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

 

 

 

 

 

Arousing Ourselves to Death

Russell Moore writes:

Pornography, by its very nature, leads to insatiability. One picture, stored in the memory, will never be enough to continue arousing a man. God, after all, designed the man and the woman to be satisfied not with a single sex act but with an ongoing appetite for each other, for the unitive and procreative union of flesh to flesh and soul to soul. One seeking the mystery outside of this covenantal union will never find what he is looking for. He will never find an image naked enough to satisfy him.

Yes, pornography is an issue of public morality. We have spoken to this repeatedly. A culture that doesn’t safeguard the dignity of human sexuality is a culture on its way to nihilism. Yes, pornography is an issue of social justice. After all, pornography, at least as we know it today, is rarely about mere “images.” Behind those images stand real persons, created in the image of God, who through some sad journey to a far country of despair have tumbled down to this. We agree with those—often even secular feminists with whom we disagree on much—who say that a pornographic culture hurts women and children through the objectification of women, the trafficking of children, and the commodification of sex.

But before pornography is a legal or cultural or moral issue, it is an ecclesial one. Judgment must, as Scripture tells us, begin with the household of God (1 Pet. 4:17). The man who is sitting upstairs viewing pornography while his wife chauffeurs their children to soccer practice might well be a religionless, secular culture warrior. But he is just as likely to be one of our church members, maybe even one who reads Touchstone magazine.

Read the whole article here.
~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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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

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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Stoics in the Pews

Bust of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who was an adherent to Stoicism

Right now my Bible Fellowship Group is going through the book of Philippians. I love this book. The way the Gospel permeates each theme and how Paul masterfully weaves it into every day life is brilliantly life-changing. We are at the point in our study where all the different themes Paul has mentioned are being brought together. Philippians 4:8-9 will be our text this Sunday.

In order to prepare properly for this week’s lesson, I quickly discovered that I was going to have to do some extra reading. Paul was not just listing random virtuous characteristics to which he wanted the Philippians to conform. No, Paul is engaging in a little contextualization by borrowing terms and ideas from the popular moral philosophy of the day: Stoicism.

I had a general idea about what Stoics believed (something about controlling emotions…hence our English word “stoic”), but in my reading, what I discovered was that despite this moral philosophy being over two millennia old, it’s over-arching view of reality (dare I say it’s metanarrative) still holds much weight in our world. What I discovered fascinated me, but also caused me to pause. I paused because I fear our church pews are filled with Stoics.

A quick and dirty summary of what the Stoics believed was that there is an absolute reality, a divine reason (the logos) that governs the world. Stoics were deterministic, meaning that they believed life was pre-determined for them. The goal of man was to discover and live inline with the plan of the logos. This is the highest virtue and the path to happiness. Self-control was highly valued. For to be consumed by emotions (anger, lust, envy, etc.), was to cloud your understanding of the logos. And if you didn’t understand and live in line with the logos, you would suffer. Suffering was to be avoided at all cost, because suffering said something about you. Either you were ignorant of the logos, or rebelling against the logos. The Stoic believed that it was only the virtuous man who was free. The wicked man was a slave. He desired things contrary to the logos. One stoic described the wicked man as dog tied to a cart, forced to go where ever the cart went. But the virtuous man had bent his will inline with the logos. Thus his will was the same as the logos.

It was at this point that I was utterly fascinated and utterly concerned. I was fascinated, because the parallels to Christianity are so close. They got some things right. But as the old cliché goes, close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades. I became utterly concerned because, since the Stoic view is so very close to Christianity, many who fill the pews each Sunday morning have bought into this way of thinking and living without ever realizing it. They have been conformed to this world and think they’re conforming to Christ.

This stoicism manifests itself in two ways in the modern day church. The first is in the pursuit of the mysterious will of God. This past fall, I had the privilege of leading a small group discussion on the book Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung. The book was dealing with the modern fascination when it comes to God’s will. The fascination borders on obsession to the point of paralyzation. We desire so much to do God’s will that choices become almost an impossible burden. Who you marry, what college and major, where you live and attend church become unbearable weights that crush us into doing nothing or changing our mind every other day. Because if you pick the wrong thing, you have just missed God’s best. You will be less happy because you somehow missed the mysterious will of God. This mindset wreaks of Stoicism like two-week old guacamole in the trash can (someone remind me to take out my trash later). Our Stoicism goes even deeper. The Stoics preached self-discipline to avoid the hazy understanding of the logos that emotions brought and some Christians will preach the exact same thing. Moralism becomes a means by which we get from God that which we want. We believe that moral living is in line with God and to know his will more clearly, we must live morally. Yet, the Gospel paints a much different picture.  The will of God is not mysterious (at least his will of desire or will of command). How we are to live is quite clear. God did not leave us groping for what it means to live in harmony with Him. Instead, He acted. He intervened. Jesus came, lived a life we could not live, died a death we should have died and has brought us into harmony with the Father. Do you want to live in harmony with the over-arching reality of this world? Embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For there is no other way to achieve it. Moral effort will bring no greater clarity. Moral effort will not bring you happiness. Moral effort will only deepen the brokenness of your relationship with God of the universe. The great paradox of the Christian Gospel is that only in abandoning moral effort as a means to salvation will you become a moral person. The abandonment of self is the only way to save self. The Gospel undermines and overthrows Stoic notions of living in line with the logos.

The second way  Stoicism manifests itself in the church is in regards to suffering. Too many Christians have embraced the idea that if they live a moral life or go to church every Sunday or read their Bible on occasion, they have obliged God to bless them. They are living in harmony with the logos. Therefore they ought to be blessed, to be happy, to be wealthy. Yet, they find themselves suffering. They find that the more they try to perform, the harder that life gets. Before long, they can take it no more. They go before the throne of God and vomit up complaint after complaint. They grumble, they murmur, they question the value of their fidelity to Him. All the while, they prove themselves aligned not with the reality that governs this world, but with a counter-reality. They are aligned on the side of the serpent, just as their fore-fathers were in the wilderness. Again, the Gospel teaches us something completely different. Suffering is not a sign that we are somehow out of line with the Father. No, sometimes suffering is the very mark of being completely in line with the Father. The greatest example of this is the passion of Jesus. The passion here refers to his suffering and death. Passion is what the Stoics refused. It is what they ran from with all their might. Yet, Jesus, Son of God,  the very Logos Himself, embraces His passion. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, despising it’s shame. Those who love the Gospel are those who embrace their suffering. Because to lose one’s life is the only way to gain it again. We fear not death, for we will be raised again, just as Jesus was resurrected on the third day. Self-sacrifice, not self-discipline becomes the priority.

What I find so brilliantly life-changing about Philippians 4:8, is that Paul clearly understood that there is only one thing that can kill the little Stoic that lives in all of us. That one thing is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Dwelling on it’s depth, it’s width, it’s height is a task for which we will be engaged for all of eternity, for it will continue to surpass our understanding. We will never exhaust the Gospel. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has worked such a marvelous salvation on our behalf.

 

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
(Philippians 4:8 ESV)
~sdg

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