Steve Jobs: Greatest or Least in the Kingdom?

There was something I initially wrote in my post about Steve Jobs that I ended up removing. It went something like this:

I hope that one day in the new heavens and new earth, I can take a long walk with Steve and talk.

I don’t know what made me take it out, but I was thinking about that possibility this morning as I drove to work. But I had to stop myself. Or really, the Holy Spirit had to stop me. Because I immediately thought of something Jesus said.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 18:1-4

The greatest in the kingdom will be like a child. Now, I’m not hear to comment on Steve Jobs actual place in the Kingdom (assuming and hoping he is among the redeemed), but rather these comments are a check on my heart and my tendency to elevate what the world elevates. Jesus does not do that. In His Kingdom, what is elevated is not greatness, but weakness (at least by worldly standards). As I was driving to work and pondering the possibility of spending time with Steve in the new heavens and new earth and being excited by that thought, I was not expressing an innocent desire. Rather, it was an expression of my heart’s fascination with power and prestige and worldly greatness. It revealed in me a unbiblical desire to trumpet merit in this life as the means for greatness in the next (an anti-gospel if I’ve ever heard one). A wicked heart, have I. And yet, I do not fear that I am alone in this particular bend of my heart.

Much ink has been spilled over the phenomenon of pop-star preachers and celebrity personalities that stand on the stages of America’s mega-churches. The aura of Hollywood, according to many, has seeped into the church. Or perhaps, what we see in American Evangelicalism, is merely a reflection of our hearts. Indeed, it is that more than it is some foreign invader from the hills of 90210. What we see before our eyes directly correlates to a primal desire to elevate the producers (although, with all the protests on Wall Street, I’m beginning to wonder if we are swinging to the opposite extreme). Hence, a celebrity culture easily and naturally develops. And yet, heroes are not bad things. All heroes are meant to point us to the ultimate Hero, Jesus Christ. But what I see in my heart and what I see in the fruit of many churches is an inordinate admiration of heroes.

What is further troubling is that this inordinate admiration of heroes can occur no matter the genuineness of the persons we dub as heroes. It would be easy to tackle inordinate admiration of those who lack a genuineness of heroism. And what I mean by genuineness is whether or not God would find them great, whether he would call them heroes. But, it is still possible to slip into idolatry over genuine heroes. Those fragile creatures who simply receive from Jesus and have nothing to offer. They are like children, with limited utility. Those are the greatest. These are the heroes of the Kingdom. All these great preachers and theologians that line the conference programs may all be genuine Kingdom heroes. But their genuine hero status will not stop the bent of my heart. And it will not stop yours either.

In broad light of the words of Jesus, I have to laugh at myself, because if I don’t laugh, I might despair. Too often I think much of people for the wrong reasons. And even when I think much of them for the right reasons, I slip into idolatry. Tis a precarious dance I must dance. In the end, I’m drawn back to the Gospel. For, I cannot save myself. I would destroy myself. Only Jesus can straighten out this bent heart of mine. Only Jesus can save me from myself and replace an inordinate desire with a proper one. Only Jesus can help me desire long walks with Him, rather than Steve or whatever other hero has slipped on to the throne of my heart. For in the end, Jesus is the only hero I need, the only hero I desire.

~sdg

Steve Jobs: A Grief Deserved

Last night I was coloring (in the lines) with the kids I was watching at church. My wife walked in with her iPhone in hand and said, “Why didn’t you tell me Steve Jobs died?” I had not told her because I did not know. I was unaware that the man who has had a significant impact on how I connect with friends and family and the wider world had passed into eternity. And suddenly, inexplicably, I was sad. I only knew of him through his many “stevenotes” and anecdotes from the Apple blogs I follow. So my sadness surprised me. This was not the momentary sadness you feel when you hear about a tragic accident on the news. This was more personal. More real.

Earlier this summer, I had an imagined brush with death. Since then I have found myself pondering my mortality. I am truly a fragile creature. Humanity in general is quite fragile. We are dependent on forces greater than and outside of ourselves (both physical and spiritual forces). Despite what Western culture tells us, we are far from self-sufficient. This dependency can either be a great source of fear or comfort. We can fight against the dependency and live in fear, or accept it and live free. This is something I think Steve would have agreed with. His fragility, the certainty of his death, was a great motivator for him. He did not cower in fear at his dependent nature. It pushed him forward. In his well-documented commencement address to Stanford University in 2005, he said this:

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

These are the words of a man who accepted his fate and is going to make the most of the time he had left. And there is some wisdom here. These words are Christ-haunted (to borrow a phrase of Flannery O’Connor). Yes, in the face of the death, all the frivolities of life fade away. Yet, what Steve says we are left with, the “truly important”, may be the death of us.

The “Follow Your Heart” mantra is nothing new. When there is no other standard by which to guide life, following our own heart is the logical end. And yet, this conclusion sours the wisdom we find here. For the human heart is deceptively wicked. As my pastor is fond of saying, if you got everything your heart desired, you would destroy your life and end up in hell. Remember, we are dependent creatures. Dependent to the point that we can not even trust the natural inclinations of our heart. For it seeks to destroy us.

So if Steve got the end wrong, what is left when death overshadows all our other fears and concerns? The answer to that question depends on how you answer another question. Who is Jesus? For those who say he is a good teacher or prophet or revolutionary on par with Gandhi or Buddha or Muhammad, there is nothing left. Death drowns it all and hope is lost. But if Jesus is Messiah King, Son of God, Son of Man, though death may weed out the frivolous, what’s left is the hope that death is not the end. Because Jesus conquered the grave, those who put their hope and trust in Him, will do likewise. Since new life is our promise, we are free to spend this life. And we follow not our heart in this life, but the heart of God. It’s a heart that is for the nations, that is on a rescue mission. A life spent following that heart will be far more adventurous and meaningful than anything we could do or achieve by following our own heart.

The good news that Steve gave those graduates that would seemingly free them from the power of death was a false hope. In the end, your accomplishments or lack thereof do not give or take away meaning. These realities we chase when we follow our own heart are but mists. They are as fleeting as the morning shadows. Eventually a high noon sun will burn them away.

Many, many people have rightly said that Steve Jobs changed the world. He did. But at what cost? Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs’ biographer, relays this story which took place only a few weeks before Steve’s death.

A few weeks ago, I visited Jobs for the last time in his Palo Alto, Calif., home. He had moved to a downstairs bedroom because he was too weak to go up and down stairs. He was curled up in some pain, but his mind was still sharp and his humor vibrant. We talked about his childhood, and he gave me some pictures of his father and family to use in my biography. As a writer, I was used to being detached, but I was hit by a wave of sadness as I tried to say goodbye. In order to mask my emotion, I asked the one question that was still puzzling me: Why had he been so eager, during close to 50 interviews and conversations over the course of two years, to open up so much for a book when he was usually so private? “I wanted my kids to know me,” he said. “I wasn’t always there for them, and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did.”

It appears that Steve was very much aware of at least one cost. My hope and prayer is that in the remaining days of his life, he realized that there was a greater cost still at stake.

I think this is where my sadness welled up from. A man who I admired for his tenacity and creativity and attention to detail, who imaged his Creator in ways I desire to do, slipped into eternity with questions surrounding his eternal state. I ought to feel sad. This moment deserves grief. For death has done what death does. It took.

But thanks be to God has the power to hold death at bay for those who trust in Him. For this is our only hope.

~sdg

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

CCM, The Church & One That Got Away

Meghan O’Gieblyn writes:

Despite all the affected teenage rebellion, I continued to call myself a Christian into my early twenties. When I finally stopped, it wasn’t because being a believer made me uncool or outdated or freakish. It was because being a Christian no longer meant anything. It was a label to slap on my Facebook page, next to my music preferences. The gospel became just another product someone was trying to sell me, and a paltry one at that because the church isn’t Viacom: it doesn’t have a Department of Brand Strategy and Planning. Staying relevant in late consumer capitalism requires highly sophisticated resources and the willingness to tailor your values to whatever your audience wants. In trying to compete in this market, the church has forfeited the one advantage it had in the game to attract disillusioned youth: authenticity. When it comes to intransigent values, the profit-driven world has zilch to offer. If Christian leaders weren’t so ashamed of those unvarnished values, they might have something more attractive than anything on today’s bleak moral market. In the meantime, they’ve lost one more kid to the competition.

CD Cover for Carman's "The Standard"

You’ll want to read the whole article. I connected with a lot of what she was saying. I remember those same concerts, those same songs and in the end, experiencing those same feelings of emptiness and loss. Christianity had become a commodity and frankly, MTV did it better. Counting Crows, Third Eye Blind and the Goo Goo Dolls all had better sound and more interesting things to say. Which led me to buy what they and other like them were selling. A life about me, by me and for me.

By God’s grace, He saved me (from me). He showed me that Christianity is no commodity, but a relationship with Him, where me dies and yet, a new life is found in Him. I walked a different path that Meghan. I did not leave the faith. I hope and pray that she realizes that she did not need to leave the faith either. For what she described as “Christianity” is not Christian at all.  May church leaders and future church leaders (like myself) be warned of the results of fishing for men with bait we see on TV. They may swallow the hook, but in the end, they’ll be the ones who got away.

~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

My (Alleged) Tomato Plant

“And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” – Mark 4:8 ESV

My (alleged) tomato plant

This is my (alleged) tomato plant. I am alleging that this is a picture of a tomato plant because that’s what the little soil tag said when I bought the plant from Lowe’s back in May. However, I do not have one tomato growing on this bush. Thus, the soil tag only alleges that this plant is a tomato plant.

I love tomatoes. There is nothing better than eating a freshly picked tomato, sliced and salted (my mouth just watered typing that). And I believe that the best tomatoes are home-grown. So it was with great excitement that I planted my little tomato plant back in May. Visions of beefsteak tomatoes danced in my head. “Come July or August,” I thought, “I should be swimming in tomatoes.” Joy grew in my heart as the little vine grew. Well, July has come and gone and I have yet to harvest one tomato from this plant, let alone even have one growing on the vine. Joy over my little vine has turned into wretched annoyance over this over-grown plant of perdition.

It blooms, but….

As I pondered my fruitlessness of my (alleged) tomato plant, I couldn’t help but think about how the themes of fruit and fruitlessness permeate the Gospels [1]. John the Baptist warned the Pharisees to produce fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8). In fact, the axe was already laid at the root of the trees. Those that did not produce would be cut down and burned (Matthew 3:10). Once Jesus began his public ministry, he began talking just like the Baptist. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says almost exactly the same thing as John. Those trees cut down and burned are trees that produce bad fruit (Matthew 7:19). Earlier in the section, Jesus says that we will know whether someone is a false prophet by their fruit (Matthew 7:16-18). All throughout the rest of Matthew, Jesus is talking about the importance of fruit. The good seed, falls on good soil and produces good fruit. Destruction comes upon the wicked tenants who refuse the owner his fruit and the religious leaders have the Kingdom stripped from them and given to those who produce its fruits (Matthew 21:43). Jesus seems completely uninterested in the size of the vine or the broadness of its leaves. All that matters is the fruit. Is it good? Does it come in season? Then all is well. What is concerning is when the fruit is bad, or doesn’t come at all.

…they just dry up and die.

Mark, Luke and John all continue the theme. Good fruit is desirous, nay necessary for following Jesus. He makes this explicit in John 15:5. Jesus is the source from which good fruit comes. If you are connected to him, abiding in him, you will bear much fruit. But apart from him, you will bear nothing. Your life will never produce the fruits that are in keeping with repentance (which is a gift from God. Acts 11:18;  2Corinthians 7:10; Romans 2:4). This is how we know if we are truly connected to Jesus. Does our life bear fruit that would cause others to say, “yup, that’s a follower of Jesus.”

But what does this fruit look like? How do we know what we are looking for? Thankfully, the apostle Paul has given us the definitive list. Galatians 5:22-24 states, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” This is what good fruit looks like. It looks like Jesus. Because Jesus is the source from which they come.

The last phrase Paul uses there is significant as well. Those who walk by the Spirit produce the fruit listed and they do not produce any of the bad fruit (i.e. works of the flesh) mentioned proceeding the quotation. The flesh has undergone crucifixion. It is dead. It no longer produces its poisonous fruit; that include things like orgies and drunkenness, but also some other seemingly innocuous attitudes like divisiveness or fits of anger or jealousy (which ought to tell us that they are far more dangerous than we think…which should further tell us that our gut reactions will probably lead us straight to hell).

And it’s at this point that we must not sit back and say, “hum, that’s intriguing” before we stagger off to bed or lunch or the television. My barren tomato plant is speaking to us! And it is saying, “Don’t be like me!” Let us not forget that the fruit of our lives is the evidence of our faith. Ever-increasing in our likeness to Christ Jesus is the goal. Let it never be said of us that we are allegedly a Christian. May our fruit be so obvious to all that we could never be mistaken for anything other than a disciple of Jesus, the Son of God. As the author of Hebrews admonishes us, “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:11).

~sdg

Footnote

BACK TO POST1 This theme is also quite prevalent throughout the whole of Scripture, but examining all the ways fruit is used in Scripture would be a book, not a blog post! I would also submit that my treatment of just the Gospels will fall quite short of the label “exhaustive”.

Is Twitter A Thought Killer?

John Piper doesn’t think so. He writes:

Tweeting is to preaching what the book of Proverbs is to the book of Romans. It’s the difference between epigram and argument. In fact, if you need a biblical warrant for the literary form suitable for Tweeting it is the book of Proverbs.

I think Piper is on to something. Brevity is not the enemy of thinking. What might be worth pondering further is what is the enemy of thinking. Whatever that enemy is (for it could be different for many of us), that is more dangerous than a communication tool that constrains us to 140 characters.

~sdg

An Unfathomable Audacity

I’m coming to a realization. While this truth is one that I have always intellectually asserted was true, it has become increasingly real to me. Perhaps, I am just getting older. Perhaps maturity is finally setting in. Whatever the cause, my eyes are open. To what do I refer? What truth is it that I am having forged in the front of my mind in these recent days? That the Gospel induces a maddening rage in most and a lucid awakening in some.

"Peas are nutritionally deficient and morally evil!" - an angry toddler

While this is true and becoming real to me, the source of this rage is what is most interesting to me. If I were to preach the good news that peas grant eternal life, when eaten twice daily, no one would write a book called “Peas Are Not Great: How Green Sphere-Shaped Vegetables Poison Everyone” or “The Peas Delusion” or “Letter to a Pea-Eating Nation” (unless that person was an angry toddler hell-bent on leaving the peas on his plate).  The response among my hearers might be tepid or it might encourage them to eat peas twice a day. But it wouldn’t be rage. Yet, this is the exact response preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ incites among the world’s elite thinkers, movers and shakers. And I believe the root of this phenomenon is the authority the Gospel assumes. Peas assume no authority. You either take ’em or leave ’em (personally, I’ll leave ’em!). But the Gospel projects an authority. It demands submission; complete surrender. To those who reject that authority, the Gospel becomes an unfathomable audacity, an anathema worthy of the greatest rage and greatest attack.

Solomon’s words are applicable here. “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). This rage is nothing new, for Jesus himself faced the rage of those who keenly understood the implications of his Gospel. As the story unfolds in the latter chapters of Luke’s Gospel, we find Jesus with his face set towards Jerusalem. Despite the dangers that await him, despite the temptations to avoid the suffering in his path, Jesus marches towards Jerusalem with steely resolve.

While rage has greeted Jesus from the beginning of his ministry (Luke 4:16-30), it is finally reaching its crescendo. After entering Jerusalem on the back of a donkey to jubilant throngs (Luke 19:28-39) and cleansing the temple (Luke 19:45-48), the rage comes to a head. Throughout his ministry, Jesus would do and say things and it bristled the religious leaders. And the root of their bristling was the authority Jesus assumed. “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority” (Luke 20:2). Finally, it comes out. They believe Jesus acts with an authority above his pay grade. And it was time everyone else knew it. But there was a problem. Jesus refuses to play their game. “He answered them, ‘I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?'” (Luke 20:3-4). He turns the tables on the religious leaders and now they find themselves stuck. They cannot answer the question. Either answer puts them at odds with the crowds [1]. And they feared the crowds (Luke 20:6). So they answer that they did not know. And Jesus responds by refusing to answer their question directly. But what follows is interesting. Jesus tells a parable. And for those with ears to hear, Jesus plainly explains where his authority lies.

The parable Jesus tells is the Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Luke 20:9-18). An owner rents out his vineyard to tenants. When harvest time comes, the owner sends servants to gather the owner’s share. But as the title of the parable tells us, the tenants are wicked. They refuse to listen to these servants. So the owner sends his son. Surely, the tenants will listen to him. Rather, the tenants reveal that the depth of their wickedness. They kill the son, the heir, in the vain hopes that they can claim the vineyard as their own. And what will the owner do to these tenants? He will destroy them and give the vineyard to others. The reaction of the listeners is surprise. Would God really do this? And Jesus concludes with an emphatic statement. The stone that the builders rejected becomes the chief cornerstone. Those who fall on this stone will be broken and on those whom the stone falls, will be crushed.  Jesus correlates the rejected stone and the rejected son. And what is true of the stone, is true of the Son. For those who have ears to hear, Jesus is plainly telling them where his authority lies. It lies in his sonship. The only begotten Son of God has all authority. He is heir of all things, because it was through him that the created order exists (Hebrews 1:2).

And this is the rub, the root of the rage that Gospel incites. Those like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins understand clearly the authority the Gospel projects. And they reject that authority. They do not believe in God. Therefore, the claims of Jesus, the authority he commands, is a fraud. It is immoral. An opposition must stand. And they would be right if not for their failure to see that there is a God. And He has commanded that those who would worship and follow Him, should worship and follow Jesus (Matthew 17:4-8). For Jesus is the perfect image of God.

It would be easy to stop there. “Those foaming-at-the-mouth atheist better watch it!” But the Gospel and it’s authority is not just for atheists and other non-believers. Primarily, the Gospel is for the people of God. What can we glean from the rage that we see around us? Perhaps, the atheists understand the Gospel more clearly than we do ourselves. We can look around the Western church and what do we find? An anemic, luke-warm moralism. How can this even resemble the body of the One with all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18)? It does not. For, those who have experienced a lucidly awakening, a different sort of rage should simmer within;  directed not at God, but at sin. A rage at the darkness and one who rules it, bursting forth in mission efforts, both global and local. Perhaps an even greater audacity exists in the hearts of those who claim to understand the implications of the Gospel, yet show no signs of it. Perhaps what is truly unfathomable is not the rage the atheist feels when confronted by the claims of the Gospel, but rather the indifference of churches that claim fidelity to the Gospel.  Rather, let us tremble before the One with all authority. And let us act as if this authority is on our side, for it is. And nothing can challenge us or overtake us, because nothing can challenge or overtake Him.

~sdg

Footnote

BACK TO POST1 – If the religious leaders had answered that John’s baptism was from heaven, they believe Jesus would be able to question why they rejected John (Luke 20:5). I believe a case can be made that their fear of being accused of rejecting a heavenly baptism was still in the crowd. They did not believe Jesus held divine authority. So they did not fear him. They only feared his sway he held over the crowd. For they hung on Jesus’ every word (Luke 19:48).

A Pre-Death Postmortem

This past Tuesday, I thought I was dying. This is no stretch of the truth or over-dramatic hyperbole. The fear of my physical death hung over me; to the point where I left work in the middle of the day to seek medical attention. I should probably mention that I am no hypochondriac. Before yesterday, it had been years since I’d seen a doctor. But this was different.

The previous night, I hardly slept at all. A nagging pain had developed just above my knee. It was enough of a discomfort to get my attention. Normally, I would have shrugged it off, but within in the past month, I have been doing a lot of traveling. I went on a mission trip to Thailand. I also went to Phoenix. In preparation for the Thailand trip, I had read that one risk of extended flight time is blood clots in the leg, which if left untreated can lead to death. This is the context into which the Author of my story wrote in a persistent pain in my leg. And it really freaked me out. I decided I wanted to have a doctor check me out when the pain started moving up my leg. By this time, my mind had begun playing tricks on me, which made me feel nauseous. Tis better to be safe than dead, I thought in the midst of it all. So off to the doctor I went.

The doctor’s exam and subsequent blood test yielded no indications of a clot. I’m in the clear. Yet, I still find myself troubled. The dread I felt as this odd pain emerged in my leg was real. I was fearing death. Anxiety welled up over the possibility of suffering. So what should I take from my imagined brushed with death? Perhaps you think it silly to even ask such a question, as if there is an answer. Doesn’t God have better things to do? Perhaps, but most likely not. The God who spoke the world into existence and sustains all things by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3) must continue to speak, or nothing would exist. Whether a falling sparrow or a spinning universe or a small pain in my leg, they do not happen apart from Him. So I ask again, why was this scene written into His story? I think it was to teach me (and maybe you) that I fear death more than I think I do.

So what’s the big deal? “Everyone fears death”, you might be thinking. I guess you may be right. But, “fearful of death” is most certainly not a way a true disciple of Jesus could ever be described (hence my consternation over my reaction to my imagined brush with death). When you think about the history of the church, it is tinted red by the blood of martyrs; men and women who did not fear death, of whom the world was not worthy (Hebrews 11:36-38). These brothers and sisters are held up as examples of faithfulness. Their perseverance through trials and suffering perfectly imaged their elder Brother. For Jesus, despite experiencing much suffering, persevered to the end. He remained faithful to God (Hebrews 3:1-2). And it was His faithfulness that freed these other brothers and sisters from the fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15). His faithfulness enabled them to be faithful themselves…faithful to the end. This is why I pause to consider my own heart in this situation. If I share in Christ, I have been freed from the fear of death. And if you share in Christ, you have been freed from the fear of death as well. This is gloriously true and eternally significant.

Can you imagine living in a time where the threat of death faced you everywhere? No matter where you went or who you encountered, death hung over you like a palpable mist that choked your existence. It’s unimaginable. Yet, this is our reality, if we would only see it. The Christian life is fraught with dangers. And the one weapon that Satan uses to tempt us to faithlessness is the threat of suffering unto death. Which is why the fact that Christ Jesus has freed of us from the fear of death is so significant. When the devil attacks, with his darts of flame unleashed, we can stand tall. The shield of faith extinguishes and deflects that ammo set on fire by hell itself. For Satan can only kill us (and only by God’s permission – Job 1:6-12) and after that is glory! If we truly believe this, if we truly lay hold of it, fear melts like ice in the presence of red hot coals. For “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). But if fear remains, we have yet to be perfected. We have yet to lay hold of the depths of the Gospel. Thus, we are in danger. An evil, unbelieving heart may lurk within our being. One that will deceive us and then destroy us (Hebrews 3:12).

This all may seem like bad news. And it is. But, the bad news is what makes the Good news that much better. The truth is, I have an evil, unbelieving heart and Jesus lived, died and rose for people just like me. I fear death because I’m still learning that the Gospel is better than I think it is. It’s better than I will ever fathom this side of heaven. This is the truth I must preach to myself. This is the truth that I must have preached to me (Hebrews 3:13). This is the truth that emboldens faith and shrinks fear of death and fear of suffering. This is the truth that will neuter the power of temptation and delivers me safe at home by preserving me to the end (Hebrews 2:18).

It’s easy to speak with bravado about our lack of fear when the object of that fear is far off. But it’s not far off. In an instant, your life could be over. There is an urgency to repent. There is an urgency to submit. There is an urgency to reach out to those who are lost. “Today”, the author of Hebrews warns (Hebrews 3:7-8), is the day we should submit. Do not assume you can live your life as you wish and then get things right with God before the end. Your arrogance will betray you. For God opposes the proud (Proverbs 3:34, James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5).

For me, this whole experience has crystallized in my mind my deep need for the Gospel. It has crystallized in my mind my deep need for the local church. Without the Gospel and the church that the expansion of the Gospel creates, I would be hopelessly lost. And so would you.

~sdg

Happy 4th of July

I hope that you and your family are having a restful day off as you celebrate the 4th of July. I pray that as you celebrate the freedom we have in this country, that your thoughts would be drawn towards the day when the house of God will be full of celebrations as the ultimate freedom will finally be consummated in the visible reign of our Savior King.

Happy 4th of July!

 

~sdg