Christian, You Are a King

This post begins a new series answering the question, “What is a Christian?” The Bible describes the identity, character, and responsibility of the Christian almost always by way of imagery because God knows the most effective way to show us who we are is to tell stories and paint word pictures. Why try to answer this question, “What is a Christian?” For three reasons: (1) to awaken your dormant imagination to how the living almighty God sees you, (2) to fill out and rebalance your sense of identity in Christ; and (3) to equip you for life’s great challenges. Theologians and cultural observers are beginning to recognize that our postmodern age is struggling with a massive crisis of identity. More and more people don’t know who they are anymore. We have forgotten where we fit into God’s stories because we’ve lost the plot to God’s Story. The Church is not immune to this identity crisis. Neither are you. I am convinced that if you don’t have a self-image informed by the whole Bible showing you who Jesus made you to be, then as we’ll see you’ll create your own identity with disastrous results. So we start this series on What is a Christian? by examining first our desire to be king and rule our own lives.

Everything about this world and your heart tempts you to believe the lie that your highest aspiration is to be king of your kingdom. Ever since the fall of Adam, all of us live as if we can take care of ourselves and we don’t need a savior, a champion to win the victory for us. Some of us spiritualize our confidence, holding onto the belief that God will protect our own kingdoms if we just mind our own business, don’t screw up too badly, and ask for God’s blessing once in a while. But when life and enemies crush your little kingdom—which always happens sooner or later—what hope is left for you, for us? Is everything you thought about your life and identity, all the hopes, dreams, blood, sweat, and tears that you invested in them, lost?

Perhaps the most famous story in the Old Testament, the account of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 answers these questions. Christians are terrorized by enemies able and ready to destroy them, but they will reign victorious by faith in God’s anointed king who triumphed in battle and is exalted as champion. See your true identity in the David and Goliath story, and know your calling as a king who serves Jesus the King of kings. Continue reading

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Same-Sex Mirage (Book Review)

There is a story out there about Martin Luther that’s not very flattering.  I first heard it in my church history class in seminary.

After many years of fighting for the truth of the gospel and the freedom to worship according to the Word of God, Luther had become something of a revered “apostle” figure in Europe.  Although he set out as a simple monk who faced down Church and Empire with his famous “Here I Stand!” moment, over the years his fame and leadership had transformed his identity into something of a celebrity and figurehead of the Protestant movement.

As the story goes, a husband approached Luther in his later years for advice with a marital problem.  Seems the husband had been unable to have marital “relations” with his wife for some time.  I don’t remember what the reason was.  Whether she was unable or unwilling.  It doesn’t matter in the story.  The husband was growing increasingly impatient with his situation, feeling his sexual needs unmet.  Was he to divorce his wife?  He didn’t want to do that because he loved her.  Was he to take on a mistress in town?  That would be scandalous, especially if Luther and the church winked at such flagrant adultery.  Was he to prayerfully live with his wife as if unmarried?  The husband had tried, but now confessed to Luther he was out of patience.  What to do?  As the story goes, Luther counseled the husband to travel far away where no one would know him, find a way to fulfill his sexual urges, and don’t tell anyone.  Terrible, unbiblical advice from a great man.  What would cause a man like Marin Luther to counsel such licentiousness?  Many would say Luther must have been at heart a wicked hypocrite who had his own secret sexual sins hidden in the closet.  But there is absolutely no evidence of that.  I think Luther succumbed to the fear of man rather than standing courageously in the fear of God.  Why was the temptation so strong for Luther in this instance with such a common, uninteresting predicament?  Because Luther was Luther!  He had a movement and reputation to protect, he must have told himself, FOR THE SAKE OF THE GOSPEL.

That is how brave leaders fall into the coward’s pit.  Fear of the institution crumbling rather than fearing God first and letting the chips fall where they will in God’s providential guidance.

Some stories leave an indelible mark on us.  That one did it for me.  Why?  Because Christians especially are prone to the sin we call “fear of man” since Jesus said the world hated him and therefore will also hate us.  And who doesn’t want to be liked, revered, appreciated, lauded, celebrated, justified?  When we have something to protect, and we start to think the whole thing will fall apart unless ME…well, then we’re in trouble.  Even though God is still on the throne.

I tell this story because there is one person I read who writes like he has nothing to lose.  And so he tells the truth, calls ‘em like he sees ‘em, and is not afraid to lose his reputation.  Not that he’s a prophet, but he understands the spirit of a prophet: one who speaks God’s word and applies it to everyone.  Law and grace.  Problem and solution.  Condemnation and gospel.  That man is Doug Wilson.  He’s earned quite a reputation as a Calvinist gadfly.  A guy who you’d better be careful giving a mic because he might say some uncomfortable things.  A preacher who is not right about everything, but who nevertheless writes with thundering conviction, not in his own thoughts, but in his straight-forward reading of the Bible.  A lot of people won’t admit in public to liking his style or content, but they imbibe him as sort of a guilty pleasure.  Because Wilson says things you wish you had the guts to say and leave the consequences up to God. Continue reading

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Love Thy Body (Book Review)

She did it.  But I’m not surprised.  Nancy Pearcey, evangelical scholar extraordinaire, has managed to write the best book to date on the questions about life and sexuality that swamp our culture.  Love Thy Body (LTB) comes with high praise from a wide range of conservative Christian leaders and scholars.  Not that I’m anywhere near keeping company with such folks, but I’m happy to add my accolades to theirs.

She did it.  But how?  Pearcey didn’t sit down one day and decide to research and write a book.  Much more than a response to questions Christians and others ask today, LTB is a positive presentation of what the Bible teachers, and what the Church has historically taught, on the broad topics of life and sexuality. The book is also not a “snapshot in time” kind of argument.  Over the span of years, the author developed her material in the Christian college classroom and the crucible of speaking in public venues.  I love slow-cooked book like this one because they contain tested, mature, and nuanced reflection on contentious (and unfortunately politicized!) subjects.  Starting from a foundational principle she learned first from her mentor, apologist Francis Schaeffer, Pearcey systematically examines each domain of life according to the philosophical worldview analogy of the upper/lower story. Continue reading

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The Parable of the Heartsick King

There once was a king who neither feared God nor men.  However, he was rich, charming, and very clever.  On everything he set his heart to do, favor always rested upon him.  The king grew strong so that everything and everyone seemed to be under his spell.  Nothing disturbed or harmed his reputation in all his kingdom.  He was loved by all, until one day he wasn’t.

So the king called his royal counselors, friends, wise men, and harem to advise him what to do.  The counselors talked strategy.  The friends discussed happiness.  The wise men emphasized ethics.  And the harem played his desires.  But no advice they gave the king could solve his problem.  Day by day, more and more of his subjects lost their loyalty and admiration for him.  Even the king’s family lost faith.

One night as the king sat on his throne, lonely and puzzled, the court jester appeared. Continue reading

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Are We Also Blind?

I found a curious list of America’s top fears for the year 2017. Some are unsurprising: (5) not having enough money for the future; (14) identity theft; (31) being unemployed. Some are timely: (2) Trumpcare; (29) Obamacare. A few are a little paranoid: (36) government use of drones in US; (41) sharks. The fear that ranked last on the list? (48) Dying. For once the fear of dying outranked public speaking! The list is curious to me, not so much for what it includes, but for one fear that is conspicuously absent.

Most people, when they stop to consider, are terrified of God’s judgment. And rightfully so. Images of heavenly court rooms where your life is replayed as a movie on the wall—exposing your secret thoughts, your shameful deeds, and your scandalous sins to fully reveal who you are—they can haunt your nightmares. These themes reflect the Bible’s teaching on the final judgment. But there is another judgment theme in the Bible. It deals with God exposing our attitudes toward him in the day-to-day events of life, so that we show evidence right now about ourselves that may be used to confirm God’s final verdict on our lives. In the language of John 9, every one of us reveals the present judgment of God in ourselves based on whether we are blind or can see—spiritually speaking. In other words: you, I, and everyone else are currently being judged by God in a way that we can understand the destination of our current spiritual track. How can you get a glimpse of God’s final judgment beforehand? Jesus came to help you answer that vitally important question.  John chapter 9 verses 24-41 in the Bible teaches Jesus Christ brought an unexpected “judgment” into the world: as he upends the values and reputations of anti-gospel people, the blind gain insight and the seeing are blinded (spiritually speaking). Enemies of the gospel who claim to clearly see Jesus remain in their guilt, but gospel believers find forgiveness.

John 9 is one story, and it includes so many nuggets to truth that it’s best to look at it scene by scene. Here’s a little background. Scene 1: On a Sabbath day Jesus healed a man born blind, starting a fierce religious debate about himself. Scene 2: The Pharisees began to investigate the healing hoping to discredit Jesus or the healing, but they grow more frustrated in turn as first the man then Jesus reveal their spiritual blindness.  Up to this point the focus is on the healing of the man born blind who sings of God’s amazing grace: “I was blind, but now I see!” Now Scene 2 concludes in tragi-comedy as the buffoonish religious leaders cast out the sharp-witted man born blind, then Jesus finds the outcast to complete the spiritual aspect of his healing. Continue reading

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I Was Blind, But Now I See

A few weeks ago my church did something it hasn’t done in many years. We sang the hymn Amazing Grace. Most Americans know the first verse by heart: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me; I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” When you sing those words, can they bring tears to your eyes? Does Amazing Grace stir up precious memories of a time or two when God touched you with his amazing grace in a personal way—that was just what you needed to make you whole? Now I’m going to scratch your record. Have you ever shared a story of Jesus’ amazing grace in your life to a person who responded with more skepticism than joy? Ouch! Many of us have learned to share our amazing grace stories in friendly circles, but otherwise keep them to ourselves. Why?

If a miserable person experiences a radical change of life and it’s attributed to an encounter with Jesus, then asking questions will cause trouble. What is it about Jesus and his ways that bring out the best or worst in people? How should you investigate such testimonials so you won’t blindly believe every story you hear, but you also won’t blindly prejudge and miss the work of God? In the Gospel of John, chapter 9, there is a story of Jesus healing a man born blind.  It’s a wonderful and familiar story that happens to answer such questions. When Jesus, the light of the world, shines the works of God into the darkness of our broken lives, some people will try honestly to make sense of what really happened, but others who are self-assured, prejudiced, and hostile will become blind to God’s revealing works done by Jesus. Which one are you? Continue reading

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Gender (Book Review)

For many years now I’ve been paying close attention to the onward push of gay rights in American culture.  It was sometime in the late 1990s or early 2000s when something clicked for me.  Maybe it was something I heard from Christian apologist James White—who I was listening to and reading a lot back then.  Anyway, the light bulb went on in my head that the sexual revolution that developed into a visible counter-culture in the 1960s is going to have a tipping point and a terminus.  Put another way: traditional, Judeo-Christian sexual morality is aggressively challenged by the modern and post-modern views of family, sex, and gender.  These new views are not really historically novel.  Rather Western culture is reverting to the pagan norm that ruled Gentile nations and cultures prior to the ascendancy of the gospel.  Think of the bacchanalia of hedonistic, pagan Rome.

American has been a very Christianized nation up until the recent past.  One benefit of this is, from the vantage point of the USA, if you’re paying attention to cultural shifts in the global West, you can ascertain what changes, controversies, and battles will soon arrive on our shores.  Countries further along the post-Christian path, such as Great Britain, Canada, western Europe, and perhaps Australia serve as harbingers to coming cultural shifts.  They are bellwethers because of the effects globalized media have on the masses and elites.

Apart from widespread, God-sent repentance, the coming neo-pagan sexual moral majority will inevitably reach a tipping point and finally a terminus.  The tipping point is the point in which the revolutionaries realize they have enough sway in the culture to “go for the goal” and run roughshod over their traditional religious opponents.  The terminus is the point when the revolutionaries declare victory, when all there is left to accomplish is mopping up the defeated dissidents.

Listen up, my friends.  We have reached the tipping point.  How do I know for certain?  Here’s my evidence.  When Christian parents feel the need to prepare their children for the onslaught of revisionist theories of sex and gender, then we have ceased trying to win the battle and are now playing defense.  Exhibit A: Christian apologists Brian Seagraves and Hunter Leavine have written a timely little book to equip beleaguered parents and pastors for the radical gender ideologues coming for our kids.  Gender: A Conversation Guide for Parents and Pastors (GCGPP), is a cradle-to-launch (zero-to-teen) resource to educate families and churches in what used to be taken for granted until, like 2014!  Try this thought experiment: who of you would have imagined just 5 years ago that conversations about transgenderism, pan sexuality, androgyny, and other disorders would be necessary subjects in the discipling of our children?  Who would imagine it’s unnecessary or optional now?  We’ve come a long way, baby. Continue reading

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