the storm windows to put up, the sounds of his own blunders and triumphs, of his lusts and memories and dreams and doubts, and one of which when you come right down to it is apt to seem more real and immediate and clamorous to hm than the sound of truth as high and wild and holy.
So homiletics becomes apologetics. The preacher exchanges the fairy-tale truth that is too good to be true for a truth that...secularizes and makes rational. He adapts and makes relevant. He demythologizes and makes credible. And what remains of the fairy tale of the Gospel becomes in his hands a neutered narrative where there are few suprises." (Italized words are not the original authors ).
Is the Gospel a fairy tale? Not in the sense that it is a completely made-up, make-believe story; but it is in the sense that when understood rightly it is "high, wild and holy. It is magical!" Yes, the Gospel is meant to be wild, and magical. It is meant to awaken my soul to another world that exists just beyond my sight. But to the average preacher, like me, and the average Christian, like you, the Gospel is often seen merely as an insignificant add on to the monotony of my ho-hum daily routine. Like the rain drop, my life quietly, silently, unceremoniously descends.
That isn't much of a fairy tale. In fact, that isn't even magical. And that isn't the Gospel.
Frederick Buechner says there are three components to the fairy tale that are also true to the Gospel:
(1) The hidden world is full of darkness and danger. He says that in the fairy tale there are "fierce dragons that guard the treasure, wicked fairies who show up at royal christenings, wrong turns off the path, an awful price to be paid for choosing the wrong casket or wrong door. It is a world of dark and dangerous quest where the suitors compete for the hand of the king's daughter with death to the losers..." The Gospel has been sold differently than this. We have come to see it as something tame. A list of ideas, cold principles and irrelevant histoical facts that you learn on Sunday, but is not does really contain the warp and woof of real living. The Gospel doesn't pay the bills, it adds little to help troubled relationships, it offers relatively nothing in the immediate stressful schedule of the day. But I believe if you were to actually read the Bible rightly, the Gospel is first and foremost the entrance into a real world full of darkness and danger, of beasts and creatures fully fanged. In my Proverbs study I often forget I am dealing with more than meets the eye. Proverbs is not just wisdom for being good, it opens us up to a wider panarama of the "high, wild and holy." I came across a number of verses that will chill you to the bone. Let me offer just two:
- Proverbs 21:26 - "One who wanders from the path of understanding and good sense, will rest in the assembly of the dead." What path is this? I am not walking on any path right now, am I? Jesus says I am, in fact he clearly states that there are only two to choose from. A wide road and a narrow rocky path. (Matthew 7:13-14) He tells me the wide road, the easy road, the one most of us are traveling on, leads to destruction. The narrow path, the one rarely ever chosen, leads to a vibrant techni-color life; it leads the weary wide-eyed adventurer eventually to a land full of wonder that is just around the next corner. Is my daily wandering really that precarious? Will many of my friends and family end up walking with the assembly of the dead? Are they holding hands with hordes of demons and fanged monsters? Does aimlessness really involve that much danger? The Bible seems to think so.
- Proverbs 15:11 - "Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord; how much more the hearts of the children of man!" Sheol, the place of the dead, and Abaddon, the great abyss that holds terrifying demons and dark angels, lie open, right this very moment, ready to swallow the unsuspecting average person like flies to flickering flame. Most of us see the world as nothing more than a mundane existence. a boring routine, going to work, watching Netflix and taking an Advil and a few vitamens to stop joint pain as I get ready slink into to bed on my $399 Serta matress. Is Sheol widening her mouth under hundreds if not thousands of unsuspecting simpletons as they sleep in total ignorance? Is there more in this moment than simply paying bills and attending mindless parties? Is life a dangerous world? Is the Gospel that magical?
(2) Both Evil and Good disguise themselves in the fairy tale world. Buechner queries, "Who could guess that the little gray man asking for bread is a great magician who holds in his hands the power of life and death...Beasts talk and flowers come to life, and nothing is apt to be what it seems." For Christians the man who was helplessly strung up on the cross, the despised one, the one whose name is daily used as a mere swear word of the cool and cunning, is getting ready this moment to return to the earth in his royal raiment. He will be beautiful to behold and mighty in word and deed. He is hidden, waiting, wanting people to want him. But when he bursts on the scene he will shake the world, and everything that is not built on a sure foundation will crumble. And the one who looks beautiful now, will be utterly shamed. The Devil will be defanged and humiliated, and those who follow the "god of this age" will be striken silent and dumb, no more mocking, no more sinning in abundance, the adversary will be eating crow...and his army of followers, the arrogant and proud, the beautiful people of this current world, will be forced to choke on their own pride.
(3) The fairy tale is a world where the battle goes ultimately to the good, who live happily ever after, and where in the long run everybody, good and evil alike, becomes known by his true name. I like how Frederick puts it here, "So great is the power of magic that even the less-than-good live happily ever after. It is the beast who becomes beautiful, the cowardly lion who becomes brave, the wicked sisters with their big feet and fancy ways who repent in the end and are forgiven. Happiness is not only inevitable, it is also endless." Christianily promises happily ever after as well. Revelation 22 says, "Let the evil doer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy, Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done...Blessed are those who wash their robes so that they may have the right to the tree of life and they may enter the city by the gates."
We are walking among giants, people who have washed their robes in blood. Mighty men and women. And yet most of us yawn when we see them, or we cringed when we look into the bathroom mirror not seeing ourselves as we really are. The world to us is only gray, we feel like drops of water falling.
But this is not so!
Soon may seem like a relative word, something that seems far away, but I am not so sure. Soon I will close my eyes. Soon I will wake up in a bed that is mine, a soft bed, warm. Soon I will open my eyes and a familiar face will be looking at me, a face I will intimately know but have never seen before. I will know the voice. Soon I will also see my dad, alive, smiling, standing behind the face that is more beautiful than a sunrise, more alive than a summer day. I will feell like I did when as I boy I was standing with my dad by the edge of the shimmering water that was lapping up on Lake Erie beach. But it will be better. It will be soon.
Soon means I am near the edge of a world that is as close to me as a dream when one awakes. I am not a rain drop. I am an hier to the throne. Royalty hidden underneath the clothes of a commener. There is more than meets the eye. My job is to live like magic is real.
I need to stop being bored.
So do you. Wake up the fairy tale is real. Jesus rose. Jesus is "I am." Wake up!
What's it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What's it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?
Are we meant to take more than we give
Or are we meant to be kind?
And if only fools are kind, Alfie
Then I guess it is wise to be cruel
And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie
What will you lend on an old golden rule?
As sure as I believe there's a heaven above, Alfie
I know there's something much more,
Something even non-believers can believe in...
"But we urge you brothers, to love one another more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one."
1 Thessalonians 4:10-12
1966 was a crazy year, it had it all, and then some: It was the height of the Viet Nam protests, mini-skirts became popular, The Rolling Stones and Beatles were a rockin', Simon and Garfunkle were sitting on a Bridge Over Troubled Waters, Miranda finally got his rights, Star Trek began exploring outer space, the Black Panthers organized as the race riots ramped up in high gear, and I, the writer of this post, was born on a hot August morn.
There also was a lot of social experimentation going on and huge philosophical questions were being asked in 1966 as well.
One of the biggest questions was found in the title of a rather obscure 1966 movie titled, "What's It All About Alfie?" which inspired the popular song by Dionne Warwick (a cousin to Whitney Houston) of the same name. I can remember as a young kid hearing Dionne's velvety tones singing the main line of the movie "What's It All About?" asking myself, "What's what all about?" It took me a while to realize that Alfie's name is the answer to the puzzle. Just rearrange the letters and you get the phrase "A Life."
So what is "A Life" about? The lyrics even ask it, "Is it just for the moment we live? What is it all about?" Do you know what it's all about?
This question is important on every level, because the answer gives direction to everything a person does. If life has no purpose than nothing really matters. Even if you want it to, you will soon die and be accountable to nothing but dirt. So if the answer is nothing and nada, why even ask the question?
But what if the answer has something to do with God and eternity? What if your life does matter? What if God has answered this question in his word? Are we responsible for it? Is our life going to be measured by it? Is Jesus serious when he says in John 12:48, "the word that I have spoken will judge everyone on the last day"?
Yes, I believe he is, and I believe his word is very clear if you care to listen. There are three things he wants out of a life:
(1) To Love him through his Son. (Mk. 12:30)
(2) To Love your Neighbor as Yourself. (Mk. 12:31)
And I think the last one is the trickiest...
(3) Work at Your personal Calling hard by minding your own business. (John 21:21-22, 1 Thessalonians 4:10-12, 2 Thessalonians 3:11-13)
The Reformers summed up these three points like this:
Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
Now these answer are very simple, but how you flesh them out is where the difficulty occurs. Sometimes it seems like number 2 and 3 can come into conflict. "How do I love my neighbor while minding my own business?" This is a tough question especially when we live in a world that wants to always tell you what to do. Did you know there are alot of people who think they can live your life better than you are currently living it? I have never known a period of time when people felt so free to always criticize and tell you where you are falling short in how you live. Often just because you have been born with a specific skin color, or gender, or if you have had two parents those who haven't feel they have the right to tell you how it really is.
No one minds their own business anymore.
One of the biggest issues where number 2 and 3 seem to come into conflict the most is with the idea of "White Priviledge." Yesterday I read a very interesting blog post on Cornerstone University's "Talking Points" blog that is titled, "I am learning what it means to be white." The article is very good, written by a kind and compassionate white female student who is full of self-evaltuation for the purpose of gaining understanding with the black culture. She truly wants to help mend fences and bridge the gap with our culture's racial hostility. This is a very commendable aim. Her conclusion is that "Christians should embrace guilt rather than shame (on how they treat the black culture), as it moves us from thinking 'I am bad' to 'I have seen something that is bad.' The appropriate response when we see something bad is to honestly lament with those who have suffered by listening to them and mourning with them. As Christians, it may seem odd to embrace guilt."
What is it we need to feel guilty for? And here is her answer...
"Race has affected each of us since our birth, but for many whites in the United States, an understanding of personal cultural identity is lacking because of the normalization of whiteness." And then she writes, 'When white culture comes in contact with other cultures, it almost always wins'."
This got me thinking and evaluating. My first question is this, "What does it mean that white culture wins? And secondarily, what are we trying to win at?" This can only be answered by our purpose: "What's it all about. Alfie?"
I think if the non-Christian answers it, life is about the accumulation of limited resources. "He who has the most toys wins." It is about the gaining of power, of things, of being able to consume what you want. This is where the word 'priviledge' comes into play. If the goal is to be on top, maybe she has a point. Personally I think that is what politics is all about these days, winning. And that goes for both sides. The Progressive Left is trying to win too, and the way they win is by getting the other side to admit they have been playing unfairly. Shame and gult works, and they wield this tool well.
I think this is where the statement, "white culture wins" comes from. I think the church has bought into this purpose as the unspoken end game for mankind. Health and Weath preachers promote this goal, prosperity theology pushes consumption as the sign of blessing. And both capitalism and socialism argues their validity based on winning as the end goal.
But if we were to go back to God's purpose, winning is not the goal. If I can be honest, the goal should be dying. True Christians should be willing to help those in need, but they also need to stop being jealous of those who are winning. The moment you want what someone has you have forgotten why you are here. We have been arguing from a secular end game.
Do I feel guilty for my "white priviledge"? Well, I am white. I guess I have an easier go at getting things that I want than many others do, even though I still feel broke. But honestly, I have tried to work hard and keep to myself and then help those who ask with the extra I have. Should I feel guilty for that? If the social justice warrior wants me to admit that I am winning I am not going to take their bait. I am not playing to win. If the person on the margins feels like they have a harder time getting a job, or they are pulled over by the cops more often than me, I must listen and try to help them the best I can. I must love my brother. I must care.
But am I allowed to tell my brother that the end goal is not to win?
I believe James 2:1-3 to be right, "My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory...have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?" And then he says something crazy in 2:5-6 "Listen my brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? Don't dishonor the poor man!"
Do you see, the game isn't about winning; the game is about loving God. Both sides need to understand this. If you are rich, the world thinks you are winning, God says you actually may be losing in love (see 1 Timothy 6:10). But if you are poor, don't sell your love for the desire to win. The more you desire to win, the more envy and jealousy take over your soul, and you are becoming what you hate.
So Alfie, "What's it all about?" We haven't progressed much from 1966, have we? Maybe nothing is new under the sun?
"You were anointed as a guardian cherub,
for so I ordained you.
You were on the holy mount of God;
you walked among the fiery stones.
You were blameless in your ways
from the day you were created
till wickedness was found in you."
The snarl, slanted eyes, and dripping sneer of hate. You can't miss it. That is the face of the Soul Eater.
You have seen him but you don't really notice him. He is everywhere, a common monster living free in broad daylight. We have grown use to his ways and even applaud his work of subversion. He is a destroyer, homewrecker, a lurking evil, the first villian. But he is gladly invited into our homes, welcomed in the company of friends, and sadly, tolerated in the church. Even your dear old mom allows him to linger.
He is the Soul Eater.
The Soul Eater is loved on a personal level, but despised in the lives of others. So when we are alone with him we embrace his ways, making daily deals with him, asking him to work on our behalf. And when he does we forget just how deadly the deal we made with him is. He lies as he kills, and we believe him. He knows how to get things done, but it is always at the expense of others. Bones break, teeth gnash when he is at work.
He is the Soul Eater.
Look how he divides. Watch him denegrate and despise. HIs laugh has no pity. And we laugh with him.
Oh you think he hasn't made any deals with you? That is because he has already lied to you. The moment you shake his clammy palm, you forget. You forget the love and admiration you had for those you claim to adore. You forget value. You forget that the blood of Calvary is worth more than all the diamonds buried at the bottom of the sea. You forget how he hurts.
The Soul Eater plots, plans, and schemes against you. He wants you to join him in "The Black Parade."
So who is he?
He goes by many names, "Amour-propre", "Gall", "Swag", "Hubris", "Stolz", "Gordost", but you know him as "Pride."
Even his name is tricky. We want him around but we know we really shouldn't. There is a pride that is good, but if we are not careful when we strive for the good side of pride it quickly spoils and turns bad. The deal looks good until you realize the pride you bought has already bit you. The English writer Charles Bridges says this about it:
"It is hard to persuade a man that he is proud. Every one protests against this sin. Yet who does not cherish the viper in his own bosom? Man so little understands that dependence on his God constitutes the creature's happiness, and that the principle of independence is madness, and its end - destruction. The haughty walk on the brink of a fearful precipice; only a miracle preserves them from instant ruin."
The origins of the monster's arrival is repeated daily in our lives. Ezekiel the prophet describes it clearly in chapter 28:17: "Your heart became proud on account on of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor." This quote is about Lucifer's fall, the making of Satan. The root is pride, or self-love. Pride takes root when I exalt myself above everyone and everything else.
The psychologist even buys the lie, "In order to love others you must first love yourself." Who doesn't love themselves? We all do. Even the person who gets depressed about himself is depressed because he thinks he deserves better than he is getting because he loves himself so much. Pride has entered our soul since birth. It joins hands with Satan as he declares his independence in Isaiah 14:13-14, "I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of the assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Olympus, I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I WILL MAKE MYSELF LIKE THE MOST HIGH."
Did you hear that? Pride wants to win. Be on top. Equal with God. Pride loves thyself so much all other loves pale in comparison.
It is this self-love that gives birth to the monster. This seed has been planted in you. You don't believe me? That is because you are being lied to by the monster.
Let's talk more about this later because he is hard to kill. And once dead he springs quickly back to life. But just know this:
"Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked are sin." (Prov. 21:4)
It was a hot sticky summer day, like today, when I met him.
Some would describe this event as a bolt out of the blue; but for me, meeting him seemed like nothing more than a coincidental chance encounter. At the time I didn't think it would amount to much. I have met alot of people in my life, how was this going to be any different? I was taking a nap under a tree just trying to get some shade and my friend woke me and told me to come meet this guy. "He was a great teacher," he said. But the more he described the man for me, and mentioned the podunk town he came from, I grew sceptical. I'm always sceptical, it keeps me sane.
As we approached him, the man looked like any other man, a bit scruffy and poor, he had callous hands. Why would I want to talk to him? He was rough on every edge. But somehow he was genuinely excited to meet me. I never met this guy before, but he sure seemed to know me. He shook my hand and said, "Now here is an honest man!" How could he know that? I never even once talked to him. He made me curious.
Over the next couple months, which eventually turned to a few years, I learned a lot from this man. His teaching was like no other, he didn't boast or brag, there was no hype or exagerration, but rather he spoke like he knew things. Deep things. Issues of the heart. He even talked about love, what man ever talks about love? At first it seemed a bit too much.
We would travel as a group from town to town following him, listening to him teach, and everywhere we went people invited us to stay with them. They would feed us, laugh with us, and we would often sing around late night campfires. One thing I will never forget, everyone felt welcomed and listended to with the teacher. He never took over conversations, but when he did speak everyone stopped talking just to listen. It was as if...well...as if his words could make things. Change things. Most people who speak use hollow words that soon fade away, but when the teacher spoke his words had life, they landed on your chest hard and your eyes saw into realities that were once pitch-dark and closed. He opened them for you.
Light, that is it, his words were like someone turned on a light!
After a year of following him, things got really interesting. People who once were crippled and bent over would touch him and be made straight. I saw a guy who was as blind as a bat ask the teacher for the ability to see. A small dab of mud was placed on this man's eyes, and after he washed it off he could see! What?
One time we were approaching a little hillbilly town called Nain. Who ever heard of Nain? I think my dad went there once to get his plow fixed. As we came to the town a funeral procession was heading out to the burial grounds because apparantly a single lady's only son just died. You should have heard the moaning! The dead guy's mother was weeping so loud you could hear her 1/2 a mile away, and when we got up to her she was ready to collapse. It was kind of embarrassing, but why should she care what my cynical mind thought about her, all of her hope was gone. And then our teacher did something strange. He went up to the dead kid in the coffin and touched him. Every good Jew knows never to touch a dead body - - the priests will yell at you and call you unclean! But he did anyway and then he told the boy to get up - - and the boy got up!
You should have seen the look on his mom's face. When her son sat up and spoke she didn't say anything at first. Her mouth just hung there, wide open. I noticed she was missing about three teeth. And her tears kept flowing. But under those tears her eyes were dancing. Have you ever seen dancing eyes? They are the same eyes I saw on my wife when she had her first child. Despair and pain where turned to unbelievable joy. It was unbelievable! I still don't know if I saw what I think I saw!
I then looked at the smirk on the teacher's face. I knew at that moment I had nothing to fear. I knew this man could take all the wrongs I experienced in life and he would make them right. People loved this man. Heck, I am not ashamed to say it, I loved this man!
But there were some who felt threatened by him. I will never understand why. Why would anyone feel threatened by a guy who only did good things? Maybe that is it, because he is the only one who was truly good. People don't like being exposed. Well one night after we had some soft warm bread he turned to those of us who were with him since the beginning and said, "I am going to be murdered in the big city. The authorities that be don't want me around. I just want you to know. Get ready to continue on after I die." And right after he said that he took another bite of bread. One in our group, the loud mouth, turned to him and said, "Never, we won't allow it!" Teacher told him to hold his tongue, because what must be, must be. I saw fire in the teacher's eyes. I said nothing.
However, after that exchange, I still didn't believe it. He raised a dead boy, how could anyone kill the person who has life in his tongue?
Skip a few months forward, it was holiday, the day everyone went to the big city to celebrate the fesitival of God. Teacher had dinner with us and told us "Tonight is the night." I didn't understand nor listen. He could do anything, life was great whenever we were with him, how was it possible he would be stopped? So I didn't listen.
That night, after we finished singing, and he wanted to be alone to pray, the authorities came and took him. They actually took him, and teacher did nothing. Said nothing, Why? Maybe he was a fraud? In fact, the next day they decided to completely shame him by having him hang naked on a tree. I couldn't watch it. How could the one who raised that dead kid and made seeing mud for the blind allow himself to be mocked so severely without retaliating?
I heard his last few words. Some were mumbled under dry chapped lips, but there were a few that rang as clear as a bell as he hung there. "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do!" How?
He died. Now what? All of my future dreams of a perfect life, my hope that justice would come and all wrongs would be made right were snuffed out when he was snuffed out. Why? If he had a direct line to God the Father, would he allow such gross injustice to win? Why does sin always seem to win? How could anything good come out of such tragedy?
2,000 years later, sometimes I feel like it is over. But...one thing I didn't mention...he rose up from being dead. I realize, as I look at life, some situations in my life feel dead. Like it is over. But that is exactly where the teacher wants it to be, out of death comes life. Truthfully, I just read, God must orchastrate defeat in our fleshly lives in order for him to rise up in our new selves.
Is it over? Are your dreams shot to pieces? Does it feel like you are hanging humiliated on a tree? I guess he has you right where he wants you. Like the dead boy in Nain, he wants you first laying dead in the coffin so when you jump up your eyes will dance. It is the only way to get your eyes to dance.
God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
"Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind."
(1 Samuel 15:19)
I'm trying to wrap my mind around what I am reading.
This Sunday we will be discussing the end, the of end of Second Peter, and at the same time we will be considering the end of the world. So as I prepare my message, I am trying to take in the words of Peter and let them soak into my heart and mind. I just can't seem to do it. It doesn't make sense.
Maybe one of the reasons for this is because the weather outside of my window is perfect: 70 degrees, a slight breeze is blowing, and I can smell a faint fragrance of lilac blowing into my office. Birds are chirping. A soft gentle sun is sending warm rays on the canopy of green leaves that shade the squirrell running underneath in the freshly cut grass. And then I read these words from Peter:
"But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed...the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!" (2 Peter 3:10 & 12)
Am I suppossed to believe this?
It all depends on how I treat God's word. Is it the truth or just beautiful poetry that is meant to move the heart? Peter says in 3:16 that how we handle God's word makes all the difference in the world. Listen, "There are some things in them (scripture) that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to thier own destruction." In other words, be very careful how you choose to understand and teach his word. How you treat the word is how God will treat you.
For me, when God says something, it is so. Even Jesus says "For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5:18)" So before the end comes, God the Father will make sure all he ever said will be accomplished. For me, that is a certain fact. That means...
- The earth will be burned up for sure. Not annihilated, but sent fire to clean the dirt and dross off. We are moving out of our old church right now, and it is amazing how much stuff has been accumlated since 1955. There are boxes of papers and casset tapes and frames that are useless, molding and old. Why hold on to a past that does not contribute to the beauty of the future? Before heaven can come God needs to gut this place called earth, and he will do it with cleansing fire. He says...
- The heavens will melt. So we will get some new skies, new heavenly bodies. God must be really powerful if he can melt Jupiter?
- Jesus will come when we least expect him. A thief. A theif never lets you know his plans, his work is meant to be discreet, he wants to surprise us.
So, as I sit here watching a young oak leaf dance in the zephyr of a new spring day, faith asks me to wrestle with my belief about the end of all things. Are these three things really going to take place? From my modern American mind I can't buy it. I have a track meet to go to today, some Netflix series I have wanted to watch, a Memorial Day weekend to enjoy. I can't worry or bother with fire, death and the final judgment of all mankind. God can't melt the Milky Way, can he? It is too mentally overwhelming to grasp.
BUT IS IT TRUE?
The best way for me to answer this is to look back in history, when days were darker, and humanity was really suffering for the wages of their sin. I think that is why World War 2 fascinates, because the reality of the carnage makes God's promises more dreadful and realistic. From 1941 to 1945 God stayed his hand, he let the dam of sin break out in real time. Man was, for a short time, given what they collectively deserved. He definately had people's attention through the judgment of Romans 1:24 when "God gave them over to their passions, desires, lusts and hatred." But on a calm spring day it is easy to laugh the seriousness of his word off. Especially when the judgment that is to come is more direct, not just giving man over, but sending consuming fire on the deeds of all mankind. He will expose our works for what they are.
Listen to Zephaniah 1:14-18, and try to believe this, let faith enhance your imagination, stay silent, close your mouth, and listen...
The great day of the Lord is near,
near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter;
the mighty man cries aloud there.
A day of wrath is that day,
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness,
a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities
and against the lofty battlements.
I will bring distress on mankind,
so that they shall walk like the blind,
because they have sinned against the Lord;
their blood shall be poured out like dust,
and their flesh like dung.
Neither their silver nor their gold
shall be able to deliver them
on the day of the wrath of the Lord.
In the fire of his jealousy,
all the earth shall be consumed;
for a full and sudden end
he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.
For the life of me, I can't take this in. But faith tells me it is true. How do I preach this? How do we consider the end as we get ready to go camping, and many people preparing to engage in secret sins over the three day weekend? How does this make sense in a culture that goes to Las Vegas to get lost? Does God even have the right to spoil our fun with such serious talk?
It all depends on how we answer one singular question: Will the New Heavens and New Earth really be that good? "But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells." (3:13) Ah, righteousness. Clean. Pure. People who actually love and don't break the hearts of others. No more lies, no more deciet. My bones won't ache anymore!
One last thing: I try to imagine how the reader of this blog will take my writing. Probably the same way I normally read the bible, with a yawn, a smirk and rolling of the eyes. I am too important and have too many important things to worry about to take God serious. May God help me.
My three neighbors and I were terribly bored one summer, so we decided to box. We didn't have gloves, but we did have striped white tube socks that we took off and used for boxing gloves. So there we stood, in our bare feet on the green grass of our neighbors lawn and we began to box.
The two oldest kids decided to go first, Jim and Mike. Mike was wirey and fast, but Jim was a big, strong, muscular athlete. After they put their socks on over their hands and arms they faced each other with fists ready in fighting position. The rest of us watched egging them on. One kid not in the match gave the countdown, "Ready, set, fight!" Jim and Mike circled each other and Mike took the first swing hitting Jim right on the chest. It landed softly causing Jim to laugh, "Is that all you got?" Mike swung again hitting Jim on the arm. Again, resulting in laughter. Mike circled around Jim taking swing after swing, landing one here and another one there, but all Jim could do was smile and giggle.
And then after allowing a few more punches, Jim wound up and swung a large righthanded roundhouse hitting Mike square in the face. Splat! Jim's fist landed on Mike's nose causing it to gush a red river of blood. Mike dropped his hands down and said, "No more, I am finished. Jim punches too hard." Jim said, "Anyone else want to box me?" There were no takers, and that was the end of boxing with socks on in the backyard.
I feel like my words of late have been landing on the hearts and minds of people like a flurry of Mike's soft punches landing on Jim's chest. A lot bluster and fuss but no power. I work hard to make my words land hard, I try to use interesting illustrations, or while in my office during counseling sessions I try to use logic to make a point, or even with my kids I try to be passionate and compelling with my reasons for godly living. But I feel like my words have been landing like Mike's punches. A lot of bluster and fuss but no power.
It is easy to give advice, or great counseling or well crafted sermons that may even draw some laughter and tears - - but life-change is a different matter altogether. I don't want my audience to merely listen, or laugh, I want people, who after they hear my words, they want to quit fighting. I wish my words landed like JIm's fists. Where warnings caused repentence, and promises resulted in faith.
Maybe Zechariah was right after all, "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts." (Zech. 4:6)
Does change in life come from good arguments and find sound sermons, or the Spirit of God? Does repentance occur because someone gets mad? I wish I could talk people into heaven and right living. I wish my passionate pleading could stop someone from sinning. But mere human words are like a small fist in sock, nothing too impressive nor powerful.
I want to see some bloody noses!
"Eureka! That's It!!!" (I found a piece of the Gospel puzzle that has been hiding from me...and I'll bet it has been hiding from you too!)
"And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ,
WHO IS THE IMAGE OF GOD."
(2 Corinthians 4:3-4)
It was a rainy summer afternoon, large drops of water were softly beating on the window pane, distant thunder was rumbling and tumbling, and puddles on the pavement were growing large, I remember it well. I couldn't go outside to play with my friends and all the baseball games were cancelled because the fields were muddy, so I was bored. "Chris, why don't you read a book or put together a 1,000 piece puzzle?" My mom always had a 101 boring ways for a 11 year old kid to not be bored. I definately didn't want to read a book, so why not try a puzzle?
I went to our game closet where we had a large stack of well used game boxes sitting one on top of another: "LIFE", "Monopoly", "RISK", "Sorry!" and I also found sitting on the bottom of the closet about 10 assorted puzzles. I took my mom's advice and picked a puzzle that had a nice mountain scene with a pristine blue lake and a field of wild flowers rolling gently up the mountain's slopes. I went to our large living room table and poured out the pieces, spreading them flat across the wooden surface. I then set to work: look for the flat edges, seperate by color, and use the picture as a guide as I started fitting and attaching piece by piece.
There is something calming about sitting in a room by yourself on a rainy day doing a mindless task lost in your thoughts. I miss those simpler days, as my dad would say, "Sometimes you need to find a way to iron the wrinkles out of your mind." Well putting that puzzle togther sure did the trick. All in all it took me about 3 hours for the picture to come together, the mountain formed the fastest, than the field of flowers and the last to be put together was the lake because each blue puzzle piece looked the same. Eventually my patience was rewarded, the lake was coming together. But to my astonishment and horror, two lousy pieces were missing. Two lousy pieces! Arggh, I needed to find those pieces to finish the puzzle. You can't be content when pieces are missing. Everyone knows that.
I went on a life or death hunt, "Where are those pieces?" I searched the living room carpet. Nothing! I followed my path through the kitchen to the game closet. Nothing! I looked down my shirt, in my pants, under the chair, in the bathroom, by the snack pantry, in the cat litter. Nothing! I was desperate.
My mom told me to just let it go and put it away because I finished most of it. I should be happy with that. But I couldn't. I left the puzzle with the two missing pieces on the table and I made sure my sisters didn't wreck it. There is sat for the rest of the day, I had to find those pieces. Believe it or not, the next day, was another rainy day, I went to the closet to get a game for my sisters and I to play, and there in the bottom of the closet, sitting silently in a dark corner, were the missing pieces! Two blue pieces, I found them, and in joy I ran to the dining room table and put them in their proper places to complete the picture. I did it, it was finished! I told my mom and made her come into the room to see, and sure enough the picture was complete. I was happy. No one else cared, especially my sisters. But I was happy.
Two days ago I found some more missing pieces that have been missing my whole life. It probably won't sound like much to you, but I cannot tell you how happy I am to finally find them. These two pieces concern the Gospel.
I have been studying the Gospel most of my adult life, the picture on the box for me is clear, I get it. I know the Gospel means "Good News." I know the Gospel is about the life, death and resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-5). I know the Gospel "is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. (Romans 1:16)" I get it, I have sold my life to it. But like the puzzle I put together as a kid, there were a couple pieces missing that I have recently found which has made the Gospel more complete for me. To be honest, there will always be pieces missing because full knowledge of the greatest subject is never fully attainable on this side of eternity. But I did find two pieces that have really helped me go deeper and understand more fully why the Gospel is so important for every person on earth. I will tell you how I found them and then I will tell you what they are.
(1) How I found the missing pieces: My comrade and colleague, Jared Doty, has been hounding me to read a book called, "The Whole Christ" by Sinclair B. Ferguson. I didn't want to because it has a dull green cover, and I can barely pronounce the author's name. It sounded boring, I thought to myself "I would rather put together a 1,000 piece puzzle than read that book." He kept telling me, "Chris, you will love it." He even picked me up a free copy of it at the T4G Pastor's Conference he went to last month. So I knew sooner or later I would have to give in and read it. Last weekend I gave in and started to read it. All I can say is "Wow!" I wish that book was written when I first became a pastor, it is terrific, profound, clear and it contains two missing puzzle pieces I have been looking for my whole life.
(2) The Two Pieces: Before I tell you what these pieces are, I must admit that I always knew this. But the way Sinclair Ferguson put it, the pieces became clear and they helped me put the Gospel message into more of a complete integrated whole. You may be like my sisters and not be too impressed with what I found, but if you listen closely, I think they will blow your mind away like they did mine.
Piece One: IT ALL STARTS IN THE GARDEN
We must start at the very beginning. I learned that as a kid from "The Sound of Music." And likewise, with the Gospel, we must start in the beginning, the Garden of Eden. You may be saying, "Yeah, yeah, I know what you are going to say, 'Adam sinned, so did all of mankind in his failure." Theologians call this the 'Federal Headship of Adam', which teaches we are all sinners because Adam represented all of us, and when he failed, we all failed. Romans 5:12-14 makes this abundantly clear. That is true, but it is not this truth of Adam's sin that Sinclair points out; but rather it is the nature of his sin. Understanding this small insight can make all the difference in the world. Let me show you what I mean (Page 68-69 of "The Whole Christ"):
"The Lord had given Adam and Eve an entire cosmos of good gifts to enjoy. In turn he provided them with a single 'positive' law. They were to show thier love for him by refusing to eat the fruit of only one tree, on the basis that their loving Father said so, and that whatever he commanded must be for their good. The lie by which the Serpent deceived Eve was enshrined in the double suggestion that
1) this Father was in fact restrictive, self-absorved, and selfish since he would not let them eat from any of the trees, and 2) his promise of death if they were disobedient was simply false.
Thus the lie was an assault on both God's generosity and his integrity. Neither his character nor his words were to be trusted. This, in fact, is the lie that sinners have believed ever since - the lie of the not-to-be-trusted-because-he-does-not-love-me-false-Father."
You must let that quote sink in. Because when it did for me, the Gospel came into clearer focus. Even though I generally knew this, Sinclair made it incredibly clear. The main problem with man is we don't trust the person of God, especially his "GENEROSITY" and his "INTEGRITY." Or you could say this, the reason people don't follow God is because they don't really believe he is "FOR THEM." We think when he asks us to obey he is holding stuff back from us. At first, every human actually believes his commands are meant to make our lives miserable, not abounding in his generous wealth of joy. But the reverse is true, his commands are born from his kindness and generosity.
With that understanding, some verses in the New Testament now seem to carry more potency and power. Like 2 Corinthians 4:4, "The god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, so they cannot see the light of the Gospel of the Glory of Christ." What does Satan blind us to: God's generosity and integrity.
Look at Hebrews 11:6, "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." Look at the second part of that verse, it is all about God's generosity and intergrity. Faith trusts that his word is true, and believes God rewards. A rewarding God is a generous God!
Piece Two: THE GOSPEL, JESUS ON THE CROSS, IS ABOUT GENEROSITY AND INTEGRITY
Generosity is all about God giving freely and abundantly before we ever did anything to earn it. For instance, Sinclair makes a big distinction in the way some people present the Gospel. Does God love me because Christ died for me, or did Christ die for me because God loves me? At first this seems like a matter of semantics, but it is a crucial thing to get straight in your mind.
If God loves me because Christ died for me then that means, at the core of my heart, I cannot really be sure that God loved me unconditionally. Something needed to be done for God to love me. Again, like the Serpent in the Garden, it places doubt on his generosity. I once knew a man who said, "I know that God says a man is saved if he believed the Gospel. I believed the Gospel, but I am not sure God really wants me. Yes, he must allow me into heaven because of his word, but I still wonder if he wants me because of his love?" Do you hear him doubt God's character? He may believe, but he is not believing in God's goodness. I wonder if then this is true belief? The full truth is God first loved me, so in response to that love he sent his Son to save me. And then when I truly believe he is for me, and is generous, I will be able to trust.
So you see, his generosity, also known as grace, is the basis of man trusting in God's character. People will only truly believe when they accept that God is first and foremost generous.
Why this Matters?
I think people sin because they believe if they don't sin God will hold back the good they perceive to be in the sin. Adam ate the fruit because he was led to believe that by not eating he was missing out on something. As John Piper once said, "Faith is a battle between the Promises of God and the Promises of Sin." A sinner believes the promises of sin are better than the promises of God. Or sinning is the only way to get what God is holding back from me. So when a person sins they are believing God is not generous.
The Gospel displayed in a the "Son who is Given" reveals a generosity that exceeds anything we could ever imagine. How do I know God is generous? He sent his Son to die. He gave everything he had for me. How do I know I can trust his word? Because for thousands of years he prophesied that he would send his Son to die. Jesus himself, in the book of Luke, said three times "that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”
The cross proclaims both God's generosity and integrity. This truth for me is like finding two small puzzle pieces that were lost in the closet corner. They may not revolutionize my faith, but they sure do make understanding the Gospel more full. I feel like I did on the rainy day in summer. Joy!