Alphabet Gospel

A
broken
command
divides
Eden-earth
from
God,
humanity’s
“I ate.”
Jesus — King, Lord, Master, now on earth
proclaiming,
praying,
preparing,
quoting,
quenching,
quieting,
remained
sinless,
taking
upon Himself a
vile
world —
executed,
yet, risen, brings us to
Zion

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God’s Overthrown Heart for You

One of the most emotional and theologically stunning chapters of the Old Testament is Hosea 11. Hosea pictures the 8th century northern kingdom (Ephraim/Israel) as a wayward child. Although God, as Father, has loved and raised him, the child (nation) has just kept going further away. In fact, he has broken faith with God and deserves destruction. Listen to the chilling threat of judgment from Moses almost 800 years earlier (c. 1500 BC):

It shall be when he hears the words of this curse, that he will boast, saying, ‘I have peace though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart in order to destroy the watered land with the dry.’ The Lord shall never be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the Lord and His jealousy will burn against that man, and every curse which is written in this book will rest on him, … Now the generation to come, … when they see the plagues of the land and the diseases with which the Lord has afflicted it, will say, ‘All its land is brimstone and salt, a burning waste, unsown and unproductive, and no grass grows in it, like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, which the Lord overthrew in His anger and in His wrath.’  All the nations will say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land? Why this great outburst of anger?’ Then men will say, ‘Because they forsook the covenant of the Lord, the God of their fathers, which He made with them when He brought them out of the land of Egypt.’ Deuteronomy 29:19-20, 23-25

Israel deserves to be overthrown and destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah. They have turned their backs on God, worshiped false gods, formed unwise alliances with pagan nations, and committed despicable crimes against each other (see Judges 19-21!).

But wait! God’s message through the poet/prophet Hosea reveals another side of God’s passion:

How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I surrender you, Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
I have had a change of heart;
My compassion is stirred!
I will not vent the full fury of My anger;
I will not turn back to destroy Ephraim.
For I am God and not man,
the Holy One among you;
I will not come in rage. Hosea 11:8-9

The word translated “change” here is the same root verb as “overthrow” (hapak) from Deuteronomy. God’s heart has been overthrown by His fired up compassion for His people. Thus, he will not overthrow them to destruction. Do you think He could have the same passionate love for you, despite your sin and guilt? The answer is a resounding “yes!” The Holy One has compassion for you.

Is God turning back on His justice here? Is he backing away from His own law? Certainly, if God is the Creator and Law-Giver, He can freely act however he may choose. He has divine freedom. But, God is not overthrowing His holiness and justice. Paul explains how Jesus fulfills both God’s justice and love in Romans:

But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed—attested by the Law and the Prophets —that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.  God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed.  God presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:21-26

In His love, God passed over sin until He took on its full penalty on Himself through Jesus’ death. His justice is upheld, but we are not destroyed. What amazing love our Savior has demonstrated to us!

How will you respond to this God whose heart is overthrown for you?

Finding Rest in the Midst of Crisis – Psalms Project: Psalm 3

Have you had a bad day, a bad week, a bad month, or even a bad year? Where is God when it seems like the bottom is falling out and sucking you down with it? Psalm 3 gives us powerful insight into how David dealt with such calamity at one of the worst times of his life. Even if our struggles are not as dire or dramatic as David’s we can learn to depend on God as he did. Then we will have rest – physical and spiritual.

David’s Situation

At first read, Psalm 3 seems to be an exaggerated, woe-is-me pity party.  Listen to verses 1-2:

O Lord, how many are my foes!
 Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
there is no salvation for him in God.

However, this was literally true for David. The Psalm’s title tells us David’s historical situation. He was on the run from his own son, Absalom, who had initiated civil war in Israel in an attempt to wrest the throne away from his father. Read 2 Samuel  15-17. Absalom had already killed one of his brothers, Amnon, because of the rape of his sister. Then he turned the people’s hearts away from David and toward himself. He then declared himself king and gathered military forces to his cause. David fled Jerusalem with a few faithful warriors. Seizing his advantage, Absalom publicly raped 10 of David’s concubines and set himself as ruler in Jerusalem. Then he sought to kill his own father. So, yeah, David really had many rising up against him, even from his family and supposed friends.

Then, on his way out of town, a member of Saul’s family, Shimei, comes out and curses him. He says that David is getting what he deserves from God. David’s men want to kill Shimei, but David answers,

“It may be that the Lord will look on the wrong done to me, and that the Lord will repay me with good for his cursing today.” So David and his men went on the road, while Shimei went along on the hillside opposite him and cursed as he went and threw stones at him and flung dust. And the king, and all the people who were with him, arrived weary at the Jordan. And there he refreshed himself.  2 Samuel 16:12-14

David’s Trust

It is speculation, of course, but I think David’s refreshment is what he reveals in Psalm 3.

But You, O Lord, are a shield about me,
My glory, and the One who lifts my head.
I was crying to the Lord with my voice,
And He answered me from His holy mountain. 
I lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the Lord sustains me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people
Who have set themselves against me round about
Psalm 3:3-6

Against the many, David trusts in the One who lifts him from despondency. Though surrounded by enemies, David is safely shielded by the Lord. This is the God who hears and answers! Therefore David can rest, trusting in his sustaining God. Once David has his trust in God restored, he can look confidently to the future:

Arise, O Lord!
Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
you break the teeth of the wicked.
Salvation belongs to the Lord;
your blessing be on your people!
Psalm 3:7-8

David’s trust in God proves well-founded. Salvation (deliverance) does come from God and not man’s opinion. God defeats Absalom’s forces in battle and Absalom is killed. While David mourns the death of his favored son, he is restored to the kingship for which God had chosen him.

Our Turn 

So what about you and me? In the drama and despair of my life, can I sleep unhindered? Do you toss and turn and spend what’s left of your strength on your own plans? Can we trust God to protect and restore us, even if family betrays us? The God David knew is still the same today. You can trust Him and rest. I can trust Him and rest. Will I? Will you? Let Psalm 3 be your cry to God as you end this day.

 

Did you miss Psalm 2? Safe, Not Shackled

When a Child Dies

Yesterday, Ainsley Higgins, a girl almost 7 years old, died as a result of a mitochondrial disease. Our family has known too many children who have died because of this disease. We are involved with this didn’t-want-to-join-but-had-to community because our eight year old daughter Gwendolyn also has a mitochondrial disease. In addition to the anguishing grief, Christian parents may wonder what happens to their children after death. The Scriptures are clear that all have sinned and deserve condemnation and an eternity without God. But what about children who didn’t have a chance to choose Jesus? I believe the Scriptures do offer real comfort to families dealing with the death (or likely death) of a child. There is good news about their eternal destination.

David’s Confidence

The classic  text on this issue is King David’s response to the death of his first son with Bathsheba from 2 Samuel 12:22-23:

He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me. (NIV)

David, a man commended by God (except in the matter of Bathsheba and Uriah), is confident that he will see his son in some future afterlife. His surety is not rebuked by anyone, priest or prophet. Thus it stands out as evidence that children who die young have eternal life with God. It is shaky, though, to derive a full-blown theology on such a critical issue from one man’s declaration that is not explicitly echoed by God.

Jesus’ Example

However, Jesus, who is God, does seem to echo this declaration, in opposition to His disciples and the prevailing view of children in His day. Read Mark’s account:

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. Mark 10:13-16 (NIV)

Jesus blessed the children. He didn’t condemn them or send them away as unimportant. Mark’s placement of this account is also very telling. It occurs just before Jesus’ encounter with a rich man who asks how to inherit eternal life. Jesus’ response, which challenged the man to sell everything, astounded the disciples. If this man, who claimed to follow the law, cannot be saved, who can? Mark’s inference is clear: children will inherit the kingdom even when the rich and “good” turn away from it. The last will be first (Mark 10:31).

God’s Character

Finally, there is comfort in knowing God’s character. He is just, righteous, and good.  Even if the Bible doesn’t describe the “mechanism” of salvation for those unable to make their own decision, we can trust that God’s decision are just and good. His demonstrated goodness and mercy are enough to convince me that He will do what is right and good. If He would give up His own Son for us, wouldn’t he do everything for our children?

Because of Gwendolyn’s condition, I have thought about this often. Even if she has a long life, we do not know how much she understands. What if she (and others) can never make that decision for Jesus? (Infant baptism to deal with original sin is one tool that some Christians use. As a Baptist, I know that baptism is a sign for believers, not infants.) In Gwendolyn’s case, we often wonder if she has her own communication with God. Sometimes she just laughs for no apparent reason. We have decided that God is telling her jokes. Maybe Gwendolyn and God have a better relationship together than He and I do. No matter what, I trust God with my daughter’s eternal life. David’s confidence, Jesus’ example, and God’s character are enough for me. May He give you encouragement and hope if you are facing those darkest days when your child dies.

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. Matthew 11:25-26 (NIV)

More:

How we have hope when there is no cure for our daughter

Brighter days: an interview with Gwendolyn’s mito doctor about the state of mito medicine

Thomas Kinkade and the Gospel

I love Thomas Kinkade’s art. It is beautiful and usually proclaims a message of Christian hope and light. Apparently the art critic snobs did not agree with me. Kinkade died last Friday, and the art world is still bashing him. Kinkade didn’t care what the experts said, though. He just kept painting and selling. And he made millions because the public loved his light-filled work and message.

Why did the critics sneer? They called it kitschy, unoriginal, and pandering to the unwashed public. They didn’t like his idyllic subject matter, the deliberate Biblical message, or his technique. It just wasn’t sophisticated enough or avant-garde enough for their taste. Give them a blasphemous or inexplicable piece any day.

I am not here to debate Kinkade’s art. But the fuss reminds me of the gospel. The gospel is simple. Paul distills it to this: “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” I Corinthians 15:1-4 (NASB) Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah (or Christ), died for our sins and rose again.

That’s it. Simple enough for a child to understand, yet despised by the sophisticated. It is too crude, too simple, too easy for them. It panders to the masses of non-elites. The Pharisees couldn’t stand it then. They got Jesus killed and then stoned Stephen for preaching a resurrected Jesus. And the snobbery continues today. Just look at the elite academics’ attacks on the Bible for one example.

Go ahead, call me simplistic, foolish, and unoriginal. I will still declare that God loves you and Jesus died for you. It is the absolute truth. “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. ” I Corinthians 1:18 (NASB)

The Power of the Cross

Atheists make me laugh sometimes. Did you know that they are organizing efforts to remove roadside memorials? You know, the on-site memorials that people create when a loved one has died in a car accident. Apparently, they are a menace to society. Who knew how dangerous they were? While the atheists claim it is about safety and convenience, they are most perturbed by the religious nature of the displays. If a cross appears on a public right of way, someone might think the government is sponsoring religion. Yeah, the reasoning makes me laugh.

However, I think they are actually pointing out something that we Christians often forget. There is power behind the symbols of our faith. Why did early Christians choose the cross as its most frequent symbol? Why not the empty tomb, the manger, loaves of bread, a servant’s basin, or a shepherd’s staff? Why choose the crude instrument of execution? It would be like us choosing to wear little electric chairs or a guillotine or a noose. Why the cross? It is because the cross is the ultimate demonstration of both God’s holiness and His love.

First – God’s holiness. It is the only characteristic of God that is compounded three times with the recognition “holy, holy, holy” (see Isaiah 6). It is His essential nature, and we know nothing of God until we glimpse His holiness. But when we glimpse it, we instantly feel our own wretchedness. We cannot stand in the presence of one so holy. Isaiah said, “woe is me, for I am ruined.” God does not allow sin into His presence, yet we choose to embrace it every day. Yikes!

God’s settled opposition to sin is His wrath. It isn’t explosive and irrational like man’s anger. He will not abide evil because He is good and holy. Most people agree that we are sinful, but they won’t agree that it is as serious as God says it is. We blow it off as “mistakes,” or not as bad as someone else. But God will not just overlook sin. We are really no different than those who crucified Jesus:

Like Judas, we choose personal gain over faithfulness and loyalty

Like Pilate, we reject truth and try to shift the blame

Like the Pharisees, we resent Jesus’ claim of authority over our lives

Like the Roman soldiers, we are just carrying out orders

Like the disciples, we abandon Him when it seems dangerous or unpopular to follow

Like the crowds, we will shout, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” but pardon the guilty

But as He is crucified, Jesus shouts, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” It is a cry of love from the One we would kill. The cross is God’s ultimate demonstration of love. Romans 5:8-9 “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.”  But instead of marveling at this love, we are still mad about His holiness.

Because of His love for us, Jesus became one of us, took on all God’s wrath, and died for us. His death was not the death of a martyr or a good man unjustly accused. It was the death of God for His creation. It was the death of the Lamb of God for the sins of the world. It was the ultimate demonstration of God’s sacrificial love.

Can we really be that loved and not respond? If God never did anything else, He has shown His great love in the cross. He wants us to be with Him forever, and He paid the ultimate price for it to be possible. Stand at the foot of that cross; consider his consuming holiness and his stunning love. It cannot leave us unchanged. I never want to forget or walk away unchanged when I look at the cross. How about you?