Posts Tagged ‘sin’

GFTROUCan you imagine if Karl Barth sat down to write Church Dogmatics and began with an exceptional account of how wrecked his life has been by sin, how disturbed his family is/was, and other unsavory and sordid details of his confusion, pain, and suffering and then told us the story of how God redeemed it, made it whole, and eventually used that life to change the lives of countless other equally shattered and broken people?

Neither can I. But maybe if he had, Church Dogmatics, as much fun as they are to read, would be even more fun. (I confess I have not read through the entire Dogmatics, so maybe he did I and I don't know it.)

To be sure, God for the Rest of Us is not Church Dogmatics. Most will probably be thankful for this. But it is another book among a collection of books that continue to be published by Christian publishing houses who are convinced that the every day readers in the church want to read stories about how terrible the lives of their favorite preachers have been. Preachers used to be paragons of untouchable virtue and holiness. Not so much anymore. It's kind of a newer trend where we get insights into practical Christianity via the growth process of (insert favorite preacher's name here). We get to read about their struggles, their families, their suffering, their pain, their doubt, their heroics, their rise from the squalor of outcast kid who doubts his way through Bible college on to having some sort of an epiphany and their subsequent rise to become super-hero pastors of super-mega-giant churches that are doing everything right that most other churches do wrong.

I hate to be this way, but this is the trend. I don't see it slowing down anytime soon because evidently there is a market for it. Evidently, people are buying this stuff. When I think about my own 'rise to stardom' in the world of churchianity, I usually end up sitting around wondering why it is that some people suffer so much and end up writing books and others of us suffer so much and end up reviewing those books. Sometimes, I suppose we come off as bitter.

This is partly what you get though when you read God for the Rest of Us. I'm not, necessarily, suggesting this is a bad thing. Those who read this book will figure that out on their own. To be sure, I think people should read this book because despite my conviction that the preacher should not be the focus of his sermon or an illustration (I learned this in elementary homiletics classes) in this case what we learn is that Antonucci is not some stuck up snobbish preacher unwilling to get close to people or to have people close to him. I like that this is a man who has been through the mud a time or two and yet somehow or other found Jesus. Or maybe Jesus found him. Or maybe Jesus dogged his footsteps until he turned around and asked where the Master where he was staying or the Master informed him he was coming over for dinner. Maybe its a little bit of all of it. Maybe Jesus follows us long before we ever follow him. I don't know. My point is that while I have grown somewhat weary of reading stories about the preachers who have struggled and suffered so much prior to Jesus (and sometimes after Jesus too) and share it in their books, churches, and t-shirts, church curricula, and DVDs, there is something to be said about what these preachers have learned from these experiences.

I think this book is, partly, the evidence of what Antonucci learned through his experiences.

While some Christians seem to go out of their way to protect God from the unseemly and untidy and unwashed heathens in this world, Antonucci goes out of his way to demonstrate that it is precisely 'these types' of people in whom God is most interested. Jesus did say 'it's the sick who need a doctor, not the well.' OK. So Antonucci has a vision one day, or a calling, and he packs up the family and moves to Vegas where he, following the lead of Jesus, starts to befriend and minister to all the wrong people–you know, people who would never fit in in our comfortable, white-washed, stained glass, middle-class suburban campus style churches. And a church starts to grow–and the Lord 'added to their number daily those who were being saved'–right in the middle of Las Vegas.

And if this story is true, and why shouldn't it be and how can it not be, it is utterly remarkable and unnerving the people that Jesus loves into his church through his people.

I heard a young preacher say something once that was utterly brilliant. He said, we cannot build relationships if we don't start them first. Oh, he had me hooked after that because I know that I am a somewhat strange person when it comes to relationships. Antonucci agrees: "The way to change a life is not by judging people but by embracing them. Not by pointing out their sins but by pointing the way to hope" (19). I mean, how simple can one get? He goes further (and I've read variations of this before, so it's nothing new, but I think it sets the tone for what the book is about): "What's so disturbing is that what Jesus was known for–amazing grace–is the exact opposite of what Christians are known for today. We're known for judgment and condemnation. We're known not for what we're for–loving God and loving people–but for what we're against" (19). It's really hard to argue with this. 

When I was still a preacher, here I go breaking my own rule, I was one time ripped a new one in a board meeting because I helped a friend with his taxi service. The reason I was ripped? Well, you see, I picked up drunks from bars, I drove people to a local gambling facility, and every now and again I picked up and drove 'exotic dancers' home. You'd never believe some of the conversations I had with people in that car. But it was too much for the uptight members of the board–after all, I was a preacher and I shouldn't be seen in such places or with such people. (It's a true story. It wasn't too long after that that I left the church.) I think God was teaching me to love people. I should have stayed at the church because I ended up not being very loving towards those board members who seem to want to stifle and criticize me.

Love even the judgmental. God is for church boards.

I don't know what is so difficult about loving people right where they are and then allowing God to do the hard work of changing them. But let's take it a step further and suggest that it is our goal to change people, "If our goal is to change people's behavior, to get them to repent, is fear really the best way to do that?" (156) Spend enough time trolling the blogs and you will see that there are a lot of Christians who believe just that. Spend enough time with Jesus and you will see that it will never work because even those who are won over by fear will not last long. Maybe the voices of those who spend more time with Jesus ought to be the voices heard the most by those who think of God as someone who could never love them. Our lives are shaped and we thrive by love. Fear motivates me to nothing, but love? "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). What else need be said? 

God is for us, and if he is, who can be against us? Yes, this is spoken in particular to Christians, but isn't there also a sense in which we can say that God is for all people? God is patient and not willing any one should perish. God wants all people to come to a knowledge of the truth. All. That is a huge, huge word that is too often left out of our Christianese dictionary. We need to embrace it. We need to embrace all people. And seriously who cares if we embrace people and they take advantage of us or persist in their sin? Will God find fault with us for loving all people?

Ask yourself: Will God judge the church more harshly for loving all people with great love even though they might take advantage of us or for only loving some people who treat us kindly? I think it would be better to ere on the side of love than discernment. God can do the judging, we are called to do the loving.

So, yes, there are parts of the book that made me uncomfortable. For example, I don't know about his list of apologies on 112ff, but I suppose if my apology will lead someone to Jesus, then I'll offer it. What do I care? What matters most: my squeamishness at offering apologies for things I never did? Or someone else seeing the Love of Jesus? I like that he takes the time to open up lengthy passages of Scripture for us and walk through them. In particular, the story Jonah, the story of the woman accused of adultery in John 8, and the story of the Prodigal from Luke 15 were well told. I like that he made reference to The Count of Monte Cristo; I dislike that it was the movie version. I like the stories of redeemed lives and how God took broken people and made them whole again. I like how he is honest about who he is and where he's from because even though I get a little tired of the personal 'how I rose from nothing to start a church and write books' stories, I think in this case it grounds the reader: Antonucci understands well the depths of God's love for all people–not just the few we think ought to be saved. God is for everyone. You name the category, the sub-category, or whatever: God loves people. That's the point. God loves people. So should we.

I am glad for that because this also means he was and is for me. That says a lot.

He ends the book with a worthy challenge for those who read it: Whom Do You Least Want to Love? That's all I'll say because I want you to read the book (so does Antonucci) and I want you to answer the question. I have to answer the question too because I suspect there are a lot of people I find it difficult to love. And yet God loves me. I must change.

Notes are appended at the end and there's a nice appendix titled 'My ABC Book of People God Loves." It just may shock you to see the people God is for, but it may also affirm that you are on the right path in your own choices of who you love. Good reading here. I recommend this book for all Christians who struggle to love people who are different. I recommend this book for all Christian who think it is their job to change people or to judge people. I recommend this book for Christians who are more in love with discernment than they are with Jesus. I recommend this book for Christians who truly believe that God does not want anyone to perish.

Get this book. Read it. Think on it. Then go love someone–maybe someone you never thought you could love.

5/5 Stars

Important Book & Author Things

  • Where to purchase God for the Rest of Us Tyndale House Publishers (Trade Paperback $15.99)  Amazon (Kindle $9.99 Pre-order)  CBD  (Paperback $12.99)
  • God for the Rest of Us on the internet
  • Author: Vince Antonucci On Twitter
  • Where Vince hangs out with People Jesus Loves: Verve
  • Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
  • Pages: 255
  • Year: August 2015
  • Audience:Pastors, preachers, Christians, missionaries, elders, deacons, young people, old people, people whose lives are a trainwreck, seekers, the saved, the lost, the helpless and hopeless, the loveless, the judgmental
  • Reading Level: High School
  • Disclaimer: I was provided a free advance reading copy courtesy of Tyndale Blog Network.
  • Page numbers in this review are based on an ARC. Numbering may be different in final publication.

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I am a Christian. I am a preacher–I just don't actually have a pulpit right now or a church or a Word from the Lord. It's not always easy–being a Christian, that is. I'm not always honest–which means that sometimes I am a hypocrite. I am not a strong-always-faithful-kind of guy. I am a weak-my-grace-is-sufficient-for-you-kind of Christian. I have to be because otherwise I would have nothing. I've learned that I cannot trust myself no matter how much effort I exert. I am far too easily amused and far too easily distracted.

It's been about five and a half years since I was removed from the pulpit of the church I served nearly 10 years.

There's a large part of me that is glad Mark Driscoll quit Mars Hill. It's about as large as the part of me that was glad when Rob Bell quit the other Mars Hill. Here's why. Aside from a small blip every now and again, I don't have to hear about Mars Hill, Rob Bell, and some of the silly things he used to say in his efforts to be relevant or controversial or emergent or whatever his shtick of the week was. I'm hoping the same results occur now that Mark Driscoll has quit Mars Hill, Seattle. Frankly, I am hopeful he will just go away and live off the fat of the money he made during his time in Seattle for a little while, learn some humility, repent of his sins, and return someday to be used by the Lord.

This is what I genuinely hope for him. I hope he will start again. Maybe I hope that because I hope maybe someday also to start again. The desert can be an arid place.

I should be clearer about why I'm writing this because someone might misunderstand me and think that this is about a personal animosity or personal dislike or that I'm just another blogger looking for google-love or whatever. I'm not. Really, I don't care. My real issue is that what the church really needs is for the celebrity preacher to just go away. Seriously. Just. Go. Away. Stop trying to go nationwide. Stop trying to make the nation your parish. Stop trying to dominate the airwaves with your sermons. Stop trying to take over the world of publishing with your books. Be content with your small parish or congregation and work in the field the Lord gives you. Make disciples. Preach the Word in season and out of season. Do the work of an evangelist. Don't be afraid to be small and unnoticed outside your community.

Stop trying to be a celebrity.

This is the inevitable result of one preacher trying to take faith nationwide–a task I'm not even sure Jesus tried to do. "I was sent to the lost sheep of Israel" I recall him saying and while his eventual goal and result is 'all authority in heaven and earth' belonging to himself, I think it is safe to say that Jesus stayed with his mission to work in the fields God had called him to and he then entrusted others to carry on his work. He had other sheep, but he trusted that others would be faithful and bring them in to the fold.

An example from Driscoll himself is a book I have sitting on a shelf right next to me where I'm typing. I have owned this book since it was published Photoin 2010. It's the only Mark Driscoll book I own or will ever own. And here's the kicker, I've never even read it. I haven't even inscribed my name on the inside of the cover, near the spine, as I do with all my books. I'm not even sure why it is this close to where I am studying. I have no use for it precisely because on the cover it says, "What Christians Should Believe." I have no use for the word should. (I think this book was a book club choice once and it came before I responded to the card. I'm not sure why I own it.) But the point is this: who is Mark Driscoll to tell anyone what they should believe? Who am I to tell anyone what they should believe? Who is any Christian to make such nationwide, worldwide claims about faith in Jesus? (My point here is that I'm not defending Driscoll or excusing him personally. That is, I'm not necessarily a fan, but he's a brother in Christ and a companion in preaching.)

It's my opinion that Driscoll simply got too big for his britches. But he's only one example of many who could be pointed to. Many, many of these celebrity preachers end up all the same so I don't think Driscoll is any worse or any better than any other celebrity preacher who starts off with good intentions, is blessed by the Lord, allows it to go to his head, creates a scandal, resigns in humiliation, and goes away. I am hopeful, frankly, that Driscoll stays away. I hope he learns something from his sins. I hope the Lord restores him someday and he finds a way to start preaching the Gospel again.

I am happy that another celebrity preacher has quit. I'm not happy about the way it happened and I think there are a lot of bloggers and celebrity christian writers who will have to answer some day for the things they said about Mark. I'm glad Mark is no longer at Mars Hill because I happen to think he has more to offer and I do not believe for a minute that Jesus is finished with him; I hope he's not. I hope Mark comes back full of humility, full of grace, full of mercy, full of love, and full of gratitude for what God gave him for so many years.

I hope that because I hope that for myself too.

I can feel this way because I am a preacher too and I understand what it means to lose a pulpit, to lose God's trust, to have your faith shaken. To be sure, I was no celebrity preacher. I was not famous and never will be, but there is a part of me that understands what happens when a preacher forgets to depend upon the Lord and starts depending upon his own ability or prowess or popularity or skill. It is easy to forget the Lord in the pulpit even though the words are as holy and gospel infused as the Scriptures themselves. Sometimes preachers forget who they are and what they are called to do because the task at hand is so vital and eventually it ends up going to their heads that maybe, just maybe, the Lord is using them somehow in his scheme.

And maybe it's the Lord's intention to give them time to remember. Mark Driscoll might never remember. I pray he does.

Many are rejoicing over Driscoll's resignation. I'm not one of them. I understand all too well this pain and shame; the loneliness he may well have to endure for a while. Perhaps now that he is gone those angry bloggers and writers and critics careers too will come to a screeching halt–maybe now they won't have so much cannon fodder, maybe now the Lord can rebuke them too. Maybe they too can give up their dream of being nationwide and just go away. Maybe now that their whipping boy is gone, they can shut up and stop bringing an even worse shame to the body of Christ with their hyper-critical and hateful spirits.

We all have to learn. We all have to remember. Sadly some of us have to do these things are a far bigger stage than others which is exactly why we need less celebrity preachers. Leave the grand stage to Jesus. Exalt him; not yourself.

And come back faithful.

Sometimes I'm not even sure why we bother. I have a wish for peace. I have a wish that the people of this earth will get along and throw down their implements of war. I'm sick of war and death and famine and disease. I'm sick of violence. I'm sick of politics and intrigue. I'm sick of all the hate and discord. I'm sick of the church being a place of ego and not Jesus. I'm sick of the lines that divide us being so apparent.

I'm sick of debt. I'm sick of disease.

I'm sick of the hate that lifts our hands

And raises us from our knees.

Hate, rising, filling us with heat.

Today's readings are as follows: Psalms 128-130; Numbers 22:41-23:12; Romans 7:13-25; Matthew 21:33-46.

Psalm 130 Who hasn't been here? Sunken deep into the pits of some filth, swallowed whole by the depths. It's the proverbial bottom of the barrel. It's the bottom of the ocean. There's no place to look but up. We can't reach out and save ourselves. We can't walk out on our own. We can't see the face of God or another human. We can't taste hope. We can't smell salvation. Our muscles have atrophied. All we have left is a voice filled with the salt of our tears and with that voice, and no one visble near or around us, we simply cry out: "Out of the depths I cry to you Lord; Lord hear my voice." That looks like a present tense verb to me. It's not, "I cried out," or "I will cry out." It's: "I cry to you." It's present tense. Maybe what we do not realize is that in one way or another we are always in the depths and that we need to constantly, every day, cry out to the Lord. Maybe this is a way of saying something like, "Lord, wherever I am, compared to you, I am always in the depths. Lord, wherever you are I am always crying out to you, my voice is always filled with tears, and my eyes are always laden with the burdens of life. Lord as often as I cry out to you, hear my voice. Hear my words to you through the tear choked misery of these blackened depths. Lord, mercy!"

Then the Psalmist waits (5-6). Five times in these two verses the Psalmist waits. I wait. We wait. It's kind of sad that the Psalmist seems to have to wait alone. I wait. I wait. I wait. Isn't that like us though? Wouldn't life be better if we had someone to wait with while we wait? Wouldn't it be better if we had someone in the depths with us? Wouldn't it be better if we had someone to wait through the long dark nights with us? Nevertheless, who else can we wait upon but the Lord? It's almost like the Psalmist knows that no one else is going to show up so there's not much point in waiting on anyone else. Or perhaps it is because he knows that no one else can even come close to helping him in whatever depths he happens to be in at the time. I might pastorally ask you, as I have asked myself many times, "Who are you waiting on?" I think the answer to the question also reveals who we are hoping will show up.

And we are told in this Psalm several things about the One whom the Psalmist is waiting for: with the Lord there is forgiveness; his word is full of hope; with the Lord there is mercy; with the Lord there is unfailing love; with the Lord there is redemption. There is, in other words, a lot to wait for if we are waiting for the Lord. But I guess who we are waiting for tells us a lot about what we are waiting for, doesn't it? I mean, are we hopeful for hope? Are we hopeful for love? Are we hopeful for redemption from an empty, hopeless, loveless life? Are we hopeful to be rescued from our sins or are we content to live within their depths? At its heart this is a Psalm about needing rescue from ourselves, from the sin we are mired in deeply. And the Psalmist is correct: being mired in sin prevents worship (v 4). So the question is thus: do we desire the fellowship of the Lord? Do we desire his presence? Do we want his mercy? Do we want his love? Do we want his hope? Do we truly want to worship him again? Are we stuck in the pits of sin?

There's only one way out of it. Cry out. Take your throat dry with sin and wet with tears and lift up whatever last breath you have to him. Cry out for his mercy and forgiveness. Keep crying out. Keeping hoping and braying like a broken animal. Do whatever it takes to get your voice into the halls of heaven. Do whatever you have to do to be heard by the one who seeks and saves. He'll find you because that is far more important than you finding him. He is our hope.

So if you are waiting alone, if you are mired in the depths, if you are stuck in sin, if you are muted by your suffering and drinking only tears, where are you going to turn? Who is your hope? Who is your help? If you had one last breath to cry out one last song for mercy, to whom would you sing it?

For more information, see Luke 23:42-43

The Daily Office readings for today, June 30, 2014 are as follows. I draw from the Book of Common Prayer, Year 2, Proper 8:

Psalm 106:1-18 (I just read the entire Psalm)

Numbers 22:1-21

Romans 6:12-23

Matthew 21:12-22

These were some wonderful readings and I'll briefly share just a few thoughts on them in order to get your mind moving in a Godward direction today. There is nothing necessarily scholarly about these reflections. These are mostly thoughts that come to mind while I read. The exercise of the mind upon Scripture and the meditation–the binding of the Word upon my heart–is the objective.

First, the Psalm: What I noticed in the Psalm is the story of Israel told from a single person within that story. Verse 4 was key for me: "remember me, Lord, when you show favor to your people." I think sometimes it is very easy to get lost in the shuffle and feel like God has somehow forgotten us. I have felt much the same way myself at times during the past 5 years. And so we cry out and talk louder hoping that maybe it's just that God hasn't heard us. As the Psalmist moves on, however, we start to see a pattern develop. So note verses 7, 13, and 21: 'they forgot.' God did this, and that, and this and that…and he rescued them. But they forgot. Periodically folks would stand in the gap in order to stay God's wrath (Moses v. 23 and Phinehas v. 30), but the people continued to push the boundaries of their wickedness and pursue sinful ways of those around them. Then near the end I noticed that God did something remarkable, something unthinkable: He heard their and remembered his covenant (45). So even when, as it turns out, it is actually we who are the ones doing the forgetting we can safely work on the premise that God does not forget. He remembers. It's kind of like that brigand hanging on the cross with Jesus who said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Luke 23:42). I think that criminal was praying this Psalm. Lord, I know I am a sinner, but please remember me. And he did (Luke 23:43).

Second, Numbers 22. I will freely admit that this is one of those stories in the Bible that makes little sense to me. I have read it many, many times and I still struggle to understand why God got angry with Balaam even after he told Balaam it was OK to go as long as he only said what the Lord told him to say. It seems that perhaps what we are seeing is that Balaam's 'real intentions…were known to the Lord' (Allen, 889). So perhaps that's what we are dealing with here: intentions. Balaam was a strange character was was motivated by money, animated by greed. This is a good story, if Allen is right, which reminds us to stop and analyze our own intentions and think not that we can hide them from God. He knows the heart and we would be wise to remember that. (Pay close attention to verses 20-22.)

Third, Romans 6:12-23: Psalm 106 was a psalm dealing with sin. It seems that whoever wrote it was embroiled in some sort of sin and was concerned that perhaps this sin was egregious enough to cause God to forget him. So he rattles off the entire history of sinful Israel and points out at the end that even then God was not forgetful–He still remembered his covenant. So, God will you forget me too or in my sin will your grace prevail and will you remember me? So here in Romans 6 we see another thought about sin: What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? And here is what I think is the point: no, we shall not. Why? Because grace is not a license to do whatever we want. Grace according to Paul is a catalyst for persistence in righteousness. We have been set free from sin so why should be persist in wrong, in unrighteousness? We died to sin, why would be want to resurrect into a sinful life all over again? We have been raised up to life in Jesus. Be done with sin. Struggle against it. Wage war against it. Fight against it with all the power grace affords you. Remember Jesus Christ crucified who is your life. Remember you raised to walk in the newness of life not in the oldness of death.

Fourth, Matthew 21:12-22: I will focus rather narrowly on verses 12-15, and perhaps even more narrowly than that by looking at verse 14. It might be helpful to remember the story of David who conquered Jerusalem and made it his capital city (2 Samuel 5:6-10; 1 Chronicles 11:4-6). It may do well to remember that the owners of the city, at that time, told David the 'blind and the lame' had been set as a guard against him and that even they could ward off him and his army. It may be helpful to remember that David banned the blind and the lame from entering the courts. It may do well to remember that Jesus is the Davidic king. Now here is Jesus first entering Jerusalem (21:10) and second the Temple (21:12). And so look what happens: "The blind and the lame came to him at the temple and he healed them." But others, chief priests and teachers of the law, were indignant. How could they not be? Here was this Jesus welcoming those who were forbidden to be in the temple right into the temple. And not only was Jesus welcoming them into the temple, he was healing them which mean things like talking to and touching and pronouncing God's blessing. Now here is the King, Jesus, entering the courts of the temple and welcoming those that David had banned.

So it kind of makes me think about who we welcome and who we do not. Jesus welcomes anyone. Who do we welcome? What about your church? Do you welcome the blind? The lame? Those with Autism Spectrum Disorders? Those with AIDS? Those who are 'sinners'? Those who are alcoholics? Those whom the rest of the world rejects? Jesus is the King! The King welcomes all. Shouldn't his subjects be as gracious as he is? Well, think about yourself. "Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of this world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him" (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). Think about it. And think about what so many churches are missing out on because churches are more interested in who can bring in the most dollars or the most influence–ask why people plant more new churches in posh suburbs instead of in poverty stricken urban centers. Just think about it. Then think about the folks King Jesus welcomed. Think about it.

These are my thoughts today. They are unfinished and incomplete. They are random. Nevertheless I pray they give you strength today in Jesus.

Took some time late this afternoon to go birding with my wife. It was a great afternoon driving around slowly on the back roads, often on the wrong side of the road, without seat belts just hoping to catch a glimpse of some bird we may have never seen before.

We saw a lot of birds today. We saw a Red Tail Hawk. We saw a Great Blue Heron (with a damaged wing). We saw Red-Winged Blackbirds. Canada Geese. Ducks. Cardinals. And a few others whose names I simply do not know at this moment. I so enjoy just driving around and watching for birds and other animals to appear. 100_2123

Sometimes we see birds. Sometimes we see deer. Sometimes we see whatever that is to the left (beaver? groundhog?) Sometimes we see turtles.

We see them in the grass and in the sky and in the water. We see them in trees or walking across the road like they own the place. Birds sit in branches or on wires or fences. There is life all around and it is so much fun to look for it and find it.

So we were driving along a back road and we happened to see some ducks swimming around in some water that was running along the road but about 15-20 feet below us. My wife saw the ducks with their young and said I should stop. Well her camera's batteries had died so I decided to get out with my phone and snap a couple pictures. When I got out, however, I inadvertently closed my car door too hard and it startled the ducks; they flew off quickly.

What was amazing about this episode was something else though. As I stood watching our prizes fly off to safety something caught my eye and I turned thinking maybe it was other birds flying off too. No. Not so much. Turns out it was about 15 deer that had also been right beside the water having a drink or grazing or sleeping–I don't know because I didn't see them until they started bounding off through the tall grass and out of sight.

I suppose there are two lessons that can be learned from this. First, when birding, it is best to walk. It is best practice not to talk. It is best practice not to slam car doors. This was a rookie mistake even though we've been birding many times. The second, perhaps more important, lesson is that there is so much that we simply do not see. If I hadn't slammed my car door I never would have seen the deer. I would have only focused on the ducks.

Well my point is that maybe sometimes when we make mistakes it serves a greater purpose of opening our eyes to see something that we otherwise would not have seen. Perhaps we get so focused on seeing what we want that we overlook or ignore our surroundings. Then the door slams, and there are the deer.

Sinning Like  a Christian, by William Willimon

Abingdon Press, 2005

A Peculiar Prophet (Willimon’s Blog)

I wish I had the courage to sin like William Willimon, but I know that if I did, people might looksinning willimon at me funny. After all, I’m not William Willimon.  The problem with Willimon is not his theology. I think he is a fine theologian. His problem is not his preaching: he is thought provoking, at times his tongue is sharp, his wit is acerbic, and his sense of irony and sarcasm is astounding. I can take him in tempered doses which is why it takes me a month to read a  150 page book like Sinning Like a Christian. I read Willimon like I read Anne Lamott: slowly, cautiously, and with a small glass of sipping whiskey.

The problem with Willimon is that, for all his intelligence, he really doesn’t know when to quit, and when he keeps going he comes off as terribly judgmental, arrogant, and ungracious.  So, Willimon, true to form, published a Postscript at the end of this book wherein he waxes eloquently about grace and love and happy-happy-joy-joy but manages to take swipes at former president George W. Bush and an unnamed ‘conservative, evangelical, Bible-thumping pastor.’ It’s at this point that Willimon tends to lose me: for as much as he talks about grace, he seems to reserve not the tiniest bit for those who are on the opposite side of the political aisle from him. I find this to be true of a lot of theological liberals.

However…

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Sinning Like a Christian is Willimon’s exploration of the so-called seven deadly sins. Overall, I think this book is worth the read if, and I say if, you can read with a light-heart and laughter. For example, take this quote, “Jesus was crucified for the very best of human good reasons such as peace, justice, doctrinal fidelity, national security, and on an on. We are rarely more murderous than when we are defending some noble ideal like freedom or democracy” (29). Frankly, it is this sort of statement that makes me want to vomit on the book. It is so painfully obvious what he is saying (and thank God and the warmongering conservatives he can say it!) It really gets old when one’s person political agenda manages to makes its way into a book that is not about politics. This is not the only time it happens in Willimon’s book, and it never, ever gets new.

It is difficult to continue reading Willimon after he makes such a blatant political statement. But, then, he will keep typing and come up with something like this:

The most moving moment in Sunday worship for me is when my people come forward at Holy Communion, streaming down the altar, and there they hold out empty hands like little children, like the famished folk they really are, empty, needing a gift in the worst sort of way…What’s strange, from the world’s point of view, is the empty-handed, needy, empty request for grace. (47)

That is beautiful. I wonder if Willimon is confident enough in God’s grace to serve communion to President George W. Bush? The true test of grace, it seems to me, is not how you treat your friends, but how you treat your enemies—especially your enemies who are your brothers in Christ. I’m not sure if Willimon is attempting to appeal to the more liberal folks among his readers or if he is just trying to irritate the more conservative folks among his readers. Anne Lamott is at least wise enough to realize that someday she will have to share a table with the former president (see her book Plan B, Further Thoughts on Faith). Sometimes I wonder if Willimon realizes that?

So what I’m trying to do here is write a short review that a) talks to the strengths and weaknesses of what is written on the pages of the book I am reviewing and b) gives you enough reason to actually want to read it. I’ve read enough Willimon books to know that he is, frankly, difficult to pin down theologically. Sometimes he is profoundly gracious and other times he is profoundly stupid. I say that lovingly, of course; he’s probably said the same thing about most of the people he reads. That’s why I say that Willimon is hard to read: sometimes you love him, other times not. I know, you need a reason to read him so I’ll go back to what I said at the start.

Don’t read him for his political views (I don’t happen to think that his theological or political liberalism is any better an option than another’s theological and political conservatism.) Don’t read this particular book because you hope to find something particularly insightful, or new, or interesting about sin. Don’t read this book because you hope to find something that cures what ails you because I don’t think the book is chock-full of the sort of answers you might be looking for. But if you want, and if you dare, read the book because no matter how much Willimon appears to withhold grace from his political enemies (i.e., those who are ‘conservative, evangelical, [and] Bible-thumping’), I believe Willimon actually understands grace all too well—and perhaps that is what frightens (motivates?) him to write in the first place.

This is who we are, says Jesus, not big, self-sufficient adults, but rather little children, naked, frail, empty, and hungry, needing a gracious God in the worst sort of way. You can’t get into this Kingdom if you are all grown up and big and important. You can only come in through a very small door as an inept, bumbling, ignorant, and empty little child” (47)

And this is exactly the reason why I keep coming back to Willimon. No matter how distasteful he finds conservative politicians and haughty academics, he always comes back to grace. He cannot stay away from it. He circles it, swoops in, hints at its borders, dabbles here and there, and then in one final blow he unleashes a barrage of grace missiles (I couldn’t resist using a warfare metaphor to describe the tactics of a pacifist writing about grace; it’s my own bit of irony)—even he cannot stay away from it! It’s like he is writing along, happily minding his own business, and wham! out of nowhere—grace.

I’m a big fan of grace and my reason for reading Willimon is that he is too and he has found a way, amidst all the hoopla that is America, academics, politics, church and church-folk to articulate it in such a way that I actually find myself loving Jesus more and despising those who disagree with me less.

That, my friends, is the worth of a good writer.

By the grace of God, a good-enough church, and lots of practice, it is possible even for ordinary folk like us to become saints” (146).

Amen.

“For all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God…” Paul to the Romans, chapter 3, verse 23

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life…” John the Apostle, chapter the third, 16th verse.

Today, my attention was drawn to this post at a certain ‘that which is not to be named’ blog. It is a serious blog post. It is seriously depressing. And it is seriously stupid. (I’m sorry if you had the unfortunate ‘pleasure’ of reading it. I wish I didn’t have to link to it, but you may need context for my words.)

There I said it: It is stupid. I’m sorry. I feel badly about writing it, but there is simply no other way to express my outrage and heart-brokenness.

I know that is harsh and mean and if anyone from ‘that side’ bothers to comment on this post they will most certainly point out that I ‘missed the point’ or that I am ‘ignorant of the facts’ or that I am ‘a stupid non-Christian who is so unconcerned about abortion and the plight of the unborn that I ought to be defrocked (even though I was never frocked to begin with) and run out of the church to the tune of tar, feathers, pitchforks, torches and labeled anathema.’ To be sure, ‘they’ will probably point out that Jesus does not approve of what I am about to write in this post because Jesus hates abortion.

There I said it: The post is stupid.

I am willing to run the risk that I might be labeled by others in order to point out the sheer stupidity of the post mentioned above.

Did I mention the post is stupid? It has been a long, long time since I read something so incredibly insensitive at a blog claiming to be a voice for the Kingdom of God. I’m sorry. I’m desperately trying to be objective and compassionate. Can’t. Can’t. Can’t. I have read the post four or five times now trying, searching, scanning for hope and I just cannot find it. The most hope we can expect out of this post is that we might enjoy some ‘hauntingly beautiful hymn-like‘ music. If an expectant single-mother or a suddenly pregnant husband and wife swimming in debt is debating her/their pregnancy right now read that post, she/they would be left despairing and hopeless; feeling nothing but condemnation.

There is nothing about the Gospel. Nothing about the hope of Christ. Nothing about the penal substitutionary atonement death of Jesus. Nothing about forgiveness of sins. Nothing about grace. Nothing about repentance. Nothing about the new heavens and new earth. Nothing about resurrection. For someone who writes so passionately, so wonderfully about the damnable offense that is abortion, I just cannot believe that there is no mention of hope for forgiveness. No mention of reconciliation. No mention of peace in Christ. No reconciliation. No ransom. No redemption. No substitution. Just condemnation. *Shakes head.*

For someone who so frequently castigates preachers and churches and bloggers for not including a (the) message of the Gospel, I cannot believe the best there is to offer in that particular post is that we might get some good music out of it at the end of the day. No mention whatsoever of how people who have had abortions can be forgiven and changed by the work of Christ Jesus. (As if a purely moralized America is equivalent to the Kingdom of God.)

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I’d like to begin by noting a few things for the careful reader of this blog. You may not agree entirely, but I’ll bet we are close. What I’d like to do, is offer the invitation here, at Life Under the Blue Sky, that was not offered at SOL. I begin, however, elsewhere:

  • It is wrong to steal.
  • It is wrong to have gay sex.
  • It is wrong to lie.
  • It is wrong to cheat.
  • It is wrong to fornicate.
  • It is wrong to commit adultery.
  • It is wrong to be racist.
  • It is wrong to get drunk.
  • It is wrong to be arrogant.
  • It is wrong to be prideful.
  • It is wrong to be gluttonous.
  • It is wrong to murder.
  • It is wrong to get an abortion.
  • It is wrong to lust.
  • It is wrong to lie about the preacher.
  • It is wrong to gossip.
  • It is wrong to abuse your spouse or children.
  • It is wrong to worship idols.
  • It is wrong kidnap.
  • It is wrong to disobey your parents.
  • It is wrong to swindle.
  • It is wrong to be greedy.
  • It is wrong to rape.

Yes. Yes. I could go on and on and on. I agree with the post at SOL: Abortion is a heinous, despicable, vile, disgusting offense. I don’t know anyone here who disagrees with that assessment. Those things mentioned above are wrong; they are sin, abortion included.

But it is not the unforgivable sin. Never has been. Never will be. In the crazy economy of the kingdom of God, a person could have 490 abortions in one day and repent and God, in his mercy and grace, would forgive that person because of Jesus Christ. I mean, why wouldn’t he since he expects us to do nothing less? I don’t think God expects people to do things that he himself isn’t willing to do. Thus, forgiveness.

Abortion is not an unforgivable sin.

None of the things I mentioned is the or an unforgivable sin.

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Friends, we have ample evidence in our world of all the things that are wrong with us and all the things we do badly and all the sin we have committed and all the idols we have worshiped and all the judgment we have invited into our lives and all the times we have crucified Christ all over again and again and again…

We have sufficient testimony to all the grievous destruction that our sin has wrought upon this earth.

We have enough people pointing out the sin that plagues the United States of America and Russia and England and Brazil and Antarctica and, well, you get the point.

Jesus did not tell us to go around moralizing did he? (This is not rhetorical.)

I’m not even sure he told us to go around pointing out sin, although, when the Gospel is properly preached I think that sin will necessarily be a part of the discussion. After all, it is terribly difficult to call folks to repentance if some mention of sin has not happened.

Jesus did tell us to go and preach the good news, the Gospel. “…He gave them power and authority to drive out demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick…So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the Good News and healing people everywhere” (Luke 9:12, 6).

We have good news! We are told to preach good news! Where’s the Good News in the SOL post? A musical legacy? For one who spends a lot of time criticizing the lack of Gospel in churches and pulpits, the post is decidedly barren of any hope and Gospel. Shall we merely criticize and condemn those who have had abortions or shall we offer them the hope of Christ Crucified and Resurrected?

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Is there any hope for those who were the subject of the SOL post?

I hate to write this post, but the bottom line is that I have decided that I will make it my life’s ambition to teach the grace of God every chance I get. I want to find 100,000 ways to say: God forgives you in and because of Jesus Christ. I hate writing this post because some might conclude that I am not opposed to abortion, but that would be to miss my point. I am very opposed to abortion, but I also realize that people sin and that it was the sick, weak, broken, hurting, desperate sinners, like me, whom Christ came to save, redeem, ransom, and atone for.

Jesus didn’t come to condemn; why do we think he has assigned us that role?

The author of the SOL post did a great job pointing out a great sin, but the problem with the post is simple: She gave us a great picture of a moralized America where everyone plays in an orchestra or knits flags and worships at the throne of conservative politicians. It’s a powerful picture, but it is not necessarily one Christ has drawn. It is a terrible problem, but there was no solution offered. What’s the point of ranting about the problem when there is no solution offered at all?

She didn’t give us a picture of the Kingdom of God. She gave us a picture of her moralized America where there is condemnation for every perpetrator and no hope whatsoever.

The author would have us condemn all who have had abortions and reject them as mere weak Americans who lack courage and are interested only in their bank balance and credit card statements. Christ would welcome them into his kingdom as the very ones he came to save precisely because they are greedy, murderous, and lack the intestinal fortitude to be self-controlled–because they are sinners! Well, of course they are. That’s normally what happens when people do not know or have rejected Christ.

So here I offer what the author of Slice did not offer: Hope. If you have ever had an abortion or over-spent on your credit cards, if you have filed bankruptcy because you have no self-control, if you are a coward, if you are hopeless and think you are running on empty, if you have no where to go and you think you are out of options–there’s hope. There’s grace. There’s forgiveness of your sins. Christ has payed the price for your sins. There’s Good News! Christ has not rejected you. There’s still hope! There’s still a message of peace and forgiveness to you because of Jesus. Christ will take away your guilt. Christ will heal your wounds. Christ will save you from the hopeless, endless cycle of condemnation and death.

You can join us, all us sinners here, all us imperfect, unkempt, undone, depressed, forgiven-by-God sinners here. We welcome you to join in the story that Christ is writing and has written. We welcome you to taste and see that His Grace is Good. We welcome you to be forgiven in the Name of Jesus.

“…and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.” The same Paul, to the same Romans, chapter 3, verse 24.

“…For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” the same John the Apostle, the same third chapter, the 17th verse.

“Let me say one last word. The scandal of Christianity exists as a scandal only so long as we are full of ourselves. To believe in the cross of Christ no scandal for those who have seen how perverted is their own wisdom, the wisdom of natural man. It is the very corrective for this perversion of our sight, it makes us look straight again, who by sin have become cross-eyed. The foolishness of the gospel is divine wisdom to all those who have been healed of the perversion which consists in making man’s reason and goodness the judge of all truth, that perversion which places man instead of God in the centre of the universe. The gospel is identical with the healing of this perversion, which in its depth and real significance is diabolical. It is the victory of God’s light over the powers of darkness.”

Emil Brunner, The Scandal of Christianity, p 115 (4th printing, 1978)

Friends,

Several years ago I wrote a book-length series of devotions that, at the time, I sent around to everyone in my email address book. All of the devotionals were based on my experiences as a dad to three boys (the oldest of which, at the time, was 10; he is now 15.) I never did anything with those devotionals except send them around to my friends. I had ambitions at one time to try and have them published, but never did anything about it. So I have decided to share them here at my blog. All told, there are 28 of these devotionals and I will publish them all here. I have also decided that I will be leaving them for the most part ‘at the time’. That is, I won’t be updating them to reflect the five years of so that have passed since their original writing. I will update some thoughts and grammar, but other than that, they are unchanged. I hope you enjoy. jerry

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In many ways I am fortunate to be who I am. There are days when I think I would be better off to be someone else, but most days I am content and have no regrets whatsoever. Undoubtedly the best part about being me is that God has blessed me with three sons.  What more could a man ask for?  “Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate” (Psalm 127:3-5).

Being a dad has taught me more about faith, Christianity and God than all of my college courses combined. I earned a degree from college by completing many courses of study, but for the last 10 [now 15!] years I have been earning my degree in manhood by being dad to three boys. This is no small task, as you will read about in the upcoming pages.

So why is it that being a dad is so much fun? As I said I have three boys. Could life be any more challenging, rewarding or full of adventure? I think not. Being a dad is teaching me a great deal about how God must feel most of the time. Sometimes when I am disciplining my children I can hear God talking to me. (My sons sometimes listen to me!)  God’s family is magnificent and grand. It is a motley group of children from every tribe and tongue under the sun. What a joy it must be for God to be Father to so many children, but also what a burden!

I say this because God also has to deal with those parts of being a dad that are not especially wonderful. After all, we are children, and more often than not we act childish and not childlike. There is a difference you know. We play childish games with one another and treat each other poorly. We deliberately disobey. We cry when we are hurt. As a dad, I have to be ready at all times for whatever shenanigans might happen upon our path for the day. In a sense, God, as Dad, is no different.

Sometimes as God’s children we break things.

Recently, my eldest son Jerry had one of his friends over to play. While the friend was here they were in the upper portion of our house [at the time we were living in the church parsonage] playing, when all of the sudden, the brainstorm came over them. They decided it would be the right thing to do to bounce on the beds.

Great Idea.

What is great is that they did not decide to bounce on Jerry’s bigger, sturdier bed. No, instead they went into Jacob and Samuel’s room and bounced on the smaller, older, repaired-several-times-over-the-past-five-years-beds. These beds are literally held together with a prayer and some sort of drywall screws, putty, and duct tape. They serve their purpose with great dignity when there is only one 20-35 pound baby boy sleeping snug under the covers for eight or nine hours a day. But let just one 40-50 pound child start jumping on those beds and the stress is too much for those bored out, gnarly old boards. The screws literally snap in half. Now, add another 40-50 pound child to the fun and you can see the dilemma faced by those gallant old bed frames.

All that we heard was a loud crashing sound accompanied by a sickening thud. Jacob’s bed had fallen into many pieces: A headboard, foot-board, and two side rails, a mattress, a mattress board, several screws, etc., etc. The beds were designed for sleeping, not Olympic caliber athletic competitions but what did the kids care?

When I got around to repairing the bed about 3 weeks after the incident, (go-ahead laugh) I made certain that Jerry was with me so he could help with the repairs. Have you ever had to find a solid place to put a screw where the wood has been screwed into 40 or 50 times prior? To be sure, it is not easy.  It’s like asking a sponge to hold a nail or Swiss cheese to hold mustard.

You might have guessed that this is not the first bouncing on the bed incident. The room was in tatters and I said to Jerry, “Son, I want you to look around the room. See the bed, broken apart? See the hard work we are doing to fix the bed that was broken by your violation of my rules? Do you see how much work I had to do to fix what you broke?” He did, and acknowledged his newfound wisdom.

Bouncing on beds is fun. We have probably all done it with the exception of that portion of you who never broke any of your parents’ rules. So when it comes to our faith does God ever think the same thing about us? “My child, look how much work I had to do to fix what you broke. Do you not think it would have been better if you had simply obeyed the first time around?” And the story goes on and on and God is still going around fixing all of the messes we manage to make, and cleaning up all of the milk we have managed to spill, and repairing the relationships we have managed to destroy, and chasing down all the pagans we have driven away in our zeal to keep our churches clean. “And behold, the Lord saw all the he had made and said, ‘It is very good.'” Then comes chapter 3.

What is really strange about the whole story though is this: Just as I required Jerry to help me fix the broken bed, so also does God require us to help him fix the things we have broken. So he tells us that when we sin against our brother we are to go and ask for forgiveness, and when someone comes to us in repentance we are to forgive. Or when we are estranged from a sister we must go and be reconciled to them. Or when we run away from home we must return in humility to the father who does his part by waiting for, watching for, and, finally, welcoming us. Those things we break he expects us to fix.

I can tell you from first hand experience and because I am a preacher that fixing those things we break is hard. It is complicated. It is time consuming. It is humiliating. And it’s all in a days walk.

“Therefore, this is what the LORD says: ‘I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there my house will be rebuilt. And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem,’ declares the LORD Almighty. “Proclaim further: This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘My towns will again overflow with prosperity, and the LORD will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.’ ” (Zechariah 1:16-17)

What we ruin God repairs. Jerusalem was destroyed because of sin; it was rebuilt because of love. God certainly returned to Jerusalem, but he made the people do the back breaking labor or rebuilding it stone for stone. He provided a way for it to be rebuilt they provided the labor. There is always work that must be done. God will provide the means, we provide the sweat.

Being a dad has taught me that perhaps it is better if we obey the rules the first time around. Then we will not have to do the back breaking work of God’s reconstruction projects. (Understand that even the work of forgiveness is difficult.  Bouncing on beds is fun; broken beds are not fun to repair. We may enjoy breaking things; we may not enjoy the work God requires when He decides to get around to fixing them. I am not convinced that our Father cares for us to take three weeks to get around to it either.

If one of my followers sins against you, go and point out what was wrong. But do it in private, just between the two of you. If that person listens, you have won back a follower. But if that one refuses to listen, take along one or two others. The Scriptures teach that every complaint must be proven true by two or more witnesses. If the follower refuses to listen to them, report the matter to the church. Anyone who refuses to listen to the church must be treated like an unbeliever or a tax collector. I promise you that God in heaven will allow whatever you allow on earth, but he will not allow anything you don’t allow. I promise that when any two of you on earth agree about something you are praying for, my Father in heaven will do it for you. Whenever two or three of you come together in my name, I am there with you.

Peter came up to the Lord and asked, “How many times should I forgive someone who does something wrong to me? Is seven times enough?” Jesus answered: Not just seven times, but seventy-seven times!

This story will show you what the kingdom of heaven is like: One day a king decided to call in his officials and ask them to give an account of what they owed him. As he was doing this, one official was brought in who owed him fifty million silver coins. But he didn’t have any money to pay what he owed. The king ordered him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all he owned, in order to pay the debt. The official got down on his knees and began begging, “Have pity on me, and I will pay you every cent I owe!” The king felt sorry for him and let him go free. He even told the official that he did not have to pay back the money.

As the official was leaving, he happened to meet another official, who owed him a hundred silver coins. So he grabbed the man by the throat. He started choking him and said, “Pay me what you owe!” The man got down on his knees and began begging, “Have pity on me, and I will pay you back.” But the first official refused to have pity. Instead, he went and had the other official put in jail until he could pay what he owed.

When some other officials found out what had happened, they felt sorry for the man who had been put in jail. Then they told the king what had happened. The king called the first official back in and said, “You’re an evil man! When you begged for mercy, I said you did not have to pay back a cent. Don’t you think you should show pity to someone else, as I did to you?” The king was so angry that he ordered the official to be tortured until he could pay back everything he owed.

That is how my Father in heaven will treat you, if you don’t forgive each of my followers with all your heart. (Mat 18:15-35  Contemporary English Version)

Soli Deo Gloria!

90 Days with Scripture
Week 1: September 28, 2008
Genesis 3:1-24:  When Everything Went Wrong

Introduction

1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ” 4 “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. 8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”

10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” 11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” 12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

14 So the LORD God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all the livestock
and all the wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
16 To the woman he said,
“I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;
with pain you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”
17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat of it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”

20 Adam  named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living. 21 The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

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“The author uses irony to show the folly of man’s fall. He shows that even though man’s question to be like God was obtained, the goal itself proved to be undesirable. Man, who had been created ‘like God’ in the beginning, found himself after the fall curiously ‘like God’—but no longer ‘with God’ in the garden. In this subtle interchange, the author has shown that man’s happiness  does not consist of his being ‘like God’ so much as it does his being ‘with God’ enjoying the blessing of his presence.” (Sailhamer, 59)

There are a lot of ways that these verses can be approached: we could dissect them and discover an anatomy of temptation; we could look at the different polemics spoken against Canaanite gods that Israel was faced with; we could look at the garden of Eden as a prototype of the tabernacle and temple that would later mark the Israel’s distinctive character; we could examine the insidious nature of evil. All of these are worthy investigations and indeed many commentators choose exactly these routes or at least mark them as significant side-streets or side trips along the way.

But I think there is a more important message here in Genesis 3 that we simply must not miss. We have to be careful to ask what it is that the Lord wishes us to understand from what is written. We can focus on the periphery, but it will serve us better if we have nailed down the center. After all, that is part of the problem in this very story: They didn’t pay attention to what the Lord said and instead they distrusted him and believed a liar. They distorted the word of God and listened to themselves. In doing so, we see that the entire universe has come under serious assault. There is no peace, and there will not be until…until…until…

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Today we are beginning 90 Days with Scripture. The aim is to read through the entire Bible in 90 Days by reading a mere 12 pages per day or spending about 45-60 minutes with the Bible each day. Our goal in this series of sermons is to trace the history of humanity from start to finish, from first sin to final redemption, from Genesis to Revelation, to trace the big story from beginning to end, Alpha to Omega. I think what we will see is that God had a plan from the first. Today we begin where it all started going wrong, Eden, and begin to see the groundwork that God laid down for the future redemption and restoration of man.

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I’d like to begin this series by noting a couple of the more important aspects of this particular passage of Scripture that will be fleshed out in due course of this series.

First, Paul Kissling illustrates my initial observation about this scene:

“The net result of the sin and its punishment is the distortion of every relationship between the Lord God and his creation…Humanity’s relationship with the Lord is damaged as they hide from him and the man blames the Lord for giving the woman to him. The relationship’s between men and women are scarred as the man passes off blame to the woman and they mus cover themselves from seeing each other’s nakedness.  The man and the woman have distorted views of themselves as they are suddenly ashamed of their nakedness. The relationship with the animal kingdom is marred as the woman in part blames the deception of the serpent for her own desires….Humanity’s relationship with the animal kingdom is also distorted by the predicted enmity of the descendants of the woman and the serpent.”—197

Nothing could ever be the same. And nothing has been. Sin and its consequences is the one theological doctrine that is verifiable in every single person on the planet.

After the consumption of the fruit, we see blame. We see shame. We see a fear of the Lord that is newly introduced into the creation as man hides from the mere voice of God: “I heard you in the garden and I was afraid, so I hid.” In a sense we can say that God’s relationship with his creation too is ruptured. No longer is the ground ‘good’, but now it is cursed; no longer is the serpent part of the ‘good’ creation, but it too is cursed. Adam and Eve too are cursed and now there is subordination and authority: Adam names his wife. We see distortion in our own flesh: Eve’s increased pain in childbirth, the sweat of Adam’s brow and his backbreaking labor, and, of course, death. We see distorted hierarchy: her desire would be for her husband (which cannot be specifically sexual since a woman desiring her husband can hardly be a bad thing).

These effects continue in our day and we will see this enmity, this hostility unto murder, played out in the lives of Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Israel and Egypt, 10 brothers verses Joseph. Israel versus Judah. It is a thread, this enmity, that runs the length of the Bible. But it is not without end. Enmity, hostility, violence–enmity unto murder, an eternal conflict–that’s what our relationships amount to now.

Second, sin ruptured God’s intent for the creation. One commentator said it this way:

In Genesis 3, YHWH’s intent for creation is ruptured. In challenging the divine design for creation, the human couple tragically altered their vital relationship with their Creator, with each other, the rest of the created order. Where once there was harmony, productivity, and meaning, there is now pain, struggle, and potential meaninglessness to life. The contrast could not be more poignantly drawn. In their desire to circumvent the need for a Sovereign Lord, the achieve not fulfillment but become keenly aware of the weakness and vulnerability of the creatureliness. In their relationship with each other, equality, mutual concern, and care are replaced by struggle, conflict, and obsession with hierarchical order….The story continues, for the God of Genesis 1-3 is a God who repeatedly calls his creation to realign with his purposes and intent. (Marrs, 36)

This is the core of the problem: We are simply not yet who we are supposed to be, and we live in a place that is not as it should be, and we are not towards each other the way we were intended to be. We live in a world of hostility and violence. Nothing is the way it should be. [See Romans 8:18-27]. Everything is fouled up; everything is wrong. Look the problem is not that someone on Wall Street made a bad choice; it’s that all of us have made bad choices. It’s not that our leadership in Washington is corrupt; it’s that all of us are corrupt. It’s not that hurricanes and tsunamis destroy this island or that state. It’s that nothing in creation is right.

Finally, and perhaps worst of all: we have been expelled from the presence of God. It was made abundantly clear in the commentaries that the exit to the East of Eden and the Cherubim flashing back and forth are two of the many signs that there is some temple or tabernacle imagery going on here. The tabernacle and temple were entered from the east; man exited the garden to the east. The cherubim were guardians of the temple, the holy of holies, and formed the seat on the ark of the covenant. Here they guard the entrance to Eden where man had unmediated access to the presence of God. Gordon Wenham wrote, “These features all combine to suggest that the garden of Eden was a type of the sanctuary where God is uniquely present in all his life giving power. It was this that man forfeited when he ate of the fruit.” (86)

Kissling agrees, “The cherubim serve as a warning and as an impediment to sinful human beings presuming that it is permissible for them to walk into the unmediated presence of the Lord.” (213)

No longer is there unmediated access to the presence of God. Man forfeited this when he sinned. We no longer enjoy that fellowship. Now, we are enemies with God.

_________________

This is what we gained and what we lost. Relationships all around. Creation out of whack. Presence of God denied. I think this story serves two purposes. First, it serves to demonstrate to us a sort of history of our origin and our sin (Wenham). The account of disobedience ‘traces the descent of the whole human race, [and] must have grave consequences for all mankind’ (91). On the other hand, it also serves as a paradigm for every story, of every human. It is, to be sure, ‘our’ story. One need only look to Ezekiel 28:12-19 to see how this story played itself out in the life of another.

What we ultimately see in Genesis 3 is that God himself remains God. He didn’t change because we altered the relationship. But God does become different to us. He becomes distant, distorted, and untrustworthy. His word becomes meaningless and uninteresting. Now disobedience is the defining characteristic because we thought that it was more important to be God than it was to be with God. “There’s a way that seems right to a man, but it only brings him death.” And from that point—everything changed.

Their act of disobedience became paradigmatic in every person, in every generation, in every community. All have this same distorted view of God. But that is not the entire story.

The creation may be frustrated. Relationships may be distorted. Salvation—defined here as unmediated access to God—may be impossible. But we are not without hope. And we see his grace in action here. We see grace in his provision of animal clothing. We see hope in Eve—the mother of all living. We see victory in the offspring of the Woman crushing the head of the serpent.

We see, ultimately, Jesus. He becomes the sacrifice that clothes us and hides our nakedness. Now, we are commended in Scripture to ‘clothe ourselves with Christ.’ To be clothed in his righteousness. He is our provision.

We see, ultimately, Jesus. He becomes for us the Resurrection and the life—our hope. It was he who is the Offspring of the woman who came to crush the head of the serpent and deliver the death blow to death. He is our hope.

We see, ultimately, Jesus. He becomes for us Mediator between God and man when He tears the temple veil. He ushers us in, by his own blood, into the presence of God. He is the Victor who restores the broken relationship between God and man.

The world is a broken place, but one thing we learn is our ‘expulsion from the garden indicates and irreversible change in man’s situation’ (Wenham, 91). But Scripture declares, boldly, that all the world’s ills, all the brokenness, and all the distortion will be put to rights only in Jesus Christ. Many people are looking for change—and rightly so. We want the world fixed. But the narrative of our history indicates that we messed it up and we are thoroughly incapable of fixing it. But the narrative also declares that God has taken every step, not just the first or the last, but every step, to fix what we broke. Turn your eyes upon God’s solution to all that is wrong; turn your eyes upon Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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Friends,

I happened to be visiting Live-Science.com this evening and I came across an interesting article titled 10 Species You Can Kiss Goodbye. It is a picture essay listing ten different animals that are considered ‘endangered’ by someone who is, evidently, an expert. Doing my part to spread this disturbing news, I will here list the 10 species that are on the list and the cause of their endangerment.

  1. California Condor: poaching, lead poisoning, habitat loss
  2. Sumatran Orangutan: habitat loss
  3. Ganges Shark: rampant fishing, habitat degradation, river utilization (presumably by evil humans)
  4. Mountain Gorilla: deforestation, hunting, illegal pet trade, civil unrest by evil humans in central Africa
  5. Philippine Crocodile: habitat loss, death by dynamite fishing, human disturbance
  6. Black-footed Ferret: human development of grasslands, destruction of prairie-dog colonies, habitat destruction, pest-elimination programs by evil humans who hate pests, disease
  7. Siberian Tiger: habitat loss by evil humans who want the logs, development, poaching for fur and bones
  8. Red Wolf: devastation by predator control programs, habitat loss, dearth of breeding partners caused them to breed with coyotes reducing the number of genetically pure wolves
  9. Western Gray Whale: “Their only known feeding ground off the northeastern coast of Sakhalin
    Island in Russia has since been annexed by oil companies whose
    exploration and mining activities, including high-intensity seismic
    surveying, drilling operations, increased ship and air traffic, and oil
    spills, are driving the 30-ton mammals to extinction.”
  10. Sumatran Rhinoceros: Illegal poaching, destruction of habitat in the ‘name of [evil] human progress, zoos have little success breeding them in captivity.

Well, there you have it. I’d like to do my part to help out these animals, but I’d also like to, in the interests of the current presidential campaigns being conducted in America, contribute my own creature to the list of endangered species and cite the primary causes of their demise:

11. Human beings: Abortion, terrorism, sin.

Here’s hoping that our current presidential candidates will do everything in their power to get human beings taken off this endangered species list.

jerry

Friends,

Here’s a thought from someone you might not guess. Take your best shot:

Our kindness ought to extend much farther in tolerating imperfection of life, for here there is great danger of falling, and Satan employs all his devices to ensnare us. For there always have been persons who, imbued with a false persuasion of absolute holiness…, spurn the fellowship of all people in whom they see that something human still remains…For seeing that among those to whom the gospel is preached, the fruit of life is not in accordance with its doctrine, they at once conclude that no church exists there…But in this those of whom we have spoken sin in their turn, by not knowing how to set a boundary to their offence. For where the Lord requires mercy they omit it, and give themselves up to immoderate severity.”

I think you will be surprised by the answer and it is probably not who you think it is. Please take a minute and guess the author of this most outstanding observation.

jerry

Friends,

Here are some thoughts on grace. I just cannot believe, at times, how abundant God’s grace is. Strangely enough, I think it is the church many times that is most afraid of this grace. My prayer is that the church will learn grace not only saves but that it empowers us to live freely. Too often the church condemns to hell those whom God has not condemned to hell. The church needs to recover the message of grace and soon or there will be no one left to enjoy what God has planned for those who love him, for those He will save through Christ.

There is a real sense in which grace is simply wasteful. That which is freely given can be abused, discarded, and rejected; grace can be scorned. The irony is that for some reason we are prone to reject that which we have no inherent claim to in the first place. It is the Lord who gets the bad end of this deal so to speak. Grace scarcely makes sense to the saved, much less the lost. Sadly, it is Christians, the very ones who are the beneficiaries of this saving grace, who misunderstand it the most. I am included.

I have been preaching now for roughly 13 years. I have a Bible college degree. I have been a Christian since I was 13. I have hardly missed a day of worship, a summer of church camp, or a day of Bible school since I was 5. Despite this remarkable list of credentials, I am not convinced that I had any inkling of what grace really means until about two months ago. It was there in plain sight yet I missed it. I have preached sermons about it. I have claimed to be saved by it. Yet for all this I was still oblivious. It was one thing to believe that I was saved by grace; however, it was something entirely different to believe that I continued to be saved by it. I always thought that God did the hard part and it was up to me to work it out with fear and trembling.

I call it salvation hokey-pokey. And it is terribly difficult to stay in.

The problem is that I do not believe the Enemy had any intention of allowing me to know what grace was let alone see it in is abundance, sufficient for salvation and sufficient for living. That is a fine game for him to play: keep people blind, oblivious, working, working, working. People who are so busy working out (earning) their salvation have very little time left to actually enjoy it let alone give praise to the one who qualifies them for it in Christ.. As such I did not even realize that I was trying to climb out of a hole that I could never climb out of. I was trying too hard and enjoying no rest. It is not easy constantly reminding oneself of their guilt and thrashing about inside that guilt trying to make amends that can never be made, trying to win approval already granted, trying to re-qualify for a race already qualified for on the basis of someone else’s effort. Sometimes it is much, much easier to live by rules and regulations than it is to live by grace. It is nearly impossible at times to believe that God is willing to continue loving me in spite of me or precisely because of me. In this sense, grace seems wasteful. Now I am beginning to understand Annie Dillard’s words, “Experiencing the present purely is being emptied and hollow; you catch grace as a man fills his cup under a waterfall.” (Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 82)

Needless to say, grace is now the prime-mover in my life. Whereas at one time grace was ‘there’, but not, now I cannot stop thinking about it. I see grace in places where I had not imagined it before. I keep finding myself talking about grace in sermons even when I had not planned on talking about grace. It is not nearly as difficult now to offer an invitation at the end of a sermon because now it doesn’t sound so formulaic, so contrived, so forced. Now invitations at the end, the beginning, or in the middle of a sermon are invitations not to a list of chores and a life of drudgery but rather to the freeing love of God both for salvation and being saved. Not only is this true, but even the manner in which I understand Scripture has changed. Again, I see grace where I had not seen it before.

Just this past weekend, I preached from Colossians 2:16-23. I took two extra weeks preparing for this sermon because I could not figure out what Paul was saying even if what he was saying was clear. The passage was not making sense until I remembered what Paul said at the beginning and end of the letter: Grace! (1:2, 4:18). It is rather simple to understand what Paul is saying in these verses (16-23) if they are approached with an understanding of grace: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthen in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (2:6-7, NIV). More than one commentator suggested these are the ‘theme’ verses of the letter. Not ironically, then, Paul next writes, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (2:8). This thought is continued in 2:16-23. His point, I believe, is that when we allow people to pile on us rule after rule after rule we are effectively and essentially declaring our independence from God’s grace. “These things are shadows…he has lost connection with the Head…they are destined to perish…they lack any value in restraining the flesh” (2:17, 19, 22, 23).

When we submit to those who impose such regulations we are declaring that Christ is not enough, that he is insufficient. This is not living in Christ as we received him. This is not living free. This is salvation by slavery which is no salvation at all. This passage, in my estimation, makes little sense apart from grace and 6 months ago it is likely I would have missed this altogether. In the grip of grace, preaching has taken on a whole new life, has a renewed stamina, and new vibrancy. Knowing and understanding grace has altered my objectives in preaching because preaching has taken on an entirely different meaning in light of grace.

Another aspect of my life that has been radically altered by grace is in my relationships with others. This has only just started working itself out in any tangible way, but this is of major importance in my work as a minister of Christ. In a word, I am free now to love without an agenda. Now I can be as much a giver of grace as a receiver. I can be free with everyone and demonstrate the same freeing grace that God has shown me. If grace happens to appear wasteful at the moment that is fine and presents no problems. I can love not because everyone is particularly lovable but because grace loves. Practically speaking, grace has not only freed me from judgment but it has freed me from judgmentalism and this, I should add, is as freeing as being set free. I did not even realize how judgmental I was until I learned that grace is not just for saving but also for living. People do not have to conform to my rules, my standards, my objectives in order for me to love them. My love for others is now proactive. It reaches out before being reached to. It is most remarkable being freed from the notion that others must live up to my standards of holiness and rightness in order to be considered God’s child. “Judging requires that you think yourself superior over the one you judge.” (William P Young, The Shack, 159) Colossians 2:16-23 taught me that if I am saved by grace, and so also everyone who is saved, then the only opinion of anyone that matters is that of Christ Jesus, and I am not Him.

There is an older couple who recently left the church I serve. Their departure has been terribly difficult for me because the rumor as to why they left evidently had something to do with the most recent church budget and a certain line that had something to do with my education expenses. I have put off visiting them for 4 months because I have had no idea what I should say and I did not want to say the wrong thing, and given the closeness of our relationship at one time and my typical prone-to-defensiveness, reactive nature, I was bound to say something wrong. What I have learned is that I can go to them without an agenda. I do not have to go and ‘win them back’ or ‘persuade them to return’. Nor do I have to think that they are somehow apostate because they have chosen to worship elsewhere—even if their reasons for doing so are strange. Instead, I can go to them and offer them my love regardless of the outcome of the conversation. I do not have to have a particular agenda in mind. I can love them, comfort them (the husband has cancer), encourage them, and pray for them. I can demonstrate grace because it does not matter if I am to blame or not. What matters is grace and it is grace that I will speak of when I visit them this week. “Let your conversations be always full of grace” (Colossians 4:6a).

I read a book last week called The Shack. This remarkable book contains a lot of dialogue, but one particularly short section near the end really rattled me.

“Mackenzie!” she chided, her words flowing with affection. “The Bible doesn’t teach you to follow rules. It is a picture of Jesus. While words may tell you what God is like and even what he may want from you, you cannot do any of it on your own. Life and living is in him and in no other. My goodness, you didn’t think you could live the righteousness of God on your own, did you?”

“Well, I thought so, sorta…” he said sheepishly. “But you gotta admit, rules and principles are simpler than relationships.”

“It is true that relationships are a whole lot messier than rules, but rules will never give you answers to the deep questions of the heart and they will never love you.” (William P Young, The Shack, 197-198 )

The hardest part of grace for me is God. I, after all, know exactly where I have been, what I have done, and those I have hurt. I know myself all too well and I figure that if I know myself this well then God can only know me better. What gets me is that he wants me to be saved. What gets me even more is that he went out of his way to make certain it was a reality. It is hard, very hard, unbelievably hard at times to think that not only do I not have to make up for my sins but that ultimately I cannot. If the enabling power of God’s grace has freed me to love people, and to preach graciously, how much more has it freed me from the guilt of sin? And yet it is this very guilt that I seem to be reluctant to let go of.

Yet there it is. Philip Yancey comments, “Grace means that no mistake we make in life disqualifies us from God’s love. It means that no person is beyond redemption, no human stain beyond cleansing…Grace is irrational, unfair, unjust and only makes sense if I believe in another world governed by a merciful God who always offers another chance…When the world sees grace in action, it falls silent.” (Philip Yancey, Rumors of Another World, 223) I think the reason why grace makes so much sense is because it makes no sense at all. “…God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to saved those who believe…we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks” (1 Cor 1:21b, 23, NIV). This is what the world finds so difficult to believe. It is also what the church finds so difficult to believe. We thus end up worse than those ‘visitors’ in Colossae who piled rule after rule upon the church, worse than the Pharisees who in their haste to make disciples of law and order instead made children of hell, worse than the Judaizers in Galatia who insisted on a “Jesus…and” plan of salvation. I suspect this has, based on this evidence, always been a problem among those God calls.

I, no less than anyone else, struggle with grace. But I am learning. I am learning that God will not fail to finish in me the good work he began. The church needs to awaken to this message of God’s grace that is testified to abundantly in Scripture. Grace has taught me that God loves me and wants to save me. The question is whether I will let him do so or not, and on his terms. Grace may be difficult to understand. It may be wasteful by human standards. At the end of the day, however, we have nothing else to cling to. I am learning each day to trust that God loves me and His word to us in Christ that by grace we have been saved through faith. I am learning to trust that if in the course of writing a paper or a sermon I forget to capitalize all personal pronouns relating to God, he will not hate me and hold it over my head until I confess. I am learning that grace covers a multitude of sins. I am learning to trust Him for that which I cannot trust myself. Living free is far better than living in guilt. It frees me to love without an agenda. It frees me to be loved.

Annie Dillard wrote, “So many things have been shown me on these banks, so much light has illumined me by reflection here where the water comes down, that I can hardly believe that this grace never flags, that the pouring from ever renewable sources is endless, impartial, and free.” (Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 69)

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

Truth is, I don’t know too much about Brian MacLaren. I have read about him, yes; I cracked on of his books one time in the bookstore to look at the table of contents, yes; but curl up on the couch with a cup of Earl Grey and warm up to his teaching, no. So forgive me, please, if I happen to come across the wrong way in this post. I am commenting ONLY on the below information and nothing else. These comments are reserved for ONLY the below post and nothing else.

Here’s what I just read at Christian Church Today (.com) in a short article by a fella named Dr Bobby Harrington who happens to be Lead Pastor (whatever that means) at the Harpeth Community Church in Franklin, TN:

My Two Cents

I like many things Brian McLaren writes (some more than others). But I love what Brian McLaren writes in an essay called “Christian” in David Kinnaman’s new book UnChristian. His vision is GREAT! Here is what he says…

In thirty years, research could show us that when people think Christian, they think things like this:

  • Christians are the ones who love people, whoever they are—gay or straight, Jew or Muslim, religious or atheist, capitalist or not, conservative or liberal.
  • Christians are the ones who have done more than anyone in the world to stop the HIV/AIDS crisis.
  • Christians are the people who gravitate toward the poor and who show compassion through generous action and seek justice so that the systemic causes of poverty are overcome. They call the rich to generosity, and they call on rich nations to work for the common good.
  • Christians are people who believe that art and creativity are important, so they consistently produce the most striking, original, and enriching art.
  • Christians are willing to give their lives for the cause of peace. They oppose violence in all of its forms. They will lay down their lives to protect the vulnerable from the violent.
  • Christians care for the environment. They don’t just see it as raw materials for economic gain, but they see it as the precious handiwork of their Creator.
  • Christians have personal integrity. They keep their marriage vows and are aware of how destructive misused sexuality can be. Yet they are compassionate toward people who make sexual mistakes, and they never consider themselves superior.
  • Christians build harmony among races. You always know that you’ll be respected when you’re around a Christian.

Perhaps I am a dreamer. But when the hard realities jolt you out of denial (as the research presented here can do), the status quo becomes less acceptable, and one is motivated to dream of better possibilities. I hope that this research will push others toward becoming dreamers too, and that those dreams will inspire the needed creative and faithful action.

You know, I have to be honest with you I hope this is not what Christians are known for in 30 years because if we are, then people will have greatly misunderstood us, and we will have seriously misrepresented the mission of the Church. You know, it is not the responsibility of the church to solve or stop the HIV/AIDS crisis. I’m sorry, but it is not. That is not the commission that Christ gave us. And the problem with assuming it is, is that we can get so caught up in solving/stopping HIV/AIDS that we never get around to doing the real work that Christ has called us to. This is not to say we shouldn’t be compassionate, helpful, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent like the good Boy Scout church we should be. But I will say this, helping people with any disease and not sharing the Gospel is meaningless. I just cannot see how giving someone a cup of cold water is going to help them when they still end up in hell because we didn’t tell them about the Jesus in whose name it is given. But let me take the point further: Why is it always about HIV/AIDS? Why should Christians be known as leaders in that particular area? What about cancer patients? What about cirrhosis of the liver patients? What about people in Methadone clinics? What about prostitutes, strippers, or pornographers? What about helping homosexuals before  HIV/AIDS? What about pediatric AIDS or crack babies? What about emphysema patients? What about being leaders in the fight against RLS? Seriously! Why does it always come back to HIV/AIDS as if that is the only disease ravaging this planet? What about Malaria patients? TB? SARS? Bird-Flu? Anorexia? Bulimia? Paralysis? Common cold? People with HIV/AIDS are not the only people on the planet dying from disease.

Do you get what I’m saying?

I’m not sure where this stuff comes from. Who said Christians aren’t the ones who ‘love people’? I think the only problem right now is that there are a bunch of important people who are trying to convince the world that Christians don’t love all sorts of people. I serve in a church, I have for the past 12 years or so, and I have never met a single person in any of the churches I have served who has hated any of the above groups mentioned. In fact, I have found it to be quite the opposite: We tend to love the sinners more than we do one another. The problem that Christians have is not that we don’t love the sinners–oh, we are only too eager to do that!–our problem is that we don’t love one another. Calvinists battle with Arminians. Lutherans battle with Baptists. Pre-tribbers battle with A-tribbers. Instrumentalists battle with non-instrumentalists. Emergents battle with, well, everyone else. Catholics battle with Protestants. Free-willers battle with Sovereign Gracers. It is a rather sickening cycle and truth, but it is true: Christians don’t like one another. That, in a nutshell, is the largest part of our problem right now. And I submit to you that the world will become richer, more harmonious, more peaceful, when Christians learn to love one another per the command of Jesus.

I’m not going to comment on every one of those bullet-points. I think they are rather shallow to be honest with you. Neither do I happen to think that any of them are necessarily Christian virtues. Every single person on the planet could stand to be for peace, for the environment, for art! Why it is that only Christians should be known for these things is beyond me. Thus my point: The only objective in pointing those things out is to make the world think that Christians are not those things already. Maybe the authors of the books need to work on those things. Maybe the book is an exorcism of their own demons.

There is something more we should be known for. Jesus said we should be known for our love for another. He said, By your love for one another will people know you are my disciples. We could start right there. In my estimation that would be the best place to start. (John 13; 1 Peter)

Another place to start would be with Jesus. I think the church should be known as a place where Jesus is exalted and glorified and honored and obeyed. Yes, obeyed. You see the Bible says that Jesus is the head of the church. That means, in part, that he is in charge. He sets the standard. He makes the rules. He governs the church. He determines the church’s path and direction. (Colossians 1; 1 Corinthians 12)

Still a third thing we should be known for, not just in 30 years, but now, is that the church is a place where sin is not tolerated. That’s right. We are called as the people of God to be pure, holy, blameless. How about the church start eradicating sin from its members? How about we start to purify ourselves so that when Christ returns we are more than ready? (Romans 6)

A fourth thing is this: How about the church is known for its proclamation of the truth of God’s Word? I know, I know: I’m crazy right? But just what might happen, get ready…if the Church actually started believing in the Bible as the Word of God instead of continuing to think of it as a book of moral stories designed to enlighten us and teach us how to be wonderful, happy, art loving, tree hugging, people? The reason we are not a people of peace now is because we do not love the God of peace or His Word. The Bible is just another book that can be mined for practical, self-help BS. (Colossians 1)

I hope in thirty years, should the Lord tarry, the church is known for one thing: That we belong to Christ.

The fact is, some people may be ‘called’ in their Christian faith to minister to the poor in a special way. Others may be called to minister to HIV/AIDS people in a special way. Still others may be called to care for the environment in a special, God-directed way. And I say: GO FOR IT! But not everyone is called to those ministries. Not everyone on this planet is going to be a peace-maker in the above sense of ‘opposing violence in all forms.’ After all, if we did that, we would not be justified because then Christ would not have been killed: There’s a time for peace; and a time for war. Some will be soldiers who bring peace through breaking things and killing bad people who want to kill us. Still others might be called to build harmony among the races through diplomacy and government. But not all.

The point is this, to suggest that there is a list of things that we should be known for is to insist on a rather narrow definition of what a Christian is in the first place. I’ll be honest, at this point in my life I am not called in any way, shape, or form to minister in a special way to people with HIV/AIDS. Ten years from now that might change; ten minutes from now that might change. I am not called to minister to the environment in a special way–that is, I’m not called to tie myself to a tree or protest the wholesale slaughter of cattle or to become a vegan–although I can plant a garden in the spring and grow lots of flowers and enjoy the birds that live in the birdhouses I build. Still, I question whether this is of any significant value. Does God reward me because I built a birdhouse more than if I shared the Gospel? Everyone has to recognize their gift and calling from God. God gives some people great wealth that they might be a blessing to others. God gives some people poverty that they might be blessed by others. You see, for as much as Mr MacLaren wants to define what Christianity is, he is also defining what it is not. Christianity is not merely about the social services we render to the population in general. Christianity is always, first and foremost, about Christ. We do what we will for him because we can, we do what we ought to because we owe it to Him, we do what we ought to because we love him.

Here’s how the article ended:

Perhaps I am a dreamer. But when the hard realities jolt you out of denial (as the research presented here can do), the status quo becomes less acceptable, and one is motivated to dream of better possibilities. I hope that this research will push others toward becoming dreamers too, and that those dreams will inspire the needed creative and faithful action.

I agree: The Church should dream of better possibilities. We should dream of the possibility that we have been entrusted with the truth of the mystery of God. We should dream of the possibility that Jesus is coming back soon. We should dream of the possibility that if we don’t share the Gospel with the lost they will suffer an eternity in hell. We should dream of the possibility that poverty is a reality in this world as is HIV/AIDS, as is cutting down trees, as is bad art, and that it is not the responsibility of the church to fix these things. We should dream of the possibility that war will always exist in this world because sin will always exist in this world because sinners will always exist in this world (if war is a reality, how can we make the innocent victims, and the guilty perpetuators of war, safer and warmer).

We should dream of a world where Christians of all stripes love one another deeply. This is the problem of the hour: There is no grace in the church. The way things are now, there is only room in the church for one person: Me. And if you don’t agree with me, or MacLaren, or Warren, or Carson, or Horton, or Piper–or whoever, then there is no room for you. The reason the church has failed, and will continue to fail, is because we do not love one another. 

Even MacLaren’s list is nothing more than a legalist trap: Do this and be saved or respected or liked or warmly welcomed. No. Who ever said it is our job as the church to be well-liked in this world of hate? Who ever said our message would bring peace? Who ever said we would be liked if we did things that made people like us? We don’t serve the poor, the homosexual, the Muslim, the tree, or peace just so people will like us. That’s absurd. We do it because we love the God who gave His Son as the propitiation for our sins. We serve because we love, because we can, because we should. 

Our problem is not war, not poverty, not HIV/AIDS, not bad art, not fur-trappers, not disharmony, not Muslims, Jews, or anything else: Our poblem is sin. The Bible says there is only one way to deal with the guilt and power of sin and that is the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. This should be what the church dreams of: eliminating the status quo of sin: We are far too accepting of sin, much too often in denial of its power.

So I say: If the Church wants to be known for something, for anything, let’s be known as the one place on this planet, the one people on this planet who take/took sin seriously, who offered a serious solution (Grace), and helped people to realize it in their lives. I would much rather be known for this than for any thing else.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

I have posted many thoughts about evolution and its impact on the general population of the world. I’d like to share someone else’s thoughts tonight. These thoughts concern how replacing the Creator with evolution has destroyed our understanding of sin. Consider:

The basic reason why our modern Western culture has lost the concept of sin is that the reality of the true Creator-God has been abandoned. The basic reason why all nonbiblical philosophies and religions lack a true concept of sin is that none includes the concept of a Creator-God whose will is law. The doctrine of ex nihilo creation and the doctrine of sin are thus inseparable; sin is a meaningful concept only in the light of the fact of creation. (Jack Cottrell, The Faith Once For All, 168)

. . .

Why is the denial of personal guilt such a widespread phenomenon today? As we have noted, the very idea of sin presupposes the existence of law, which presupposes the existence of a transcendent Creator-God; it also presupposes the reality of human free will. But these are among the very things that are most frequently attacked and denied in our modern world. The Creator-God is replaced by chance evolution, and various forms of secular determinism are constantly used to cancel man’s responsibility for his antisocial behavior. For example, son say that such behavior is due to childhood trauma and other forms of negative environmental conditioning. People are not sinners; they are victims. Others attribute it all to quirks in one’s genes or chromosomes or brain structure; thus we have ‘natural-born’ killers, alcoholics, homosexuals, and adulterers. (Jack Cottrell, The Faith Once for All, 193)

What’s worse is that this is how we train children from day one. Then we act shocked when they live out the realities of a life of no accountability to anyone other than themselves. But we should probably continue teaching children that they are nothing more than the chance configuration of randomly mutated selfish genes (uh, sarcasm alert.)

What I wonder is, how can children be taught accountability (to something higher than the pathetic standards of mere humanity) when they are deliberately not taught about God and are deliberately taught atheism (either by omission or commission.)

One wonders. Or not.

jerry