Provocative Devotion: Psalm 3

Posted: August 3, 2015 in Uncategorized

O Lord, how many are my foes!
    Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
    there is no salvation for him in God. Selah

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,
    my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the Lord,
    and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah

I lay down and slept;
    I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
    who have set themselves against me all around.

Arise, O Lord!
    Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
    you break the teeth of the wicked.

Salvation belongs to the Lord;
    your blessing be on your people! Selah

David wrote this in a time of extreme personal pain. His son Absalom led a coup against David and sought to kill him and the rest of the family in order to take the throne of Israel. How on earth does one endure such a betrayal? This was not some upstart General leading part of the army against David, this was a son whom he loved. He did not grieve the loss of his kingdom so much as the loss of his son. It part of David died when the coup was put down and Absalom was killed.
In the midst of the ordeal, as he ran for his life, people jeered and mocked him. Not unlike how they jeered and mocked Jesus on the cross. How do you deal with such rejection and betrayal. In times like that it feels like even God has abandoned you. Or maybe it feels like you have wandered off and abandoned God and that is the reason for the pain and being so alone.
The solution to the pain of betrayal is not isolation, building a relational wall of protection. Rather the solution is to reach out all the more to God, to stretch my heart out even further and make it more vulnerable. It is only through the risk of pain, rejection, and betrayal that I can experience the joy and delight that can only come from connecting on the deepest heart level with another.
David stretched out his heart to God. He opened himself to God as never before and in that opening he found an anchor for his soul. He cried aloud to God. It was not the false solemnity of so many prayers that escaped David’s lips. His prayer to God was a cry from the heart. It was visceral, primal, angst. It was honest. It was born of pain. God would have it no other way. In his vulnerability David found that he had a shield that surrounded and protected him and he had a God who bent low to cradle David’s head in His hands and lift him up from the ground on which he wept. The risk was that God would turn a deaf ear to his cry. But better the risk than to hold it all in and miss the possibility of finding his strength and security.
Betrayal will happen. Disappointments will come. Pain is inevitable. Rejection is a fact of life. But through it all, there is the Lord who sustains me, lifts me, comforts me, and calls me His own.

Psalm 2:1-6

“Why do the nations rage and the people plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers of the earth council together, against the Lord and against His anointed saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us’. He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then He will speak to them in His wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, ‘As for me I have set my King on Zion, on my holy hill’.

It is a great question to ask, “why do people rage against God?” The angry atheist has almost become a caricature. People like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins made something of a cottage industry out of raging against God and religion. I can understand David’s concern in this Psalm. He is the king of Israel and when the nations were raging against God it invariably meant they focused their weapons on Israel. The answer to the question seems to be that the people want to cast off any claim God may have on their lives, break the bonds, cast away the cords. They want liberation from God at all costs.

The big question however is, what about me? It is easy to point an accusing finger at a group of pagan nations 3,000 years ago and declare what fools and sinners they were. But that would serve only to make me feel spiritually superior, not only to them but to others with similar thoughts today. What I need to ask is, why do I at times rage against God? Maybe not with fist clenched and spear raised like a Philistine of Assyrian from David’s day. No I am much more sophisticated and passive aggressive in my rage against God. It takes the form of quiet rebellion, of being unhappy with something, discontent with God’s plan, plotting my own course without reference to His will. In some ways that kind of raging is less honest, more dangerous to my soul. God seems to prefer a good stand up fight going toe to toe. He literally wrestled with Jacob over his future, debated face to face with Job the meaning of injustice, in Christ he toppled the tables of thieving money changers in the Temple and famously declared to the Laodiceans in The Book of Revelation that he would rather they were hot or cold towards Him rather than lukewarm, Such a tepid response was worthy only of being spewed.

I suspect the reason for the raging, in all its various forms has always had the same root cause. We human beings want things our way and only our way, all the time. Anyone or anything that inhibits that desire, even the Lord God of the Universe is seen as inhibiting us. How sad that it. God who created me in His image, created me to have dominion over the earth, who desires nothing but ultimate joy and peace for me, is the God I passively rage against in those times when I don’t get the pitiful worthless things in life that I foolishly desire. It makes me think if this wonderful quote from C.S. Lewis, “It would seem that our Lord find our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because we cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”  Why do I ever even consider raging against such a God?

One of the dangers of being a teacher of the Bible as ones profession is that the Bible can easily become something to dissect, study, analyze, and disseminate to others. Every reading of the Bible can turn into an exercise of the mind and never the heart. Aware of that danger I have made a point of having time in the Bible that is just for me, to let it speak to me, challenge me, comfort me. An important way that works in my life is to journal about the passage in front of me. Recently I dove back into the Psalms for just that purpose. After all, what better place to go to have one’s heart placed open before the Lord than in this most personal and honest of books.

But because I am also a teacher at heart it became clear that I should not keep those insights to myself. As a result I am offering a brief reflection on each Psalm in the hopes that God’s Word will accomplish in your life all that He desires. These are not exhaustive by any stretch and will generally only cover one major point that the Lord is making to me through the Psalm.

Sola Deo Gloria,

Dan

Psalm 1:1-3

Blessed is the man who walks not in the council of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord and on His law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither. In all he does he prospers.

I love the grace of God. It is a gift beyond measure, to be loved, forgiven, afforded mercy, and countless opportunities to reset after failure. I love the freedom that comes in Christ. I love the message of the Gospel that a sinner like me, who was on a greased pole to hell could be rescued but the sacrifice of God-in-the flesh, Jesus Christ, who though He was in very nature God, did not cling to that position in a stingy way, but rather emptied Himself to become a servant to the point of death for me and for my salvation. I am all about grace.

David’s words in Psalm 1 seem to run 180 degrees counter to grace. David loves the law, he meditates on it day and night. He feeds his very soul on the law and is delighted by it. Clearly David was an extremely high J on the Myers-Briggs personality profile. Or was he? Maybe David saw something in the Law that points to God in ways that I miss when I focus only on grace. Wasn’t it Martin Luther who said we need the law to fully experience grace? Wasn’t it Paul who in essence said he would have never known the seriousness of his sin and need for grace, if not for the law? David is on to something when he says, “the law of the Lord”. It is not human rules of religion, by which we seek to prove our worthiness to God that David speaks of. It is the law of the Lord, the way of life that is delightful and restorative and freeing. Yes freeing. The law of the Lord is not meant to bind me and make me a slave but rather it is intended to show me the parameters of an abundant life. The law it like the steel fence at the edge of a vast meadow that keep one from falling off the hundred foot cliff and being crushed to death by the fall onto the rocks below. That fence, that law, is designed to show me the dangers of proceeding further and turn me around to enjoy the vast wonders of the glorious meadow behind me.

What freedom there is in such law. That law brings me life. Far from being a burden and a heavy weight that pins me to the ground and keeps me from experiencing life, the law of the Lord is life-giving. To be sure, obedience to it does not gain me salvation. That is by grace and one reason I so love grace. But obedience to the law, meditating on the law, delighting in the law, that gives me freedom to live a life worthy of the calling I have in Christ Jesus. A life saved by grace and protected by the law of the Lord.

This is a rather long blog post. It is actually chapter 10 from the book, The Provocative God. Yesterday I attended my high school graduating class 40th reunion. One of the more memorable parts of the event was a memorial video to the classmates we have lost over the years. One of those was one of my dearest friends. This chapter from the book was a way for me to honor him. The idea to post it in the blog was to most easily share his story with fellow classmates. But even if you did not graduate with us, you are welcome to read it.

“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” — Philippians 1:29

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”
— Philippians 3:10

“We rejoice in our sufferings knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” — Romans 5:3-5

We met the first week of sixth grade. I was the new kid in the class, and as it turned out we lived two streets apart. In one of those oddities of life a group of six of us in the neighborhood became friends and most of us had a first name that began with the letter D. So very quickly we all became known by our last name with a D in front. I became D’Lacich and he became D’Johnson along with D’Hennel, D’Riani, D’Sieling. D’Johnson’s real name was Dwight and he is my longest-lasting friend, and as such a most treasured friend.

When we were growing up it was all about sports and girls. I won’t say anything about the girl part of things, but sports are another matter. We spent lots of time together on the base- ball field, the basketball court, the golf course, and the football field. In every instance except football Dwight far surpassed me in ability. The sheer brute force aspect of football served me better than the precision of the other sports. I never could beat him on the golf course, for instance. But I noticed that my game always got better when I played with him. In fact, the best round of golf I ever played was the day before Dwight and Debbie were married. I played out of my mind that day, and still he led the way with a better score.

Many memorable events in our lives were shared events. We woke up in my parents’ living room one New Year’s Day to the news that our hero, Roberto Clemente, had died in a plane crash while on a mercy mission to Puerto Rico. Dwight was in the room along with two other friends the night I gave my life to Christ. We were in each other’s weddings. Like the deepest of friendships, no matter how long the time is between phone calls or dinners, the bond of friendship is still unbreakable.

A few years ago I received the proverbial punch in the gut when I learned that Dwight had just been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. There is no cure. The best they can do is manage the pain and the deterioration of the body. The first sign for Dwight that something was wrong was the difficulty he had holding a golf club. In just a year he went from that seemingly minor issue to being in a wheelchair most of the time and needing a neck brace to hold his head up when he worked on his computer.

Six months after the diagnosis, we were together at a charity golf tournament for him and his family. The goal was to raise money for the remodeling of their house to accommodate the inevitable wheelchair. Later we got together again, this time at Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, Florida. For two die-hard Steelers fans it was a dream come true, especially since they won their sixth Lombardi Trophy. For me, getting a picture with Dwight at that game was more precious than I can describe. The Steelers’ victory was an ecstatic experience. Being with Dwight was deeper, more important by far, and will remain etched in my mind like few other events. It is another of those highly valued, shared events.

Whenever someone close to you has a tragedy strike, it must be a nearly universal response to at some point wonder how you would handle that in your own life. I have thought long and hard about how I might handle such an illness for my wife or myself. The way Dwight and Debbie handled the illness that, barring a miracle, would one day end his life has forced me to ask that question over and over again. You see, my friend Dwight loves Jesus with all his heart. It was out of love for Je- sus that he and Debbie adopted two little boys with special needs, adding them to their very healthy biological daughter and son. It is out of love for Jesus that he has served in his local church. It is out of love for Jesus that he approached his suffering thinking only about others. I am forced to ask how I would handle such suffering because I see Dwight doing so with dignity and grace, and for the glory of God. In that suffering he challenges me, humbles me, and inspires me to want to honor God, if only in just a fraction of the way he does.

Oftentimes in the face of suffering we play the victim. “Why me?” we ask. “What did I do to deserve this?” We argue with the fairness of it all. In other cases we lapse into depression and give up. Dwight has been all about Jesus getting the glory. His attitude has been that of the Apostle Paul: “Whether I live or die, let God be glorified.” Also like Paul, I think Dwight has an even deeper connection to Jesus because of the fellowship shared by those who suffer. Dwight wants Jesus to use his personal experience of suffering to point others to Jesus. I think his love for Jesus is actually growing as a result of that shared fellowship. Dwight understands that God never promised us a life free of suffering, at least not this side of eternity. What He did promise us was that He would be with us always, no matter what. We would be in fellowship with Him always, because He is always with us.

There is a sense in which suffering is the calling of the Christian. Following Jesus does not come with a promise that your problems will disappear and the road of life will be smooth and free from potholes and hazards. It is quite the opposite. Jesus actually promises that if we follow Him people will persecute us. There will be hardship and toil along the way. His rationale is that if the world crucified Him and He is the Lord, how much more will we, the followers, face hardship and strife? The “health and wealth” gospel crowd that tries to show that God only wants you to be free of suffering and blessed by a huge bank account is totally out of touch with the true heart of God, the teaching of the Bible, and the example of great saints from the past.

FINDING JOY IN THE SUFFERING

Paul’s letter to the Philippians is a study in how to jam-pack a small letter with huge lessons on the nature of God and following Jesus no matter what. Time and again Paul urges the Philippians to rejoice, and he tells them of his own joy. This comes from a man who is in prison for his faith in Jesus and facing the very real possibility of being beheaded any day. In just four short chapters Paul talks in depth about joy and suffering. He actually embraces the suffering not as something to be endured but as something to be welcomed as a badge of honor.

Paul said that we are to embrace our suffering as some- thing that has been granted to us in Christ (Philippians 1:29). If someone gives you a grant, they are giving you something desirable. If your request is granted, then you have received something good. If you submit a grant proposal for funding and get it, you have been given a good thing. Paul says that our suffering in Christ is something with which we have been “granted.” He connects the blessing of the “suffering grant” with the blessings of believing in Jesus. In fact, he seems to think of suffering in Christ as an added bonus that goes above and beyond the basics of a relationship of faith in Christ: It has been granted to you not only to believe in Jesus but also to have fellowship with him in his suffering.

There is something about suffering for our faith, or as part of life in general, that unites us to Jesus in an even tighter bond than simply believing in Him. It is true of our relationship with Jesus and it is evident in our relationships with one another. Soldiers who have suffered together through the horrors of war have a bond with one another that others can never have. Cancer survivors have a bond with other cancer survivors, which is deeper and tighter than everyday human relationships. Parents who have lost a child through death have a bond with similar that goes far beyond the normal bonds of joy that all parents share.

In these and other examples of suffering, people who have no other possible connection with each other—in fact, people who would by most human standards not want anything to do with each other—become the deepest of friends. The white soldier from segregated 1960s’ Alabama becomes a lifelong friend with the black soldier from Detroit, each willing to die for the other. The cancer survivor volunteers countless hours to counsel and befriend those who have just been given their own devastating news. The parent whose child died five years ago sacrificially serves the family fresh in its grief, in spite of the fact that they never met before.

Suffering has its own fellowship. Jesus came as what Isaiah chapter 53 refers to as The Suffering Servant. He came to give His life as a ransom for many. We can experience a certain level of connection with Jesus when we trust Him by faith. That relation- ship deepens when we fellowship with Him in our suffering.

In the early days of the church, following the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the apostles faced serious persecution for their faith in Jesus. Luke tells us in Acts 5:17-42 that they were arrested for preaching about Jesus and told to stop. Be- fore being released they were severely beaten for their faith. If this happened to Christians in America today, we would be on the phone to a lawyer so fast it would make your head spin. Our anger and indignation would be astronomical. But that was not the reaction of the apostles. Acts 6:41-42 records: “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name (of Jesus). And every day in the Temple and from house to house they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”

They rejoiced because they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus. Suffering for the name of Jesus did not cause them to question their relationship with God. They didn’t cry out to God asking why they had been abandoned to suffering. That is how we react. Instead they praised God because their suffering for the cause of Christ was a stamp of approval, it was a powerful affirmation that they were, in fact, connected to Christ. How different is that from us today. We suffer and we complain that God has abandoned us. They suffered and they praised God, rejoicing for having the privilege of being so closely connected to Christ that they could suffer dishonor for Him.

SUFFERING FOR THE GLORY OF GOD

In the prosperity gospel movement there is a way of looking at the Christian life that sees health, prosperity, and a victorious life as the way God will be glorified and people will come to Jesus. The idea is simple. If people see how great and blessed the Christian life can be, then they will want to follow Jesus. In this way of thinking, God is most glorified when we are most blessed with health and wealth. If you are sick or poor, or both, then this is seen as being a disgraceful thing. Something must be wrong if you are not healthy and wealthy. There is nothing wrong with God, but rather something is wrong with you. You must have some deep sin in your life that is preventing God from healing you or blessing you.

In John 9, Jesus is confronted with a dilemma. There is a grown man who was born blind. People are perplexed about why he was born this way. They have the same mindset as the prosperity gospel folks. Some person’s sin is responsible for this blindness. The problem is figuring out whose sin is to blame. They have a hard time blaming it on the man born blind. After all, how much sin could he have committed in the womb? So, clearly the sin was not the blind man’s. So then it must be his parents’ fault. But what kind of God would cause a person to live in blindness because their parents committed some sin before they were ever born? It was a real theological conundrum.

Jesus, as He so often does, proposes a different way. “Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him’” (John 9:3). Do you catch the stunning thing that Jesus is saying? This man, who has suffered with blindness from birth, who has never seen the smile of his parents, who has heard the mocking of people convinced he was being punished for sin, who has been forced to beg for scraps to feed himself, who has been bruised and battered throughout his life, stumbling into and over chairs and rocks and stumps, this man who has suffered so much has suffered it so that on this day the works of God might be displayed in him. Are you kidding me? God caused this man to suffer so much so that when he finally met Jesus, after years of blindness, he would be healed and God glorified?

God uses the suffering of His people to bring glory to Himself. In other words, God uses the suffering of His people so that others will be led to worship and praise Him. Sometimes God does it through healing just like with the man born blind. The people were amazed, stunned, shocked, saying they had never seen anything like this before. But sometimes God brings glory to Himself by the way He uses suffering to shape us more and more into the kind of people whose very lives will glorify God.

When people look at my friend Dwight and his wife they can’t help but notice that they are approaching his illness, including all the hardship and adjustments it requires, as a way to point people to Jesus. Dwight is determined to show people that a follower of Jesus approaches suffering and death in a far different way than someone who does not know Jesus. They approach life and death with a joy that makes no sense, unless you account for the power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen and uphold you. Their joy points people directly to the reality of God and the presence of Jesus in their lives. Dwight and Debbie have found their greatest joy and pleasure in life within their relationship with Christ. The suffering they have gone through has actually made that joy deeper than ever. Jesus is more real to them in the midst of suffering than He ever was in the midst of blessing. God has been glorified in the fellowship of their suffering and they have grown in Christ more than ever before.

This shouldn’t surprise us. In Romans chapter 5, Paul gives us a series of growth steps that have their foundation in our suffering: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame” (Romans 5:3-5).

The struggles that we face in life serve to make us stronger in our faith and more like Christ, if we allow them. Each struggle prepares us for the next level of becoming like Jesus. In trying to bypass, avoid, or ignore the lessons of suffering we risk greater dangers later in life. When I was in grade school we had a science experiment in the back of the classroom. It was a group of chicken eggs in an incubator. Each day we checked the incubator to see if there was any sign of a baby chick starting to break through the shell. Finally, one day during class, the person sitting nearest the incubator heard a small tapping, cracking noise. Suddenly the whole class jumped up from our seats to watch the long-awaited event. As the baby chick struggled to free itself from the shell it was clear that it was an agonizing and difficult task. One of the students asked if we shouldn’t help by taking off some of the shell. The teacher told us that if we did this it would make it easier for the chick to get out but in the long run it would be very damaging. The chick needed to struggle through the suffering time in order to strengthen the muscles it needed to survive. The struggle of getting out of the shell was actually de- signed to prepare the chick for the life ahead. God has designed our suffering in just the same way.

The apostles considered it a privilege to suffer for Jesus. In that suffering there was a renewed sense of being united with Him and of pointing people towards Him. Dwight Johnson is doing that every day. The more his body deteriorates, the more glory he brings to Jesus by living a life that loves Jesus above all else.

The more I think about Dwight the more I am forced to smile. He was better than me at baseball, basketball, and golf. Now it appears he is better than me at being a Christian as well. He is bringing glory to God in a situation that I don’t know how I would handle. However, I do know this: when the time comes when I must face that kind of suffering, I know that my game will be better because of Dwight. Some things never change.

UPDATE:

Tuesday, February 1, 2011: I visited Dwight for the last time, in this life anyway. There have been so many people coming to see Dwight that Deb arranged for me and Dwight to have a few hours alone. The reason this was the last visit is the breathing apparatus that he has been using is no longer helping. The next option is a tracheotomy, to put him on a ventilator. Dwight and Deb decided long ago that when it reached this point they would not take that option. There is no point. Dwight is ready to go. They are going to remove the breathing assist. Dwight is so ready he decided not to wait to see the Steelers play the Packers in the Super Bowl on Sunday. They will remove the breathing apparatus on Thursday. I told him I understand: for all the glory that is the Steelers and Super Bowls, the glory of heaven outshines that in ways indescribable.

I have to admit that my emotions bounce from moment to moment. One moment it’s joy at the picture of Dwight with Jesus. The next is emptiness at the sense of a page turning in my own life and the resulting void, then to anger and frustration and wanting to break something, and then back to joy. But this is not about me. I find myself regularly having to remind myself of that. It is about Dwight and Deb and the incredible way in which they have dealt with this as they love and worship Jesus. As I say goodbye Dwight looks me in the eye and says, “I love you.” I lean down, tell him that I love him, and kiss the top of his balding head. I turn and walk down the long hallway and make a very long and lonely drive from Gainesville back home to Orlando. It’s only two hours but I found myself meandering through backcountry roads and taking four hours instead. Driving down I-75 in the midst of heavy traffic, speeding trucks, and anxious tourists just didn’t appeal to me.

Thursday, February 3, 2011: This morning the medical team took Dwight off the breathing mask, gave him some medication to keep him comfortable, and waited until the CO2 levels rose to the point that he slept and slipped away into the arms of Jesus. It took a few hours. But those hours were filled with songs of worship to God, lots of prayer, and tears of pain and joy.

I am regularly reminded of the power of suffering in Christ when I think of what Deb said to me at the end of my last visit with Dwight: “I know that God is real if for no other reason than the unexplainable peace that washes over me when I picture Dwight with Jesus.”

Amen to that.

There is a statement attributed to Mahatma Gandhi that goes something like this, “Your Jesus I like very much, his followers, not so much”. The statement is often brought up to point out that if followers of Christ would start acting more like Christ then we would have a better reputation and this impact on the world because people would like us too.

Certainly followers of Christ, myself among them, need to do a better job of actually following Jesus and being more like Him. If we did there would undoubtedly be a much more positive impact on the world. I don’t take issue with that. This blog has a goal of getting people to live more like Jesus for that very reason. What I take issue with is the statement Gandhi made about liking Jesus very much. I don’t think liking Jesus is really an option. In fact I am fairly certain that Jesus does not want you to like HIm. To do so completely misses the true nature of who Jesus is and what He has done. Have we really reduced our relationship with Jesus to nothing much more than pressing the like button on Facebook?

Jesus doesn’t want you to like Him. He wants you to either love Him with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength or to be icing cold towards Him. There is no safe middle ground. Don’t think so? Then what are we to make of His words to the church in Laodicea in Revelation 3:15-16 when Jesus chastises the church for being neither hot or cold but being lukewarm and wanting to spit them out of His mouth. To like Jesus is equivalent to being lukewarm about it. it lacks passion and conviction. Jesus would rather have to deal with the passion of hatred and anger like He did with a young Pharisee named Saul who was persecuting the church than deal with a person who simply likes Him. He would rather have the honesty and passion of Martin Luther who once said, “Love God? Sometimes I hate Him”. Luther knew that sometimes Jesus made claims on our lives that were harsh and difficult, that He could be a demanding Master. Yet he also know that this same Master went to the Cross and suffering horrendously so that we could live. You can’t just like that.

Looking at the life of Jesus in the Gospels it becomes evident that people were either enthralled by Jesus or repulsed by Him. You didn’t stay in the middle for very long. His teaching, his claims of deity, that He would rise from the dead, that He would one day judge the world, these were not the kind of tweets and Facebook posts that warranted a favorite or like button. They either captivated your heart and soul or they repulsed you. To be sure people gathered around Him out of curiosity. Large crowds followed Him and hung on His words. But they also regularly walked away from Him because what He taught them was too radical, too hard, too provocative. At one point nearly everyone walks away saying just that. Only a handful of the closest disciples stuck around out of love for Christ. They were willing to go all in and give up everything for Him. You don’t do that because you like someone. You do that because you love them with all you have and recognize that nothing you have is worth holding on to if it gets in the way of your relationship with Him. It even seems that Jesus deliberately says and does things for the sole purpose of culling the group and sifting out the likers from the lovers.

Jesus’ life and message demand that we go one direction or the other with Him. The middle ground is no-man’s-land. It is a place of bland, lukewarm existence. Either we reject Jesus altogether, or we throw ourselves headlong in love with Him. I do not reject Jesus. I certainly don’t want to like Him. What i want is to throw myself headlong into a deeper and deeper relationship of loving Him and being loved by Him.

To Gandhi’s point, if some of us, even just a few, loved Jesus with a reckless abandon then we would see people become enthralled with Him and love Him. To be sure there will be those who will hate Him and us. Jesus promised as much. But He seems willing to run that risk in order to move people from the deception of a comfort zone of liking Him in order to get them into the wild and exhilarating world of loving Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.

So do I like Jesus? No. But I love Him, more today than yesterday, but not half as much as tomorrow.

Recently Rob Bell was quoted as saying some rather provocative things about the church, homosexuality, gay marriage, and the irrelevancy of the Bible. As has been the case for the last few years, whenever Bell speaks there is a minor firestorm that erupts. One of the unfortunate aspects of the firestorm is at some important truths often get lost in the conflagration.

In this case, Bell was making the case that it is inevitable that the church at large will come to accept gay marriage. Bell said, “I think culture is already there and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense, when you have in front of you flesh-and-blood people who are your brothers and sisters, and aunts and uncles, and co-workers and neighbors, and they love each other and just want to go through life,”

Without getting into whether or not it is inevitable that the church at large will adopt gay marriage as acceptable and without dealing with the crux of the issues regarding homosexuality, I want to focus on Bell’s statement about the Bible. In many ways it was what most set people off. I can understand that. Here is Bell, a former darling of the evangelical camp, all be it a more progressive strain of it. He was hailed as a preacher and Bible teacher for a new generation. Now here he is pointing out the irrelevance of the very scriptures he made his teaching reputation. The sense of betrayal that Christians feel when one of our own turns on the things we hold dear and believed he taught only adds to the blaze.

But let’s try to set all that aside for a moment as look at what Bell is saying from the perspective of the secular world we are trying to influence for Christ. When Bell says, “the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense” he has a point that we need to hear. If you are a follower of Christ I would hope that all you need is the truth of those letters in the Bible written 2,000 years ago. They are the eternal truth of the Word of God and they have authority in our lives, something every denomination and church from liberal to conservative has in their creeds in some fashion. But if you look at it from the perspective of the person who does not believe the Bible to be the Word of God and to have authority in our lives then yes, quoting 2,000 year old letters carries no weight, it has no influence. People are just not there. It is comparable to a Muslim quoting the Quran to a Christian. The Christian would consider it irrelevant because they do not consider the Quran to have any weight or authority. That is where many people are today and have been since antiquity.

It needs to be noted that the Apostle Paul understood this. In Acts 17 Paul is in Athens, the center of philosophical learning, debate and even academic snobbery. After spending a few days getting a handle on the culture of Athens Paul begins to speak and debate the leading thinkers of the culture. He wants them to understand the Gospel and embrace Jesus as Lord. When he speaks he starts not by quoting the Bible, in this case some things written by Moses and other prophets between 400 and 2,000 years earlier. Rather he begins by quoting a Greek philosopher named Epimenides who lived more than 600 years before Paul. What Paul does is appeal to an authority that his audience would respect and then uses what they already agree to as a bridge to get to the truth of who Jesus is. Simply quoting the Bible to his audience would have gotten Paul nowhere fast. He was not denying the Gospel. He was being wise in how he presented it in order to best communicate with his hearers.

Bells says that if we are quoting the Bible as our best defense we are going to be increasingly irrelevant. He is partly right. Ultimately the Bible is our best case for the truth of God. It is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword and will cut between bone and marrow, to quote Hebrews 4:12. But it is not our only tool and it is not always the first one we should use. For Christians to truly impact the world and people in it we need to understand what they hold as authoritative. What carries weight with them? What truths are to be found in their thinking that lead to the truth of Christ found in the Bible? Those truths are there. Paul says in Romans 1 that the knowledge of God is present within every human being but we suppress that knowledge to follow gods of our own making. That residual knowledge makes itself known in various ways, in little truths and in the yearnings in the hearts of men and women. We need to be students of the culture like Paul was in order to show people exactly why the Word of God is their best hope for finding truth and living life as it was meant to be.

Unfortunately, the reaction to Bell’s statement is typically to shout our Bible verses louder and with more anger in our attempt to prove to people that the Bible is relevant to the subject at hand. We do not need to make the Bible relevant. It is always relevant. Certainly getting angry over it doesn’t serve us or Jesus well. What we need to do is show the culture that much of what they already believe is contained within the Bible, just as Paul did in Athens. I may disagree with Rob Bell on many, many things. But we need to hear what he is saying from the perspective of a disbelieving culture so that we can better communicate the truth of God to people immersed in it.

WIthin his statement we can see what drives Bell. It is the people standing in front of him. I think he has an incredibly compassionate heart. As his famous books says, Love Wins. Bell is right that Evangelical Christians could take a few lessons in love, especially loving your neighbor who is a complete and total enemy of the things of God. Where Bell goes astray is thinking that you can have a loving God without also having a holy God, a just God, a God who gets angry over evil and injustice. We Christians are big on speaking the truth to people. But we are called by the truth of Scripture to “speak the truth in love.” Incidentally, that also applies to how we speak to and about Rob Bell.

The terroristic attacks on the French Magazine Charlie Hedbo have once again thrust a simmering conflict into the headlines. The magazine is well-known for its satirical cartoons that are equal opportunity offenders. The Pope, Christianity, Islam, the prophet Mohammed are all fair game for the magazines satire. It is clear that the attack this week on the magazine’s headquarters, which left twelve dead, was motivated by satirical cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. Even as I write this the French security forces have surrounded the two suspected gunman who are reported to have told police they are ready to die as martyrs.

In the past few days there have been numerous articles, blogs, and news reports about the violent responses that radical Islamists have made to similar affronts to Islam in recent years. In the midst of the reports and debates there have been a variety of responses to the very idea of printing images that are offensive to religious sensibilities. Many editors and cartoonists have expressed solidarity with Charlie Hedbo by posting illustrations of their own, vowing to never give up the right of free expression. On the other side a number of news agencies, CNN and AP among them have made statements that they have long had a policy of not printing such offensive images.

The problem with the CNN and AP statements is that they are mistaken at best and outright falsehoods at worst. As recently as October of 2014 CNN ran a story on shocking works of art and included a picture of the infamous exhibit of a crucified Christ in a jar of urine.  Many have pointed out the hypocrisy of news agencies that feel free to attack and offend Christians at every turn, apparently without a second thought, yet go to great lengths to avoid offending other religious groups. I don’t want to delve into that subject. Rather, I want to look at how Christians need to view and respond to such attacks on the faith and on Christ.

The message of Jesus, as it relates to being offended, attacked, ridiculed, persecuted, or even killed for one’s faith, was a radical and provocative message. It boils down to these two things: one, expect those things to happen to you and when they do, consider it a blessing and respond to your antagonists with the love of Christ. Two, if you are not the subject of such attacks then reconsider whether you are truly following Jesus or not.

Jesus said it so clearly in His most famous message, The Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew chapter 5:10-12.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Far from being the exception that rocks our faith, Jesus says that persecution and ridicule are part and parcel of following Him and should actually increase our faith. Such opposition should serve as an assurance that we are truly following Jesus and being faithful to Him. The result of such opposition is that we are in some way blessed by God. We are in a better place in life when such things happen than when they don’t. Blessing in God’s economy is not measured by your prosperity and health but according to Jesus by the push-back you get because you love and serve Him alone as Lord and King.

Of course it is possible to be ridiculed for your faith simply because you are being a jerk to people. What I am talking about is the opposition that comes because you adhere to Christ and His teachings and do all of it under the command to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. I am talking about holding to theological and moral positions that the culture finds offensive, but doing so with the grace and love of Christ.

Being ridiculed and persecuted for who He was and what He taught is what Jesus faced all the time. His response was one of strong gentleness, returning evil with good and loving and forgiving even those who drove the nails into His body and spit on and cursed Him as He died. In Matthew 10:25 He warns us that is this is how the world treats Him, the Master, then why would we the servants expect to be treated any differently?

Why would a follower of Christ become offended and indignant when attacked for their faith? If anything it should be taken as a badge of honor that we are counted worthy to suffer for His namesake. That is exactly what Paul says to the Philippians in chapter 1 verse 29.

29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake

Talk about provocative! Paul is saying that we have been granted, as a privilege, to believe in AND suffer for the sake of Christ. When he writes of his own imprisonment for the Gospel he writes of the benefits such suffering and persecution have had for the advancement of the Gospel, making the point that other followers of Christ have been emboldened to share their faith more openly as a result of Paul being persecuted. How counter-intuitive is that? Rather than run and hide out of fear or protest the injustice of his persecution, friends and colleagues of Paul shared the Gospel even more. I think it was because they saw his imprisonment, his persecution, not as a sign of something going wrong but of everything going right! Rather than be angry and lash back at the opposition, they showed the love of Christ even more boldly.

That is the Christian response to offense, ridicule, persecution, and even martyrdom. Instead of fighting back with vitriol, or anger, or even guns, the follower of Christ fights back with joy, love, grace, and forgiveness, in short, with the Gospel of Christ. For some people the answer is to destroy their enemies by way of attack. Abraham Lincoln asked the question, “If I make my enemy my friend, have I not destroyed my enemy?” That is the way of Christ. Not to make your enemy die, but to rather lay down your life for them so they are no longer your enemy. That is the way of the Cross. It is not an easy way. The easy way is to retaliate, to fight back, to punch harder and more frequently. The way of the Cross, the way of the Provocative Christian, is to respond with love by serving and sacrificing for your enemies. You do that so they may one day become followers of Christ, no longer enemies, but friends, even brothers and sisters in Him. So pray for those who persecute and ridicule you. Look for opportunities to serve them and love them in Jesus name. Refuse to attack their character or intentions. Certainly engage their ideas but as 1 Peter 3:15 urges, “do so with gentleness and respect”. And finally rejoice that you have been counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus.

Dan Lacich:

Very helpful and wise words from my friend Darryl Ford.

Originally posted on Souls With Bodies:

Gospel Gardening: Ferguson and Beyond

Gardening(1)

Something is wrong with our garden. God cares about it. We should too.

There are weeds preventing water from reaching the soil. There are plants suffering drought. There are areas where soil nutrients are being overtaxed. Recent events are a reminder that our garden in America is unhealthy and is in desperate need of maintenance; specifically when we look at the powder keg that is race in America.

A few examples: The shooting fatality of Mike Brown in Ferguson. The choking fatality of Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY. The shooting fatality of John Crawford III in a southwestern Ohio Walmart. The shooting fatality of Ezell Ford in Los Angeles.The shooting fatality of Darrien Hunt outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. All unarmed African Americans killed while being arrested or in custody.

There are also certainly huge issues within the African American…

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Sometimes I Forget….

Posted: November 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

Dan Lacich:

 

How would you respond if someone told you that you life would have been better if you had disposed of one of your children? Props to this amazing mom. You will want to cheer for her as I did when I read this blog.

Originally posted on Hand Me Downs:

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Sometimes I forget that our son has Down syndrome. It’s easy to be distracted by his two year old tantrums, his mischievous smile and go getter attitude. Gabe is kind hearted but stubborn. He immediately runs to check on sister when she is having a dramatic, I’m four and the world is over, meltdown. He will climb onto your lap randomly and stretch his little fingers up to stroke your cheek, just to say I love you.

He also destroys things. Opens drawers, pulls things out, throws them on floor. When you confront him, he ducks his head and looks up from under his eyebrows with a sort of sorry smirk. He helps pick up, sometimes, or wanders off to destroy something else. He loves music, he will start to dance the second he hears it. He absolutely cannot resist participating in a round of Itsy Bitsy, or Twinkle Twinkle…

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Here is a question I was asked recently as part of Northland Church Ask a Pastor.

Enjoy

Dan

Something is amiss among followers of Jesus these days. Rarely a day goes by when I don’t hear a message or read a blog, Facebook post, or book that proclaims a love for Jesus but a disdain for religion. Phrases like, “it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship” or “I love Jesus just not the church” or the all too familiar “I am spiritual not religious” are phrases that sound enlightened, mature and so very appealing. The problem is they are very misguided statements. Read the rest of this entry »

This is a sermon on John 13 and the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot. Betrayal is one of the most painful experiences we go through because it can only come at the hands of someone close to you. Anyone can hurt you but only someone close enough that you trust them can betray you.

Dan

If Houston Subpoenaed My Sermons

Posted: October 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

A recent news report dealt with a controversy in Houston Texas. The short version of the story is that Houston passed an ordinance that dealt with access issues for transgender people. There was an effort to overturn the law that included the gathering of thousands of signatures on petitions in order to get the issue on a ballot. The concern people have is that the law would allow a man to dress up as a woman, claim to have gender identity issues and then have the freedom to go into any womans restroom, locker room, sauna, you name it and stare at women and young girls. Read the rest of this entry »

The Last Stand

Posted: August 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

I have found that one learns a great deal about people, their strengths, fears, prejudices and virtues by reading military history that focuses on the people more than the strategies and tactics of a battle. To that end I have been reading The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull and the Battle of the Little Bighorn by Nathaniel Philbrick. Read the rest of this entry »

Here is a short video clip from a Q&A I did recently for Third Millenium Ministry. They have a goal of making Master Degree level theological education available for everyone on the planet for free. Not a bad goal. This clip answers the question, “What is realized eschatology?”

It is only a minute or so long. Hope you enjoy it.

dan3mil

Dan