Monthly Archives: March 2010

 

Mar

31

2010

Trevin Wax|3:37 am CT

The Cross of Christ: God Instead of Us (1)

The cross offers a glimpse into the heart of a God who is willing to be with us in death and suffering. But we need more than a God who knows our pain. We need mercy for our own contributions to the pain in the world. Christ’s death is not merely a picture of God with us. It is also a picture of a God willing to stand in our place.

Jesus Christ dies instead of us. He not only identifies with our suffering caused by our sin; he also enters into our sorrow and makes it his own. He takes our sin and its consequences upon himself so that we can be free. He experiences the full force of God’s wrath toward sin in order that we might be saved. Only the cross satisfies God’s demand for justice and our desire for mercy.

Guilt and Sin

People know deep down that there is something wrong with our world. Things aren’t right. The world has been damaged and defaced by sin. We see it in our relationships, in the toil of our work, the brokenness of our marriages, and the rebelliousness of our own hearts.

And yet, we are more than damaged by sin. We are complicit. We are not merely victims of evil but also perpetrators. We must not deceive ourselves into thinking that all the problems of sin are out there and that we are being affected only by the sin of others. We too are involved in evil and selfishness, idolatry and greed.

We will never grasp the heights of God’s forgiveness until we comprehend the depths of our own sinfulness. We not only need someone to suffer with us. We need one who will suffer for us – in our place.

Our culture minimizes the idea that human beings are guilty of wrongdoing. We ignore guilt, explain it away, and recast it in psychological terms. The world sees guilt as delusion and sin as a mere construct.

As a result of our denial of guilt, young people are taking desperate measures. Some have turned to cutting in a desperate attempt to soothe the guilt and pain. Teenagers are so disgusted with themselves that many believe the only relief from their guilt and pain is to self-mutilate, cutting themselves with razor blades on their arms or legs.

Christianity can deal with cutting because we too believe that it is only in the shedding of blood that true relief and forgiveness is found. But true forgiveness and relief comes – not through mutilating ourselves – but through the stripes on the back of Jesus. By his stripes, we are healed. He was pierced, cut for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities.

God, in his mercy, has laid upon Jesus Christ the iniquity of us all. We receive his perfect righteousness and he receives our sinfulness. All the debts we owed, all the sins we have ever committed: Jesus, God’s Son, is the One who pays the price.

In this picture of God giving himself for our salvation, the earlier stories in the Grand Narrative begin to make sense. The story of Jesus’ death and resurrection is the definitive moment in the story of the world. On this hill called Calvary, we see so many threads from the earlier chapters in the history of the world come together. Throughout the Old Testament, we see hints and clues pointing forward to the cross of Jesus. As the narrative proceeds, these different streams begin to converge into a mighty current. By the time we arrive at the last week of Jesus, the river is rushing towards us, with all of the original streams caught up together in one great river.

Mount Sinai – Jesus fulfills the Law in our Place

First, let’s go back to Mount Sinai. Dark clouds hover over the mountain. The silence is pierced by thunder, the darkness by lightning. Moses receives the Law of God – the revelation of God’s holy standard, given in love to his people. It is the way of righteousness. The path to peace. It reveals to us the holiness of God.

But just like us, God’s people were unable to live up to the high and holy standards of God. They bore the image of their forefather, Adam. God had created Adam to reflect his image and to rule wisely over creation. He rebelled. So God called out a people, the children of Israel, to be the light of the world, the people through whom his blessings would flow. Yet they rebelled also.

But though Adam rebelled against the command of God, and Israel did not live up to the righteousness, love and faithfulness God demanded, Jesus submitted perfectly to the Father’s plan.

A life of perfect obedience.

A death of perfect submission.

Where we as humans failed in our task to reflect God rightly and where Israel failed in her task to shine God’s love to the rest of the world, Jesus remained faithful. He accomplished God’s will completely.

Jesus not only fulfilled the Law of Moses; he revealed the heart of God. He showed us God’s intention of the Law. Jesus announced the arrival of God’s Kingdom; he demanded allegiance and obedience; he taught how living God’s way turned human wisdom on its head.

Now, the time had come for his life to be given as a ransom for many. And on that fateful day in Jerusalem, he lived out his own teaching for the whole world to see, perfectly fulfilling the Law of Moses – and even his own Sermon on the Mount.

If someone strikes you, turn to him the other cheek… The Roman fists had already bloodied and bruised Jesus’ face, but he did not strike back.

If someone asks you to go one mile, go with him two miles. From Pilate’s courtyard to Calvary’s hill, he had carried his cross, walking miles on that dusty road for you and me.

If someone takes your tunic, give him your cloak as well, Jesus had told his followers on the mountainside. Now, on the hill of Golgotha, just below the cross, his enemies were mockingly casting lots for his clothes.

And finally, on the cross, almost completely unrecognizable, Jesus lived out one last part of his teaching.
Love your enemies… Pray for those who persecute you… Forgive… In a moving display of divine love, Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of those who had tortured him.

“Father, forgive them,” he had said. Luke uses a verb that implies Jesus was repeating the phrase over and over again.

Enduring the painful insults and humiliating spit of Roman guards… Father, forgive them…

Being lied about and falsely accused in Caiphas’ court… Father, forgive them…

Surviving the vicious torture of Roman scourging… Father, forgive them…

Hearing the taunts being hurled at him from below the cross… Father forgive them…

Here is Jesus – living out the total summation of his message of forgiveness. He is not a hypocrite like the rest of us. He is truly and fully God. God being who God is. God doing what God does.

Jesus’ proclamation of forgiveness to those who despised him can break the heart of stone. Because of his life in our place, and his death in our stead, we are freed from our sins, and also from the Law. Horatio Spafford’s song, “It is Well with My Soul” includes the beautiful lines:

My sin – O the bliss of this glorious thought -
My sin, not in part but the whole
is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more,
praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

When the Romans crucified criminals in the first century, it was customary for them to nail an accusation list to the cross. The list informed people why this person was being crucified. When Jesus died, God took the accusations that Satan brings against us – all our failures and mistakes, our willful rebellion and our constant inability to keep God’s law – and God nails those accusations to the cross of his Son. So Jesus Christ died there on Calvary, bearing your sin and mine; the accusations that should be hurled against us were hurled against him instead.

 
 

Mar

31

2010

Trevin Wax|2:54 am CT

Worth a Look 3.31.10

Jason Powell looks into the past with these terrific pictures. He combines present and past shots.

How to jump from a speeding car. (In case you were just wondering…)

Allow me to turn into an annoying LOST fan for a few moments. Here are some interesting takes on the religious symbolism of these final episodes:

  • Chris Seay thinks it’s about Jacob and Esau, a theory I’ve long considered, although I’m wavering now.
  • Amy Hall on the show’s vacillation between a God of grace and a God of judgment.
  • Nancy Guthrie on the show’s portrayal of earning forgiveness.
  • Philip thinks the show is telling the mythological story of Lilith. This proposal has some merit.
  • Oscar Dahl thinks that the point of LOST is that there is no point. We’re all lost.
  • Here’s what I think. This show better not end with someone waking up from a bad dream. That worked for Newhart. But I think I would pull my hair out if it’s the ending of LOST.
 
 

Mar

30

2010

Trevin Wax|3:27 am CT

The Cross of Christ: God With Us

Loneliness and alienation are part of human existence. Signs of loneliness appear everywhere:

  • In the flickering light of the computer screen at night.
  • In the big house with only one inhabitant.
  • In our chronic distrust of one another.
  • In the younger generation’s cynicism.

We are alone. Isolated. Friendships fade. Relationships are severed. Trust is broken.

All these symptoms of loneliness point to a greater relationship that has been severed – our relationship with God. We have rebelled against God. We have spit in his face and demanded our own way.

God offers living water. We poison the well.

God desires fellowship with us. We spurn his friendship.

God offers his eternal life. We turn away and march toward death.

God offers healing. We try to heal ourselves and only exacerbate our disease.

Alienation follows. The fallout from our rebellion is that everyone suffers. Suffering and pain are now ingrained in our lives.

But God knows our plight. He is not absent from our pain. Even as he rightly condemns our rebellion, he willingly suffers alongside of us, bearing the devastating effects of our sinfulness. Isaiah 53: Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. The Servant of God is there. He dies with us. He carries the weight – not only of sin, but also its horrible consequences.

C.S. Lewis wrote:

“The world is a dance in which good, descending from God, is disturbed by evil arising from the creatures, and the resulting conflict is resolved by God’s own assumption of the suffering nature which evil produces.”

A Broken World

In November 2008, Mumbai, the largest city in India, became the target of a series of coordinated terrorist attacks that killed 173 people. Two of the victims were from New York – a Jewish Rabbi and his wife, both in their late 20′s. Kashmiri militants entered the rabbi’s home and slaughtered the parents. The nanny found their 2-year-old son, Moshe, sitting in a pool of his parents’ blood.

When the memorial service took place in Brooklyn, New York, the two-year-old boy cried out for his slain parents. “Ima! Abba!” he said, using the Hebrew words for mother and father. “Ima! Abba!” he moaned. Little Moshe’s mournful wail echoed through the synagogue, drowning out the voices of the hundreds of people grieving his parents’ death.

An inconsolable two-year-old, crying out for his dead parents. My heart wells up with the question: Why? Why does God allow this kind of pain? Why is the world such a messed-up, broken place? And how do we make sense of the beauty that we still see in this world that features so much ugliness?

What is it like to witness the changing of the seasons from behind the barbed wire of a concentration camp? How does a Holocaust victim admire a glorious sunset when it serves as the backdrop for smoke rising to the sky, smoke coming from piles of burning bodies of men, women and children?

How do we make sense of the evil that exists in a world of such beauty?

I have an agnostic friend who cannot come to grips with the suffering he has witnessed in this world:

  • Children are abused.
  • Criminals with money go scot free.
  • Innocent lives are snuffed out in war.
  • Systemic injustice confines people to perpetual poverty.

“What can you say about a God who would allow such pain?” he asks. His question is deeply personal. Thankfully, the answer is too.

Jesus is God’s Answer

Christianity does not answer the question Why. Instead, God provides – not the answer to the intellectual dilemma – but the resolution to the problem. Christians look to the cross. There, in the midst of God’s own grief and sorrow, we see God with us and believe that he is able somehow to take up our burdens upon himself and deliver us from our despair. He is not distant from our pain. He is not above grief. He understands our suffering because Jesus Christ – God in human flesh – suffered.

The cry of little Moshe was once the cry of Jesus. “Abba! Abba!” he cried in the Garden of Gethsemane. “If it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet not my will, but yours be done.”

It is because of the cross that we know God is not absent from our suffering and pain. It is because of the cross that we can experience forgiveness and reconciliation and peace with God.

As we witness the evil and pain in this world, we too cry out Abba! Abba! God does not give us an explanation. He gives us himself. Jesus is God’s answer to our cry.

Where is God? He is here…

In the book, Night, Elie Wiesel describes his journey through the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Wiesel describes in horrific detail the “chimney,” – the place where the bodies of Jewish men, women, and children were thrown into a blazing fire. Wiesel rebels against God. He refuses to fast on Jewish holy days. He questions the existence of God. The human evil of Auschwitz is too overwhelming to comprehend. Wiesel claims that human words cannot express the suffering he experienced.

The most disturbing scene in the book takes place when an innocent 12-year-old boy is forced to die, even though he did not commit the crime for which he is punished. He and three others are placed on the gallows and hanged. The rest of the prisoners are forced to walk by and look squarely into the faces of the executed.

“But the third rope was still moving. The child, too light, was still breathing… And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes…”

“Behind me, I heard the same man asking, ‘For God’s sake, where is God?’” And from within me, I heard a voice answer: ‘Where He is? This is where – hanging here from this gallows…’”

This event marks a turning point for Wiesel. In his thoughts at that time, God is dead. Yet, as a Christian, I sense something deeper in this story. In the midst of human suffering and evil, we too look to an Innocent One dying an excruciating death. We look to Jesus – suspended between earth and sky, hovering between life and death, struggling for the breath of life as the noose slowly tightens. When considering the depth of human depravity and the love of a good God, we too ask, “Where is God?” and then see the form of a cross. “He is here, hanging on this tree…”

 
 

Mar

30

2010

Trevin Wax|2:24 am CT

Worth a Look 3.30.10

Is your church losing blood?

American Christianity is far less bloody than it used to be.

Songs like “Power in the Blood” or “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood” or “Are You Washed in the Blood?” are still sung in some places, but fewer and fewer, and there aren’t many newer songs or praise choruses so focused on blood. The Cross, yes; redemption, yes; but blood, rarely. We’re eager to speak of life, but hesitant to speak of blood.

This is the main reason I am looking forward to Together for the Gospel 2010.

Seven characteristics of highly evangelistic people:

Stated simply, the evangelistic churches that I have researched for the past twenty years have one or more highly evangelistic Christians.

I know. The previous statement is no great revelation. It is almost stating the obvious. But, if it is reality, why are we not hearing more about these Christians who seem to have a passion for evangelism? Why are we not doing a better job of telling their stories?

Pictures of the world’s most stunning data centers.

 
 

Mar

29

2010

Trevin Wax|3:52 am CT

The Beauty of a Blood-Stained Cross

Every year, I devote several posts during Holy Week to the cross and resurrection of Christ. I realize that blogging and thoughtful devotional material often do not mix, since many readers simply scan feeds. But I hope that during this week, you will take a few moments to read through these five reflective posts and that you will glory in the sacrifice of our Savior.

The Beauty of the Cross

No theology is genuinely Christian
which does not arise from and focus on the cross.

- Martin Luther

We stepped outside into the soft glow of early morning light. A chill was in the air. Seeing our breath reminded us that summer had faded. Fall was upon us. No more chirping of crickets. No more singing of birds.

My son grabbed his backpack for kindergarten and we headed toward the car. Yesterday had been windy. The trees had surrendered their leaves overnight. The leaves now covered the ground in various shades of colors, like a patchwork quilt that brightens a dreary room. Deep red. Luscious green. Bright yellow. Dark brown. And all sorts of shades in between. The leaves on the driveway were damp from the cool rain, while the ones taking refuge under the trees were old and crispy. No leaf seemed exactly alike.

“What happened to all these leaves?” my son asks me. “Why aren’t they on the trees anymore?”

“The leaves are dead,” I tell him. A puzzled look crosses his face. Dead? But they’re so beautiful. How could they be dead?

When beholding beauty and color, one rarely thinks of death. Yet, these leaves are not signs of life. Their beauty is their death. This canvas on which the Creator splashes his autumn colors is actually a glorious display of death.

It is a paradox woven deep into the fabric of creation. Yes, death is an enemy of God’s good creation. An intrusion. One of the results of our destructive choice to rebel against God. We humans cut ourselves off from the source of life, and death has been inextricably tied to our existence ever since. And yet, there is one death so beautiful, so glorious, that despite its horror and brutality, we are transfixed by its splendor.

To the outsider, it must seem odd that Christians commemorate and celebrate the death of their Founder. Our songs tell of blood, death, and sacrifice (often to upbeat and happy tunes).

Gruesome lyrics. Beautiful truth.

While outsiders find the blood-stained cross repulsive, Christians are compelled by what it represents. We contemplate Christ’s crucifixion. We reflect upon his death. We celebrate his glory. The paradox of death and beauty is at the heart of Christianity.

The Brutal Beauty of Christ’s Crucifixion

Crucifixion – the brutal method of execution devised by the Romans – has become the symbol of Christian faith. Surely there is nothing appealing about dying on a cross:

  • Severe flogging. Victims covered in blood.
  • Long, iron spikes driven into the wrists. Pounded into the feet.
  • Nakedness. Exposed to the elements. Ashamed before the bystanders.
  • Convulsions. Every little movement tearing at the hands and feet.
  • Desperate gasps for air, as suffocation and exhaustion slowly snuff out of the life of the victim.

The Romans introduced crucifixion as a public spectacle, an ugly form of brutality that sent a powerful message to anyone who dared challenge the Roman government. This is what can happen to you, the cross said.

Most people could not stomach the brutality of crucifixion. Roman citizens could be beheaded, but never crucified. The Roman philosopher Cicero believed crucifixion ought never be mentioned in polite company. Jewish people interpreted crucifixion as a sign of God’s curse.

Signs of death. Ugly. Stark. Brutal.

But one crucifixion is beautiful. In the midst of this vicious death, we peer into the very heart of God. On this windblown, stony hill outside Jerusalem – dotted by three crosses – we see God in his brilliant, unexpected glory. Like the autumn leaves that drape the earth in color, one cross shines in beauty.

Martin Lloyd Jones once said:

“You will never know God as Father except by Jesus Christ, and in particular, by his death upon the cross… Look there, gaze, meditate, survey the wondrous cross. And then you will see something of him.”

Pondering the meaning of the cross draws us into the self-giving love of God. The cross by itself is not beautiful. The atonement is beautiful because it illuminates the heart of God.

What Christ accomplished on the cross is so massive, and the window into the heart of God is so big that no one explanation or description of the atonement can tell the whole story. Because the atonement is at the heart of who God is and what he has done for us, we can never fully exhaust the riches that flow from this event.

But recognizing our inability to mine all the theological treasures represented in the cross of Christ should not keep us from pondering the beautiful truth of this event. In particular, there are three major aspects of the atonement that reveal the beauty of our Creator and Redeemer God. In the following days, we will open the windows and peer into the very heart of God.

 
 

Mar

29

2010

Trevin Wax|2:17 am CT

Worth a Look 3.29.10

The Eerie Silence: Are We Alone in the Universe?

Everywhere beyond Earth, there is silence. If life spontaneously evolved and intelligence imperfectly flowered on one planet, what about all those other rocky planets? Terrestrial civilisation has been beaming microwave messages into space for 50 years, in the form of Coronation Street and I Love LucyDr Who and Battlestar Galactica. And since April 1960 the astronomer Frank Drake and his colleagues in Seti, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, have been listening for signals from those other, so-far invisible planets that surely must be orbiting those stars that are strewn across 100,000 light years of space.

And what have they heard? The random fizz and splutter of the accidental noise from pulsars and quasars, from hot gas and cold dust and exploding stars: otherwise, nothing. The sound of extraterrestrial life is the sound of silence.

Jared Wilson wrote a paragraph about chilling out to the glory of God. Justin Taylor linked to it. Then 130+ comments followed on the balance between leisure and work.

Bob Kellemen provides an extensive review of Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity, dealing with the pastoral implications of this book.

10 things your blog doesn’t need

Another viewpoint on the Great Commission Resurgence: “What Does Scripture Say?”

Does Scripture have anything to say about a Great Commission Resurgence? Yes, indeed, it does. The question now is whether we will obey our Lord’s commission. Will we follow Him? Will we let Him rule His churches as He commands in Scripture? Will we make sure that we have all the fundamentals established? Will we then grow into the full maturity of His Great Commission — by going, making disciples, baptizing and teaching all His commands? Will we proclaim His Word faithfully?

 
 

Mar

28

2010

Trevin Wax|3:47 am CT

Palm Sunday

57071.jpg

Go through, go through the gates!
Prepare the way for the people!
Build up, build up the highway;
clear it of stones!
Lift up a signal over the peoples.

Behold, the Lord has proclaimed to the end of the earth:
Say to the daugher of Zion:
“Behold, your salvation comes;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.”

And they shall be called The Holy People,
The Redeemed of the Lord;
and you shall be called Sought Out,
A City Not Forsaken.

- Isaiah 62:10-12, ESV

 
 

Mar

27

2010

Trevin Wax|3:35 am CT

The Peculiarities of the English Language

As a bilingual couple, my wife and I have had our fair share of laughs at the peculiarities of the English language. As this hilarious clip from I Love Lucy points out, look at all the ways “ough” can be pronounced:

  • bough (pronounced bow)
  • rough (pronounced ruff)
  • through (pronounced thru)
  • cough (pronounced coff)

This line from Ricky expresses Corina’s sentiment many times: In Spanish (or in Corina’s case, Romanian), you got a sound and it sounds the same… all the time. You write it the same way, it sounds the same way, no matter what word you put it in, it comes out the same way!

 
 

Mar

26

2010

Trevin Wax|3:32 am CT

Trevin's Seven

My seven picks for your weekend reading:

1. Visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre online. And while you’re at it, walk into the Sistine Chapel. Unbelievable!

2. More important than Christmas? Why pro-life Protestants about the Annunciation – or the unborn Jesus.

3. What hath Nashville to do with Jerusalem? Russell Moore on country music’s relationship to the SBC

4. What else can we do besides send short-term mission teams?

5. Analyzing FaceBook’s measurement of “happiness” moods and the like…

6. Omega males and the women who hate them: They’re unemployed, romantically challenged, and they’re everywhere!

7. A good word about how we speak about Europe. As one who called Europe “home” for five years, I can relate. It bugs me when people speak derisively about Europe.

 
 

Mar

25

2010

Trevin Wax|3:40 am CT

Book Notes: A Praying Life / 7 Steps to Becoming a Healthy Christian Leader

Here are some notes on two books I have read recently:

A Praying Life:
Connecting with God in a Distracting World

Paul E. Miller
NavPress, 2009
My Rating: *****

Do you really need another book on prayer? Yes, if it’s this one. Paul Miller’s book is challenging and encouraging all at once. His goal is to lead you to the place where prayer is a natural part of your life, where the circumstances in life that keep you from praying become the impetus for your prayers.

Miller goes deeper than most books on prayer in order to show us that our prayerlessness is rooted in the sins of unbelief or in misconceptions about God. By correcting these images with the biblical picture of the extravagant Father, Miller offers counsel that is both theological and practical. He continually reminds us of our dependence upon God. I underlined so many parts of this book that I had to sharpen my pencil several times. This book is a must-read!

Seven Steps to Becoming a Healthy Christian Leader
Doug Munton
VMI Publishers, 2004
*** 1/2

I enjoy leadership books written by pastors for pastors. Some books for the Christian leader only remind pastors of what it is that they should (ideally) be doing, which then leads to further feelings of guilt for not meeting the ridiculously high expectations of everyone around them. Munton’s book does indeed remind pastors of essentials, but he does so in an encouraging manner that understands the complexities of the pastoral role.

The seven steps are:

  1. Deepen your intimacy with God.
  2. Discover a vision of what could be.
  3. Develop a passion for reaching people.
  4. Sacrifice for God’s kingdom.
  5. Persevere through difficulties.
  6. Strengthen your people skills.
  7. Enjoy the journey.

This book has lots of helpful advice and some memorable illustrations. I wish Munton had dug deeper into how the gospel forms our expectations of health and leadership, but even as it is, the book is useful for church leaders.