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!
“If a person sins because he does not speak up when he hears a public charge to testify regarding something he has seen or learned about, he will be held responsible.”
I love movies! But honestly, who doesn’t?
Recently I had a discussion with a friend concerning some good movies they have recently watched, and they said to me, “Hey, you were raised in the Roman Catholic Church, have you seen the movie ‘Spotlight’? I think you would find it interesting?” I never heard of it so I asked them to describe for me the plot:
“Some hard-nosed reporters from the Boston Globe undercovered a major pedophilia problem in the Boston diocese and it depicts how they eventually were able to shine a light on years of sexual abuse within the Catholic church. Church officials covered up these sick actions by the priesthood for decades by shuffling alleged offenders among parishes. Thier research and subsequent stories won them not only a Pulitzer Prize but many abusive priests were defrocked and even sent to prison.”
I decided to watch the trailer. It has some very famous actors portraying real life reporters, and it seemed to be very well made. It definitely grabbed my interest. I then wanted to see how close to the truth the movie was so I did some research myself online. What I found is horrifying:
The most distressing personal story for me centered on the deceased priest, Father John Geoghan. One article says, “Over a 30-year career in six parishes, Geoghan was accused of sexual abuse involving more than 130 boys, including rape, molestation, assault and battery.” The real tragedy in his case is that his superior, Cardinal Bernard Law, a Boston Archbishop, knew everything about this man and kept sending him to new parishes free to victimize more boys. One account says that after Father Geoghan received psychological treatment the counselor warned Cardinal Law that Geoghan was probably not fully cured and would more than likely abuse more boys. And yet, Cardinal Law once again had him reassigned to a new parish not telling a soul that a child predator was set loose to hunt down more innocents.
After all the findings and years of court proceedings the case of Father John Goeghan cost the Boston Archdiocese over 10 million dollars to be paid in damages to 86 of Goeghan’s victims. What a horrific story.
One of the last articles that really caught my attention detailed the life of Cardinal Law after his recent passing in December of 2017. It is a strange article, because for much of it Cardinal Law is praised:
Near the end of the article was this quote: “There's going to be a lot of good," the historian said, "interred with his bones."
And then the article said this, “Although not bearing sole responsibility for the wrongdoing, Law, had direct knowledge of the scope, duration and severity of the crisis experienced by children in the Archdiocese; he participated directly in crucial decisions concerning the assignment of abusive priests, decisions that typically increased the risk to children...the mistreatment of children was so massive and so prolonged that it borders on the unbelievable."
How should we feel about Cardinal Law?
Does his goodness cancel out his penchant for turning a blind eye? Hey, he denounced racism, he was a social justice warrior, he dedicated himself to the church - - he did good! Yeah, but what if your son was one who was caught in Goeghan’s bedroom and Law knew about and said nothing? How would you feel about it?
Some people will see a person like Cardinal Law and conclude that people in general are all complicated. While he did allow some terrible things, at least he did some good in the world that we can celebrate. Don’t be so hard on the guy. Why focus on one aspect of his life when he did so much good for others, especially the marginalized and left behind? But again, ask yourself, what if your son was one who was caught in Goeghan’s bedroom because of Law’s silence? Hidden in the book of Leviticus is this startling statement, “If a person sins because he does not speak up when he hears a public charge to testify regarding something he has seen or learned about, he will be held responsible.” (Lev. 5:1)
Here is my point: there are some crimes that cannot be considered morally equivalent. Some trespasses are so heinous that to try to downplay them or ignore them by citing equal acts of goodness and social justice is just plain sick. Allowing a man to continue abusing boys for his own pleasure must not be wiped away by saying, “I know Cardinal Law kept quiet, but at least he wasn’t a racist, or he tried to help the poor get some of their debt forgiven.” This to me is the problem with progressive thinking - - doing social good has been made equivalent and even more righteous than true righteousness.
Did you know it is easy to fight for the poor with your mouth? It is easy to say you are not a racist, or make some cool stance for the transgendered. Yes we should do what we can to make this world fair, equal and civil, but when you see a real evil and say nothing, you will be held responsible.
In my mind, murder is even worse than abuse and molestation. Abortion really is that bad. Let’s not downplay it because we want to win politically. It is sick. If you don't think it is, how would you like to have your life terminated in the womb? Well a unborn baby has no conscience, no ability to think, what is the big deal? That is like saying a young boy in the hands of a sick priest is just another altar boy fulfilling his service for the Lord. Try saying that to the boy's mother. The problem with the unborn is the mother is often allowing the killing.
Our quest to win politics has snuffed out our outrage at true acts of sin. It should make us sick.
“Then the Lord awoke as from sleep, as a warrior wakes from the stupor of wine.”
What will happen when God wakes up?
Even though God is Sovereign and he daily puts our lives in his hand, he sometimes acts like he is sleeping. He remains quiet. He lets people be. He lets fools be fools.
But what will happen when he wakes up?
I was asking this because in my reading of Psalm 78, there is a point when God gets fed up and as verse 65 puts it, “He will arise like a warrior who was sleeping heavy after a night of drinking.” Have you ever seen a big guy with a hangover? Let me put it this way, they are not nice...at all.
How do you think God feels about our President paying off a porn star, and we are discussing it like it is not big deal? I think God is ashamed of both sides of the political spectrum: On one side they will defend the President no matter what he does, and the other side they will throw their lot in with a porn star just because they hate the President so much.
How do you think God feels about America’s descent into ever deeper sexual deviancy? The mind of humanity is so twisted. I just read a story about a gay man with HIV who purposely had unprotected sex with 20 other men in order to spread the infection...sick! Or producers at the Cannes film festival who boast about movies showing extreme sexual situations in fine detail and yet they are the ones who parade around with #metoo protestors who hate the objectification of women. Which is it?
How do you think God feels about the public discourse on race, guns, war, adultery and every other act of rebellion under the sun?
What will happen when he wakes up?
If you want to consider the Bible's answer read Psalm 78:66. Does this not move you in the least bit?
It does me.
Are Americans sports obsessed? Yes.
Even though the vast majority of my readers are more than likely sick of sports talk and loathe driving their kids to practice, I want to talk about sports anyway. And my question for today’s post is this, “If Jesus played sports which sport would he choose?”
A quick hint at my final answer before we start… “Give Blood, Play…”
I want to suggest three possible sports that I think include good representative generalities of Christianity, as it is currently being played and how we should being playing it. While there are thousands to pick from not all sports are conducive for metaphorical purposes. For instance, I don’t think Jesus would choose the sport curling because not only would it be difficult for a middle eastern man to find a good ice rink to play on in Nazareth, but it does not offer enough characteristics to apply to general human behavior. Nor will I choose sports like ping-pong, luging, synchronized swimming, quidditch or croquet. While fun, they are too limited and particular.
I have chosen three to build my comparison.
GOLF: this is the sport that best represents American Christianity, but Jesus would have nothing to do with it. Golf is all about individual scores. Golf is about being alone in a place of beauty. Golf is about the clubhouse and drinking a few beers after 18 holes. If that doesn’t describe the church in America and how people view spirituality, I don't know what does? Somehow we have turned Christianity into a game about self and how good my walk with Jesus is? Christians are always on the lookout for a beautiful and pleasant experience with God. If I sin, give me a mulligan. But even if I have a bad game, it is ok, the clubhouse is waiting to talk over scores with my buddies. A good friend will let you fudge the numbers if you need to, but what matters most is if I had an enjoyable round of golf. If not, better luck next time. I think Jesus would get bored with golf, too individualistic, too self centered, too detached from the brokenness of this fallen world. He came to seek and save the lost not spend most of his time alone selfishly working on his relationship with his Father. He could have just stayed up in heaven if he wanted to do that. Golf is the ideal me, myself and I sport...perfect for squeaky clean Sunday for an hour Christianity.
TRACK: there is good biblical support to say that Jesus would choose track, especially the relays. Paul talks about running the race in Hebrews 12, or in 1 Corinthians 9 to run the race to get the prize. Track takes hard work, effort, and a strong desire to win. I even like the concept of being part of a team, as Paul says in 2 Timothy 2, “And the things you have learned entrust or hand them off to reliable men…” It is like handing off a baton. But track is still a bit too clean, and detached from the messiness that is life. Track does involve sweat, but the blood and tears that Jesus lived and died with are not a main part of the sport. Americans are also good at short bursts of speed, we like the sprints, but long distance is too much. Jesus went all the way, carrying the load of pain and guilt for all of us. I like the analogy of track, but I think there is one better.
RUGBY: Rugby did not exist during the time of the New Testament writings, but you can find it everywhere in scripture. Let me first describe the sport for you and then I will point out some verses. First and foremost rugby is a sport that requires closeness to your teammates, especially in the scrum. You are leaning on each other, grabbing each other in sometimes embarrassing places, sharing blood, smearing sweat and falling in the dirt and mud together. No one playing rugby is that pretty, you can't put on a good face when it is getting pulled and punched. And everyone is needed to succeed. The opponent you play wants to hurt you, so the stakes are high. You must help motivate each other. There also is no toleration for foul play on the rugby team. If you take a cheapshot at the other team or a teammate you will be held accountable for it. And boy do they know how to party after the game! You don't think these characteristics of rugby are biblical? Check this out:
And oh yes, Christians are going to party! Read Isaiah 25:6-9 if you doubt me!
As I was thinking through this, I know alot of you golfers out there may feel a little betrayed, “Aren’t all good pastors supposed to love golf?” You know, the only way I think golf would be truly reflective of life is if Satan designed a course to play on. Then I think it might be more interesting and accurate to this world we live in. Could you imagine his sulfur sandtraps, fire and brimstone water hazards or hot coaled putting oranges? Now if that were to happen, I may reconsider my sports assessment. But as it stands, all I can say is how I started this post,
“Give Blood, Play Rugby!!!!”
I have taken a few minutes out from working on my sermon to write this post. I had to do it.
I was looking over my books on my shelf to find a quote and I noticed something that I never saw before. Two books with two completely different worldviews were leaning against each other. They have been there for years and I never saw it before.
One book is not hard to miss because on the cover is smiling Joel Osteen. He is dressed up in a nice blue blazer, bright white teeth gleeming and his glamour shots hair cut is styled perfectly. The cover of the book reads, "Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential." It is a book about positivity, harnessing success, and finding fulfillment in life. John C. Maxwell on the back cover writes, "Everybody will find something useful in this wonderful book." Nice, nice, nice.... all is nice.
The other book that was leaning against it is a book that is easy to miss. The fonts are not the best, the picture is blurry and the writer has a funny name, Wurmbrand. There is nothing truly compelling about the book's cover. And the title is the worst, "Tortured for Christ." The book is all about how Richard Wurmbrand was placed in Romanian prisons for over 14 years because of his dedication to Christ. The Communists hated his faith and he suffered for it. On the back of this book it reads, "Months of solitary confinement, years of periodic physical torture, constant suffering from hunger and cold, the anguish of brainwashing and mental cruelty." Horrible, horrible, horrible...all is horrible.
So which way is it? What is the real Christian worldview, nice or horrible? I see no real way of bringing these two accounts together?
The nice one has become a best seller, millions of copies sold! The horrible one has inspired thousands to cherish their faith. One makes us happy, one makes us hungry for Jesus to come back. I find it is so much easier to fall into the smiling trap of Joel Osteen's message: "You can have anything you want when you have God." We can have happiness, ease, comfort, romance and money. I find Joel's message, though easy, is very selfish and destructive. It is also not biblical: come to God so you can get what you want.
The other message is hard. God is worth the pain of waiting. God is worth the hatred of the world. God is worth it. This message, is biblical.
I once heard a story of a young man who went to propose to his fiance'. He had saved up for a large diamond ring. He had the night set up perfectly: he would pick her up, take her to dinner and then propose to her on one knee at her favorite fancy restaurant. It was going to be a surprise!
As he drove up to her house he had the ring box in his front coat pocket. He looked great. Dashed on some cologne, and pulled up to her house excited as ever. As he honked the horn she came running out to get into the passenger seat, not knowing that this was the night he was going to propose. She looked fantastic!
As she sat down he couldn't stop smiling. She said, "What is it? I know something is up?" And in his excitement he took out the ring and proposed right on the spot! He couldn't wait. When he opened the box and she saw the gleaming diamond, she said in tears, "This is what I have always wanted!" She put it on and it fit her delicate hand perfectly. She held it up higher and said, "Isn't it wonderful? I have to go show mom." And she rushed out the car flashing it to her mom, dad and everyone else who would come see.
She then ran upstairs to her bedroom slamming the door behind her. Her boyfriend was left downstairs sitting on the couch. 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes went by as he waited. Finally he went up to her room and knocked. Opening the door he said, "You ready to go, I have dinner reservations?"
She was still staring at the ring in the mirror not noticing he was at the door. He said, "You ready to go?" She looked over and said, "Oh, its you. You can go ahead without me, I have everything I want right here!" There she sat, staring at the shining jewel. Smiling.
Is Christianity about me or falling in love with God? Is it getting or is it knowing? Is it finding ease' and comfort in the moment, or worshipping God even when it is hard?
Which worldview is it? They both can't be right?