Sunday, October 5, 2008

More Reflections on Ezekiel

Reading Ezekiel today, I was taken aback by the ferocity of God's wrath directed against Israel. These are the people he chose out of all the nations to be in a special relationship with him; a family relationship called a "covenant". When they were enslaved in Egypt he came to them and led them out. God led them through the desert for forty years then settled them in the "Promised Land". He put a protective hedge around them and prospered them.

Though he was God to them they rebuffed him and fled to other gods. They thumbed their nose at him. As a parent I know something of this when your child ignores the sacrifices you make. They may, at times, take you for granted. In Israel's case, an entire nation has turned away from the only God who has targeted them with his incredible love.

What would I do if I were God? What would I do if this ant-like nation collectively gave me the finger after I have been a father to them? My inclination would be to bulldoze the whole project and start over! I would proclaim, "After all, I am God, I can do anything. This project did not work out so let's try again." The problem with this is it admits imperfection. It admits that the experiment failed. I had the wrong ingredients at the get go. It admits I had limited understanding and knowledge. God will not do this because, after all, he is God. He simply doesn't make mistakes because he has perfect knowledge and understanding. Bulldozing isn't an option for him.

God doesn't love like I do and this is something I wrestle with. I had an encounter with someone yesterday that wasn't pretty. It was an in-law who made some very callous remarks about the tenuousness of my job. I confess a flash of anger and resentment momentarily overwhelmed me. After venting Jean counseled me that this is where real faith must live. If I fail to forgive him, God will not forgive me and in this I actually carry his sin with him. His sin has the potential of destroying us both. I digress. My point is this; my initial thought at such times is to write someone off and vow never to have interactions with them again. One so unpleasant and callous is better left to their own devices. One should choose wisely who one spends precious time with. God is not like this. His love functions on an entirely different plane. Instead, God girds himself up and embarks upon a very labor intensive project of redemption. First he sends prophets to warn of doom. He doesn't bulldoze the whole project, instead, he redeems it. He fixes it. After warning of disaster and punishment, he will foretell of a future healing and restoration of his people. He declares that "I myself will shepherd my people." He declares that there will be a "New heavens and earth" in which his once rebellious now redeemed people will live. He declares that it will be through his "suffering servant" that the nations will be healed. He promises that even death will be overturned, (see Isaiah 25-26 and Ezekiel 37).

This launches me into a challenging thought process. My attitude towards my callous relative is wholly at odds with God's. God looks at his creation redemptively. What he has made is good. He didn't make any mistakes. My relative was meant for goodness. He was created for God and to bear his image. In him is more of a shout of the existence of God than the highest mountain. What does it mean then from me to look at others in a similar fashion? How would that change relationships? What impact would that have upon my own satisfaction and joy?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Reflections on Ezekiel

Reading the prophets stirs my heart immensely. The character of God's heart is so transcendent throughout the scriptures and it gives me a more generous understanding of him.

I began this week what must be my tenth study of this wonderful book. Each time I pour over it different impressions strike me. Ezekiel was a priest to the people of Israel. He was a holy man, a religious man. Together with many of his fellow Israelites, he has been stolen from his homeland by the Babylonians and taken into exile. We find Ezekiel by the river Kebar in Babylon together with the other exiles. The scene is a sorry one. It would appear to them that God had turned his back upon them and given them over to their enemies. They were despondent. (Read Lamentations for a broader understanding.)

It is in this context that God appears to Ezekiel:

1 In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.

2 On the fifth of the month—it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin- 3 the word of the LORD came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians. There the hand of the LORD was upon him.

God appeared. Amazing. Even though his people have grieved his heart, he still comes to them. He is not through with Israel. All of what has transpired has been foretold by other prophets such as Isaiah. God longed for repentance among his people so he sent prophets to warn them of what would happen if they did not repent. What most offended God was their affections for idols. They had become sychratistic in their religion. Yes, they worshipped God but why not hedge your bets and set up alters to the pagan gods also? This deeply offends God both then and now. As I search both the new and old testaments what is clearly evident is that God hates this practice. He will not tolerate other gods beside him.

Even though Israel has offended, God continues to come to his people. He doesn't come gently though. He commands Ezekiel to continue hammering home to them the stiff penalty for their abandonment. He gives vivid contrast between his thrown room and his displeasure with his people. He leaves Ezekiel "overwhelmed" by what he has seen and heard. Ezekiel can do nothing but sit among the exiles for seven days.

God then comes to him again. I wonder if Ezekiel might have said to himself, "Please, no more. I can't withstand more of what I have seen." As God's glory appears to him he finds himself facedown before him staggered by his presence. He is given specific instructions and sent off to perform his assigned duties. He is warned that he must not fear man above God. He must be willing to say the hard thing that God has ordained him to say. If he fails, God will bring the same punishment upon him that as the offender.

This morning I was caught by this passage:

1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 "Son of man, set your face against the mountains of Israel; prophesy against them 3 and say: 'O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Sovereign LORD. This is what the Sovereign LORD says to the mountains and hills, to the ravines and valleys: I am about to bring a sword against you, and I will destroy your high places. 4 Your altars will be demolished and your incense altars will be smashed; and I will slay your people in front of your idols. 5 I will lay the dead bodies of the Israelites in front of their idols, and I will scatter your bones around your altars. 6 Wherever you live, the towns will be laid waste and the high places demolished, so that your altars will be laid waste and devastated, your idols smashed and ruined, your incense altars broken down, and what you have made wiped out. 7 Your people will fall slain among you, and you will know that I am the LORD.

8 " 'But I will spare some, for some of you will escape the sword when you are scattered among the lands and nations. 9 Then in the nations where they have been carried captive, those who escape will remember me—how I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts, which have turned away from me, and by their eyes, which have lusted after their idols. They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practices. 10 And they will know that I am the LORD; I did not threaten in vain to bring this calamity on them.

11 " 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Strike your hands together and stamp your feet and cry out "Alas!" because of all the wicked and detestable practices of the house of Israel, for they will fall by the sword, famine and plague. 12 He that is far away will die of the plague, and he that is near will fall by the sword, and he that survives and is spared will die of famine. So will I spend my wrath upon them. 13 And they will know that I am the LORD, when their people lie slain among their idols around their altars, on every high hill and on all the mountaintops, under every spreading tree and every leafy oak—places where they offered fragrant incense to all their idols. 14 And I will stretch out my hand against them and make the land a desolate waste from the desert to Diblah [a] —wherever they live. Then they will know that I am the LORD.' "

As I read, I wondered about the character of God and his fury directed against idolatry. My thoughts migrated to that of nations and more specifically America today. Many see our country as the new "chosen people". They believe God has called our country in a unique way and seeks to bless it uniquely. They read 2 Chronicles 7:14:

14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

This is then applied directly to America. We are God's people meaning America. We have been chosen in a way similar to Israel's election. This, I believe is flawed thinking and unbiblical. Certainly, God will give favor to any nation that favors his people. The bible is repleate with evidence of this. However, this is a call to God's covenant people. This is a call to those God has formed a distinct and unique relationship with evidenced by blood and oath. It is at this point that a lengthy discussion of covenant is in order but I'll save that for another post.

Perhaps a better way of seeing America is to think of the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Ptolemies, Romans and other empires that have intersected with God's people. Yes, God gave each of these great blessing and expanded their empires. However, with a few exceptions, one would be hard pressed to see these empires as being God-fearing in any way. Not only is this so but in the end when God's purposes are fulfilled with them he brings about the punishment their sins against his people deserve.

America is almost certainly post-Christian. We have chased God from public life. Yes, we can speak of him but it better be in sanctified areas away from public debate. Bring God up in any discussion regarding public policy and you are immediately written off as a nut. Your ideas are not considered valid in the discussion. Sadly, in the end, these are the only words that would heal any nation.

God cares about his Kingdom. God cares about his church. God cares about his glory. He raises up nations to fulfill these purposes. If a nation will repent, yes God will bring blessing but it will be for the purposes mentioned. How does a nation support or obstruct the propagation of the gospel? Even an empire as evil as the Romans flourished by God's grace for almost a thousand years. The Romans unified the world under a single language. They developed straight roads and brought about peace that allowed for the propagation of the Gospel. Yes, they severely persecuted the church but they were raised up primarily at that time to allow the expansion of the gospel of Jesus. In the end, judgment came their way. God then moved to Europe, the Renaissance, reformation and the enlightenment. The gospel marched on.

Today, America is in crisis. It should not surprise us that God has left us to our own devices when we are as idolatrous as any nation in history. If he brought about the destruction of earlier empires why do we think we will be any different?

What about the slumbering church in America? We are off on massive building projects so we can be warm and comfortable while the church around the world hides underground to worship God. We stand by with hands in figurative pockets while over a million children are slain each year in the name of personal freedom and liberty. What does God see when he observes these things? Will he stand for this or is there a moment when he disciplines his people and punishes an empire?

America may go on for another thousand years. I don't know what God is doing now with any precision, but I do know there is timer running on America. I do know that there is a timer running on the church in America. God will ultimately prune and discipline his people but he will utterly destroy the nation at some point. Even then, he is not through with his purpose and plans. He will raise up another nation. He will stir the gospel fires in other places that once burned bright in our country. He is not an "American". He is God.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Divine Conspiracy

From Mike Mason's book "Champagne for the Soul":

He was filled with great joy because he had come to believe in God
Acts 16:34

Does your faith fill you with joy? Is God alone reason enough to rejoice, or are you looking for something more? If you're not satisfied with God, what more could you possibly want?

Paul told the Philippian jailer, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31). Not only was the man saved, he was filled with joy, because the two go together. Do they for you? If you've got God, you've got joy. If you don't have joy, however religious you may be, you need to wonder whether you've really got hold of God. Joy besides being desireable in itself, is a litmus test of the truth.

That church you attend - is it full of joy? If not, it's missing the mark of truth.

The preaching you listen to - does it inspire you with joy? If not, it falls short of the gospel.

Your friendships - do they produce joy? If not, what good are they? Those activities you pursue so doggedly - do you take joy in them? If not why bother? The book your reading - does it stir joy deep inside? If not, why read it?

Joy is a trustworthy guide to truth. Where joy is absent, we're right to be suspicious, because joy is a characteristic of truth.

Champagne for the Soul
page 93

Saturday, September 27, 2008


I am presently sitting in a hotel room in Chongqing China.  When in the USA, I think of China as a sort of rising superpower bent on world domination.   When I am here, another impression sets in that is much more complex.  

China is filthy.  There is no way to be subtle in this area.  It is simply filthy from north to south and from east to west.  Dirt is everywhere.  In the air, in the water...everywhere.  China is ancient. Visiting the Terra Cotta warriors the other day I was told that these clay soldiers date back to 210 BC.  Imagine looking at images from real faces that old.  It was stunning to think of how much history China has.  China has a history of tyranny and much of this in the last century.  The Japanese brutalized much of this country during World War II.  The rape of Nanjing killed up to 300,000 over the course of just a few days. Mao seized power and held it so tightly it cost the lives of up to 70 million Chinese.  Even though it is generally known what Mao did, his face can still be seen all denominations of Chinese currency.  His body is embalmed and on display in Bejing.  His image is evident all over the country.  How can they continue to venerate him in this way?  China has embraced a form of captalism and their economy is growing faster than any other in the world and yet poverty is rampent.  As I look out my window I see evidence of families living in the equivalent of bombed out buildings.  On previous trips to this country I could not make a blog entry.  Since last March that has changed and I can now post here but no pictures allowed.  They have a banned book list.  I met a man in Shanghai who shared my affinity for a certain Chinese author whose books are all banned in the PRC.  I asked him how he obtained his copy and he informed me that he purchased the book in Hong Kong.  The Church is thriving here but not openly.  Repression is handed out for any outward expression of faith.  China is in many repects, a basketcase.  They have myriad problems to deal with further complicated by the government's fear of unrest.  There are no elections here so how do you control a country of 1 billion when they become dissatisfied?  We would ventilate in an election and throw the bums out.  They do not have that option.  

After one week here, I can't wait for a long deep breath of clean air or a smoke free day.  I take for granted the freedom of expression that allows me to worship God without fear of reprisal.  The billion images of God who live here do not have these luxeries.  They must live in air so think you could cut it with a knife.  They may hear the gospel of grace but it is a faint voice heard in whispers.  Can you imagine the despair of living with no hope of God in the context of modern China?  Do you realize that God made the billion who live here and loves them as much as he loves the rest of his creation?  I wonder what concerted effort the church in the west can make to help these people here.  

I have heard it said that the gospel has so infected the Chinese church here that they want to "push through to Europe" with it!  They want to charge through the Soviet Union sharing the good news with all irrespective of nationality or race.  Given what they are going through, I find that amazing!  Pray with me today for the Chinese people.  Pray that the church here would be encouraged and strengthened.  Pray with me that God would give them favor to move throughout China with hope for the poor and oppressed.  Pray with me that pastors and other church leaders would find favor with the government. Pray with me that the slumbering church in the west would stop admiring her own image in the mirror and look to the world around her. Pray with me that she would think twice about that multi-million dollar building project while the bretheren in China are having difficulty feeding themselves.  Pray with the church here that their dream of carrying the gospel through China and beyond would be realized. 

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Who's your god?

Sometimes being a worshiper of Christ makes me feel estranged from others. There seems to be this sort of cartoon dialog hanging over my head that says, "This guy is really off on his own estranged from the rest of humanity." It struck me recently that everybody is a worshiper. Everyone worships something or someone. Even those who don't seem very interested in religion are actually involved in worship. We are geared for it. It is in our DNA. Everyone of us is pouring our lives into something or someone in the pursuit of happiness. The one who doesn't worship Yahweh may be spending hours and hours amusing themselves. What would they do if the sources of their amusement were suddenly gone?

If you are interested in learning the objects of your worship try this little test. Ask yourself what is most important to you? If that thing were taken away, what would be your response? The answer to this question can be very revealing. These are the things we are worshiping.

Reading Matthew 19 today it struck me that Jesus was doing this very thing.

16Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" 17"Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments."
18"Which ones?" the man inquired. Jesus replied, " 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, 19honor your father and mother,'[d] and 'love your neighbor as yourself.'[e]"

20"All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?"
21Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
22When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

25When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?"
26Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
27Peter answered him, "We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?"

28Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

His inquiry begins with his assertion that there is some "good" thing that God requires from us. Jesus moves right to the center of the issue by telling the man that only God is "good." There is nothing sacrificial that he can present to God that result in a sort of quid pro quo. Only God is good and nothing brought before him out of our own storehouses will suffice. Jesus rips away any sense of privilege and standing from him.

It is at this point that Jesus brings up his obedience to the Law. When asked about this he quickly points out that he has kept the points of Law that Jesus mentions and this from his youth. The interesting thing is that Jesus leaves out the first commandment about not having any other gods before him. Jesus could have mentioned this commandment with the others but, instead, chooses to penetrate the man's heart by asking him not to act on his profession. If he asked him if he had no other god's but God, perhaps he would have also said that he had kept this command. Jesus forces him to answer this question in such a way that he must be confronted with his idolatry. If he truly has no god but God, he must demonstrate it by walking away from something he treasures to follow Christ. In his case it is money. He must give up his earthly wealth to follow Jesus. Jesus knows this is a stumbling block for the man. He knows it is a god to him. Keeping the commandment means he must walk away but he can't. Instead, he sorrowfully walks away from Jesus unable to set his god aside.

My good reader, please serve as my confessor. My love of the sport of cycling has been a problem for me. I remember breaking my only bike and going for over a month with no replacement. I was miserable. If my bike and my status as a bike racer and coach are taken away, can I remain content? What if my job as a pilot is taken away? A job that I love and one has identified me for most of my life ripped away with no hope of restoration. Can I be content with this loss? As I keep tearing away things in my life with this test I have become more aware of those things that I have lifted up as my gods. I have worshiped these seemingly unaware of my failure.

God is a jealous God. He will not tolerate this. Make no mistake, whether you are a Christian or not, you are offering worship to something.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Theology of Bike Racing

All of these ruminations on Joshua and the Israelites have led me to make an attempt at a theology of bike racing. For those of you who stop by this blog who are in the bike racing community, you will probably think I am nuts. If you are Christian, you may also think I am nuts. If you are a Christian athlete who longs to compete I think you may find these thoughts interesting.

Like Father Like Son
My wife is a watercolor artist. I marvel at the work of her hands. There is a longing in her heart to create. Why? Why does she long to take raw materials and create beautiful paintings from them. I believe it is because she bears the image of her creator. Being made in His image, she displays his characteristics. God is the ultimate artist. He created all that is out of nothing and pronounced that it was all "very good." When his good creation became corrupt because of sin, God set about recreating his good creation redeeming it.

So much of what we do finds it's roots in this same phenomenon. Why do we love competition? I believe it is because we were made for battle. Sounds strange I know, but God is a warrior strong in battle. Jesus, his son and the Holy Spirit are likewise mighty in battle. I know you might shrink from this and see some kind of discontinuity between what I am describing and the ethos Jesus gives us especially in Matthew 5-6, (sermon on the mount). Don't give up on me quite yet. As the godhead is a warrior so are his creatures made in his image.

War as metaphor
Metaphor is huge in the bible. A quick survey of the New Testament yields an amazing amount of metaphor. Sports, marriage, agriculture and war are just a few metaphors that are used in scripture. We are simple people. The God who created us knows this speaks to us in ways that cement understanding. Look at this passage from Ephesians 6:

10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

How about Romans 8:32:

37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Not to mention nearly all of the Revelation where the metaphor plays out for most of the book.

Reflecting on the scene from Joshua, I see metaphor there also. Yes, this was a real bloodletting but if we miss the metaphor we miss how it was intended for us. As I wrote in the previous entry, I believe God wants us to see our enemies as being every bit as devastating as those five kings he slaughtered before Israel. In fact, we should see our enemies as the motivating force behind those kings. God wants us to cut through and see the sin that underlies the evil around us and he calls us to battle. When I read scripture, I don't see a milquetoast God. I don't see a timid Savior. I see God fully invested in battle and he summons us to join in the fight. As we fight, he wants us to fully understand the battle is his and we are invited to participate. The armies of the five kings were given to Israel by God. He held the sun in the sky and rained down hailstones to give Israel the victory. It was their job to believe and charge forth in faith knowing that it was God who fought for them.

Christian Warfare
So, how do we fight? Do we charge forth into the culture to do battle? Do take this charge to mean we should resist the government? I believe we are called to militancy but not as the world around us would see it. Look at the beatitudes of Matthew 5:

1Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2and he began to teach them saying:
3"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

This is Kingdom language. These are the blessings of redemption. This is the new creation and Jesus has brought it and is bringing it. Those who follow Jesus in faith display these characteristics because they are inhabitants of God's redeemed creation. They are the advanced guard living in the now. They are the citizens of a different age when sin is no more. They seek the peace of heaven today. They long for the shalom of heaven to rain down upon this fallen world. They long for all the things that will exist in that day to prevail today. Thus, they become light and salt in a fallen world.

I believe we are to militantly pursue the peace of Heaven. I believe we are to militantly pursue mercy, righteousness, justice, humility, faith and love. The enemies of these must be crushed. We must see our savior as victorious over them and place our figurative feet upon their necks as he slaughters them before eyes. Jesus has won the victory for us! He goes before us on the cross and through his resurrection crushes all of the enemies of God. We have lived too long accommodating them when our God has called us to utterly defeat them.

What about the bike?
Okay, let me tie this all together. Why do I love to race my bike? There are many reasons for this, some are wrong some are right. I battle the sin of self-glorification. I am guilty of racing for my own glory and validation. This is an enemy to be defeated. It is the idol of self that must fall under my foot as Christ utterly destroys it. Like all good things in this age, sin creeps in and corrupts that which God made for good. I also race for much the same reason as the artist paints. I long for battle. I long to defeat my enemies because I am built that way; built in the image of my creator. Perhaps that explains why we are so attracted to sport in general. I confess to you that when I race I am bloodthirsty. Not literally of course but I want to utterly defeat the riders around me. Is this compatible with Christianity? Is this sin? No, this is metaphor. This metaphorically speaks of the greater battle I have been called to. We must join in the battle against the "spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms". We must gird ourselves for battle and fight! What does this look like? To those looking on, they don't see a wild-eyed warrior but one who is gentle and meek. They see the humility of Christ our brother in us. They see a people reaching out to the down-and-outers in love. They see us as the forgiveness of sins people forgiving as we have been forgiven. This is what battle was always meant to look like but like just about everything else in this fallen age, sin has done its work and deformed what God meant for good. Our battle is against the enemies of the ethics of the Kingdom of Heaven and we must stand and fight recognizing Christ has already secured the victory.

Thanks for bearing with me.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Fear and Joy

Pastor Chuck has asked the church to read "Champagne for the Soul" by Mike Mason. This book has become a little treasure trove for me. I have been praying for joy for the last year and now this book has been placed in my hands. Not just any book but a book written by one who has struggled and fought for joy.

Circumstances in life, invisible forces lead me to fear. Things like lust, job loss, anger can overwhelm me with a sense of defeat. Joy flows away from me like water draining from a sink. Mike used this text today to make his point:

Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged.
~Joshua 1:9

The Israelites have been lead by Joshua through the Jordan river into the Promised Land only to be met by a menacing force of five kings all united in their opposition. The people of God are a little rag-tag band of ex-slaves coming out of forty years of desolate desert dwelling. They must have felt terribly frightened in the face of so great a force but God rained down huge hailstones upon their them and they were defeated. After, Joshua brought these five kings to lie prostrate before all Israel. He summoned his commanders to come and place their feet upon the necks of these once fearsome enemies while Joshua killed them.

To us moderns this sounds brutal but in God's economy, a lesson was being taught that his people desperately needed to see. Not only them but me also. They needed to know that God himself was going before them. Therefore, they should not fear the fearsome only trust in God's ability to save.

Fast forward to today. My heart is given to fear in the same way as the Israelites. Fear robs me of my joy. I meditated and thought of the things I fear seeing them as men lying prostrate on the ground in front of me. It wasn't Joshua who summoned me to place my foot upon their necks but it was Jesus. Jesus invited me to feel his victory as I placed my bare foot upon the necks of these that mean to do me in. While I stood there in this position, Jesus, utterly destroyed them before my eyes! Instead of joy trickling away, I felt the comfort of increasing joy.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Blue Like Jazz

My pastor mentioned this book in a sermon a while ago. I am always interested in what people are reading especially my pastors so I made a point to get the book. It sat on my shelf for a while before I could get to it. I have been spending some time with Bruce Ware studying the Trinity.

Anyway, I have found this little book to be both entertaining and challenging. What strikes me is Don Miller's straightforward, honest, authentic telling of his life, faith and work. There's no pretense in this man's writing. He challenges me in a similar way and on a different level as N.T. Wright. It is a sort of breaking of the mold that has formed my Christian character. This has been nagging at me for some time, this disconnect between faith and life. What I mean is, if I really believe the gospel is true, why do I find it so hard to live like it? Why am I so self-absorbed? Why is it such drudgery to give myself over to others? I guess this is also why I find Gordon Fee to be so compelling when he writes about biblical interpretation. Somewhere deep inside I am groaning over this problem. It won't go away and I can't seem to make it go away. Moving in and out of the community of faith is like living in two worlds and it just doesn't resonate with me anymore. It probably never did but it just didn't bother me to the degree it does now. I want to be swept away with a mad love for Christ. My mind can comprehend but I just can't feel it like I should.

I was listening to a sermon by Tim Keller and Tim says that his job as a preacher of the gospel is like coins dropping in a pop machine in his apartment building. When he puts the coins in, the drop but not all the way. He has to smack the side of the machine to get them to drop. That's what he does. We hear the gospel and the coins do enter the machine but getting them to drop is more daunting.

Anyway, if you feel the way I do, you might want to give this book a go. If you're like me, you won't agree with Don on some things but if you track with the book you might find that, in the end, you are more comfortable with differences. You might find that someone else is traveling the path your on and understands.

Monday, March 31, 2008


Recently I have been captivated by the Lord's prayer especially these verses:

"Your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
11Give us today our daily bread.
12Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors. "

It would seem that the heart of the triune God is fully committed to the restoration of his good creation. That which has been usurped and mangled by sin is to be fully and completely restored. This, I believe, is one of the, if not the, major theme of the Bible. Jesus prays that God would come and establish his kingdom on earth and that his will would be done here and now as it is in heaven. (Heaven being the place where God is as opposed to some whispy cloudscape.) Where God is, there is only holiness, righteousness, humility, love, kindess, forgiveness, and on and on. It cannot be any other way for God will not and can not tolerate sin in his presence. Do you see what Jesus is saying? He wants the restorative work of God to propagate through the whole of his good creation until heaven, the place where God is, has completely overtaken the darkness and brokenness of the present. This is what we Christians are to be about. God has graciously allowed us to participate with him much like a young child is allowed to help his father in a work project. The child will not significantly contribute but it is the joy of the father to allow the son to share in his work. To long for all that is broken in this world to be fixed is to be of one heart with Jesus.

Yesterday, I blew my cool with a motorist who ignored my instructions, waved me off and wandered on to an open race course with riders coming at him at speeds up to 30mph. I chased him down and told him that what he had done was wrong and not kind. He was mad but so was I. My approach was out of indignation and not a longing for the brokenness to be fixed. My behavior contributed to the wreckage. This morning I am painfully aware of my failure.

Jesus prays that we would forgive others as God has forgiven us. This is just huge. It requires us to love as God loves. Imagine Jesus on the cross praying that God would forgive his murderers! Of course, that is what he did! As we have been forgiven so should we forgive. As I prayed today it struck me that forgiveness is a boundary marker of the people of God. It marks us out and communicates to a broken world that we are a sort of first fruit of God's healing redemptive work in his broken creation. It requires love to forgive. Love is simply the surrendering of one's rights for the sake of others not the stuff of Hollywood. Biblical love means giving up what you think you deserve and giving selflessly to others. After all, Jesus said the world would know we are his because we love one another. See, boundary marker. Identity badge. We cannot forgive if we do not love and we only love because God the Father has first loved us and given us his son as a sacrifice for us that we might be restored to full humanity. That we might be what we were intended to be. How can we not forgive?

If we are holding grudges, we must come clean, confess these as sin and, from our hearts, forgive the offender. It is the path the Master has trod before us. Can we do otherwise?

Think about it...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


My pastor recently pointed out that our country's election process has massive messianic undertones. Hope, faith and change are uttered and people react. This or that candidate will save us from whatever earthly malady. He will save us from global warming, global poverty, lack of proper health care, et al.. If only all could see that this candidate is the one who can make the change that will usher in the harmonic convergence of policy and community that will see us through the problems that plague us. Of course this is false hope and improperly placed faith. Only God can save us from the evil that plagues humanity. From Isaiah 2:

22 Stop trusting in man,
who has but a breath in his nostrils.
Of what account is he?

God has indeed launched the rescue lifeboat but we have spurned him in favor of mere men. Albert Einstein summed up this approach in his definition of insanity:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

From time and eternity we have looked to men to save us and they have failed. In this election season are we not demonstrating that humanity is, well, insane? Did any of the Roman emporers save us? Did FDR, Kennedy or Regan? The problem of evil continues and we continue to place our trust in men.

If we want to be truly happy and content that deliverance is possible we must trust in the only savior, Jesus. Only in him is there true hope and promise. Think about it.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Slaves to Grace?

Romans 6
What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This passage has been both an enigma and a joy to me. I remember studying it in the early 90's in preparation for a devotional I was to give at a youth gathering. I was using Cranfield's abridged commentary as a study help. It appeared to me then that Paul was laying a huge guilt trip on me. It was as if he were saying, "Just don't sin anymore, okay? If you are truly a Christian, you can do this." From that first study to today, God has helped me to see that there is more grace here than I first noticed. So much so that this morning the thought struck me that Paul is really telling us that we Christians are slaves to grace. We are slaves to grace in a similar way to our slavery to sin. Before we believed, we lived under the condemnation of the old slave master sin. Through the power of the law, he pronounced the sentence of death upon us. We lived and breathed according to his wishes. But then, as Charles Wesley puts it, our dungeons flamed with light and we rose went forth and followed Christ. Now we are no longer slaves to sin and no longer under its condemnatory power. Instead we are slaves to righteousness. Notice here that we are not free in this context but enslaved to a new slave master grace. The old master paid out our wages in the currency of death. Our new slave master pays out in eternal life. But here is the thing that really grabbed me today; we are bound by gracious chains of love to Christ through his gift. We are kept and are safe in him. This is the power of the gospel at work. I remember Cranfield said something like this:

"The man who knows that he is free from God's condemnation finds himself beginning to be free to resist the tyranny of sin with resolution and boldness."

To know this is true freedom. Freedom from condemnation but not libertarian freedom. We are slaves to grace kept by our new master. Let this channel through your heart and you too will find new strength in the battle.