Rehearsing the Promises

I am only rehearsing and I know it. I am sitting on my back deck. The sun is shining. A gentle breeze is blowing. The temperatures are warm and pleasant. It’s a perfect day for a ball game. On the radio, Jim Powell reads the Louisiana Hot Sauce ad during a pause in the action (“the hottest prospect of ’em all”). Today is Opening Day—at least it was supposed to be. I am dressed in my Braves’ best. I’m grilling brats and dogs for dinner tonight. And I’m listening to the Atlanta Braves play the Cincinnati Reds. The game was actually played on April 24, 2019. Why am I listening to a game from last year? Because there is no live baseball on today. And until the virus ravaging our country is contained baseball will remain dormant. So I’m rehearsing. I’m practicing. I’m reveling in the sacraments of the game as I wait for the real thing to begin. I want to make it to a ballpark—that “enclosed green field in the sun”. One day I’ll get there.

“Baseball is game about going home,” writes Bart Giamatti, “and how hard it is to get there and how driven our need. It tells us how good home is.” The batter begins his journey at home plate. He leaves in a fury with the sole intent of returning. You win by getting home. You win by helping others get home. Baseball is game about going home. This is why this extraordinary pause in the beginning of the season hurts. It is the indefinite delay of the long anticipated journey home. I’ve felt this before. I feel it every Sunday now.


“Remembering is a spiritual discipline.” I’ll never forgot those words from my pastor. Remember. If we would live a life that honors God and his gospel, then we must be a people who remember. Remember what? Remember the promises and remember our future. It’s too easy to forget. The Kingdom we have been promised isn’t here yet. There are outposts for sure, but the daily grind in a fallen world makes those promises seem elusive and we forget that this world is not our home. We have received a promise of a far greater one. And if we want to make it home, we must remember and we must rehearse.

Repetition is the key. First you learn the drill at a slow speed. Practice is done slowly as you learn the form and the process. Then the drills speed up. But the repetition never goes away. Ground ball after ground ball. Swing after swing. Repeat. Do it again. One more time. End on a good one. Why? Because baseball is a game you cannot think and play. It’s pure reaction. It’s muscle memory and instinct. The same is true of life.


Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.

Jesus of Nazareth, Luke 6:45 (ESV)

There is something wrong with us. We have known it all along and usually we are pretty good at hiding it. But in the heat of the moment, our true nature spills out for all to see. Our hearts are out of sync with the rhythms of the Kingdom. Our instincts are broken and twisted. How did we get here? Why were we exposed and embarrassed? We haven’t been remembering or rehearsing. We have forgotten. We’ve grown accustomed to living here.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV)

I am only rehearsing and I know it. I am sitting with family in the church pew. The warmth of family and friends surrounds us. It’s the perfect morning to gather for worship of our savior. The waters of baptism are stirred and the proclamation that Jesus is Lord is made to the principalities of the power of the air. The Word is preached—the suffering servant has come to redeem his people. Songs and prayers are offered. We are remembering. We are rehearsing. We are reveling in the sacraments of the coming Kingdom.

Do not neglect to meet together. Why? So that we make it home. The Day is drawing near. And what Day is that? The coming of the Kingdom. The realization of the promises. We gather so that we can remember who we are and where we belong. We gather so that we can rehearse the promises. We gather to revel in the sacraments of the Kingdom—to be fed true food and true drink. We rehearse the promises in faith that they will be realized in the future.

But right now, our duty to love neighbor prevents us from gathering physically. We are scattered. The one in seven rhythm has been broken. Our corporate rehearsals for the journey home have ceased with no sure date of return. What is the scattered church to do? Keep remembering. Keep rehearsing. Keep building spiritual muscle memory and instinct.


The Christian life is about going home. We are aliens and strangers in this land. Our citizenship is in heaven. We win at life by going home and bringing as many people as we can with us. And the only way we can get home is if we lose this world—lose our life. When we give up this life for the one Jesus has for us, we die. And we are resurrected to a life indestructible. That’s how we get home—where weakness gives way to power and suffering turns to glory.

I am only rehearsing and I know it. I am sitting at my kitchen table. The sun is still below the horizon. The temperatures are cool outside, but warm inside. The coffee is hot. It’s the perfect morning to meet with my savior. On the pages of my Bible, Moses is leading an obstinate people through a vast wilderness. Those former slaves, often yearning to return to Egypt, frustrate his leadership at almost every turn. I can feel the same tug. Wandering the this broken world makes me feel the same thing. It’d be easier to go back. But that’s why I rehearse. That’s why I’m practicing and remembering. It’s why I am reveling in the sacraments of Word and prayer. I want to make it to the Promised Land—to that sacred green garden in the light of the Son. I’ll make it there one day. He has promised me that much (Phil. 1:6).

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

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”.

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).

Sentenced to Gitmo with Jesus

Jim Hamilton writes:

The word about taking up the cross to follow Jesus probably sounded like a call to risk Roman retribution when Jesus spoke it (Matt. 10:38). In the context of Matthew’s Gospel, the word calls the followers of Jesus to lay down their lives by faith for others in obedience to God, just as Jesus did. Herein is the paradox that condemns all selfishness, and through judgment comes the salvation of living for others to God’s glory by faith: “The one who finds his life will lose it, and the one who loses his life on account of me will find it” (10:39).

God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment. pgs 371-372.

I found this paragraph fascinating and troubling. It was fascinating for me because I had never really thought about the call to pick up my cross as a call to risk retribution by my own government. These would have been frightfully chilling words. Embrace revolution. Embrace radicalization. Uneducated though they may be, Jesus’ fishermen disciples knew exactly what He was calling them to do. Jesus was calling the disciples to a way of life that put them at odds with the most powerful military force the planet had ever seen. And not only that, but this life was also going to mark them out as the worst scum in the Empire. Crucifixion was reserved for only vilest of criminals. Rome would not even subject their own citizens to the punishment. However, the pain and torment of crucifixion was only part of the punishment. There was also a deep shamefulness associated with the cross. This is to what Jesus called his disciples. A life that would be marked by shame, humiliation and most likely death at the hands of your own government. Strangely, this is the only way to eternal life (Matthew 10:39). Against everything our natural inclinations tells us, embracing death really means embracing life. This is quite a paradox. One that only the Gospel can reconcile peaceably.

Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base

The troubling aspect of this paragraph hit me as I wondered how many in today’s churches would resign their membership if pressed to make such a commitment. Rather, I wonder how many would be willing to risk not only their lives, but also to be marked out as the worst sort of person. I wonder how many Christians would remain so, if it meant being associated with terrorists. Average Joe American hates nothing more than a terrorist. All the images of 9/11 coming flooding back at just the mention of the word. And I believe that if Jesus was here today, instead of calling Americans to pick up their cross and follow him, Jesus might say “risk being sentenced to Guantanamo Bay and follow me.” Now that would wake people up. Can you imagine their reaction? Our worthiness of following Jesus is tied up exactly in whether or not we think He’s worth terroristic associations and terroristic charges. If we take seriously our commitments to Jesus, it will not be a stretch for the world to label us as terrorists. For the sword we bear is capable of exposing the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12) and darkness does not like to be exposed (Eph. 5:11).

The question that lays before us is, will we follow Jesus no matter what the cost? Will we follow him, even if the path to death led through Gitmo? I pray that answer is yes. For it is the only way to eternal life.

~sdg

PS – One of my pastors (Pastor Jeremy Haskins) preached a great sermon on this passage after I had written this post. I highly commend it to you. You will be challenged and edified!

His Banner Over Us Is Death! The Sword of the Kingdom Kills Your Best Life Now (Matthew 10:34-39)

If you would like to hear more preaching like this, you can subscribe to my church’s podcast on iTunes or listen to more sermons here.

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

 

 

 

 

 

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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A Theology of Satisfaction

Three things are never satisfied; four never say, “Enough”: Sheol, the barren womb, the land never satisfied with water, and the fire that never says, “Enough.” (Proverbs 30:15-16 ESV)

Human beings are insatiable creatures. We were created this way. We were created with the infinite capacity to experience pleasure. The more pleasure we experience, the greater our capacity for pleasure grows. Our souls burn like a fire that never says, “Enough!” This is clearly evident in our physical appetites. Today, I will grow hungry and thirsty. I will eat and drink water. Yet, my hunger and thirst will return. There is not one food or drink that will forever satisfy my hunger or thirst. The same can be seen in other physical desires. A man will desire the body of his wife. They make love, but the desire will return. No newly married man looks at his wife on the second night and says, “I’m still good from the previous night.” Instead, his desire for her has only grown. The body grows tired each evening, inducing sleep. Yet, the next day’s activities again end in sleep. There is no amount of sleep that can satisfy our need. Desires always return. And we were curiously created this way.

Too often, desire is shunned within the Church. We can accurately pinpoint the source of our cultural rot. Pornography. Murder. Rape. Abuse. Theft. Corruption. The Church has rightly observed that these all stem from desire. As each of these vices is preached against from the pulpits across America, what is subtly (and most likely unintentionally) communicated is that ALL desire is bad and should be avoided. A passionless moralism, a Christianized version of Stoicism, is often what flows from our pulpits. We fight against and attempt to kill what God intended for our good, for our pleasure. Yet, if desire is good, if desire was given to us by Creator God, why does pursuing these desires led to such destruction? Our problem is not our pursuit of desire, but rather in the means we seek to lay hold of it.

When cancer grows in the body, the tumor that masses is due to an over-production of cells. Normally, as cells are unneeded, they simply die. When cancer forms, those cells have forgotten how to die. They have become inordinate. They feed on the body’s resources, growing and growing until death results. The moment a man seeks to fulfill his infinite capacity for pleasure with finite things, those desires become inordinate. The moment that gifts of finite pleasure replace the God, who is infinite pleasure, those desires become malignant.

What we need is a theology of satisfaction. We need to understand our desires in light of the Story that God is telling and not the small stories that we are trying to tell. We need God to define the good. For if we try to define what is good, what is true, we will fall into putting on our old self, along with it’s deceitful desires (Ephesians 4:17-24). I love how Paul calls our desires deceitful. Because without God defining our desires, they are deceitful. If there is no God, then the logical thing to do is live for my desires. Without God, reality is only as big my own longings. But God has not left us to grope in the darkness. He has defined our desires. He has defined where we are to seek satisfaction for that infinite capacity for pleasure. It is the cross that defines our desires. It is Christ alone that has the infinite resources to satisfy our infinite capacity.

Towards the end of his letter to the Philippians, Paul helps us see exactly this. In probably the most famous and most misunderstood verse in all of Philippians, Paul states emphatically, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). I am quite sure that at this moment, you can find this verse stamped on coffee mugs and plaques that line the shelves of Christian bookstores across the country. Yet, this is no cute, throw-away verse that brings morning motivation. What Paul is communicating here is that he has found the secret to living a content life. The secret is that in Christ Jesus, Paul has limitless resources and pleasure. Since Paul views his finite desires through the lens of Christ’s resources, they do not become inordinate. The desires remain in check, under control. Paul knows how to face being in need. He knows how to face having plenty. Paul is not controlled by his finite desires. He is controlled by his one infinite desire and that is to know Christ (Phil. 3:8-11).

You see, this is the end of our infinite capacity for pleasure. It is to be met by one who has infinite resources with which to satisfy the ever growing joy. Heaven will be one day after another of increasing joy in the presence God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. This is why were created to experience infinite joy. We were created for Heaven. We were created for God.

~sdg

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