Friday, August 31, 2012

An Essential for Ending Abortion

Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:13-21  
The number of abortions performed in our nation can be radically reduced in one of two ways. First, if parents are not tempted to destroy the child in the mother's womb because of fear or shame, they won't abort it. Second, even when they do desire to destroy the child in her womb, if just laws prevent it. Some say you can't legislate morality. However, that is exactly what legislation does. It is immoral to get mad at your neighbor, pull out a gun and shoot him. The laws in our nation intend to stop that from happening. And for those who go ahead and commit that immorality, it punishes that immorality. As necessary as this role of law is to provide justice to those whose rights are being trampled, it would be much better if people didn't want to get a gun and shoot their neighbor. We all understand that.
On the abortion front there is much work being done in the pro-life camp in hopes that just laws are passed to protect the powerless unborn child. This is necessary action to stem the tide of such a vast social injustice. That said, the goal that we must pursue long after any laws are made to protect these children is that parents have no desire to destroy their child. How can that goal be reached?
Something Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from prison may actually be quite pertinent to this issue. It is in a section addressing the subject of suicide, but it is no less pertinent to the subject of abortion.
It is not the right to life that can overcome this temptation to suicide, but only the grace that allows a man to continue to live in the knowledge of God's forgiveness. (Ethics, pg. 172)
Since the very next subject he takes on is reproduction and abortion, adapting this statement to abortion is not out of line. Adapted it would read: It is not the right to life that can overcome this temptation to abort, but only the grace that allows a woman to continue to live in the knowledge of God's forgiveness. Two great motivators toward abortion are fear and shame. The knowledge of God's forgiveness is essential to overcoming either.
Why did Cain kill Abel? Because he was attempting in some way to cover up his sin. Abel was living right; Cain was doing wrong. Somehow it seemed logical that if he could just do away with Abel, everything would be okay. (Genesis 4:3-10) Often, an unwed pregnant woman is ashamed of the situation she finds herself in. What she is really ashamed of is the immorality that got her pregnant. And it often seems that if she can just do away with the pregnancy (which involves doing away with the baby), everything goes back to normal. Most women who have an abortion learn that they now have to cope with a new normal—a whole new kind of hidden shame. She too will need the cure that only the Gospel can bring. It is the shame of sin that often tempts these new parents to destroy their child in hopes that the shame will go away.
Sometimes the pregnant mother or the father who pressures the mother into the abortion is motivated by fear—fear of how they are going to make it; fear of the radical changes this will bring about; fear of how others will respond. The list of fears can go on. It is this fear that creates the environment in which the temptation to abort the baby thrives.
Whether it is fear or shame that is feeding the temptation, it is the glorious news of the Gospel that takes the power away from the temptation. How so? The Gospel announces God's forgiveness for sinners. The shame is forgiven.
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)
The message of God's forgiveness—that God is not holding people's sins against them because of the work of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21) is the means by which God calls people back to himself and reconciles them to Himself. To be reconciled means that those who were enemies are now friends. The unwed mother in her shame is now made right with God again. God accepts her fully in Jesus Christ. Jesus says to her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11) This message has been committed to the church! We must proclaim it.
It is this same message that frees us from fear for there is no fear in love, for perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18). When the prospective parents realize that God's love is available to them in Christ, they can run to Him free from fear, knowing that He will care for them. They can cast their anxiety on God for God cares for them (1 Peter 5:7). What a promise.
Whether there are ever just laws that protect that unborn or not, the work of the Gospel will not cease. We must do that work now as it is our most powerful weapon. This work will be just as necessary if the laws were perfect. For while you can legislate morality—indeed you must—you can't transform a heart by legislation, but only by the Gospel of the Lord Jesus. One vital way we can support the unborn child and the pro-life cause is sharing the message of Jesus Christ with the world.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Monday, August 20, 2012

Psalm 104: A Meditation on the Greatness of God

Reading: Psalm 104  
Last week I was hiking with my family in the mountains of north Georgia paying attention to a small stream beside us. All of a sudden the water volume in the stream more than doubled. I looked for a tributary, or some other source of this water, but all I could see was water coming out of the ground at the edge of the stream, evidently from a spring. My soul rejoiced in the greatness of God who waters the earth. According to Psalm 104 that is exactly what my soul should do in response to this spring of water. (See Psalm 104:10-12)
Psalm 104 is a meditation in the greatness of God with the goal that we worship God. It begins, “My soul, praise Yahweh! LORD my God, You are very great...”, and then begins considering evidences of God's greatness. I counted over 30 references in this psalm to God's activity reminding us of the greatness of God—how active God is in our everyday lives, how active He is in ways that often go unnoticed. That isn't to say we don't reap the benefit of His activity; we do. However, it often remains unacknowledged. We often do not stop to consider and return praise to God for the many ways He sustains us. Psalm 104 is given to help us consider God's activity and return appropriate credit to God for what He does.
Some key verses that help summarize this activity of God are:
He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the land is satisfied by the fruit of his work. (Psalm 104:13)
Man goes out to his work and to his labor until evening. How countless are Your works, LORD! In wisdom You have made them all; the earth is full of Your creatures.(Psalm 104:23-34)
The land, or the earth, is satisfied by the fruit, the effect, of God's work. Man can labor for a day but must rest, but God's labor, God's work is unending; it is countless. Our work is only productive because God's work is constantly active. Do you think of God as active? Do you think of God as working? Often times, I think our view of God is that he made the world in six days and has been resting ever since. However, the scriptures indicate that he rested on the seventh day. He has been working ever since upholding all things by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3).
Part of what robs God of the praise that is due His name in our day is the same thing that robbed Him of the praise due His name in Biblical times: idolatry. Both now and then, people in rebellion against God attribute the works of God to inanimate objects (idols). Then they made statues which represented various gods (of the sun, or the moon, etc.). Each of these 'gods' were really personifications of created things. They were not the worship of the Creator (Romans 1:25). Today we do the same thing in our naturalistic, materialistic1 culture. We attribute the works of God who sustains all things to inanimate objects, such as “nature” or “the laws of science”. People refuse to acknowledge a personal God who created all things, but constantly attribute rational, personal attributes to inanimate things like nature (“mother nature”) because we can't escape the rational nature of the way the world operates.
Christians are subtly being influenced by this worldly culture. (At least I am; I need the reminder of Psalm 104!) One of the ways this might be seen is in a common definition used for “a miracle.” A miracle, some say, is an interruption in the normal or natural course of events. This definition seems to imply that it requires no activity of God for the “normal course of events” to continue as they do. That could not be further from the truth. James K. A. Smith describes Augustine's understanding of a miracle:
Augustine describes them as “extraordinary” actions that are meant to refocus our semiotic attention on the “miraculous” nature of the ordinary. A “miracle” is not an event that “breaks” any “laws” of nature, since nature does not have such a reified [material, embodied] character; rather, a miracle is a manifestation of the Spirit’s presence that is “out of the ordinary”; but even the ordinary is a manifestation of the Spirit’s presence. Augustine enjoins us to see nature as miracle.2
In our materialistic culture, whenever we see a rational, constant working that seems intelligent in its working and can be counted on we call it “a law”. But we can't see the law, we can't find the law, we can only say that it must exist because it is always there, always present. We credit an inanimate thing (a law) with what only an animate (in the sense of living and active), faithful Person (Lawgiver) can do.3
Though many are content to credit idols (nature, or other inanimate things) with the works of God, this usually changes when God ceases His works on their behalf.
When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. (Psalm 104:29 NIV)
The moment God hides his face—ceases to provide His faithful works on our behalf which sustain us in all of life—terror strikes us. No one in the middle of the ocean pleads with nature to save them and give them one more chance. No one in the proverbial foxhole prays to nature to protect them and get them home to their family. When we are angry about how things turn out, no one blames nature. They are quick to blame God for the bad, while not crediting Him for the good (Proverbs 19:3). Hypocrisy isn't confined to believers.
May Psalm 104 remind us of the many ways God is constantly working on our behalf and result in praise, glory and honor being given to Him through Jesus Christ.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,
1By materialistic I am referencing the idea that all that exists is the material, or matter. It is the denial of the spiritual.
2Smith, James K. A. (2010-06-15). Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy (Pentecostal Manifestos) (pp. 104-105). Eerdmans Publishing Co.
3For a much more eloquent discussion of this subject see Redeeming Science, by Vern Poythress, Chapter 1, Why Scientists Must Believe in God: Divine Attributes of Scientific Law. Crossway Books. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Did Jesus Encourage Drunkenness at a Wedding?

Reading: John 2; Jeremiah 13
Do you ever wished Jesus would have shown up at your wedding? People might not have noticed the limited budget when He was finished. I have three daughters—two married, one engaged—so I know the concerns of balancing budget against desiring to provide an enjoyable experience for all. So I have an appreciation for Jesus turning water to wine on a practical level.
Some wrestle with the text because Jesus is turning water into... well, uh... wine. One time I heard someone say, “I don't know if I could have a pastor who drank [alcohol].” I assured them that if they were a Christian they already did since the great Shepherd admitted to having drank alcohol (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34).
The miracle of turning water into wine has never bothered me but it has always puzzled me. I say puzzled because I have never been able to put a finger on the message behind it. The miracles or signs in John's Gospel always have a message behind them. Although I've heard and even thought of several possible messages behind this sign, none have been fully satisfying. So allow me to propose one more possibility. Don't get me wrong, I am okay with Jesus turning water to wine just because He is cool with weddings and marriage. I just don't think that's why He did it.
6Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water"; so they filled them to the brim. (John 2:6-7)
These are huge water jars. Carrying them would require two men and would still be difficult, especially if filled to the brim. The intended use was ceremonial washing which was a symbolic act representing our cleansing from sin or uncleanness. Once they were filled with wine, they would be useless to be used for cleansing. And don't miss the note that they filled them to the brim. They didn't just fill them. They didn't just get it most of the way to the top. It was all the way to the top!
Does the Old Testament provide any background to this miracle? 
"Say this to them: This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Every jar should be filled with wine. Then they will respond to you, 'Don't we know that every jar should be filled with wine?' 13And you will say to them: This is what the LORD says: I am about to fill all who live in this land–the kings who reign for David on his throne, the priests, the prophets and all the residents of Jerusalem–with drunkenness. (Jeremiah 13:12-13 HCSB)
Through Jeremiah the Lord tells the people of Jerusalem, “Every wine jar should be filled with wine,” meaning, “I am about to fill all who live in this land with drunkenness.” Is it possible that Jesus is communicating a similar message to the people through the filling of their huge water pots to the brim with wine?
Of course the obvious objection is that Jesus didn't come to condemn (judge) the world but to save the world (John 3:17) and what I am suggesting above is that the water to wine miracle is essentially a judgment scene. However, the reason Jesus came to save the world is because the world was condemned (judged) already (John 3:18; see also John 12:47-48). In the context of the Bible's story line, the Gospel comes to a nation that has been judged. That is why the Gospel is such good news (for those with ears to hear). John's Gospel is not a stranger to this fact and the Gospel hardly starts before pointing out that Christ came to His own only to be rejected by his own people (John 1:10-11; 12:48).
Additionally, the context in John 2 seems to fit the idea of a judgment scene as this account is immediately followed by the cleansing of the temple (John 2:14-22) which is clearly a judgment scene. In each of the other Gospels judgment on the unbelieving nation is referenced by quoting Isaiah 6:10 (Matthew 13:14, Mark 4:12, Luke 8:10). That judgment came in the form of blindness and inability to hear or understand. Later Isaiah connects it to a kind of spiritual drunkenness (Isaiah 29:9-10). Is John making a similar point by recounting this miraculous event in Cana? Drunkenness, or a drunken stupor is a familiar image of God's judgment on people in the prophets (See also 63:6; Jeremiah 25:27; 48:26).
Though the text doesn't say they were drunk, the implication is certainly there (John 2:10) since the guests already had too much to drink and now the really good wine has been brought out—and lots of it! Could the message of this miracle be, “The time for cleansing (through the law) is over and for drunkenness has begun for all who reject Christ since cleansing can only be found in Him.”
What does this mean for us? Judgment or Salvation? That all depends on what you see when you look at Jesus. Do you see His glory? Do you see who He is and place your faith in Him? Or do you fail to recognize Him and therefore reject Him?
What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:11)
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God... (John 1:10-12)
If what I present is the right understanding of the text, it sets up the account of Nicodemus perfectly in John 3. To look at that more closely go to Does Nicodemus Think He is Simon Cowell?
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,