Archive for December, 2011

The Most Honorable of Men

I think pretty much every Christian knows the Christmas story, and I assume you have probably heard it multiple times in your life, whether you are a Christian or not. However, there is an oft overlooked character in this story that I think we can learn quite a bit from, particularly as men. His name is Joseph.

Joseph was betrothed to Mary, a young girl who was to be his wife. They were considered as married, set aside exclusively for the other. I’m certain that, like any man, Joseph was incredibly excited to be married and everything that needed to be done in preparation was daily on his mind. In the midst of all this, his betrothed comes to him and drops a massive bombshell in his life that will change things forever.

Just imagine for a second what was going through Joseph’s mind when Mary explained to him what had happened. She was pregnant. That only happens because of one thing, and to Joseph, that meant infidelity. Imagine how grieved this man was thinking that his dearly beloved had betrayed him. Matthew 1:18-19 records, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: when as his mother Mary was espoused (betrothed) to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privately.”

It was probably typical in that day that if a woman were found to be unfaithful to her husband and the husband desired to divorce her, a huge scene would be made before all. She may be dragged out and called an adulteress; her would-have-been husband making a complete shame of her and her family. However, Joseph was a different sort of man. He didn’t desire to embarrass her or her family publicly, bringing shame on them. Instead, he, being a just and righteous man, thought the best course was to divorce her quietly.

Matthew 1:20-24 continues, “But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife.”

The angel came unto Joseph and said “Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife”. Why would the angel need to say that? For many reasons, I think. Joseph had been afraid to take Mary as his wife because he thought she had been unfaithful. The angel explained that this was simply not true. What is often overlooked in my eyes is the fact that Joseph, if he took Mary as his wife, would likely bear public shame and mockery. Think about it: would anyone (especially in Nazareth) truly believe that a couple are getting married and the woman is pregnant because of God? To those who knew Mary and Joseph, they would either think Mary had been unfaithful, or they had both defiled the marriage bed by sleeping together before the proper time.

I think this is one of the bravest actions I have ever heard. Taking Mary as his wife was a hard thing for Joseph, not because he didn’t love Mary, but because of those from the outside. Yet he took her anyway and obeyed God, being willing to lose his honor and integrity in the eyes of others for the sake of his wife and her child, the Son of God. Though this would change their lives forever, Joseph was willing to take the harder road to glorify God.

Joseph obeyed the hard command laid before him and chose to take the shame of Jesus upon himself. This is what often lies before us. Are we willing to obey God, even when the decision is hard, even when it presses us more than anything else we’ve experienced before? We can be certain that Christ will help us make a wise decision; but we don’t need wisdom, we need courage to do the right thing. Sometimes when we’re indecisive, it’s not because we don’t know what we should do, we just don’t want to do it. May we take a hint from Joseph and make the right decision, no matter what it costs.

Second, Joseph bore the shame and reproach of the unborn Christ. Are we willing to bear the shame of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? When we publicly align ourselves with Christ, mockery will come. 2 Timothy 3:12 says that “all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution”. Are we willing to be persecuted?

This Christmas season remember one of the most honorable of men, Joseph, husband of Mary, who obeyed his God and bore the shame of his Savior.

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Divine Mirth

There is a lie floating about outside and inside Christianity today that I would like to dismiss entirely.

It’s the idea that God, and anything having to do with God, is boring; that “fun” and “Jesus” can’t go in the same sentence; that talking about the Bible and discussing theology together is for old people who have nothing better to do.

I don’t know if I’ve ever actually heard anyone say this out loud to me, though I’m sure some have. What disturbs me, then, is not the outright accusation that godly things aren’t pleasurable, but a hidden idea within the heart of many Christians. It was expressed to me one time when I had a good time discussing a chapter in the Bible with a couple friends for an hour or so. At the conclusion of our conversation, one person said, “Well, now that all the serious stuff is done, let’s have some fun!” I was somewhat shocked, because I had just had a fantastic time.

But perhaps you don’t believe me, or you just think I’m weird, so you dismiss my thoughts. That’s fine, because I don’t want to appeal to my personal experience primarily to prove that the things of God are fun and exciting. I want to appeal to the Word.

First, I want to differentiate between fun and pleasure and the biblical idea of Joy. C.S. Lewis said, “Joy is not a substitute for sex; sex is very often a substitute for Joy. I sometimes wonder whether all pleasures are substitutes for Joy.”  There are the pleasures of food, sex, music, games and many other things that we can experience, none of them bad in themselves. But none of these are joy. To know God is to know joy; joy is supreme delight in the Holy One and we, having tasted the Living Waters of Life, are satisfied, yet ever longing to know more. I think joy will result in supreme happiness here and now, but even when the temporal happiness fades, joy shall continue to abide.

We are commanded in Philippians 4:4 to “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, rejoice.” That wouldn’t be very exciting if God were boring, i.e. not something to rejoice in. In Proverbs 8: 30-31, we get a picture of the delight of God in the personified wisdom: “Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him; Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men (emphasis added).” God, speaking through His prophet Isaiah, tells of what is to come for Israel when they are restored: For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee: and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee (Isaiah 62:5, emphasis added).”

Have you ever seen a man rejoicing over his bride? I have. A couple months ago, I had the privilege of attending my friend Paul’s wedding. It was a beautiful thing to see, for when his bride came around the corner into his sight, he began weeping from happiness. It was pure, holy bliss, straight from heaven. That’s the type of joy God has over His bride and His beloved.

In 2 Samuel 6, the Ark of the Covenant, symbolic of the very presence of God, is being brought into Jerusalem. It is perhaps one of the most joyful days in Israel’s history, and King David celebrates it by dancing wildly, taking off his outer garments in order to do so. Not only do these actions seem approved of by God, but when David’s wife Michal despises him for it, she becomes barren for the rest of her days. In despising David’s rejoicing before the Lord (and perhaps the fact the he had taken her father Saul’s place), Michal despised the Lord Himself. I think of God approved of the strong rejoicing of David, He Himself rejoiced that day.

Finally, Luke chapter 15 shows Jesus Himself speaking of what makes God rejoice, through analogy and parable. On the former, Jesus says, “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?  And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.  Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth (Luke 15:4-10, emphasis added).”

One idea about the parable of the prodigal son oft overlooked is the extreme joy of the father over finding his lost son: But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. […] And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found (Luke 15:22-24, 31-32, emphasis added).”

It is a miraculous thing when a sinner comes to the Lord and their life is radically changed. In this, God rejoices with all the angels in heaven, and may our response be, “Hallelujah!”

I’ve often laughed the hardest with the friends that I have worshipped with the most. I remember smiling and discussing doctrine over coffee with my good friend Mike, both of us laughing and having a good time. I remember the absolute sheer joy I have felt while worshipping God. Some of the happiest, most memorable moments of my life were in the context of godly discussion, meaningful worship, deep prayer, and close fellowship. As C.S. Lewis says, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” Why must we, as Christians, turn to the world and worldly things for our pleasure? Is not the Lord enough? Why must we joke and banter about pointless things, never going deeper in the Word, the Lord and in fellowship?

As Psalm 16:11 says, “… In Thy presence in fullness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” The only question that remains – do we believe it?

 

Though I don’t necessarily agree with everything Mark Driscoll says, he makes a great point in this video titled, “Was Jesus Funny?” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHLlHLhinPA

Many of the C.S. Lewis quotes I found were in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. It’s a fantastic book, and I recommend it highly.

Blessings as you go throughout your week. 

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In Memory…

Recently a good friend of mine died. He wasn’t a young man and had enjoyed a long life in the Lord, but he has had a profound impact on me. His name was Mr. Smith, a retired missionary and pastor. In life, he was generous and kind, always desirous to speak about the things of the Lord. To me and my brother he gave us some of his old volumes of spiritual classics, something I’ll forever treasure. He said he prayed for me, that I was “on his list” of people he prayed for. Going to Mr. Smith’s house, you had to expect to be there for at least an hour or two, maybe more; but to me, those were hours well spent, discussing life, the Lord and everything in between.

He inspired me to be a greater man of God, saying that “we need more spiritually minded folk like you and your brother” and always exhorting me to “preach the Word, man.” Mr. Smith lived a life devoted to the Lord and I honor him today, knowing that he is with the Lord now, rejoicing in his heavenly body. I can’t wait to meet him again someday. I shall never forget the impact his life had on mine.

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A Hard Question: Where do aborted babies go?

Well, I’ve been thinking about some hot-button issues lately, and I thought I would post some of my thoughts on the above question, which is typically a precursor to another hard question (but we’ll get to that later). I think it’s very important to think about these things and other issues biblically, but also honestly. After all, we’re to love the Lord with all of our minds; have we been good stewards of the powers and faculties He has given us? Remember, thinking logically doesn’t break down belief, and intelligence isn’t the opposite of faith.

According to some statistics I gleaned from David Platt, over 45 million abortions have occurred since 1973, and 1.4 million more occur every year. It is estimated that one third of American women have an abortion some time in their lives. So, I understand this is a tough topic, with weighty conclusions that we must come to.

When a child is aborted (or miscarried, for that matter), where does that child go? Heaven? Or Hell? The first thing to understand is that God intimately knows every child in the womb, according to Psalm 139 – “For You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (ESV). Because of this, abortion is primarily a God issue; it is an affront to God’s sovereign authority as Creator.

That doesn’t answer the question at hand, though. I will say honestly, I do not know where these departed children end up. I have not seen in the Bible sufficient evidence to say “Yes” to Heaven or Hell, though I know which I hope for. There is the doctrine of the “age of accountability”, but I don’t know where that comes from, except for the Left Behind series, which is far from canon. However, I am thankful that I am not their Judge, and I have faith that “the Judge of all the earth [shall] do right” (Gen. 18:25). Knowing God is a God of mercy, I think that they shall be in Heaven.

I hope you see what this question can be, especially in the hands of an atheist. In the words of Admiral Ackbar, “It’s a trap!” Think about it: if you answer that aborted babies go to Hell, then they respond by saying, “I can’t believe that! How could a God of love and mercy do that to innocent children? I could never believe in a God like that!” If you answer that you believe they go to Heaven, their reply will be, “Well, why aren’t you pro-choice then? Isn’t it better that they get a free pass into Heaven than live and have the chance of going to Hell?” Now, you’re in a conundrum.

There are many things that could be said in response to the first question regarding Hell. However since I believe that they go do end up in Heaven, I want to answer the second contention, that it’s better for them to be aborted.

Don’t be put off by my immediate answer. Yes, I do think it would be better for them to be in Heaven if they are aborted. I am not, however, pro-choice; I am very much against abortion. The problem is, this question singles out the child, totally disregarding everyone else affected by abortion. It is certainly better for the child; but what about its mother? There are hundreds of stories of women who have had abortions that scarred them emotionally for the rest of their life, not considering the horribly botched abortions that have killed. What about the doctors and those assisting in the abortion? Some of them have come out horrified at what they have done. So yes, while it may seem at first that abortion is better for the child, you must consider the other parties involved.

Second, it doesn’t matter if the child ends up in heaven or not, because murder is murder. David Platt put it this way: “If the unborn is not human, no justification for abortion is necessary; if the unborn is human, no justification for abortion is adequate.” To put it in an analogy, let’s imagine a youth group with one hundred kids in it, all passionately singing their hearts out to Jesus. Right then, if they all died, let’s assume they would be in heaven. However, if statistics are true, up to ninety of these one hundred will fall away from the faith in college. So, let’s think about this: would it be just or good to bomb the youth group and send them all straight to heaven, sparing them from a future of disgrace? I don’t think so, because in doing so, I still would have just murdered one hundred children. That is never good or right. Murder is always evil, no matter the results.

I defend the unborn because I am a Christian. As a Christian, God says to me, “Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy” (Psalm 82:3). It is my duty as a saint of God to rise up and fight for these precious lives. I believe every human is made in the image of God, and it is an abomination that that image is being destroyed even before it sees the light. If I would defend a man who is being mugged or a child being bullied, how much more should I speak out for those who have no voice? And the same goes for you, fellow Christian. Randy Alcorn says, “To endorse or even to be neutral about killing innocent children created in God’s image is unthinkable in Scriptures, was unthinkable to Christians in church history, and should be unthinkable to Christians today.”

In issues like these, we cannot afford to be neutral. Lives are at stake. I ask you, where do you stand?

My desire in posting this is not to create controversy, but to make you think. If I have done that, then I have succeeded. Come to your own conclusions based on the Word of God. I hope you have been blessed in reading this.

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