Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Why Have Your Forsaken Me?

This coming Sunday is Easter. We, along with millions of other Christians around the world, will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In a sense we celebrate it every day, but this day we purposefully direct our attention to the miracle of the empty tomb and all that it means for the people of God, both today and for eternity.

Of course, there would be no tomb apart from the cross. As we celebrate a risen Savior, we remember a dead Savior. Just three days earlier, Jesus had died, and with that death He purchased redemption for us. The resurrection is the evidence of the sufficiency of that transaction. The Father’s wrath was born by the Son in our place. Birthed in the love of God for the enemies of God, the Son of God died that we might be the children of God. The brightness of Easter Sunday is possible only because of the darkness of Good Friday.

And dark that day was! In fact, the sky literally darkened as Jesus drew His last breaths. Before He died, He cried out a question that captures the significance of that moment in time. It is a quotation from Psalm 22: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” The emotional impact of that statement upon us is tremendous, yet it should not overshadow its theological impact. What does it mean for the Son to be forsaken by the Father?

To get an idea of what was taking place here, we need to remember what the relationship was between the Father and the Son in eternity past. The first lines of John’s Gospel tells us: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning” (John 1:1-2). For all of eternity, the Son of God was with the Father. The idea conveyed in these verses (as well as John 17:5) is a close, intimate orientation toward one another. This was the eternal relationship of the Father and the Son and it was the only one that Jesus had ever known—the loving, approving face of His Father.

We can get a better idea of this relationship when we understand the Bible’s highest expression of fellowship with God. Moses’ blessing upon the Israelites in Num.6:24-26 capture this idea: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.” 

On the other hand, to have the Lord’s face turned away from you brought with it a terrible sense of fear and dread. David writes in Ps.27:8-9, “My heart says of you, ‘Seek His face!’ Your face, Lord, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me, do not turn away from your servant in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, o my Savior!” From eternity past and throughout His earthly ministry, the Son was turned toward His Father’s face. And His Father’s face was turned toward His Son’s in an expression of love and pleasure.

Until that dark day on Golgotha.

On that day, when He who knew no sin was made sin for us (2 Cor.5:21), when the Son of God bore the sins of mankind upon His body (1 Pet.2:24) and experienced the curse in our place (Gal.3:13), His cry from the cross vocalized an experience He had anticipated with overwhelming dread the night before in the Garden of Gethsemane. Where before He had always known the loving face of the Father, His human nature now became the vehicle by which He experienced in His whole Person the wrath of His Father.

On that day the Father did not cease to love the eternal Son, nor did He cease to be pleased with Him. There was no rift within the Godhead. To suggest otherwise is to blaspheme. Rather, on that day, the Father judged the Incarnate Son. It was for this purpose that He took on human flesh and a human nature (Phil.2:5-8). It was Jesus Christ’s—the God-Man— experience of God as Judge, captured in a derelict cry from a wooden cross, which makes the celebration of Easter morning possible for you and me. He did this for us. His Father sent Him to be the Savior of the world, and He obediently submitted to the will of His Father, so that the Lord’s face could shine upon us. In that hour He turned His face from His Son so that He could eternally turn it toward us and give us peace.

The proof is an empty tomb.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Suffering For the Glory of God

Trials are a reality of life, and one doesn't have to be a Christian for too long before discovering that trusting in Jesus doesn't grant us a free pass from pain and suffering. In fact, as we have been learning in our study in James on Sunday mornings at my home church, trials are not just a possibility for believers; they are a certainty. James writes, "Consider it all joy, brethren, when you encounter various trials..." (James 1:3). Not if, but when. Trials are used by God to produce Christlikeness in us. They are a tool in the hands of the Master Craftsman for fashioning us into the man, woman or child that He created us to be.

Okay. we get that. We don't always like it, but we get it. But let's take this topic of trials and God's purposes one step further. One of the classic examples in the Scriptures of the purpose of trials is found in John 9. As Jesus is traveling with his disciples, he encounters a man who had been blind since birth. The disciples pose a question to the Lord: who is to blame for the man's blindness? Was it because of his sin, or perhaps his parent's sin? This is a perfectly logical question, because sometimes there is a correlation between sin and difficult circumstances.

But the disciple's question also reveals a deficiency in their thinking. They imagine that this trial must be the result of sin. They don't seem to allow for any other possibilities. In posing this question, the disciples reveal an inadequate understanding of both God and His purposes and methods as well as the purpose of trials. Helen Keller is famous for saying, "The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but not vision." The disciples could see, but they needed to have their vision of God enhanced. Jesus, the  "light of the world," does just this (John 9:4). He corrects this deficiency in their understanding, and in doing so, he blows open their neatly-packaged theological systems. And ours as well.

Jesus tells His disciples that sin was not the reason for the man's blindness. Rather, his condition existed "so that the works of God might be displayed in him" (John 9:3).

I can imagine that at this moment the disciples stopped in their tracks and did a double-take at their Master. What in the world does this mean? They could understand blindness as a consequence for sin, but Jesus specifically denies that as the reason in this case. It has nothing to do with sin. Rather, it is for the purpose of revelation. This man has endured this trial all these years in preparation for this very moment, so that "the works of God might be displayed in him." In His providence, God had permitted this incredibly difficult trial so that, in an encounter with the Lord Jesus, the glory of the works of God might be publicly portrayed in such a way that people would realize that Jesus is who He claims to be--the Son of God and the Savior of the world.

Texts like this have a way of shattering our preconceived notions of how God is "supposed" to do things. Is our category for God big enough to handle what Jesus is revealing about our Father and His purposes?

Consider the trial that you may be enduring right now. You have prayed and scoured your mind to try and identify and confess any sin that might be the cause of this trial. You have tried everything but you can't do anything to change the circumstance. You know that you are to find joy in the midst of the trial, but joy seems out of reach. Is it possible that you, like the disciples, need the doors blown off your understanding of God and His purposes?

Perhaps what you are enduring has a greater purpose than you have been considering. Perhaps God has allowed this situation or this person or this issue into your life so that He might use you to display His works to others. Could this change your perspective? Could it cause you to look at the trial--and God--in a new and greater way, knowing that God is at work in you and through you to display His power? Perhaps even change your prayer from "Lord, please remove this trial," to, "Lord, please use this trial to reveal Yourself through me."

And as we begin to comprehend that God uses trials in this way, an amazing thing is produced in the midst of our trials: joy. Joy in the knowledge that God is the Author of our lives. Joy in the realization that this trial may be used by the Lord to reveal Himself to others. And joy in the acknowledgment that our God is far bigger and greater than what we have imagined Him to be.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Not Another Boy

"Another boy!"

Those are words stated by a Planned Parenthood staffer during the dissection of an aborted baby. A boy. A baby boy. Call it a lump of tissue. Call it a symbol of choice among an evolved, civilized people. Call it whatever you want, but as we herniate ourselves attempting semantic gymnastics, let us at the very least have the guts to call it for what it is.

Another boy.

Two simple words, the significance of their meaning dependent upon their surroundings and who is uttering them. Proclaimed from the delivery room, they represent joy and happiness as another boy is welcomed into the world. From this Planned Parenthood clinic, they represent the horror of a conscience seared by sin and wickedness

Another boy

Together, these two words represent one dead baby. Separately, they represent an untold throng of boys who preceded this precious life, snuffed out by crushing forceps and dismembered on a plate for parts.

Another boy.

As a people who claim to stand for justice and the rights of those who cannot speak for themselves, this is a test of those claims. Do we truly stand for justice, or is justice simply defined by whatever pulls on our collective heartstrings at any given moment? Is justice a constant? Or is it dependent upon whatever the media chooses to sound the klaxon over in order to whip the civilized into a moral and ethical frenzy? When a lion is "taken" by a dentist, the conscious of a nation collectively mourns and shouts for justice. How much more should that conscience mourn and shout for justice when the one taken is "another boy"?

Another boy.

The biggest obstacle for people to get past in order to change their minds about the nature of abortion isn't that it protects choice. It's that it means admitting that abortion is and always has been murder. It's easy to get upset over a dead lion. Doing so doesn't mean admitting culpability for millions of other dead lions. In order to change one's mind about abortion, however, that is exactly what one has to do; strip away all the whitewashed terms like "choice," "reproductive rights," and "tissue" and call it for what it is.

Another boy.

What is his name? What are the names of the boys (and girls) who collectively form the "another"? When will we finally stand up and declare that everything else that we worry about when we step into the voting booth pales in comparison to our moral obligation to stand up for the boys and girls who die each and every day in this country? There is no greater issue of justice then this. May our voices go forth with a new pronouncement from this day forth:

Not another boy!

Friday, June 26, 2015

How Should We Respond To The Supreme Court Ruling On Same-Sex Marriage?

The Supreme Court today has issued its ruling, and although most of us probably are not terribly surprised, it is still a blow to the gut for those who believe that a biblical view of marriage is one man and one woman. As Christians, how should we respond?

We should continue to live by faith. The Lord is still on His throne. Heaven is not in crisis-mode. God's sovereignty is not trumped by the will of man, whether that will is executed in the voting booth or from the bench. That the world would choose to bow before self rather than God is no surprise. But as those who willingly bow the knee to King Jesus, we need not cower in fear nor quit in defeat. Rather, we exalt in hope, because our God reigns!

We should continue to live the gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the only means of true identity for men and women. Without the gospel, man's identity is just a twisted version of what God originally created. The gospel restores this identity by making all things new, and as Christians we should live resurrection lives before a world desperately in need of the restoration accomplished at the cross.

We should continue to proclaim the gospel. Because the gospel is the only answer to the sin issue that plagues mankind and twists our understanding of what it really means to be men and women, we must be heralds of this message. Now more then ever, you and I need to declare to the world, in gentle words and in compassionate deeds, one simple thing: Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected.

We should continue to invest in our churches. The church is a place for coming together to worship our reigning God, for encouraging one another to be faithful, for helping to bear the burdens of those who are struggling to do just that. We need to continue to build into the church by attending, utilizing spiritual gifts for the building up of the body, and ministering to one another as well as to those outside. Our churches will be ground zero for the coming wave of broken people that will soon be looking for answers and healing, but in order to minister to them tomorrow, we must be investing in our churches today.

We should continue to invest in our marriages and families. The greatest testimony to a biblical view of marriage and family are biblical marriages and families. We cannot stand in the public square and disavow other's households if our own is in disorder. No one will listen. Our marriages and homes must be built upon the gospel, steeped in truth, and overflowing with grace and love.

We should continue to pray. And if we haven't been praying, we should start. We should ask the Lord to protect His people, churches, and ministers in the days to come. And if He chooses to permit us to suffer, let us pray that He will provide us with the strength to stand firm. We should entreat Him to break our hearts over our own sin as well as soften them towards those whom sin has crushed. We should implore Him to give us opportunities to tell others what true redemption and liberty really are, and we should beg Him to give us gentle boldness when those opportunities present themselves.

There are times in history when God permits events to occur that rouse His slumbering children, that causes us to shake off the comfortable blankets of apathy and wipe the sleep from our eyes. The days of mediocre, comfy Christianity in America are gone. Today we step into a new world. May we do so firmly entrenched in the gospel of Jesus Christ, newly aware of who we are in Jesus and of the power of His name. And may we never, ever recover.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Romans 5-8 in 15 Words

"For I am confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." (Phil.1:6, NASB)
Here in this verse, the Apostle Paul summarizes the great theme of security laid out in his magnum opus, the letter to the Romans. In the Greek text, Paul's certainty of the fulfilment of the believer's salvation is expressed in a mere fifteen words (ninety-seven characters--how's that for coming in under the limit for a tweet?), yet it is frontloaded with rich theology.

The foundation of his confidence is where those who reject eternal security usually go off the rails, for if the fulfillment of salvation is dependant upon us even in the slightest bit, then we have good cause for concern. But Paul does not look to the Philippians as the means of this future perfection. Rather, his confidence is in God (v.3). It is God who set these saints apart as holy (that's what the word saint means), and Paul is absolutely certain that what God starts, He finishes. He will see them through to the end result. He will accomplish what He started. He will not lose a single one, but all who have had this good work begun in them will see it realized. This is no mere hope for Paul the way we so often understand hope, as something that is uncertain of actually coming to pass as when a trembling young man with sweating palms shyly asks a young lady to prom. Rather, this is Paul's certainty, his absolute assurance, his confident expectation. No matter what happens, Paul is confident that God will finish the work of salvation which He started. And the realization will be accomplished through the same means by which it was initiated--through Jesus Christ. His finished work on the cross saved them; His glorious appearing will perfect them.

Here, then, is the perfect summary statement to describe the extended teaching on the security of the believer that Paul presents in Romans 5-8. Those whom God has justified, Paul writes in Romans 5:1, have peace with God. That is the state of our relationship with God, dear Christian friend. The enmity has been replaced by peace. Where before we were the objects of God's wrath, now, because Jesus has taken our place and bore our punishment, we are now sons. Where before we looked to Him with only the anticipation of judgment, now we look to Him as a son looks to a father. Finally, we are at peace.

And Paul says that, as a result, we exalt in the glory of God. In Romans 3:23, it was the glory of God which we had fallen short of in our sinfulness. It was this glory, this fulness of all that God is in His being and Person that stood beyond our reach, and now Paul says that we exalt in it! We rejoice in it! We savor it! And when it is revealed in all its majesty on the day of Christ Jesus, it shall not bring death to us, but perfection and completion. Where now we see in a mirror dimly, in that day we shall see face to face. In that day we shall exalt in the glory of God, for that is why we were redeemed in the first place, "to the praise of the glory of His grace."

Romans 5 continues to demonstrate the reality that our justification by faith is a secure and unchanging justification, for if God has accomplished the greatest, most difficult thing possible--reconciling us while we were helpless sinners and enemies, then certainly He will do the easier thing, which is to complete what He started. He has already done the hard part--saving us. He most certainly will do the easy part--perfecting us. Through Jesus Christ He has transferred us from the mastery of sin and its cadaverous consequence to a new Head, Whose one act of obedience has produced righteousness and life. The wages of sin are most certainly death, but Paul's confidence for the Philippian believers is the provision of the free gift of eternal life!

In Romans 6-7 Paul turns to the life of the believer and the freedom to live righteous lives, yet even this is related to the security of the believer, for here we read that we have been raised from the dead with Christ. God has given us new life in Jesus Christ, and this new life is the birthday of this good work which He has begun in us and will complete. The flesh rebels, yet the field will be the Lord's!

Paul's confidence that the battle will be won is expressed in two phrases in Romans 8 which serve as bookends to the chapter: "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (v.1) and nothing "will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (v.39). No condemnation and no separation--that is the reality for the believer who has trusted in Christ. Truly, then, if God is for us, who is against us? And God really is for us! He gave up His Son in order to set into motion a plan, originated in eternity past, in which He would purchase us for Himself. The scourging, the cross, the tomb, all of it was so that He might purify for Himself a people that are His very own, to the praise of the glory of His grace.

Romans 5-8, then, encapsulated in fifteen words in the greeting of the letter to the Philippians. What God has started, He will finish. What is incomplete will be completed. What is imperfect will be perfected. And one day, when Jesus returns, we will know this completion, and we will exalt in the glory of God, for He will have completed what He started and fitted us perfectly to glorify Him for eternity.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Responding to the "Angry God" Perception

Do you see God as angry and vengeful, always ready to punish and judge? If this is you, then I would challenge you to take ten seconds to read Romans 5:6-10:
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (NASB, 1995, emphasis mine)
Now, having read this description of God's disposition toward us, and having noted well the condition we were in at the time He acted, ask yourself this: is this the description of an angry, vengeful God? Does it match the perception of God that you have been holding on to all this time? Or is it just possible that your perception of God has been skewed? Be honest with yourself, now.