9/11 Remembered: A Personal Reflection

I can remember thinking in high school what it would be like to live through a historical moment. I wondered what it would be like to have my grandchildren gathered around me as I recount my personal experiences during a dangerous or fascinating time. There was an appeal to it. I wanted to live history. I wanted to be in thick of it all and retell the stories. But then 9/11 happened. Everything changed that day. I no longer had to wonder what living history would be like, because I was living it.

I have heard older generations saying they remembered where they were and what they were doing when history happened. Everyone knows where they were when Kennedy was shot or when Armstrong left footprints on the moon. I remember everything about that September morning. I was in my junior year of college. I had just woken up and was getting ready to take a shower. One of my roommates came out of his room (our upperclassmen dorms had 4 individual rooms in one suite) and told us to turn on the news, that something was strange was happening. It was 9:00 am and the news was reporting that a plane had hit one of the twin towers in New York City. No one seemed to know what was happening. But then, to our horror, we watched as another plane hit the other tower. This was no accident. America was under attack. All four of us sat in front of the television in silence. There were no words. Only shock. Only fear. Only rage. All expressed in silence.

At 9:30, the Pentagon was hit. Despite the horror and confusion that reigned that morning, I still had class, Business Law. The walk to class was eerie. Students walked in silence, with their heads down. When I got the class, our professor prayed and told us to go to our dorms and call our families and tell them we love them.

By the time I had returned, I learned that the first tower hit had collapsed and that another plane had crashed, this time in a field in Pennsylvania. Apparently the passengers had attempted to regain control of the plane and the hijackers crashed it to prevent their capture. I felt sick. But I could not look away from the television. More reports poured in about people jumping to their deaths from the top of the tower. At 10:28, the second tower crumbled. We watched as ash and smoke flooded the streets. The shock only deepened. The fear only increased. The rage turned from simmering to seething.

Rumors began to spread that gas prices were going to go through the roof the next day. Myself, one of my roommates and his fiancé all drove to the nearest little town by our school to fill up our tanks. We waited in line for over an hour. It seems we were not the only ones who believed the rumors.

On campus there was a growing urgency to do something. Many went to the local blood banks to give blood. Students organized a prayer vigil and many attended. Yet, nothing seemed to help. The rawness we all felt would not lift.

On this day, 10 years later, there is still a rawness. As I look at pictures or hear the news reports as they were on that day, tears will come to my eyes. For this is what happens when we face evil and live to tell about it. If there is one thing we can thank God for in light of the tragedies of that day, it is that the word “Evil” is back on the minds of Americans. Each year on this date, we remember what it was like to look evil in the eye. This is a phenomenal thing in post-Christian America. The secular world tells us that there is no right or wrong, that truth is relative and personal. They tell us that there is no over-arching story that governs the world. And yet, on 9/11, they will all call the acts of that day “evil.” Curious, is it not? That those who deny right and wrong would vociferously condemn the acts of others as “evil.” But there is more to learn here than the truth that evil exists. The deeper issue is where that evil exists. These terrorists, these jihadists, these evil men were not worse than us. For in all our hearts, there lies the capability that we fear to think about.

When I reflect back on the days that followed 9/11, one of my greatest disappointments in my “Christian” college was it’s Gospel-less response. Instead of comforting with us with the hope of the Gospel, or helping us see that despite the evil committed against us, that we are no morally better, that apart from the grace of God, we are all condemned, we were told we were less than Christian for feeling angry, for demanding justice. We were given the gospel-less Christianity of liberalism. During the time this all transpired, I do not believe that I was a Christian. I had a form of godliness, but denied its power. I was still enslaved. Yet, I was still able to sense that this was not right. Is not God a God of Justice? It only made me more cynical of organized Christianity. The fundamental side gave me no freedom from sin and the liberal side gave me no justice. It was 4 years later when God ravaged my hard, cynical heart with the whole Gospel and I have never been the same.

Only with the lens of the whole Gospel can we make sense of tragic events of that day. The Gospel teaches us that, yes, there is evil. It is an ancient evil seeking to devour and destroy. But the most surprising thing we learn about this ancient evil is not that it exists, but rather that it resides within us. I have within me, powers that seek to destroy me. The capability to kill, to steal, to commit awful sexual sins, to rebel against and replace God. Yes, I am no better than Osama Bin Laden. It’s chilling to even type that. And it’s true. What then is my hope? How can I even dare approach God when my heart is in the same condition as “evil” men? Again, the Gospel answers us. Jesus, the divine Son of God was born into this world. He lived the life I could not live. He was free. His heart was pure. But, Jesus did not just live a perfect life as an example for me. He lived a perfect life on my behalf. And then he suffered crucifixion on my behalf. He bore the full weight of the wrath of God so that I would not have to face that fate. And finally, God raised Him from the dead as the first of many who would be raised not only from spiritual death, but physical death in the end. There is hope for me. There is hope for you. Because Jesus lives and is at the right hand of the Father, always making intercession for us.

When we look at 9/11 through that lens, though we feel pain and remorse, we do not fear. For not even planes used as missiles or collapsing buildings can ultimately destroy us. Nothing can separate us from the love of God, in Christ Jesus. Not sword or famine. Not even ourselves. We are safe in His arms.

I am glad that this 10th anniversary falls on Sunday; the day that I gather with my church family to celebrate the Gospel. For I can think of no better way to mark a decade since those tragic events than to mark the day that tragedy saw it’s defeat and Jesus rose in power and triumph over all evil, both the evil that exists in the world and the evil that exists in my heart. Jesus is Lord and He “makes all things new” (Revelation 21:5).

~sdg

The Riots Are Coming…

Theodore Dalrymple writes:

It is one of the tasks of civilisation to tame our inherent savagery. But who, contemplating contemporary British culture, would recognise in it any civilising influence, or rather fail to recognise its opposite? It is a constant call to and celebration of degradation, not only physical but spiritual and emotional. A culture in which Amy Winehouse, with her militant vulgarity and self-indulgent stupidity, combined with a very minor talent, could be so extravagantly admired and feted, is not one to put up strong barriers against our baser instincts, desires and urges. On the contrary, that culture has long been a celebration of those very urges. He who pays the savage never gets rid of the savagery; and this is only the beginning.

You can read the whole article here (HT: JT).

As I read the bit about Amy Winehouse, I couldn’t help but replace her name with Lady Gaga. The riots will come to America. You do not teach a generation of people a worldview that there is no God, there is no higher authority, that what’s true is what you believe is true and then expect them to restrain the savagery simmering within the human heart. Why should they? They were born this way. There is nothing wrong with them. This is where I think Dalrymple misses the point somewhat. Yes, civilization has a role in civilizing people. British riots are the fruit a particular type of civilization. Civilization does not make people more moral, more honorable. It only inculcates the values it holds true. What the British need is the Gospel. What America needs is the Gospel. For it is the Gospel that teaches us that there is an authority above us in front of whom we cannot stand (Psalm 130:3). But at the same time, there is forgiveness aplenty (Psalm 130:4). We, therefore, are able to stand. We can fight the evil that lurks within us. We can crucify the desires of our flesh. And we can live peaceably with our neighbors without the need for government to terrorize us into submission. For there is a higher authority that we fear. God is a far more terrifying foe than any government regulation or even gulag. So it is no surprise that those who do not fear God, do not fear any authority, any consequences. Revival is the only hope for a nation in decline. May God grant that true revival would fall and that America might be spared the destructive and deadly rioting that has gripped British towns and cities.

~sdg

Dawn of a New Day

Osama bin Laden (AP File Photo)

Today, I woke up this morning to the news that Osama Bin Laden is dead. All the emotions of 9/11 seemed to flood back as I processed the news. A sense of joy began to rise in my heart. Finally, after all these years, justice is finally served. The evil mastermind behind that wicked act was dead. And not just dead, but killed at the hands of US Navy SEALs. We got our man.

Right now as I watch the news, joyous celebrations are erupting all over the country. From the White House to Ground Zero, people are joyously hailing the death of a wicked man. The Wisdom of Yahweh is confirmed once again. “When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness” (Proverbs 11:10, ESV).

As I watched, an older lady at ground zero was interviewed and through tears of joy, she said that this was the “dawn of a new day.” Indeed, but not quite.

The victory is not complete. Murderous threats are still being breathed against us. Our security is not perfect or impenetrable or eternal. All this makes me long for the day when that evil snake will be finally cast into hell. Revelation 19 previews the scene:

After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out,

“Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”

Once more they cried out,

“Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.”

And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” And from the throne came a voice saying,

“Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.” (Revelation 19:1-5, ESV)

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself.  He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, andhe will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh. (Revelation 19:11-21, ESV)

I get chills every time I read this. For this will be the dawning of a new day. We will rejoice and sing “Hallelujah” in that day. The victory will finally be complete. The peace, everlasting. Evil utterly destroyed. The reign of Jesus finally consummated. Yes, this will be the dawning of a new day, the dawning of the New Heavens and New Earth.

Many have cautioned on Twitter that God does not delight in the death of the wicked. Neither should we.  For the very Gospel we proclaim is that God died on behalf of his enemies! Treacherous rebels were redeemed! So, we should not revel in the fact that bin Laden is suffering eternal justice. But I do feel that many of these cautions may miss the point. While there may be some who rejoicing over the fact that bin Laden is in Hell (New York Daily News Cover), I think that most people are rejoicing over the defeat of evil. Osama bin Laden was the face of evil in America. And his death represents a victory of righteousness over wickedness. Could we not ask for a better context with which to share the gospel? We have witnessed the triumph of good over evil, however temporary. It is a microcosm of what God will do in Jesus Christ in the age to come. Good will triumph over evil, eternally. Evil will be done away with. In the words of J.R.R Tolkien, everything sad will come untrue.

So, let us rejoice! For a typological evil has been defeated. Osama bin Laden was a snake, just like his father. And one day, his father, the Snake, will be destroyed by the head crushing heal of the Son of Man.

~sdg

 

 

 

 

 

I Would Have Chosen Kanter

Kentucky Center Josh Harrellson celebrates after defeating the Ohio State Buckeyes in the NCAA Tournament (Photo by Mark Cornelison, Herald-Leader)

I would have chosen Kanter. For those of you curiously unaware to what I am talking about, allow me to explain. Enes Kanter was going to propel my beloved Kentucky Wildcats to the Final Four. The Turkish big man was going to give the Cats an inside threat that few college teams could contain or match-up against. But he never set foot on the court. The NCAA deemed him permanently ineligible due to the fact that his family had received $33,000 from a professional team in Turkey. To the NCAA, Kanter was a professional. His amateurism had been compromised. When the news broke in the Bluegrass State, Final Four expectations were tempered. Everyone knew that our front-line was too thin. Frankly, we didn’t think much of our chances with Josh Harrellson as main weapon down low. Sure, we had other talented freshman, but our weakness was the man on the block. The one we affectionately call “Jorts“. We loved Josh, but we never expected him to do what we knew Kanter could have done for us. If it came down to me, choosing Kanter or Harrellson, I would have chosen Kanter. Because if you told me in November, that in the Sweet 16, our best chance for beating the best team in the tournament rested on the broad shoulders of Jorts, I would of said that we will not have a chance. I’m glad it didn’t come down to me. The story I would have wrote can’t compare to the story we are witnessing before our eyes.

In case you don’t care much for sports, a really big game was played last night. My beloved Wildcats sent the best team in the tournament packing. In probably one of the most exciting college basketball games I can remember watching, the Cats beat the Buckeyes 62-60. Number One is done. And although it was one of our star freshman, Brandon Knight, who hit the winning shot, it was because of Jorts that we won that game. He took on one of the best big men in the country and held his own. He also added 17 points and 10 rebounds. His performance will go down in Kentucky basketball lore. But the story hasn’t ended yet. There is still, at least, one more game to be played. There is more drama to unfold. I cannot wait for the game on Sunday night against the North Carolina Tar Heels.

As I was pondering the fact that I would not have chosen to write this story for the Wildcats, I could not help but think about another story that I would not have written. Right now, we are in the middle of Lent. Each day brings us closer to the grand celebration of the resurrection Jesus Christ. The Story that God has written in the Gospel is the very story that I would have never written for myself or the world. I never would have chosen for the Savior to be born in a rank stable. I never would have chosen 15 years of menial labor as a carpenter. I never would have chosen three years of itinerant teaching without a place for the Savior to call home. I never would have chosen to have him killed at the hands of evil men, appearing to be defeated. The story that we find in the Gospel is not the story that we would have written. No one would have written it in this way. Yet, how grateful are we that we didn’t get our way? What would have happened if we had written on our own story? Would it not have ended badly for us? Would we not have been given over to the lusts of our hearts, drowning in idolatry? Would not our own story ended in our destruction? The truth is, yes. If we have the power to write our own story, we will destroy ourselves.

From the very beginning, Man was meant to live in the story God was telling. Yet, God’s story never looks like the way we would do it. A Tree from which we cannot eat? “Did God say you would really die?” The moment our First Parents ate of the forbidden fruit is the moment Man has tried to write his own story. God’s story was rejected. We decided that we were god enough to write our own story. And when our stories were thwarted and disrupted, we questioned and grumbled. We rebelled. We aligned ourselves with the wilderness generation, with the prince of the power of the air. Praise be to God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who has rescued us from this propensity to write our story, to define our own good. Thank God for the Gospel. The joy is deep, the hope, eternal. For it is a far superior story than I could have ever written for myself. Thank God it wasn’t up to me or up to you.

Even if the Cats fail to reach the Final Four, this will be one unforgettable season. It will be unforgettable for all the right reasons. It will be especially unforgettable for me, because it has given me a glimpse of the Gospel. It has proved to me, once again, that my own ideas about what is best are flat wrong 99% of the time (even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while :)). I would have chosen Kanter. And I would have missed out on one of the greatest stories in Kentucky basketball history. Go get ’em Jorts!

~sdg

 

Heaven is Real: Jesus Told Me So

There is a new book that has made it to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. It’s a book about a little boy who visits heaven, meets Jesus and returns to tell the story. Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back is by Todd Burpo, the father of the little boy, Colton. Todd is a small-town pastor who appears to be anything but a glory hound. The down to earth humility of the Burpo family is what makes this story appealing. Yet, this book and books like it make me wary.

As I watched the video from the Today show (which is embedded below), I couldn’t help but fear this book will do more harm in the long run. I believe it will do more harm because the Bible gets displaced. This, now eleven year old, boy’s experience becomes the standard testimony on the reality of heaven. God’s testimony becomes lesser. It’s still there, mind you. No one will reject the testimony of Scripture regarding the reality of heaven. However, to displace God’s own testimony from the center, is to reject it. If we really believed what the Scriptures have to say, there would be no market for this book. For we have the definitive word on heaven from the definitive source.

Another reason I am wary of books like this one is that it reinforces an entitlement mentality for which we must repent. Have you ever found yourself in the midst of a pressing matter, one of grave significance in your little circle of influence, and it feels like your prayers are bouncing off the ceiling? In the time of your, perceived, greatest need, heaven is silent. Have you ever looked toward heaven and shouted, “Speak to me!!” Have you ever wished God would just send you an email or lay it all out for you? Now, no one would ever claim that God owes them personal communication. Yet, when we grumble and complain that God does not speak to us as we wish, we are projecting an entitled attitude.

The reality is, that God has spoken to us. The writer of Hebrews opens the book by stating, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets” (Hebrews 1:1). God has spoken by the prophets, in many ways, at many times. We do not have one word, or several words to one prophet. Rather, we have many words to many prophets. Yet, He did not stop there. Verse 2 of Hebrews 1 goes further: “but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” Jesus is the definitive word of God. Everything that God has purposed to say to us has been said. This truth serves as a correction to our longings for a personal word from God. It serves to humble us. It serves as an agent of death to all vestiges of entitlement. For it is by grace that any word has been spoken. The prophets of old did not deserve to hear and proclaim the word of God. It was a gift of grace that they bear His word to His people.

Did this little boy really go to heaven? Only God knows. If we find our hope and our encouragement for the reality of heaven in the stories of a little boy, rather than in the Grand Story of the revealed Word of God, there is something seriously wrong with our understanding of what we have in the Bible. If the Gospel is not hope enough, then word of a 4-yr old will do little in the long run to sustain our hope. Is heaven for real? I’ll bet my life on it, because Jesus told me so (John 14:1-4).

So if you’re inclined to read the book (or have read it), be careful. Be wary of stories that seek to displace our hope and trust in the Grand Story.

~sdg

 

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We Risk So Little

I risk almost nothing for my faith. And if you live in the West, you probably don’t either. I have been thinking a lot about risk and my faith as of late. I have been praying for an imprisoned brother in Afghanistan. He was being threatened with death if he did not recant his Christian faith. He was able to smuggle a letter out of his dingy prison cell. He told of beatings, sexual abuse and threats of death.

Thankfully, we learned this past week that he was freed after international pressure. His name is Said (or Sayed) Musa. This is a man who risked everything for his faith. And he is a hero of mine. Because Said knows something that we here in the West struggle to believe. Said knows (and knows it to the depths of his soul) that Christ is a greater treasure. Life, family, possessions, land are all negotiable. Christ is not.

As my BFG has been studying through Philippians, one of the more heavy and convicting portions of Paul’s letter is his personal testimony that comes in chapter 3. After strongly mocking and condemning the Judaizers, Paul begins to tear down the very thing that they trusted in; the very thing they found their identity in. Paul destroys confidence in the flesh. If anyone could boast in his accomplishments and his bloodline, it was Paul. Yet, we find him disdaining his accomplishments, his bloodline. We find him joyously throwing it all away, that he might gain Christ, that in the last day, Paul might present before the Father a righteousness that was not his own, but that was given to him in Christ. Paul knew the same thing Said knows. Christ is worth everything. In fact, if family, possessions, country or anything stand in the way of gaining Christ, they must be rejected. They are refuse. Dung. Waste.

When we refuse to risk it all, what we do is clutch onto a bag of crap when we’re being offered the world. We smear it all over our faces, wear it with pride. We yell the loudest that our crap smells the worst. What we need to do is take a shower and take out the trash. Why do we wallow in such filth? How is that we have convinced ourselves that this is good? Well, when all you see is people holding onto their bags of crap, comparing and contrasting the color, smell and texture, it’s easy to think this is normal. This is not normal. Boasting in our self is not the way it is supposed to be. The Church is supposed to be the place where this new reality, the true reality,  is displayed. And in the hard and dark places of the word, the Church is displaying it by standing firm with full courage.

After learning of Said’s release, we learned that there is another brother, Shoaib Assadullah, who faces the same fate from which Said was rescued. His crime is giving a Bible to another man. The man who received the Bible turned in Shoaib. He has refused to recant. He is holding out for something better than the bag of crap that’s been taken from him.

I wonder…would we, westerners, do the same?

~sdg

If Love Wins, I Wanna Be a Rockstar

 

Gustave Dore's etching of Dante's Inferno

It seems the internets are all a twitter about a new book coming out by Rob Bell. Frankly, I was planning on ignoring this. If this book proves Rob Bell to be an universalist, this is hardly surprising. In fact, it will be welcomed that he’s finally being forthcoming, rather than vague and ambiguous.

Despite my intentions to resist commenting, here I am (Please note that I am not commenting specifically on Rob Bell, for his book is yet to be published. Rather,  I am commenting on the belief of universalism). The reason for this is due to my daily Bible reading plan. This morning, I read Luke 12:4-7. And my thought was this: If hell does not exist or is not eternal, the warnings of Jesus are nothing more than the rantings of a lunatic. If hell does not exist, why would Jesus say this? Our only options that lay before us is that Jesus was either crazy or sadistic. If Jesus was crazy, we have reason to doubt everything else he says. We have reason to doubt all of Scripture. If he is sadistic, why do we even waste our time with him? Why would we endure suffering in this life at his command according to his example? It gains us nothing. The logical conclusion here is that without the Doctrine of Hell, the whole Bible is incoherent. And perhaps that’s the end in mind.

The same is true if hell is only temporary. It renders the Bible incoherent. What do we make of the words of the Apostle Paul, who states that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17)? Eternal glory outweighs temporal suffering. The same logic can be applied to a temporary hell. Yet, Paul doesn’t seem to believe in one. He would be insane, if he did, because he suffered greatly. He lost all things to gain Christ. He was beaten, shipwrecked, homeless, poor and imprisoned. And it was all unnecessary, if hell is temporary. Go to hell for a little while and then eternal glory. He suffered loss and gained nothing. That makes him crazy; if hell is temporary.

The solution that universalists propose for the perceived problem of God’s judgement only creates more problems. It creates a god of our own understanding, one we can cope with and handle.

Frankly, if Love Wins like this, I wanna be a rockstar. I could be a rockstar. Which is to say, I could live for myself. It’s much easier to live for myself. You don’t have to put down the computer while you’re in the middle of your post to take the dog out on a cold night when you’re living for yourself. You could ignore the needs of your wife, and still get heaven. You can rightfully seek revenge on your enemies and still get heaven. The universalists creates a world in which you don’t have to change. They sing along with Lady Gaga “I’m on the right track, baby. I was born this way!”

But I believe the Bible is coherent. I take Jesus at his word when speaks of a unquenchable flame; when he speaks of needing to be born again. I take Paul at his word when says that the unregenerate and immoral will not inherit the Kingdom. I take Paul at his word when he says he will not at all be ashamed, but that Christ will be honored by his death. I take John at his word when he says Jesus will slay the wicked with a sword that comes from his mouth at the end of time. I take the Psalmist at his word when he says that God will destroy his enemies and vindicate his people. I take God at his word when says that the Seed of Woman will crush the head of the serpent.

The truth is, I believe love has won. A holy, righteous, self-sacrificing love has won. A love that surpasses all understanding in it’s depth, width and height. A love displayed on the cross when my sin, and all the sin of all who will be saved, was paid for in full. A specific love, one that engraved my name on the palm of his hands.

~sdg

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The Groundhog & the Gospel

Today, Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow. According to folklore, this means an early spring. What makes this prognostication so surprising (I was surprised, at least) was the timing of it. In the midst of the largest winter storm this country has seen in 60 years, the groundhog predicts an early spring. Ironic is it not? As a majority of our country is gripped by winter’s icy wrath, the promise of reprieve is made. This winter will end. Spring will come and it might even come early.

So what does an over-sized rodent predicting the weather have to do with the Gospel? I would submit to you that it has everything to do with the gospel, as strange as that may sound. When we look at the broad sweep of history, we see that God is telling a story. It is a story of judging and saving, for His glory and our good. It is a story that we would never write ourselves. It is a story that in the midst of it, looks hopeless, as if the story is ending in defeat. It can be as bleak as the coldest and grayest of winter days. And then all the sudden, rays of light will pierce the clouds. Covenants renewed. Temples rebuilt. Lands long promised, fulfilled.  Messiah born. Curses reversed. Wrath satisfied. Justice upheld. Grace extended. Mercy overflowing.

The Scriptures are filled with stories of ordinary people, who despite the deep darkness that surrounded them, trusted the promises of God and were eventually vindicated. The Scriptures are also filled with stories of ordinary people, who despite the lavish promises of God, trusted in themselves and were eventually destroyed.

For example, if we look at the story of the exodus, what do we see? After the plagues have ravaged Egypt, the Israelites are allowed to leave. But then Pharaoh changes his mind. He send his army and the Israelites are pinned between the sea and the rage of Pharaoh. It looks hopeless. The storm of Pharaoh looms, but God acts. The Red Sea is split and Israel escapes as God destroys Pharaoh’s army.

Fast forward to the time of Jesus. There was a buzz about him. People were talking. People were excited. A prophet of old has been risen up. But in a 24-hour period, it appeared to be over. Through a series of rigged trials, this powerful prophet had been murdered by his own people on a Roman cross. The icy wrath of God had fallen on the one whom many thought was the Chosen One, the Messiah. It appeared hopeless. But three days later, God acted and raised him from the dead in glory and power. Jesus was vindicated as King of kings and Lord of lords. To him was given the name Yahweh, which is the name above all names, for its is the name of God.

Do you see the parallels to what our furry friend from PA does each February 2nd? He is reminding us that spring is coming. This winter will end, maybe sooner than we think. Rest is coming. Warmth is coming. Dear Christian, the wintery storms you face day in and day out will end. The gospel has said so. Hold on, for the Resurrection is near. Final rest is coming. Stand firm. Be courageous. For you will be vindicated. Jesus has said so.

~sdg

A Modern Day Devourer of Widows

“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Luke 20:46-21:6


I have blogged previously about this section of Luke, but I feel the need to revisit it’s ramifications, especially in light of the “Restoring Honor” rally held in Washington, D.C. this past weekend.

In the weeks leading up to this rally, Glenn Beck (Fox News commentator and talk radio host) has been asking for donations to help offset the cost of putting on the rally. Any funds raised over and above the need for the rally would be diverted to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation (quite a worthy cause). During this fund raising drive, someone sent Beck 8¢. Eight pennies in a plastic baggy. It was all this person could afford to send in. They were desperate to contribute to this rally.

As I listened to Beck this morning (I prefer hearing it straight from the horses mouth, rather than edited news stories), he relayed a story about how the 8¢ sent in inspired thousands more to give and helped cover an unforeseen expense that had arisen. It was a miracle, according to Beck.

I have felt very uneasy about Beck’s calls to “return to God.” Beck is a mormon. As much as the Latter-Day Saints would like to claim it, they are not Christians. They do not serve the God of the Bible. So to what god are we to return? From what I’ve heard from Beck, it seems to be whatever god we desire (as long as they are from the Judeo-Christian heritage). Rabbis, priests and pastors were all present at Beck’s rally. Beck’s call to return to god is a generic call. And the sad thing is, the very Enemy he claims to be fighting against, is just fine with the generic god-talk.

Does morality really scare Satan? I don’t think so. Why else would he offer all the kingdoms of the world to Jesus if only Jesus would bow to him? What greater coupe could the Enemy complete than to have all the world distracted by their morality, only to face eternal judgment? A call to morality is simply a call to save yourself in the opposite direction. The immoral try to save themselves by breaking the Law. The moral try to save themselves by keeping the Law. Both will fail. Both will be destroyed.

Another reason I think the Enemy is fine with the generic god/morality talk is that those types of people tend to have a more difficult road to salvation. The hooker on the street corner knows she’s of lowly estate. The average pew-sitter with shined shoes and a pressed shirt and a respectable job is less likely to suddenly come to the knowledge of his lowly estate. It’s easier for our average pew-sitter to be self-righteous than the hooker. And it’s easier for the hooker to see her need of grace than our average pew-sitter. I’ve heard it said before that you must get a person lost, before you can get them saved. An acute knowledge of your own sinfulness is necessary before one will call out for Jesus.

To what is Glenn Beck calling the nation? He is calling them to return to morality. To trust in the goodness of people. Glenn Beck is calling people to trust in another savior…themselves. While he would deny it, that is the end of his generic god-talk. While he would deny it, he is devouring widow’s houses. He tempts them to trust in something other than Jesus. The temple of moralism and self-righteousness will fall one day. Not one stone will be left upon another. Yet, the Kingdom of Jesus will continue its expanse until the day He returns to consummate His rule and authority over all the earth.

Our only hope is Jesus Christ. His blood-soaked cross is the only way we can be saved. Our religious works are not enough. Only Jesus.

~sdg

Of Mice and LeBron

Let me be frank. This whole LeBron saga has made me dislike the NBA even more than I already did. It highlighted everything I find distasteful. Drama. Self-Aggrandizing. Empty suits with even emptier heads. It was a grand turn-off.

However, to simply write off this whole story would be short-sighted. The more I thought about the whole story and how it’s being reported, I couldn’t help but come to the conclusion that we have some things to learn from this whole sordid tale.

Positive

In a culture that celebrates and practices radical individualism, for one of the greatest talents in basketball to choose to take less money in order to play on a team where he will not be the only great player is quite the shocker. In fact, it’s more than a shocker. LeBron James has just profaned the very culture that lifted him to such stratospheric heights. For seven year, LeBron was King. Literally. But the King has stepped off his throne. And he’s done it in a way that the majority of culture does not understand. Why would someone give up $30 million dollars? Why would someone give up being the King? Because James realized something. While an individual becomes a super-star; teams are what win championships.

What a statement! What a timely message for our culture to hear. James’ rejection of individualism challenges the very core of what our culture holds so dear; thus the visceral reactions from every corner of the culture (except for Miami…they are as pleased a peach). I think it’s a timely message for the church to hear as well. Too often, our church buildings are filled with a bunch of individuals. The concept of church as community is missing in most places in America. Our culture has infected our thinking. Let’s not waste this opportunity to examine ourselves. Our reaction to this story may have something to tell us about our thinking.

Negatives

The method is the message. Or another way to say it is, what you say is just as important as how you say it. Whoever Lebron’s PR person is should be fired. I have never in my life seen an athlete go from beloved to hated in such a short period of time (Tiger Woods may be the exception). Have you read the open letter from Cav’s owner Dan Gilbert? Wow. I think someone is bitter (From now on, I will refer to Dan Gilbert as Mara Gilbert, but I digress). People in Cleveland were burning LeBron jerseys. They were crying in sports bars. Outside of Cleveland, people like me were sick of the hype. Part of that is not LeBron’s fault. He can’t help ESPN hypes his decision. But the actions by him and his team only increased the speculation and drama. The hour long special on ESPN to announce his decision about made me want to puke. It wreaked of arrogance and self-aggrandizing. I did not watch it. Refused to do so. Besides, the Reds were playing and baseball is better anyways…again I digress. I can guarantee LeBron will not be approached to write a book about winning friends and influencing people. The only friends LeBron has now are in South Beach.

How does that apply to us followers of Jesus? Well, we carry with us a message that is far more offensive that what LeBron did to the city of Cleveland. While LeBron did profane an aspect of culture, the Gospel we carry profanes it even further. We have a message that a lot of people will reject, will hate. Jesus told us so. So shouldn’t we be ever so careful that the only way we offend people is with the gospel? If we are offending them with our political opinions or sports opinions or a self-righteous attitude or anything else, we have shut them off from the one offensive message they need to hear. If I allow a political opinion to separate me from others on the other side who haven’t heard the gospel, then I’ve allowed a false distinction to dictate who I engage with the gospel. Even if I tried to engage them, they will automatically have a wall built up to me, because I’ve elevated this political opinion. The Apostle Paul was very aware of this fact. In I Corinthians 9:22, Paul writes, “…I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” The offense of the cross is a big enough hurdle for people to overcome. They shouldn’t have to overcome our opinions or poor attitudes as well to get to Jesus.

Is legacy more important than winning? Can they be separated? I guess I’m asking if one needs to win to be great. LeBron seems to think so. Here’s where he fits right in with our culture. Do you remember the No Fear shirts? Do you remember the slogan “He who dies with the most toys wins”? This is exactly why LeBron chose team over individual. He spent 7 years in Cleveland and has no rings. He needs rings. Rings mean he’s accomplished something. Championships justify him. So perhaps Lebron’s choice of team over individual is not as pure as we thought. The knife wound in the back of the city of Cleveland is evidence of that. When we think that winning is the path to greatness, people get hurt. And it’s usually those who have invested the most in us.

That’s why in the Kingdom, the path to greatness is the path to losing. Jesus said that the first shall be last. Jesus said that if you would be the greatest, you must be the servant of all. So in the Kingdom, in the one place that matters, championships mean nothing. Rings and bling won’t give you any clout in this Kingdom. But hands weathered in the service of others are priceless. A heart that cries out to true King and longs to do His bidding is what is truly great. You can be the biggest loser in this life and find out your sitting on the right hand of the King himself in the next. And the great thing about living this way, no one gets hurt in your climb to the bottom. Instead, others are lifted up. The legacy of a servant is to be desired more than that of a champion.

If you haven’t read the open letter from Mara Gilbert, go back and read it. Did you catch the religious language? Chosen One. Heaven. Hero. Sounds like LeBron James was more than King in Cleveland. Sounds like he was savior too. And when false saviors are exposed as such, all hell breaks lose. I think all I need to say here is, there is only one King and Savior. His name is Jesus and He is one who sticks closer than a brother. We will never be snatched from His hands. In fact, our names are engraved on His palms. He is preparing a place for His people. And He will return one day and put to further shame these false savior kings. Just like Tiger, I’m glad for another false savior being exposed. I pray that the followers of Jesus in Cleveland will use this opportunity to interject the Gospel into their conversations about LeBron. I pray that followers of Jesus everywhere will use this opportunity to talk about the hope that we have. LeBron points us to Jesus. LeBron is a failed savior and all failed saviors point to Jesus.

Conclusion

We are wretchedly complicated beings. Even in honestly innocent decisions, there lays in the corner of our hearts motivations with wicked intent. I think that’s the biggest thing we could learn from LeBron. We will never be able to live in perfect holiness. We will never be able to satisfy all the demands. Outside Christ, we’re left to build our own legacy, thinking we’re doing what’s right while we kill those who put their hope and trust in us. As we are exhorted to be unlike Jonah, let us be unlike LeBron. And let us be more and more like the true Savior King. And let us pray that LeBron will bow his knee as we have been granted to do.

~sdg