Alphabet Gospel

Jesus on the Cross of Calvary

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

A Temporary Home

Our home under construction - late summer 2014

(Our Christmas letter generated enough comments that I decided to publish to a wider audience.)

Dear friends and family,

As most of you know, 2014 was a year of transition for our family. We sold our Mableton home and moved into a newly constructed home in Kennesaw, Georgia. We are so thankful to God for this new house. It has so many great features for Gwendolyn, like a roll-in shower and lots of hardwood floors for her to walk around on in her gait trainer. There is plenty of room for the boys, inside and outside. The location also puts us much closer to our fantastic church (Burnt Hickory Baptist) and great schools for all of our children.

But it was the in-between time, the time we were in a rental house, that I want to share about with you. We jokingly called it our “Acworth Exile.” The rental house was very small, had stairs to Gwendolyn’s bedroom, and was not ready for us when we arrived (no bathrooms were completely finished/working). We had to deal with lots of dust and bugs. And half the garage was full of the landlord’s stuff. It was temporary and a work in progress.

There were some good things, though. All the appliances were new. The location was close to Aidan’s school. We had access to a pool and basketball court. The lease was month-to-month. And, we knew it was temporary. Our new house was being built. We could go see the progress (though sometimes it seemed slow) and imagine what it would be like to move in. So, we crossed off the days on a Steelers calendar and made it work. It was just temporary.

Jesus, who is God Himself, left His forever home to temporarily make his home among us. He gave up His divine rights and power to become an infant, a child, then a man of no privilege. He became a servant to those whom He created and who could not fathom His purpose. We were not prepared for Him. He had to deal with dust and bugs. He left the grandeur and perfection of heaven to sweat, and cry, and hurt, and hunger, and ultimately to be rejected and killed. But He decided we were worth the temporary move. As it says in Hebrews 2:9, “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

1298 Hamilton Creek Drive is not our permanent home, either. As believers in Jesus, we trust Him when He said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:2-3). Jesus is preparing a new heaven and a new earth as our forever home! So, while there is pain and heartache here — while there are temporary laughs and glimpses of eternity – while we gratefully accept our tasks and responsibilities for now – our real home is yet to come. We can’t always see the progress, and we don’t know how many days to mark on the calendar, but God is a builder we can trust. We can imagine (a little) what it will be like to move in. Throughout time, God’s people “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:16)

Our prayer for your family is that Christmas will remind you of Jesus’ temporary home with us and then you will turn your faith toward that city which God is building for those who trust in Him.

May God bless your temporary home and prepare you for the eternal one!

I Will Remember

Last 100 Yards Entrance

Last weekend, Melanie and I had the honor to visit the National Infantry Museum just outside Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia. The entrance exhibit is called “The Last 100 Yards.” It is a ramp 100 yards long on which the stories of ten important U.S infantry battles are depicted in dramatic scenes. The infantry, they say, has to own the last 100 yards of the battle field in order to defeat our enemies. The museum also includes an overwhelming amount of the history of the U.S. Army throughout all our nation’s conflicts. It is a stirring tribute. There is something very emotional about seeing these reminders of all who fought and sacrificed for our country. I had to think about why.

Some would say that there is no room for patriotism for Christians. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. Our citizenship is in heaven, and there our hearts must be focused. There is no dual allegiance or dual citizenship, they would argue. I disagree, as I have written previously. Yes, our ultimate allegiance is to Jesus and His Kingdom, but America, at least in its founding ideals, exemplifies many Christian principles.

Duty, loyalty, personal courage, integrity, honor, respect – these are the ideals carved into the glass columns at the beginning of The Last 100 Yards. These are the traits which mark the best of America’s men and women who gave their lives defending our freedoms and advancing the cause of freedom around the world. It was Americans who turned the tide to end the seemingly endless and useless brutality of World War I. It was America who broke the Nazi stronghold on  Europe and liberated the death camps. It was America that fought back Japanese imperialism in Asia and the Pacific. It was America (primarily) who fought back the Communists in Korea, giving South Korea the opportunity for freedom. (Now, South Korea is one of the top three missionary-sending countries in the world.)

But what gets me so emotional when I see the tradition, brotherhood, commitment, and honor of our military throughout our history? At its best, it reflects the ideals of God’s Kingdom and Jesus, Himself. It was Jesus who never swerved from his duty to purchase our pardon from sin. It was Jesus who called us into a community united by a common mission. It was Jesus who walked the last 667 yards (using the Via Dolorosa as an approximation) to Calvary to die on the cross for our sins. It was Jesus whose death and resurrection won the victory over sin, death, and the forces of evil. And it is Jesus whose armor still protects us today as our defeated foe still tries to ambush us (see Ephesians 6:10-17).

So, as Memorial Day approaches, I will remember. I will remember those who gave their lives, so that I might have freedom. I will remember the families who grieve and mourn and, yet, carry on. I will remember there are missions that are worth the cost. And I will remember the Savior who remembered me.

Bashing Bethlehem?

The mythical innkeeper turning away a couple in need.

Christian recording artist Casting Crowns performs a Christmas song called “While You Were Sleeping.” In an attempt to highlight society’s unwillingness to recognize Jesus as God and Savior, songwriter John Mark Hall starts with the example of Bethlehem:

Oh Bethlehem, you will go down in history
As a city with no room for its King

This is based on the very familiar passage from Luke 2:7 – “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” (KJV) We have played this up in our Christmas pageants, too, adding an innkeeper who shoos the laboring Mary and a frantic Joseph away. (I have been the innkeeper in such a production.) Or, perhaps, the innkeeper does the best he can, offering up his stable. But we have gotten this all wrong!

Kenneth E. Bailey, in his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, explains both the cultural misunderstanding and the poor translation that have caused our confusion. We do not understand first century housing and hospitality. We also do not think about the details that the Scriptures DO give us. Joseph, a member of David’s royal line, would have had family in Bethlehem who would have received him and his pregnant, betrothed wife. Despite some modern (and ancient) depictions, this was not a case of a last minute journey and labor gone wrong. In fact, Luke says, “And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.” (2:6) There was plenty of time to find a place to stay and people to help with the birth. The culture of hospitality demanded it.

Where Was the Manger?
In western thought, we equate “manger” with a feeding trough in a stable or barn. However, in a typical middle eastern home of the time, animals stayed in the house, not in a separate structure (or cave as the eastern tradition says). They stayed in a lower section of the home and mangers were stone structures on a higher level – right at feeding height. Thus, the mangers were in the main living quarters used by the family. Mary, Joseph, and the newborn Jesus were guests in a house, not outcasts in a stable.

Shameful Shepherds?
Shepherds were not the pillars of ancient middle eastern society. In fact, by the first century, they had an unsavory reputation. Yet, the Luke 2 shepherds were visited by angels and given the good news of Jesus’ birth. They rushed to see Him and went away praising God and telling everyone what they had seen. However, even shepherds would not risk the reputation of their village by refusing hospitality. If this couple and their newborn Child (whom they heard is Messiah!) were stuck in a stable, surely one of the shepherds would have offered his home for them. They certainly would not have walked around town telling everyone about it and rejoicing at the family’s meager shelter. The only reasonable explanation is that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus had accommodations as good as or better than what they could offer. This also suggests that they were guests in a normal household.

What About the Inn?
This is where the poor translation comes in. The word translated “inn” is kataluma. It is not the word for a commercial inn. That word, which Luke uses later in the parable of the Good Samaritan, is pandocheion. Kataluma was a guest room built on above the main family room (see diagram below). In fact, this same word is used for the “upper room” that Jesus and His disciples used for the Passover on the night before His crucifixion. In the home where Jesus was born, there were other guests in the guest room. So, they stayed with the family in the main living quarters.

1st century Palestinian home

1st century Palestinian home

No Room?
John Mark Hall is correct when he accuses America of having no room for a Savior at Christmas. We are distracted with everything but Jesus – shopping, Elf on a Shelf, a secularized Saint Nicolas, celebrations of winter, and more. However, it is not accurate to bash Bethlehem for the same neglect. Jesus was born and sheltered by a modest family (probably related to Joseph) who demonstrated the expected hospitality of their culture. While that is less dramatic, it should help us focus on the real excitement: “Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David.” May your family invite Him into your home this Christmas.

Focus on the Cross – Psalm 22 (Psalms Project)

Our Family's Cross

Do you have struggles or pain today? Do you wonder where God is in the midst of it all? Has He forsaken this world? Today is Good Friday, and it is a good day to face these questions.

The disciples of Jesus recorded seven sayings of Jesus from the cross. Probably the most famous is “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” While there are some staggering theological implications in this cry, it is foremost Jesus quoting from Psalm 22. One thousand years before the crucifixion, David wrote this psalm that so vividly describes it. As the gospel writers recognized, it is one of the clearest evidences of fulfilled prophecy from the Old Testament. While David certainly could have experienced some of the anguish depicted here, its description moves beyond the events of his life and points forward to the cross. Watch how its focus unfolds and challenges us to a new focus.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

David starts focused on himself and his pain and suffering. He feels forsaken by a silent God and restless. Have you been there? Have you wondered where God is in the midst of your pain?

David quickly moves to his knowledge about God. He addresses God directly assuming He is listening. God is holy; He is present in worship. He has answered His people in the past. Their trust was not in vain. However, David is not yet accepting this truth for himself.

But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”

Here is where it gets so interesting! At the cross, this is precisely fulfilled by the people, the thieves crucified with Jesus and even the religious leaders. The leaders quote this section of the psalm as a taunt to Jesus on the cross. (see Matt 27:38-44) They miss the irony of how Jesus is going to exactly fulfill the rest of the psalm. The focus doesn’t stay on despair, but moves to trust.

Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

David’s focus has now moved off his own anguish to his personal experience with God. In his own life, he has been able to trust God. He calls on God to do what He has so often done before. Are you so aware of God’s work in your life that you will trust Him to do it again? Even when the circumstances are extreme? Listen…

Many bulls encircle me,
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.

I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.

For dogs are all around me;
a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shriveled;
I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.

Was there ever anyone who experienced this more than Jesus on the cross? Surrounded by evil doers, tortured and disfigured, physically drained and dry, despairing to the point of death, an object of ridicule. Where would your focus go? What would your cry be?

But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
O my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
my life from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion!
From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.

The last phrase is actually a one word exclamation: you-have-rescued-me! God’s saving power has come. After such a deliverance, it is surely time for a rest and some private gratitude, right? This is where the whole psalm turns and challenges our normal selfish focus, even after God has acted.

I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.

From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord.
May your hearts live forever!

Not only is David declaring the praise of God in front of everyone; he prepares a meal for the poor as a demonstration of his gratitude. This is not limited to David, though. Hebrews 2:12 quotes this part of Psalm 22 as being fulfilled in Jesus. He is the one declaring the praises of the Father to his brothers and sisters. Jesus did not focus on His own suffering. He chose it as a fulfillment of God’s greatest plan – the plan to offer salvation to all. Somehow David glimpses this in the triumphant conclusion to Psalm 22:

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying that he has done it.

To all nations and generations, Jesus has proclaimed deliverance. He has proclaimed it from the cross. God has not truly forsaken us or forsaken the world. His arms are still stretched wide for all who will raise their focus off of their own pain and embrace this One who bore all our pains. It is finished! He has done it! Will you focus on Him today?

My own poem for Good Friday, “We Call it Good?

2013: The Reading List

Jesus_Middle_Eastern_cover_260x420

Our family uses the new year as an opportunity to set goals for the next year. I assess my reading list, too, to wisely plan my scarce reading time. I am publishing this here as a way of building accountability and starting a discussion of these (and other) great books. Here goes:

1) Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels – Kenneth Bailey. I freely admit that I am a Bible geek. I am always intrigued by historical or cultural studies that aim to shed more light on the Scriptures. I don’t remember how I came across this book, but I put it on my Amazon wish list and received it for Christmas. I can’t wait to start this one.

2) The One Year Christian History – Rusten and Rusten. Another Christmas gift, this is a daily devotional using events throughout history to demonstrate God’s character and interaction with us. So far, I have been reading this each day and enjoying it. Some of the stories are familiar (Jim Elliot and Auca people), while some are new to me (J. Gresham Machen). In the fall, I am hoping to be teaching a class on Christian history since the New Testament. This is just fueling the fire.

3) Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church – N.T. Wright. I was introduced to this book on David D. Flower’s blog, The Centrality and Supremacy of Jesus Christ. I realize that Christians are often lazy or just wrong in our terminology and vocabulary of heaven and the life to come. I look forward to thinking theologically through this. I expect it to add the inspiring works on heaven and the new earth I have enjoyed by Joni Eareckson Tada and Randy Alcorn.

4) Hosea, NICOT commentary on Hosea (J. Dearman) and BST commentary on Hosea (Kidner) – our LifeGroup is studying Hosea, Jonah, and Amos in the coming quarter. I have just started my study on Hosea. I have already been touched and educated about this difficult prophet by these two writers. Looking forward to more!

5) Not a fan – Kyle Idleman. Our church is going to be reading and studying this book together in February and March. I don’t know much about it yet.

6) Out of the Silent Planet – C.S. Lewis. While I do not enjoy science fiction as much as the fantasy genre, I decided to at least try the first book in Lewis’ Space Trilogy. I am about half way through this relatively short first book. I have been distracted with other reading (and getting some sleep!), but it shows promise.

So, what are you reading (or planning to read) this year? Are the books above worth the time? How will God use the books you read to change you?

2013: Contending for the Faith

Arm Wrestling

What is your focus for 2013? I think God has revealed mine over the last few weeks and crystallized it through the study of the small, often-neglected letter of Jude. I taught Jude in my Sunday morning Bible study just before Christmas. (We finished a 13 week study of 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and Jude.) Here is the part that has stayed with me:

Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Jude 3-4 NASB (emphasis mine)

I work with a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Mormon, a neo-pagan sympathizer, an agnostic, a young Christian, and some nominal Christians — coming from 5 different countries. That is just on my team! You should hear us discuss religion, philosophy, politics, or sports. There is a great diversity of opinions. How should a Christian approach such an opportunity? Sadly, I think many Christians are ill-equipped and frankly afraid to stand out.

But Jude was compelled to write and challenge Christians to “contend” for their faith against false teachers even in the church. What does it mean to contend? Type “contend” in the Google image search, and most of what you will see are pictures of athletic events (including lots of boxing gloves). Sometimes Google gets it right. The Greek word used in Jude 3 (epagonizesthai) was mostly used in reference to sporting contests in the stadium. It is the root of our word “agonize.” As Michael Green states, its use here emphasizes that defense of our faith will be “continuous, costly, and agonizing.” (172)

For what do we contend?

And for what do we contend? “The faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” There is objective truth. There is a historical basis for the facts of Christianity. The apostles (and others) were eyewitnesses of his death and Resurrection. We can’t water down the New Testament as some good ideas or interesting teachings or the life of a good man (Jesus). No! It is a testimony to the life, teachings, death, resurrection, and second coming of Jesus, the God-man. And it is His invitation to us to join Him in everlasting relationship.

Do we have false teachers today? Of course. There are all kinds of lists of false teachers on the internet. My goal isn’t really to create a list of them. However, there are some whose influence must be countered. As Jude says later, their presence in the church is like a “hidden reef” (v 12). They promise much but don’t deliver (“clouds without rain,” “autumn trees without fruit”).

What does contention look like?

For me, I think God is challenging me to use the blog as a platform for contending for the faith. The Bible is under attack. It doesn’t need my defense. It will stand as God’s Word forever, no matter what I say. However, we must contend for this faith revealed through the Scriptures in order to “have mercy on some, who are doubting;  save others, snatching them out of the fire;” (v 22-23) It is for people, whom God loves, that we must contend.

So, when New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman from UNC declares that most of the New Testament is a forgery and becomes an agnostic, it is time to step up and call him a false teacher, a wandering star, who reviles angelic majesties and rejects authority (v8, 13). Choosing the way of Balaam, his destiny is that of Korah if he will not repent (v 11). The New Testament documents are trustworthy and reliable. No matter what he says, scholars haven’t suddenly debunked the Bible. And there is reasonable evidence to back it up (much more on this later, I suspect).

But contention is not just a scholars’ battle with words. Just before Christmas, one of my coworkers asked to borrow a Bible. He is feeling the need to read it and seek greater understanding. I didn’t just let him borrow a Bible; I bought him one! And now we are set to discuss its truths and challenges as the days go on. I will argue for the truth, but I will also reach out to those who need to understand it. It will be costly and agonizing, but it is worth it!

How will you contend for the faith in 2013?

 

Source

Michael Green, 2 Peter and Jude. vol 18 in Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Intervarsity Press, 1987.