Archive for July, 2011

Dorothy Sayers, one of the great Oxford Inklings contemporaneous with C.S. Lewis, Charles Lamb, and J.R.R. Tolkien, wrote marvelous mysteries. My introduction to her was one I will not forget for we still sometimes share whispered mysteries in a haunted corner of the house and her brilliance can change from telling an unraveling mystery to theological insights as in The Mind of the Maker. My favorite lines though come in this keenly insightful witticism from Wimsey on how we never hear “nowadays” of successful marriages–or murders.

Read any newspaper to-day. Read the News of the World, now that the Press has been muzzled, read the divorce court lists. Wouldn’t they give you the idea that marriage is a failure? Isn’t the sillier sort of journalism packed with articles to the same effect? And yet, looking round among the marriages you know of personally, aren’t the majority of them a success, in a hum-drum, undemonstrative sort of way? Only you don’t hear of them. People don’t bother to come into court and explain that they dodder along very comfortably on the whole, thank you. Similarly, if you read all the books on this shelf, you’d come to the conclusion that murder was a failure. But bless you, it’s always the failures that make the noise. Successful murderers don’t write to the papers about it. They don’t even join in imbecile symposia to tell an inquisitive world ‘What Murder means to me,’ or ‘How I became a Successful Poisoner.’ Happy murderers, like happy wives, keep quiet tongues. And they probably bear just about the same proportion to the failures as the divorced couples do to the happily mated.


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In the course of my studies, I found this article to be an excellent summation of a key issue facing Christians today, something I need to read and re-read:

How to Contend with Sin Redemptively

©David Mappes, PhD

Some years ago a young wife clinging to her husband, hung her head in tears as she shared about her adulterous affair.  She had confessed her sin to her husband and to the church some weeks prior.  I gently raised her head and shared, “please do not lower your head in shame to anyone in this church-we have all been saved, are being saved, and one day will be saved by the blood of Jesus.”  We then began to construct a redemptive solution for this couple.  Scripture portrays a believer’s relationship to sin in a multi-colored fashion.  We are portrayed both as sinners who are completely forgiven and stand completely accepted and loved by God and at the same time we are portrayed as saints who continue to struggle with sin.   A redemptive paradigm allows this sinning saint identity while avoiding a guilt driven or grace distorting schizophrenia.

Pastors and counselors should emphasize this threefold sense of salvation to engender a redemptive environment.  We have been saved (Acts 16:31; 2 Tim 1:9) from the very penalty and all penal guilt of our sin.  This past sense/ tense of salvation is summed up as Justification.  Justification entails God pronouncing a judicial verdict and acquittal of all our sins so that each of us stand before Him in Christ’s imputed (not imparted) righteousness and not by our own works (Rom. 3:20-25; Gal. 2:16).  At the moment of conversion, even before we start living righteously, God views us as righteous.  Hence, God does not accept nor love us based on our personal holiness but upon the holiness of His Son.  Justification results in an immediate personal (Rom 4), permanent (Rom 5:1-2), positional (Rom 8:1-3), non-progressive/ non-consummative (Rom 5:1, 12-21), non-condemnable (Rom 8:1-2; 8:31-33) standing before God solely based on Christ’s righteousness as demonstrated in the atonement (Rom 3:21-28; 5:9; Eph 1:7; Phil 3:9).  Believers need to embrace the truth that personal sin does not alter the way God judicially views the saint who sins.  It is this very acceptance by God that impels the believer to return to God in brokenness and humility.  Justification is based on imputation and not impartation of righteousness.

The present tense of salvation, we are being saved (Phil 2:12-13; Rom 6-8) refers to sanctification-a progressive process of being made holy and saved from the power and dominion of sin in our lives.  Pastors should help believers discern the difference between the feelings of condemnation, the heavy and very real consequences of personal sin, and the convicting ministry of the Spirit.  Guilt is a powerful force that can lead to confusion.  Remember that there is now “no condemnation for those in Christ” (Rom 8:1), which means we are not guilty before God for our past, present, and future sin.  While there is no condemnation for those in Christ, Satan is referred to as the accuser (or condemner) of the brethren (Rev 12:10) who accuses us day and night.  Zechariah 3:1-5 provides an illustration of this truth.  The consequences of personal sin are very real and can be devastating leading to God’s discipline but not condemnation.  His grace is always sufficient.  The Holy Spirit never condemns but rather convicts and draws us back to experience the fellowship and intimacy with God.  It is this very work of the Holy Spirit and renewed intimacy with God that allows us to work through the very serious consequences our sin.

The future sense of salvation, we will be saved (glorification) promises us ultimate and final deliverance from the very presence and pollution of sin (Rom 13:11; 1 Peter 1:3-5; Rom 8:31-39).  This threefold approach to salvation helps to eliminate the two extremes in viewing sin.  While some churches view sin primarily as a societal evil and phenomena and thus focus on how sin impacts various communities, the other extreme is to demonize a sin (or sins) so that the sin is kept hidden, concealed and never confessed.  A redemptive environment encourages any believer to confess any sin without fear of retribution or alienation (1 John 1:5—2:2).  Through confession we agree with God regarding the seriousness of our sin and we ask God to help with the consequences caused by our sin.  We agree that personal sin is a horrible and hated offense by God, which led to the horrors of Jesus’ atoning work on the cross, and we agree with God that personal sin has led to lack of intimacy with God and other believers.  However, we also agree with God that our personal sin is covered through the substitutionary atoning work of Christ and that God still loves and accepts us.  So, we appropriate God’s grace and provision through faith to help work through the personal consequences and domination of sin.

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Here’s my thought: I just spent $244 for three adults and $124 for two children to go to Universal Studios for a day. And why not? The greatest special effects, live studio animals, behind-the-scenes house sets of Desperate Housewives, Curious George and Coca-Cola Soakland, JAWS replicas, and the list goes on and on plus who doesn’t want to spend $32 for a large pizza? Flash-forward to the end of the day (and this isn’t complainin’) but the kids screamed as if tortured during King Kong 3-D trying to eat them until a T-Rex mercifully diverted him. Even Jimmy Fallon singing “Have a Tramtastic Day!” didn’t do it for them. What did they like? Playing in the Curious George gym. “C’mon, kids!” I wanted to shout, “We could have done this at home for free,” but then I thought they might come up with the logical sequitur, “Then why don’t we?”

It’s not that Universal, Disneyland, and Medieval Times are bad. I’m just sayin’: Kids get it. Case in point, four weeks ago when I didn’t have the normal place to stay for the Legislature in Des Moines, we were relegated to the Super 8. Kim had a Vietnamese Church Conference, and I was alone with the kids. The kids were thrilled because of the new hotel, the fact that we were eating pizza AND cookies (I should have a T-shirt ” nutritionally irresponsible father”), and that we were going to eat under the blankets while watching TV and snuggling. I really believe that they were just happy being together and having a plan.

Kids are honest and give you the: I’m scared, I don’t like you, I feel weird, I hate beans, I know you’re going to say no, etc. Remember when Nathanel was honest in his jibe about people from Nazareth saying, “Can anything good come from there?” And Jesus responded with, “Here is a true Israelite in whom there is nothing false”? (John 1:47). I think the blunt honesty that made Jesus so hated was seen here, no hemming and hawing, political correctness, dodging triangulation. Only such a one could have his yes be his yes and his no be his no instead of having to swear, promise, or take oaths that this time, I’m really telling the truth. Without a promise, oath, or swearing, what are we doing then the other 98% of the time, but I digress…Children are the honest ones whom we try to quiet when they ask loudly, “Dad, what’s wrong with that man’s face?” at the grocery store three feet away from a man you feel like telling, “There, there, Quasimodo. My kids have no social skills.”

G.K. Chesterton, in one of my favorite quotes of Orthodoxy says this:

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them.
Last thought of the day. Jesus had limitless options when the kids were around. No, say the disciples, get away from the LORD. He has things to do, people to see, plans to make, an agenda, a kingdom to institute, healing to be done, a schedule to keep, this is the Messiah, the Son of Man, the Holy One, don’t even get close to him, no we don’t do autographs, kid, who do you think I just told you this is, we’re talking Immanuel, God incarnate, mom and dad please you want to try to explain, the rabble never stops does it–
Let the children come unto me. For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children, the Eternal voice calls and bewildered the wise, mature disciple with the slack jaw and shaking head gets pushed back by laughter, grabbing, and squealing delight to the outside of the laughing circle of light and dance.

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I’m currently in Garden Grove, California at the centennial celebration of the gospel coming to Vietnam. That’s right, in 1911 the first forays of the Christian Missionary Alliance made inroads and brought the message of Jesus Christ’s salvation to the Vietnamese people. Some intriguing facts: there are over 400 Vietnamese Protestant churches in America; 90 million people speak Vietnamese worldwide making it one of the world’s major languages; believers have grown from 60,000 pre-1975 to over 1.2 million despite opposition.

The celebration at the Crystal Cathedral was special, not only because 5600 believers gathered in Christ’s name but because one must understand the trail of tears and hardship being reunited. If you do not know, the local grocer, nail shop owner, or translator at the hospital of Vietnamese origin probably has experienced heartache from the events of pre-1975 during the war. This could include a family member being killed, one taken to “re-education camp” (that’s where my wife’s dad lost his life after eight backbreaking years), or separation after over a million Vietnamese fled the country on makeshift boats, many of which were lost to the sea. It is wonderful seeing this large family united in the healing and loving arms of the Savior.

Cory Ashida, a Japanese-American pastor, spoke last night of the difficulty of first generation American-Asian churches. His message was awesome because it recognized that the struggle is often that the Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, or Korean church wants to retain its parent culture with its tradition and language. The kids? Well, they are missing after a few years. Pastor Ashida made a radical change–the guitar at worship services, English only, and the pastor regularly texting the youth. Why? He recognized that idols, which are sometimes good things like family, are idols and thus bad because an idol is anything elevated above the glory of God and the unity of the church. He compared forcing the mother tongue and the constraints of culture to bursting old wineskins and the young people flowing out. His message had an exalted view of God and the Holy Spirit which can overcome all these thorny obstacles. The result? His church of 35 has grown to over 1,200 from many backgrounds including Chinese and Koreans in addition to the Japanese.

Rick Warren spoke tonight in a very powerful message. His dad was an average preacher and a carpenter. On his deathbed, he repeatedly (almost delusionally but some might argue with more clarity than ever) kept repeating, “One more. I need to save one more,” and kept trying to get out of bed. Warren has a heart for the Vietnamese people and glorifying God in the nations. He spoke of how God uses weak and small vessels and believes that is why he has been used to have the best-selling book in the English-speaking world in history outside the Bible, The Purpose Driven Life. Ironically in Crystal Cathedral, he spoke of how he had tithed 10% to 11%, increasing the percentage each year, and by God’s grace is up to 91% after having paid back the church all the past year’s salaries. He said that none of this is bragging false humility but is designed to show that no matter how much we try to “outgive” God, we always lose in that battle because God is always more faithful. Without socks, a Walmart watch, and a passionate heart for God, the simple but powerful message of trusting God for His glory among the nations resounded in the night air.

And now I’m back in the hotel, tired but inspired. God’s grace is enough as my kids and their cousins prance around naked in circles getting ready for a bath (from ages 2-7, the scene is a mix of Peter Pan, Miss Saigon, and Lord of the Flies.) The laughter is grace. God takes a self-admitted average writer who “isn’t saying anything that hasn’t been said in 2,000 years,” and provides him tens of millions of dollars–to expand the kingdom while his church of fewer than a dozen grows to thousands. A Japanese-American church that could be torn by dissension and bitterness welcomes the Holy Spirit and shows that glory is greater than strife. And the gospel has survived and thrived in the midst of persecution and tragedy.

Yes, His grace is enough, more than enough!

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What’s in a name? In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, probably one of the most misinterpreted of Shakespeare’s plays precisely because of its general popularity, we find the singularly most misinterpreted line in 2.2.35:

O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.

Usually in the cartoon version, Juliet is feigning some overly dramatic, soprano falsetto and has a hand to her forehead looking out at the distance. The problem is three-fold: it’s nighttime, this is a soliloquy intended to reveal her thoughts, and “wherefore” always means why. Therefore, our young thirteen-year-old lover is wondering not where Romeo is but why he is Romeo. In other words, context, context, context…in the next line she asks him to refuse his name or she could give up hers leading her to something I’d like to take a look at today by asking about the importance of name itself. In 2.2.45-51, Juliet further explains,

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name;
And for that name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.

In explaining this idea to my students, I explain that we could call a rose a hfbegeeni (a made-up nonsense word) and it would still smell as sweet. In fact, we could call the rose “skunk,” “turd,” or “old cheese,” and it would still give off the wafting, pleasing perfume of nature. So, Juliet argues, would Romeo keep, were his name not Romeo, his dear perfection “without that title.” She concludes he can “doff” or get rid of his name and take her instead!

One of the problems with reading the Bible is that we forget the meaning of names since we are reading translations of Hebrew and Greek. In fact, our own names are often forgotten with their language derivatives with the exception of English surnames often taken after their professions. For example, it’s not difficult to discern how I get the last name “Taylor,” or others have Farmer, Smith, Brewer, Carpenter, etc. or Johnson / Ericson (literally John’s or Eric’s son.) Oftentimes in the Bible we see a little letter stating that Moses originally meant “drawn out” as he was taken from the water, that Isaac meant “laughter” after Abraham and Sarah’s disbelief, that Esau meant “red” (and hairy?) and that Jacob meant “he cheats.” I once argued to my brother that the original names should be transliterated as it might be helpful to have Isaac struck from the text and insert Laughter. Imagine reading in Genesis 27:22, “Then Laughter said, ‘The voice is Cheater’s, but the hands are the hands of Red.’ (Thankfully, when my brother was working on the ESV Study Bible, he ignored my advice.)

I still think though that there is an important point not to be missed. Names mean much to God. He designates the name that Lucifer shall be deemed Satan or “adversary.” He chooses Isaac’s name. The LORD’s name was so precious and not to be taken in vain that the Jews of old dared not to utter it preferring YHWH (the “I Am” of Exodus 3:14). Ishmael’s name (my son’s) means “God listens” as a remembrance of His grace to Hagar’s supposedly forsaken son; Samuel’s similarly means “Heard of God” for the listening to Hannah’s plea for a child, and we could go on and on. In fact, consider the name change of Saul to Paul and the significance of his Hebrew origins branching out to the Gentile world as he uses his Roman name. Remember also that Simon received the gift of being called Peter, (Petros in Greek or Kepha in Aramaic) by none other than Christ himself in order to be the rock on which the church would be built. (The word “petrify” means to harden into stone, but I digress.)

So what about the name of Jesus? The Old Testament is resplendent with the glory of God’s name, and the New Testament reveals that it is at the name of Jesus that every knee should bow to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2). So what’s in a name, specifically the name of Yeshua? Everything. For it is in the name of Him we know most closely as Jesus in whose etymology we dare not miss something important. Yeshua (pronounced yea-shu-ah) literally means “YHWH is salvation.” Calling him by any other name? So integral is salvation to His beautiful character that it would be less fitting…and it would be less sweet.

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I have met real heroes. If I mentioned one of them in the grocery store, 99% of people would say, “Who the heck is that?” Let me mention some names: Judd Litschke, Ernest Grant, Lonnie Gustafson, Dee Sturgeon, John Piper, David Wilkerson. See? Some of you may have been able to pick out just a name or two. Judd Litschke and Ernest Grant are larger-than-life WWII heroes, quiet veterans. Judd was held in a POW camp in Branau, Austria and Ernest atop a French family’s home in Nazi-occupied France, both for over a year. Their stories would make a 60 Minutes producer salivate, but they instead chose to tell them to 120 freshmen at North High School. Lonnie and Dee have volunteerism in the blood working countless hours with Special Olympics and helping mentally challenged folks learn to square dance. When I see Lonnie mowing at the United Methodist Church in Sioux City as he has done for years, I have someone I want to be like in quiet service–it’s just something he does. John Piper and David Wilkerson? Preachers. I’ve had the privilege of hearing both men preach, John Piper at Bethlehem Baptist where my brother attended TBI and eventually worked, Wilkerson in Times Square Church in New York where I visited intermittently for a couple years. In the six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon, Wilkerson led my mother to the Lord after a tough family background and much hurt in her life as a young teacher in California over 40 years ago.

David Wilkerson went to the Lord over two months ago. As a twelve-year-old, I read Run, Baby, Run by Nicky Cruz, the Mau Mau gang member whom Wilkerson led to Christ, memorialized in Wilkerson’s book, The Cross and Switchblade. I also read his infamous Purple, Violet, Squish. The graphic violence juxtaposed incongruously with the bold, brave grace of God struck me then, and they stay with me now. When Wilkerson preached, the thing that struck me was the Old Testament, prophet-like watchman trembling, warning of judgment, pleading in one minute of the dreadful sin and judgment of God, calling in the Kentucky, small-town style those to come forward and give their lives to Jesus at the front. Times Square Church might have held several thousand but you just knew that he could be in a tiny chapel of 18 and the passionate heart would still be there.

Take a look at the checkout magazines at the store today and notice the “supermen” and “superwomen” of our age, the Lady Gagas, Sandra Bullocks, Eminems, Kobe Bryants. Not one of their names will be remembered a thousand years from now, and vapor-like their earthly fame will have vanished. I have a buoyant hope that what Wilkerson accomplished in his lifetime will resound gloriously through the years as he was a means and a conduit of the working grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Would you join me today in whispering “Amen” to such a life?


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