EQUAL before the Cross with the RIGHT to become Children of God

Today is Good Friday which marks the day the Son of God laid down His life for sinners.  This Sunday we will celebrate His Resurrection and His victory over sin and death.  I think it is no mere coincidence that all this controversy over same-sex marriage and talk of equality and rights should begin on this particular week.

As I have been reflecting today on the death of my Savior, it has put things in perspective for me.  It has been a reminder to always keep the Gospel as my center and my focus.    Of course, an important part of the Gospel is declaring the sinfulness of sin.  For without that, the Gospel would not be the Gospel.  But the Gospel is also a message of glorious grace, of redemption for sinners.  So today, that is what I want to extol.

Everyone in America right now is talking a lot about equality and rights, but perhaps today we should all pause to think about the Man who was equal with God and had every right to condemn us all.  And yet, He “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross!” -Philippians 2:6-8  In the face of such humility and sacrifice, I find that I think differently about my “rights” and “equality.”  The real truth is that we are all equal–equally sinful with equal right to the wages of our sin, which is death (Romans 6:23).  We are all by nature heirs of Adam with rights to his inheritance of death (Romans 5:12).

And yet, because Christ did not act according to His rights, but according to His mercy, we now have a different inheritance.  Before the cross, we are all equal.   We stand on ground that has been neutralized by the sacrifice of His blood and “to all who [receive] Him, to those who [believe] in His name, He [gives] the right to become children of God.” -John 1:12  However, the thing about this right, is that is not ours inherently.  We have no real claim to it apart from the fact that Christ purchased it for us.  So yes, we now have the rights of children of God, but we are “children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”  -John 1:13  You see, the only reason we have this right is because God, in His grace, chose to give it to us.  Therefore, we take hold of it not with pride, but with humility and awe.

So today, let us thank God that “when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive full rights of sons.  Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”  So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” -Galatians 4:4-7  Let us all rejoice that because Christ laid down His rights, we now can trade our inheritance of death for His inheritance of life.  For this, the right given to us and paid for through Jesus’ death and resurrection, is our most precious right of all.

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and pow’r.

cross

As I have been observing the current controversy over same-sex marriage, I have surveyed that, as is the case in so many hot topic issues like this one, debate and discussion from opposing sides can be frustrating and often, fruitless.  Why is that? Well, when it is Christians debating with non-Christians, the answer is fairly obvious; they see the issue from fundamentally opposed world views with fundamentally different presuppositions.  It is hard for a pro-life person and a pro-choice person to get anywhere in agreeing about whether or not abortion is moral because they cannot agree on more fundamental questions:  Is the fetus a human life?  Is human life sanctified by God?  Is there a God? Debate is futile because they are essentially talking about different things, speaking different languages.

I would say the difficulty is the same in the issue of same-sex marriage.  The reason it seems we will never be able to agree is because we cannot agree on the more fundamental questions:  What is the definition of marriage?  Who has the authority to define marriage?  So, I would say that in arguing about same-sex marriage, we are arguing about the wrong thing.  We are putting the cart before the horse.  Christians and non-Christians shouldn’t be conversing about same sex-marriage, but first, about God.

But what about dialogue between Christians and other Christians?  I have observed there is not unity on the issue of same-sex marriage here either.  Many Christians I know are supporting “marriage equality.”  How is it that two people who both believe in God can draw such different conclusions?  I would say that the answer is the same.  It is because they have different conclusions about the more fundamental questions.  Before Christians can dialogue on the question of same-sex marriage, they must dialogue on these questions:  What is True about God and Marriage? And how do we know what is true about God and Marriage?  I will outline the possible answers to these larger questions in the hopes of shedding light on the more specific questions.  I will deal with the latter question first as its conclusion will have implications for the conclusion of the former and then subsequently, the issue of same-sex marriage.

I.  How do we know Truth?  

In answering this question as a Christian theist, there are really two possible answers.  We either let God tell us what is true or we decide what is true.  What we think about the Bible will determine which option we choose.

1)  The Bible is the spoken, authoritative word of God.  

On this understanding, we see the Bible as the spoken, authoritative word of God in which God tells us what is true.  God, as revealed in the Holy Bible, is the authority and we are not.   

2) The Bible is not the spoken, authoritative word of God.

The other option is that we don’t see the Bible as the spoken, authoritative word of God, but a book of general, helpful guidelines that we can pick and choose from.  We are our own authority.

II.  What is Truth?

Now, that we’ve addressed the two possible options of how we know the truth, we can examine where each of them takes us. Either God defines Truth or we do.

1)  Truth is reality as perceived by God. 

If we assume the first position, that is, we take the Bible to be the spoken, authoritative word of God, then it has profound implications for the answer to this question.  The Biblical answer is that truth is reality as perceived by God.  God, who is the infinite, omniscient Creator, perceives reality timelessly and perfectly.  On the other hand, as sinful creatures, we perceive reality through shades of depravity and the trappings of our finitude.  God as Creator has the final word over us, the created.  Therefore, in response to this authority, we submit ourselves to Him and conform our lives and opinions to Truth as revealed in His word.

2) Truth is reality as perceived by me.  

If we assume the second position, that the Bible is not the authoritative word of God, but merely a book of suggestions or options for us to choose from, then we get to decide what is true.  We can pick and choose which parts suit our fancy.  Instead of conforming our opinions to His word, we conform His word to our opinions.  We, the created, dare to dictate to God, the Creator, making Him to serve our purposes.  We make God in our image.

III.  What is true about Marriage?

Now that we have examined the two possible ways of viewing Truth and scripture, we can see where they lead us in terms of issues like gay marriage.

1)  God is the authority on Marriage which He defines as a sacred union between a man and a woman, intended to represent the love of Christ for His Church.

Now, we merely follow the logic where it leads.  As already shown, if the Bible is the spoken, authoritative word of God, then what is true about God and every reality under the sun is what God reveals in His word.  We conform our lives to His authority.  Therefore, our definition of marriage is God’s definition of marriage.

Marriage then, is a sacred institution between husbands and wives (Genesis 2:18-25, Ephesians 5:22-23, Colossians 3:18-4:1), men and women, designed by God to be a representation of Christ and His Church.  Homosexuality is a sin (1 Corinthians 6:9), no worse than others, but a sin nonetheless.  Therefore, same-sex marriage is outside of God’s design for marriage and a degradation of its holiness.

2)  Marriage is whatever we want it to be for whoever wants it. God loves everyone and wants them to be happy and free to marry who they want.  

Again, we merely follow the logic where it leads.  If the Bible is not authoritative, if we don’t allow God to tell us what is true about Himself and reality, then we make God in our own image.  We decide what is true about God, Marriage, and all of life.  We like the part of the Bible about God being loving and accepting so we keep that.  We don’t particularly like the parts about Him being holy, telling us what is sinful, explicitly not accepting certain things so we get ride of those.

It’s quite easy then, to accept same-sex marriage because the God of our making is loving and accepting.  He has no sharp edges, no negative concepts like sin, judgment, or wrath, nothing to offend our tolerant sensibilities.  He’s a lot like a teddy bear.  He doesn’t speak with any kind of real authority, but we give Him a squeeze to reaffirm our own subjective convictions.

IV.  Redefining Marriage or Redefining God?

I fall into the first camp.  I believe that the Bible is God’s spoken, authoritative Word which reveals to me what is true about God, Marriage and all of life.  Therefore, my convictions about Marriage are not based on what I think Marriage is or should be.  They are based on what God tells me Marriage is.  I submit to the authority of God as God.  I do not submit God to my authority.

So then, I would have to ask Christians who support same-sex marriage if they are merely redefining Marriage or redefining God?  Is the god they speak of really the God of the Bible or the god of their own making?  If we do not base our understanding of God and all of life on the Bible, what do we base it on?

Ultimately, convictions formed apart from the authority of Scripture are nothing but subjective.  They have no real weight or substance but are solidly and firmly founded on thin air.  I would urge people to be cautious in tossing out “truths” about God that do not align with who God has said He is, but who we think God should be.  We should carefully and critically consider on what basis our convictions about God and Marriage are formed.  If we all attended first to these more fundamental questions, I think we would all understand our own positions and the positions of others much better and, at the very least, we might be able to have more real and fruitful discussion of issues such as same-sex marriage.

marriage

Redefining Marriage or Redefining God? Questions for Christians

Should you really “follow your heart?” Dispelling the Myth.

Image

The phrase “follow your heart” has become ubiquitous in our society.  We hear it in movies and media.  Parents raise their children on this supposed wisdom.  If we just follow our hearts, we can’t go wrong and we can do anything.  The 90’s kid within me is jamming out to the 98 degrees song...”Be true to your heart. Just be true to your heart. Your heart can tell you know lies…”  I guess it worked for Mulan.

But is this really good advice?  Should we just accept it because it sounds so inspiring and makes for a good bumper sticker?  Shouldn’t we analyze it, examine the evidence to see if it’s even true? No one else seems to be preoccupied with this question, but it troubles me greatly.  I do not think it’s good advice.  In fact, I think it’s the exact opposite of good advice.  Here’s why.

First of all, there is a deeper, underlying meaning to the seemingly harmless phrase.  The language of “rights” and “free will” have become the language of our society.  Personal autonomy, the freedom to do whatever we please, has become the unquestioned cultural ideal.  “Follow your heart” is just part and parcel of this.

We view our hearts as inner guides that, if we listen to, will lead us to our ultimate destiny and happiness.  And we have a right to this happiness and no one else has a right to prevent us from obtaining this happiness.

Sounds like a pretty sweet deal, but do you see where this leads?  Basically, it means we can do pretty much whatever we want as long as it was our heart that led us there.  That doesn’t sound so bad, until you get people saying things like this:  “I knew I shouldn’t be having an affair.  But I love her.  I had to follow my heart.”  

The truth is, the real reason we celebrate this ideology is not necessarily because we believe it, but because it absolves us from guilt and moral responsibility.  Ironically, we turn following our heart into some kind of ultimate ethical imperative that trumps all other ethical obligations.  No matter what we do, or who we hurt doing it, we get a free pass as long as we claim we were “following our hearts.”  Believing that our hearts are faultless guides allows us to leave our desires unchecked and our actions unquestioned.  It’s easy to see why people sign on to this idea.

However, there is one hitch.  Ironically, people seem determined to believe in this myth of the human heart as a true and faithful guide despite staggering evidence to the contrary.  Why?  Because their hearts have deceived them!  You don’t have to look much past your own nose to see that our hearts do lead us astray.  Contrary to the wisdom of 98 degrees, they do lie to us.  But we willfully ignore this because we want to believe that our desires are always pure and our actions never condemnable.

Our hearts deceive us into believing that our hearts are pure precisely because our hearts are not pure, because “the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” -Jeremiah 17:9  Despite what the world tells us, following our hearts does not earn us an absolution from guilt.  God declares that He will “search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.”  -Jeremiah 17:10  

Talk about counter-cultural.  These are tough words.  This is not the easy path.  But I would rather have God’s truth than the world’s lies.  I would rather be like the man “who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in Him.  He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.” -Jeremiah 17:7-8  I would rather be like him than the “one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strengths and whose heart turns away from the LORD.  He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes.  He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt man where no one lives.” -Jeremiah 17: 5-6

In wisdom, let us heed the words of the LORD rather than the enticing lies of the world so that we may never hear Him say to us, “If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea.” -Isaiah 48:18  For “this is what the LORD says–your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: ‘I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.” -Isaiah 48:17  It is God and not our hearts who will never lie to us, nor ever lead us astray.  Let us then, not follow our hearts, but follow God.

Unethical Ethics and the Love of God

*This is a re-post of a facebook note I wrote when I was in college.

     If the man in front of you drops a one hundred dollar bill, you give it back to him.  If you run over an old woman with your car, you stop and help, no matter if you may be charged with vehicular manslaughter. You may be wondering where I am going with this.  These choices seem obvious enough right? Well, that’s what I thought, but I sat deeply troubled and my mouth probably agape in my Ethics class recently as I listened to my peers denying, nay mocking these moral conclusions. I was astonished as one boy dressed down another for foolishly thinking that instilling principles of integrity in our children is more important than helping them get ahead because, of course, it’s our animal instinct to get ahead. You can also probably imagine my indignation as the pompous guy next to me turned to me and condescendingly said, “I already know what you’re going to choose” as the class began to deliberate over the pros and cons of saving the last surviving book of Shakespeare or a woman from a burning building.

     As I sat there, I wanted to argue. I wanted to tell them they were wrong. I wanted to tell them that you should save a person over a book. You should tell the truth even if it costs you. You should give the man his one hundred dollar bill that he dropped. I wanted to cry out, “Have you all gone mad?!” And then I realized…they had. Scripture tells us that “The hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live and afterward they join the dead.” Ecclesiastes 9:3   “ They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” Ephesians 4:18  Truth that is so evident, so resoundingly obvious to me is as foolishness to them. It has been revealed to me, but it has not been revealed to them. I cannot reason with them because their reason, the very way their minds perceive and operate is fundamentally messed up and in complete opposition to truth.

     Underlying all of our disagreements about lying, and stealing, and killing, are two irreconcilable world views. All of it, all the copies of Shakespeare, all the injured old women, all the moral dilemmas we face in life can be reduced down to a single question:  God or no God? Why should you save a woman over a book? Because it’s right. Why is right? Because human life is sacred. Why is human life sacred? Because it was created and sanctified by God, the holy God, the living God, the just and righteous God who will one day call all of us to account for our deeds on this earth. I can perceive this truth and recognize it as truth because I have been saved by grace and transformed by the renewing of my mind.” Romans 12:2

    It is not so for them. They are literally incapable of perceiving truth or even the madness and folly of their own beliefs. They live their lives with an egoist mindset. Survival, getting ahead, self-preservation are the foundation of their world view. Without a God or consequences for life, I suppose I can see how this makes sense. Yet, I can’t help but wonder…what exactly do they think they are preserving themselves for? They strive to gain everything, but they will lose it all. They grasp this life and all this world has to offer with everything they have, but to what end? We all meet the same fate. We leave this world as we entered it, empty-handed, and helpless. It is so blatantly obvious that it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Do they not perceive it? No. They do not due to the hardening of their hearts, but to me, the truth that “whoever wants to save his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for [Christ’s] sake will find it”  Matthew 10:39  has never been more clearly perceived or resonant in my heart and mind.

      As I witness all of the debates on what they have the nerve to call “Ethics”, I am, first of all, stunned by their lack of morals, perhaps more than I really should be. Then, I am prideful and eager to debate, particularly with the aforementioned pompous boy next to me, because know what the truth is. can see what they cannot, but then that fades when another realization sets in as I listen to my fellow students continue to mock those of us who dare to suggest that perhaps Ethics are not just about what is best for yourself. Yes, I am upset that they make such a mockery of my morals, but then I see that it goes deeper than that. It is not just me being scoffed at. They not only mock my ethical system, but they mock the very heart of Jesus. To deny oneself, to lay down your life for others, they condemn as foolishness. In that instant, I see what is really happening. They are spitting in His face, laughing at Him as He takes up His cross, their cross, paying their price.

      It is then that all the pride and indignation dissipates and I am humbled as I realize that this is who we are and that I am not exempt from it. I am counted among the redeemed, but by His grace alone. If He had not deemed to reveal Himself and His truth to me, I know that I would be right there among the scoffers. This is in all the hearts of men, not only to deny God, but to disdain all that He is for the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18   We are lost and sinful before His grace finds us and not only are we not seeking it, we are in fact, totally resistant to it. We laugh at it.

     Through this, I see even more clearly the wonder of God’s love for “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John 4:10  What manner of love is this? It is a love that has redeemed me, healed me, cleansed me, saved me from my own madness when I did not want to be saved nor was I worth saving. This is the love I am to extend to those in my Ethics class, to everyone I am in contact with. How often, in my own selfishness and pride, I fail to do this. Yes, I am called to defend my faith and to defend it well, and I am called to speak boldly, but first and above all else, I am called to love as I have been loved for I was once as they: stubborn, hardened, and in complete opposition to God. 

     With this deeper understanding, the Gospel is more powerful, grace more amazing and Romans 5:8 suddenly says much, much more to me.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners,…” while our hearts were still hardened towards Him, while we were still lost in the utter madness of our ways, while we still denied, mocked, even hated everything that God is, “Christ died for us.”  Surely, this is the true madness, the madness of His love. 

 Image

Spring, Baptisms, and Life Forever

“I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys, I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs. I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set pines in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together, so that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the LORD has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it.” -Isaiah 41:18-20

There are times when I think fall is my favorite season.  I love the crisp weather, beautiful leaves, thanksgiving, pumpkins, good books by warm fires.  Every year though, about this time, I remember that nothing beats spring.  The days start to get longer.  The trees begin to bud.  The earth begins to stir from its winter slumber, new life waiting to come forth.  There’s something about it that is good for the soul, something that brings hope.

Of course, I don’t think that this accidental in the slightest.  Creation is God’s tablet and the seasons are the story that He has written on it.  “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–His eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen being understood from what has been made.” -Romans 1:20  Spring stirs our souls because God intended for it to stir our souls.  Essentially, He shares the Gospel with us every year, using daffodil blossoms and budding willow trees to paint the most beautiful story board.  He brings life where there has been death, light where there has been darkness, and beauty where there has been ashes.

Spring is beautiful but it is only a reflection, a mere shadowing, of the beauty of what it represents: the Gospel.  Unlike spring blooms which will eventually wither and fade once more,  for those who have been saved by the Gospel, new life has come to stay.  The miracle that God works on the earth is nothing compared to the miracle He works on the souls He saves.  God chooses people, He saves people, and He changes people. Forever.

I was reminded of the beauty of this at Church last Sunday where we had several Baptisms.  The people were all different ages from different backgrounds with different stories of how God saved them. But as they stood up to give their testimonies, they all had a common theme:  God had brought them from death to life and they now lived to love, serve, and glorify Jesus Christ, the King.

As I sat and listened to their testimonies, I thought about how the Gospel never gets old.  Seeing and hearing stories of how God saves and changes people never, ever gets old.  It struck me that maybe heaven will be a little bit like that.  Of course, the most wonderful thing about heaven is that we will be with God forever, but we will also be with each other forever.

Perhaps, part of the joy of heaven will be like the joy of Baptism Sunday.  Perhaps, part of the glory will be in hearing all the myriad of ways that God has saved all different kinds of people from all different times in history.  We’ll all  be there, each with our own story of salvation, declaring together that we were lost, but now found,  condemned, but now forgiven, dead but now alive, overflowing with praise and every tongue confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.  What a joyful and victorious celebration that will be.

So, as I look forward to spring of 2013, I await it with a special delight.  I praise God for the way He uses all of His creation to speak His message of love and grace to us.  I thank Him for the spring He has brought to my own life and many others, making ways in our deserts and streams in our wastelands.  And I eagerly look forward to that glorious Day when life will never fade, to that spring which will never end.

daffodil