Wrestling with God Interview

Below is an interview I did with Scott Blair from Grapplers Church.  We discuss church planting, missions, discipleship, getting punched in the face, and much more.  I hope you find it helpful as you seek to serve King Jesus.

To learn more check out Living Bread Ministries.

 

Church Planting Among the Global Poor

In this video Barbara and I discuss Living Bread Ministries and our vision for missional church planting among the global poor.

To invest in missional church planting among the global poor, click here.

 

Portrait of a Christian

What does a Christian look like?  This is a question all of us must answer as we seek to follow Christ.  The short answer of course is we are to look like Jesus.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers (Romans 8:29).  In Jesus, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us ( John 1:14).  He manifested himself to us and revealed his image, thus showing us what our lives as Christians should look like.

He made himself our model (John 13:34-35, 20:21).  However, it is often hard to translate the life of Christ into our context.  Recently I was reading a biography on John Wesley, who is one of my heroes in the faith.  While I disagree with him on some secondary issues of theology I greatly respect him as a practical theologian.  As such, he was very much concerned with living out what we believe.

In light of this, the book I was reading dedicated the entire first chapter to a tract that Wesley had written in the mid 1700s which I have found to be exceedingly relevant today.  It is entitled The Character of a Methodist.  The term Methodist was given to the group Wesley founded as a derogatory name mocking the methodical way in which they approached life and Bible study.  Thus Wesley is not writing a denominational statement, but is simply making it clear that a Methodist, indeed all Christians should look like Jesus.

I encourage you to read this tract and meditate on what it really means to be conformed to the image of Christ.

Why did God destroy Sodom?

Why did God destroy Sodom and Gomorrah? I did a quick study looking for verses explaining why and this is what I found.

Gen 18:19-21 Since God chose Abraham to keep the way of the Lord by “doing righteousness & justice” he revealed to him the plan to destroy Sodom because the “outcry against Sodom & Gomorrah is great & their sin is very grave…” (ESV) It does not list specific sin.

Isaiah 1 – The Lord lists the multitude of Judah’s sins and compares them to Sodom and Gomorrah because of their empty religious activities.  He commands them to “cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widows cause.” (vs 16b-17 ESV)

Jeremiah 23:14 – The prophet Jeremiah compares the sin of the prophets of Jerusalem with the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.  They commit adultery, lie, and assist evildoers, so that they continue in their sin.

Ezekiel 16:49-50 – This is the only passage that directly states what the sin of Sodom was.  They were prideful, had an excess of food, and prosperous ease yet they hoarded those things on themselves and neglected the poor.  They were prideful and did an abomination before God.

Matt 10:15/Luke 10:12 – Seems to imply that the rejection of the Apostles and their message and thus a continuing in sin will be judged more harshly than the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah.

2 Peter 2:6-8 – Peter says that Lot was greatly distressed by the “sensual conduct of the wicked” which seems to be a reference to sexual sin and lewdness.

Jude 7 – In this verse Jude clearly ascribes a sexual nature to some of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, but in its context it would seem the sin he is referring to is the desire to have sex with the angels.

So what is my point?  Well it is not that homosexuality is ok.  There is plenty of evidence in scripture that the practice of homosexuality is sin, just as there is plenty of evidence that adultery and heterosexual sex outside of marriage is sinful.  That being said, the argument that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was strictly, or even chiefly that of homosexuality, is not defensible with scripture.  Thus, the faulty logic that homosexuality is somehow a bigger abomination to God than other sexual sins is likewise flawed.

Based on this brief study, we have to conclude that the sin that led to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was pride and self-centeredness.  They had been blessed by God, but like the rich fool in one of Jesus’ parables, they hoarded God’s blessings on themselves and neglected the poor and needy among them.  They did not love God or their neighbors.  Even the sexual sin that was present was the result of self-centeredness as they sought to gratify the lust of the flesh.  Frankly, I find this understanding of the fall of Sodom to be much more bothersome and convicting to me personally, but it is nonetheless what the Bible teaches.

Psalm 127

Solomon knew all too well the vanity of toil apart from trust in the Lord.  In Ecclesiastes 2:24-26, he discussed how God uses the sinful to gather and collect only to give what they have gathered to those who trust in Him.  Likewise, it is vanity to labor and build a house apart from following the Lord.  The idea of building a house should be understood as more than a building, but as a household; it includes the rearing of children.  To labor to build a family without first trusting in and submitting to the Lord, is a vain endeavor.

In the same manner, laboring to protect a city without first trusting the Lord is vanity.  Solomon knew that real security came from being connected with the Lord and not by human strength and wisdom.  How often we work ourselves ragged trying to provide for our families or secure our future.  The point is not to devalue work, but to place it in a proper perspective.  Without the blessing of sovereign God, we work in vain.

Having established the necessity of God’s care and provision for his people, Solomon focuses his attention on children as part of that blessing.  The Lord blesses his people with children as a heritage, “Like arrows to a warrior are the sons of one’s youth” verse 4.  Sons were like arrows because they would grow and be able to protect and care for their aging parents.

The man with a quiver full of children was blessed because he would be secure in his old age.  His children would provide for him and would be advocates for him.  They would seek justice at the gate and protect their elderly parents from oppression. The elderly were weak and vulnerable, but God provided children to care for their parents as instruments of His blessing.  This was the manner in which God built the home for those who trusted in Him.

Whether one was young and building a family or elderly with a grown family, the Lord cared for those who trusted in him.  This is still true today.  Our hope is not in a big 401k, or an alarm system.  Our hope is in the Lord.  When we trust in Him we can find rest in the midst of our toils.

What is Hungering and Thirsting for Righteousness?

I have often wondered what it actually means to hunger and thirst for righteousness.  First, having grown up in a working class home in the US I have no real point of reference for what it means to be really hungry or thirsty.  I have always had food and clean water readily available to me.  Second, what does “righteousness” actually mean?  Is it simply abstaining from evil?  Does it mean reading you Bible and praying?  Is it only a longing for justification?

For the truly hungry, the desire for food is all consuming.  I remember walking through a slum in Brazil a few years ago and watched as a woman set her garbage on the curb to be picked up.  As she walked quietly back to her home several children came running, seemingly from nowhere, to the place she had left the bag of trash.  I watched as children eagerly tore through the plastic bag and pulled out scraps of food.  They were kneeling on the sidewalk consuming garbage, because hunger consumed them.

In the Bible we see stories of people in famine.  There are cases where they eat bird droppings and donkey heads.  There are even times where mothers eat their own children to survive.  In light of all of this, whatever “righteousness” is I know I can’t say that I hunger and thirst for it; at least not to the extent that a starving child searches for scraps of bread.

As a young Christian I understood hungering for righteousness to mean that I would avoid evil things like lust and adultery.  I thought that it meant that I would progressively read my Bible more and spend more time in prayer.  In essence if I avoided the big sins and practiced spiritual disciplines then I was hungering for righteousness.  While these are good things and they are certainly an aspect of what is meant in Matt 5:6, this is a woefully inadequate understanding of the verse.

Without question we see here a reference to the righteousness of God found in Christ Jesus.  Those who are poor in spirit realize their sinfulness and inability to rectify it.  They mourn over their sin to the point of repentance and faith in the one whose blood cleanses them and they are justified.  Christ takes their sin upon Himself and graciously gives them His righteousness.  Certainly the God given brokenness for sin that leads to a longing to be reconciled to God is an aspect of what is meant in Matt 5:6.

Is justification all that is in view here?  Does this verse have anything to say to the believer who is being conformed to the image of Christ?  Absolutely!  We see two additional aspects of this desire for righteousness.  One is a hunger for personal holiness.  It is clear that the one who is made righteous should desire to live out that righteousness in a practical way.  Grace is not a license for sin and we are indeed called to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:15).

Second, is a hunger to see God’s righteousness spread throughout the world system.  In The Institutes John Calvin said “Righteousness includes all the duties of justice, that every man may receive his just dues.”  In addition, Tim Keller in Generous Justice, says “If you are a Christian, and you refrain from committing adultery or using profanity or missing church, but you don’t do the hard work of thinking through how to do justice in every area of life – you are failing to live justly and righteously”.  As citizens of the Kingdom of God we must be actively seeking to spread the righteousness of our King through every aspect of our lives and society.  This is the aspect of hungering for righteousness that is most often neglected or totally overlooked.

In closing, we see that hungering and thirsting for righteousness is a daunting task.  It is not one that fallen men will ever desire on their own.  However, when the Spirit of God changes our hearts and we are reconciled to God we are made righteous.  This results in a desire to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  As a result, we begin to long for personal holiness and for the world around us to be reconciled to God that He would rule and reign in all aspects of life.

Do you hunger for that type of righteousness like a starving child longs for a crust of bread?  I know I don’t, but I want to!  By God’s grace I pray that my life would be marked by this type of hunger and thirsting for righteousness.  That I would not be content to just go to church, avoid a list of sins, occasionally read my Bible, and pray over my meals.  That would be a tragedy and a life wasted.

The Magnificat

Why did Jesus come to earth?  What was the purpose of the incarnation?  Certainly, the incarnation of Christ was a complex event, having many effects that have rippled throughout history.  However, often we grasp at individual aspects of the result of Christ’s life, ministry, vicarious death, and resurrection.  In this case, the incarnation often becomes nothing more than a means to an end; Jesus had to be born so that he could die on the cross.  Christmas is the means to Easter.

In no way do I mean to diminish the cross, it indeed is the lynch pin that all of history swings on.  Without it we have no hope.  Rather, my point is to elevate the life and ministry of Christ, the incarnation, to its rightful place in our understanding of the Christian life.  Jesus was not randomly roaming around for 30 years waiting to die and performing a few miracles along the way simply to prove who he was.  The incarnation is much more significant than that.

To begin to fully grasp the significance of the incarnation it will be helpful to see what Mary, the mother of Jesus, understood it to mean.  This becomes abundantly clear in a passage of scripture referred to as The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56).  However, the key to understanding this text comes a little earlier in the chapter.  In Luke 1:26-38 the angel Gabriel visits Mary and tells her that she will bear a son, but not just any son.  She will give birth to the Son of the Most High; the long anticipated heir to the throne of David.  As promised, his kingdom (reign) will be eternal (Luke 1:31-33).

To grasp the magnitude of this promise it is essential to understand the Old Testament concept of new exodus.  In the first exodus God delivered the Hebrew people from the bondage and oppression of the Egyptians.  Through this process the nation of Israel was birthed to be kings and priests mediating God’s reign on the earth (Exodus 19:4-6).  They were a corporate Adam whom God would work through to bring all of creation under his sovereign reign; as He originally intended (Gen 1:26-28).

Unfortunately, Israel continued in sin and, like Adam, was exiled from their Eden.  They were taken into captivity in Babylon, however the prophets spoke of a new exodus that would be more comprehensive than the first (Is. 35; 43:16-21; 51:9-11; 65:17-25).  God’s people would be delivered from captivity and would return to the Promised Land where the presence of God would dwell among them in the Temple.  Further, with this exodus the curse on creation would be lifted, death and disease would be defeated, and bondage in all its forms would be eradicated; including bondage to Satan and sin as well as physical and political oppression.

When God’s people were released from captivity and returned to the land, what they found was nothing like what the prophets had promised.  They found Jerusalem in ruins and faced great opposition in their efforts to rebuild the Temple and the city.  They also faced famine and as a result suffered greatly.  Furthermore, though they were in the land, they never possessed it like they once had.  As a result, they saw their return as only a partial fulfillment of the new exodus the prophets had promised.  Their return from exile was not complete and they longed for the fullness of the new exodus deliverance that would come when the son of David once again sat upon the throne in Jerusalem.

For hundreds of years Israel waited for their promised deliverance.  They suffered under political and demonic oppression.  They longed for the righteous reign of God to manifest itself in their lives.  This was especially true of the poor and needy who suffered worst of all.  It was in this context that Gabriel visits Mary.

When she heard that she would give birth to the Son of the Most High who would finally bring the fullness of the new exodus that had been prophesied, Mary could not help but rejoice.  This is exactly what we see in Luke 1:46-56.  Mary knew that God was intervening in history and that the new creation Israel had longed for was finally coming to be!  Christmas was about God’s kingdom invading earth and all things being made new (Is. 43:18-19).

Thus Mary begins her song of praise by reflecting on who God is, her Savior (vs. 46-47).  In light of what has been discussed above, God as Savior must be understood in a comprehensive way.  The salvation Mary envisions is the fullness of the new exodus; the restoration of creation, defeat of Satan and the overturning of his kingdom, deliverance from sin and death, and restoration of fellowship with God.  It is for this that she magnifies the Lord and rejoices will all of her being.

One of the key things to understand in this passage is that the kingdom of God turns the kingdom of the Satan (the world) upon its head. They are polar opposites of one another.  In reference to the kingdom, Jesus repeatedly makes it clear that in his kingdom the last will be first and the first will be last (Matt 19:16-30; 20:1-16, 20-28).   This is demonstrated by the King himself as he humbly serves humanity (2 Cor 8:9, Phil 2:5-8).  In Satan’s kingdom the powerful and the strong are exalted while the weak are oppressed.  Under the reign of Jesus the meek and humble reign with him while the mighty are brought low.  This reality is seen throughout Mary’s song of praise.

It is seen first in vs. 48 when Mary makes reference to her “humble estate.”  This term not only reflects the humility of her spirit, but it also reflects her social status.  She was not from an important family with power and prestige.  Quite the opposite, she was a poor peasant girl.  One might imagine the Son of the Most High would be born to a great family in a beautiful palace; not to a poor couple in a stable.

Mary never seeks to rob God of his glory.  She knows that the favored position she will hold is only because mighty God has chosen to bless her (vs. 49).  She will be called blessed forever because of the special blessing the Lord has given her.  It is sad that the blessing of God has been twisted and led to two differing false views of Mary.  The Catholic Church has misunderstood Mary’s role and venerated her to a position she never belonged.  The Protestant church, going to the other extreme, has marginalized her into oblivion so that she is only occasionally mentioned in a Christmas sermon.

In the second half of her song Mary switches focus from what God has done for her to what God has and will do for Israel.  She quotes or alludes to numerous Old Testament passages about God’s work for Israel.  However, the context of her praise is the in breaking of the kingdom of God into history, the fulfillment of the new exodus.  Though she speaks in past tense, quoting scripture, she is also prophesying in new exodus language about the coming kingdom of God.  Thus, we see in the remainder of the song not only what God has done, but what he will do.

Here we see how the kingdom of God turns the kingdom of Satan upside down.  God will show mercy on the meek that fear him (vs. 50).  He will bring down the proud and will humble the mighty, while exalting the humble (vs. 51-52).  The hungry will be filled with good things and the rich will be sent away empty (vs. 53) (Luke 16:19-31; 18:18-30).  This is what the kingdom of God looks like.  It is indeed good news for the poor (Luke 4:18; 14:12-24; 19:1-10).

To be sure there are spiritual aspects to these verses.  We are to be humble in spirit and hunger for God spiritually, but we dare not rob Mary’s praise of its full intent.  A proper understanding of new exodus and the kingdom of God will not allow it.  We want to spiritualize what she is saying and rob it of all physical/temporal implications because it makes us uncomfortable.  After all, we are the rich and powerful that may be humbled and sent away empty.  The kingdom of God turns the world upside down and it must likewise turn our worlds upside down as well.  We can’t marginalize Mary’s words; we must do the hard work of applying them to our lives today.

The kingdom that is coming through the birth of Jesus is the result of the promise that God made to Abraham and his offspring (vs. 54-55).  Through the sovereign reign of Jesus the Israel of God will be delivered and all the nations of the earth will be blessed.  This is the hope of the incarnation!  This is what Christmas means to Mary.  The kingdom is here like a mustard seed, but like leaven it will spread until the long awaited promise of new exodus is fully realized.