Years ago I was telling my dad about the moral failure of a high profile Christian leader which had disqualified him from ministry. I concluded the story by saying something to the effect of: “Well, I guess he showed his true colors.”
My dad’s response was: “What if that’s not who he is at the core, but a mistake that he made?”
There I was, judging this man based on one of his worst moments, and saying: “That is who he IS!” My dad was willing to say that while what this man did was wrong, he should be given the opportunity for redemption rather than being forever dismissed and defined by his worst moment.
This isn’t to say that people are not sinners or that sinful actions are justifiable, or can just be chalked up as an “oops” that doesn’t count against us. No.
And yet: What do we do with sinners? Do we write them off and condemn them, standing upon their fallen frames in order to make ourselves appear that much taller? Or do we believe that redemption is possible and desire to see it take place?
I don’t pay much attention to Sarah Silverman, but I stumbled upon this clip of her talking about cancel culture and how it labels people as irredeemable. She makes a great point: Don’t we want to see people change? If so, we should encourage and celebrate transformation rather than self-righteously writing off people forever who have made mistakes.
This is what made Jesus so incredible: he showed love to those whom his society considered irredeemable: prostitutes, tax collectors, sinners. Far from affirming their sins, he offered them redemption, a new identity, and a new destiny.
Here is the clip from Sarah Silverman:
Sarah is not a Christian, but she is touching on something that is core to Christianity.
May we as the church be those who champion redemption, who provide a place where people are loved and are shown that they are not irredeemable because of Jesus!
In him, fallen people like us have had our sins dealt with before God, and therefore we can receive forgiveness, redemption, a new identity, and a new destiny. That’s good news.
2020 has been a wild ride! It feels like there’s a new surprise around every corner, and none of them are fun!
This year we’ve had the coronavirus pandemic, economic crisis, political and social crises, and environmental crises in the form of devastating fires in the western United States and hurricanes in the southern US.
Several people have asked me whether these fire are the judgment of God upon our society, or whether they are instead the work of the Devil.
God’s Judgment in the Bible Through Natural Means
This is an interesting question, because there are times in the Bible when we read about things which seem to be natural phenomena, but the Bible tells us they were acts of God for the purpose of judgment.
Examples of this would include: the great flood in the time of Noah, the earth opening up and swallowing the sons of Korah (sounds a lot like a sinkhole!) in Numbers 16, the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 (the site of the Dead Sea, often thought to be the result of a meteor striking the Earth), or Gehazi being struck with leprosy in 2 Kings 5.
The Bible Gives Us Something We Don’t Have In Our Time
What we have in the Bible is not just a sterile account of historical events, but rather an authoritative theological interpretation of historical events. In other words: floods happen all the time, but this flood was the judgment of God. Not every sinkhole is the judgment of God, but this one was!
These theological interpretations were given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit to the writers of Scripture. The question is: how can we know whether current events are God’s judgment or not?
When an earthquake or a tsunami strikes, or when forest fires rage, it would be presumptuous for us to declare that they are the judgment of God, because we simply don’t have the same authoritative insight or theological interpretation that was given to the writers of Scripture.
Further Considerations: A Fallen World and a Natural Ecosystem
When sin came into the world, it not only affected us human beings, it affected all of creation. There are things about nature which are broken, harsh and cruel.
Here in Colorado, for example, fire is a natural part of our ecosystem. There are certain pine cones which only open in the heat of fire, and pine forests often need fire in order to clean up the undergrowth and fallen debris and replant themselves. It’s how the ecosystem works, and there have been fires here since long before humans inhabited this area in the way we do now.
In other words: we moved to an area where wildfires are part of the ecosystem… so it probably shouldn’t surprise us when there are fires!
We look forward to the New Heavens and the New Earth, where things will be the way they were meant to be, the way they are supposed to be: where there is no more destruction by fire and no more disease, pestilence, and the like.
What Jesus Said About This: The Tower of Siloam
In Luke 13:1-5, Jesus was talking to some people about some current events which included the suffering and death of people in their community. One instance included a tower, the Tower of Siloam, which stood in Jerusalem, but had collapsed and killed 18 people.
People were asking whether the collapse of this tower, killing these 18 people, had been the judgment of God upon them. Check out Jesus’ response:
Those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
Jesus told these people, “No, this wasn’t the judgment of God.” Apparently, in our imperfect, fallen world, sometimes towers are built poorly and materials collapse, or the ground shifts, and structures sometimes collapse. Sadly, sometimes people die in accidents, or of illnesses, or of other reasons.
But, although this was not the judgment of God, Jesus warned those people that they should take heed in light of this event, and let this be something which causes them to repent and turn to God in humble faith, lest they also perish.
Regarding the fires raging in the United States, COVID-19, and the other difficulties facing the world right now: Is this the judgment of God? Maybe. Or maybe not. We can’t be sure. But we can be sure of this: these events should certainly cause you to turn to the Lord in prayer and repentance, and if we don’t repent then we will perish in something much worse than wildfire or COVID-19: the judgment of our souls.
One thing is for sure: God wants to use these events to cause us to turn to him. May we do so without delay. If we do, the hope of the gospel is not only the salvation of our souls, but the redemption of our lives, and a relationship with God.
Is morality something that people intuitively know, or is it something we need to be told or instructed about?
Why is it that what is considered moral changes over time in different societies?
Pastor Mike and I discuss these questions in this week’s Sermon Extra video, in which we look at 1 Timothy 1:8-9: “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners”
The book we reference about people who considered murder and lying to not be wrong and treachery to be a virtue is PeaceChild by Don Richardson, which I highly recommend.
We also discuss the question of how much of a Christian’s self-understanding should be determined by the recognition of their sinfulness versus their having been redeemed by Jesus.
The Apostles’ Creed, one of the oldest Christian creeds – in continual existence since at least the 4th Century A.D. – contains a line which many people have found intriguing: it declares that Jesus “descended to the dead.”
Older translations of the original text into English sometimes translate this phrase as saying that Jesus “descended into Hell.”
Looking at the creed in ancient languages is interesting as the Greek text says: κατελθόντα εἰς τὰ κατώτατα, which means: “descended to the bottom” – and the Latin text says: descendit ad inferos, the word inferos being translated as “Hell.”
More recent translations into English have chosen to say “descended to the dead” rather than “descended into Hell” as “the dead” would be more accurate biblically and theologically than “Hell.” The reason for this is based on a particular understanding of “Sheol” in the Old Testament and the Jewish mind, which was the dwelling place of all souls, being divided (according to Luke 16:19-31) into two parts: Abraham’s Bosom and Hades, AKA: Hell.
Abraham’s Bosom, it is believed, was a place of comfort for those who died in faith, i.e. the “Old Testament saints,” such as those described in Hebrews 11, who died prior to the redemptive actions of Jesus. The theory, therefore, is that 1 Peter 3:19 and 4:6, Peter is describing how Jesus went to Sheol after his death on the cross but prior to his resurrection, and declared to the deceased souls held there what he had accomplished in his life and death. This message would have been a message of redemption and release from Sheol, to the immediate presence of God, to those who were kept in Abraham’s Bosom awaiting the redemptive work of the Messiah, and a message of condemnation for those held in the Hades/Hell portion of Sheol.
I also explain this in some detail in this past Sunday’s sermon from 1 Peter 3:18-4:11 – The Resurrected Life. The part that deals with this topic begins around 17:30.
However, there are several different, and possible, interpretations of these verses which Mike and I discussed and outlined in this week’s Sermon Extra video. It’s worth watching, as we discuss different views, such as that this speaks to Jesus preaching to demons related to the Nephilim in Genesis 6, Jesus preaching through Moses, etc.:
It’s one of the most iconic images of the Vietnam War; a nine year-old Vietnamese girl running through the streets after her village was accidentally hit with a napalm attack by South Vietnamese troops, who incorrectly thought they were bombing a Viet Cong rebel hideout.
Napalm is a jelly-like substance that is highly flammable, and so the girl’s clothes were on fire, and she ripped them off as she ran down the street in pain and terror.
That photo won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972. The girl’s name is Kim Phuc.
But what happened after that photo was taken is actually much more interesting. Kim was able to emigrate to Canada. Although she had grown up following the local religion of her parents and ancestors, Kim became a Christian. She found redemption and the power to forgive in Jesus.
Take a minute to listen to her incredible story of how she became a Christian and how God has and is using her to spread the gospel:
A few days ago I received a question from someone in our church:
Psalm 139 says: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
How is this true of those born with birth defects?
This past Sunday we started a class at White Fields called Christianity 101. The goal of the class is to teach people the core doctrines of Christianity over the course of 4 weeks. The first week covers the topic of: Who is God? To answer this question, we look at the various attributes of God and then consider: 1) the implications of that attribute for people in general, and 2) the application for you and your life in particular.
Before looking at the attributes of God, we begin with the question with which the Westminster Catechism begins: What is the chief end of man? Answer: To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
What you find is that as you consider multiple attributes of God, the implications of these attributes compound together to answer questions like the one above.
If all of these are true at the same time and all the time (that’s where the immutability comes in), then it helps us to determine an answer to many questions, including the one above.
The other factor to take into consideration is this: “the whole world lies under the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). We live in a fallen, broken world, which Jesus came to redeem, but as it stands now, “all of creation waits with eager longing…in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For…the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for…the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:18-25)
In other words: We live in a broken world, where things are not the way that they “should be.” One day, everything will be made right, because of the redeeming work of Jesus. As it is now, God can do anything, and He does whatever He wants, but He doesn’t always do everything that we think He should do. We must remember though, that He knows more than we do, and that everything He does (or doesn’t do) is based on love, and is for our ultimate good and for his ultimate glory.
One of the verses in the Bible that I find most encouraging is Revelation 16:7. In this section, we are reading about the vision that God gave John about the future and how, in the end, God wins and defeats evil for good. In this particular section, John is having a vision of heaven, and many people standing before the throne, after believers have been killed for their faith. And this is the statement that is spoken in heaven: “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.”
In other words: there are a lot of things that happen here on Earth, about which we wonder: How is that fair? How can a good, loving God allow that to happen? But here is what this verse is telling us: that one day, when we get God’s perspective on things, the perspective that you can only have from heaven, you too will say: every judgment you made, O God, was right and true. You may not see it now, but you will. That’s the promise.
Regarding the omniscience of God, and that He has created us for His glory, it is like the time when Jesus’ disciples asked him about a man born blind:
As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. (John 9:1-3)
God created us for His glory. That means that we are not the owners of our lives — we are tenants. (I will be talking about that subject this coming Sunday at White Fields as we study the Parable of the Tenants).
A few years ago, when our daughter was born, she suffered a severe oxygen deficiency which caused brain damage. She was in a coma for a week, and we were told she would be seriously handicapped for the rest of her life. During that time, my wife and I grieved, and we sought the Lord, both for our daughter’s healing, but also to give us the grace and strength to be able to handle whatever happened. We came to the conclusion, that no matter what happened, we wanted our daughter to be happy and to love God and know that He loved her. The fact is, that there are many mentally handicapped people who are happy and have a very pure love for God.
This week, I ran across this video about people with Down’s Syndrome being asked why they were so happy and why they love themselves and other people so much. It’s worth watching.
In the end, God healed our daughter. I’ve written about that story here if you’re interested in reading it: I Believe in Miracles. Here’s Why. If He hadn’t, we’d still love and trust Him, and our hearts do go out to those whose loved ones have not been healed…yet. That is the hope that we have in Jesus — that for those who are in Christ, it is only a matter of time before all is made right.
What all of us long for is nothing less than redemption.
This young Israeli couple have been posting videos of their music for a while. This video, according to their Facebook page, was recorded a cappella in their car because the original recording had audio problems, but there is something very lovely and beautiful about both the way they sing and what they are singing about.
What makes it so beautiful, is that they are singing about a day in the future when there will be no more wars and strife, when things will be the way we all innately feel that they should be and the way that all people deep down hope it will be.
What all of us long for is nothing less than redemption.
And that’s because we were made for perfection, but we’re fallen… and yet we have a sort of ancestral memory of it; we know that even though death and strife and sickness are the realities of the world we live it, even though that may be how it is, we still believe that it’s not the way it should be, and so we long for and we sing and dream and write about a world where these things are no more and everything is finally as it is supposed to be:
No more death. No more violence. No more pain. No more parting from those we love. No more infirmity. Love that lasts forever. True peace. Overcoming the limitations we experience now with frustration.
That is why this song is so moving. That is why all of the movies which make you cry have the same common themes: heroic self-sacrifice, good overcoming evil, immortality and overcoming death itself.
The message of the Gospel is that God loves you so much that He made a way for you to be redeemed through Jesus, so that one day that hope could become reality, so that everything your heart longs for deep down could not only be a wish, but a reality.
If you’re interested in more from these guys, here’s a link to their YouTube channel, and here is another song of theirs, this one in Hebrew (English translation can be found in the comments section on YouTube) – it’s a song of praise and worship to God:
In the Gospel of Matthew, the Christmas Story doesn’t begin with a baby born in Bethlehem and placed in a manger. When Matthew wants to tell us the story of Jesus, he takes us back hundreds, even thousands of years, to look at the family line from which God chose to bring the Redeemer into the world. Matthew starts by giving us a genealogy — which gets skipped over by many people, because it reads like a Hebrew phone book!
But, if you look closely, you’ll find that Jesus’ family tree contains a lot of knots: people we have read about in the Old Testament, whose stories were full of scandal and intrigue…and sin. Yet, these people each represent a story of redemption, in which God blessed a mess and brought beauty from ashes and salvation from brokenness. Ultimately, it was from this group of people that God brought The Savior, The Redeemer, Jesus Christ into the world.
In Matthew 1:21, we read this glorious proclamation: “Mary will bear a son and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Jesus came to save you from your sins. That is what Christmas is all about.
I invite you to join us at White Fields Church in Longmont every Sunday in December and on Christmas Eve for “Redemption: An Advent Series” – in which we will be looking at the knots in Jesus’ family tree, and how God redeems.
I’ve been very impressed with the way that Bonhoeffer acted as a Christian during the Nazi period, in which EVERY Christian was faced with an intense ethical dilemma because of the evils acted out by the Nazi regime.
This Sunday at White Fields I taught 1 Samuel 11. In that chapter the town of Jabesh-Gilead is attacked by the Ammonites, and Saul, hearing the news, sends a message to all the men of Israel that they need to come to the defense of the people of Jabesh-Gilead, or else. This was a time in Israel, when it would have been wrong to do nothing.
Surely, Bonhoeffer lived in such a time as well – when it would have been ethically wrong to do nothing in the face of the evils of the Nazi regime. If being a Christian is all about being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29), and as those who are part of the body of Christ, God would have us do His work, being his mouthpiece, his hands and his feet – there are great implications, as Bonhoeffer knew better any, for us as Christians and how we act and respond in the face of evil, injustice and other things which God is opposed to.
Bonhoeffer famously said:
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
In light of this, I can’t help but wonder what the great issues of our day, and our time and place are. What are the things that God would have us as Christians stand up for and fight against in this day?
It says there in 1 Samuel 11, that when Saul heard about how the people of Jabesh-Gilead were being mistreated, the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he became angry. That anger moved him to action.
I wonder what the issues are in our day that we should rightly be upset about, and that God would move us to righteous action for.
Yesterday, Eric Metaxas, the author of that biography about Bonhoeffer wrote this on Twitter:
Pastors: If you aren’t pushing so hard in your preaching that your 501c3 status might be challenged, you’re simply not pushing hard enough.
Do you agree? If so, what are the issues in our day that we should be pushing hard about?
To add a counterpoint, this is what Timothy Keller posted on Facebook today:
Jesus didn’t come to solve the economic, political, and social problems of the world. He came to forgive our sins. – Timothy Keller
It is true that Jesus did come to redeem the world, not by fixing the social problems of the day, or by driving out the Romans, but by dying on the cross for our sins.
What does this mean for us as Christians? Should our focus be other-worldly, i.e. saving people from this world unto the next life and the world which is to come, since this world will soon pass away — or, since eternal life starts now (John 17:3), should we be seeking to do the will of God here and now by coming against evil social structures and injustice, working to put an end to human suffering? Certainly this was a major theme of the Old Testament, but not something addressed much in the New Testament.
Are these two concepts at odds with each other, or can they be reconciled?
I don’t believe they are at odds – I think there is a healthy “both this and that” approach, but finding that balance of focus and knowing which hills God would have us fight on is something for which we must seek wisdom and guidance from God.
I’d love to hear your thoughts! Feel free to comment below.