Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Too Hard to Put into Words

Our last verse for the Lenten season is Isaiah 53:12. It is a difficult verse. If you compare translations, you'll find that they come up with different ways of trying to get the Hebrew out. 

For example, the NIV says, "Therefore I will give him a portion with the great or many." The NLT says, "I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier." The ESV says, "I will divide him a portion with the many." Clear as mud, you say? Agreed. Perhaps that is the point of the whole verse. The divine prize and purpose of the person of Jesus is so unfathomable that it is too difficult for any language to put into words. Let's try our best to "unmuddy" those waters. 

Jesus, a child born under suspicious circumstances (at least from the world's perspective), born to poor parents, who lived in a small village of no notable factors ("can anything good come out of Nazareth?"), who was a teacher, but never started a school, who was a great theologian, but never wrote a book, who gathered tax collectors, prostitutes, and common laborers as his followers, and who was murdered in his early thirties...this man shall be given a portion with the great men and women of the world for all history to record and ponder. Clear water yet? I didn't think so. 

It wont' be because of his military prowess or political persuasion but for something more notable, more noble, more unique. Quite frankly, unheard of and for many, unbelievable. 

"...and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isa. 53:12 NIV)

Many have given their lives for others - a noble self-sacrifice. But no one has been able to be our substitute to satisfy the wrath of God...once for all. 

"Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:7-8)

If one truly thinks about it, it's almost too hard to put into words. 

Perhaps that's the point. Perhaps that's why he is so great. 



Wednesday, March 25, 2020

I Wouldn't, I Couldn't

10 "Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
 11 After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities." (Isa. 53:10-11 NIV)

When I was at the Chinese church in Oregon, I was told a story that portrayed a redemptive act of father and son. 

There once were two warring families that gathered together for a great day of battle. And as sometimes happens (David and Goliath), the two kings agreed to send a representative to perform a great feat of courage. The two kings agreed to send their only sons. The two sons were to swim out into the middle of a lake and go under water. The first to rise for a breath would lose and their family would be slaves to the other. So the boys swam out and went under. Seconds became minutes. Minutes seemed to be hours. One of the boys eventually came up for air. Gasping, struggling, he swam to the shore to the embarrassment of his father and to the enslavement of his people. A loud cheer waved through the other side. The gloating smile of the victorious king stretched from ear to ear. But the water remained still and silent. Seconds became minutes. Minutes seemed to be hours. The other son, for the love of his father, for the love of his people, had gone down to the bottom and tied his clothing to a sunken tree root. The son had willingly drowned. 

It is very difficult for me to understand the love of Jesus for me. I don't understand how a person that I didn't know, who was perfect in every way, would even consider giving his life for me. "God demonstrated his love for me in that while I was a sinner Christ died for me" (Romans 5:8). Easy to memorize. Horrible for me to consider. 

But even more difficult is the idea of a father doing that to his own child - sending that child to a horrific death for others who rejected and despised him. There was no coming up for air. There was only death. To try and understand how a good Father would willfully crush his own Son, to cause him to suffer...I can't. I wouldn't. I couldn't. He did. 

The only way that this makes sense is to see the hope that is attached to his son's suffering. And by the way, don't jump to the selfish conclusion that this is about you. It's about Jesus. Although his life is cut short, although he will never marry or have children of his own, he will have offspring and more than you can count. The will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. He will see the light of life again because the Father will not let him rot in the grave. He will justify many and be the one who receives praise and glory and honor for bearing the sins of us all. 

Do I understand? I can't. All I know for certain is that I wouldn't. I couldn't. He did. 

Let us remember the sacrifice of both Father and Son tonight as we go on this Lenten journey together. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Suffering Silently

"7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished.
 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth." (Isa. 53:7-9 NIV)

Part of the sadness of "social separation" is the cancellation of our community Lenten services. Our "loaf and ladle" service (bread and soup suppers together as four churches) was a sweet time of fellowship and our time of worship even more so. As community pastors we have been teaching through sections of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53 and tonight Pastor James would have brought his unique thoughts to bear on the text. 

In his absence and in the absence of Pastor Mark and Steve, I thought I would carry us through. 

There is a contrast from verse 6 to 7. We, like sheep, go astray and we want our own way. It's called "sin." But Jesus, our Passover Lamb, had no sin and yet he suffered for us. And he suffered for us to give us an example of suffering. He took it. He understood that suffering was part of the plan. 

Here is where many Christians unwittingly become Buddhists. My life's goal is to not suffer, to get rid of things that bring suffering, to detach from life in such a way that I will not be affected negatively by this world and the desire for the things of this world. 

How different that is from Jesus who for the joy set before him endured the cross with its suffering and shame. How different that is from Jesus who learned obedience from what he suffered (Heb. 5:8) and became our perfect sacrifice. 

Peter tells us that, "When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 'He himself bore our sins' in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; 'by his wounds you have been healed.' For 'you were like sheep going astray,' but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls." (1 Pet. 2:23-25 NIV)

Notice how many times Peter refers to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah in this short passage. Suffering has a purpose for all of us. It perfects us. It calls us to trust in a just Father. It calls us to a patient witness before our enemies - a witness that ended up bringing many an executioner to faith in Jesus. 

On this night of remembering our Lord and Savior, may the cry of our own heart be, "Not my will by Thine," and our song, "O to Be Like Him" - our beautiful, suffering, Savior. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Contagious

Wow! Its been almost four years since I've hit the keys on this blog - an old friend who has waited patiently for my return. I write not from a renewed desire, but as a necessity. I write because an invisible enemy has taken over the globe - the COVID-19 virus. 

I started this blog many years ago because I wanted to put my thoughts down on issues that on the surface appear to be black and white (having a measure of certainty) but in reality or in practice were very much in the grey zone. 

Today I pick up the writers pen because such is the context that I find myself. The truth is that I don't know the truth about this virus. It is not black and white but a shade of grey. 

I have people in the medical field who are shouting "pandemic" and likening it to the Black Plague that will soon kill 80% of the planet. No one is saying this, of course, but that is what people are hearing. Their reassuring words fall on deaf ears as flights are canceled, grocery stores are inundated with depression minded hoarders, schools cancel, churches shut their doors, sports have come to a halt (they're running reruns of March Madness 2015 - I want a refund from the Cable company), etc... 

I have others in the medical community and even reporters who believe that this is so blown out of proportion that it borders on medical and social malpractice, equated with yelling fire in a crowded movie theatre when a hand full of people were caught smoking cigarettes in the corner. They fear for their jobs to even question the hype. They are not saying that it is not a real concern but equating this with the average influenza, which in the end, and may be statistically proven, to be far worse. 

Then there are those in the middle - people who are sorting it out, trying to follow the rules, being considerate, kind, and helpful, believing and trusting - me and probably most reading this blog. 

I think in the end, it really doesn't matter. We will never know how the strain started. We will never know if it was hype or hell. We just need to give people hope. 

I was thinking about what does matter: No particular order. 

1.  Loving people. Even those we disagree with. 
2.  Being kind and courteous. Pandemics are no excuse for forgetting your manners. 
3.  Being generous. Don't hoard. Look for ways you can responsibly share you possessions. It really does speak to where your treasures lie. 
4.  Community. I am going to miss my church family the next couple of Sundays. I will miss the handshakes, hugs, and kisses. I will miss the greeting of Bruce and Marlene at 8, the hug from Brother Rob, the prayer with the worship team, the old hymns and old saints, young saints and in between. The general atmosphere of belonging and worshipping our Lord and Savior together. So much to be thankful for...
5.  Trusting the one who is the Truth, the Way, and the Life - Jesus. The worst thing the virus can do to me is kill my body, but then I would be with Jesus. "O grave where is your victory, O death where is your sting." No worries on my end. 
6.  Being prepared. I think this is a wakeup call for the Church in general. We should have been expecting things like this to happen. After all, we're going around saying its the "last days" and yet living like we were in an episode of "Happy Days." My prayer is that this is the new normal. Church was never supposed to be a building but a group of people who communed with the phrase "until He comes" as their motivation and expectation. 
7.  Family. I hate being so far away from those who are dearest to us at such a time of crisis. But for such a time as this...we are where God would have us to be. 

Be contagious today. Not with the virus but with what matters. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Remembering Death

"In the year that King Uzziah died..." (Is. 6:1)

King Uzziah, as Jewish kings go, was a good king, up until he went into the Temple and usurped the priest's role. Then he became a leprous recluse until he died. 

Death has a way of shaking things up. It leaves a void, a vacuum. You can imagine what death does when it claims the life of your political ruler. 

Much like our presidential elections, the people wait and wonder what will come with the new. But they must wait. They must wonder. There is nothing they can do to hurry the process or to change its ultimate outcome. 

I was thinking about death this week, especially today as we remember the death of Jesus. What a roller coaster of emotions it must of been for his disciples. Feasting, then hours later fleeing for their lives. Feasting, and then falling back into a new normal as Jesus' life changed them and Jesus' death held them captive. 

I liken it to pastoring for over twenty years, seeing God work first hand in the lives of his people, and then without notice being called back to the farm. I loved the farm but I loved being a vocational servant of God more. I could go back to farming but I would also have, lingering in my spirit, a hope again of something lost. This is what death does. It robs us of something and stays around as illusive hope. It produces a new normal with a lingering spirit of loss that does not go away. Death steals and reminds you each day that it has taken. 

Tonight we remember Death. We must. 




Saturday, January 23, 2016

O Wheaton O Wheaton

"I am the LORD [Yahweh]. That is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols." 

Many have been asking me my thoughts on the Wheaton professor fiasco that has put the evangelical college in the center of yet another politically incorrect headline. 

For those who may not know the story I refer you to the following site:  

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/01/22/wheaton-professors-ask-college-drop-case-against-colleague?utm_source=Inside+Higher+Ed&utm_campaign=2bec496f31-DNU20160122&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1fcbc04421-2bec496f31-197741561

To summarize, Dr. Larycia Hawkins, Associate Professor of Political Science, chose to wear a hajib (Muslim headscarf) and posted the following message on her Facebook page: "I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book." "And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God." 

She is on probation and will be going through the process of termination for violating Wheaton's statement of faith. 

I want to make several observations. 

1.  It first and foremost gives warning to any employer (university, college, ministry, church organization). Just because you check off the box "Christian" or "I agree" doesn't mean anything. If a person tells me that they are a Christian my first responsibility is to ask, "What do you mean by that?" Chances are their definition does not follow the historical, orthodox position. We are in a post-Christian, neo-Christian America. 

2.  It also tells us that at the highest levels of education people can be spiritually ignorant, even in a Christian academic setting. Dr. Hawkins may be a great poli sci teacher but perhaps she should take a few theology classes and especially a comparative religions class. 

3.  If Dr. Hawkins would have had a cursory understanding of the Koran she would have known that the "People of the book" are the Jews. And subsequently the "Book" that she clings to has been "supposedly" corrupted by both Jews and Christians. The Koran is the only true word of "God." See Surah 5 of the Koran. So if you truly want to hold theological hands with a Muslim you are going to have to ditch the Bible and start memorizing the Koran...and it needs to be in Arabic. 

4.  It probably isn't wise to quote a Roman Catholic pope as your source of theological witness in an evangelical Protestant college. There are enormous doctrinal differences. I am not saying that we cannot learn from Romanist writings. I have been blessed to read incredibly insightful and deep theological writings from those who have a genuine and true faith but have remained in the Catholic faith system. 

5.  WE DO NOT SERVE THE SAME GOD! Please take a moment Dr. Hawkins and read the Koran. I'll make it easy for you and keep you in the same surah as used above. The Koran, without fail, denies that Jesus is the Son of God, that he is God. It, without fail, denies the trinity. It denies his substitutionary atonement on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. I don't know how else to say this. WE DO NOT SERVE THE SAME GOD! Allah is a false God and Mohammad is a false prophet. 

6.  Tolerance is not the act of being nice and believing that if you sincerely believe it, it must be true. Tolerance is not the act of believing that all roads lead to heaven. True biblical teaching says that there is a way that seems right to a man but in the end it leads to death. In other words, all roads do not lead to the same top of the mountain. Some roads lead you off of a cliff. Jesus said, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father but through me" (Jn. 14:6). He is not a way; he is the only way. And any faith system that denies that biblical truth is a false system of belief - no matter how sincere someone believes it. If Dr. Hawkins believes that we have the same God, she is not a Christian. 

7.  Stand strong Wheaton theology department. Do not let the donor or non-theological threat sway you from biblical convictions. God will bless you financially with other donors if others fall away. God will replace other faculty members. Fire those who continue to support a wrong theology. Perhaps a re-interview is necessary to actually see where some of these non-theo department profs really stand on the issue of Jesus' uniqueness and divinity. One might say that I am too strong on this issue. After all...its poli sci.  The point is that if...I were to recommend a student to Wheaton...it would not matter the discipline. I am recommending Wheaton, not because of their theology department but rather because of their world view that understands the centrality of Jesus in every discipline. And...if that centrality ceases to be central then the discipline fails in its divine course. You might as well attend a secular university. At least you know its not going to pretend it is something that it is not. 

8. We should pray for our Christian colleges and universities. How we need to get back to the basics of our orthodox faith in every discipline. We are called to be set apart from the world. In it, but not of it. Let us educate to that end. 

9. We should pray for Dr. Hawkins. I cannot tell from her writings if she is spiritually lost, spiritually ignorant, or ignorant of Islamic teachings. Perhaps all three. 

10.  To every person in my church family, especially teens that will be heading off to university...know what you believe, especially about Jesus and be able to defend it. There is nothing more intimidating than a professor who does not hold to an orthodox position on the person of Jesus and who seeks to undermine your faith. 







Friday, January 8, 2016

Strangers in the World

"Peter, and apostle of Jesus Christ, to God's elect, strangers in the world..."

I am starting a new series in my English adult Sunday school class called, "Prepared to Suffer:  Studies in First and Second Peter." I am also trying to do something that I have never done before - memorize the whole letter. I just started this week and by God's grace, I have half of the first chapter memorized. I find that it is forcing me to slow down and, as best as can be discerned, has allowed me to enter into Peter's thinking toward the believers scattered across Asian Minor. 

Scripture, per Paul's letter to Timothy, is profitable for teaching, rebuke, correcting, and training in righteousness. In other words, it is transgenerational. Even though Peter is writing to his generation, the word of God is so powerful and insightful that it is equally applicable to my generation and the generations to come. It simply takes on different emphasis. 

For example, twenty years ago I would have read this letter about suffering and would have had to find a copy of Voice of the Martyrs to really grasp the significance. I had never suffered for Christ nor did I anticipate suffering for Christ - at least not like these "other" Christians were doing. 

Fast forward twenty years and now I am having to be careful about my public opinion on gay marriage, on abortion, on cohabitation, on pornography, and even on the inerrancy of  the Bible - and this within the church itself. I am getting a real-time sense of what it must have been like for the early Christians. They were strangers in their own world. Their new belief system was going to be at odds with the existing culture.They were new believers heading into a thoroughly pagan world. 

I, on the other hand, was reared in a "Christian nation" that is now becoming increasingly secular (pagan). I, too, am finding that I am a stranger in this world. The "Christian" values that, in general, governed this nation are slowly transforming into an anti-god or at least into a neo-Christian environment. By "neo-Christian" I mean that the very essence of what it means to be a "Christian" - a follower of the biblical Jesus - is being reinterpreted to mean something new that is unrecognizable to historical, orthodox believers. For example, Jesus is no longer the way but a way to get to God. In evangelical circles we used to be concerned about ecumenicism but now we battle a greater evil - universalism. We have left the battle over inter-Church doctrinal separation and now are fighting the idea that all faiths and philosophies are of equal truth. 

I have taken great interest in the mass migration to Europe from Islamic countries and the refugee problems that have incurred because of such migration. The Bible is full of consideration for the foreigner and the alien and yet there were expectations for their assimilation. Part of the outcry of Americans is that those coming to this country do not assimilate - they do not learn English, they do not bridge to other cultures, they isolate into smaller national communities, and become, "little Italys," "China towns," "Hispanic burrows," or "Muslim sectors." Our "melting pot" is more like a segregated luncheon tray. It's all on the same plate but nothing is touching.

I wonder what this will mean for true followers of Christ in the future. Peter would go on to say, "...live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear." 

What does it mean to live as a "stranger" in my world? Perhaps it means that I am not to be familiar with its customs. Perhaps it means that I am to have a different way of thinking. It may mean that I am unfamiliar with its pleasures or its philosophies. It may mean that my language or manner of speech will always be different. It may mean that my view of the sacred and how I practice that sacredness will be different. How I dress may set me apart or how I voice my opinion or engage in confrontation. 

I was in the airport in L.A. waiting for a delayed flight back to Portland when I sat down next to an orthodox Jew and a bunch of girls he was chaperoning. It was easy for me to recognize the beard, the plain clothes, and the hat. Others took notice when at the time of prayer he removed his left arm from his jacket, rolled up his sleeve, wound the tefillin straps around his arm, and fastened the small phylactery box upon his forehead.  In a quiet voice he recited the afternoon prayers in Hebrew while motioning back and forth with his upper body. He was a stranger in the midst of strangers. 

The question that I must pose to myself is, "Am I a stranger in the world? or is Peter calling me to be a stranger because I look too much like the world?" I am not sure of all of the applications of this to my life yet but I do know this, I am feeling more and more like I do not belong here. 

In the world but not of it....