Friday: What Does Christ’s Death Mean?

jesuscross

On Friday — the day we call Good Friday — Jesus Christ was nailed to an old, rugged Cross. I can only imagine. The cosmos paused in stunned silence to see the Son of God, bearing our sin, forsaken of God, torn by a whip and hounded by Satan. There he hung, the God-man, winning the ages-old battle for souls. There has never been a moment like that moment — and all the ages of eternity will echo with ceaseless wonder at what happened the day Jesus died.

I thought it would be good to apply our minds and hearts, on this day, to that central day of history when our Savior died for us all.

There has never been a message so amazing as the gospel. No religion offers anything like it. Its astonishing gift of grace sets the gospel of Jesus in a class by itself. Paul summarized the gospel in one sentence, so simple we easily overlook its riches:

“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,” 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4, NAS95. Continue reading

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WORD

[Four Letter Words is available at a special price, one day only: $5.99 (list $13.99). Here’s an excerpt from the chapter, WORD, click here to purchase specially inscribed/autographed copies of Four Letter Words] Please spread the word. Thanks.

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God Is…

The Apostle John detonated a religious explosion when he wrote, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). He actually wrote it twice (v. 16). No other religion ever made love the heartbeat of God.

Christians own “God is love.”

We might not have always radiated his ideal standards, but we’ve never budged from this mother of all religious premises. We don’t simply say God has love, or that God shows love, or that God—after he’s been fed enough sacrifices—is loving. No. We say, God is love. Followers of Jesus brought that message to the world. Like the original, original, Original Pancake House, there are many copies, but only one original.

That original, found in John’s first Epistle, only echoes a thousand whispers of biblical teaching. John didn’t invent this truth; he only summarized it from all that Scripture already said.

He supremely learned it from Jesus. Jesus taught, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13) and, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Does love prove the superiority of the Bible? Only if a loving God is important to you. Otherwise, it makes no difference.

The Main Thing

The love of God is the main theme of the whole Bible. The different authors of the Bible’s sixty-six books, hold up God’s love like a diamond, and make it sparkle from a million angles.

Moses highlighted this love as part of God’s abiding marriage covenant with his people. If God was jealous, it was only because the people he loved went after other lovers.

David composed songs about God’s love—friend to friend, and man to God. For David, God wasn’t just “the Big Guy up there,” he was closer than a brother, and more gentle than a shepherd.

The Prophets painted God’s love as a portrait of a mother nursing her child, or a lover wooing his beloved. “The LORD has appeared of old to me, saying: ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you’” (Jeremiah 31:3).

The Gospels depict God’s love as a fire burning in Jesus’ heart. Sometimes it was warm and tender: when Jesus ate fish with his disciples, when he turned water to wine, and when he healed lepers and embraced society’s outcasts. Other times, his love burned red hot: when he drove the crooks out of the temple with a homemade whip, when he shredded the Pharisees for loading impossible burdens on people who sought God, and when he died for our sins—the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world.

The Epistles (most of the rest of the New Testament) analyze God’s love. They tell us it flows from the heart of God in infinite measure, and that it’s grounded in the death of Christ. These books humble us by comparing our puny love to God’s massive love: “This is real love. It is not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins” (1 John 4:10, NLT).

Every major part of the Bible teaches the love of God. In symbols, in ceremonies, in parables, in healings, in miracles, and in plain teaching, the love of God pulses from the Bible’s beginning to its end.

Search the religious literature of the world. Dig through the annals of history. Explore religious books from any culture, anywhere in the world. You’ll never find a match to the Bible’s beautiful claim that God is love.

Yes, God is more than love. But that he is love, and that his love is such a big part of him, makes me feel secure. In the Bible, I read a grand narrative of a God who made me, lost me, and loved me enough to buy me back at immeasurable cost. I feel safe with this God, and safe in his universe, now and forever. God’s love is a crazy big love, and I’m glad to rest in it.

Because of Love

Even so, we who follow Jesus still get in trouble for believing the Bible. How can we be so narrow to say that the Bible is God’s only book? Hasn’t God revealed himself in all the religions of humankind?

I know I’m only digging my hole deeper with some friends in this conversation, but I will say that if there is any truth or goodness in any other religious book or teacher, it is only a distorted memory from a race created by the Bible’s God, but now wandering in darkness away from him. The Bible’s teaching is original. Everything else is a copy of a copy of a copy.

I’ll hold up my shields till the spitballs subside.

If a God of love has inspired any book, the only real contender is the Bible…

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Grace’s Gold Standard

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked goes something like this:  I know I’m supposed to show grace, but my teenage son just broke some rules in a major way; am I just supposed to let it slide?

Or… a teacher might hear this one:  I’m sorry I didn’t finish the assignment, but I ran out of time. Will you show me some grace and give me an extra day?

An employer might hear: Yeah, I’m late again, and I missed my sales goals again, but things aren’t going so well at home, so can you cut me some slack?

Or, from your alcoholic, mooching brother-in-law who wants to live in your spare bedroom: You talk about God’s love all the time, why won’t you show me some and let me move in?

The root question is this: what does grace look like in relationships when the other person blows it? Does grace-living require me to always let the other person off the hook?  How can I show grace when someone else acts irresponsibly, dangerously, or unprofessionally?

It’s not an easy question. There are competing values at stake. On one hand, we want to show the love, forgiveness, and grace of Christ. On the other hand, we want to maintain standards, excellence, and integrity in our family, classroom, or workplace.  How do we fit these values together?

The Golden Rule offers a perfect guideline: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12, NKJV).  And, “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.” (Luke 6:31, NKJV).

The Golden Rule presumes that we want others to treat us well. We have an innate desire (when we’re sane) that those who deal with us will act in our best interests — especially in our best long term interests. If that’s the standard we wish others would express toward us, then it’s the standard we should express toward others. Always act in the best long-term interests of others, as best as you can figure it out.

So, that son who broke your rule; what consequence will be in his best long term interests? That employee who misses meetings or deadlines or targets: is there a true alignment between their skills and their position’s needs? That student who chronically turns in papers late: will letting them slide do them any favors? Does it help them improve in the long run?

Some years ago in Chicago, I walked a difficult journey alongside a friend whose wife was about to leave him for another man. My friend was friends with “the other man”, and felt torn between anger and, as he put it, “grace.”

I said, Can’t grace be angry? Can’t grace enforce righteous, personal boundaries? If you were messing up, wouldn’t you want someone to confront you and speak the truth in love? Then apply the Golden Rule. It is acting in love and grace when you exercise your parental, or employer, or teacher, or leadership role to design or speak-forth consequences that are in the other person’s best long term interests. Showing grace isn’t for wimps. Tough-love is not an oxymoron. (Happily, that man and his wife reconciled and are now missionaries in Asia.)

How many times did Jesus get in his disciples’ face and call them out for fear, lack of faith, and general sissy-hood?  It’s a mistake to think that grace is always soft, that grace is always nice, or that grace always lets people get away with junk. Not so. Jesus, full of grace and truth, nailed his friends to the wall when they blew it. Not always; sometimes he let it go. But he saw no contradiction between acting in grace and chewing out stupidity in people who knew better. He loved his friends too much to let them wreck their lives making self-destructive or self-indulgent choices. He would not stand by silently. He would not subsidize their self-destruction or failure.

Love does not coddle people into a life of mediocrity.

Love acts in the other person’s interests even when you have to play hardball.  Yes, there are plenty of times for the soft-touch, the gentle spirit, and the hand of help or forgiveness. Most Christians know that. What they need to hear is that grace has muscle, too.

The tricky part is deciding what’s called for. When a street-person asks for money, what’s in his or her best long term interest? Healing. Deliverance. Probably the local mission or shelter.  BUT… sometimes, what’s in their best long term interest is a gift right then and there. Sometimes, they need food, or hope, or a loving touch immediately.

So what should you do?

Prayerfully follow your gut instinct, trusting God to guide you. You can’t tell the future, so sometimes you will give; other times you won’t. Sometimes you’ll give your son back the car keys, other times, you won’t. Sometimes, you’ll let your salesperson come in late a few times, other times, you’ll have to draw a line.  It’s nuanced. It’s not cut and dried. It’s heartfelt. You have to lean on the Lord.

But it’s always doing for others what you (on your best days) would hope they would do for you: show respect and love, even if it has to be tough love.

Grace has muscle. Grace is tender and tough. Here’s loves bottom line: are people who want to better their lives (and not everyone does) better off long-term because of their relationship with you?

The Love Chapter (One More Time)

This post finishes a three-part series, so scroll down if you want to start at the beginning. Thanks.

Recap: The Love Chapter (a.k.a. 1 Corinthians 13) wraps its theme in the broader theme of maturity. Paul argues that Christ-like love is the by-product of maturity. It’s hard to argue with the context: “when I was a child… when I became a man…”

Have you ever loved an immature person?  It’s a lot of work.

Have you ever loved AS an immature person? Your love endures until your next tantrum.

The structure of the chapter is cool. The Love Chapter describes four shifts. If you want to love the way God wants you to love, you need to make four shifts.  (I won’t go into how the Greek offers parallel language to introduce each shift: just notice the parallel language “…but when, …but when, …but then, …but then.” Notice how the “but then/when” words introduce the shift from immaturity to maturity.)

The shifts all move you from SPIRITUAL IMMATURITY to SPIRITUAL MATURITY. Check it out:

1. From UNSTABLE LOVE to STABLE LOVE

Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. (1 Corinthians 13:8, 9, NKJV).

When your love-life is based on ACTIVITY for Jesus instead of MATURITY in Jesus, it will flame out. This passage is not about certain spiritual gifts going away in history. It is about the relation between love and maturity. When you are immature, you love is as unstable as your service, your ministry, your works of kindness. You’ll take your bat and ball and go home; it’s just a matter of time.

[Please no comments arguing cessationism, okay? thanks.]

“In part” is a reference to spiritual immaturity. You look like a kid with missing teeth.  Your love-life has gaps in it.

But when that which is perfect [i.e., spiritual maturity] has come, then that which is in part will be done away. (1 Corinthians 13:10, NKJV).

IN vv. 8,9, the loving service vanishes.  In v. 10, the fickleness vanishes. If you want to love the way Jesus loved you have to grow mature in Christ. Spiritual babies can love; it’s just that their love is unstable.

2. From CHILDISH LOVE to NOBLE LOVE

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. (1 Corinthians 13:11, NKJV).

Immature Christians display a CHILDISH LOVE.  Your speaking, your understanding, and your thinking are all childish.  So your love is fragile, and it quickly shifts into self absorption.   This is why you should pick your spouse very carefully.  If you marry someone who is spiritually immature, you will be dealing with a brat for the rest of your life.  And if you yourself are immature too, then you have two brats.  Dueling brats.  And how sad that kids get caught in the middle!

But mature Christians display a NOBLE LOVE.  Quiet, steady, passionate, and strong.  Manly love.  Womanly love, that can withstand any hardship and not collapse. A love that puts away childish things… you’re not a kid anymore, and you can endure the self-sacrifice it takes to seek another’s welfare.

Don’t you think it would be cool to see a generation of Christ-followers showing off a mature, noble, self-sacrificing love?

3. From SELF-ABSORBED to CONCERNED FOR OTHERS

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face… (1 Corinthians 13:12a, NKJV).

When you look in a mirror, who are you looking at?  YOURSELF.

When you look face-to-face, who are you looking at? SOMEONE ELSE.

One of these days, I want to preach a sermon on “staying with the other person” in a conversation. Some people never grow out of their need to talk about themselves.

I like this definition: egocentricity: The vanity that makes you wonder what people are thinking about you when they are really wondering what you are thinking about them.

4. From SHALLOW RELATIONSHIPS to DEEP RELATIONSHIPS

…Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. (1 Corinthians 13:12b, NKJV).

Plus, they hide themselves and don’t care to deeply know others. They know in part.  They isolate themselves in a cocoon of self-protective lovelessness.

Mature love is about self-revelation as much as it is about self-giving. That self-revelation is risky, but it’s part of the maturity that comes with love.

And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13, NKJV).

And now abide… Remain… Stay Steady… Character that doesn’t flame out. Not based on hype or the emotion of the moment. True love. Christ’s love in you.

This is like a half-time speech from a great coach.  There is a reward for your spiritual effort:  LOVE.  True love is the God’s reward for reaching the end zone.  You can get there.  You can get to this kind of life.  You can demonstrate the virtue love that flows from your own integrity, your own character, and your own integrity.

But you have to grow to get there.  That’s all I’m saying.

Let us love one another.

The Love Chapter Revisited (Again)

Today’s post is part two. For part one, scroll down. Thanks.

So, we’re trying to solve the mystery of 1 Corinthians 13:8… what does Paul mean by “that which is perfect”? The answer to that question will give us an INDISPENSABLE CLUE ABOUT LOVE.

10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. (1 Corinthians 13:10, NKJV).
One good way to decode a biblical word is to examine the other ways the same book (or author or section of Scripture) uses the same word. Fortunately, we have some examples in Corinthians. I’ll underline the English word that translates the Greek word teleion (perfect, complete).
  • 6 However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.(1 Corinthians 2:6, NKJV).
  • 20 Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature. (1 Corinthians 14:20, NKJV).

In many contexts, teleion means mature. Spiritually mature. A follower of Jesus who has sunk down deep roots into Jesus through Scripture and prayer and a faithful walk with the Master. Someone who has graduated from spiritual elementary school and is living the adult life of the follower of Christ. A teleion-Christian is no longer a baby, tossed around by life’s storms, but a steady, strong, capable example of Jesus living through you.

We should be mature Christ-followers, don’t you think?

Let’s substitute the word “maturity” for “perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13:8:

10 But when SPIRITUAL MATURITY has come, then SPIRITUAL IMMATURITY will be done away. (1 Corinthians 13:10, NKJV).

True enough. Our next test is to see if “maturity” works in the IMMEDIATE CONTEXT.

WAIT! Wait! Wait! Wait! Let’s remember what we’re talking about. We are talking about LOVE! Love is the ultimate goal life, for the follower of Jesus. Didn’t Jesus distill the whole Scripture into love for God and love for others? Love is the goal.

But what kind of love?

1 Cor 13 tells us… A LOVE THAT FLOWS FROM A MATURE HEART, ROOTED AND GROUNDED IN CHRIST, DISPLAYING THE LIFE OF CHRIST FROM WITHIN.

That’s my interpretation of this passage. 1 Cor 13 isn’t just the love chapter, it’s mostly THE MATURITY chapter. Watch this: here’s verse 8 with verse 9 added on. Ask yourself if “maturity” doesn’t make the most sense as a translation for teleion:

10 But when [SPIRITUAL MATURITY] has come, then [SPIRITUAL IMMATURITY] will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. (1 Corinthians 13:10, 11, NKJV).

C’mon! Who can argue? True love MUST put away childish things. In Christ, an immature person’s love is flaky, fickle, and dysfunctional. Only a mature person’s love never fails.  When you speak as a child, you speak selfishness and impulse. When you understand as a child, you understand from your own shoes only; you cannot put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and you cannot deeply love. When you think as a child, you don’t get the difficulties of life, you don’t fathom the forces of the heart, and you don’t rise above the passion of the moment, or the offense of your spouse, to CHOOSE a love that endures.

Childish love is flaky. It is the opposite of Christ-like love.

If you want to display the love of Christ, you have to grow mature in Christ FIRST.  That is the argument of 1 Corinthians 13. I am saying that the correct interpretation of 1 Cor 13:8, and the only one that makes sense of the context, is that “the perfect” should be translated “maturity.”

But it gets deeper, and we’ll save that for the next blog.  Thanks for stopping by. If you thought this was helpful, would you please give me a mention on Facebook, Twitter, or your own blog or website?  Thanks.


Reflections on me trusting you

couple“I can’t trust you.”

“I don’t trust you.”

“I’ll never be able to trust you again.”

Okay, we’ve all either said it or heard it. That terrible pain of trust broken. It happens in dating relationships, marriages, churches and jobs. It happens between parents and children and among friends, and coworkers. Pastors, leaders, church people, teammates, soldiers…  wherever two or three are gathered, there will be broken trust in their midst.

When that happens, then what?

It’s tricky, because we have to navigate between two rocky shoals:  GULLIBILITY on the left and CYNICISM on the right. Neither is wise, and neither expresses Christ’s life in us.

As always, Jesus is our example.  There’s some cool stuff tucked away in the original language of John 2:24 (here it is in a few translations, same verse):

  • “But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men,” John 2:24, NKJV.
  • “But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people” John 2:24, NRSV.
  • “But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men,” John 2:24, NAS95.
  • “But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men.” John 2:24, NIV.

This is really important.  The text has a double object, one direct and the other indirect. It doesn’t say, “Jesus didn’t trust them.” It says, “Jesus didn’t trust himself to them.”

There’s a difference.

jesusdisipclesTo say, “I don’t trust you” implies that you expect  other people to live up to your expectations, and if they don’t, you will sever (distance, break, minimize, ignore, divorce, cold shoulder) the relationship. I don’t think this was Jesus’ way of relating.  He didn’t run around setting up moral hurdles and expecting people to jump them before they could be his buddies.

Jesus did not weigh people down with the burden of trustworthiness.

“I can’t trust you anymore” is a relational sledgehammer. Whoever says it has total control, and sends the other person on an endless quest: to prove yourself trustworthy.

How? When do you finally earn that merit badge? How perfect must you be?

tossedkidDoesn’t the “I don’t trust you” statement reveal as much about the person who says it as about the person who violated the confidence?  Shouldn’t we be honest and say, “I think you’re going to ______ [betray] me again, so I’ll keep you at arm’s length.”  The other person can say,  “No way!” or whatever, but THERE IS NO WAY TO PROVE IT.

And there never will be.

“I don’t trust you” forces a relational stalemate, which is exactly what the person who says it wants.  Call it revenge. Call it fear. Call it control.  Call it passive-aggressiveness.  Call it HEALTHY BOUNDARIES. Call it anything but lack of trust.  You do trust the person TO BE IMPERFECT to some degree — big or small — and you might as well say so.

Soooooo…. does that mean Jesus just trusted everyone and let them use him as a doormat?

Nope.

He didn’t entrust himself to them, says the Scripture.  That means, he could be in relationship, and expect people to be people:  imperfect, flawed, hormonal, inconsistent, self-seeking, while simultaneously generous, kind, fun, giving, and honest.  “For he knew all men.”

leapoffaithYOU CAN’T HAVE LOVE WITHOUT RISK.

YOU CAN’T HAVE LOVE WITHOUT A LEAP OF FAITH…

He neither sacrifices his power…

Nor does he weigh them down with the burden of trustworthiness!

Instead…

“who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously;” 1 Peter 2:23, NKJV.

Commit yourself to God, and trust everybody else to be themselves, as you have seen their lives, able to be beautiful and horrible on the same day.

When my youth group kids would ask me, “Don’t you trust me?” I would say, “Of course I trust you.  I trust you to be exactly what you are: a good-hearted, hormonal, adolescent with mushy values and immature judgments.”  Okay, maybe not that exactly, but that was the gist.

I trust you to be you.  That’s a mixed bag, isn’t it.  And you should trust me to be me.  Yes, I’m a pastor, but I’m a human, and a man, and a big boy too.  Trust me on that basis.. and don’t pin your hopes on me.

Does that excuse me from trying to be a trustworthy person?  Or you?

No.  But it does mean that we can be in relationship, in spite of our relative untrustworthiness.  We’ll each keep our shields up as much as needed to not be in danger, and not be devastated when we let each other down.

And, we will gradually lower our shields as time goes on, and enjoy an intimacy as deep as flawed people can enjoy.

Don’t entrust yourself to abusive people.  Don’t entrust yourself to evil people. Don’t entrust yourself to dangerous people.  Jesus didn’t.  You don’t have to either.

“Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; But we will remember the name of the LORD our God.” Psalms 20:7, NKJV.