Monday, September 30, 2019

The Excellencies of Christ [and His Church]

This past week I was studying for my ACG class [topic is 'Mother Church'] and was reminded of my favorite sermon by Jonathan Edwards. No, it's not Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (though that one is very good too). The sermon, titled 'The Excellency of Christ', is based on Revelation 5:5-6:
And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain...
Edwards points out that John is told by the angel that the Lion of the tribe of Judah can open the scroll. In his vision, it would be quite natural for him to expect to see this Lion; instead, in his vision he sees a Lamb.  Edwards reasons,

He is called a Lion….He is called a Lamb. That which I would observe from the words…There is an admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies in Jesus Christ. The lion and the lamb, though very diverse kinds of creatures, yet have each their peculiar excellencies.
Throughout the sermon, he helps the reader consider the diverse excellencies that meet in Jesus - the strength of the Lion, the meekness of the Lamb, the infinite majesty of God Almighty and the infinite condescension of the Suffering Servant. This leads Edwards to his application or 'uses'. First, there is an evangelistic use. He contends,
Let the consideration of this wonderful meeting of diverse excellencies in Christ induce you to accept of him, and close with him as your Savior. As all manner of excellencies meet in him, so there are concurring in him all manner of arguments and motives, to move you to choose him for your Savior, and every thing that tends to encourage poor sinners to come and put their trust in him: his fullness and all-sufficiency as a Savior gloriously appear in that variety of excellencies that has been spoken of.
In other words, what could you possibly need in a Savior that can't be found in Jesus? He is all-sufficient for every need you have.  The second use of this truth is for the Christian.
Let what has been said be improved to induce you to love the Lord Jesus Christ, and choose him for your friend and portion. As there is such an admirable meeting of diverse excellencies in Christ, so there is every thing in him to render him worthy of your love and choice, and to win and engage it. Whatsoever there is or can be desirable in a friend, is in Christ, and that to the highest degree that can be desired.
I love this sermon. It's rich, Christo-centric, stirs my affections and makes me want more of Christ. But what drew my mind from my study of ecclesiology to this sermon?  For the six weeks, I have been leading my ACG (Adult Community Group) through a study of the different images of the church in the New Testament. There are many - Paul Minear describes ninety-six images related to the church!  We haven't considered all ninety-six, but the ones we have are very diverse. The church as the Kingdom of God is an image to be held alongside the church as the Body of Christ. The church as a building is to be held alongside the church as a vine. The church as the Bride of Christ is meant to be held together with the church as a sheep pen. Diverse images for sure!

So why so much diverse imagery from the pens of the New Testament authors to describe the church? Let me plagiarize Edwards,
"There is an admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies in the church of Jesus Christ. The building and the vine, though very diverse kinds of images, yet have each their peculiar excellencies." 
No one image would suffice to sum up the beauty and the mystery of the Chruch. My 'use' of this truth mirrors Edwards. Let the consideration of this wonderful meeting of diverse excellencies in Christ’s church induce you to accept it (not reject or eschew it), serve it (instead of consume it), and love it, as Christ does.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Don't use Dead Christians to Score Political/Rhetorical Points

Over the past few days, I have seen a few disturbing Facebook posts about Christian's slaughtered in Nigeria and the Philippines. Of course, as a Christian and, frankly as a human, I am deeply saddened by this. But, these posts have been rhetorically dishonest and so devalue and dishonor those who have died.

The reports are not usually posted with a simple "this is sad, we should pray and remember Christians who live in hard places and have their lives taken from them." No, instead it's, "the media is falling all over themselves to report the massacre in New Zealand, but nary a word about the slaughter of Christians in Nigeria and the Philippines."  It's a rhetorical trick attempting to demonstrate that the media ("the left wing media") doesn't care about the plight of Christians. Problem is, the facts are very wrong.

First, consider what is being spread regarding the bombing in the Philippines; the following post is an example. This was posted on March 15th, shortly after the New Zealand mosque killings.

Indeed ISIS terrorists did attack two Catholic churches in the Philippines and killing at least twenty, wounding dozens. But this attacked happened in late January (not, as the post implies, in mid-March). And, the tragedy was covered by media when it actually happened, including CNN, Fox, NYTimes, BBC, Reuters and many more.

The killings in Nigeria are different, more complicated. The posts that have been circulating, often referencing a Breitbart headline, claim that Muslim militants have killed more than 120 Christians in Nigeria. Again, this is a mixture of truth and error. The numbers vary from agency to agency, but 120 is very likely. However, this is part of a larger feud between farmers and herders that is raging in Nigeria currently. Muslim nomadic herders (Fulani) have been in conflict with the ethnically Christian Adara people in Nigeria. Many on both sides have been killed. In February, Adara gunmen, in response to an attack by Fulani, targetted Fulani settlements and killed at least 130. In March, yes 120 Christians, or more, were killed as a part of this conflict. It's ugly. It is war. Which makes it categorically different than a white supremacist walking into a mosque and killing fifty, wounding more.  

The Christland shooting has received more attention than either of the other two events. I don't doubt that, but it seems completely understandable too. There is a 'first world bias' to events we read about or hear about from the media. A factory fire that kills 20 in Bangladesh won't make the news. Same fire in Chicago or Londo will. And, this kind of violence isn't expected in New Zealand, but we have become somewhat calloused to it in other parts of the country. A gangland shootout killing three or four people won't make the news if it's in Chicago or LA. If it's on the streets of Cape Cod or in Disneyland it would.

Let me be blunt, misrepresenting these horrific events to make the point that Christians are ignored by the media is dishonest. It is, in terms of the Ten Commandments, bearing false witness. And, it dishonors the dead - they aren't tools to be used in your war against the media. Shaping public opinion by using false data is, at best, manipulative. It feeds the "us vs. them" mentality that is doing so much harm in our nation and across the globe. Please stop.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Not a Political Post: Our Elected Officials Do Speak for Us, Whether We Like It or Not

This post isn't a political one, but I have noticed something over the past few years regarding how we talk about politics that I'd like to call out, partly because it's just incorrect, and partly because it has implications for how we read and understand the Scriptures.

For a long time now I've seen social media posts that read, 'He's not my President' or 'He/she/they don't speak for me'.  It's not just under the current administration that this kind of rhetoric has been common - many conservative/right wingers said the same kind of thing under the previous administration. Well, hate to break it to you, but they do - whether you like it or not. Again, this isn't a post in support of any politician or party, court decision or policy. I don't post political things (usually), and I'm not doing so here. It's just a post about reality.

The U.S. is a representative democracy - we elect representatives who represent us. They speak for us, enact laws on our behalf, appoint judges, make decisions, strike treaties, etc. I have never done any of those things, but my representatives have on my behalf. I don't always like their decisions, but they do speak for me. If Congress declares war on Canada [or the President; War Powers Resolution is iffy constitutionally], then we, including me, are at war.

It is a special expression of our western individualism [run amuck] that says things like 'PersonX doesn't speak for me' when PersonX clearly does. And this individualism makes it hard to accept a key principle of Scripture - federal headship.

Did I appoint Adam as my representative? No, I didn't have a say. Do I approve of what he did? No (but, slightly off point, I would have failed just as miserably - I do it daily).  But still Adam spoke and acted as my representative. He declared independence from his Maker, thrust himself and me into conflict with the Divine Judge/Jury/Executioner.  "But he doesn't speak for me!" Yes, yes he does.

And so does Christ. He speaks for me and all those who are 'in him'. He, as the second Adam, is our faithful and true representative who makes terms of peace for us, accomplishes the peace, and imposes a new law of love. At the same time, I am conscripted by him into an ongoing war against darkness, sin, and the devil.

Our western, individualistic presuppositions can truly make it difficult to understand texts written in the Ancient Near East, and to the degree that such presuppositions are fallen and twisted, they make it hard to understand how a holy God operates too.

[note: I will not engage political discourse in the comments, but if you have questions about the theology of this post, ask away]

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Further Meditation on God's Wisdom

Yesterday I posted some thoughts related to God's wisdom as it is revealed in the story of Joseph. I kept thinking about it last night and into this morning, and am all the more in awe of God's wisdom.

In essence, I came to the the conclusion yesterday that if Joseph hadn't been sold into slavery, we're all going to hell. How did I come to this fairly startling conclusion?

Joseph being sold into slavery, though a series of convoluted machinations, places Joseph in a place of tremendous influence in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. In this role, Joseph institutes a plan that will save thousands of lives during a seven year famine that God warns of in a dream. Among those lives saved are Jacob (Joseph's elderly father) and Joseph's brothers. These men represent the covenant community, the descendants of Abraham and Jacob that will become Israel.

If this small group of sojourners die of starvation (and they would have had Joseph not provided them grain), God's promise that Abraham's descendants would be numerous would fail. And, God's promise that Abraham's seed would be a blessing to the nations would fail too. If they die, there is no Israel; no Israel means no Messiah to bless the nations; no Messiah means we're still in our sin.

That was my thought line yesterday.

Then I started to question it and said to myself, "Surely, God would have found another way!"

But that's not right. That God is all wise means God never has to go to Plan B. He chooses the right plan - the right goal and the right means to achieve it - from the outset.

And because God is good and holy, we can be sure Plan A is a good and holy plan - a perfect goal and just means to accomplish it. Because God is all knowing, no unforeseen circumstances will arise and force him back to the drawing board. Because God is Almighty, no force can stand in his way when his plan has been determined.

Saying God is Wise means no Plan B is needed!

Job 42:1-2:
Then Job replied to the LORD:
      2 “I know that you can do all things;
         no purpose of yours can be thwarted

Isaiah 14:26-27
      This is the plan determined for the whole world;
         this is the hand stretched out over all nations.
      27 For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him?
         His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back? 

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

God's wisdom

This morning I am studying the story of Joseph, getting ready to speak on God's wisdom for the men's group. It's such a familiar story, it's all the more striking when some new insight hits you. And that's what happened this morning.

Joseph is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. He endures life as a slave, mistreatment by Potiphar and his wife, incarceration and more. He's been betrayed and forgotten. But God is wise.

Eventually, due to some disturbing dreams Pharaoh has (dreams play a huge role in Joseph's story), Joseph ends up in the court of Pharaoh in a incredibly influential position. Pharaoh's dream warned of a long famine that would follow on the heels of years of prosperity. In  wisdom, Joseph helps Pharaoh make ready for the years of famine by storing up grain during the years of plenty. In so doing, he is instrumental in saving the lives of countless thousands of people.

And here's where the story gets fantastic. Some of the people he saves are his own family - his scheming, treacherous brothers and his aging father.  His wisdom rescues them from starvation. That, in and of itself, makes the story really cool. But consider that Jacob (Joseph's father) and his brothers are the descendants of Abraham and Isaac. They are the covenant community. They are the people that become the nation of Israel. They are the forefathers of the Messiah.

So here it is...

If Joseph isn't sold into slavery, he doesn't find himself in Pharaoh's court preparing Egypt for famine.

If Joseph isn't sold into slavery, Jacob and his brothers die of starvation.

If Joseph isn't sold into slavery, there is no Israel.

If Joseph isn't sold into slavery, Jesus isn't born in Bethlehem as Messiah.

If Joseph isn't sold into slavery, we aren't saved by Jesus from our sins.

If Joseph isn't sold into slavery, I am going to hell for eternity.

Lets all sing with the apostle Paul:

      33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
         How unsearchable his judgments,
         and his paths beyond tracing out!
      34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord?
         Or who has been his counselor?” b
      35 “Who has ever given to God,
         that God should repay them?” c
      36 For from him and through him and for him are all things.
         To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)