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)

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Finding the Right Balance in Family Bible Reading

This morning I will be sharing with the Mom's group at ECC on the topic of family Bible reading.  Our family has certainly had it's ups and downs, its trials and errors, and its successes. There have been, shamefully, periods where we've gone months without consistent Bible reading together. And, there's been other periods, more regular and more sustained, when we've read the Bible together faithfully.  During all of it, there are a few things we've tried to keep balanced.

1. Regularity vs. Legalism
We certainly want to be regular in our ingestion of God's Word together as a family. But we've not been legalistic about it either. If we miss a night or two, we don't stress about it. Last night we went to my nieces last IU game at home - it was senior night. It was awesome and went into double overtime, ending in an IU win (Karlee played extremely well). We didn't get home late and kids were tired, Caleb still had homework to do, etc.

So, we didn't do devotions last night. Doing so would have been overly burdensome. Insisting we do so would have been legalistic.

Now we have taken, at times, this libertarian approach too far and fallen out of a real habit. That's worse. But you and your family need to find the right balance.

2. Big Story vs. Little Stories
Growing up I knew all the little stories of the Bible. When we played Bible Trivia (and we did often), I was pretty good.  Christian school, Sunday school, my parents, my dad's sermons, etc., all taught the stories of Bible.

But it wasn't till much later that I could put these together in a comprehensive way - in a way that reflected an understanding of the Big Story of the Bible.

I think that trend has been reversed in my kids. They know the Grand Story...I've told it over and over again. Our church emphasizes it. We've read devotionals that teach it. But, I'm not sure they know the stories like Gideon, Ehud, the story of the rich man and Lazarus, etc.

Both are important. In fact, the Big Story is hard to tell without certain of the small stories. And the point of the small stories is easy to miss if you can't put them in the context of the Big Story. So find the right balance.

Note: using the word story with your kids...we emphasized that the Bible stories are true stories, not stories like Hansel and Gretel or Dr. Seuss. 

3. Moral Lessons vs. God's Provision of Salvation
The Bible stories teach moral lessons. David was a courageous young man. Daniel stood up for what was right. Ruth was loyal. Amen. Our kids need to hear these moral lessons and need to have good exemplars of the faith to model. And, there's biblical precedent for this - simply look at Hebrews 11 where Abraham et al are held up as models of faith leading to action.

But these stories aren't about moral lessons; in fact, Moses, Daniel, David, etc. - they're not the heroes of the stories. God is!

At one point when we were teaching through the stories of the OT, we had a little ritual. I'd tell the story, make my wise, fatherly/pastoral comments, and then end with a question, "What's the point of the story?" The kid's response was "God saves his people!" 

Teach the morals, but never lose sight of the real point of the stories!

4. Paraphrases vs. God's Word
Is it ok to use a kids Bible, or a Bible story book that paraphrases the stories, or must we read straight from the Bible?

I think both are good. And I think, again, both have Biblical precedent. When the Israelites crossed the Jordan they erected altars. They were told to so, so that when they passed by later with their children and the children's asked, "what are these?", they'd have the opportunity to tell them the story of God's deliverance. Not read it or recite it, tell it.

But certainly, we're commanded not only to read Scripture but hide it our hearts. Reading the word of God as God inspired it is incredibly important. I remember passages that I never memorized, but I've heard read over and over again. That is so important.

So tell the stories and read the Word. Do both.

5. Age appropriate vs. Challenging
It's hard, especially with several kids, to find the right balance here. What's appropriate for one is very challenging for another (or overly simplistic).  We probably lean towards the challenging. Sometimes the youngest may feel it's over his head. But, I've seen a few things happen repeatedly. One they ask questions, and conversations start that are priceless. Two, the older kids take on the role of tutor, and explain it in more simple terms. That's awesome! Three, the younger kids understand way more that I think they do. Four, months later, they'll recall something we discussed. They didn't get it at the time, but now the light bulb went on. Love it!

So we tend to the challenging, maybe not always age appropriate. But if that's all we did, it probably wouldn't work. Sometimes the conversations are more simple...and the older ones know it's not always all about them. Plus, who of us doesn't need to be reminded and dwell on the simple lessons from time to time?

We don't have all this figured out. We did. Then we had kids. My encouragement to you is to struggle through it. Find the time, make the mistakes, do your best. Find the appropriate balance in these areas and pour into your kids, showing them that the content of our faith really matters.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Christ Would be Lord of Your Emotions Too (Thoughts on Valentine's Day)

Emotions get a bad rap. I remember my dad saying things like "you can't trust your emotions." Now, I agree that you can't trust fallen emotions, but you can't trust fallen reason or the fallen will either.

But, Christ redeems us whole, not just reason, not just will, but emotions too.

And, Christ is Lord of it all. That means he commands us to think and believe, to will and to act, and to feel and emote.

I didn't realize this was controversial till I stepped in it [the proverbial 'it'] last week. Somewhere along the line, we drew a false distinction between joy and happiness, between love as an act and love as an emotion. I believe these are absolutely false distinctions.

Let me make a case briefly, using love as my example. No Christian can seriously question that we are called to love - to love God, to love neighbor, even to love our enemies. Sometimes this gets interpreted to mean that we ought to do loving things for the other, after all, love must be expressed in practical, real ways. It's not just a warm fuzzy emotion.

With this, I can partially agree. Love isn't just an emotion. It's more, but it's not less. Love must include affection.

Think about worship for a moment. What would worship be like without genuine feeling, without affection for the one we worship? Is God content to have us do loving things for him, like serve him out of duty, obey him, etc? No! We must feel something for God. We must feel love and serve and obey.  I think 1 Corinthians 13 makes this pretty clear.
13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (ESV)
Paul speaks of loving things - worship in tongues of men and angels, giving to the poor, surrendering to martyrdom. But if these aren't done in love, read 'with genuine affection/feeling', they are nothing!
This is true of our earthly relationships too. If my wife does loving things for me - buys me Valentine's Day candy, cooks dinner, keeps my clothes clean and ironed, even shows all kinds of physical affection - but feels nothing for me, is she a loving wife? No!  Emotions are important.

The same is true of joy and happiness. We've divided the two concepts when no such division is sustainable biblically (and doesn't show up in church writings until very recently).  Too often we've contended that you can be joyful, but not happy - in other words, joy isn't an emotion. But it is!  The Bible uses words that get translated 'joy' or 'happiness' as synonyms. True, biblical joy/happiness is deep and well rooted because it's grounded in the gospel and in God, but it's still an emotion. And it's true that it's possible to be joyful/happy and grieve and be sorrowful and mourn. They aren't mutually exclusive but that doesn't mean joy isn't an emotion. Joy is an emotion, call it happiness if you will, and it should touch our faces sometimes (in smiles).  You can't be glumly joyful!

So, I don't always feel happy or feel love. I''ll admit it (and it comes as no surprise to those who know me). Is that ok?  My answer is no. It's not. Something is wrong in my faith and obedience and I should repent, seek forgiveness. If I don't feel love for my wife, I should still show love, but pray fervently that God would fix my emotions and allow me to also feel love. If I'm not happy, I ought to ask God to make me happy - not the kind that depends on my circumstances or comfort, but deeply, biblically happy in Him!

Christ commands. He is Lord. The wind and the waves should my heart! 

For more on happiness and joy, look here at this article, and also this interview with Randy Alcorn