July, 2014 Archive

My wife and I had an unexpected visit from a saint last night.

Ever since we moved into our house, our kitchen sink has been getting more and more clogged until it finally stopped draining at all last night. For the first time – but certainly not the last – we called a plumber to our house to come help us fix this clog that was embedded somewhere deep in our pipes. Our new friend Young came to help us.

As it turns out, Young lives in the condo’s right behind our new house. This gave us a great place to start our conversation. Young is a middle aged man who served in the Korean army, but has now been a plumber for eighteen years. He is married with four young kids.

As our conversation progressed, I began to ask him about his pastor and church. Young began to tell me what it was like for him to go to just one of the many Korean churches that populate our small suburban sliver called Centreville. In this area, Korean churches are like 7-11’s in most other cities – there is one on every corner. Young told me about how that was so hard for the Korean community because there are so many churches and none of them seem to want to work together. He described how every young Korean seminary graduate wants to come and plant the new “next big thing” in the Korean community, rather than build up churches there that already exist.

He continued to tell me how this creates a culture in the Korean community where each pastor becomes a salesman for their own church. He described one scenario of a young, fresh seminary graduate who was starting a new church showing up on his doorstep and handing out his business card.

“I don’t want your business card,” said Young. “But tell me, where did you graduate from school?”

Instantly the young seminary graduate lit up and got excited to tell Young about his educational credentials. He gloated in his prestigious degree from Westminster California, and how he previously had a degree from MIT. This green pastor was very proud.

By this point, Young knew who this man was. Before him was another young, prideful wanna-be pastor who didn’t understand the Church and was perfectly fine with stealing sheep from another flock to start his own thing. “Get out of my house and never come back,” he told the pastor. While blunt and possibly lacking in grace, that certainly got the point across.

Young left my house shortly thereafter. He never knew anything about my wife and I other than that we too were Christians who attend church regularly. He didn’t know that I have plans for vocational ministry, or that I am currently in seminary.

I tell this story for two reasons.

One, it is a clear example of how in the family of God we are all on the same footing. No one is better than any other or in a higher status. More knowledge or degrees do not qualify someone for always being the teacher instead of the student. The Church of Christ turns the categories of the world on its head! Only in the Church is it common to find a janitor teaching a lawyer, a school teacher instructing a doctor, or a stay-at-home mom counseling a CEO. I’m reminded of Colossians 3:16, where all believers are commanded to teach and admonish one another. It doesn’t matter what your profession is or how much money you make; you have something to give and teach to your brothers and sisters in Christ. We are called to share the comfort and knowledge God has shown us with others.

Secondly, this conversation really stuck out to me as one of those bright-eyed seminary students Young mentioned in his story. From personal experience, I’ve noticed that we seminary students tend to place a lot of weight on our seminary credentials and training. We take pleasure and pride in what we learn in all of our various classes. We think that we have something within ourselves to offer people. When this happens, we begin to place confidence in ourselves rather than in the cross of Christ. Our churches begin to look a lot more like our personalities, rather than looking a lot like Jesus.

I’ve said this before, and I need to repeat it to myself often: at the end of the day, nobody really cares how much we know, what school we graduated from, what degree we have, or what classes we’ve taken. People want to know what we can give and show them. And what do we have to give? What we possess does not come in the form of fancy theological terms, understandings of church fathers and tradition, or new emerging ideas on critical linguistic studies. It does not come in the form of “5 points in improving your marriage” or our latest thoughts and speculations on a certain text. It does not come from loud music, flashy lights or big buildings. All we have to offer people is a 33-year-old naked Jewish man hanging on a Roman cross. That’s it. If your theology and seminary education does not give people this Man then it is useless, vain speculation. Don’t waste anybody else’s time with it.

This message of a crucified, suffering Savior is utter foolishness to the world, but to those of us who are being saved we know that it is the power of God. We know that it is the only hope that we have. That dear friends, as a saint equipped to minister with the gospel (which we all are in Christ), is all we have to give to each other. Glory to the crucified King!

Good samaritan

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about that popular saying, “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” It gets tossed around frequently and is commonly attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, although there really isn’t solid proof for that citation. Now, I get it. The purpose and intent of the quote is often used in the context of spurring us on to be good neighbors toward others. And that’s great. The problem is, doing good things for other people is not the equivalent of preaching the gospel. Preaching the gospel is an audible proclamation that requires a response (Romans 10:8-10).

We in more conservative theological circles tend to attack this popular phrase as being naive or, even worse, plain stupid. I remember hearing Pastor John MacArthur say at this years T4G conference that he wouldn’t attribute this quote to anyone, let alone St. Francis, because of how stupid it is. Similarly, Pastor RC Sproul Jr. is known for saying, “Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary, rebuke anyone who says ‘if necessary, use words.'”

But I think if we’re honest, for all of our theological correctness about what preaching the gospel is and what it is not, we tend to let this be an excuse to – well – not be a good neighbor. We can get so hung up on having the best apologetic responses and defense of Christianity, so caught up in trying to make sure that we know every word we’ll say to someone about our faith, that we never pull the trigger and actually tell somebody. Or, even worse, we’re so caught up in our “good theology” that what we say to people comes off as cold, indifferent or even mean. That’s probably because it is.

Theological correctness should never be an excuse for neglecting the call to be a good, kind and hospitable neighbor toward others.

Recall some of the faithful Christians who have had the most impact on your life and faith. If you think about it for a second, you’ll realize that the reason they had so much impact on you was not only because of what they said but because of how they said it. You’ll probably remember these individuals as being warm, kind, hospitable, gentle, humble and caring.

What happens when we combine the audible proclamation of the gospel with warm, kind, hospitable, gentle and humble actions? We incarnate Christ himself; we physically represent the truths that we proclaim. See, the gospel will always be offensive; but not you. Christian, you are called to be warm, kind, hospitable and gentle towards others. This fact does not come at the expense of theological accuracy.

I don’t know what this looks like for you, but take time to think about how this dual reality of gospel proclamation and Christ-like character should shape your attitude towards friends and neighbors. Maybe you just need to bake cookies for someone or mow their lawn. Call them when you know they’re having a hard time. Buy their kid a birthday present. Spend time thinking about how you can just be a kind neighbor toward others and, when the time comes, preach the gospel with bold, audible words.

Judas

Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him. – Matthew 26:14-16

Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, 4 saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5 And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. – Matthew 27:3-5

—–

Judas, you fool!

Thirty pieces of silver stood between the life and death of the Son of Man.

A crucified Christ in exchange for thirty pieces of coin.

Thirty pieces of coin offered in exchange for the sinful desires of one man.

Judas, you dog!

How could you betray the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords? The one whom you had personally served for three years? You cast down your coins not because you were grieved by your sin, but because you were grieved by the consequence of your sin. It was too late.

The good news of the resurrected Christ is that it is never too late to throw down your thirty pieces of silver in faith and repentance.

Ben, you fool!

One piece of coin for my greed…

One piece for my lust…

One for my pride…

One for my envy…

One sliver of silver for my self-righteousness…

Who is the real Judas, Iscariot or the one who follows after him?

Ben, you dog!

Every day that I wake up I am faced with a choice: hold on to my thirty pieces of silver, or cast them down before the Lord.

My thirty pieces of precious sin stand between life in or death at the hands of the Son of Man.

Because a crucified Christ has already been exchanged for my thirty pieces of coin.

Thirty pieces of coin cast down in exchange for the life of One Man.

Will you cast down your silver, or clutch it tightly?

—–

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. – Colossians 2:13-14

But it is very striking that in the New Testament the terms for calling, when used specifically with reference to salvation, are most uniformly applied, not to the universal call of the gospel, but to the call that ushers men into a state of salvation and is therefore effectual. – John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied

God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. – 1 Corinthians 1:9

—–

Jill and Eustace didn’t know how to get Narnia. But they figured calling out to Aslan – whom Jill had not yet met – couldn’t hurt.

Sure enough, it worked.

And that’s when Jill first met Aslan…

—–

Just on this side of the stream lay the lion.

It lay with its head raised and its two forepaws out in front of it, like the lions in Trafalgar Square. She knew at once that it had seen her, for its eyes looked straight into hers for a moment and then turned away – as if it knew her quite well and didn’t think much of her.

“If I run away, it’ll be after me in a moment,” thought Jill. “And if I go on, I shall run straight into its mouth.” Anyway, she couldn’t have moved if she had tried, and she couldn’t take her eyes off it. How long this lasted, she could not be sure; it seemed like hours. And the thirst became so bad that she almost felt she would not mind being eaten by the lion if only she could be sure of getting a mouthful of water first.

“If you’re thirsty, you may drink.”

They were the first words she had hears since Scrubb (Eustace) had spoken to her on the edge of the cliff. For a second she stared here and there, wondering who had spoken. Then the voice said again, “If you are thirsty, come and drink,” and of course she remembered what Scrubb had said about animals talking in that other world, and realized that it was the lion speaking. Anyways, she had seen its lips move this time, and the voice was not like a man’s. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way.

“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.

“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.

“Then drink,” said the Lion.

“May I – could I – would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.

The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.

The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

“Will you promise not to – do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.

“I make no promise,” said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step closer.

“Do you eat girls?” she said.

“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, not as if it were angry. It just said it.

“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.

“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.

“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”

“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.

It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion – no one who had seen his stern face could do that – and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted. You didn’t need to drink much of it, for it quenched your thirst at once. Before she tasted it she had been intending to make a dash away from the Lion the moment she had finished. Now, she realized that this would be on the whole the most dangerous thing of all. She got up and stood there with her lips still wet from drinking.

“Come here,” said the Lion. And she had to. She was almost between its front paws now, looking straight into its face. But she couldn’t stand that for long; she dropped her eyes.

“…the Boy is safe. I have blown him to Narnia. But your task will be the harder because of what you have done.”

“Please, what task, Sir?” said Jill.

“The task for which I called you and him here out of your own world.”

This puzzled Jill very much. “It’s mistaking me for someone else,” she thought. She didn’t dare to tell the Lion this, though she felt things would get into a dreadful muddle unless she did.

“Speak your thought, Human Child,” said the Lion.

“I was wondering – I mean – could there be some mistake? Because nobody called me and Scrubb, you know. It was we who asked to come here. Scrubb said we were to call to – to Somebody – it was a name I wouldn’t know – and perhaps the Somebody would let us in. And we did, and then we found the door open.”

You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you,” said the Lion.

—–

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Romans 8:28–30