Wednesday, July 13, 2011

People Are Like Food

Have you ever noticed how the best tastes are acquired and not immediately liked? As I was enjoying a nice hot cup of black coffee, I thought to myself, “When did this happen? I mean coffee… and black?” That’s disgusting– to the undeveloped tounge. Black licorice, onions, spicy foods, medium rare steak, Hawaiian pizza, espresso, and the list goes on…. Okay I lost some of you back there ( I personally can’t account for spicy). But the point is that there are all kinds of strange and different foods out there that given only a first try, might leave a bitter taste in our mouths. This can be summed up in the popular phrase “first impressions are everything.” And while there might be a hint of truth in that statement, I think that it does a disservice to not only our taste buds, but our potential relationships as well. How many times have we wanted to hit the reset button and reintroduce ourselves because of how much of a goof we made of ourselves (I speak from experience)? And how many times have we written people off because of something they said just once or it might have been just the expression on their face (some people just have a surly disposition)?

Now let’s not take this analogy too far. I’m not suggesting that if we just eat something for long enough we will like it or that we even should like it. No matter how much one eats dirt, it still tastes like dirt (and so does Turkish coffee– it’ll put hair on your chest). So it is with people; if someone is rude, they will confirm it time and time again. On the other hand, sometimes coffee gets better with each taste. It goes something like this:

2.Less distasteful
4.Not bad
5.Kind of tasty
And you’re hooked for life. Of course there is this scenario:

2.More annoying
5.Never gonna touch the stuff
Notice this is a much shorter lists. If something is more distasteful every next taste, we won’t be so patient.

Now this is not a rule for life but more of an observation of life. For example when Peter asked Jesus “should we forgive 7 times?” (feeling pretty generous), Jesus responded with seventy times seven! But that is a different matter– a much more important matter; the issue of forgiveness. I am simply suggesting that just as we would like to be given a second chance perhaps we can return the favor next time someone starts to get under our skin. I think we would all be a little happier whether at work, a restaurant, a friend of a friend’s house, a park, or anywhere we might run into a new face.

I have found that giving people the benefit of the doubt most of the time really helps to grease the wheels of human interaction. I have often been on the “stick-foot-in-mouth” side of things and sometimes have had the opportunity to redeem myself but also have had to leave that one embarrassing snapshot of myself.

Getting back to food, as I mentioned above, some of my favorite foods and drinks have been acquired over time and if I hadn’t tried it multiple times I never would have been able to enjoy that sweet aroma and satisfying sip of black coffee or the delightful taste of a cheeseburger with the works. Humans really aren’t that different from food. They are not only meant for daily consumption (metaphorically speaking) but are to be cherished and enjoyed. What could be better than to share a favorite meal with an acquired friend?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Illegal Immigration and Jean Valjean

The recent Arizona Immigration law has everyone discussing the topic of illegal immigration in America and just what to do about it. Those on both sides of the issue are battle-ready and armed with plenty of opinion. There is really nothing new about the subject except that it has come to the surface because some lawmakers in Arizona have decided to do something about the mounting problem they have with drug trafficking, kidnapping, and increased violence stemming from political instability in Mexico. But what is most fascinating to me is the strong emotional ties one has whether it be gladness over the enforcement of federal law on the boarder or anger over racial profiling and the disenfranchisement of people, regardless of their origin. I think if we just took one big step back and looked at this thing from a different perspective, it would do us all a bit of good.

To the Liberal:

I think that you cannot deny the huge problems that illegal immigration has caused this side of the boarder. While the idea of racial profiling is scary to say the least, this is by no means Nazi Germany. The fact is that illegal immigrants from the north (hello Canadia) as well as from the south (hola amigos) have long enjoyed a relatively peaceful presence here. While not being legal citizens, illegal immigrants have been able to attain jobs (much higher-paying than in their home country), send their children to American public schools (where they can attain the skills to live a successful life in the U.S.), buy vehicles, flat-screen TV's, and even own homes here in the U.S. And this new Arizona law, even if enforced to its fullest extent, cannot deport the 12 million illegal immigrants living in this country and probably not even make a dent in their own native Arizona because the resources to do so are simply lacking. The people of Arizona are willing to go along with this law so long as it does not cost them any money, but the reality is that something like this is going to require major funding if it is going to continue to be effective.

To the conservative:

Relax, illegal immigration is the least of your worries. Your time is better well-spent on trying to get taxes lowered for small businesses in your state (California comes to mind), which depends on low-wage workers for its success. There is a built-in hypocrisy in conservative politics. On the one hand, the conservative wants only Americans getting jobs, health care, and social services, and yet at the same time they want it to be cheap. That just doesn't square with the ways things work. "You can't have your cake and eat it too" goes the saying. The old argument that the recession was caused by poor immigrants who take jobs away from harder-working Americans sounds much similar to the ideas espoused by a certain little German with a bad mustache than true conservative thinking. You want more business--not less. Illegal immigration is not the cause of recession but is the result of a demand for low-wage workers.

To the Christian:

Every time we get caught up in these political arguments we do Christ a disservice by associating Him with our particular political leanings. Whether one is a liberal or conservative, both must give an account before God. As Americans we have the right to voice our opinions freely but as Christians we have to pick our battles wisely. This is one of the reasons that I do not believe that illegal immigration is really a topic for believers to be much concerned about. Do we really believe that when an illegal immigrant stands before the judgment seat of God, the first thing he is going to ask him/her is, "Were you a legal citizen of the country you lived in?" That would be absurd. We know for a fact that there have been many Christians throughout history who had "illegal" status in the various countries they lived in. In fact, there are many believers today who currently do not obey the laws of the land in order to preach the gospel. Missionaries are always trying to come up with ways in which they can infiltrate a closed country with the light of God's Word that people might be saved. Now I am not saying or advocating that we do not abide or uphold established laws but we must always look at them in light of the Gospel. The fact that there are 12 million plus people from other countries who are here because they are desperate should excite us as Christians. We have an opportunity unprecedented in history for sharing the Gospel to the world without having to leave our front yard. This is an amazing truth. And as individual Christians, no matter our political views, we have a responsibility to share the good news with everyone who comes into our path, regardless of their status. But as Americans we get all up in arms with the idea that there are people who are not like us who want to bring their families to enjoy our freedom and wealth. Would we do any less for our families?

I think the fictional story of Les Miserable from Victor Hugo sheds more light on the subject. Jean Valjean was a poor Frenchman who lived during French revolution of the 18th century and was convicted of stealing bread. He escaped and found refuge in a church where a benevolent priest gives him food, water and a place to stay. Jean steals silver valuables in the middle of the night only to get caught by the police. When asked to press charges by the police, the priest strangely forgives the convict and says that he had given the silver as a gift. Surprised by this, Jean Valjean then seeks to live a righteous life, but has to live as a fugitive because the tenacious Javert, a militant police inspector, is committed to bringing Valjean in to custody no matter the cost. In this story of redemption, Jean Valjean finds himself caught between trying to live as someone redeemed from death, but having to face his demons. It didn't matter how much good he did because it was all done in an illegitiamte way according to the law. In the same way, I think we can become the Javert's of this story without recognizing the potential Valjean's out there. We tend to think as American Christians that illegal immigrants are immoral persons in everything they do because they are "illegal" by definition. It never occurs to us that our laws might be unjust. Just a thought. I think it would serve us well to remember the grace that we recieved from the Lord. We were once illegitimate and estranged sons and daughters of our heavenly father and yet he did not turn us away. Why are we filled with so much anger over temperal matters?

Jesus told a very similar story in His parable of the prodigal son. I think it would be better titled The Parable of the Two Lost Sons because it was not just the younger brother who wasted his inheritance that needed grace, but also about the older son, a self-righteous slave, who needed perhaps even more grace from their father. Both stories remind us of the old gospel story--and it never gets old--that a son was once lost but now he is found. He was blind but now he sees.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Meaning of Marriage

Marriage. I never thought that that word would ever be a buzz word in today's media--but it is. There is much controversy surrounding the meaning of this little word. For many, this word equals happiness and equality. It's one more victory in a long, difficult struggle for the right to become full-fledged members of society. For others, this word means tradition, the status quo, and the way things should be--between a man and a woman.

I have heard comparisons to the "Jim Crow" laws of the early 20th century in the South when Blacks were supposedly "equal but separate." Many gays and lesbians feel as though the word "civil union" has all the stigma of a black man being "equal" while at the same time being asked to sit at the back of the bus. This is an issue that I have spent much thought and have struggled to really understand what is at the heart of the issue. And if I were honest, I would have to say that I really have a hard time getting my mind around just why the Bible says homosexuality and gay marriage is wrong. It seems that if I just use reason and a little common sense, it is obvious that all people everywhere should have the exact same rights as others-no exceptions. So as a Christian man, this issue has torn me apart. There is no doubt that the Bible is clearly against the practice of homosexuality, but why? And why does a man have to marry a woman? Why can't two consenting adults who love each other and want to be exclusive get married--regardless of the sex? Why does being against this right seem so bull-headed and bigoted? These are the hard questions that go through my mind as I think about this issue. So I did a little digging.

Ironically, I found the answer written in the law of Moses--and its not what you might think. No this is the story of Moses:

10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 12 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” 13 These are the waters of Meribah, [1] where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy.(ESV) Numbers 20:10-13

Wow. I've always had a hard time with how harshly God dealt with Moses. I mean all he did was get a little frustrated. No promise land! Seriously? Now before I get off track, let me give you some context. This incident comes right after the people of Israel escape the land of Egypt and now they are left to wander the desert with no food or water. So God tells Moses to "speak to the rock." But instead, Moses strikes the rock twice. The reason this is so crucial in understanding what is going on here is that God is trying to show the people something. He wants to show them a picture of what was to come. In an earlier episode, when miraculously crossing the Red Sea, Moses was commanded to strike the rock in order to create a land bridge across the divided waters to get to the promised land. God was demonstrating (as He so beautifully does) that Christ, the rock, would be struck, but then would become the bridge from death to life--from imminent danger to being rescued; from the land of slavery into the land of freedom. This was a prophetic picture of what Christ would one day do for us on the cross. And Moses obeyed the Lord.

And the glory of the Lord appeared to them, 7 and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 8 “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” 9 And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him. Numbers 20:6b-8

So when God told Moses to speak to the rock, God intended to demonstrate that Christ is the wellspring from which our life is to be found in the midst of a dry and thirsty land. But when Moses struck the rock twice, this distorted the beautiful picture God was creating. Instead of showing how God would speak to us through Christ, the rock and source of living water, he struck the rock again. Christ was to die only once for all and this was fulfilled when Jesus exclaimed those famous words, "It is finished." So this is why God could not let Moses into the promised land. He had misrepresented Yahweh when He revealed Himself to be a gracious and forgiving God who would one day eradicate the penalty for sin (including the sin of Moses). This is how seriously God takes His own character. And nothing has changed today. God hates when He is misrepresented; when His picture is distorted leaving His people confused and even rebellious toward Him.

So what in the world does this have to do with marriage? Well, believe it or not--much. In the same way that God was painting a picture of what Christ would accomplish for us on the cross, God also was framing a picture of what we would be to Christ in the New Testament; namely His bride.

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. [1] 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.(ESV) Ephesians 5:22-33

This was God's plan for marriage from the beginning. And I know this because of verse 31, which is a direct quote from Genesis 2:24--"For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife." God invented marriage to put Christ, the husband of His bride the church, on display--Not the other way around. My marriage is to mirror this. My marriage to my wife is only as good as how much it reflects this reality. As I love my wife as Christ love His church, I put on display the glory of Christ's love for his bride and His great sacrifice for her. That's heavy. And as I thought about it, I realized just how much I fall short of this. I thought about how selfish I am and how poor a reflection I can be of Christ, the Husband. And for this, I have much to repent. I pray that I and all of God's people would live to reflect back the image that God is revealing to us--His humility in taking upon Himself the punishment that I deserve; and do it all for Love's sake. So anytime any marriage fails to do this, we distort God's picture--His beautiful, sacrificial, and forbearing picture of love for us.

So then, it is no wonder that God is displeased with any marriage that does not reflect His nature, character and love. When I angrily speak to my wife, just as Moses angrily struck the rock because of the people, I distort God's message to the world. When a man marries a woman and then neglects to love her, care for her, and give sacrificially for her, he dishonors the Lord who demonstrated this very kind of love when he bore our shame and died our death on the cross. So the next question is, "When a man marries a man or a woman marries another woman, do they distort the picture of Christ and His bride?"

This is a more complicated question, but it is not without precedence. I would compare it to the Trinity, God in three persons. God has chosen to reveal Himself as Father, Son and Spirit. This is who He says He is. Can we then pray, "Our Mother who is in heaven?" There are some who would say yes. And although God certainly has maternal characteristics, to call God something other than what He has revealed is presumption. We do not have the right, as creatures to dictate to God how we should relate to Him. If I wanted to think of God as my little brother (in an affectionate way), this might show some affection and closeness to God, but He is not my little brother and it does not properly represent the way God has shown Himself to me. And just as He told Moses,"You did not uphold me as Holy," I must also relate to God as He is and not as I want Him to be. This is so crucial in just about everything we do in this life. But this same Holy God, has chosen to reveal Himself, through His Son Jesus, as Savior and Lover of my soul. And God, the Father, has chosen to call me His son. And I am to live as His son and by the power of His Spirit because this is the way God designed me to thrive--in His strength and not in my own. This is far better than any brother I could have. God has promised to be to us whatever our circumstances call for Him to be--but as He has revealed Himself. So when God chooses to make man and woman for the purpose of one day showing Himself to be Husband to His church, I cannot argue. I mean I suppose I can, but only in vain and to my own dismay and misery.

So homosexual marriage is not the main issue. The main issue is Christ and His bride. We make it about us. Heterosexual marriages more frequently displease God because they are more common and often do not reflect God's original design. Marriage as portrayed in the media also distorts the true meaning of marriage with all of its frivolous portrayals on soap operas, sitcoms, and reality shows. The mere right to marry pales in comparison with the deep meaning behind it. Marriage is sacred to God because He has chosen to reveal His love toward us through it. And when we fail to be as caring and loving as God in our marriages, we tell the world that God is like us--hypocritical and less than perfect. Although we will always fall short of God's glory and love this side of heaven, we cannot grow weary in becoming more like our Savior who bought us. This thought has been revolutionary in the way I understand God and the way I should live my life. Now, of course, if the Bible does not define for us what marriage is, then we are left to wonder just exactly what that little word should mean. Then we change it just like we change our clothes that are out of style. We adapt to what everyone else is wearing. But that kind of life is like chasing after the wind. We don't have to live that way. We can live as we were designed to live--as the bride of Christ our Savior.

©2010 by Justin Garcia

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Materialism, Abortion & Marriage

Materialism is often thought of as the idea that all that there is in the universe is material. That's true for many scientists, physicists and philosophers, but it is the secondary definition that I believe is much more relevant to our situation.

ma·te·ri·al·ism; \mə-ˈtir-ē-ə-ˌli-zəm\: a doctrine that the only or the highest values or objectives lie in material well-being and in the furtherance of material progress.

This is perhaps the single most pervasive kind of thinking in our culture today--more than pluralism, relativism, and just about every other "ism" out there.

A young women walks into a family planning clinic to undergo an abortion because she is starting college in the fall. A couple in their late 20's plan to buy a house in 5-10 years--then maybe start a family. A 13-year old stays up all night to finish the last of her homework because she didn't get home from piano lessons and soccer practice till very late. A poor immigrant weekly buys $60 worth of lottery tickets because he believes that he'll hit it big one day soon. These are all everyday examples of the efftects of materialism. Now to be fair, most of these by themselves are not necessarily wrong or evil . In fact, they are usually percieved as good things in our society. But the question I would like to ask is "Why?" Why do people do what they do? What is driving them? I believe that there is a common thread in all of these examples: materialism.

My goal here is not to convince anyone to have my opinions, but rather to merely recognize the causal and logical relationship between materitalism and one's view of children and secondly marriage. And I believe that so much more of the stuff we find ourselves doing is motivated by this kind of thinking.

So how does materialism lead to abortion? It goes like this. If material wealth and prosperity is the ultimate value (which I believe is the case today), then everything else is secondary. Now this doesn’t mean that other things don’t have any value—in fact they can have much value—but in comparison to material wealth they are lesser joys. From this perspective, babies have value, but they cost material wealth. To have a baby one must sacrifice material wealth in order to have that kind of happiness. And babies, from a material perspective not only do not hold much material value—they actually take from our material wealth, which is the highest value. Don’t believe me?

Let’s take a look at a popular argument for the justification of aborting a human fetus. “If this baby is born, it will cause undue hardship to this young woman who has her whole life ahead of her. And the quality of life for this child will be below acceptable standards.” Now to be fair, the goal of this argument is to protect the mother and child from “undue” hardship—or so it seems. But as we take a closer look at this argument, we see value words like “undue hardship” and “quality of life.” These words are loaded with materialism. It is material wealth or lack thereof that is the standard by which this argument stands. If I could rephrase this statement it would go something like this:

“If this baby is born, it will cost its mother the hope of getting a good job so that she can have a more prosperous life. And if this baby is born, it too will never attain the wealth that is the highest good in our society.”

Ultimately, we snuff out the unborn because of stuff. Stuff has a higher value than human life, which costs us more stuff. The same could be said about marriage and having many children. I don’t believe that birth control is a bad thing at all, but if we really pushed our motives to the brink, I think we would discover that we love the stuff we could have for ourselves--even for our families--more than we love those who it is supposed to be for. We have taken our economic view of scarcity and applied to our own children. More kids=less stuff. Therefore, we will have fewer kids so we can have more stuff. And if we put off marriage till much later we can accumulate more stuff for ourselves and our future families. But unfortunately it never works this way.

“For lack of the shoe, the horse was lost" says the old proverb.

What are we doing? And I say we because I am a recovering materialist. It wasn't until a seminary professor challenged me and my fellow classmates to try to find a single passage in all of the Bible that says or implies that children are anything less than a blessing and a gift from God. I could not find or think of a single verse. In fact, in the Bible, there is a direct and perhaphs even causal relationship between blessing and children--the complete opposite of materialism. More kids = more blessing instead of more kids = less stuff. I didn't realize just how much I had adopted materialism in my own life. For example, when Ben was first born, we had just bought a new couch. So when Ben would spit up on it or Sarah would change his diaper on top of it, I found myself welling up with anger. But why? It was because I cared more about having something "nice" than for it to be used by the people I love most. That is just one of so many examples of how materialsim had seeped into my thinking.

Now obiously, materialsim is not the only reason people choose to do what they do, but it is so much a part of everything that we do on a daily basis. And if we never become aware of it, we might find oursleves losing what matters most.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Myth of Race

Race. It is the giant pink elephant in the room (no pun intended there). People seem to always be aware of it, even if only on a subconscious level. But why? Why are we so tied to race? Race, even when we attempt to avoid it, seems to have a way of creeping back into our minds. We seem to be most conscious of it when among those who do not share our skin color--even if we share the same values. Why? Why do we care so much about it? And why do light-skinned people want to be dark when they are clearly white? And why do dark people want to be light-skinned when they very obviously will never be (Michael Jackson not withstanding)?

I once wrote a paper in college entitled "The Myth of Race." I researched the history and development of the concept of race. While "race" in general has always been an issue for humans, the most recent concept, which is based on skin color and physical outer characteristics had its roots in Darwinism. Now I do not care to war a debate on Charles Darwin or his many admirers, but on those who would later apply darwinian thought to the social world and use it as a "scientific" ground for their very beligerent racsim. Guys like Chamberlin, Hitler and many of the presigious elite of the academic world in the U.S. bought into the field of eugenics, which has largely been condemned by today's standards. I think when many people think about race, they are confused. We seem to lump everything into one giant category and call it "white" or "black" or "hispanic," simply because we identify a pattern of behavior and associate it with skin color.

It cracks me up when Americans call black people "African-Americans" and somehow think that every black person in the world is simply that--"African-American." And "Africans" are not one unified people, but rather have thousands of very distinct and diverse ethnicities, religions, traditions and cultures. Geographic lines and boundaries are often very arbitrary and reflect some treaty made by countries thousands of miles away, who have no concept or idea about the people who actually live there. Think of L.A. Within just a few hundred square miles, thousands of racial and ethnic backgrounds not to mention languages are represented. Or California for that matter. To say that there is a typical "Californian" is like saying "well you know those New Englanders--they're all the same." So why do we make such a big deal about it? And should we care if other people are racist?

Race goes deep. But I would argue--only skin deep. Race is the color of one's skin, hair and that's about it. Things like culture, ethnicity, religion, language and values are very different and distinct categories that may or may not intersect. It has to be taken on an individual basis. But I understand that this runs counter to human nature. We instinctually look for and identify patterns and then create categories in our minds. The problem is when we attempt to do this with race, we are often wrong because race is probably the smallest factor in identifying any group. But we live in a age of "demographics" and polling, largely for marketing purposes so that we sell our products to this group or that group.

We have also been trained from a very young age to do this. We mark "White" or "White-hispanic" on forms(apparently a very important distinction)and divide our churhes into categories like "black" churches and "Spanish" church and even "children's" church. Now this in itself is no evil. But it also tells children that they are very different from one another. While there are many differences to be celebrated, I do not believe that race is a worthy distinction. Hear me out. Anytime, we make distinctions as superficial as the color of skin and hair, and make much of them, we always end up majoring on the minors and minoring on the majors. This is why I believe that race is not really a legitimate group. A "white" south-African who recieves American citizenship would technically be an "African-American." This goes to show that these distinctions can never be totally acurate and are often misleading.

I propose that we do not deny the color of our skin, for that is equally as dangerous, but simply put race in the right perspective, just as we would think about the difference between the color of paint. The Bible says that we are all one race, fallen short of the glory of God, with one remedy--the blood of Jesus Christ in whom "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."(Galatians 3:28) One Kingdom--the kingdom of heaven with one song, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!" Now that is a group I want to be a part of.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

You Might Be A Legalist If...

Hypocrisy is a serious accusation just as accusing someone of being a racist or bigot is. But a legalist is not necessarily a hypocrite because they may actually live up to their own standards--or at least they believe that they do. But the question is "Do I unecessarily hold others to the same standard?" This is the main problem with legalism. It goes beyond what the actual standard is and adds all of these other "rules" for everyone to live by. In today's world, our sphere of influence applies not only to the places we go but also the virtual world of the internet. Here are a few signs that are cause for concern:

1) I am frustrated with others who do not obey rules that I obey.
2) I am always critical of decisions made by those in authority over me.
3) I often feel as though there is no one else who knows the right way to live.
4) I cannot understand why people can't get it right the first time.
5) I have a difficult time with forgiving repeat offenders.
6) I understand that if something is a rule, it should always be kept.
7) I am pleased when people suffer the consequences of their disobedience.
8) I am constantly reminding others of what they are supposed to be doing.
9) I only give gifts to those who I think deserve it.
10) I feel most loved when others recognize my good deeds.

These are simply "signs" of which there are many more. I just mentioned a few that came to my mind as I thought about my own legalistic tendencies. Now don't worry that you are a terrible person if this list describes you in some way. We all have at least some of these tendencies, but even if this described you in detail, there is grace for you. You do not have let it "rule" you. Imagine if God was this way? We'd all be in big big trouble. But we are told throughout the Scriptures that He is longsuffering and forbearing with sinners like us.

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.(ESV)

2 Peter 3:8-9

But that's a New Testament concept right? God wasn't always this way. Well, let's see:

Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?(ESV)

Ezekiel 33:11

God is in the business of forbearance and lovingkindness to those who definitely do not deserve it. And if we are the people of God, then should we not also be like our God?

You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.(NASB)

2 Timothy 2:1

This is one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture. We are told to be strong in that which we do not deserve. Grace comes from outside of ourselves. Any other way of trying to live virtuously means living by a self-righteousness. We are told elsewhere in the New Testament to be stewards of the grace which comes from God(1 Peter 4:10). This stands in stark contrast to one who is constantly giving out rules that may or may not even be from God. I am not saying that we can just live in wreckless manner, but rather where sin abounds God's grace abounds much more. We are to be gracious and patient with others, especially to those who have yet to receive God's Son. It constantly amazes me how Christians or so-called Christians can expect those who do not even claim to know Christ, to live as a Christian, when God's Word tells us that they cannot. And how quickly do we forget where we would be if we ourselves were not shown the Grace of God. Next time we log on to a world wide web that is so filled with harsh criticism and rules that bind, let's be givers of the Grace which we have so undeservedly received.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Preaching the Gospel To Yourself...

"Preach the gospel to yourself." This is a mandate among many reformed churches to this generation. It has come from the lips of men like CJ Mahaney, John Piper, and Jerry Bridges--all great theologians of today. It is part of a modern movement to recapture the truths of the reformation and the doctrines of grace. "We must stop listening to ourselves and start talking to ourselves" says Mahaney (pictured above) who is quoting Dr. Martin Loyd-Jones. This is great advice to a world that loves self above all else.

Why are you cast down o my soul?
Hope thou in God.

The words of the Psalmist are deep and anguished. He is depressed and is talking to himself and saying "Stop despairing. Stop believing your own lies. Put your trust and hope in God." This is sound advice. We must constantly remind ourselves of the reality of Christ atonement for us. But I am afraid that this message will be misunderstood, especially by those churches who already struggle with becoming outward because they only look inward. "Preach the gospel to yourself--so that-- you will able to peach the gospel to others who also desparately need it." This is a good reason or ground for why we should indeed preach to ourselves. The Christian does not live for self but is the servant of all. Sanctification is part of the inward daily struggle we have with sin but we cannot stop there. We are messengers.

Imagine if Paul Revere thought himself too unworthy of the task of warning the colonists that the Redcoats were coming. If he had taken time for self-reflection we'd all still be speaking the Queen's English (some of you wouldn't mind). The message is what is important--not the messenger. As Christians we cannot let inward reflection on the gospel be a prerequisite to sharing it with others. While it is necessary for the nourishement of our own souls, it accomlishes nothing in the lives of others until it is spoken out. I know that men like Piper and Mahaney think it is a given that Christians are sharing the gospel with others, but it is a real problem for churches where we have become adept preachers to ourselves but do not take it beyond that. The gospel is not only to be treasured and understood more deeply everyday, but perhaps even more importantly it is to be shared with the entire world daily.

It's like when one of your good friends buys that perfect gift you didn't even know you wanted, but now it's your favorite thing in the world and you find excuses to wear it as much as possible; a new blouse, a gold ring, a really cool jacket with elbow patches on the sleeves (ok that's just me). But you know what I'm talking about. The first thing we want to do is show it off to others, put it on display. This pleases not only the one wearing it, but the gift-giver even more. The analogy is obvious. We must share the precious gospel with everyone we meet. And unlike a jacket or ring, there is plenty of gospel truth for everyone in the entire world.

Deep and wide... Deep and wide.
There's a fountain flowing deep and wide

Remember those words from that children's Sunday school song? The gospel is both deep and wide. It is deep enough for the weightiest theologian to plunge the depths of and yet wide enough to fill the whole earth 100 times over. The best thing we can do with a gift is to put it on display for all to enjoy. We must preach the gospel to ourselves so that we can preach it to others.


I would like to add something to this post here. I would just like to say that preaching the gospel to yourself is a biblical mandate.

"Therefore there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus." Romans 8:1

This is the Apostle Paul answering the question "Who can save me from this body of death?" Jesus can! And has indeed if you are in Christ. So whenever we here accusations from the world, our flesh or the Devil himself, we can put forward the shield of faith that says "this soul is saved not by my own works but by the righteousness of Christ my Savior!" This is a most important truth that cannot be emphasized enough. Too often is there a sorry Christian walking around with his head down as if he has no hope. "Hope in God!" King David would say as he told himslef on many occasions in the Psalms.

The reason I must add this exclamation is that I dont want anyone to get the impression that preaching the gospel to oneself is in any way unbiblical or even could be unbiblical. It is God's message to the church. With that said, I still do think that we must also remind ourselves that the souls of men are at stake. And because of this urgent need, we need to not keep this amazing truth to ourselves. There could be no greater motivation to preach the gospel than to have recieved yourself.