Opinion

 

Apr

17

2014

Collin Hansen|12:01 AM CT

When Jesus Said Farewell

We Christians sometimes buy into a lie. We assume that if we're not like those hateful, judgmental people who call themselves Christians, then the world will see that we're actually pretty reasonable folks and want to follow Jesus. We believe that if Christians just cleaned up our act, then Jesus could finally captivate the hearts and minds of our neighbors.

The only problem with this view is that it has no basis in the example or teaching of Jesus. Nice Christians don't always finish first. Even though Jesus loved perfectly to the end, his closest friends and disciples abandoned him when the political and religious authorities pinned him to the cross. Peter rebounded from his shameful denial of Jesus and vowed to love Jesus by loving his people. His reward? Jesus told him to expect that he, too, would stretch out his hands in unwanted death that would nevertheless glorify God (John 21:15-19).

Christ_Taking_Leave_of_the_ApostlesThe apostle John did not endure such a gruesome demise. But he heard and recorded Jesus' farewell discourse, in which the Son of God told the disciples that the world would hate them just as they hated Jesus and his heavenly Father for convicting them of their sin (John 15:24).

"If you were of the world," Jesus told his disciples on the night he was betrayed, "the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:19-20).

We should not be surprised that Christians today so easily forget or overlook these bracing words from Jesus. Just days after Jesus said farewell, while they hid behind locked doors in the aftermath of the crucifixion, the disciples obviously missed the significance of their Savior's teaching: "In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). They had expected triumphant, bloody insurrection, and instead he gave them a cold, empty tomb. Only in the aftermath of the resurrection, when they saw and heard and touched Jesus in the flesh, did they finally begin to understand that the way of glory passes through Golgotha.

Acting Like Jesus

When we assume the world will love us if we start acting like Jesus, then we're not actually acting like Jesus. We love to cite Jesus washing the feet of his disciples as evidence of the kind of humble compassion we should emulate. Indeed, it is. But eleven pairs of these feet washed by Jesus scattered away in fear, and one infamous pair scampered to find the chief priests and officers to arrest Jesus as he prayed.

Love for the world motivated by anything other than love for Jesus inevitably fails to offer the kind of love the world needs. Don't think that Jesus would be any more popular in our day than he was in his own hometown, even his own family. Jesus was known to speak with uncommon authority because he told the truth about bankrupt religious practice. He would do the same among us, calling out the religious and non-religious for idols we have harbored.

When our love is motivated more by approval of the world than faithfulness to Jesus, then we turn against other Christians we believe hinder our goals. Have you noticed this trend? Consider someone who fears that Jesus' teaching against greed (Matt. 6:19-21) hinders churches from reaching upwardly mobile young professionals. His enemy becomes those Christians who teach "poverty theology" and reject the goodness of creation and the necessity of amassing resources in order to advance the kingdom of God. Notice: rarely do you hear anyone openly say we should disobey Jesus' teaching. After all, Jesus told his disciples that if they would abide in his love, then they must keep his commandments (John 15:10). Rather, the person asking you to disobey Jesus instead seeks to convince you that the church won't grow and the world won't follow Jesus unless you love the world enough to rethink your biblical interpretation. Should you plug your ears to this siren song, you will be accused of being part of the reason why the world has rejected Jesus.

But as we've already seen from the example of Jesus, we could change the content or confuse the clarity of his teaching, but the condition of our hearts would still prevent us from following him. Not until Jesus breathed his Spirit on the disciples (John 20:22) so they could recall what he taught them earlier about the coming persecution (John 16:2) did they finally find the strength to obey and proclaim the good news. Apart from the Spirit it's impossible for us to resist the world as necessary. The world tempts and confuses Christians. Even the enemies who try to kill us think they offer service to God (John 16:2). The apostle Paul regarded himself zealous in his love of God until Jesus blinded him with forgiveness for his sins and grace to walk in true righteousness. When Jesus reveals himself he gives believers eyes to see our sin as futile and his teaching as good and perfect.

Love One Another

Along with sending his Spirit, Jesus gave us a key test of discipleship before he said farewell. "A new commandment I give to you: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35).

We can see the problem when other Christians lose Jesus by lacking love and prayerful concern for their enemies (Matt. 5:44). But how many of us have likewise forgotten Jesus because in our pursuit of the world we have not loved fellow disciples? We're so eager to win the world's approval that we violate the most basic commandments and dare to invoke Jesus' name in our defense. Don't trust anyone who attempts to justify his anger at other Christians. And don't think you can win the world by disobeying any of Jesus' commands. Jesus' life, death, and teaching offer our only sure basis for unity among the body of Christ and effective mission in the world.

"Unity should never be attained at the cost of truth," Andreas Köstenberger and Justin Taylor write in their new book, The Final Days of Jesus, "yet unity is essential among God's people, particularly in regard to a shared mind and purpose and mutual love in the work of fulfilling Christ's mission to the world."

In keeping with Passover custom, Jesus and his disciples would have likely sung Psalms 113-118 together before he said farewell. As Jesus prepared to drink the cup given by his Father (John 19:11) and ascend the cross, the words of Psalm 118 in particular must have offered great comfort and courage in his unique mission. We know he had cited Psalm 118:22-23 in debate with Jewish religious leaders: "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the LORD's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes" (Psalm 118:22-23).

We must also consider the repeated refrain that begins and ends this beloved psalm: "Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!" (Psalm 118:1, 29). His covenant love endures even the worst cruelty the world can conceive. It endures the betrayal of close friends. It endures age after age, from Jesus until now and forevermore.

We, too, need these comforting, sobering words today. "It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes" (Psalm 119:8-9). We must neither seek nor expect the world's approval. And we must claim the promise of God's Word that we can find refuge in Jesus. As he empowers us to obey his commandments and love his disciples, we testify to a watching world that Jesus has come from the Father (John 17: 23) offering eternal life to all who repent and believe (John 17:3).

 
 

Apr

15

2014

Matt Smethurst|12:01 AM CT

Take God at His Word: Kevin DeYoung on the Character of Scripture

Your Bible is evidence that the Maker of the universe is a God who initiates, who reveals, who talks. There are, after all, only two options when it comes to knowledge of one's Creator: revelation or speculation. Either he speaks, or we guess.

And he has spoken. The Lord of heaven and earth has "forfeited his own personal privacy" to disclose himself to us—to befriend us—through a book. Scripture is like an all-access pass into the revealed mind and will of God.

By virtually any account the Bible is the most influential book of all time. No shortage of ink has been spilled on writings about it. But what does Scripture say about itself? In his new book, Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me (Crossway) [20 quotes], Kevin DeYoung cuts through the fog of contemporary confusion to offer a readable and constructive defense of the clarity, authority, sufficiency, and beauty of God's written Word.

I spoke with DeYoung, pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, about bibliolatry, threats on the horizon, and more.

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You claim that "what we believe and feel about the Word of God should mirror what we believe and feel about Jesus." Aren't you guilty of bibliolatry here? 

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Bibliolatry is one of those words that gets thrown around as an insult without anyone carefully explaining what they mean. Sometimes people will say, "Well, we worship the 'Word Christ' not the 'word the Bible.'" Which is true in a sense. We don't prostrate ourselves before the artifact of ink on a page or the glow of a handheld device. So of course we don't worship paper and pixels. But we must not separate the revelation of God in the Scriptures from the revelation of God in Jesus. We would not know everything there is to know about the latter without the former, and even Jesus directs our attention to the Scriptures. If the Bible is God's speech, his voice, the opening of his most hallowed lips, then whatever we feel about the Word of God should mirror what we feel about God in the flesh.

What Scripture-related error is most "live" among evangelicals today? For what issue on the horizon will we need to be most equipped?

I see several. Let me briefly mention two. At the level of praxis, many evangelicals do not believe in Scripture's perspicuity. Once they see that some Christians view an issue differently, they pack it in and give up ever knowing what the Bible says. We've seen this recently on the issue of homosexuality with certain voices calling for a moratorium on debating the issue because there are obviously two good positions out there and who are we to try to settle things. But, of course, PhDs disagree on almost everything in almost every field of human investigation. Evangelicals can be too quick to say "that's just your interpretation" instead of actually making an argument from the Bible for their position.

Second, evangelicals are constantly being faced with the temptation to make special revelation subservient to general revelation. Rightly understood, the two do not contradict each other. As the truism goes, all truth is God's truth. But the Protestant confessions have always understood that special revelation is clearer than general revelation. Peer-reviewed science journals do not trump what God says in the Bible. Now, if we've misread the Bible, let's see our mistake and own up to it. But until we are convinced from Scripture, we should not trade the unchanging truth of Scripture for the changing winds of contemporary academia.

What's wrong with disliking some of what the Bible teaches so long as we obey it?

It's better to obey the Bible when you don't like it than to disobey and not like it. The goal of mature Christian discipleship, however, is more than a begrudging acceptance of God's will and God's ways. We should learn to delight in what God says in his Word, because it is the reflection of his character. To dislike what the Bible teaches is to call into question in our hearts who God is and what he's like.

What do you mean when you claim God's speech is ongoing but his revelation is not?

God continues to speak. We don't have to pray for the Word of God to come alive. It is already living and active. But God is not revealing new information about the Son of God or how we are saved. I don't have space here to unpack the argument, but the book of Hebrews makes the case that redemption and revelation both have their finality in Christ. The two aspects of Christ's work cannot be separated. There is no sacrifice for sin left to be made and no new revelatory work needed for faithfulness as a Christian.

Why do you believe Scripture's sufficiency (as opposed to its authority or clarity or necessity) might be the attribute "most quickly doubted by rank-and-file churchgoing Christians"?

It's wonderful that evangelicals want an intimate relationship with God, but this good impulse often leads us to make wild claims that can't be substantiated by Scripture and, in fact, undermine the finished work of Christ. I'm thinking of people who make their sense of "calling" more important than the Word of God or the wisdom of the church. I'm thinking of denominational groups I've been a part of that claim to get their 10-year vision from God himself (which, of course, makes opposition to that vision tantamount to blasphemy). I'm talking about runaway bestsellers—from devout, good Christians I imagine—that anchor biblical truths in life-after-death experiences or suggest that Jesus is writing special letters every day just for us. Is the Bible alone sufficient for salvation, for life, and for godliness as a Christian? Evangelicals say "yes," but then often live out "no."

 
 

Apr

10

2014

Christina Fox|12:01 AM CT

Mama's Hands Are Full: Gloria Furman on Treasuring Christ in the Trenches

It was 8:00 a.m., and I already longed for bedtime. I'd refereed two conflicts over toys. I attempted to tackle the mountain of laundry that seemed to quadruple overnight. I repeated instructions multiple times to easily distracted minds. "It's time to brush your teeth." "Keep your finger out of your nose." "Only use kind words." My head and throat hurt, and I could feel a fever brewing.

Motherhood is a life that stretches you both inside and out. It's a daily practice of laying down your will and desires for the care of others. It's an energy-sapping life where you start each day with less energy than you had the day before. Nothing belongs to you anymore—not your space, not your time, not your sleep. Some days feel like a bad version of Groundhog Day, a repeat of the day before.

As a mom, I usually get caught up in the details of my days. I get wrapped up and consumed by the chaos and unexpected situations that come my way. I struggle in my weakness against the current of life's challenges, only to make no headway at all. And most of the time I end up spent, weary, discouraged, and alone.

Treasuring-Christ

On that day, when I felt sick and sapped of all strength, physical and otherwise, Gloria Furman's new book, Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full: Gospel Meditations for Busy Moms (Crossway) [video trailer], arrived in the mail. It was the perfect word of truth and encouragement my weary heart needed. The title alone spoke to me because my hands are always full. But too often I focus on everything I'm carrying in those hands rather than on my treasure, Jesus Christ.

Gloria's book is filled with gospel wisdom from cover to cover. She reminds us that Christ is with us in every situation we encounter as mothers. Not only that, but we can treasure him amid every chaos, every sibling spat, every sickness, and every cup of spilled milk. These meditations cover situations to which every mom can relate. Filled with examples from her own life, Gloria weaves gospel encouragement into every page, bringing hope to the daily challenges of motherhood.

Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full reminded me that the gospel is for all of life—including motherhood. Our theology of the cross and the redemption purchased by Christ's blood intersect with bedtime battles, fatigue, and easily distracted children. What Jesus accomplished can be applied to every moment of our lives. Even when our head throbs from the resounding echoes of little voices calling our name all day, gospel peace is always available through Jesus Christ.

I asked Gloria a few questions about her new book to learn how moms can find quiet times, why she doesn't offer more "how-to" advice, and what passages of Scripture have encouraged her lately.

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What inspired you to write this book, and what do you hope women take away from it?

Busy moms have their hands full, and I want them to revel in the hope that comes from the gospel and see how their hands are full of blessings in Christ.

I appreciated your honesty in sharing the challenges you faced in early motherhood with having regular quiet times with the Lord. I remember this struggle myself. Finding quiet and solitude with God is hard. But, as you point out, the Lord is just as near to us in the chaos of our day as he is in the alone times. Do you think that moms can have a tendency to just give up on communing with God because of their season of life?

Sometimes we think that if only we could have peace and quiet in the house then we will have peace and quiet in our heart. How easy it is for us to relegate Jesus' presence to an easy chair in a picture-perfect living room (with an accompanying cup of hot coffee)! For the mom facing that challenge of finding quiet time, I'd want her to know that, solitude or circus, it makes no difference in the sufficiency of Jesus Christ to give you everything you need for life and godliness.

In a day where mom blogs saturate the internet with "how-to" counsel and "5 steps to getting your kid to _______," it seems we often clamor after quick fixes and step-by-step advice. Do readers ever complain that your writing is "just too much gospel" and not enough practical "how-to" advice? 

There's no shortage of resources and practical tips for helping moms navigate the challenges they face; I surf these websites for tips all the time. I hesitate to share my practical advice because it really only works for my set of unique circumstances a pitifully tiny fraction of the time, and whenever I give other moms "how-to" advice I have to preface it with that disclaimer.

But I can, however, share the gospel confidently without reservation because the cross teaches us what to expect when we're expecting challenging situations in motherhood—"mercy and grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16). Of course, solid practical advice is a mercy and a grace, but the cross addresses our deepest and most urgent need, which is to behold our God. In short, we can gain great benefit from practical how-tos, yet the implications of the help and hope we receive from the gospel are inexhaustible.

Is there one passage of Scripture, or a few passages, that have given you particular hope and peace during the often chaotic and busy season of motherhood?

Yes! In this particular season I have been particularly encouraged by Isaiah 40:11, Zephaniah 3:17, 1 Corinthians 15:58, Matthew 28:18-20, and the book of Ephesians.

 
 

Apr

04

2014

Owen Strachan|12:01 AM CT

We're All Over-Protected Now

In the March 2014 issue of The Atlantic, celebrity journalist Hanna Rosin turned her attention to America's coddled children. "The Overprotected Kid" traces Rosin's experience with her son at a Welsh playground called The Land, which is a cross between Blade Runner, a garbage heap, and a sandbox. In short, it sounds awesome.

Rosin argues in her perceptive piece that American parents are beset with "safety paranoia." Where once children roamed the land, built forts, and did daring things like cross city streets, now they risk a 911 call if they venture out of eyesight of their parents. Rosin's thesis is worth considering, even if many fathers and mothers will recognize the limitations of what one could call the "state of nature" movement.

I found the piece compelling because it speaks to me of problems not merely gymnastic, but spiritual. I think many of us evangelicals have our own "safety complex." We've been trained to live life fearfully, to damp down any sense of risk at all costs, and to believe that failure is the worst possible fate on this earth. I think we've got it wrong.

We've Been Trained to Adore Safety

It's hard to pinpoint how many of us have been indoctrinated into safety-hunger and inoculated against adventure. We surely have, though. Here are some factors:

1. We are, in relative terms, beneficiaries of an era of unprecedented wealth. Capitalism comes in for hard critiques, but studies show that its advent coincides with soaring life-longevity and material prosperity. When you reach this state, you don't want to leave it.

2. We have grown up in a church-friendly culture (now under major renovation). I don't decry this history as some do. But we all have to acknowledge that being a majority culture will cause us to be less prophetic, less daring, than we might otherwise be.

3. We live in the age of the mega-watt spiritual celebrity, people who promise us wealth and ease and unending upward mobility. Whether we know it or not, easy-believism affects us all.

4. We've bought into a theology of grace that softens every edge and cushions every fall. More than we know, we're therapeutic and psychologized. There's a "gospel-driven" form of this problem. I call it "gospel self-help." Just like the secular kind, it makes us the focal point of our faith. Narcissism easily suffocates a courageous spirit.

5. We want to fit in more than ever, in part because our identities—even as evangelicals—are so this-worldly. We care tremendously what other people think of us. The worst thing for an undergrad today isn't an injury—it's to be "awkward" (in sing-song). We all fear man now. God and his inter-galactic holiness seems far off; your self-aware neighbor with her judgey gaze seems all too near.

We could go on. Suffice it to say that these cultural factors end up getting baked into the church's main course. Our preaching trains us, week after week, to manage the status quo, keep the boat un-rocked, and experience greater self-fulfillment. At the same time, somehow, we're told to dream big dreams, undertake grand schemes, and discover who we truly are. But here's the strange thing: even in this me-centered air, few of us actually seem to end up launching anything grand. The fulfillment of our "dreams" seems to end up looking a lot like secular versions of the good life.

We're over-protected Christians.

We Need Something Bigger

Lest you think I deride "normal life," I do not. I think it's good and honorable. In my book Risky Gospel, I esteem the ordinary things: church membership, family-building, cultivating a vocation. But I do think all our lives could stand an infusion of risk. What do I mean? I want to re-enchant our daily Christian lives. I want Jesus to cease being the first-century prosperity-lite preacher we think he is and to once more disturb the peace.

I want Christians to read the wild stories of God calling his people to himself in the Old Testament. When God showed up, people hit the ground. Moses was afraid. Ezekiel didn't even dare to lift his eyes before Yahweh's likeness (Exodus 3; Ezekiel 1). I want believers to see Jesus calling and saving us less as an invitation to lifelong spiritualized therapy and more as a summons to a lifelong spiritual quest. I want us to see the gospel as our means of acceptance, yes, but also as the precious cargo that must be taken and preached and translated to every people group on the earth. I want us to see our lives not as a project to be curated but as a drink offering to be poured out to the glory of God.

Toward this end, I want to see fathers who lay their lives down for their families, women who boldly reject the pattern of Eve for the beauty of godly femininity, college students who study to know the mind of God, workers of all kinds who labor as if God were beside them in the design room or the classroom or the sawroom, and church members who treat the body of Christ as if it is the only infinity-spanning institution on this earth (because it is).

With many others, I want to see all of these people pushing as many workers as humanly possible to the leading edge of global mission (per Matthew 28:16-20). This goal will mean that tons of Christians stay where they are and earn all they can, valuing their day-to-day lives even as they savor the chance to support worldwide evangelism. This work will also mean that many other Christians break away, see their family members once every two years, and embrace the bewildering and even frightful realities of ministry in a pagan village, a pluralized meta-city, or a socialist state.

The two parts of this great work are not disconnected or at odds. The staying church is the sending church. The sent church does the work that the staying church knows must go forth. The two churches are one. They pray for one another; they support one another; they depend upon one another.

There is no guilt complex here. One must send, the other must go. All must be fully committed to the awesomeness of God, and to a life of self-sacrifice in order that the word of Christ might spread over all the earth, and the kingdom of Christ with it.

So What's the Secret?

The way to get to this point is to break with a spiritual culture that fetishizes personal safety and comfort, and to embrace once more the concept of risk. Risk is for every Christian. We hear its tones over and over again in Scripture. Jesus called the apostles to follow him on the spot (Matthew 4:19). When he evangelized certain people, he told them to "count the cost," because it would be heavy (Luke 14:28). When he named Peter as the rock of his early church, he indicated that Peter's fate would be bloody (John 21:18). When beatific Stephen was slain, all who witnessed or heard of it discovered that Christianity would not fit the glossy promises of ancient prosperity preachers (Acts 7:54-60).

Being up front in the church did not mean you would be coronated early, but that you might well die young.

I recently heard a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary administrator tell me of a child he knew who was adopted by a godly family. The child had been told for years that he couldn't walk. So he didn't. He was carried everywhere. When he came into this Christian home, the father thought to himself, This little guy can walk. He may not dunk a basketball in the future, but he can walk. He began encouraging the boy to do so. Within days, the child walked up the family's stairs. A lifetime of low expectations, of zero risk, undone in a few days' time.

I wonder if our churches are under a similar spell. We feel the heat rising in the culture. Either we issue our jeremiads, our cultural diagnoses, on the one hand, or we quiet our voices. We go to church, but we don't want prophecy, with its challenging and all-too-personal implications. We want comfort, spoonful after spoonful of it. Spiritual therapy.

You Have to Wonder

You have to wonder what Jesus thinks of this response. You have to wonder if, like a child trapped indoors for an unending school-day, we might look out the window and see him outside, kicking some tires, walking around, pacing. Deep in thought. Preoccupied and bothered. Maybe he's restless, itchy, frustrated.

Maybe he wants for us to pause the Serenity Prayer, lift our gaze to the nations, and get active in the role he's given us, whether the sending church or the sent one. You have to wonder if Jesus is eager for his people to rise up, risk everything we have, and watch as his Spirit re-enchants our lives. This life of risk might mean you work harder at home; it might mean you mentor a child; it might mean you move to a foreign country to do evangelism. Whatever your work for the Lord, you can do it knowing that God will preserve your soul and reward you beyond your wildest envisioning in the life to come.

That protection doesn't pamper you and me. It propels us.

 
 

Mar

25

2014

Grant Castleberry|5:40 PM CT

I Lost My Dad in a Plane Crash, Too

Today, with new satellite imagery from the Brits, officials are nearly certain that Malaysia Flight #370 crashed into the Indian Ocean. Over the next few days officials will probably be able to find some type of debris in the ocean that confirms this new satellite data. As someone who served as a Marine Air Traffic Control officer and who lost a relative in a plane crash (my father's body was never recovered in the Atlantic Ocean), I've been closely following the search and rescue efforts. I was deeply saddened when I heard about the initial loss of the aircraft, and have been perplexed by the strange, known movements of the aircraft that have been disclosed on the news networks. I know the family members are distraught with this new information, since they were clinging onto the hope that somehow the aircraft might have landed somewhere on the possible northern route into Asia.

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Perhaps one of the most difficult things the grievers face is the lack of a body. An airplane crash makes it even more dramatic, too, since the loved one is seen by friends and family one moment only to take off on a plane the next and never be seen again. A body provides closure. A vast ocean with fathomless depths fills the mind with ungraspable questions. Did my loved one suffer? Was it traumatic? Did they have time for any last thoughts? Did they survive the crash only to die in the open ocean? Is their body sitting in the plane at the bottom of the ocean? Or is it floating on the surface? Then there are the deeper questions. Why did this happen to them? What if they'd taken an earlier or later flight? If only. The "what if" scenarios can play out in your mind forever.

This Could Have Been Any of Us

Then there's the question some may be thinking but probably not voicing: Were these people worse than others who arrived safely in Beijing on different flights that day? One idea prevalent in many world religions, including much of the modern West, is karma—good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. If we obey God and help others, in other words, God is obligated to give us longevity of life, nice possessions, healthy relationships, and good health. But if we're selfish and harm others, we're doomed to a terrible existence and possibly tragic death.

The reality according to the Bible, however, is that "good people" don't exist. We are all sinners deserving death (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). Paul puts it like this: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one" (Rom. 3:11-12). Even Christians, he later says, are still subject to pain and even tragic death: "For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (Rom. 8:22-23).

So the answer to the question is that these people who perished were no worse than you and me. They were all sinners in need of grace. Perhaps some were even Christians. Considering the large Christian population in China, and that most of the passengers were Chinese, this is quite likely. But because of sin, we are all subject to death, perhaps even a tragic death like this one. And I think that's what's captivated so many about MH370. We've all played the scenario out in our minds. What if this were my parents, my wife, my husband, my children? What if I were on that jet?

Tragic Death Reminds Us to Flee to Christ

When I was a boy, God used my father's tragic death (he was a Christian) to open my eyes to the sudden reality and finality of death and judgment. He used it as a beacon to lead me to Jesus.

And that is Christ's intent for we who are following the search for this missing jet.

Some people once asked Jesus about a tragedy in which some Jews, who'd been worshiping in Galilee, had been slaughtered by Pontius Pilate. Jesus replied, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:2-3).

Jesus' point is that every one of us is a sinner deserving death and that death often comes unexpectedly, bringing us before the judgment of God. People who experience tragedy are no more deserving than we are. The suddenness of death reminds us to repent of sin and flee to Christ Jesus, so that we can escape eternal death in hell. That's what Jesus is talking about. He continues: "Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:4-5). (For a helpful theological explanation of this passage, see R. C. Sproul's article "When Towers Fall.")

What does Jesus mean by using the word repent? He's talking about more than a guilty conscience or convicted feeling regarding something we've done wrong. He's referring to a change of heart about who we are as people (sinners before God) and who Christ is (our righteous sin-bearer). As John MacArthur explains, "[Repentance] is a spiritual turning, a total about-face. In the context of the new birth [it] means turning from sin to the Savior."

How We Should Respond to Malaysian Flight #370?

So how do we respond to this new information that MH370 crashed in the ocean?

  • We should pray for those grieving that they'll find out as much as possible about the last moments of their loved ones' lives, and perhaps even find their loved one's body.
  • We should remind ourselves that we too are still subject to death, and in fact will all die, unless Christ returns. We must continually look to our Savior, then, who has conquered death for us.
  • We should look for opportunities to share the hope of Christ Jesus, since everyone we know will also face death and ultimately stand before God in judgment.
  • We should thank God that those in Christ will experience a resurrection of life. Paul declares: "For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory.' 'O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?'" (1 Cor. 15:52-55). And this resurrection unto life includes the bodies of saints that have been lost at sea.

I would love to hear your thoughts about how God has used tragedy in your life to bring you or others to deeper (or perhaps saving) faith in Christ.

 
 

Mar

25

2014

Paul Rezkalla|12:01 AM CT

If All Religions Are True, Then God Is Cruel

The short film Most made its way onto the big screen more than 10 years ago. A brilliantly moving piece of cinema, the film tells the story of a single father who lives with his son in the Czech Republic. The pair share simple yet content lives together. The father works as a bridge engineer—he is responsible for raising and lowering a massive draw-bridge that allows ships and trains to pass at scheduled times. One day, the boy happened to be at the bridge with his father. As he's playing outside, he notices a train rapidly approaching the station.

most-the-bridge-2It was an hour early. The bridge was up. And the train was heading right toward it.

He yells and shouts at the window of his father's booth, but to no avail. The train was quickly running out of track, and the bridge needed to come down. Hundreds of people were potentially onboard. So the boy decides to manually lower the bridge by pulling a lever near the tracks. In a heart-stopping moment, he accidentally falls into the gear-works that enable to bridge to operate.

A series of heavy, metal gears and levers surrounded his body on all sides. The flicker of movement catches the father's eye. He turns to see his son fall into the gear-box and lie helpless there.

Realization dawns upon him: If he lowers the bridge, the gears will crush his boy.

Left with the soul-shredding decision to kill his boy, he cries and screams and punches the wall. With only moments to deliberate, he reluctantly pulls the lever. He hears the gears turn and lets out a guttural scream. The camera then moves and presents us with the haunting image of the boy's lifeless corpse. Hundreds on the train were saved, but at the biggest price to the father. He killed his son.

Another Way Out

Now picture the same scenario, but with a twist this time. Suppose the boy had fallen into the gear-works, and the train was rushing towards the raised bridge. But this time, the father had two levers: one to lower the bridge and kill his son (like in the original scenario) and one to divert the train onto an alternate track that took it over a second, parallel bridge. It would be madness for the father to choose the first lever and kill his son with the second lever within reach. Why would he kill his son when he knows fully well that the second lever is capable of saving both the lives of all the train passengers and also the life of his son? Such a decision would be utterly appalling. Only a monster would choose the first lever.

And yet this is exactly who religious pluralists make God out to be.

"All religions are true."

"All religions lead to God."

"All roads lead to the same destination."

While I can understand the sentiment of inclusivity, this idea pictures an evil God. Religious pluralists often reject exclusivist positions for positing a cruel God who only made one way to reach him. But if all religions are true, then God is cruel. And not just cruel—God is an incompetent, cosmic child-abuser. If religious pluralism is true, then God is the father in the second scenario. He saw the train coming, yet he decided to pull the first lever and kill his son, rather than pull the second lever.

Is God Cruel or Incompetent?

If Islam, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and all the other world religions are true paths to God, then why did God kill his Son, Jesus, in order to make a way for men to come to him? The very notion is absurd and insulting to God. It paints a portrait of a God who is just plain cruel. He sent Jesus into the world to live a miserable life of scorn, rejection, poverty, betrayal, humiliation, sorrow, and ultimately, torture and death, in order to create a path whereby men can come to know him. Yet all the while he knew that following the Five Pillars of Islam or the Noble Eight-fold Path could accomplish the same thing. What a waste! Jesus' life—God's plan of salvation— is completely in vain, for the same result could be achieved by simply adhering to the tenets of any world religion. God is not only cruel but also incompetent for putting into effect the worst salvation plan possible.

But God is not cruel. He is not incompetent. He would not kill his Son needlessly. He would not put into effect a ridiculous or cruel salvation plan for mankind. Hence, religious pluralism cannot be true. This argument does not show Christianity to be true, but it does show that not all religions can be true, for if they were, then God would not be a God of love.

 
 

Mar

25

2014

Matt Smethurst|12:01 AM CT

How to Preach Books of the Bible You Don't Like

How do you preach a passage you don't particularly like? Many pastors, of course, would just find a different one. But for those committed to expository preaching, sometimes the text staring you in the face isn't one you would've picked.

"If I don't like a passage it's usually because I either don't understand it or don't see how I'm going to preach it," Mike McKinley explains in a new roundtable video with Bryan Chapell and J. D. Greear. Yet time and again, the pastor of Sterling Park Baptist Church in northern Virginia observes, "I've learned God is pleased to use things that don't impress me."

"If I understand what the Lord is saying but just don't like it, I have to learn to love it," says Chapell, pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois, and former president of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. "I've got to try to figure out the reason God put it there and then fall in love with that reason."

"I look back on my early years and am embarrassed by how little confidence I had in the Word of God," admits Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in North Carolina. "But though there have been books of the Bible I didn't think I would like, I can honestly say I've never preached one that didn't prove to be profound and life-changing."

Watch the full nine-minute video to see these pastors discuss Monday morning terror, why Chapell bowed out before finishing Daniel, when application unburdens, and more.

Difficult parts of Scripture from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

 
 

Mar

16

2014

Russell Moore|9:55 PM CT

Should a Parent Attend Their Atheist Daughter's Wedding?

[Note: Questions and Ethics is a monthly series in which Dr. Russell Moore provides insight into how Christians should navigate through life's most challenging moral and ethical issues.]

Dear Dr. Moore,

My daughter is an atheist. She is living with an atheist, and she now plans to marry him. Should I allow my other daughter to be in the wedding as a bridesmaid? Should I support the wedding financially? Should I go to the wedding? I want to honor God, but I still want to be a mom.

Concerned Mom

Dear Concerned Mom,

Q&ELOGO-mainpageI remember several years ago I was serving a church, and I had a lady who came up to me after the service, and she whispered, and she said, "Could you pray for my daughter. She has gone to college, and she has become an atheist." And I said, "Why are you whispering?" And she said, "I don't want anyone to overhear me, because then they will know that I am the mom of that atheist girl." And as I started talking to her it became clear, she thought somehow that that would make people think that she has done something shameful in her own parenting.

That's crazy. We have got to eliminate that within the church. Throughout the Bible, you have family after family after family—it's hard for me to think of a family in the scripture that doesn't have a prodigal somewhere in the family. So we don't say that because a child is going through some rebellion that that means that the parents are deficient. Not at all! And also we need to recognize that parents love their children, and families are to stay together, and we are to maintain those avenues of connection with our children as much as possible and to provide a means for those prodigals to come home. And prodigals do come home. These rebellious times don't always last forever. And sometimes you have someone who is just going through a time of questioning, a time of confusion. Keep those avenues open.

I would also say that I understand why the mom is concerned about this, because the scripture tells us that a believer is not to marry an unbeliever. We should not be unequally yoked, as the Apostle Paul puts it. But that's not what's going on here. Instead you have a professing unbeliever marrying a professing unbeliever. Marriage is something that the scripture tells us is a creation ordinance given to all people; Genesis, chapter 2, "It is for this reason that a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." That's not only true for Christians. That's true for all people. So marriage is a good thing for everybody, including for atheists.

It seems to me that in this situation, you have a couple who are doing the right thing: not living together, but instead committing themselves to one another and marrying. If, Mom, you don't have any other objection to this guy other than his atheism, and if your daughter is an atheist too, I would see this as a creation ordinance, and I would not have one qualm at all in going to that wedding, in having the sister serve as a bridesmaid. I wouldn't have any problem financially contributing to that wedding.

Now, I think it's a different story when it comes to the church officiating the wedding. I wouldn't do the wedding for a couple of atheists. I wouldn't officiate as a pastor, because I think that signifies the accountability of the couple to the church. That couple doesn't have an accountability to the church; they are not under the I Corinthians 5 discipline of the church. But as a civil ordinance, getting married, I would go.

Now, if you have some reason to think that this man is harmful or abusive or dangerous, then no, you put your foot down, and you go to the matt for this. But if your only problem with him is that he's an atheist, I would go. I would be kind, and I would seek to continue to share the gospel with your daughter and with your new son-in-law as time goes on. I would recognize that marriage is a good thing that God has given to all people.

And I also would just really encourage all of those parents out there who are going through a situation with your children—parents of atheist children; parents of agnostic children; parents of children who are going through times of moral rebellion, not just intellectual confusion or questioning or whatever—don't be ashamed of your kids. Don't cut off connection with your kids. Remain in contact. Love your children, and don't be worried about what people are going to think about you. This is not about you; this is about loving the children God has given to you.

Related: You can find more answers to ethical questions and subscribe to the Questions and Ethics podcast on the website of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

 
 

Mar

13

2014

Matt Smethurst|12:05 AM CT

'Non-Shepherding' Pastors: Option or Oxymoron?

Are "non-shepherding" pastors ever legitimate? You know, ministers who, due to other commitments (such as preaching) abstain from counseling and visitation and other life-on-life ministry during the week. Apart from perhaps a brief window on Sundays, they're essentially inaccessible.

"It's never okay to have a non-shepherding pastor," J. D. Greear insists, since you "can't separate those roles [shepherd and pastor] God has joined together." Nevertheless, the pastor of North Carolina's 4,000-plus-member The Summit Church admits, this principle will look different according to context.

"These duties are wed in Scripture," notes Bryan Chapell, pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois, and former president of Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. He points to Paul's instructive words: "Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well" (1 Thess. 2:8). Like Greear, though, Chapell admits there will be different "gifts" and "degrees of calling" when it comes to shepherding and proclamation.

"It's good to know your own personality so that you'll be able to work against your weaknesses," adds Mike McKinley, pastor of Sterling Park Baptist Church in northern Virginia. As an introvert, he's acutely aware that "books are easier to love than people."

Just because you can't pastor everyone doesn't exempt you from pastoring anyone. Indeed, despite the priority of preaching, you won't be "half the preacher you ought to be if you're not individually involved in people's lives."

Watch the full seven-minute video to hear these pastors discuss generational shifts in expectation, the place of preaching, multiplying leaders, and more.

"Non-Shepherding" Pastors from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

 
 

Mar

06

2014

Matt Smethurst|12:05 AM CT

Should Every Pastor Get a Sabbatical?

Pastors aren't the only tired ones out there. Churches teem with people who are working demanding jobs that offer no extended periods of paid leave. Are pastoral sabbaticals necessary, then? Are they even fair?

According to Bob Doll, chief equity strategist and senior portfolio manager at Nuveen Asset Management, the answer is yes. "The stresses and strains of dealing with people—with souls—wears you down in a unique way," he observes. Besides, he notes, even some companies in the secular world are starting to use sabbaticals. "They realize that refreshment makes a better employee."

"Pastors need rest of all kinds, not just waiting for 'the big one,'" adds Kelly, pastor of Desert Springs Church in Albuquerque. A strategic rhythm of work and rest, then, is vitally important.

"In the ministry, the unusual is routine," says Phillips, pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, South Carolina. "Experienced ministers know you've got to plan for rest."

Watch the full nine-minute roundtable video to see these leaders—two pastors and a businessman—discuss sabbatical frequency, when work and family lines blur, and more. Later this month, March 14 to 16, Phillips will be speaking at TGC's Southwest regional conference, Clarus, hosted at Kelly's church in Albuquerque.

Sabbatical from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.