Friday, September 23, 2011

Let There Be Light

As I was preparing my BSF teaching lesson tonight on Acts 2, the warmth of the early followers of Jesus really struck me. "... And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (vv. 46-47).
This joy, gladness, and deep communion is nothing less than the "fellowship of the Holy Spirit" (2 Cor. 13:14), that is, the reciprocal participation in one another's lives and in the joy the Spirit gives through the gospel of Jesus Christ. These were all those who had seen their own complicity in the Messiah's death and had received the gospel that in Christ their sins were washed away forever, and they had receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (vv. 36-41).
The image that keeps coming to my head is that of an incandescent lightbulb. When the switch is turned on and the metal connection is restored, the circuit allows electricity to stream from its source through the bulb's tungsten filament, causing it to glow and radiate warmth and light. In the same way, in the life of the repentant sinner who receives Christ and the forgiveness that comes through him, he is restored to connection with the very life of God--his Spirit, his Breath--who is poured out into the believer's soul and acts upon him in such a way that he cannot help but radiate joy, peace, and love over the grace of his God. "On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood up and cried out, 'If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, "Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." ' Now this he had said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified" (John 7:37-39).
But even though this Spirit and the grace that comes through the message of the cross can be found even by a man alone with the Bible, how often do we rather encounter the life-giving, joy-producing Word through the prayers, consolation, hymns, and encouragement of other Christian brothers and sisters? As we've received, so we freely give to others. And so the church glows brighter, with the result that the Lord will add to her number day by day those who are being saved.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Human Sacrifices and THE Human Sacrifice

No matter how many times I come across examples in the Old Testament, I am continually shocked at the accounts of people sacrificing their children to deities, often by burning them as offerings to the Ammonite god Molech (see Lev. 18:21; 20:2ff.; 2 Kings 16:3; Jer. 32:35; Ezek. 16:21). In our age of Western "enlightenment," we all see human sacrifice--whether voluntary or not--as an ignorant, if not brutal, act. So when I read that this is still being practiced in many sites around the world, particularly among African tribal peoples, it shocks me.

But should it?

Human sacrifice has been practiced for thousands of years, from the earliest of human times. Though we modern folk deride and decry it--and Christians rightly hate it for the evil, life-desecrating work of Satan that it is--there are innate truths in human sacrifice that perhaps many of us today have forgotten.

Some people sacrifice themselves or another member of their community as an offering of devotion to please their god(s). They rightly see that the greater powers deserve nothing less than all that we can offer to them, and that a life given in their honor is the supreme gift. Do we even think about the fact that we owe our lives to a higher being?

Other cultures sacrifice those who are thought to bear curses. (Here is a sad story of Ethiopians who kill off children who are mingi, or "cursed," and who thereby endanger their communities--and of how Christians' hope in Jesus and love for their neighbors is redeeming this situation.) Only by removing the accursed person can prosperity be restored to the community. In some situations the sacrifice himself isn't considered cursed, but the community as a whole is, and amends can only be made by placating the deity's anger with sacrifices. Do we today feel any sense of guilt before the Divine for our wrongdoing?

Strangely enough, these motives for sacrifice point us to the Gospel, the message about the one true and final human sacrifice: Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. He lived an unblemished life and "knew no sin" (2 Cor. 5:21) and willingly "gave himself up as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Eph. 5:2 NIV). He held back none of himself in perfect submission and devotion to God.

But of this same man it is written, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us [i.e., in our place as a substitute]--for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree'--so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith" (Gal. 3:13-14). Jesus' untarnished dedication to God both motivated him and enabled him to become a worthy, once-for-all-time sacrifice who took upon himself our guilt and accursedness as his very own so that we might be absolved and welcomed into the family of God (2 Cor. 5:21).

So while human sacrifices can point people toward the gospel, by themselves they only lead to despair. Such offerings must continually be repeated because they inevitably fall short of the wholehearted consecration God desires and the extent of sacrifice he justly requires--because these can only be fulfilled in the God-man Jesus. But the wonderful truth is that they have been fulfilled! And everywhere this good news spreads--as it did to the Celts--people will begin to joyfully offer up sacrifices of a different kind: praise and thanks to God in Jesus' name and charity and generosity toward mankind (Heb. 13:15-16).

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Hope for a Dad-To-Be

The school year is only two weeks old*, yet with devoting two hours plus each day to cross country, I'm already finding myself falling behind. As such, it's easy for me to get freaked out about the difficulties of becoming a parent amid "real life." (In case you don't know, we're expecting our first child in early January, Lord willing.) But the truth is that there has never been a single parent who didn't live in a messy, pressure-laden, sin-filled world. Everyone has had to work to put bread on the table, to trust that the heavens will rain at the right time, to strain to find the energy to keep going, and to fight the battle (both within and without) to live wisely and nobly. That's true of all God's saints too.

I often think about how much easier it would be amid a tiring schedule to settle for the path of rearing well-groomed kids who are well-behaved yet whose righteousness is only skin deep--"whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness" (Matthew 23:27). The vigilance, time, involvement, patience, prayer, instruction, reproof, and encouragement needed to shepherd their hearts and to guide them to the cross will be so great. When Olivia and I are tired, frustrated at our lack of control, or ashamed of our kids' behavior, it would be so much easier to meet their neediness and stubbornness with anger and irritability or cheap rewards--or give up in complacence and defeat--than to press on another day in hope that the Lord will faithfully be at work in their lives.

But God will have none of that! As I've been reading Hosea and Proverbs, God has been showing me how he justly and consistently disciplines his wayward children while continuing to pursue them in tender, consuming compassion. "How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?" (Hosea 11:8). Because he has created marriage, in large measure, for the sake of raising godly children (Malachi 2:15), he has delegated his own authority to parents. And because he has given us this authority in his image to rule, lead, teach, and guide our children as he does his own people, he will empower and teach us to be parents like him: sober-minded and watchful, consistent in discipline, faithful in presence, patient in hope, fervent in love, speaking truth and wisdom to transform the heart.

But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear him, and his righteousness to [their] children's children. (Psalm 103:17)

"And as for me, this is my covenant with them [those who receive the Redeemer and turn from transgression]," says the LORD: "My Spirit that is upon you, and the words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children's offspring," say the LORD, "from this time forth and forevermore." (Isaiah 59:21)
*I actually posted this on September 15. For some reason Blogger tags the date the first time I write anything at all on a post.