Thursday, April 27, 2006

Everyone Else Is Writing About It....

I have no desire to add to the hype surrounding Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, but I do feel that we have a responsibility as the church to address the issues that Brown raises in his book. The release of the movie version this month will open many more eyes to the intrigue and mystery of the novel along with the heresy and falsehood about Christ and the Christian church contained therein. I am preparing now for a series of sermons on the issues raised in The Da Vinci Code because I believe that we as Christians have a responsibility to defend the faith.

In 2 Timothy chapters two and three, Paul reminds Timothy to rightly handle the Word of God and that the Word of God is useful for teaching, rebuking, and correcting. We too must work to rightly handle God’s Word, and in the face of questions that aim right at the very heart of our faith, it is essential that we stand ready to defend the faith with correct handling and understanding of God’s Word. On his website, Dan Brown goes so far as to allude to Christianity as a “legend familiar to all of us.” This is yet one more example of this secular world opposing our Lord and questioning the validity of his church and his teachings.

I encourage you to pick up one of the many books that can be found in Christian bookstores today that deal with the untruths and misconceptions about the Christian faith and the history of the Christian church that Brown alludes to in his book. Further, we should all be reminded that The Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction, not one of fact. I am appalled at some of the ludicrous claims that are made in this book, but I do see the book and the movie as great opportunities for us to share our faith. The questions that will be raised by unbelievers will give us opportunity to combat false doctrine with the Truth of God’s Word. I challenge you to prepare yourself for the questions and to remember Paul’s words, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” God’s great plans can never be spoiled by man’s schemes; I am excited to see how God will work through this event.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

What About Lazarus?

Serious Bible study is not easy. As a matter of fact, serious study of the Bible is hard work and is not always fun, but it is always rewarding. It was pointed out to me just a few days ago that without in-depth study and understanding we will never correctly understand the author’s intended meaning to his original hearers. Simply looking for what the Bible means to me is never enough, we must always seek to understand the intended meaning of any passage and that understanding requires work and diligence.

As I discuss below the intended meaning of Colossians 1:18, please know that it was only through study and the teaching of others who have put in the time to understand the mindset of the first century Jewish community that I was able to come to this understanding and conclusion. I thank those who are willing to correct me and do the work of training me that have helped me to value the work of true, in-depth biblical scholarship.

A few weeks ago I caused some questions to be raised in preaching Colossians chapter one. In verse 18, Paul says that Christ is the “firstborn from the dead.” “How”, it was asked, “could Christ be the first since we know of others who were raised from the dead by Christ?” This is a very good question that requires a slightly in-depth answer. After all, we are aware of several instances of Christ raising people from the dead. Lazarus, for example, was raised after being in the tomb for four days just prior to Jesus’ final Passover and crucifixion. How then, could the Apostle Paul speak of Christ as being “firstborn from the dead?”

The answer lies in a proper understanding of Christ’s resurrection and in the resuscitation of others from the dead and in distinguishing between the events. This understanding can only be found in a proper definition of resurrection as understood by the first century Jewish community. According to N.T. Wright, resurrection for the first century Jew carried with it more than just raising from the dead. Resurrection was a sign of the welcoming of God’s messiah and the ending of the Jewish exile by the Roman government. The person who was truly resurrected was not resurrected to die, but was indeed resurrected to life everlasting. In other words, after tasting death once, resurrection would give assurance that death would never be experienced again.

In the case of Lazarus and the others that were raised from the dead in the New Testament by Christ or by the disciples, death would be experienced again. We know that Lazarus, though having been raised from the dead, did die again. The same is true of Jairus’ daughter and all others. In essence, the “raising” was very similar to resuscitation. Any man or woman brought back to life through CPR will die and be laid in the grave some day, so too were Lazarus and the others, all would taste death again.

Christ, on the other hand, was not merely raised from the dead. Christ was resurrected. The term resurrection is qualitatively different than that of raising or resuscitating from the dead. Christ was resurrected never to die again. In that sense, Christ was absolutely the firstborn from the dead. Christ was not merely raised to life; he was born into a different kind of life.

Having been conceived by the virgin, Christ’s first birth was out of the womb of his mother Mary. Having been crucified and laid in the grave, however, Christ’s new birth was to a new, glorified life. Christ was born this time not of the womb of his mother, but was born out of the womb of the grave. The grave gave birth to Christ who, having experienced death once will never die again. Christ’s resurrection was into eternity, not merely into a few more years on this earth.

Christ was the first born from the dead because he was the first to be birthed through the labor and contractions of the grave. The womb simply will not hold the infant past a certain point. Once the child has reached its proper state, the contractions begin and the baby must be released from the mother. A fully developed child is out of place in the womb. The mother simply cannot continue to carry the child past a certain point.

Similarly, only more gloriously, the grave could only contain Christ to a certain point. Christ’s death brought about the forgiveness of sins and broke the curse of sin. “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned,” is the message of Romans 5:12. However, the curse of sin that was brought through one man has been broken by one man who bore the sins of the world in his sinless death. The curse of death was simply not applicable to the one man who had never sinned. The grave could not hold the sinless one because he was not under the curse. Death could never spread to the one who had never sinned.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Go Figure

I have to admit a little secret, I really enjoy reading Ann Coulter’s work. Her wit and often satire of the political scene and popular media culture make me smile, but beyond that, she is usually dead on with her opinions. In her most recent column, she mentions the hype surrounding the Duke University lacrosse team rape case, as well as the Natalie Holloway disappearance and the case of the young woman who was brutally murdered in New York City earlier this year. Though the Duke case is still up in the air, it is obvious in the two other cases that something terrible happened. But, could any of this have been avoided, and what are the issues surrounding these cases that the media is not willing to address?

Ms. Coulter correctly points out that though kidnapping, rape, murder, and false accusations are never justified, and those who commit such acts should pay the severe consequences, the criminals are not to blame for the unwise behavior of the victims that put them into compromising situations. Coulter points out:

“However the Duke lacrosse rape case turns out, one lesson that absolutely will not be learned is this: You can severely reduce your chances of having a false accusation of rape leveled against you if you don't hire strange women to come to your house and take their clothes off for money. Also, you can severely reduce your chances of being raped if you do not go to strange men's houses and take your clothes off for money. (Does anyone else detect a common thread here?) And if you are a girl in Aruba or New York City, among the best ways to avoid being the victim of a horrible crime is to not get drunk in public or go off in a car with men you just met.”

Further she adds, “Everyone makes mistakes, especially young people, but the outpouring of support for the victims and their families is obscuring what ought to be a flashing neon warning for potential future victims.” Unfortunately, in our society of “rights” and “freedom” the media is not willing to stand up and warn against the dangers of bad judgment calls, because by doing so there is the fear that we will in some way be questioning the rights of these young people who were merely exercising their freedom. (On a side not, it is worthy to point out here that just because you can do something, does not mean it is always a good idea to do it.)

I am not justifying the tragic end to these situations, but we must point out that if compromising situations had been avoided, the tragedy might have been evaded as well. In each of these cases, the young people were engaged in behavior that not long ago “would have been recognized as vulgar — whether or not anyone ended up dead, raped or falsely accused of rape. But in a nation of people in constant terror of being perceived as "judgmental," I'm not sure most people do recognize that anymore.”

Coulter, not usually the theologian, goes on to point out that just because we have been involved at some point in an act of wrong, that we in turn cannot warn or criticize those who do the same thing. The old “boys will be boys” argument, only now applied across the board. The well meaning mother may comment, “Well, lots of people do stupid things, I know I have, who am I to judge?” Coulter points to the likes of Rev. Franklin Graham, and the apostle Paul as examples of men who have turned from their mistakes to lead others away from the same path they once followed.

Coulter says that only in cases of morality are people held accountable for their failures and deemed hypocrites for attempting to keep others from following the path they once trod. I once touched a hot iron and it burned me, but no one calls me a hypocrite for warning others not to do the same thing.

Near the close of her article, the author writes “But we're all rotten sinners, incapable of redemption on our own.” This does not mean, however, that in our sin and inability we should leave others to mess up their own lives without warning or correction.

Christ has paid our debt on the cross; his wounds have given us healing. As Christians, we must recognize that morality is an issue worth addressing. Regardless of what we may have done in our lives, we have the responsibility to model morality and character and to caution others of the dangers of living only to please themselves in disobedience to Christ. The tragedy of rape and murder should never be made light of, but the warning signs need to flash loud and clear.

True freedom is not the ability to live as you want to live. True freedom is to live in Christ, free from the burden of sin. The freedom found in Christ frees us to live, not as our sinful nature desires, but instead to live the way we were created to exist. True freedom is life in Christ.

Wimpy Eye for the Barbarian Guy

In his 2004 article, “Wimps and Barbarians: The Sons of Murphy Brown,” Terrence O. Moore discusses the implications, both current and future, of a society that devalues manhood and elevates male roles that are far removed from historical understandings of proper manhood. By categorizing much of today’s American male culture into two extreme categories, “barbarians and wimps,” Moore shows that true and proper masculinity is found in Aristotle’s “golden mean” rather than the extremes of the male psyche. Of these extremes Moore comments, “one suffers from an excess of manliness…the other from a lack of manliness.” The male found in a mature state of manhood is one who values, among other things, honor, ambition, virtue and justice. Manhood, by Moore’s definition is a “sustained act of character.”

Much is to be gained from Moore’s article, but most importantly is the simple message he brings about the necessity of correct masculinity in our society. Society elites of our culture tend to not only tolerate those who exist within the extremes of manliness, that is the barbarians and the wimps, but to elevate them to a higher standard than those men who choose to value virtuous qualities. Moore points to the elevation of barbaric activity promoted by pop culture in rap, heavy metal, and professional wrestling. In each of these venues, barbaric activity that elevates violent and physical attributes of manliness while devaluing women is glorified. On the flipside of the coin, wimps are praised on television. Men are the butt of jokes and are dependent upon the women in their lives to make decisions and deal with their feelings. The elevation of women in our society has been beneficial (at least in some ways) for females in our education system and society as a whole, but “what is good for the goose is not always good for the gander.”

The promotion of wimps and barbarians in American culture through education, pop culture, and major media outlets has disabled the ability of the American male to perform in a proper state of manhood without ridicule. Men who choose to be “men” by standing up for their beliefs, providing for and protecting their families, and refusing to bow to the dictates of radical feminism are called chauvinistic and closed minded. Men who send their wives to the work force and stay home to coddle the children are praised. Even more radically, our major media outlets have recently (this was not in the article) rewarded and praised a rap artist for writing about the difficulties of being a pimp. The state of manhood is dire in our society. Moore’s article is a wake up call for men across our land to stand up and be counted as leaders with virtue and integrity.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Standing Ovation

An excerpt from my journal….

I truly believe that Christian discipleship is a task requiring study and work. However, sometimes I may expect too much, I just don’t know. Should I applaud even the smallest advancement in devotion or understanding, or should I demand more?

One thing is sure, if I should expect more, I must work to express my expectations with an attitude of applause. Even the smallest advancement is worthy of praise, but the experienced (not necessarily mature yet) Christian must not be left to crawl when he or she should be walking or running. I must work to coach in different ways. Everyone does not respond in the same way; therefore, I must work to approach people differently. My tone must speak of encouragement and praise rather than frustration. The fact that a person is making some attempt at growing in their faith, even if not a satisfactory one, is reason to applaud. After all, applause will often spur one on to greater victories than all of the “boos” in the world.

Maybe this will benefit someone else.

God's Greatness

I have made it my goal to read through the entire Bible over the course of the next year. Having just finished Genesis, a few things have really jumped out at me. For instance, the greatenss and glory of God when compared with human finitude in this first book of Moses. In reading about the patriarchs, we often focus on the immoral lives of the characters in the narrative and question God's blessings upon them. Truthfully, however, I believe that in doing so, we tend to limit God. We attempt to confine God's purposes to the actions of men and women. We ask why God would bless Abraham after so many moral failures. However, we do not speak of God's majest and sovereingty in being able to accomplish his purposes in spite of the disobedience of the patriarchs. God is sovereign regardless of the actions of his people. God is greater than everything, even sin.

God's blessing does not fall on people because of their disobedience. Scritpure speaks of God's blessing remaining with people in spite of their disobedience (It should be noted here that my definition of blessing in this sense is more in line with the understanding of "giving" a blessing in the Old Testament. By "blessing" I am not referring necessarily to material possessions, but rather to the purpose and task to which one is called. For example, God blessed Abraham by choosing him as the vehicle through which the Jewish people would be formed.) Why would God do that? Because his blessing is a responsibility. God blesses people so that his will can be accomplished. God's will was accomplished in Genesis in spite of the disobedience of the people chronicled in this narrative. In fact, God has been accomplishing his purposes since the beginning of creation in spite of the frailty and failures of human beings.

We limit God too often to our own abilities. Our prayers are not even as they should be. We elevate sin and remove God's glory. Jesus' model prayer begins with praise and glory given to God, but often we begin our prayers with repentence. We must realize that the sin in our lives does not now and will not ever take precidence over the glory of God. God is greater than sin and works in spite of our failures; we must honor him for that. Sin is an offence to God only because of God's majesty, thus even the sin of our lives speaks of God's glory. THerefore, any mention of sin--through prayer, repentance, personal testimony, etc...--must inevitably focus on God's greatness. To do otherwise is to limit God's majesty and elevate the importance of the sin in our lives.

Many people are credited with great testimonies because of the horribly sinful lifestyle they once lived. The testimony of the Christian, however, is never a word of what they have done. The testimony of the Christian must always be a word of what God has done in spite of everything that a lost sinner did to mess up God's plans.