A Different Gospel—A Reprise


Paul_the_Apostle006
Apparently the Apostle Paul felt strongly about the message God had given him to preach. More than once, to several different audiences he wrote about the need to resist false teaching. Nowhere was he as exercised, however, as he was in the letter to the Galatians. After a typical, though relatively short, opening, he got right to the point:

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! (Gal 1:6-9)

Disturbing and distorting—sounds like the Liar at work. But what should we expect? OF COURSE, Satan wouldn’t want people understanding and believing the true gospel. So one way to dissuade them is to give them an alternative.

The true gospel is not complicated. Paul laid it out in 1 Cor. 15:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (1 Cor 15:3-5)

In this short statement of faith we learn that we have sins, Christ died for those sins, the Scriptures revealed this before hand, Christ was buried–declaring for all time that His death was real—and was raised on the third day, something the Scriptures also revealed and the disciples witnessed.

A different gospel will distort those basics.

Some different gospels mythologize the resurrection. Others add human endeavor to Christ’s death in order to deal with sin. Some say sin isn’t the real problem–man simply needs to learn to be as loving as Jesus was.

Other different gospels downplay Christ’s accomplishment at the cross for Other Things, specifically, for what He can do for you NOW. Salvation’s good, but why wait for heaven to enjoy God’s best? We can have it now if we name it and claim it. In other words, this different gospel takes what Jesus and what Paul said were signs of the gospel, and elevates those as if they ARE the gospel, or at least a part of it.

There is a different gospel that says Christ died, but if you don’t believe it to be true—if you believe in the Hindu pantheism or personal enlightenment or some other sincerely held religious expression—you’re good. Apparently in this different gospel, sin isn’t really the problem. It’s hypocrisy or not going all out for what you believe or going all out for what you believe. The real problem Mankind faces isn’t really clear, but that it will be fixed no matter what each of us believes—that’s the different gospel.

Some distort the gospel by distorting the revelation in which it is contained. Consequently it becomes easier to dismiss if there is no authoritative, true, revealed Word of God that proclaims the gospel. If what we have are fables and fairytales instead, then we can glean whatever moral we want from them and dismiss the rest.

A radically different approach that also distorts the gospel is the idea that the authoritative, true, revealed Word of God that contains the gospel, lists out the rules and regulations by which a person can overcome sin.

People believing in this different gospel might even give lip service to the fact that Jesus died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust that He might bring us to God. In practice, however, they live to toe the line, keep the rules, obey the do’s and avoid the don’ts—not because they love God and want to please Him, but because they want to impress God and earn His favor. That would be the unmerited favor He’s already extended to us through the plan of salvation.

Clearly there are many, many different gospels. In the first century, the Church leaders ran into those who didn’t believe in the resurrection, and others who thought Christ had returned a second time already. The leaders disciplined those who thought the forgiveness of sin gave them a license TO sin. They dealt with others who thought the body was evil and the spirit was good, and many more distortions of God’s truth.

The key here is this: if false teachings were not uncommon when the Church was in its infancy, why would we think things are different now? Why would we think that everyone who claims the name of Christ actually believes the gospel? It’s easy to say, Lord, Lord, but Jesus Himself made it clear that He would send away an untold number of people who called to him like that when He didn’t really know them.

Those folks had fallen prey to one of the false gospels floating around.

Paul closed his letter to the Corinthian church by saying, “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed” (16:22). To the Galatians he said, the guy preaching a false doctrine is to be accursed.

There’s a principle of logic at work here:
if a = accursed and
b = accursed, then
a = b.

In this case, the one who preaches a different gospel does not love the Lord. So, why would we be inclined to hang out and hear someone preaching a different gospel?

This post originally appeared here in July 2013.

Published in: on June 19, 2018 at 5:09 pm  Comments Off on A Different Gospel—A Reprise  
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Advent


Advent_candle_1I grew up in a church that didn’t talk about Advent. We were as far from liturgical as you could get. Later, when my family attended a non-denominational church, I suspect the thinking there was to steer clear of anything that would seem identifiably one denomination over another, so again, no incorporation of “Advent” into the celebration of Christmas.

Of course, Advent really means the coming of Christ. In its generic form, the word means the coming of any notable person, thing, or event. In it’s proper noun form, however, it’s specifically used in conjunction with Christianity.

Some years ago on the radio broadcast Family Life Today, the hosts and guests discussed some of the more notable Christmas traditions. Among those was Advent, referring specifically to the lighting of advent candles and the reading of particular scriptures.

The thing I learned was that the focus of Advent in an earlier age was threefold: the first coming of Christ, as a baby, the coming of Christ to individuals who accept Him as Messiah, and the second coming of Christ which we await.

I really like this focus. It takes Jesus out of the manger and declares Him to be a living and risen Savior who is coming again.

This threefold aspect of Jesus’s coming mirrors the Christian life. We have fulfillment, appropriation, and anticipation. Christ died once for all the just for the unjust (fulfillment), but those who believe will be saved (appropriation), and one day we will receive the reward of the inheritance (anticipation).

One of the hymns now associated with Advent is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” I have to admit, I’ve paid little attention to the words of this hymn, though I could go on automatic pilot and sing the first verse.

As I looked for the rest of the words, I found a number of diverse listings. One gave five verses, another seven, and the one below, eight. None seem quite the same. Besides the obvious extra, or missing, stanzas, however you wish to look at it, their order is different and some of the lines are dissimilar. Yet more than one site claims the English is a translation from the 12th century Latin original.

Looking at the various versions, I can see the threefold meaning of Advent shining through. I’m not sure I’d like to sing all these verses–the music, after all, originated as a funeral dirge, and honestly gets on my nerves after a bit, with it’s heavy, repetitive monotony, all except the “Rejoice, rejoice” notes.

But the lyrics are equally heavy. This is no “Away in a Manger” or “Silent Night.” This is a song about captives in need of ransom, about exile and Satan’s tyranny and the salvation from the depths of hell.

Merry Christmas!

But really, it is a merry Christmas for those who believe. We celebrate Christ’s birth, not because He was a cute baby. We celebrate because at long last, after centuries of waiting, the promised Son and Savior came and comes and will come again.

Perhaps “Merry Christmas” isn’t quite right after all. Maybe a better greeting would be Joyous Advent. (I wonder what secularists would do with that one! 😉 )

And now the lyrics which you might want to compare with those that appear in Wikipedia.

O come, O come Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Refrain:
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, thou Wisdom from on high,
who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go. Refrain

O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free
thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save,
and give them victory over the grave. Refrain

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight. Refrain

O come, thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heavenly home;
make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery. Refrain

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times once gave the law
in cloud and majesty and awe. Refrain

O come, thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
an ensign of thy people be;
before thee rulers silent fall;
all peoples on thy mercy call. Refrain

O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease,
and be thyself our King of Peace. Refrain

This post is a revised version of one that first appeared here in December 2013.

Tears Of The Messiah


JerusalemMost people know that Jesus wept at Lazarus’s tomb before He raised him back to life. It’s a touching scene, one that has produced any number of sermons.

Fewer people, I tend to think, know about Jesus weeping over Jerusalem on his final entry into the City of David. Luke records the scene, as well as the build up to it. Clearly Jesus cared deeply—not for the walls and the buildings, but for what Jerusalem stood for. This was the place God intended to be central to His worship. His people were there, the temple known as His house was there.

As soon as He was approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen, shouting:

    “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord;
    Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!”

When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” (Luke 19:37-44)

Earlier, when Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, He had similar thoughts:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! (Luke 13:34)

Jesus was deeply moved by the rejection of His rebellious people. He wanted them to receive their King, to experience the peace with God offered.

Scripture makes it clear that God’s desire is still for rebellious people to repent and turn to Him. Jesus said in Matthew, “It is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish” (18:14) Then in 1 Timothy, Paul wrote

This [prayer on behalf of all men] is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

I’m in awe that Jesus unabashedly wept for those who ended up turning their back on Him; that God, loving the world so much, paid the price for our sin just so we could enjoy peace with Him:

you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. (1 Peter 1:18-19)

I’ve never thought about it much before, but might not Jesus weep for each person who walks away from Him?

Jeremiah is sometimes called the weeping prophet because in a number of places Scripture mentions him weeping for Judah and their stubborn, rebellious heart—well, more often for the destruction of the nation which he foresaw.

At one point he prophesied that the people who had been taken to Babylon in the first wave of captivity would be better off than those left in Judah. They would prosper in their new land and one day be restored to their home. But those who stayed or who fled to Egypt would bring destruction on their heads. I’m sure the people who heard him thought he was nuts. Captivity good, freedom bad, he seemed to be saying.

The problem was, they had limited sight. Jeremiah was speaking the words given him by omniscient God.

So, too, Jesus knows we are in desperate need of His life-giving blood—more dramatically in need than if we were bleeding out and only a transfusion could save us. We, the walking wounded spiritually, are oblivious to our condition much of the time. When the truth breaks through, some hide from it or run as fast as they can to escape the awareness of their condition, but others cast themselves on God’s mercy, realizing that Jesus bled out for us.

Why, then, wouldn’t He weep over those who wave Him off and walk on by or sprint from Him to their own destruction?

This post, minus some revision, first appeared here in March 2013.

Published in: on March 21, 2016 at 5:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Peace Child And The Hound of Heaven


peace-child-richardson_coverPeace Child by Don Richardson is a true story that beautifully illustrates the author’s “redemptive analogy” thesis—how God pursues His own.

Don and his wife were missionaries for fifteen years to the Sawi, a Stone Age tribe (cannibalistic) of Irian Jaya. Don designed an alphabet suited to the Sawi language and worked on translating the Bible. But after three years living among them, as he shared the gospel with the people, he found the most shocking rejection.

When Don told them the story of Jesus, they revered Judas as the hero. It seems that part of their cultural heritage was to esteem betrayal and the deception of an enemy. The bigger impact, the more dramatic the betrayal, the better. Consequently, Judas did what they valued most, and he did it to the All-powerful One. What greater glory could there be?

You’ll have to read the book to learn the details of what happened next, but through a crisis between neighboring tribes, Don discovered another piece of Sawi culture—the Peace Child. One tribal chief, desiring to bring an end to conflict, could do so by giving his child to the enemy tribe. This was the ONLY way peace could be achieved, and could be assured.

Don now had the metaphor that made sense to the Sawi. Once he explained that Jesus was the Peace Child, then Judas’s act of betrayal was seen for what it was. Through the years of Don’s ministry with the Sawi, half the people came to Christ.

How amazing that God had provided that critical piece of cultural connection so that even a tribe steeped in hatred and revenge, deception and betrayal, could understand God’s redemptive act of yielding up His Son to overcome our hatred of Him.

Yes, Christianity is exclusive—no man comes to the Father except through the Son, because Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life.

But God is also the Hound of Heaven and He pursues us relentlessly.

From Francis Thompson’s poem by that name:

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

Still with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbéd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
Came on the following Feet,
And a Voice above their beat—
“Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me.”

Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!
Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught” (He said),
“And human love needs human meriting:
How hast thou merited—
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!”

This post first appeared here in December 2007

Published in: on November 10, 2015 at 6:24 pm  Comments (2)  
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Hateful, Mean Christians


Anti-Christian_sign_in_Federal_Plaza_ChicagoMore than once I’ve read the charge that Christians are hateful and mean. It goes along with the idea that God is a wrathful tyrant. The concept started with the idea that He is, and therefore we are, a kill-joy. But it’s gone far beyond that notion.

Now Christians are considered hateful because we who adhere to the Bible’s clear teaching, oppose same-sex marriage. How unkind to deny people a meaningful, loving relationship that everyone else gets to enjoy simply because of their sexual orientation.

Christians are also haters because they want to deny women the right to choose for themselves what they do with their own bodies when it comes to pregnancy. This language is, of course, euphemistic speech for the right to have an abortion.

Christians are haters because they send people to hell for the smallest things, like telling little white lies or drinking too much at the New Year’s Eve party. In fact, they assign people to hell if they don’t believe in their Jesus as if there’s only their way or the way to hell. How hateful can they get?

The thing that people who take these views don’t realize is that Christians don’t send anyone to hell. God Himself doesn’t send anyone to hell. Rather, hell—or death, not just physical but spiritual and relational—is the consequence of the sin God warned Adam against.

Furthermore, God put into motion His plan of redemption to rescue us from hell. But telling people about this bailout, this merciful deliverance from the destiny we’re heading toward, is considered hateful.

It makes no sense. Would a good neighbor see a fire across the street and do nothing? Would a good parent watch his child drink bleach from the cleaning supplies and not intervene? Would a good citizen watch a kidnapper force a young girl into his car and not at lease call 9-1-1?

In all these circumstances, the minimum action a person would take is likely to raise the alarm. And if possible, the person might even step in to stop the harm that’s underway. Parents are even expected to do this and would be considered negligent if they didn’t prevent a child from ingesting that which is harmful.

But when it comes to raising the spiritual alert, Christians are considered hateful. It makes no sense.

Western society has gotten to this place in part because we’ve moved from instructive action to preventative action when it comes to the next generation. By that I mean, we are less likely to show young people why and how than we are to pass rules against.

For instance, when it comes to abortion, we’re quick to preach abstinence until marriage and to reinforce the fact that the product of conception is life and therefore should not be killed. These are preventative measures.

But how good are we at coming along side unwed pregnant women and helping them financially or emotionally? What kind of counseling are we giving to the scared and confused teen caught in her own sin? Are our actions and attitudes the equivalent of picking up stones in judgment of the sinner?

Except, in that situation the one who dies is the baby, not the mother whose sin resulted in the little life she thinks she has to terminate.

The Church should come along side sinners and offer the same grace that has been offered and is being offered to us. And the next generation should be involved in the process. This kind of modeling is instructive.

Yes, we should talk about purity, but a healthy marriage will instruct young people in a far more effective way than telling them when to start dating and how much or little sexual activity is OK.

Christians should not stop shouting warnings to a world sliding away from God. Life without Him is dark and riddled with instability and insecurity. It’s meaningless and fraught with conflict. We most certainly should charge across the street and shout fire or rip bleach bottles out of little hands or scream for someone to stop the kidnapper as we lay hold of the young woman to wrestle her out of his control.

We see the danger awaiting our friends and family and neighbors. We know what they need in order to move from darkness to light. Why would we stay silent, even though any number of bystanders may misunderstand and mis-characterize us as haters?

Which is worse, to be misunderstood and slandered or to do nothing to point others to Jesus Christ? When we tell others about who Jesus is, we are doing the most loving thing possible. But in this day when evil is called good, and good, evil, it’s no wonder that our loving actions are misunderstood as hateful.

Of course pretenders who claim the name of Christ, but who live as legalists, don’t make things easier. They accumulate negative press while the thousands upon thousands of Christians who go about serving their neighbor, loving them as Christ would, receive very little recognition.

We don’t put legs to our faith in order to gain accolades or to create good photo-ops. But perhaps we should be more vocal—giving God praise for what He does through His Church. In the Old Testament, the recurring motive for what Israel did was so that the people would know that the Lord is God.

Maybe that needs to be the motive behind what we Christians do—not on the sly, but openly, boldly. “I’m spending time at the homeless shelter, not because I’m a nice guy, but because Jesus is Lord, and I wanted the opportunity to tell you that”—that sort of thing.

Hateful? Christians ought not be hateful. It’s a test, in fact, according to John, a measure of who is a Christian. How can we say we love God and hate our brother? The two are mutually exclusive.

But maybe we’ve forgotten how to show our love. Then again, maybe our love will look like hate in the eyes of those who have rejected Jesus. The first, we need to fix, the last we need to let go.

Ray Rice And Forgiveness


Tony DungyTony Dungy, former NFL coach of the Indianapolis Colts, and before that, coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, spoke out yesterday about Baltimore Ravens running back, Ray Rice who made headlines this off season when a video surfaced showing him drag his unconscious fiancée (Janay, now his wife) out of a hotel elevator. Reports surfaced that he had knocked her unconscious.

Both Rice and Janay were arrested, with Rice eventually indicted on aggravated assault charges. Her charge of assault was later dropped.

Rice pleaded not guilty, then applied for and was accepted in a program for first-time offenders which, among other things, required him to attend regular counseling.

The NFL responded to the incident by suspending him for two games. Two. Games.

Many people were irate, and even those with no interest in football and no feminist ax to grind thought it was ridiculous that a man could knock a woman unconscious and receive a lesser penalty than someone who tested positive for a banned substance. The message seemed to be, it’s not good to hurt others, but it’s twice as bad to hurt yourself.

The NFL commissioner quickly saw the error of his decision and created a new policy for domestic abuse.

And then the public saw the punch for themselves. Ever-helpful TMZ aired a video of Rice and Janay inside the elevator which showed him delivering a blow that sent her against the railing, knocking her unconscious.

For some reason, seeing him hit her ignited a mob mentality against Rice, as if what people saw on film was a new and different incident from the one they witnessed after the fact, with him dragging her body off the elevator.

Rice’s team released him and some people are suggesting the NFL should give him a lifetime ban. As it is, they suspended him indefinitely.

Enter Tony Dungy, who happens also to be a Christian and is currently working as a football analyst for NBC. In an interview with WFLA, he was asked if Ray Rice deserves a second chance.

“He doesn’t deserve a second chance yet,” Dungy said. “Second chances come to those who show that they have changed. Now to me, if he does that, then yes, we should give them a second chance. I’m not one to say one mistake is the end of your life.” (EXCLUSIVE: TONY DUNGY ON RAY RICE: “He does not deserve a second chance – yet”

I have to say, the latest events baffle me. I personally found the most disturbing part of this story to be Rice dragging Janay’s body from the elevator. How lacking in compassion. If one of his teammates was lying unconscious on the field, would he grab hold of him and drag him to the sidelines?

The NFL has all kinds of protocols for head trauma and neck injuries. How did Rice know Janay didn’t have a serious, life-threatening injury? Instead of caring for her, though, or calling for help, he dragged her off the elevator.

To me that act was unconscionable.

But guess what? Her body sprawled on the floor of the elevator had a cause. The arrest and subsequent charges, followed by Rice’s decision to apply for the first-time domestic violence offenders program, made it clear she didn’t spontaneously drop to the ground. In fact, Rice was the cause.

So why was everyone shocked when the video came out showing that yes, Rice was the cause? Now that people can see it with their own eyes, is the act somehow worse? Worse than him dragging her body along the floor and out of the elevator?

Ultimately, Tony Dungy is right, though. We all need a second chance, though we don’t deserve one. The only thing that qualifies us for a second chance is change. But Dungy pointed to the fly in this NFL messy ointment: “Hard thing is, how can you prove you’ve changed, changed the way you live.”

Truth is, people can change on the outside, but their inner nature remains the same. Alcoholics who enter treatment learn, once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. However, those who recover determine not to act according to their nature.

So much sinful behavior seems to have this addictive component, if the experts are to be believed—pedophilia, drug use, domestic violence, pornography.

So where does forgiveness fit into all this? And second chances. I suspect Tony Dungy was answering the question in the interview from a pragmatic perspective. But as a Christian, he knows change not only doesn’t come over night, real change doesn’t happen as a result of self effort.

Instead, Ray Rice needs a fundamental change. He needs to lay aside the old self “with its evil practices,” as Paul put it in Colossians, and put on the new self who is being renewed “according to the image of the one who created him.” This is the fundamental change of new birth—spiritual birth.

Peter makes the process of this change clear:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3)

Later in that chapter, he makes it clear that the tool God uses to bring about this change is His word:

for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. For,
“ALL FLESH IS LIKE GRASS,
AND ALL ITS GLORY LIKE THE FLOWER OF GRASS.
THE GRASS WITHERS,
AND THE FLOWER FALLS OFF,
BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER.”
And this is the word which was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:23-15)

In reality, forgiveness precedes change, but it’s God’s forgiveness that He initiates because of His mercy and through the work of His Son, a forgiveness that we learn of through the preaching of His word.

Then, and only then, can lasting change, fundamental change, take place.

Published in: on September 10, 2014 at 6:35 pm  Comments Off on Ray Rice And Forgiveness  
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Life Isn’t Complicated


Jesus_the_Shepherd004Too often, in the harried lives we live, with tablet in one hand and cell phone in the other, with polarization in our political arenas and terrorist concerns banging into school shootings, we think life is overwhelming. Some people want to escape, and do so in happy hour or party time or whatever thrill the weekend holds.

Others–Christians, for example–dive into a sweet Amish romance or steep themselves in fandom, whether of their favorite sports team or movie star. Still others live to be involved in their children’s lives. They are the soccer moms who man the snack bar or bring the team treats or drive them to pizza after the game. But they’re also the Little League moms, the AAU basketball moms, the Pop Warner football moms.

Today I was listening to a sermon on the radio by Phillip DeCourcy (Know the Truth) about child rearing. He said, surprisingly, it’s not all that complicated. As he laid out his position from the Bible, I got what he was talking about. And I think it applies to all of life.

Yes, this world changes. There are new technologies to learn, new challenges for parents and children alike, new global circumstances.

But God is the same.

His word is the same. (“The grass withers, the flower fades/But the word of our God stands forever” [Isaiah 40:8]) I tend to think life gets complicated when we start looking at the wrong things. In his letter to the church in Colossae, Paul said,

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (3:1-2)

That’s not particularly complicated.

We seek the things above by reading the Word given to us from above. We set our minds on the things by praising God–for who He is, what He’s done, for His plan and purpose, for His care and protection, for His counsel and guidance.

When it rains, we thank Him for the rain. When it doesn’t rain, we ask Him to bring rain, but also to work His purposes through the drought as we wait on Him.

God is omnipresent. He is fully engaged with His creation. It is we who ignore Him, not He who ignores us.

God is also infinite. There’s no limit to His knowledge and understanding. “Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord,/Or as His counselor has informed Him?/With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?” (Isaiah 40:13-14a)

Paul also said in Colossians that “He rescued us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (1:13-14)

Really life boils down to one thing. As my pastor said on Sunday, how I live either feeds the darkness, from which I’ve been rescued and to which I own nothing, or feeds the light, the reflection of the image of His Son. I am either living for God or for a false, apostate substitute, which might even be me, myself, and I.

Choose for yourselves this day, Joshua said, whom you will serve. And then choose again tomorrow and again on the day after that and the one after that. Not complicated. But not easy either.

It means loving God more than these, whatever these are today. It could be my desire to be right, to put someone else down, to brag about some accomplishment, to whine and complain about whatever circumstances God has given me, or any number of other things. God wants me to love Him so much those other things fade to nothingness and I simply want to please Him more.

Thanks be to God that He doesn’t abandon us or forsake us, that He gives strength in our weakness.

So, no, life’s not complicated. It’s a matter of letting the Good Shepherd gather us in His arms and carry us in His bosom and gently lead us where He wants us to go.

Published in: on March 11, 2014 at 7:54 pm  Comments (1)  
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Advent


Advent Candles015I grew up in a church that didn’t talk about Advent. We were as far from liturgical as you could get. Later, when my family attended a non-denominational church, I suspect the thinking there was to steer clear of anything that would seem identifiably one denomination over another, so again, no incorporation of “Advent” into the celebration of Christmas.

Of course, Advent really means the coming of Christ. In its generic form, the word means the coming of any notable person, thing, or event. In it’s proper noun form, however, it’s specifically used in conjunction with Christianity.

This morning on the radio broadcast Family Life Today, the hosts and guests discussed some of the more notable Christmas traditions. Among those was Advent, referring specifically to the lighting of advent candles and the reading of particular scriptures.

The thing I learned was that the focus of Advent in an earlier age was threefold: the first coming of Christ, as a baby, the coming of Christ to individuals who accept Him as Messiah, and the second coming of Christ which we await.

I really like this focus. It takes Jesus out of the manger and declares Him to be a living and risen Savior who is coming again.

This threefold aspect of Jesus’s coming mirrors the Christian life. We have fulfillment, appropriation, and anticipation. Christ died once for all the just for the unjust (fulfillment), but those who believe will be saved (appropriation), and one day we will receive the reward of the inheritance (anticipation).

One of the hymns now associated with Advent is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” I have to admit, I’ve paid little attention to the words of this hymn, though I could go on automatic pilot and sing the first verse.

As I looked for the rest of the words, I found a number of diverse listings. One gave five verses, another seven, and the one below, eight. None seem quite the same. Besides the obvious extra, or missing, stanzas, however you wish to look at it, their order is different and some of the lines are dissimilar. Yet more than one site claims the English is a translation from the 12th century Latin original.

Looking at the various versions, I can see the threefold meaning of Advent shining through. I’m not sure I’d like to sing all these verses–the music, after all, originated as a funeral dirge, and honestly gets on my nerves after a bit, with it’s heavy, repetitive monotony, all except the “Rejoice, rejoice” notes.

But the lyrics are equally heavy. This is no “Away in a Manger” or “Silent Night.” This is a song about captives in need of ransom, about exile and Satan’s tyranny and the salvation from the depths of hell.

Merry Christmas!

But really, it is a merry Christmas for those who believe. We celebrate Christ’s birth, not because He was a cute baby. We celebrate because at long last, after centuries of waiting, the promised Son and Savior came and comes and will come again.

Perhaps “Merry Christmas” isn’t quite right after all. Maybe a better greeting would be Joyous Advent. (I wonder what secularists would do with that one! 😉 )

And now the lyrics which you might want to compare with those that appear in Wikipedia.

O come, O come Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Refrain:
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, thou Wisdom from on high,
who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go. Refrain

O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free
thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save,
and give them victory over the grave. Refrain

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight. Refrain

O come, thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heavenly home;
make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery. Refrain

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times once gave the law
in cloud and majesty and awe. Refrain

O come, thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
an ensign of thy people be;
before thee rulers silent fall;
all peoples on thy mercy call. Refrain

O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease,
and be thyself our King of Peace. Refrain

Published in: on December 10, 2013 at 8:18 pm  Comments (9)  
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The Wages Of Sin Are A Slap On The Wrist


A_young_lamb_amongst_the_bracken_fronds_-_geograph.org.uk_-_287551This summer Christianity Today reported that the Presbyterian Church USA was disallowing Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend’s hymn “In Christ Alone” into their hymn book because of a line that clashed with their theology. They sought permission to change the offending lines “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied” to “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the love of God was magnified.”

Until I read about this decision, I was unaware of the controversial nature of the doctrine referred to as “penal substitution.” To be clear, the PCUSA says the problem they had wasn’t with the idea of God’s wrath but with the idea of it being satisfied. Others, however, who have weighed in on the controversy, make it clear that they do indeed have a problem with the idea of God’s wrath. See for example this explanation:

What inevitably results from the penal substitution theory of the atonement is the picture of a God who is a blood-thirsty monster who demands violence and death in order to satisfy his boundless wrath and who apparently can conceive of no other response to sin other than murder (which ironically is itself a sin). (excerpt from “The Wrath of God Was Satisfied?”

I’ve heard similar accusations against God before. God is heinous, apparently, according to this view, because He actually meant what He said when He told Adam that if he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he would die. What’s more, when He said through the pen of Paul that the wages of sin is death, He only compounded the problem. Now people couldn’t view God the Father as heinous but Jesus as nice and loving because the New Testament was agreeing with the Old.

The ironic thing is that people who are rejecting God’s right to judge, are setting up themselves and their values as the “better way.” They are, in fact, judging God’s act of justice against sin and calling it “murder.”

People, apparently, don’t actually deserve to die. Our sin isn’t worthy of such a harsh punishment.

I’m not sure how those who hold this view explain that in fact, one out of one persons dies. We are actually and factually suffering the wages that God said would be ours as a result of sin.

The good news is that God has made a way of escape and life awaits us after death, if we accept by faith the gift of a cleared debt made possible by Jesus’s willingness to be our surrogate, to take the penalty we deserved.

The thing is, nothing could offer us a more complete view of God than this act of salvation. He is holy, so our sin separates us from Him. His is righteous, so His judgment is without error. He is just, so He doesn’t condemn that which is innocent. He is loving, so He is willing to redeem us at His own cost. He is merciful, so He forgives us when we have no hope of paying Him what we owe.

I could go on. It’s inconceivable that people who claim to be Christians are so willing to deny God’s nature in one area or another.

It’s honestly hard for me to imagine that thinking people could read the book of Leviticus and not see the picture of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world in the sin offering or the peace offering or in the Passover, or that they could read Genesis and not see the substitution of a ram for Isaac as the substitution of Christ for sinners.

The only way I can make sense of these accusations against God is to suppose that those saying God is a murderer simply do not believe that the wages of sin is death. Apparently, in their view, the wages of sin is a slap on the wrist. What’s needed then, is not a substitute to pay the price, but a gentle reminder or a stern reprimand because surely sinners know better and simply need a refresher course in how to please God.

A Different Gospel


Paul_the_Apostle006
Apparently the Apostle Paul felt strongly about the message God had given him to preach. More than once, to several different audiences he wrote about the need to resist false teaching. Nowhere was he as exercised, however, as he was in the letter to the Galatians. After a typical, though relatively short, opening, he got right to the point:

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! (Gal 1:6-9)

Disturbing and distorting–sounds like the Liar at work. But what should we expect? OF COURSE, Satan wouldn’t want people understanding and believing the true gospel. So one way to dissuade them is to give them an alternative.

The true gospel is not complicated. Paul laid it out in 1 Cor. 15:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (1 Cor 15:3-5)

In this short statement of faith we learn that we have sins, Christ died for those sins, the Scriptures revealed this before hand, Christ was buried–declaring for all time that His death was real–and was raised on the third day, something the Scriptures also revealed and the disciples witnessed.

A different gospel will distort those basics.

Some different gospels mythologize the resurrection. Others add human endeavor to Christ’s death in order to deal with sin. Some say sin isn’t the real problem–man simply needs to learn to be as loving as Jesus was.

Other different gospels downplay Christ’s accomplishment at the cross for Other Things, specifically, for what He can do for you NOW. Salvation’s good, but why wait for heaven to enjoy God’s best? We can have it now if we name it and claim it. In other words, this different gospel takes what Jesus and what Paul said were signs of the gospel, and elevates those as if they ARE the gospel, or at least a part of it.

There is a different gospel that says Christ died, but if you don’t believe it to be true–if you believe in the Hindu pantheism or personal enlightenment or some other sincerely held religious expression–you’re good. Apparently in this different gospel, sin isn’t really the problem. It’s hypocrisy or not going all out for what you believe or going all out for what you believe. The real problem Mankind faces isn’t really clear, but that it will be fixed no matter what each of us believes–that’s the different gospel.

Some distort the gospel by distorting the revelation in which it is contained. Consequently it becomes easier to dismiss if there is no authoritative, true, revealed Word of God that proclaims the gospel. If what we have are fables and fairytales instead, then we can glean whatever moral we want from them and dismiss the rest.

A radically different approach that also distorts the gospel is the idea that the authoritative, true, revealed Word of God that contains the gospel, lists out the rules and regulations by which a person can overcome sin.

People believing in this different gospel might even give lip service to the fact that Jesus died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust that He might bring us to God. In practice, however, they live to toe the line, keep the rules, obey the do’s and avoid the don’ts–not because they love God and want to please Him, but because they want to impress God and earn His favor. That would be the unmerited favor He’s already extended to us through the plan of salvation.

Clearly there are many, many different gospels. In the first century, the Church leaders ran into those who didn’t believe in the resurrection, and others who thought Christ had returned a second time already. The leaders disciplined those who thought the forgiveness of sin gave them a license TO sin. They dealt with others who thought the body was evil and the spirit was good, and many more distortions of God’s truth.

The key here is this: if false teachings were not uncommon when the Church was in its infancy, why would we think things are different now? Why would we think that everyone who claims the name of Christ actually believes the gospel? It’s easy to say, Lord, Lord, but Jesus Himself made it clear that He would send away an untold number of people who called to him like that when He didn’t really know them.

Those folks had fallen prey to one of the false gospels floating around.

Paul closed his letter to the Corinthian church by saying, “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed” (16:22). To the Galatians he said, the guy preaching a false doctrine is to be accursed.

There’s a principle of logic at work here:
if a = accursed and
b = accursed, then
a = b.

In this case, the one who preaches a different gospel does not love the Lord. So, why would we be inclined to hang out and hear someone preaching a different gospel?

Published in: on July 12, 2013 at 6:38 pm  Comments Off on A Different Gospel  
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