Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Beauty and Offense of Eastertide

I've been studying Christology in my systematic theology class these past few weeks--what sweet timing in light of Easter! And what a sweet study it has been, of both the beauty and the offense of the Cross.

As a teenager, I once heard a speaker insinuate that we make too much of the Cross and too little of the resurrection. It is true that the Gospel would not be complete without the resurrection--if Christ did not rise on the third day, then as Nitzche said, "God is dead." Resurrection Sunday is crucial. But there is nothing offensive about the resurrection. It is the Cross of Christ alone that provided the means for our final atonement, and it is the Cross that compels us, by its horrific offense, to lay down our sin and put on the new self. As singer/songwriter Derek Webb has said, "the Gospel is both beautiful and offensive. It must be both." Without the Cross, there is no offense, and therefore, a very limited beauty.

In The Cross of Christ, British thinker and evangelist John Stott explains the development of the cross as a Christian symbol. The Jews, of course, prohibited symbols because of the mandate from the Ten Words to refrain from making images of God (Exodus 20:4-5). As the Early Church developed its doctrines and creeds, the cross emerged as the defining symbol for followers of Christ. Stott writes that the cross was the most unlikely symbol for early Christians because the image was so very offensive to the Greco-Roman world. Crucifixion, a cruel punishment devised by Rome, is perhaps the most gruesome method of execution ever employed, as its victims suffered for hours before finally suffocating to death. And to a Jew, the cross was doubly offensive. The word "cross" in Hebrew is synonomus with the word for "tree," etz. Jews would have easily called to mind Deuteronomy 21:23 "anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse." To a Jewish mindset, it was blasphemous to claim that God would become man, and even more so to say that the Messiah could actually die under God's curse!

As if the gruesome cruelty of crucifixion and the Jewish confusion were not enough, we read Peter's words to the men of Israel: "you handed [Jesus] over to be killed...You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life" (Acts 3:12-15), and we find that we are equally guilty of betraying Christ. Our dark, twisted, deceitful hearts have killed Him. And so, this post offends its author.

But as Webb and others have noted, therein lies the beauty!

It's precisely because we are offended so deeply that Christ's atoning sacrifice is so precious. The Messiah who wept over the city of Jerusalem at the wickedness of the people, the Christ who bled and died on the cross to satisfy the wrath of God, that very same Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father today...and He waits for us to be made co-heirs with Him for all eternity. I love the refrain from the old 19th century hymn:

Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the Just was satisfied
To look on Him and Pardon me.

Behold him there, the risen Lamb
My perfect, spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I Am,
The King of Glory and of Grace!

As Stott writes, "As we face the cross, then, we can say to ourselves both 'I did it, my sins sent him there.'" (That's the offense.) Stott continues: "and 'he did it, his love took him there.'" (That's the beauty.) May we rejoice in the devastating offense and the sweet beauty of the Cross this Easter.

You are worthy to take the scroll and to open the seals because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation...
Revelation 5:9

Monday, April 6, 2009

Satan and Sin: Watch the Nightline Face-Off

I've been studying the origins of sin in my systematic theology course this semester, and along with it the Christian understanding of Satan and other fallen angels. So, this Nightline Face-Off is timely (thanks, Matt!). I love Mark Driscoll's loving, articulate responses.

Watch it here!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Sweeter in Tennessee

There is a little mountain--well a foothill, really--here in Nashville that always reminds me of God's faithfulness to me while I've lived in this city. A little background is necessary here, I suppose.

Two years ago upon my return from Italy, I received the news that I was no longer welcome at the church in Richmond where I had served prior to my stint overseas. It was a devastating blow. (Read more .) That night I picked up my Bible reading from the place I had left off the night before. And God, as He so often does in these pivotal moments, lent His eternal Word to my present situation:

"Observe therefore all the commands I am giving you today, so that you may have the strength to go in and take over the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess...The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in a vegetable garden. But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the LORD your God cares for; the eyes of the LORD your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end" (Deuteronomy 11:8-12).

I cried my eyes out that night, but I also took God at His word, believing that He would faithfully give me a new land (read: ministry), and that it would be (spiritually) richer than the place I was leaving behind and entrusting to Him.

Fast forward two months. I arrived in Nashville for a visit to Forest Hills Baptist Church, where I was being considered for a summer youth internship. Cognitively, I was weighing the decision heavily against another church in Kansas City, but my heart was already tied to Nashville because of several connections here (not to mention my love of Southern cities). As I drove South on Hillsboro Road with a church employee that Saturday afternoon, I remarked at how beautiful the foothills were. She agreed and told me about Moores Lane, a little mountain in Franklin that she loved to drive on. Suddenly, the promise from Deuteronomy came rushing back to me:

"But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the LORD your God cares for; the eyes of the LORD your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end."

"Surely not God?" I hesitated to accept the words; they seemed too literal. Perhaps sub-consciously my selfish desires were manipulating my thinking. But as I looked into the beautifully rough Tennessee landscape, my heart did a little somersault. And as I continued to pray about the decision those next couple of weeks, I couldn't get the words from Deuteronomy out of my head...a land of mountains and valleys...a land the LORD your God cares for...

Needless to say I took the job. I drove into town late in May, and headed straight for the Tims' house, where I would stay for a week before moving in with the Harpers. Surely it's Providence that to get to the Tims' you have to take Moore's Lane. It was a perfect sunny spring day, and as I approached Moore's Lane, Bethany Dillon's song "Exodus" started playing on my pod:

Come, come fallen ones
Dance in the healing stream
He has faithfully kept you
Brought you out of captivity

Rejoice, rejoice with all your hearts
Sing Him a new song
That’s heard high on the windswept mountains
It will resound

And the song in my heart must have resounded from that windswept; because as my SUV automatically switched gears to make it up the hill, the most delightful rain started to fall. The sun was still shining, but it was raining (a phenomenon Hawaiians call "liquid sunshine.")

I couldn't believe it. I cried a little and then laughed through my tears..."a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven...a land the LORD your God cares for." Suddenly I knew deep down in the depths of my heart that this would be for me a place of God's provision and rest.

From an e-mail home that night: "I'm sitting here tonight trying to finish up tomorrow's talk about the Old and New covenants, trying to wrap my mind around how faithful God is to us even when we are so lacking in faith, and I am just in awe of this personal covenant He has made with me for this summer."

Move, move your feet

Dance before the Lord
On to the Promised Land
On to your reward, sing

Lead, Lord, with unfailing love
Those that You have ransomed
And we will sing out as we go on
Our God is faithful
Our God is faithful

I drove on Moore's Lane last night on my way to pick up Chick fil A and watch LOST with Matt. And my heart caught in my chest, and I was overwhelmed at God's gracious provision for me here in this city. I'm heading out this weekend for an interview in Charlotte, preparing to potentially leave Nashville and the sweetness of Tennessee behind. It is a welcome change in many ways; I'm so ready for this dang cloud to move! But it is also bittersweet as I remember the goodness of God to me in this place, this land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven.