Friday, November 29, 2013

A Certain Hope Rooted in a Certain Memory

Reading: Hebrews 6  
Have you ever forgotten to do something really important? I have and the sinking feeling I get when I realize it is not pleasant. God hasn't; nor will He.
God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. (Hebrews 6:10)
As evangelicals, we are all well trained to know that all our righteousness is as filthy rags to God. We understand that with nothing in our hands we come to God. …that we are saved by Christ's works, and our own works merit nothing before God in salvation. However, we often don't know what to do with verses like this.
There are three key things this verse reveals:
  • Why God will not forget
  • What God will not forget
  • What you must not forget
Why God Will Not Forget
The foundation of all that follows in this verse is the truth that God is not unjust. In other words, it would be unjust of God to forget your work as a believer and the love you have shown Him.
And lest we think that “God is not unjust” is a distinct statement from the rest of the verse, it is worth noting, as some other translations make clear, that in the original language God not being unjust is tied directly to His not forgetting your works and love. For instance,
For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. (Heb 6:10 NASB)
God would no sooner forget your works than He would be unjust. What God remembers, He rewards. The whole point of the writer of Hebrews reminding us that God will not forget is to assure us that God will reward us for what He remembers. This gives us hope.
What God Will Not Forget
God will not forget your works! What works? Works of love which you show God even as you help His people. It isn't that the work and showing love are two different things, but more like we might use “and” in the expression, “I'm sick and tired of...” wherein the second expression modifies the first. The works which God will not forget are the works of love which we show to His name.
When do we do works that show love toward His name? When we minister to the saints; when we serve God's people. The saints aren't a group of people who are up in heaven. The saints are the people of God to whom He has joined us in fellowship. Often they are the weaker brothers and sisters to whom whatever we do to them we do to Christ (Matthew 25:40).
Do you realize that your works matter to God? For God to remember your works means that He will reward them. The labors you do caring for God's people are not lost on God. They are not lost in the grace of God so that they don't matter.
How could all of this be true? How could “our righteousness is as filthy rags” and “God won't forget your works” both be true? This is the beauty of salvation. In salvation, God promises to remember our sins and lawless acts no more (Hebrews 8:12; 10:17)! In His mercy, God will not remember our sins; in His justice God will not forget our works and the love we show. This is possible because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for us (Hebrews 10:11-18).
Do you ever think your works don't matter to God? You are showing love to God when you help His people. This means your work in caring for people is a form of worship.
Do you think that your care for God's people doesn't really matter in eternity? It matters. You are washing Jesus feet when you are washing the feet of the saints. There will be a day in the future when all our serving God's people, the least of his brothers and sisters, will be brought up again and remembered. These things will be remembered in a way that will matter in eternity (Matthew 25:31-40).
Why does this matter to God? Because God loves His people. He loves them more than you can know. He gave His one and only Son.
What You Must Not Forget
Since God will not remember your sins and lawless deeds, and since He will reward your works of love to His people, we must not forget that He will not forget. If we remember this, we will also not forget to continue those works of love.
Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2)
This is a call to share our lives with those who aren't just our good friends—those who can't reward us. The “stranger” in our midst.
Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:3)
This is a call to suffer with those who are suffering for the Gospel. It is a call to suffer with those who are unjustly suffering.
And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (Hebrews 13:16)
This is a call to continue to live lives that do good and share with others. And notice the reason given: with such sacrifices God is pleased.
For us to know that God will not forget our works and that He will not remember our sins is intended to encourage those who have been doing good works. And it is intended to encourage them to continue and not give up doing them. The context of Hebrews 6:10 is that because God remembers, we have certainty that we will inherit the promise of God's blessing. God will not be unjust. God will never fail to keep this promise. (See Hebrews 6:11-15.)
God would no sooner forget your works than He would be unjust. Do you realize that your works, the love you show God's people, matter to God for He cannot be unjust. This gives us a certain hope rooted in God's certain memory!
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,


Friday, November 22, 2013

Is Your Bible Ever Hard to Read?

Reading: Ezekiel 21–22
This is a very hard section of Scripture to read. Not because it may be longer than some are used to reading in one sitting, but because of its content. Not because the content uses a difficult vocabulary, but because of what it actually says. Not just because we are Americans and have an over emphasis on God's love as compared to his holiness or wrath, but because of what God is actually like as revealed in Scripture. Here are some examples to illustrate my point.
2Son of man, set your face against Jerusalem and preach against the sanctuary. Prophesy against the land of Israel 3and say to her: “This is what the LORD says: I am against you. I will draw my sword from its sheath and cut off from you both the righteous and the wicked. 4Because I am going to cut off the righteous and the wicked, my sword will be unsheathed against everyone from south to north.” (Ezekiel 21:2-4)
Every heart will melt with fear and every hand go limp; every spirit will become faint and every leg will be wet with urine.' It is coming! It will surely take place, declares the Sovereign LORD. (Ezekiel 21:7)
If we were to open our Bibles for the first time to this and begin reading here and then turned and read John 3:16, it would admittedly be difficult to fit them together. The Bible is the revelation of God—not a man-made God; not the creation of the ideal by a philosopher—the self-revelation of the creator of all that is to His fallen creatures. It will necessarily be complex. It will necessarily require us to adjust our expectations and ideas of what it ought to be like.
If the statements from Ezekiel above aren't enough to justify saying that this is a hard section of Scripture to read, add these.
6"Therefore groan, son of man! Groan before them with broken heart and bitter grief.
12Cry out and wail, son of man, for it is against my people; it is against all the princes of Israel. They are thrown to the sword along with my people. Therefore beat your breast.
14"So then, son of man, prophesy and strike your hands together. Let the sword strike twice, even three times. It is a sword for slaughter—a sword for great slaughter, closing in on them from every side. (Ezekiel 21:6, 12, 14)
First God tells Ezekiel that He is against the people of Israel and Judah; then He tells His representative, His spokesperson to groan with a broken heart and bitter grief over this. Then He confirms the certainty of the slaughter. If God asks His prophet to groan and have a broken heart it is because God Himself is groaning and has a broken heart. And yet, our God with a broken heart reaffirms His wrath:
I will pour out my wrath on you and breathe out my fiery anger against you; I will deliver you into the hands of brutal men, men skilled in destruction. (Ezekiel 21:31)
Does your understanding of God allow for this kind of complexity? Does your understanding allow for the God of Ezekiel 21 to be the God of John 3:16? If we have an understanding of God that does not allow for this, then we have a false vision of God. We must be adjusted by God's self-revelation and not continue to create God in our own image. But we must do more.
It is not enough to stop here. We cannot simply have an image of God that allows for this complexity. If we are to understand the message of the Bible we must allow God to resolve this complexity through that same self-revelation. As we continue reading in Ezekiel 21–22, we continue to read of both the wickedness of the people and how God will respond in wrath. It is not a pretty time in the history of God's people. But alas we come to a verse that helps us understand this complexity of God—a verse that points us from this complexity toward its resolution.
30I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one. 31So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign LORD. (Ezekiel 22:30-31)
God was looking for an intercessor. That adds a whole new level of complexity. God is determined to pour out His wrath and is searching hard for someone to stop Him. God searched for someone to groan before Him in intercession as Moses did repeatedly for the people of Israel in the wilderness. But He found none. And so God sent an intercessor (John 3:16). God sent His Son to intercede on behalf of transgressors (Isaiah 53:12). God could not find someone to intercede.
I'm not blaming Ezekiel, the son of man (the title repeatedly assigned to him by the Lord). Ezekiel could not ultimately fulfill this intercessory role. It would require one who could bear the sin on behalf of the people. God would have to provide the Lamb (Genesis 22:8, 14). And indeed, He does (John 1:36).
What we see in Ezekiel 21–22 and many other places in Scripture is God's hatred of sin. God doesn't rejoice in pouring out His wrath on sinners. He grieves even as He pours it out. He looked for an intercessor and did not find one. So He sent His Son to intercede on our behalf. Oswald Chambers wrote,
Jesus Christ hates the sin in people, and Calvary is the measure of His hatred.”
Now God calls those whom He has redeemed through Jesus to intercede, to groan, to cry out on behalf of other transgressors. He grieves over the brokenness of humanity because of sin. He grieves because death still reigns over many. He calls us to groan inwardly even as He groans (Romans 8:23, 26). He still looks for an intercessor. Not of the ultimate type (Jesus), but those who, like Him, grieve with Him and suffer with Him for the world.
Do you have room in your life for this complex self-revelation of God? To believe in Him and to follow Him? It is a complexity that is only resolved at the cross and we are following Him only as we pick up our cross on behalf of other transgressors.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Empty Arguments for Empty Wombs: Why Jesse Jackson Was Right

Reading: Proverbs 18:5
It is not good to show partiality to the guilty by perverting the justice due the innocent. (Proverbs 18:5 HCSB)
The principle laid out in this proverb is clear. But why does this perversion of justice continue to happen? Why are the guilty given this partiality? Because they have power and the one showing partiality has something to gain by their power (Proverbs 17:23). Why are the innocent deprived of justice? Because they are weak and powerless and have nothing to offer. (Proverbs 18:23; 19:7)
Giving advantage to the powerful over the weak promotes and supports oppression. Oppressors, however, love to play the victim. The racist loves to speak about how the hated race is the real problem. That they are only doing what they have to. The abuser frequently blames the abused. The pattern is not unusual: the powerful blame the weak or powerless for the harm the powerful bring upon the powerless.
Sunday, as I was leaving the closing rally for “40 Days for Life” it struck me that the pro-choice movement uses the same tired talk-track. All the ingredients are present: the powerful (the pressuring father, the mother—sometimes the mother is also a victim of pressures and abuse, other times she is motivated internally by her own indulgence, the Planned Parenthood staff) and the weak and helpless (that would be the baby in the womb who has no legal protection, no voice, no guardian).
The pro-choice movement regularly cries out how oppressive it would be to women if they could not abort their baby at will. In other words, it would be oppressive to restrict those with all the power in this situation (the woman) by protecting those with no power (the baby). The baby must pay the price for mom's freedom. The weak must pay the price for the powerful. 
The pro-choice crowd loves to cry accusations about a “war on women” toward anyone pro-life. This is like accusing abolitionists of a war on white people, or accusing those who fight domestic violence of a war on men... as if all men are abusers.
Even Jesse Jackson could once see this pattern of the oppressor playing the victim in the pro-choice movement.
"There are those who argue that the right to privacy is of higher order than the right to life...that was the premise of slavery. You could not protest the existence or treatment of slaves on the plantation because that was private and therefore outside your right to be concerned.” (Jesse Jackson, 1977)
Of course, it is quickly pointed out how not allowing abortion would adversely effect women who were raped. I acknowledge that not allowing abortion in cases of rape would effect these women adversely. Not as adversely as the rape itself. And not as adversely as the abortion will effect the baby. But it would mean serious, undeserved consequences for the mother.
Here is the irony: Rape and its consequences are horrible because it is the forced will of the powerful over the weak. What solution does the pro-choice movement suggest? More forced will of the powerful (now the pressuring family and/or pregnant mother) over the powerless (the baby). So as painfully difficult as even this issue is, it is only compounding the crime.
That said, only 1% of abortions are the result of rape. The pro-choice movement makes this issue sound like it is a huge number of abortions. Another 12% are for the vague category of health reasons.1 The rest are because of inconveniences caused by the baby. Sometimes difficult inconveniences, including fear, guilt, or shame, but inconveniences nonetheless. Why do wife abusers beat their wives? The lame reasons given might include that they didn't like the way they were spoken to, or the temperature of dinner, or some other inconvenience. At the end of the day, they do it because they can. They do it because they are stronger and can force their will upon the weaker partner.
Legalized abortion is legalized abuse and oppression. God has never supported the oppressor. God does not condone abuse. Therefore, God could never support the pro-choice mindset of protecting the powerful over the weak. All the excuses aside, that is what it is. Don't get me wrong, racists were always able to make a reasonable sounding case in the world they lived. Even antisemitism was attractive to enough people to allow Hitler to hold office. Hindsight has much greater clarity.
Consider the following:
Amongst “six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him” are “haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood…(Proverbs 6:16-19)
3For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. …4No one calls for justice; no one pleads his case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments and speak lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil. …7Their feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed innocent blood.” (Isaiah 59:3-7)
Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. (Jeremiah 22:3)
The empty arguments of the pro-choice movement are the same empty arguments abusers and oppressors have been using for millennia. I close with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s niece.
We have been fueled by the fire of “women’s rights,” so long that we have become deaf to the outcry of the real victims whose rights are being trampled upon, the babies and the mothers. . . . Oh, God, what would Martin Luther King, Jr., who dreamed of having his children judged by the content of their characters do if he’d lived to see the contents of thousands of children’s skulls emptied into the bottomless caverns of the abortionists pits? (D. Dr. Alveda King)
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,