Monday, December 3, 2012

The Cross and the Crown in the Cradle

I don’t often consider the story of Jesus being presented at the temple, and the words and witness of Simeon in the Gospel of Luke, when I think of the Christmas story. Can you relate? I think of Mary, and Joseph, and the precious child in a manger. I think of the wise men, and the shepherds, and the gifts of frankincense. I know that as a baby, Jesus was Lord and Savior – he came as a human but all along he was God and would “save his people from their sins” – but I don’t think of the possibility of this reality being known and present in him as an infant. Right? We know it, but we don’t often consider whether if we had the opportunity to see him as a baby we would know by looking at him. We would probably just see a baby, and even as a devout Jewish person, not believe or understand what had already been said about him. Looking at him physically wouldn’t really change the unlikelihood in our minds that this baby was the promised Messiah who would go to a cross and receive the crown of glory. Would it?

Simeon: An Often Neglected Character in the Christmas Story

Yet the testimony of Simeon shows us that it was apparent, through the Holy Spirit, that the baby Jesus was the one who would accomplish the salvation of his people; a salvation prepared in the presence of all peoples and a light of revelation to the Gentiles; a salvation that would require him to suffer on a cross and taste death, and in turn, receive the crown of glory and honor. Simeon saw that, and even declared that after seeing it, now he could die. “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word” (Luke 2:22:29). God had fulfilled the promise He had made to him in His Word. It was finished! He knew now that to live was Christ, but to die would be gain, just as the apostle Paul later articulated. The cross and the crown were present with him even in the cradle.
Simeon was a man who lived in Jerusalem, and we are told was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel. That description alone should uniquely draw us to him. He was righteous and devout. As we approach Christmas, and consider our Savior, celebrate his incarnation as a baby, and anticipate the celebration of his death and resurrection later, can the same be said of us? What does it mean for us to be righteous and devout as we approach the Christmas season? Does it matter? If we are already covered in the righteousness of Christ through our faith in his substitutionary sacrifice and our repentance away from sin towards new life in him, is there something additional required in our behavior or attitude for us to see, in Jesus, who he really is, what he did, and is still yet to do?
I’m not asking whether there is something additional required of us to become saved or stay saved, during the Christmas season. There is not. Salvation is by faith alone through Christ alone. Alone! But I am wondering whether our sensitivity to the Spirit can be reduced as we approach this special season in a way that when we look at a nativity scene, or sing Christmas carols in church, or pray with our family before a meal, we miss him. We just miss him. We think of safety and family and blessings and gifts, and we acknowledge Jesus as the center, but we fail to marvel at him. We fail to marvel at his grace, and his glory and honor. Is there not something, by way of devotion, that can better prepare us to marvel at him during this season, even when we see a wooden figure in the nativity scene on our mantle? He is the image of the invisible God! By him all things were created! He is before all things, and in him all things hold together! O, that Christians would practically know how to demonstrate this reality, and not minimize it, especially in anticipation of the celebration of the incarnation of Christ.                                     

The Consolation of Israel

Simeon was also said to be waiting on the consolation of Israel. Are we waiting for the reconciliation of all things? Not waiting, as in, on our lawn or impatiently in our houses, but waiting eagerly, as in, talking about him and expressing joy and hope in him wherever we go. In Jesus all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven making peace by the blood of his cross (Col 1:19-20). As the author of the Book of Hebrews said, “we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone (Heb 2:9).” How wonderful a time Christmas is to remind ourselves of the true hope in Jesus! What a great time to practically reveal the reality, that as Christians, we groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved (Rom 8:23-24). In this hope!
John Calvin, in Volume XVI of his commentaries, said, “Since an expectation of this sort is commended in Simeon as an uncommon attainment, we may conclude, that there were few in that age, who actually cherished in their hearts the hope of redemption. All had on their lips the name of the Messiah, and of prosperity under the reign of David; but hardly any one was to be found, who patiently endured present afflictions, relying on the consolatory assurance, that the redemption of Christ was at hand.” May this hope and expectation not be a rare thing among Christians today, as it was in the time of Simeon! May we, as Calvin continues, “breathe out unceasing prayers for the promised redemption.”
If this hope specifically gripped us during the Christmas season (and all year, to be sure!), what a difference it would make to the cultural understanding and perception of Christians and the meaning of Christmas - as people see us marveling at the Person and Work of Jesus, with an eager hope that he really did live a perfect life once he grew up, and he really did possess the fullness of God in his person, and he really did taste suffering and death on the cross, for our sake, if we would believe, and he really did rise from the dead to give us hope, and he really is coming back to make all things new. And all of that we can see when we look at him! It is all true. And it is so amazing that now that we have seen, like Simeon, to die is gain. Family and safety and blessings and extravagant meals and gifts are wonderful and pleasurable, but they are a shadow. The substance is Christ.

A Sight to See

Hear this challenge from Calvin: “If the sight of Christ had so powerful an effect on Simeon, that he approached death with cheerfulness and composure, how much more abundant materials of lasting peace are now furnished to us, who have the opportunity of beholding our salvation altogether completed in Christ? True, Christ no longer dwells on earth, nor do we carry him in our arms; but his divine majesty shines openly and brightly in the gospel, and there do ‘we all’, as Paul says, ‘behold as in a glass the glory of the Lord,’ – not as formerly amidst the weakness of flesh, but in the glorious power of the Spirit, which he displayed in his miracles, in the sacrifice of his death, and in his resurrection. In a word, his absence from us in body is of such a nature, that we are permitted to behold him sitting at the right hand of the Father. If such a sight does not bring peace to our minds, and make us go cheerfully to death, we are highly ungrateful to God, and hold the honor, which he has bestowed upon us, in little estimation.”
May it never be! Let us see, and savor, and hope in Jesus Christ this season so that all may know the salvation that comes in him through the cross, and unites us with him in his crown of glory, all while we behold him in a cradle.
Originally posted at the College Park Blog.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

An Honest Prayer to my Lord for my President

Almighty Father in Heaven,

You are Lord. Help me be still. And know, that you are God! You are God! I come to you still a bit perplexed and disturbed. I know that you are sovereign and that you are good, and in your arms I rest. I desire so much not to be "ye with little faith". I know, as John Quincy Adams said, that "duty is ours, but victory is the Lord's". But I also know that you know my heart, my cares, my anxieties, and my sin. And you know my confusion and my frustration, and you can handle hearing about it, even though you already know. I appreciate that you desire that I ask of you, and you will provide in your perfect will and timing. You can even handle a little anger and questioning. You are God! And you are good, all the time.

So I come to you kinda broken, kinda mad, kinda confused, and kinda scared. I couldn't sleep after the election was called. I was emotional about politics! What in the world? I know that we were not voting for a savior. I wrote about that and was convicted about that 4 years ago. I know my Savior is Jesus Christ, and him alone. I know that your kingdom, the everlasting kingdom, is not of this world, not to mention this country. Yet, I am fighting to believe it a little. Not fighting for my life, say, or for my salvation, but fighting to believe it in every context of every part of life, namely, this week, in the outcome of the American elections.

Lord, you convicted my wife and I to have carry out Indian food and pray for the unreached Tanti Hindu people in Northeast India as we watched the election coverage. And it was awesome! But I feel convicted that I allowed the distraction of the election results to reduce the impact of that experience. I was not just a casual observer to a remarkable historic process, or even a trusted follower of you watching history unfold. I was an invested participant, with much at stake, who was legitimately worried that your will would be thwarted. I confess, and ask that you would forgive me! I know you have. Thank you Jesus.

But I know you didn't want me to be just a casual observer. You wanted me to participate, and then deal with the result. And so I'm dealing. And it's not easy. Lord, you know my most intimate thought, and so you know why it's not easy, but I want to tell you anyway, because I delight in union with you in prayer, and I know you delight in it also.

It is not easy because I am nine years into my family's business, and have increased responsibility and increased stake all the time. And we are in a transition season of our company, and it is hard. The stats for success for third generation small businesses are not good. We have our work cut out for us, and many people's livelihoods are at stake. And Gracious Father, I sincerely do not believe that my President remotely understands what we are up against, even before the burdens we have from his approach to governing. I don't believe this because, although he mentions support for "job creators" and "small businesses", his policies and philosophy bumps up against our efforts, and decreases our incentives and abilities to grow and to hire at almost every turn. I don't think he does this intentionally, just naively. And he doesn't seem to listen to those who know what they are talking about in business. I personally know of no businessperson in my network that believes he is helping business. I am sure they are out there, but I do not know them. Father, please help the President understand and see the big picture of small business, job creation, and economic growth in our country. Give him ears to hear, and humility. And help me and my company and my industry be patient, work hard, be outspoken, but also gracious, as we pray for and follow the leadership you have ordained. May the President's lack of experience in business not hinder his success any more, and may he surround himself with wise advisers to support him in leading our country to prosperity and our people to opportunity. I trust you Father.

It is not easy because I myself am at a much different life stage than I was in 2008. I was concerned then, but it was just me. Now I have a wonderful wife, and God willing, before Barack Obama's second term is over, I might have a child. That raises all the stakes. And I am concerned. Lord, things that I didn't think about practically, but only theoretically, are now real to me. Things like the national debt are real, in the context of a family, and raising another generation. The cost of health care is more significant when its not just you. Lord, of course I want as many people to have health care as possible, and the least of these without it is not your will, but why is an unpopular, government-mandated option with no regard for costs the right course of action? Is that not a reasonable concern? Lord, search my heart. May there be no offensive way in me. Also, things like financial investment are more real when you're in your 30s. Thoughts about investment for kids, for education, for retirement, are no longer hypothetical. And I am concerned investing in an environment that depends on a government that is highly in debt. Is that not shrewd? I am concerned investing in an environment that would punish gains and wealth. Would I not use wealth ultimately for your glory? Am I off base here Lord? I pray that President Obama would have humility and confidence as he explains and implements his heart for these things. And open our ears to listen, our mouths to discourse respectfully, and our hands to action, lest we be hypocrites.

It is not easy because the reaction to the outcome of this election from friends is all over the map, and in some cases Lord, it is deeply concerning. Some seem apathetic to what is very important. Like many Christians throughout history, they would sooner disengage than bring their perspective and ideas to the table. Some seem despondent, as if hope is lost. Some seem elated, and almost giddy, as if their hope is in something other than Jesus. Some seem proud, and hardhearted to things I know you care about, even while they support and speak for other things you also care about. Some seem angry. Some seem unwilling to make, or listen to, a reasonable argument. Help all of us be more like Jesus. Father, I pray that you would help the President maintain and apply his desire to unite and not to divide. May it not just be rhetoric. I pray that I would be patient and kind, and assume the best in those who seem to not know what they are talking about, or care. I know they might just disagree. Help me be humble. But help me be bold, and informed, and my words be gospel-shaped and God-glorifying.

It is not easy because I know...I know!... that you care about the unborn and to be pro-life does not mean to not care about women's rights. O Father, help us articulate our compassion for women as we defend the unborn. Is it not there? Search my heart, and give me your words. Help me discern and engage with those who automatically believe that I lack support for women in need just because I would defend the unborn, half of whom will one day be a woman themselves, if we would allow. Give me self-control to communicate my passion and what I know...I know!.. to be your heart, in light of stories that are just so ignorant to the pro-life cause and what it is really about. Stories like that promoted by "Daughters for Obama", about a 50 year-old woman who always wanted a little girl, but at her age did not desire to be pregnant, and when she was, and her long-awaited little girl was born with down-syndrome and only lived to age 6, she was in deep despair, and presumably would have rather her little girl not have been born, but aborted. O Lord, the foolishness and the tragedy of this! Help me show compassion for women in these situations while defending the preciousness of the life of those like little Felice. Lord, give us wisdom and humility to do the right thing to all involved in these situations. And give the President, and those in Congress, compassion and a listening ear to govern in a way that protects women and the least of these, who have no voice, and will never have a voice, if we don't let them live. Is "Unborn for Obama" not just as significant a cause as "Daughters for Obama"? O, that you would make that happen even within four short years. You know the names of the numerous daughters who were never born.

And lastly, it is not easy because in retrospect, the result of the election was not only predictable and unsurprising, but also in some ways it is not all bad. And I don't like to admit that. In 2008 I supported John McCain in large part because he represented a candidate who would not promote himself as much as he would work hard to help the country, whereas Barack Obama seemed to promote himself, almost as a savior, in his efforts to help the country. I believed then, and I believe now, that such an approach confuses who is truly our savior, and would not only distract Christians from your global glory and purpose, but also be a hindrance to communicating the gospel to those who don't believe. And in some ways, Mitt Romney was perhaps a similar candidate with a similar approach. His continuing remarks about America being the "hope of the earth" is confusing and dangerous savior language. Perhaps this focus was outside your will, and therefore an explanation for the result. Thank you for your graciousness in giving us clarity and access to the gospel of Jesus Christ. May we honor it and proclaim it! Some day Lord, we know, it will be less accessible and welcomed. It already is in many places. Father, give the President humility to see himself and the government not as the solution to our problems, but as a helper, and an institution that can promote great good, and restrain great evil, through the structures that you ultimately have established and held together.

I see now that the result may have not been all bad because the country is changing, and certain trends are better in the open than underground, so we can have the opportunity to discern and respond to them. It is clear now that the demographics of our great nation have gone through a transformation, and any political party that ignores the scope of minority groups or issues that matter to them, will not likely be in governing power. It is good that this is clear. Father, remind me daily that I am a Christian before a Republican, a citizen of heaven before a citizen of this world, or this country. But as a Republican, and a citizen of this world and this country also, help me communicate priorities and adapt to changes, without compromising convictions. Lord, in your mysterious will, you have provided an opportunity for those who believe strongly about life and family to reevaluate the way we articulate convictions, so as not to mislead or turn away those who disagree. Help us be clear, and bold, and compassionate. Father, give us your words so that we always have a reason for the hope that is in us, and a reason for why we defend the unborn but still support women, and a reason for why we defend the traditional view of marriage and family yet still support equal rights. As Christians, help us clarify, and rethink, if necessary, our views on immigration, foreign policy, climate change, and care for the poor, so that we are in line completely with the truth of Scripture, and convincing in our efforts. Give us a clear conscience, Lord, and a winsome spirit, as we engage in these issues. I pray that the President and all our elected officials would not consider "conservatives" to be out of touch, but still a relevant and helpful voice for the common good. And may we take advantage of that openness to hear us out by being clear, bold, and compassionate in defending what we know is non-negotiable, and being humble to what still requires healthy discourse and disagreement.

I love you Lord, and I trust you. Give me discernment to speak and act in a manner worthy of you, even as it applies to politics. Give those who disagree soft hearts and open minds to hear reasonable arguments, and in disagreement help me be patient, gracious, and understanding, and help common ground be gained for the common good of all people, and ultimately, for exposure to your great gospel so many may hear and believe, and you may be glorified. Please help the President and elected officials work for the common good in a selfless way. Help your church be a light not just to this nation, but unto all the nations, with eager anticipation of your coming.

I pray in the name of Jesus Christ; Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Biblical Political Philosophy

So, I have officially read every article on the Internet about the election. Most of them are saved on my jump drive. I am told they are finished writing them now, so I have adequately caught up. Someone informed me today, though, that I should not believe everything I read online, because some people are either crazy or stupid, or both. I was glad to be informed of that, otherwise this post could have been a lot different. Crisis averted.

I assure you I am neither crazy nor stupid. However, it is hard to imagine that any contribution of mine would have any affect at this juncture. Yet, I proceed nonetheless. Someone out there has to care? Otherwise why would all these people be writing and talking about it all so much?

Let me start by making a few things clear. I do not believe Barack Obama is a Muslim or born in another country. I do not believe Mitt Romney is a rich snob who doesn’t care about the poor. I do not believe Barack Obama desires to ruin the moral foundations of our country. I do not believe that Mitt Romney is going to impose a Mormon worldview on the country. I do not believe Barack Obama desires to appease our enemies and leave us in great danger. I do not believe Mitt Romney is a liar or a fool. I do not believe Barack Obama is a Socialist. I do not believe that Mitt Romney is a man of questionable or inconsistent character. I do not believe Barack Obama is corrupt. I do not believe Mitt Romney hates women or is indifferent to their rights.

Imagine how much time and silliness could have been saved if more people just agreed with my previous paragraph and continued on with serious and intelligent discourse? My goodness. Instead, irrelevant and unintelligent conversation has dominated the “stump”. Oh, what could have been.

But with that as introduction, hopefully people of all political affiliations can now hear me out. Especially Christians, as ultimately, this post is a plea to Evangelical Christians. They are, in the end, the only segment of the electorate to which I would claim even partial influence. Why? Because I is one. What follows is how I have approached this election, and God willing, will approach every election going forward. I hope it can be challenge and encouragement.

First, I establish prerequisites for the candidates. By this I mean, of course, that in order for me to consider a candidate at all, a few criteria have to be met. Let me warn you that it is impossible to hide my ultimate thoughts until the end, and even at this juncture, my “vote” will be revealed. I truly expect to lose many with my choice of criteria to use as “prerequisites”. Please don’t let me lose you! Even if you disagree, I am extremely serious about these, and as long as I have breath I will contend that they are not only relevant, but logical and non-negotiable to the Evangelical Christian.

First, the candidate must defend the sanctity of human life. What does that mean? Well, I have formed my definition here in large part through the influence of Ronald Sider and his book, The Scandal of Evangelical Politics. It means several things. It means that he or she defends the unborn (in addition to the mother) and supports efforts to reduce and eventually eliminate abortion. It also means that he or she is opposed to the unnatural taking of elderly life because of someone’s definition of whether it is their time. It also means that he or she is opposed to efforts to trifle with human life in the form of genetic engineering, human cloning, or embryonic stem-cell research. It also means that he or she is proactive and vocal in reducing preventable starvation within our country and around the world. On these things, neither candidate for President is a shining star. But it is clear that Mitt Romney meets the prerequisite criteria and Barack Obama does not.

Consider the ever-sensitive abortion issue: Richard Mourdock from Indiana was the subject of much news because of his out spoken defense of unborn life, without exception, which I wrote on in my last post and explained as the coherent, biblical, pro-life worldview. He went as far as to say that even in the unfortunate case of rape, that abortion should not be allowed. And all hell broke loose, and very few who disagreed were willing to hear this simple and coherent argument explained. It is a fair question, and those of us who hold to pro-life without exceptions should be prepared to explain it. So to, though, should those who hold to pro-choice without exceptions be prepared to explain how they could justify killing a baby who is 7 months in the womb, who is perfectly healthy, in a mother who is perfectly healthy, with the husband and father around, and two other children at home. Mitt Romney has explained his stance on the tough and rare issue of abortion in the case of rape. Though I disagree with the exception, he meets my prerequisite criteria because he would support efforts to reduce and eventually eliminate abortion. Barack Obama has never explained and justified his stance on the abortion of a perfectly healthy baby and mother with husband and father, brother and sister at home. This is quite appalling actually.

So it goes. I am NOT a one-issue voter. But applying a simple prerequisite system, using issues that, as a Christian, simply are non-negotiate by any faithful reading of Scripture and awareness of church history, I can’t even get passed the first sub-point of my first prerequisite criteria. The good news is that this means I don’t have to spend a lot of time discussing my second prerequisite criteria, namely, marriage and family. I’ll simply quote Sider: “Through federal and state legislation and constitutional amendments, we should insist on the historical definition of marriage. Vastly more important, however, is the long, tough struggle to persuade heterosexual couples to keep their marriage vows and promises to their children. The right kind of legislation can help some. More vigorous, biblically famous teaching and discipling in our churches can do much more. Somehow, if our grandchildren are to live in good, just, healthy societies, we must find ways to restore wholesome, joyous, faithful marriages and families.” It is fairly obvious that one candidate meets this prerequisite while another does not.

If, someday, neither of the candidates meet these prerequisites, that will be an interesting discussion about whether voting or not voting is the best course of action. Clearly, this time around, voting is the right and necessary thing to do.

If, someday, both of the candidates meet these prerequisites, that will be an interesting and necessary discussion about numerous important issues that I have many thoughts on, such as, foreign policy, the economy, health care, debt, size of government, climate change, immigration, etc. In fact, in my extensive reading I have considered the candidates almost exclusively on these issues before I even finalized my prerequisite system. It is true I knew I was not going to vote for a candidate who did not defend the sanctity life and traditional marriage, for example, as these are issues that go beyond the realm of politics and into the theological realm. But I wanted to be informed and aware of the differences and the nuances of these issues. I think I have done that, but unfortunately, I don’t have the time to break all that down for you. Suffice to say, Governor Mitt Romney comes out as the candidate who fits within my biblical political framework, without a shadow of a doubt.

This is without question one of the quicker blog posts I have ever written. I regret that, as I have so much to say, and there is no way I communicated effectively here. Hopefully I at least communicated a biblical political philosophy, or encouraged you to develop one. Probably just reading Sider’s Scandal of Evangelical Politics would be the more complete way to gather everything I am saying. If you’re like me, you won’t agree on every page. But you will be excited and convicted to immerse yourself in Scripture to find out how to glorify God in your political participation.

No matter the ultimate “winner”, I hope to post a very heartfelt prayer for either Obama or Romney the next morning, for their families, their protection, and wisdom in leading this great country, all the while expressing my trust and dependence on my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, whose kingdom will have no end.

Happy voting!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Redemption Through Suffering

Reflecting on the controversial theological topic that in our culture and time has wrongly become a mostly political topic, and the stances of three men running for office this election cycle whom I support politically, but (two of which) I disagree with in part on what is the complete pro-life priority, my heart is heavy.

As Christians not in the public sphere, we can be clear in a way politicians can't. This is the way of the world. So are we? Here is my attempt: What Satan means for evil (in the case of rape), God can mean for good (in the case of new human life). I hope that is as clear as it gets. The hardest question is not what is God doing in the act of rape that causes pregnancy, but what is he doing in a rape that doesn't? And as an aside, neither question is political at the core. There are political implications in society, to be sure, but we don’t expect any politician to be able to fully articulate the complexity of how they would work in our fallen world to everyone’s satisfaction, especially in the context of a campaign. Or, at least, we shouldn’t expect that. Lest we be na├»ve and even disruptive to the political process.

But the first question, namely, what is God doing in the case of a rape that leads to pregnancy, can be confidently answered at least in part from a biblical worldview. Among other things, most of which we will never understand in this life, in the case where this act leads to conception, we can unequivocally say that one thing God is doing, indeed one thing he already has done, is create life. And that is very good! The God of the universe said so. It is the same life at conception that is present in the case of a pregnancy in a woman who is contemplating abortion because of financial reasons alone, or no reason at all. It is the same life at conception that is present in the case of a pregnancy in a woman who has waited to have kids through several miscarriages, or in a woman who has been blessed with two other children already. It is the same life at conception that was present in your mother when you were in the womb. It is the same life. It is all very good! And defending the sanctity of life means defending all of it. This is the coherent biblical pro-life perspective.

Politically, that does not mean that we as Christians have to automatically abandon support for those who are pro-life but would make various rare exceptions, such as Governor Mitt Romney and apparently Congressman Mike Pence, who now are outspokenly pro-life except in the case of rape (and incest, which isn’t talked about much, and in the case when the life of mother is at stake, which everyone agrees is an “exception” because another life is at stake). But let’s not confuse what the coherent biblical pro-life argument is, or make ridiculous accusations of “insensitivity to rape victims” or “opposition to women” when this perspective is offered. Of equal priority, of course, is to support, care for, and grieve with, victims of rape. Anyone who says the pro-life without exception stance neglects this does not understand the argument or the person making it. Even the President of the United States has implied these things about recent events (on the Jay Leno show of all places), indicating his own naivety to the worldview, and reluctance to hear it simply explained and defended. There is a big difference between disagreeing with this worldview and implying that it is insensitive or unacceptable. So many today blur this difference to their shame. That is not only intolerant but ignorant.

It is not shocking that pro-life without exception is the stance of those who claim pro-life. It is more shocking (though not really “shocking”) to make exceptions while claiming pro-life. Life except in the case of....doesn't make sense in principle. David Weigel in Slate interestingly points out that Joe Donnelly, the Democrat opponent to Mourdock in the Indiana Senate race, is also pro-life and believes that life begins at conception. But he not only makes the exception for rape, but also foolishly accuses those who don't make this exception to be insensitive and unacceptable. Weigel says:

"You've got a Republican candidate who believes that life starts at conception and won't make allowances for abortion, and a Democrat who believes life starts at conception and HEY LOOK OVER THERE." 

At least the exceptions such as in the case of rape indicate real possibilities that need to be addressed, and are indeed unfortunate, and therefore delicate and complicated. Some just disagree that they should be exceptions. In principle, everyone that is "pro-life" should, but the fact everyone doesn't is not the end of the world. Better to defend life in the majority of the instances where abortion is performed when other options should be pursued. There is always a better answer than killing the baby. That is the core of what it means to be pro-life, and it is sensitive enough of a stance, even without the rare exceptions. When those who are pro-life are asked about these exceptions, it sure is nice to have this type of testimony to give us all real perspective and an opinion that really matters:

"My mother was raped at 17. She went to a back alley abortion clinic in 1972. She was so young, she was 17 years old. Her life had been changed, and all she wanted was her life back. I owe my life to pro-life advocates, for saying my life was worth saying. I don't deserve to die for the act of my father. 20 years ago, I was pro-life with exceptions. I never really looked at the child's point of view, I only looked at the mother. I stand behind Richard Mourdock 100 percent because if you're going to be pro-life, there cannot be exceptions, because we're not thinking about the child if there are exceptions."

Frankly, any politician or media pundit talking about this issue seriously without acknowledging and being sensitive to stories like this, hardly deserve your attention or your respect.

I read an article yesterday morning titled, Media's galling abortion extremism double standards, that makes a very interesting point; one that really should be reconciled by those who would consider pro-life without exception to be "extreme":

"It's worth noting that no debates ever ask any consistent pro-choice candidates why they think there should be no protection for unborn children whose lives are ended simply because they're female, or because they have Down syndrome, or because they're inconveniently timed, or because of the circumstances of their conception. Nope, even though the vast majority of Americans seek some or total protection for unborn children, these questions are never asked."

Boy would I love some debate moderator to ask the current President these types of questions. Too late I guess. 

Thankfully, the world is not yet requiring politicians who proclaim Christ to answer the second question I mentioned above, namely, what is God doing in the case of rape that doesn’t lead to pregnancy? What good is coming from that? But they will eventually.

Is the world asking us? If so, what are we saying? Why do bad things happen to good people? Where is God when it hurts? How could a good God allow evil and still be all-powerful and all-good? What are we saying to these very good, yet very common, questions? Are we ready to give an answer for the hope that we have?

In the meantime, we should rejoice in our sufferings for their (the world's) sake, because in our flesh we will be filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions, not by way of accomplishment, but by way of personal presentation. How? By showing others redemption through suffering that they might otherwise never personally see for themselves. Why? For the sake of His body, that is, the church! This is the gospel. All Richard Mourdock was saying is that God can and does bring good (not just better than bad, but ultimate good!) out of evil and suffering. He did this in Jesus. And he can do this in the life of a human being conceived in the horrific act of rape. We know this because he brought even better good than a baby (redemption in Jesus) out of even greater suffering than rape (crucifixion of Jesus). To not understand this is to not understand the gospel. We should not be surprised that the media and the secular world do not understand the gospel. Of course they don’t. It is foolishness. Worse, they hate it. That does not change our message.

If you are a Christian, you, like Paul, have become a minister according to the stewardship of God that was given to you for them (the world), to make the word of God fully known – not partially known – the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to the saints. To you God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you…the hope of glory! Him we proclaim, teaching everyone and warning everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ (everyone!) - not immature, unable to explain and understand the word of God, and how it applies to life, suffering, and more; even politics - but mature. For this reason we toil, struggling with all his energy (not our energy!) that he powerfully works within us. – Colossians 1:24-29

Praying with you for our leaders, our country, and the unborn - without exception.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Unfortunate Case of Benghazi

I am not completely settled as to how this issue fits in the context of my blog. My conviction is to present simple truth for a complex culture. Sometimes, I think, simple truth can still coincide with the truth of the gospel without explicitly mentioning it. In this case, it is my hope that the truth of the gospel - that Jesus came to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost, and that this truth is constant and the most important announcement in the universe, even within the chaos and the uncertainty of our society, culture, and world - would at least be implicit and God would be glorified. I am preparing a post on how I incorporate Christian faith into a biblical political philosophy that informs my voting and participation in the conversation. That will probably clarify my heart more completely. But this is, for good or bad, some pent up emotion on what is to me a very unfortunate situation that represents a major problem in our country. I don't presume to think I can do much to solve it, but I am deeply thankful for my right to be able to express my opinion about it.

The most unfortunate part of the Benghazi tragedy, in my opinion, is not that there was lack of clarity and mixed messages from the Obama administration in the immediate wake of the attack. This is really bad, but I will listen to the argument that intelligence always comes over time, and initial interpretations are often proved incomplete or outright wrong.

The most unfortunate part was not even that there is dishonesty in what was said and what was known when. There was this. If someone in the Obama administration or in the media insults my intelligence one more time by saying that the President was referring to the specific Benghazi attack, instead of the general concept of terrorism, when he used the phrase “act of terror” in the Rose Garden, I am going to scream. I know the English language and this is not a subjective interpretation of what the context seemed to indicate. It is obvious, and everyone knows it. We are not idiots. Admission of some dishonesty would not be an outright deal breaker. Someone should man up. We are all sinners. Yet, this is not the most unfortunate part.

The most unfortunate part was not even that a home-made YouTube video was blamed for such a significant attack. This is questionable and quite ridiculous. Bear with me as I rant. The fact that we are actually trying to be sensitive to, and give any excuse for, the feelings and offense of radical, irrational terrorists, even while we say “there is never an excuse for violence”, is indeed unfortunate. It seems extremely naive that we actually believe that the problem with the enemy is that they are just thin-skinned, and if we are sensitive to this and just avoid offending them, they will have no excuse to attack us, even though we acknowledge that they should never have an excuse to attack us. Right? It is unfortunate that we seem to think we have to acknowledge equally irrational and hateful people who make videos in their basement or street corners, implying that they are credible enough that we have to publicly discredit them in order to clear the air about where we stand. This is the only way the video is relevant – if we believe that we have to speak for even the irrationality in our own society because even it has an effect on the violence from our enemies, which there should “never be an excuse for”. Is that it? Otherwise the very mention of it is embarrassing, and the lack of prosecution of the creator of such a dangerous video is hypocritical.

If our country is in the situation where You Tube internet videos by irrational extremists and unpatriotic and hypocritical Americans present a viable national security threat, than we are in trouble, and the problems of politicization and cover-up and faulty intelligence don’t amount to a hill of beans. We are going to need scores of Secret Service teams and Special Forces soldiers and intelligence professionals and prosecution attorneys watching YouTube and surfing the web 24 hours a day,  making sure none of our enemies are offended by any possible statement or picture or implication on the massive scope of the interwebs. And then we will have to establish committees or think tanks to come up with some kind of measurable criteria as to what would indeed cause offense to the extent of posing a viable natural security threat. Not only will this completely confuse and limit the positive side of freedom of speech and religion, but it will cost a fortune and remove America’s finest from the front lines of battle, where the enemy is plotting to destroy us. And it will reduce these men and women to video surveillance mall cops who probably will spend (waste) more time finding the next “David After the Dentist” internet video sensation, than performing what their original, ridiculous assignment would have been anyway. No. We are not there yet. Someone please stop the madness.

But all that is not the most unfortunate part of this tragedy. The most unfortunate part is, of course, that 4 Americans, a top level diplomat among them, are dead. Period. And not because of a video or spontaneous violence gone bad, but because of premeditated terrorism that could have been known and should have been prevented or at least thwarted. No matter when it was defined as terrorism and by whom, hardly matters now. It is what it is, and should have been prevented. If we claim to be making progress in the war on terror, this type of tragedy absolutely should not happen, or our claim is premature. This is not a lost battle in the midst of a war we are winning. This is evidence that we are not yet winning, maybe losing, and need to step up our game, correctly define the problem, understand the enemy, and aggressively and competently pursue permanent solutions to protect our people here and around the world. It is alright to apologize for failure in the midst of sincere resolve to prevent the same in the future. The Administration is clear on the latter while being afraid of the former. This is disingenuous

In the end, we do not grieve or fear like those who have no hope. As Christians, and as Americans, let us pray for the families of those who lost their loved ones, that the God of all comfort would comfort them, to comfort others. Let us pray for our enemies, that they will receive Christ and that their unjustifiable hatred would turn to humility and compassion. Let us pray for those who would not pray for their enemies, but instead share the same hatred, that their hearts would be softened. Let us pray for our military and diplomatic personnel, especially those in the direct line of fire, that they would be protected and would put their ultimate trust in a God who saves. Let us pray for our leaders, that until that day they would steward their office honorably and reasonably, and restrain evil and promote good, according to the parameters that have been given them by God and in the Constitution, in the interests of the people. May they be strong and courageous and not shrink back from serious threats, or underestimate or misunderstand them. Let us trust that God is Sovereign and is making all things new, and that peace is only ultimately found in him. And let us obey by participating in the process of democracy for the good of our neighbor and the glory of our God, which in this specific case I strongly believe includes humbly vocalizing opinions about an avoidable and tragic situation that has been ridiculously handled after the fact. I hope that is what I have done.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Beautiful Life

Beautiful life inside
Living, moving, breathing
So let Hope arise
God knew what He was doing when He gave
Beautiful, beautiful life

Dear sister, I hear the place you at
I know it ain't nothing easy 'bout goin' through that
There's a baby in your womb but you wasn't tryna do that
You'd take it all back if you knew that, but you ain't have a clue that
That time with your boyfriend, that late night
When you thought you was makin' love that you would make life
And now it's feelin' unfair, man it ain't like
You ain't got a life, shoot the time, it really ain't right
Can't quite tell you that I understand your pain
But I know you shouldn't feel discouraged and ashamed
And I know that baby in your stomach came to gain
He's got a heartbeat, he's 'bout to grow a little brain
He's dependin' on his momma, God already knows his name
You're made in God's image and that baby is the same, give him life

Beautiful life inside
Living, moving, breathing
So let Hope arise
God knew what He was doing when He gave
Beautiful, beautiful life
Beautiful, beautiful life
When He gave beautiful, beautiful life
Beautiful, beautiful life

Dear brother, I know you're probably caught off guard
But that seed in her stomach so your heart aches hard
Feelin' trapped like prison is behind those bars
The hand's been dealt but you don't wanna take those cards
Homie stop, and think about the choice
That baby in her womb, she ain't really got a voice
So she really needs her Daddy to love her and rejoice
She's a blessing from the Lord, she don't need to be destroyed
Don't abandon her momma, love her and support her
She's in pain now too, she needs someone there for her
But don't let her hurt your babygirl alive in the womb
'Cause homie, you'll be lookin' in her eyes really soon
Hey, don't get me wrong, look I agree that we should give women rights
That goes for unborn women too, give 'em life

Beautiful life inside
Living, moving, breathing
So let Hope arise
God knew what He was doing when He gave
Beautiful, beautiful life
Beautiful, beautiful life
When He gave beautiful, beautiful life
Beautiful, beautiful life

Dear friends, I know this probably hurts
For those of you who wish you would've gave that baby birth
But it's too late now 'cause your child ain't around
I know it hurts to your core, that guilt is weighin' you down
But I've got good news and some healing for your hurts
Christ Jesus came, He descended to the Earth
But He ain't come for good people or even the just
He came into the world just for sinners like us
So yeah, He's really grieved when we take a baby's life
'Cause He made 'em, but He came to save us from our plight
He came shinin' light that He could save us from our night
Erases all our shame, homie, He can make us right
Confessin' and believin' on the One who paid you cost
He died in your place, there's forgiveness at the cross, He can give us life

Beautiful life inside
Living, moving, breathing
So let Hope arise
God knew what He was doing when He gave
Beautiful, beautiful life
Beautiful, beautiful life
When He gave beautiful, beautiful life
Beautiful, beautiful life

- Trip Lee, featuring Rose

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

O, Timothy!

How do you really summarize and bring closure to the transformation that has occurred from memorization of and meditation on a book of the Bible? How could I possibly, in one succinct place, completely explain the amazing effect that Paul's first letter to Timothy has had on my life? How could I do it justice? How do I count the ways?

Well, same way I would count to 14. Or at least, I listed to 14 and then just stopped. This should at least scratch the surface. So, in no particular order, and acknowledging much overlap, here, almost two months after the fact, are the 14 themes from 1 Timothy that have changed my life:

1. Stewardship from God

God had a plan, has a plan, and is executing a plan, of salvation, not only for the world, but for me. Personally. The entire Bible, and even all of life, is revealing that plan. The Christian life should be a constant, active experience inside the redemptive plan of history, pointing to the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. He has taken great care to present that to us in a way that is understandable, and deserves our attention, adoration, and devotion. In light of this reality, how and why would we devote ourselves to myths, endless genealogies, and speculations? That is a dead end; but in Christ, we have truth, and life, created and sustained for us by the great Redeemer.

2. The aim of our charge is love

What is the end game? When we get to heaven, and our faith is sight, and our hope is fulfilled, what will remain? Love. It is God's nature, and we know it in this: that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. And so we make it our aim now, and flowing from that central aim is a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. What God promises in us and through us will not be in vain, and so we make it our aim to love, since He first loved us.

3. Good conscience

The importance of a good, or clear, conscience, has definitely dominated my time in 1 Timothy. The understanding and practice of this is liberating. Paul identifies a good conscience as one of the key elements in our main aim as Christians. In other words, without a good conscience, we likely fail in our aim to love others, and certainly to love God. Paul charges Timothy in light of the battle of the Christian life, to hold faith and a good conscience. In reference to deacons, and those who serve in the church, Paul says that they are to hold onto the faith with a clear conscience. He says about those that have devoted themselves to deceitful spirits, the teachings of demons, and the insincerity of liars, that their consciences have been seared. The picture here is striking. Think Ahi Tuna. To Titus, Paul says that to those who are corrupted, and not pure, their consciences are corrupted. Paul has much to say to the Corinthians about conscience, and how to act in such a way as not to cause those with a weaker conscience to stumble. Weak, in this sense, is not necessarily bad or unclear, it is just sensitive, perhaps from past experience or former vulnerability. We should be building those with a weak conscience up, instead of causing them to stumble, further de-sensitizing their conscience. The author of Hebrews says that the Old Testament sacrificial system was not able to clear the consciences of the worshippers, yet, the blood of Christ is able to cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death so that we may serve the living God. And later, he says that we are to draw near to God with a sincere heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience. The author says that we are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way.

Are we sure? Are you sure? How is one sure? Clearly, this is a theme in the Christian life, and 1 Timothy highlighted this for me powerfully. The image of my conscience being seared, no longer able to distinguish good from evil, and launching me into ruin and destruction, is terrifying. Yet, not debilitating! How do we prevent it? By having our powers of discernment trained by constant practice. How do we do that? I thought of it this way. In every part of my life, is there an active pursuit to flee sin and run to God? And even when I fail in that pursuit, is my conscience clear through repentance, and repeated "sprinkling" with the blood of Jesus? Or are there areas where, even subtly, my active pursuit for holiness has become passive, my ability to discern whether my daily actions, even small ones, are pleasing to God, and my attentiveness to react or repent has been weakened (or less prioritized)? If so, probably my conscience is being weakened, even seared. This can play out is such basic ways.

For example, I avoid at all costs being alone with another woman in a business or social context, and tell my wife when it is unavoidable, even for a short time. The other day I told her that I was at lunch with two people, one a man and one a woman, and when the man went to the bathroom, I was alone at the table with the woman. Why did I bother to tell my wife that? For one thing, because someone could have seen just the two of us in passing and perhaps been confused. But almost more importantly, I told her so that my conscience was aware and clear that in general, being alone with a woman, not my wife, is bad. And so if I train myself to be sensitive to this when it is unavoidable and no big deal, doesn't it stand to reason that my conscience will prevent me from either accidentally, or intentionally, being in this situation when it is a big deal? I think so. This is just an example that works for me. Perhaps, if you are a man, and wouldn't think twice about this kind of situation, you should consider doing so?

How about another one. Do you struggle with pride? Let me answer that for you: yes. For me, not having someone (or multiple someones) in my life pouring into me, holding me accountable, asking whether I'm checking my convictions against Scripture, asking whether I'm living my convictions with others, and challenging me when I'm not teachable, would be devastating to my conscience. I know because I didn't really have this for about 7 years. By the grace of God, now I'm married, and under the authority of a local church, and in close fellowship with other men! And my conscience is clear. 1 Timothy reinforced this in so many areas in my life. Am I looking for up to 3 seconds at a racy photo online, on TV, or on a billboard, or at a woman in a restaurant? That is too long. Am I avoiding conversation and dialogue with my co-workers? That is the path to laziness and lack of compassion. Am I drifting toward unloving disagreement with fellow Christians? That is hardening my heart. Am I hitting the snooze for too long? That is demolishing the opportunity for precious time with my Savior. Is my prayer life more characterized by random conversation with God, rather than intentional pleading with him in supplication, thanksgiving, and intercession? That is the way to no prayer life at all. Are my possessions dominating my thoughts? Do I think more about what is the next addition to my library, than about what God is teaching me through any of the various books included in that library, or more importantly, through His book?

You may say all this is overkill, and even legalistic, but O, that the consciences of Christians would not be weakened, seared, or killed in our life to our everlasting shame! The joy of a clear conscience in the presence of Jesus is so sweet.

4. Swerving from the faith

All that talk about conscience is a good transition to the next theme, namely, Paul's repeated focus to Timothy about the danger of swerving from the faith. Think about the concept of swerving from the faith. If it does not frighten you to some extent, you might be doing so. I say that with a firm and unbreakable conviction that Jesus Christ is the author and finisher of your faith. He will not lose one (see my post As Sure as the Sun Will Set, for more on this). But if the healthy fear of your proneness to wonder is not actively acknowledged and addressed by seeking Jesus, you may have a problem. Think of yourself on a raft in a river with a strong current. If you're not making an effort to move towards the shore, which direction do you think you'll go? John Piper has painted this picture for me before, but in 1 Timothy I see Paul pleading with people, through Timothy, who may be relaxing on the raft with the earphones of this world distracting them from the cliff they are approaching.

Paul says that certain persons have swerved from a pure heart, good conscience, and sincere faith, which create the aim of love in our charge, and they have wandered away into vain discussion. He says they desire to be teachers of the law, but do not understand either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. So the raft imagery is not always people relaxing with the distractions of the world dominating their attention; it could also be people standing up and saying or advocating things that are just untrue or dangerous. Perhaps Jesus is not central in their assertions. That would certainly take them towards the cliff, and they may not even know it!

Elsewhere Paul, after charging Timothy to hold faith and a good conscience, in light of the prophecy made about him, says that some have rejected this and made shipwreck of their faith. So now picture the raft as a boat, and the rejection of faith and conscience is a straight path into a reef, and a shipwreck. Those do not end well. And if it wasn't enough, people in this category Paul says he has handed over to Satan, that they may learn not to blasphemy. A lot more could be said about that concept, but suffice it to say, that does not necessarily mean hand over to Satan for eternal torment (hopefully!), but for the purpose of them seeing the error in their ways and coming back to God.

This theme is so present in this letter. Chapter 4 begins with the statement of truth that in later times, some will depart from the faith. They will. They are among us now, they may me in a small group, God forbid, they may lead a small group. But the Spirit expressly says - not might be saying - but expressly says, that there will be a time when they won't be here anymore. They will have devoted themselves to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons, and through the insincerity of liars their consciences will have been seared. They will be confused about food and marriage. They will depart. How do we prevent this, in ourselves, or others? The rest of the chapter gives the method, and I will highlight that later.

But lets take a quick second to imagine how this could happen practically. Paul says that everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. We may not abstain from foods, or forbid marriage (my wife and I love cooking while watching the Food Network, which I guess would be the double whammy), but Paul says everything. What all do we fail to recognize from God and fail to give thanks, and fail to even consider the connection to the word of God and prayer? This is very convicting and powerful. Saying a prayer before a meal is not a burdensome routine. It can and should be a precious application of Scripture to the glory of God. Same thing when you have a good day at work. Or when you have a bad day. Or when you have fun with friends. Or when you experience nature. EVERYTHING created by God is good and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. What will stop us from departing from the faith if we are not considering this perspective with everything in our lives?

Paul is not done. About the rich, he warns that the desire for riches leads to temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that cause ruin and destruction. He says that through the craving for riches some have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. Ouch. At risk of oversimplifying, what is the application here? Don't desire money. You can have it, but check your desire. It could destroy you. Paul ends the letter pleading with Timothy to avoid irreverent babble and contradictions that are falsely called knowledge, because by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Paul doesn't want us to swerve. Hold faith! Train your conscience! Take hold of eternal life! Don't coast!

5. Sound doctrine

I am writing too much. But how could I not?! This theme is dear to my heart. God has convicted me of it for some time, and if you've read any of this blog before, you know that. See This is the Word of God, or The Whole Counsel of God for more from me on this. Paul encourages Timothy to charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine. He says that the law is for those who practice whatever is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God. He says that if you put these things, namely the practice of giving thanks for everything God created, before the brothers, you will be a good servant, trained in the words of the faith and the good doctrine you have followed. He says that if anyone teaches a different doctrine, and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. Nothing. He says, O Timothy! Guard the deposit entrusted to you.

What is he saying? Well, one thing he is saying is that there is unsound doctrine. One things he has to mean is that there is a different doctrine. There are words that are contrary to those of Jesus. There is teaching that does not accord with godliness. How in vain we dismiss our different interpretations of Scripture as reason to think there is no correct interpretation! There is. What else would Paul be saying here? While I have labored over this point in various posts, here I will take you to Luke 24. Jesus, after he rose from the dead, appeared on the road to Emmaus, and later to his disciples. What did he say to them? What did he care about? He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. He opened up their minds to understand the Scriptures. He said, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. Thus, it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem." Was that just Jesus' interpretation? No. Those are the sound words. That is the sound doctrine. We are to hold it!

And we are to watch it. If we watch it closely, alongside our life, which should confirm it, what does Paul tell Timothy will happen? We will save both ourselves and our hearers. This charge has transformed the way I think about and live the Christian life. I first was taken by it through a conference talk by Matt Chandler on 1 Timothy 4 and what it looks like to "shepherd unregenerate sheep". Chandler says that this verse is saying that there is a way to preach (proclaim) and a way to live (demonstrate) that confirms the presence of the Spirit, or the absence of the Spirit, in people's lives. We have to do both, though. We can't just preach by our actions, and we can't just make our actions preaching. But there is a way to balance both faithfully that reveals what God is doing in other people. This has informed the way I interact at work, in church community, and in my family. God blessed me greatly at my wedding rehearsal dinner where my dad, during his toast, confirmed the effectiveness of this in he and my mom. Amazing grace! My wife has confirmed the same. And I confirm it in her! Praise God! I pray this is just the beginning, as balancing this is a lifelong challenge, for me, and for you!

6. Faith and love

These two words are together a lot in the Bible. Often, they are accompanied by hope. In 1 Timothy though, just the pair is used in several places. Paul says that the grace of our Lord overflowed for him, with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Grace through faith and love, which is in Christ Jesus. He says about women, that they will be saved through child-bearing, if they continue in faith and love (and holiness). Faith and love saves? Paul tells Timothy to set for the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in faith, in love, and in purity. Faith and love as an example. He says to flee from the temptations of riches, and to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness. Faith and love, among other things, as a means to flee those things that would cause us to swerve away from Jesus. What are we to make of these words used together so often? Well, certainly, they are not used exclusively; many other words are used with them that are of great value to us. But they do appear to be highlighted by Paul for a reason. What I can gather is that they embody Jesus. Faith in Jesus brings us to him, love is what flows from Him through us once we are in Him, and faith is what holds us in Him, made possible by His love. So faith is what brings us to, and keeps us in, Jesus, and love is what made and what makes faith possible, and is what embodies Jesus so fully that once we are in Him it flows through us also. They cannot be separated.

7. But I received mercy

Can anyone say that Paul's testimony is not also their own? But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief. We're all ignorant. We lived in unbelief and the only way we could have escaped that ignorance and unbelief is if God opened our hearts and minds by his mercy. He did not have to do that, and be God. But he did! That is mercy. And the grace he gave in this overflowed! It is unending. Paul goes on to say that he received mercy for a reason. What reason? Did I receive mercy for a reason? Yes! What? So that Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example for those who were to believe in Him for eternal life. That truth requires a doxology. Bring it Paul: To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever! Amen!

Peter talks about how we are now marked by mercy. It is like we are branded. He says that once we were not a people, but now we are God's people. Once - we had not received mercy, but now, we have! It should define us! Does it?

8. Jesus came to save sinners

This theme is so straight forward, yet transforming, I need not bother to write more than required. Why did Jesus come into the world? Why did the Second Person of the Trinity, who by whom and through whom the world was created, and who upholds the universe by the word of his power; why did he come to earth as a human baby? There must have been a reason! Yes. It was to save sinners. Let's not add to that. There is so much depth to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, so much purpose and plan set in motion before the foundation of the world; so much was happening and so much was accomplished, and it is bigger than any of us, and more wonderful and profound than we could ever articulate. But we know this: He came to save sinners. Period.

9. I am the foremost

And guess what? I am the foremost. I am the worst sinner I know. And he came to die for me. And for you! I recently had a dialogue on a blog about whether we needed to refer to ourselves as the worst sinner we know. Some didn't think this was necessary. Such self-hatred is unhealthy, they say. Clearly, there are worse sinners than us. Right? I mean, like Hitler. Come on! I went on to explain why I think this misunderstands sin just a tad. Here is what I said:

"The reason I think it’s important for you and maybe others to consider is that it’s kind of built-in accountability and humility. If I am the worst sinner I know, than I can never look down on someone else as worse than me, puffing up my spiritual pride and derailing my trajectory within the grace of God, and reducing my ability to love them as more important than myself (1 John). God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. So that’s where I try to be, and it’s not easy. But if I wasn’t the worst sinner I know, and I know my sin (I don’t know anyone else’s), than it would be really hard!

"Don’t take this concept to the extreme, comparing to Hitler or serial killers or what not. I’m trying to live where I am. I don’t interact with the Hitlers of the world. But if Paul, converted by the power of the Holy Spirit, and conformed into the likeness of Christ to the point where God commissioned him to take the gospel to the Gentiles, and inspired him to write much of the NT, giving clarification and perspective on the Christian life, and encouragement and rebuke to churches, if this man considered himself the chief of sinners, what does that make me? If I were to compare, I clearly would fall short of even the standard he sets, not to mention Jesus!

"So considering myself the worst of sinners is just perspective for me that the sin I have, and have been freed from the penalty of, yet still subjected to the power and presence of, is the same sin as the next guy. Not Hitler (although theologically I would argue it is), but my neighbor who lets his dog poop on my lawn, or my friend from college who struggled with sexual temptation two times a week more than me. If I didn’t consider myself the “worst”, what would stop my prideful heart from ranking those people “less godly” than me because all observable evidence shows I am slightly better? The internal, unobservable evidence is more significant.

"When I say 'worst sinner', I don’t mean 'commit the worst sins', even though in some cases that may be true. I mean I have indwelling sin that is capable of the worst sins, and since I know my sin and what I’ve done (I don’t know what you’ve done), than logically I am the worst sinner I know. I think this is very helpful for the Christian life, and frankly, the alternative is unimaginable to me."

10. Household of God

Church is a family. How awesome is that? Paul writes to Timothy and says that he hopes to come to him soon, but is writing so that if he delays, Timothy may know how we ought to behave in the household of God. We are the family of God, and not just God, but the living God. Coming to church during the time I have been meditating on this book has been so sweet, and although I don't know everyone at my church the same way I know my family, there is something special about being among the people of God in corporate worship. God didn't have to reveal His glory this way, but he did! He does! The element of community that this theme highlights is so important to me. We need arms and legs and elbows and hands and feet and earlobes in the body of Christ, all walking in the manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

11. Pillar of truth

Not only is our community to be the household of God, the church of the living God, but it is to be a pillar and buttress of the truth. Our charge is to guard the truth that leads to life. I said much about this is my previous post. The church is to guard the truth that leads to life. That is a weighty charge. It has life and death implications. The truth isn't just fun, or helpful, or prestigious, or profitable; it leads to life! Without it, we get death. Think about that. Truth is not a component of the pathway to life. It is the pathway. Jesus said to Pilate, "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world— to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice." After this, Pilate asked Jesus, "What is truth?" Why didn't Jesus answer his question? Well, maybe he did. It's just not recorded. But by the grace of God, this truth is not elusive to us. It is Jesus. And Jesus leads to life. He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, and taken up in glory. 

12. Train Yourself for Godliness

Godliness matters. Holiness matters. Paul wants us to the keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. Cheap grace is a different doctrine. Kevin DeYoung has said that one thing that the young reformed resurgence in the church has not been clear enough about is the pursuit of holiness. I think he is right and at least for me that is very convicting. I just finished reading The Disciplines of Grace by Jerry Bridges, and that is perhaps another post. I also am embarking on a small group community life experience on the concept (Biblical concept, by the way) of mortifying (killing) sin, so I know God has only scratched the surface of his speaking to me in this area, and I will have much more to communicate in the near future! But for now, Paul charges Timothy to actively pursue godliness.

What is godliness? God-like-ness? What is God like? Jesus? So, we are just to be like Jesus? Is that even possible (in this life)? What if we just shoot for Paul-like-ness? Isn't that more obtainable (the answer is probably no)? Is that sufficient?

No. Even though Paul said to imitate his way of life, he also said, I am the foremost. Which is it? What is his way of life? How can an active pursuit of "godliness", which is Jesus-like-ness, be a good thing, if it is virtually unobtainable? Aren't we just setting ourselves up for disappointment? How about if we just continue in sin, so that grace may abound?

If that were the case, what does Paul mean by "train yourselves for godliness"? Apparently, there is a value to actively pursuing godliness. And thankfully, we are not left with little or unclear instruction on how this works, or what the benefit is. What is the benefit? Bodily training is of some value, but godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and the life to come. It is of value in every way. It is beneficial in every way possible! Now, valuable and beneficial does not mean we pursue it for our own gain. Oh, no. Paul doesn't let us get away with that. In fact, if we stray from the teaching that accords with the godliness that we are to pursue, we are puffed up with conceit and understand nothing. That would be idiotic. If we do that, it shows that we have an unhealthy craving for controversy that causes envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people. If we do that we show ourselves to be depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. God forbid!

But how does it work? How do we train ourselves for godliness? How was Paul saying it could work for Timothy? It could work for Timothy because he had been trained in the words of the faith. That means he had been nourished, brought up in the words of the faith, the Scriptures. It gave him spiritual strength. Does it give it us strength? Are we letting it? How else does it work? By avoiding things that are silly, and irrelevant, and by making an intentional effort to set apart your life for God's purposes. Intentional effort, because this does not happen automatically.

But Paul says that godliness is ultimately a mystery. And the fact that it is a mystery does not mean it is unimportant. Quite the contrary. It means it is amazing. It means that the gospel is that God is making us like Him; He is making us holy. How is he doing that? Through His life (he was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels), and through the church (he was proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory). How is our church life? Well, that is where Christ's work is being proclaimed and believed, so that is where we need to be. I am so thankful it is where I am.

And how do we make this reality, this mystery, our own? How do we move past being disciplined, or active in our pursuit of godliness, just for the sake of itself? Train yourself for godliness, so you can be godly, because God is making you godly. Is that it? What if he doesn't? How do we know? Paul says, "to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on God, who is the Savior of all men, especially those who believe." We hope.

13. Hope set on God

We hope! To this end we toil and strive. How could we do that without hope? We can't. Paul prays for the Colossians that they would be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy! So we need strength to hope. We need to understand that the Christian life is not easy, but that is so far from meaning it is hopeless! Any notion in our society, or in some cases even within the church, that implies that the Christian life brings prosperity and health as a direct result, is blasphemy, and blown out of the water by Colossians 1:11. That type of promise would leave so little room for hope. Who hopes for what he sees? Paul prays that we have power, so that we can endure and be patient. Endure what? Be patient in what? Our good health? No! In hardship, which is common life for the Christian. And he prays that we can have this endurance, and patience, with joy.  You can't really force joy, you know? Think about being in the middle of a trial, perhaps loss or serious illness, or lack, and just trying to be joyful. Like an apple tree trying to push out an apple by sheer force. But you can't. Its not automatic. You want to have joy, but it doesn't come. What do you do?!

Root your life in hope. What hope? I just lost my job, my life is a wreck, I can't pay the bills, I feel physically terrible. What hope? Hope that these light and momentary afflictions are producing for you a weight of glory far beyond all comparison. Hope that the sufferings of this life are not even worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us. Hope that Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, died as a sacrifice and payment for our sins, and God raised him from the dead, conquering death and revealing that the sacrifice he made on our behalf was approved by the Father and we can one day raise with him in glory. And there is coming a day, when he will come back and make all things new. He will wipe away every tear, and there will be no more suffering or death!

Stop for a second.

Think about that. Quantify the comparison. 80 years of suffering. Eternity of perfect joy. It is real! Hope in that!

Paul says to the Colossians that we were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds. He says to the Ephesians that we were dead in the trespasses and sins in which we once walked; we were at one time alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. No hope! Are we still there? No! We have had the eyes of our hearts enlightened, Paul says, that we may know the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe. What power? The power that God worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places. The same power that Paul is  praying about for the Colossians so that they would endure with joy. And the same power that is what we need as we toil and strive (not coast) in the Christian life. The same power that the widow, for example, rests in as she has been left all alone. She hopes! And continues in supplications and prayers night and day. What a model for all of us, in our various situations.

And if even this hope does not come at first, my experience has taught me that the application is to not shift. Sometimes, we can't force hope or joy, even when we want to. Intellectually Christ is more beautiful than our sin and is worth our suffering, but we just can't talk our hearts into feeling this reality and acting on it. What do we do? We don't shift. We plant ourselves at the cross. Paul says in Colossians that if we continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, then he will present you blameless on that day. Don't shift! Sometimes it is hard to hope. But if you remain steady, not shifting one way or the other from the hope you may not yet even have, it will come.

How do you know if you've shifted from the hope of the gospel? Here are some questions that help you know: Do you have a heart for the lost today? Do you have a heart for the poor? Do you have an eternal perspective in trials? Are you enslaved to selfishness? Are you enslaved to the fear of man? Are you not confessing sin? Are you seeking satisfaction in other things? Are the spiritual disciplines a part of your routine? Take heed! You may be shifting! Go back to the hope of the gospel, and wait there until God shows up. And he will! O, that you would know that he will!

14. Take hold of eternal life

Finally, the charge to take hold of the eternal life to which I was called and about which I made the good confession, has been life-changing. I have looked for, and have seen, daily applications of this. I suppose it will take a lifetime to completely articulate this wonderful reality. But suffice it to say that the picture of me, as a Christian, taking hold of something - like, physically grabbing it - has been helpful and transforming. How do you grab eternity?

Flee! Run from those things that are obviously bad (Galatians 5). You are a man of God! And pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. What does that look like, specifically? Well, I reckon there are a million ways to describe what that looks like. I'll mention one: Look to Jesus.

I mean, look to him! Do you see him? What does he look like? Is he smiling? What is his nature to you? What is his relation to you? I mean, specifically, who is he?? Do you see him? What about him is striking to you? Surely, something is. Look!

Consider his Father: He is invincible. He is immortal; he alone has immortality. He just is. He dwells in unapproachable light. He is beyond the reaches of sinful people. He is invisible. He is beyond human sight and comprehension. He is Eternal. He is Sovereign. He created the structures of language that make this sentence intelligible. He created the resources in creation and capacity in human brains for the Internet to function and this blog to be available.

Yet, Jesus is the image of the invisible God. He is the exact representation of the Father. What? In his face, we see the glory of God. Look to Jesus, and you will see God! He was made visible for our sake. He is not beyond our reach and his nature and work is not beyond our sight or comprehension. And he upholds the universe by the word of his power. Look! Draw near the throne of grace with confidence, made possible by his blood. Look! Do you see him?

With this conviction and desire, and my eyes to Jesus, I approach Paul's letter to the Colossians.