Saturday, November 6, 2010

Truth Matters

Os Guinness has long been one of my favorite Christian thinkers. He recently spoke at the Lausanne Conference in South Africa, a monumental gathering of Christians. I listened to his speech with great interest. I think he gives such clarity to an issue that is increasingly crippling the church in the USA: the postmodern deconstruction of truth.

I know, some of you are like, "what in the heck is that?" Suffice it to say that our culture is becoming less and less responsive to claims of absolute or objective truth. From science to theology, people are becoming more skeptical. This has been coming for a long time, and is why our culture is marked by tolerating and equivocating all ideas as relative. No longer are most people impressed with a sentence beginning with the words, "Science tells us..." or "The Bible says...", because postmodern people generally doubt the authority of such truth claims.

The problem is how this has affected the church. Just as some "adjusted" the message of Christianity for Modernity (which assumed that Science is the ultimate test of what is true) in the form of Liberalism, some today have attempted to adjust the message for postmodern culture, by denying the absolute truth of the Bible and doctrinal essentials for the "emerging" culture, a term that has garnered much attention. Problem: The methods can change, but the message must not. It is the essence of Christianity and is originated by God himself. As with Liberalism, "Emergent" leaders are compromising the message.

In this clip, Guinness takes this problem head on. If you've got a few minutes, it is worth the watch. It is both refreshing and powerful. Here's the link.

If you want to read while listening (which I like to do), here's the manuscript (not exact, he must have shortened his actual speech a little).

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Jesus and Politics

Now that the election is over, we can feel a little less tension when talking about politics, right? The message Sunday was about Jesus’ clear invitation to follow him in a revolution not of this world and not of man’s making, but of God, who has ordered all things. The people patriotically waving palm branches to Jesus screaming, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!" were placing their hopes in a political savior and solution. But this was not why Jesus came. The idea of political salvation was as much a fantasy then as it is today (and it truly still exists)! The same passionate people turned on Jesus as soon as he began to tell them his true plans for change, and God’s will for this earth. They didn’t want to hear it—and they killed him.

But just like Chief Priest Caiaphas, who unwittingly prophesied that Jesus would die for all the people (John 11:50), and Mary who beautifully prefigured his burial (John 12:1-7), the crowds of Jerusalem unknowingly (and ironically) spoke volumes when they quoted from the Old Testament as Jesus rode on the donkey’s colt.

John 12:
13So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out,
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,
even the King of Israel!"
14And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,
15"Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!"
16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.

Among that which his disciples didn’t understand at the time and later remembered is that the actual quote was from Psalm 118:25-26:
25Save us, we pray, O Lord! (Hebrew: Hoshi‘ah na’ Greek: "Hosanna")
O Lord, we pray, give us success!
26Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!

This quotation is just a part of a whole psalm that has an amazing connection with Jesus’ Triumphal Entry if we care to see it. There was already some real significance in the people’s choice of this psalm. It was sung frequently in Israel’s history during celebrations and significant events. In later times it was sung at feasts as a longing for the coming Messiah—especially around Jesus’ day when Israel was under Roman rule.

Let’s observe the rest of Psalm 118, at least in part. It begins:
1Oh give thanks to the LORD,
for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!

This last line "his steadfast love endures forever!" is a phrase the psalmist repeats four times in the first four verses. It is obvious that God’s “steadfast love” is the main theme. He continues with why:
..5Out of my distress I called on the LORD;
the LORD answered me and set me free.
6The LORD is on my side; I will not fear.
What can man do to me?

The psalmist’s acknowledgement of God personally delivering him and favoring him causes him to not be afraid of people any more. Then a major conclusion occurs to him, a concept that is carried throughout the rest of the psalm, and even to the event we call the “Triumphal Entry.”
...8It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in man.
9It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in princes.

This whole psalm is about how GOD is the answer. Placing our trust in him is infinitely better than placing our hope in a political or military or human solution. The psalm continues:
14The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.
15Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous:
"The right hand of the LORD does valiantly,
16the right hand of the LORD exalts,
the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!"

There is gladness and joy in the lives of those who trust in him. He even “exalts” those who are “righteous”! But this is a problem, is it not? None of us are righteous. We are all sinners. Even David himself said that we are conceived in sin (Psalm 51). This is what makes the Lord’s salvation different. More than just a political leader (offering earthly salvation), our Lord makes us righteous, making heaven/eternity available to us. Read this:
19Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the LORD.
20This is the gate of the LORD;
the righteous shall enter through it.
21I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
22The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
23This is the LORD’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
24This is the day that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

There is too much to comment on here! The way of salvation, the “gate” of the righteous is the LORD himself who “has become my salvation”—He IS “THE STONE THE BUILDERS REJECTED” (see this verse quoted in Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17, Acts 4:11, and 1 Peter 2:7), rejection that ultimately happened right after the Triumphal Entry culminating in Christ’s death. He IS NOW THE CORNERSTONE of our faith!! All of this is “the LORD’s doing” not ours! And I don’t think I ever caught that “THIS...the day the LORD has made,” was referring to the day our salvation was accomplished—when Jesus died making us righteous—was the day in which we should “rejoice and be glad!”

Now the verses the crowds quoted:
25Save us, we pray, O Lord! (Hosanna)
O Lord, we pray, give us success!
26Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!

The irony is stunning here as the people were asking for Jesus to “save” them politically from Roman rule. They did not know that the “Lord” was the on the donkey, and that he had come to save the entire world—including them—if they would believe. They added to the psalm and called him “king,” not realizing he was the King of kings, who made Caesar...and was the one before whom Caesar would one day bow.

The Psalm continues (It’s amazing to me):
We bless you from the house of the LORD.
27The LORD is God,
and he has made his light to shine upon us.

How many references have we seen in John of Jesus as the light, he even claimed this for himself in a stunning “I am” statement:“I am the light of the world” during the feast of tabernacles, a festival that included a ceremony of lights, commemorating the Exodus from Egypt. But there’s more:
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,
up to the horns of the altar!

Interesting: The Jews chose the Passover lamb which would be sacrificed on either the day of or the day after (scholars debate which) Jesus made his Triumphal Entry, being “chosen” in effect, by the people as their “king.” These same people would cry, “crucify him” 5 days later, and kill him at the very moment the Passover Lamb was sacrificed in the Temple for the sins of the people.

Psalm 118 ends...
28You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. 29Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!

The psalm both begins and ends with “his steadfast love endures forever.” This “steadfast love” found throughout the OT (e.g. Hosea who pictured God’s love for prostitute Israel) is what drove Christ to come as a man and die on our behalf, redeeming us to himself as his bride.

How is it that some Christians invest so much passion and place so much hope on politics? Why would we, recipients of God’s grace made available through Christ, trust in mere politicians offering merely human solutions to bring us happiness in this world?

Do not infer that I’m encouraging you not to be involved in politics. In fact, I think all Christians should vote and some should even run for office if God calls them to do so. We need more Christian statesmen and Christ-followers involved in the political process. Truth is, there are fewer evangelicals in high offices than in our history. We need more. I am pointing out what the Bible is teaching: that we dare not place our primary hope in man. We are citizens of this country. As such, we are to make it better. But much more, we are citizens of heaven—born again children of the King of kings. Our first allegiance is to him. And out of this first allegiance, all others flow.

Because Christians of the first two centuries after Christ’s ascension understood this divine order, millions received Christ, culminating in the Roman empire’s fall to the influence of Christianity. Rome becoming Christian was not all good (in fact it was quite negative in many ways on Christianity—but that’s for another blog), but Christianity now has become the greatest movement in human history. With God’s help, let’s do our part to make it greater. Our nation is governed by the people who elect our leaders. When the people walk away from God, so does our nation. When they surrender to Christ, our nation becomes more just, more moral, more ethical, kinder, more compassionate, better.

In summary, as a Christian, my first and greatest passion is for my King and his kingdom. He will take care of the rest—using me and others like me to do it—as I view the world through his will and am obedient to him. When we get that right, the rest takes care of itself.

Ronald Reagan, in a famous speech said,
"You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness."

If I may dare to offer an edit to those great words, imagining them spoken to Christians:
"You and I have a rendezvous with PROVIDENCE. We will PRESENT for ALL children this, the ONLY hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into AN ETERNITY of darkness."

This is what is at stake. Don't give your greatest passion and effort to a lesser cause (no matter how noble). Jesus said, "Seek first the Kingdom of God...and all these things will be added to you as well" (Matthew 6:33).