Saturday, December 19, 2009

Nothing Less than Him

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”
(John 1:1).

            Jesus is God’s complete self-expression or Word.  The Word is God, just as my word is me and not something other than me.  Jesus said it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks (Matt. 12:34).  Jesus is the abundance of God’s heart, the One in whom God’s most personal reality is known. 
            Hebrews 1:1 tells us that the crown of God’s self-revelation is His Son, who is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Heb. 1:1-3).  Jesus Himself told His disciples, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).  Hebrews show us that the message God has spoken in His Son supercedes prophets and their prophecies, supercedes the message spoken by angels, supercedes the revelation of Moses, supercedes the testimony of the tabernacle, supercedes the law, and the covenant of Mt. Sinai (Heb. 1:1, 2:2-4, 3:3, 9:11, 10:1, 12:18-24).  In short, Jesus is the full message of God to us.  Every other message that has been or will be is piecemeal and limited.  Hebrews warns that we can end up rejecting the Son because of devotion to God’s partial revelation through other avenues.  Note that these are not sinful things or false messages, but spiritual things that, while they serve God’s purpose, are nonetheless incomplete.  We would do well to heed this warning.  In the church today, Jesus is often shouted down by heralds of the miraculous, morality, spiritual warfare, spiritual gifts, the end times, holiness, revival, prosperity, faith, tradition, cultural relevance, and a million other messages.  Again, these things aren’t bad or satanic.  But in the end, whatever we preach other than Jesus is less than God’s full Word.
            John tells us that God’s complete self-expression, His Word, became flesh and dwelled among us (John 1:14).  He further says that God’s complete self-expression was heard, seen, and touched by those who knew Him (1 John 1:1).  This is mind-boggling.  Everything that God wanted us to know about Him walked among us, ate with us, showed us affection, talked with us.  That being the case, it still took an act of God to make us see His revelation in the Son (Matt. 16:15-17). 
            Our birth into spiritual life is accomplished when the Word enters into us.  Peter says we were born again by the living and enduring word of God (1 Peter 1:23).  John says God’s seed is in us (1 John 3:9).  We have received nothing less than God’s complete self-expression.  It is this One who indwells us.  Nevertheless, this reality remains veiled to us unless the Holy Spirit opens our eyes (2 Cor. 3:16-18).  Christ may be in us, but without the Holy Spirit’s ministry we will fail to recognize Him within just as people failed to recognize Jesus of Nazareth as God’s Christ when He walked the earth.  In Galatians chapter one, Paul says that God revealed Christ in Him so that he might preach Him.  Amen.  May we know God’s complete self-expression, His Word, by revelation, so that we might preach nothing less than Him.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The All and In All

In his third vision, Ezekiel sees all things made new. The old temple—into which was gathered all Israel’s sinfulness—is no more. Instead, there is a new temple, made without hands, purged of all idolatry (Ezek. 40-43). The people of Israel are new, as is their relationship with the Lord: “Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place for the soles of my feet. This is where I will live among the Israelites forever. The house of Israel will never again defile my holy name…by their prostitution and the lifeless idols of their kings….” (Ezek. 43:7). There is a new priesthood—the sons of Zadok (meaning, “Sons of righteousness”)—free of the unfaithfulness which characterized the priesthood of man (Ezek. 44:10-16). A new inheritance awaits the people of God (45:1-8, 47:13-48:29), and a new city whose name is “THE LORD IS THERE” (Ezek. 45:6, 48:15-22, 48:30-35). Here, all things are new, & all things are of God (2 Cor. 5:17, 18). This is reality in Christ. Through the cross (the destruction of the temple in Ezekiel’s second vision), old things were put away. No vestige of those things remain, just as Ezekiel sees no resemblance between the Israel in his vision & the Israel in captivity. We can remain in captivity through unbelief, or we can accept the overwhelming grace of God—all things have been made new in Jesus. By showing Ezekiel these things, God is hoping to draw his people—including those reading Ezekiel today—out of captivity. For we are captives to the extent we do not abide where all things are made new and are of God.

When we say all things are new, what do we mean? Let’s put it this way: imagine a world where every last thing is Christ: every river, every stone, every blade of grass. This is something like what Ezekiel’s third vision shows us. Christ is the temple and the glory within. He is the altar, He is the offering, He is the priest presenting the offering, He is the sacrificial flesh eaten by those who minister. He is the land and each inheritance marked out. He is the 12 tribes and the nation of Israel. The prince spoken of is the Prince of Peace. His Spirit is the river that makes everything live as it flows past trees of all kinds, which trees He is. “Christ is all, and is in all” (Col. 3:11). There is nothing in what Ezekiel sees that is not Christ. And this is where God has placed us. This is the One into which we have been baptized (1 Cor. 1:30, 12:13). Despite the conditions through which we sojourn, despite the lack of Christ we see around us and in us every day, God would have us know that our reality, the place where we live and move and have our being, is precisely this place where there is nothing but Christ, where Christ is the elemental composition of everything, where He is the length, the height, the breadth, and the depth (Eph. 3:18). “Christ is all, and is in all.”

Sunday, June 07, 2009

I Hate Earth Day

The Lord has been exposing in me a fear of being seen as ignorant, out of touch, uneducated, backward, and the like. An underlying motivation in my presentation of Christ has been to show that Christianity is none of the negative stereotypes imposed on it. More importantly, I want to make sure people don’t think I fit those stereotypes. At bottom, my defense of Christianity is merely self-love. And really, we talk in this day and age as if stereotypes are always completely false when in reality there is often truth to them.

While bridge building is a legitimate calling within the church, so is being misunderstood, maligned, and rejected. Many in the church are perplexed by the world’s reaction to us and assume something must be wrong with the church or our presentation of the gospel. Many of us are busy polling our neighbors, finding out what offends or confuses, and trying to find the “holy grail” of cultural relevance that will end all dissonance with non-Christians. Others make it their mission to engage public debate, relate Christian faith to the latest scientific theories, and rub elbows with intellectuals of all stripes. Nevertheless, the world’s basic attitude toward Christianity is negative and many of us remain surprised by this.

But we shouldn’t be surprised. The scriptures say we should expect the world to hate us (John 15:18-25). We are told we shouldn’t expect the world to listen to us (1 John 4:5, 6). We are told to expect rejection (1 Peter 4:12; 2 Tim. 3:12). Despite all these admonitions, we wring our hands and wonder why all don’t speak well of us (Luke 6:26).

This isn’t to say the church is perfect. Historically, we have been guilty of social injustice, hypocrisy, child molestation, consumerism, and countless other things that betray the very heart of God. For our real failures we should take responsibility and show contrition as is fitting in Christ. But we often go way beyond this and lapse into co-dependently gauging the rightness of our course by the reactions of others. If people are flooding in and not leaving offended, we must be presenting the “real” Jesus. If people react negatively or with hostility, we assume something must be wrong with us and we anxiously set about to find how we’ve dropped the ball.

But we must consider this: Large crowds followed Jesus when He was handing out free food, healing people, preaching encouraging sermons, etc. But when He got to the heart of His teaching about the cross and communing in His broken flesh, everyone left but the twelve (John 6:66). We need to remember that “he had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him” (Isaiah 53:2). In the end, the crowds we draw through our pleasanter ministries will be the same crowds calling for our crucifixion (Matt. 27:22). I am by no means suggesting we be bull-headed, insensitive, ignorant clods for Jesus. But we can never forget we are not of the world or that our place is ultimately with Jesus (John 17:14). “Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore” (Heb. 13:13).

Saturday, March 28, 2009

I Belong to My Lover

“I belong to my lover, and his desire is for me” (Song of Songs 7:10).

Song of Songs is, on one level, about marriage & marital intimacy. But Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:31, 32 that marriage is about much more than simply marriage. It is a shadow of Christ & the church. Taking our cues from Paul, Song of Songs is about the intimate relationship to which we have been called in Christ.

I belong…

We know from verses such as 1 Peter 1:19 that we belong to God because he bought us with the precious blood of Jesus. But this is a merely legal ownership. Song of Songs speaks of an ownership based on mutual desire, a covenant in which both partners willingly forsake all others to belong to one another. Exodus 21:2-6 gives laws about Hebrew slaves and brings out the difference between these two types of ownership. By law, Hebrew slaves had to be released after serving 7 years. “But,” the law says, “if the servant declares, ‘I love my master…and do not want to go free’…he will be his servant for life” (Ex. 21:5,6). One slave serves his master then takes his freedom. Another gives up his freedom & himself out of love for his master. Many came to Jesus to be fed, healed, or delivered, then went their way. Ten lepers were healed but only one worshiped the Lord. Crowds thronged after Jesus but only 12 gave themselves to Him (Mark 10:28).
Another poor, but functional analogy would be buying a cat. Once we pay the price, the cat is released from her pet store cage & comes to our home. She belongs to us, but whether any affection or closeness develops is another matter. Likewise, we may be purchased, we may belong to Jesus, we may enjoy being fed by Him and reap the benefits of being in His household, but intimacy with Him is another matter. It is this belonging of intimacy that Song of Songs presents.

I belong to my lover…

I belong to my Lover—not to one who expects me to please him; not to the 10 commandments; not to ministries; not to a denomination. I belong to my Lover. I belong to Him who is so taken with me that He says, “You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride; you have stolen my heart with one glance from your eyes” (SOS 4:9). He is the King of kings. All authority in heaven and on earth rests with Him (Matt. 28:18). But I know Him in His chambers, where His kingly garb is gone, where His scepter is laid aside, where His commands are the kisses of His mouth (SOS 1:2).

I belong to my lover, and His desire is for me.

His desire is not for me to do something or be something. His desire is for me, period. Before His eyes, I am uncovered and laid bare, but He says, “All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you” (Heb. 4:13; SOS 4:7). His response to my nakedness is desire. There is no shame, no reproach. His arms enfold and cover me. His banner over me is love (SOS 2:4, 6).
We need to hear the viewpoint of our Lover: “Like a lily among thorns is my darling among the maidens,” “your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely,” “Sixty queens there may be…but my dove, my perfect one, is unique” (SOS 2:2, 2:14, 6:8-9). Sometimes we may secretly feel that God merely tolerates us, that He is obligated to put up with us because of the blood of Jesus. We may acknowledge He loves us yet feel that we can’t be very appealing to Him. Song of Songs shows us that there is no such mixture in God’s thoughts toward us. His desire is for us. He wants us. He is head over heels in love, without reservation, without cold feet. Only by knowing the totality of His love for us will we be changed and love Him unreservedly in return (1 John 4:19).

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Crucified Yet Living Temple

Ezekiel’s temple shows us the nature of eternal life and of being the body of Christ. The temple bears the mark of the cross, a cross formed by the outer and inner gates which lead to the altar at the temple’s center. Living water flows from the Holy of Holies, where the glory of God dwells. We who are the temple and body of Christ have been crucified with Christ and bear the marks of the Lord Jesus (Gal. 2:20, 6:17). It is by the marks of the cross that Jesus is identified. Jesus’s disciples knew Him by these marks after His resurrection, and we who are raised with Him are now the body that carries this identifying characteristic. It is the mark of the cross, applied by the work of the Spirit in our lives, that shows we belong to Christ, not our confession of Christianity or our attendance at church. We have been raised with Him by the glory of the Father, and rivers of living water flow from our innermost being (Rom. 6:4; John 7:38, 39).
This is eternal life: being crucified and raised with Christ, being the temple in which the death and life of Jesus are revealed (2 Cor. 4:10, 11). Ezekiel’s temple also shows us that because death works in us, life works in others—the river flowing from the temple flows into the Dead Sea, and wherever it flows things live (Ezek. 47:8, 9; 2 Cor. 4:12).
The reality of Ezekiel’s temple must affect us deeply. It must be more than a mere teaching or idea, it must be more than theology. Jesus is not our collection of religious practices, beliefs, morality, and worldview. He is a life-giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45). He doesn’t want us to obey Him merely. He wants us to be His dwelling place. He doesn’t want servants who are unaware of His business but friends who share His business of laying down His life for His friends (John 15:12-15). Unless we understand and are about His business, there will be no life flowing from us into the sea of dead people around us. We cannot substitute evangelistic programs or missions campaigns for life. The difference is preaching the word versus people being able to see, hear, and touch the Word in us (1 John 1:1). The Holy Spirit must open our eyes to these things, and He must transform us according to the vision of Christ Ezekiel presents. As we are increasingly apprehended by the truth, there is no response but to cast our independent lives away in order to take our place in the temple which is crucified yet lives.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Dragon in Lamb's Clothing

The Pharisees…. What was eating those guys? Rewind to the period between the Old and New Testaments—Alexander the Great brings many nations, including Israel, under Greek rule. His vision was to make all peoples culturally Greek. He was so successful that Greek culture persisted even after the rise of the Roman empire. In the time of Jesus, Greek was still the common language, and the New Testament itself was penned in Greek.
The Pharisees trace their roots to this period when the Greeks were pressing their cultural offensive. In Jerusalem, a handful of God’s people violently resisted Greek forces after one of their generals ordered that a pig be sacrificed in the temple. The Israelites routed Greek control of Jerusalem. In so doing they preserved their religious and ethnic heritage. Out of these military defenders of the faith, a priestly group emerged. These continued to resist Greek culture and to protect the faith of their fathers, though not through military means. This group evolved into the Pharisees, which means “separate.” Their zeal for Hebrew tradition and separateness from gentile cultures made them a social and religious force to be reckoned with.
The downside was that the posture of the Pharisees was defensive. They lost touch with God’s mission to draw all nations, not into Jewish culture, but into His kingdom. Instead of advancing the kingdom of God, the Pharisees were caught up in a culture-war. Ironically, their fight to preserve what was godly brought them into conflict with God, and they murdered His Son.
This fact should give us pause. As western culture becomes increasingly less Christian, many of us are guilty of reducing the mission of Christ to a culture-war. Is the culturally defensive posture we often take helping God? Does God need our help? Does protesting the removal of the 10 Commandments from a courthouse or picketing certain movies advance God’s kingdom? Jesus did not defend Himself against the Pharisees, against Herod, against Pilate. Does He now need us to defend Him?
Paul can teach us much in this regard. We don’t see him getting into cultural squabbles as he shares Christ. In Athens, he referenced Greek poetry and an altar to an unknown god while discussing the resurrection (Acts 17:23, 28). Though fully understanding that Christ was the end of the law, Paul submitted to a Jewish purification rite in the interest of reaching out to Jews (Acts 21:24-26). As he told the Corinthians, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22).
One final consideration: Christianity dominated western culture for centuries, from 312 when Constantine made Christianity the state religion to modern times. Even when Christianity enjoyed the cultural ascendancy many are fighting for, western culture was not the kingdom of God. Instead, culturally-dominant Christianity was more like the beast in John’s vision: it looked like a lamb but spoke like a dragon (Rev. 13:11). Human culture is human culture, however much we may dress it up in Christianity. Scripture and history show us that a dragon in lamb’s clothing is the best we will come up with if we resort to culture wars. The alternative is to follow the true Lamb wherever He goes (Rev. 14:4).