Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Word of the Cross: A foolish notion to some...the power and wisdom of God to others

Somewhat regularly I pause and marvel at how I count the cross of Christ so precious while so many other people think it's an empty, powerless symbol. Scripture testifies to this strange opposition of views concerning Christ and his cross.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. - 1 Corinthians 1:18

By the "word of the cross", Paul means the gospel.  The word of the cross means good news for sinners who must have their sins atoned for.  The word of the cross is a simple phrase that refers to Christ’s substitutionary death for us. The word of the cross is another way of saying Christ pays all for our sin and we pay nothing.  Paul is talking about Christ’s righteousness being credited to us in exchange for our sin being credited to Him.  The word of the cross means Christ had to be crucified to appease God's justice on our behalf.  The word of the cross has some very pointed implications attached.  The word of the cross says our sin is so bad, it must be paid for by death on the cross.  Our sin is so pervasive and all-destroying that only a perfect Savior could remedy our awful and miserable plight-by a gruesome death on the cross.

This "word of the cross" is foolish to some. Those who are still dead in their trespasses and sins cannot see the word of the cross in any kind of favorable light.  It is a silly notion, that Christ would have to die for sins he didn't commit.  It is an implausible proposition to say we are such sinners that we cannot save ourselves and must have a substitute.  The word of the cross is foolish to many people because they simply cannot see how truly heinous their sin is.  People want to believe humankind is basically good.  When push comes to shove, people are loving and kind, say those who dismiss the word of the cross. Yes, there is such a thing as "sin", but it's not really THAT bad.  The word "sin" has largely been substituted with "mistake", a subtle way to lessen the truth about sin, iniquity, and transgressions. The idea of Christ’s substitutionary death is foolish as it is unnecessary. The word of the cross is downplayed, denied, or mocked because there really isn’t a true sense of how radically destructive sin is.

Only God can open the eyes of one who thinks the "word of the cross" is folly.

For those who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, the word of the cross stands out as God's glorious apex of redemption.  For those who are born again, the cross of Christ represents salvation.  Unlike those who deem the cross foolish, we who "are being saved" have been made able to see the truth about our sin and it is terrifying.  When the actual sin and misery that is our human estate is identified, there is a sense of dread that overtakes us.  We cannot know the full weight and burden of this sin unless God, by His Spirit, awakens us to it.  But once we are given a true picture and concept of our sin and it's depth and width, the cross of Christ shines in our eyes as the only hope we have to be rescued.  When an authentic picture of our wickedness and spiritual deadness is comprehended, only Christ and His work on the cross makes sense and gives us refuge and relief.

We are like people thrown off the deck of the Titanic in to the icy sea.  We are bobbing in the water with a very limited amount of time before our bodies succumb to hypothermia and our limbs give up their strength.  What terror those people must have felt as it became more and more difficult to keep their heads above the water.  But, for some, one of the few life boats broke through the fog of that night.  What was on the minds of those lucky few who were plucked from the ocean when a life boat came their way?  Rescued!!  I am saved!!  We are like those people fighting to tread water, with only minutes to live, and the life boat that came and plucked them from their grave is like Christ's work on the cross.  Christ is our only hope.  Indeed, the word of the cross is salvation to us through Christ.

At base level, the word of the cross opposes the natural wisdom of sinful man.  Man’s wisdom says he’ll be alright on his own. Man's natural intuition tends to downplay the idea of personal guilt or sin. God's wisdom shines the light of the truth on sin and reveals man's wisdom as not wise at all.  Paul turns the argument against those who do not believe- those who thought of the gospel as foolish. What man thinks of as foolish, that is, the word of the cross, is actually far wiser than the most profound "wisdom" you can conjure as human beings.

For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. - 1 Corinthians 1:15

What do you think of the word of the cross?  Is it foolish or is it the power and wisdom of God?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

America's new low- women sent to fight

Outgoing U.S. Secretary of Defense is announcing a lifting of the ban on women in combat today or tomorrow.This is a move being cheered by many who insist the ages old practice of not allowing women to fight on the front lines of battle is a violation of equal rights.

I am of the persuasion that it is part of God's design that men be protectors of women (and children), so the notion of sending women to fight national battles offends me.  More bluntly- even serious consideration about putting our mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters on the front line of battle is an indicator of a culture teetering on the edge of destruction.

I am not saying women cannot serve in the military in some way, but rather they should not be sent in to combat.  The picture above is "Rosie the Riveter", celebrating the integral contribution of women in WWII where they were responsible for constructing many of the military vehicles and planes used in Europe against the Nazi's and Japan. There are plenty of biblical arguments about women not being formally charged with defending a nation or sent to combat (there are some cases where woman is called to "save the day", but these are clearly exceptions usually due to weak, unfaithful men).  John Piper has said quite a bit on this subject.  He really lays it out there when he said-

"If I were the last man on the planet to think so, I would want the honor of saying no woman should go before me into combat to defend my country. A man who endorses women in combat is not pro-woman; he’s a wimp. He should be ashamed. For most of history, in most cultures, he would have been utterly scorned as a coward to promote such an idea. Part of the meaning of manhood as God created us is the sense of responsibility for the safety and welfare of our women."

Adding to this, Piper wrote later-

"My whole position assumes that competencies and character are not the criteria for who fights the enemy. Women may be more courageous than men in any given situation. They may have nobler vision. They may be smarter. That is not the issue. What God has written on our hearts and designed for our survival and our joy is the issue. Manhood puts itself forward between the women and the enemy. That is part of what manhood means. That is who we are by God’s design. The courage of women will show itself in a hundred ways. But when a man is around, he will not exploit that courage to fight the battle where he belongs."

Lots of new lows for America these past several years.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Martin Luther King's Challenge to the Church

My favorite section of Martin Luther King's famed 1963 "Letter from Birmingham Jail" is a challenge to the Church.  He chides the Church for it's lack of leadership and voice against the oppressive racism of the day. He reminds us of the historic bravery of the Church as agents of change regarding wicked practices.

This letter was written before abortion was legalized in the U.S., but I think it's safe to say what Martin Luther King would say about the treatment of the most oppressed people in our current culture- the unborn.

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators." But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.

Today is not only Martin Luther King Day, it is the occasion of the inauguration of our 44th President, Barack Obama.

May God change our President's heart and grant him the conviction of Martin Luther King as it relates to relieving the plight of the most oppressed people in our country.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Controlled Rant: He really doesn't get it?

President Obama is a very intelligent man. He's a Harvard graduate and a proven motivator and communicator.

He is exceptionally liberal politically and socially. His prolific spending rate and effort to grow the Federal Government at least betrays his political philosophy.  His views on religion, abortion, and gay marriage (to name a few things) reveal his social views (and world view).  

After two recent mass shootings, where deranged individuals mowed down innocent people, it seems he believed the iron was hot and so decided to strike in the arena of gun control.  Gun control is a big deal in this country, as we have an amendment (the second, no less) to protect private gun ownership. This particular amendment was included to safeguard citizens against a tyrannical government. Virtually all the despotic leaders of world history were able to grow their empires and pour out their evil when the citizenry was unarmed and unable to resist.  President Obama thinks banning certain guns will curb psychos from stealing guns and committing murder. Some suggest his push to exact more government control over private gun ownership reveals more sinister long term motives.  I don't think such is the case, but rather believe he sees the government and law-making/enforcing as the way to shape a more perfect society.  He has fundamental misunderstandings about the nature of mankind, the right role of government, and history. For the record, before I go farther- I don't put his socialist political advocacy on the same level of importance as his promotion of weak or wrong moral/social standards. A socialist country that actually protected religious liberty, didn't promote abortion or legitimize gay marriage wouldn't be that bad, would it?  OK, that's s different discussion.  Suffice to say, I think moral decay and corruption is what ultimately leads to a given society's undoing.

Back to my controlled rant-

Again, the President and his close supporters are highly educated individuals. He staged his big gun control announcement surrounded by little children. In his speech he waxed poetic about enacting 23 (expensive) executive orders aimed at reducing gun-related violence. The strangest in Obama’s gun proposals today was his deputizing of family doctors who will be asked to rat on gun owners.  Maybe, as some have suggested, it connects with Obamacare.  Eventually,when everyone has to go to government doctors, these doctors can also find out if their patients own guns?  Apparently he thinks physicians should be able to diagnose mental illness when doing an exam for strep throat?  Of his 23 executive orders, I doubt any of them will be genuinely effective in slowing gun-related violence. But then again, the President really thinks the government can fix most things.  During his highly emotionalized speech (thanks to the children he used as props surrounding him), he also spoke of legislation that will ban certain firearms and high capacity magazines.  "We must do it for the children", so he and others say.

Here's the thing I just don't get: The President and his numerous political cohorts speak of doing what's best for the children when promoting these new gun control orders and bills...yet, many of the same people also promote abortion on demand and partial birth abortion. Explain how this is resolved in their minds. President Obama, when he was in the Illinois Legislature, voted against a bill (four times!) that would protect a baby born alive after a failed abortion, but he wants to lecture us on more gun control as what is best for the children? OK, for those who are pro-abortion, I can sort of see how the abortion procedure is rationalized in the first 10-12 weeks, after all, it's not a baby yet, right?  But come on, the kind of sick rationalizing it takes to look at a baby in the womb past 20 weeks and not see at least nascent human life is staggering.  But what about partial birth abortion, which President Obama effectively advocates by his votes and protection?  Partially delivering a nearly full-term baby and cutting off it's head? Excuse me if I don't care in the least what he says about what's best for the children.  His moral compass is way too screwed up to make such a judgment- not just his, I realize, but a whole lot of incredibly powerful, responsible-to-God, elected and appointed leaders and judges. 

These are dreary days in a very sin sick land.  More and more we are calling evil good and good evil. Such a societal ethic never ends well.  

May God have mercy on us all. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Schaff on Zwingli and the aim of the Reformation

Zwingli made it his chief object 'to preach Christ from the fountain,' and 'to insert the pure Christ in to the hearts.'  He would preach nothing but what he could prove from the Scriptures, as the only rule of Christian faith and practice.  

This is a reformatory idea; for the aim of the Reformation was to reopen the fountain of the New Testament to the whole people, and to renew the life of the Church by the power of the primitive gospel.  By his method of preaching on entire books he could give his congregation a more complete idea of the life of Christ and the way of salvation than by confining himself to detached sections.  

He did not at first attack the Roman Church, but only the sins of the human heart; he refuted errors by the statement of truth.  

- Philip Schaff, The History of the Christian Church; The Swiss Reformation

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Irony of Armstrong

Am I the only one who would find it ironic if it was discovered that Lance Armstrong's doping (which he has adamantly denied for years...until his upcoming interview with Oprah) is actually what caused the cancer he is credited with fighting so valiantly. Indeed- live strong. We are a complex species.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Some honest thoughts about the death of ones you love

Shari took this picture of my daughter at my father's grave today. It brings home the perpetual, recurring insult of death. Death is a rude and awful visitor. Yes, God has removed the ultimate sting of death because of Christ's resurrection, but this side of heavenly glory every good memory of a departed person is accompanied by the aching fact of their earthly absence.  When people say that grief gets better over time, they are unwittingly referring to the way you start forgetting daily interactions and detailed memories that make you miss the person. That's the sad truth about the human separation that death brings. It only gets better because you forget so much. We try to comfort each other by saying the departed person is in "a better place". That is true, but I am not in a better place. After all, grief is about me, not the person who died. Be honest about that. We Christians are often enough guilty of telling each other, and ourselves, trite little spiritual cliches because we don't think it's right to feel so grieved and conflicted about our loved one's dying for so long. Hardcore grieving has a scripturally allotted timeframe, but the constant, dull, pain of missing a loved one carries no such limited timespan.

We forget things we should not, we remember things we should forget, and we often skew past events to fit the way we want to remember. The human mind and thinking process is flawed and feeble.  It is a kind gift from God that He allows remembrance of some things so vividly, but it is also gracious how he dulls our memory about certain other happenings.

It distresses me regularly that eighteen months after his death, I cannot remember all I want about our life together. I drive by my father's grave every day as it is literally 150 yards from my office door. The daily sighting of his grave attempts to trigger the sad memory of his death (here I mean both his actual death, which I witnessed, and his state of being separated from me).  Some times I fight off the trigger and re-holster the gun of mourning, so to speak.  I choose not to let my mind probe the depressing feeling.  Other times I panic a bit and try to voluntarily flood my memory with good thoughts and recollections of my Dad.  Most often I think of him in our house, sitting in one of the recliners with one or more of our kids on his lap.  Regularly enough the mental image I choose to conjure is stopping over at his house and catching him taking a rest on the back deck before puttering in the garden some more.  He'd give me a few thoughts about the country's woes and maybe a comment about something funny one of the kids said or did. When I am doing things with my sons that I used to do with Dad, like going to a sporting event, or even just driving back and forth to this place or that, I think back on such times with Dad.  When sadness comes, I do my best to fill my mind with pleasant thoughts of Dad.

Here's what I've come to learn over these eighteen months since Dad's passing.  I'm forgetting things and I hate it.  I have a reasonable memory.  I read enough and study at a rate that should allow me quicker recall on things, right?  Still, my aforementioned exercise, that helps me fight off melancholy feelings, keeps going back to the same repeated memories. The cost of going to the same recollections over and over is the loss of so many other events. Just a year and a half later and I'm losing some of the details about the many times I had with Dad.

Here's what I've come to discover in dealing with my father's death. You don't get over it.  I believe the pain will turn to joy some day, but right now, there's no joy in being separated.  Our life is very different with him gone. Obviously, life for my mother, his life partner, is radically different and adjusting to the new "normal" is painstakingly slow. With my father being fifteen years older than my mother, we vaguely contemplated life after Dad was gone, but now that time has been here a while and bluntly, it still sucks. There have been many, many great blessings and joys to celebrate in these past eighteen months, but there again, it is impossible to stop my heart from wishing Dad was here to be part of these things.

With each day that passes, it's harder to remember.  For my young boys, how much will they remember?  How about the little girl above, my father's only granddaughter? Can we remember enough so that she can know Pepa?  Yes, I do know she'll meet him some day.  That relieves some pain.

Shouldn't my faith in Christ be transforming my grieving experience?  Shouldn't I be more positive and strive to center my thoughts on the profound biblical realities about sure eternal life in Christ and my definite reunion with my father in heaven? Well, on the first question- I am quite sure my faith in Christ allows me to be totally honest about my dismal feelings regarding Dad's death. Death is an aberration to God's created order.  It's not supposed to feel natural or right. Sorry, but no personal life event from now until I die will be better without Dad being here. On the second question, it is the profound biblical reality of an eternal glory that outweighs these temporary trials that safeguards me from utter hopelessness and despair.  Dad will not be my only loved one to pass before I die. How will I endure such times? What would I do if I was not sure about the ultimate consummation of things in Christ?  How utterly awful it must be not knowing the living Christ.

These are my true thoughts, as I look at my daughter sitting in a cemetery- that she doesn't know is a cemetery- on a finely carved memorial stone-that she can't read- sitting six feet above the earthly shell of the man she didn't get to know nearly well enough and who I am fighting not to forget.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.  -2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Thursday, January 3, 2013

In to 2013 we go...

Flashmobs are cool.  I like this one done last Spring in Italy.  It's a great way to start 2013 on Reepicheep.