The Devil’s Arsenal- Standing

While envy may be the green-eyed monster, pride is a chameleon. It comes in a wide swath of colors, myriad sizes and innumerable shapes. It is also, one could argue, the true mother of all sins. Pride was Lucifer’s downfall, and now he uses it to drag us down with him.

Because the devil is crafty he is adept at distinguishing life in the Bible with life today. If we see the characters in the Bible as real at all, we seem them almost like aliens- they are sentient beings, but from a dry and distant (in time) land. We don’t have Asherah poles, and so miss the truth that we have flag poles. We don’t have carved statues, and so miss the god we pay homage to daily, our televisions.

We see Jesus castigating the Pharisees for standing on street corners to pray, and donning a boo-boo face while fasting, and think His warnings don’t apply to us, because we never pray in public and we never fast. This is where the RC Sproul Jr. Principle of Hermeneutics can be so helpful. It helps us to see ourselves in the sins of those who have…. (ok, if you insist. I’ll tell it to you one more time. But I would have thought by now everyone would already know this- The RC Sproul Jr. Principle of Hermeneutics: Whenever you see someone in the Bible acting really, really stupid do not say to yourself, “How could they be so stupid?” Instead ask yourself, “How am I stupid just like them?”)… the same weaknesses and foibles we struggle with.

Jesus, however, also warns us about seeking the best seats. And because this cultural expression of standing is not our own, because we don’t rate seats by importance, we think we have no need to fear this temptation. We forget that there’s nothing new under the sun. However a given culture may assign seats at a table, in every given culture there are signs and perks of standing. And we want them.

Back in the day I flew often enough that Delta Airlines treated me nicely. Free baggage check, early boarding, and fairly often, regular upgrades to the front of the plane. There is comfort in those perks, advantages. But there is also this unspoken, yet heard loudly and clearly, message, “You are important, significant. We won’t let the hoi polloi in the back of the plane disturb you.”

For others it may be titles at work, parking spaces, even the amount of time the pastor speaks to you shaking hands after the service. It might be how many followers you have on twitter, or how many likes your pictures on Instagram get. These are just modern manifestations of the same sin Jesus warned about. Not because Pharisees were susceptible to it, but because people are, and we’re people.

There is a simple, though not easy solution. When we are face down before the throne we aren’t standing, and thus can’t worry about our standing. When we keep our eyes on Jesus, we won’t have time to check to see who is in front of us and who behind. When He is the prize in our race, and when we know He has already won us, there remains no reason to compete. By all means, walk in the way and run to the battle. But never forget to rest in the Son.

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Happy Birthday to Me- In the Grip of Gratitude

Today begins my 55th journey around the sun. By all accounts I ought to be in the grip of a midlife crisis. Children are leaving the nest. More hairs are abandoning their posts as the battle is lost. My “career” and my reputation were blown away when I blew into a breathalyzer more than two and a half years ago. Now the first thing that comes to most people’s minds when they think RCJr. is DUI. By God’s grace, because of God’s grace, however, I’m in the grip of gratitude.

I could focus on the sundry people who seem to enjoy destroying my reputation through slander, gossip and lies. Instead I get to focus on the One who knows me perfectly, who gave me His reputation with His heavenly Father. I have peace with the living God. He has made me His son. And He who has never broken a promise has promised me an eternity of bliss.

I could focus on what I don’t get to do any more- to travel the world telling people about Jesus. Instead I get to focus on the blessing of being at home. I don’t get to speak from my own pulpit, but I do get to sit in my own pew and hear as the gospel is faithfully preached by my pastors at Pine Hills Church.

I could focus on my loss of relationship with the best and the brightest of the evangelical world, those who are embarrassed by me. Instead I get to focus on my growing relationships with those who, like me, have experienced not just the scandal of grace, but the grace of scandal, whose public sin makes pretending a farce, who are open and unashamed before their Redeemer. We get to focus on our growing relationship with the One who is not embarrassed by us.

The truth is that I don’t have to bootstrap my way to gratitude. I’m not hiding in a corner licking my wounds. I wake up every morning grateful for my salvation, and grateful for the greatest earthly gift I’ve ever been given, my wife, Lisa. We have been up just over an hour. In that time she has prayed over me a prayer that brought me to tears. She has blessed each of the children we still have with us. She has begun preparations for a meal that would make a king envious. No, that would make other king’s envious. For she is my queen. She has spoken words of life and encouragement into me, labored diligently, made me laugh, given direction and insight.

A few weeks ago she received blessing and encouragement from an unexpected source. Our son Reilly, 13 years old, took his mom’s hand in his and said, “Mom, I really want to thank you. You are making me a better person. You are making my dad a better man, and a better dad.” He’s right, that son of ours. And I, I am grateful for the grace of God, a living stream of soul satisfying water that flows through Lisa Sproul, my beloved. Happy birthday to me.

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Talkin’ ‘Bout My G-G-Generation

I enjoyed my two year sojourn as a gadfly of the academy. I was a graduate student at Ole Miss, taking classes toward a Masters degree, and better still teaching two classes of Freshman English each semester. The two intersected my first semester when I was taking a class on teaching the class. There we were given fresh nuggets of wisdom from our chosen field. We were taught not to make comments on papers in red ink because it damaged the self-esteem of the students. We were encouraged to encourage collaborative processes, though I can’t recall why. And we were told that when it came to interpreting the writings of others, a key component in the class as a whole, there was no right or wrong answer.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? If I find in this story of Saul Bellow’s a metaphor for the industrial revolution, and you find in the same story a clever modernization of Chaucer’s Abbott’s Tale, who is to say who is right? Which is the question I raised in the class I was taking. “If,” I asked, “there is no right and wrong answer, “on what basis are we handing out grades?” My professor, who apparently never read Animal Farm, without a hint of irony replied, “There is no correct answer, but some are more correct than others.”

Hermeneutics, outside the Christian world, has now sunk this low. Deconstructionism, that theory that suggests that we rightly understand a bit of writing only insofar as we can recognize and in turn condemn the politically incorrect notions of the author, while being leftist, mean-spirited, backwards and silly, at least had the courtesy of treating the text with some respect. To tear the text to shreds one had to at least recognize it as a text, and to find handles in it. Even this process, however, has proven far too difficult and demanding for our day.

Deconstructionism has slowly been being pushed out to make way for sundry forms post-modern theories wherein the text, before it is ripped to shreds, is robbed of the dignity of being a text. It has become for us a mere mirror. We deny that there is any meaning inherent in the text, seeing it as a blank sheet. Meaning comes from the reader rather than the writer. Thus, one of my professors giddily explained to us neophytes- “A laundry list is as much literature as Shakespeare.” Wow. I’m afraid I didn’t have the courage to ask him these two questions- first, why do we then have to read Shakespeare? It’s a great deal more work than reading laundry lists, or comic books, or Danielle Steel novels. And second, how do you sleep at night knowing you have given your life to the study of laundry lists? I know the professor’s life has a great deal going for it, but is it worth it if none of it means a thing?

These theories, by their own admission, do not actually help us to understand the texts we are reading. This hermeneutic is not helpful if our goal is to understand what we read. They instead serve another purpose that apparently is more important to us- they focus our attention on ourselves. They serve our narcissism. How cool is this, that in our seminar on Melville we actually get to take turns talking about ourselves? Who cares what Melville thought? What I think is far more important. My knowledge does not increase, but my ego does. My understanding does not grow, but my self-importance does. My mind is not expanded, but my appetite for self-indulgence does. And all I have to give up for all this is the notion that there really is something out there to know.

Though this same mindset undergirds the faux humility of the whole emergent movement, though the whole turtleneck wearing, jazz playing market segment could have crawled right out of my grad school classes, the true relationship is even more damning. That is, the problem isn’t that this one peculiar wing of the church has chosen to follow the world here, but that the world is actually following the evangelical church. However worldly we might be, in the end the church leads. Such is the case here. That is not to say that evangelical scholars promoted sundry theories of interpretation that were grounded in narcissism. Nope, it was all far more banal than that. We have this kind of nonsense in the world because we first studied and read our Bibles in the same way.

The Bible, which is supposed to be a mirror showing us our sin, became a mirror whereby we saw our own wisdom therein. We open God’s Word to find out what it means to us. We use it to justify our own weaknesses and sins. We then encourage each other to do the same when we gather together. We sit in our Bible study circle and ask each other, “What does this text mean to you?” with soothing tones that communicate that of course there is no wrong answer.

This is one reason the First Corollary to the RC Sproul Jr. Principle of Hermeneutics (whenever you see someone in the Bible doing something really stupid, do not say to yourself, ‘How can they be so stupid?’ Instead say to yourself, ‘How am I just as stupid?’) is so important. The corollary goes like this- when you want to know who you are in any given Bible story, you are the sinner. If there is more than one sinner in the story, you are both. If we are going to be thinking about ourselves when reading the Bible, or any text, let’s think about the kinds of people we are. Let’s be eager to see our sins, rather than to justify them. Only in this sense is it all about us.

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The End of the End

When Alice found herself at a crossroads in Wonderland, she looked about for help. There in the tree was a smile. Just a smile. Soon though the Cheshire Cat’s body filled in the picture. Alice asked which way she should go. The cat asked to where she was headed. Alice explained that she had no particular destination, and then the cat spoke wisdom- “then it doesn’t matter.” If we are going nowhere we cannot go wrong. You can only get lost if you have a destination. Which is why eschatology matters. Rightly understood eschatology, the study of the last things, is the study of where we are headed.

Trouble is, more often than not, we find ourselves down a dead end road because we’ve gotten distracted by mileposts along the way. We end up arguing about where we are, where we almost are, and utterly lose sight of the real end of the story. The Bible speaks of a millennium. It does so in the midst of a profoundly difficult bit of inerrant literature, John’s Apocalypse, the book of Revelation. And all that the Bible teaches is understandable. God doesn’t waste His time or ours telling us about things we can’t possibly understand. So there is a sound view on the millennium, that is biblical, knowable, valuable. And we should seek to affirm and grasp that view.

The millennium, however, is not the end, in either sense of the word. It is not the reason for all things; neither is it the last of all things. It should not, therefore, deeply divide us. Some views affirm that we are in the midst of “the millennium,” that this language describes the time between the ascension of Christ and His return. Some views affirm that the world will grow progressively worse, and then Jesus will return to rule for a thousand years. Still others affirm that the world will grow increasingly faithful to God’s Word, that we will enjoy a thousand year golden age before Jesus returns. That’s rather a lot of differences.

But do you notice what one thing each of these views shares? Whatever position one might take, in the end we all agree on one thing- Jesus wins. When history is complete, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. When history is complete all His enemies will have been made into a footstool. When history is complete there will be no more tears, no more sickness, no more death. When history ends, that which we now are called to seek, the kingdom of God, will be consummated. What we seek will have been found in all its glory, in all its fullness.

There is, however, one more step before the end, one part of the story we are wont to miss out on. The real end, the true end, is not found in the final chapters of Revelation, but in Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, chapter 15, where we read- Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power (verse 24). The end is when the Son, after bringing all things under subjection, delivers the kingdom to His Father. Here the Second Adam, having completed that calling given to the first Adam, that the earth would be filled and subdued, hands back the creation that had been put under our stewardship, to the Father.

How can we miss that? How has our story left out this great climax? The Son returns the kingdom to the Father. We must come to grasp this as it is precisely this glorious truth that animates our labors here and now. The kingdom that we seek first is this same kingdom that the Son returns to the Father. Our labors in the here and now, insofar as they reflect and flow out of our commitment to the reign of Christ, no matter what happens between now and the end, will survive. Our work matters into eternity. Or, as one wise theologian put it, right now counts forever.

Our efforts, our labors in raising our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, in calling out the elect from the four corners of the earth, of taking God’s dust and molding and shaping it into widgets, this is not just pursuing the kingdom of God, but manifesting it. It is neither what we do while we wait for the end, nor what we do to bring to pass our favorite millennial view. Rather it is what we do to move the story to the end of the end, the Son returning the kingdom to the Father.

And that, of course, is also but the beginning of the beginning. From there we will enjoy in the true and eternal Mount Zion, in the New Jerusalem, the very presence of the living God. We will take in the beatific vision, beholding His glory. We know the end, both the purpose and the finish of the story- Jesus wins, to the glory of the Father. And by His grace, He takes us with Him. That’s our reason for living, and our hope in dying.

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Ask RC- Was Jesus God’s Son before He came to earth?

Was blessed once again to be a guest on the podcast, Social Church, answering a sticky question about the trinity. Check it out.

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Ask RC- Is Christianity a religion, or a relationship?

Yes. There are, of course, all manner of things that separate the Christian faith from all other faiths. Ours is the story of God condescending to us, rather than we climbing to Him. Ours is a story grounded in history, and eyewitnesses. And most importantly of all, ours is true. If then religion means merely how man earns God’s favor, if religion is merely the myths of our fathers, if religion is but the lies men tell themselves to feel better about themselves, then of course, Christianity is no religion.

It is, however, perfectly appropriate to use the term religion as “that set of dogmas, institutions and practices by which a supreme being is submitted to and worshipped.” In this sense, of course Christianity is a religion. Our faith is not merely grounded in but subsists in historical realities. We are what we are, we do what we do, we believe what we believe, we proclaim what we proclaim precisely because a man and a woman disobeyed their Maker and plunged all their descendents into the vortex of the wrath of God, because God took on flesh and came as the New Man, and in space and time, under Pontius Pilate, lived a perfect life, died an atoning death, and walked out of His tomb three days later, alive. Forty days after that, this same Man, God in the flesh, ascended to His everlasting throne where He is now bringing all things under subjection. We are the people of the Story, the true Story.

What this aphorism, “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion,” is getting at however, is not only true, but important. That is, the Christian faith is not merely signing off on these historical events. “Yes, I believe this happened. Yes, I believe that happened.” The devil himself, along with his minions, can agree with the historical account (). They can even agree with the sound interpretation of that history. They believe Jesus died for sinners. They believe men have peace with God as they repent and trust in His finished work alone. Trouble is, they hate the truths they can affirm (much like a godly person can affirm that the New England Patriots are the current Super Bowl champions, and hate that truth). They know the religion. Their relationship is all hate.

What we are affirming when we emphasize the relationship is that we delight not just in the truths about God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, but that we delight in them. What we affirm, better still, is that because of these historical truths, we have not only been forgiven, but adopted, that we have been made the very children of God. Because of these historical truths, because of His love for us from eternity, we are indwelt by the Spirit. Because of these historical truths, because of what He did, we are the very bride of Christ. Because of the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, we are together the very body of Christ. Christianity isn’t then a relationship, but a series of relationships, all grounded not in a religion, but the religion.

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Bible Study Facebook Live June 24, 2019 Love

In which we “started talking’ about love, started talking’ about sin.” Part 3 of our study on The Spirit of the Fruit, focusing on love.

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Fear and Loathing in Radio Land

The hypocrisy falls on us all. Those outside the kingdom will argue at one and the same time that the media we consume, whether violent video games, racy television programs, raunchy lyrics, that these are just entertainment, and have no significant impact on us. On the other hand, these same media gurus, when selling advertising, suddenly insist that a thirty second spot, well made and well placed will send your company into the Fortune 500. We believers, on the other hand, sometimes argue that the media we consume will inevitably turn us into monsters, and then turn around and say we are responsible for what we do.

The truth is what we consume does participate in shaping us. And the truth is that we are responsible for what we do. The two kiss when we understand that we are responsible for what we consume. We make a grievous error, however, if the only standard by which we measure what we consume is its truth quotient. You can, believe it or not, bring truth into your mind in a way that is harmful.

Take, if you will, the Christian and conservative talk radio. While I am unwilling to draw the lines of fellowship here, I do recognize that Christians, by and large, shy away from the party of death, and support political views that somehow are considered to be conservative. I could here complain that the problem is the lack of truth, that the “conservatives” are no conservatives at all. That, however, will have to await another time. Let’s presume that the Sean Hannitys, the Glenn Becks of this world are conservative, and truthful. The problem is that their underlying goal is not to steer the country to the right, but to keep you tuned in. They can do that, while being conservative and telling the truth, so long as they frame the truth in such a way to strike terror in you. Chicken Little is the power behind the “vast right-wing conspiracy.”

Conservative outlets, on the radio, television, the web, even in print, stay alive by telling us we’re all going to die tomorrow. To put it another way, they get their piece by destroying our peace. They fill our hearts with fear so that we’ll tune in tomorrow, and then joyfully sell our eyes or ears to their sponsors. Truth, even when it is being spoken, is not the end but the means, the means by which we consumers are turned into products to be consumed by advertisers. You may think Rush Limbaugh became a household name by delivering wisdom to the masses. The truth is he did so, even though he is often right, by delivering the masses to his sponsors.

Am I suggesting a boycott of conservative media? Of course not. Am I suggesting we need to tune into the mainstream media? By no means. Am I arguing that bad things are not happening in Washington? May it never be. What I am suggesting is that anxiety is not a fruit of the Spirit, peace is. I am suggesting that fear mongers all too often cast out the love that casts out all fears. I’m suggesting that we need to rest in His goodness and in His power. That doesn’t mean He won’t ordain political trials. It doesn’t mean the culture isn’t slouching beyond Gomorrah. It doesn’t mean there aren’t injustices to be condemned, and trends to be on guard against. It does mean that we can rest, that every one of our fears either will not come to pass, or, if they do, it is for our good and His glory. If they do, He calls us to count it all joy.

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Jesus Is Not My Crutch

The devil delights to mock us. When he isn’t filling us with pride, he tries filling us with shame. We are told by the serpent, often through his respectable mouthpieces, men like Marx and Freud, that religion is a superstitious reaction to forces beyond our control, an opiate. We are told that Jesus is a crutch, and that religion is for the weak. The devil wins best, however, not when we concede the point, but when we fight it. We beat our chest, and become macho for Jesus, showing ourselves again to be fools. We whip out our strength credentials, and the devil laughs. He shoves us to one side of the horse and we in response fall off the other.

Jesus isn’t a crutch for me, not because of my strength, but because of my weakness. A crutch is no help to a dead man. Jesus is more than a crutch, more than a wheelchair, more than CPR. He is life. Not only is He necessary to give my life meaning, but only in Him does meaning have life. Is He a means to help me face up to the harshness of this world? Yes indeed, but far more than that, He makes me able to face the harshness of the next world. It isn’t that He makes this world bearable, but that, because He bore my sins, He allows me to miss an unbearable eternity of anguish.

We are the fellowship of the weak, who rejoice in our weakness, for once we were fully dead. We were dead, and now we merely stumble. We are the ones who can’t face reality, the reality of His wrath. Because of Him, we won’t have to. We who once dwelled in darkness now live in light. And we who were once fools, are fools still.

When the devil accuses us, of weakness, of fear, of hypocrisy, of selfishness, let us speak with boldness that it is all true. We’re guilty as charged. But it is not true of Jesus.

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Owning My Inner Pharisee

 

There are, I suspect, two defining and inter-related qualities that make for a Pharisee. The world would have us believe that one of them is being religious, and the other being powerful. The truth is that one is the conviction that I am quite a good fellow and the other is the conviction that you are not. Religion and power have nothing to do with it. It really matters very little the standard by which you measure. That is, I am a Pharisee if I pray, “I thank You Lord that I am not like this other man. I study and obey Your law, whereas he is a terrible law-breaker.” But I am likewise a Pharisee if I pray, “I thank You Lord that I am not like this other man. I study and embrace grace, whereas he is a terrible legalist.” If I condemn my brother because of His pride, while being proud of my exemplary humility, I’m a Pharisee.

 

While these are the two defining qualities there is a third thing that always shows up when our inner Pharisee determines to come out and play- the propensity to divide the people of God. There has to be black hats and there has to be white hats in order for me to be smug in my white hat and judgmental to the black hats. We who would rightly be aghast at any attempt to divide the church on the basis of skin color are quite comfortable doing so ourselves, on purpose, by the contents of our respective libraries, the instruments, or lack thereof we have on Sunday mornings, our understanding of the 4thcommandment or what guru we listen to.

 

It is a good thing to aspire to greater godliness, right and proper to seek to grow in grace. The danger is when we think we’ve found the thing, the key, the secret to a higher Christian life, the second blessing. We have, that is, all of us who have been regenerated, who have rested in the finished work of Christ, who are indwelt by His Spirit and adopted by His Father, all that we need for a life of godliness. And so does everyone else who has those things. There aren’t two classes of Christians. We have all had our shame covered; we are all dressed in the same righteousness, a righteousness not our own. That’s the one blessing we’ve all been given, and which can never be taken away from us.

 

Humility is the cure. Remaining ever clear on our own sins, and ever opaque on the sins of others is how we remember to beat our breast and cry out, “Lord be merciful to me, a sinner.” Eating humble pie is how we starve the beast that is our inner Pharisee. Feasting on our need, met by His grace, our lack met by His provision, our sin met by His righteousness, our death met by His life is how we live our best life now, and then, and forever.

 

I’ve got my own inner Pharisee. I thank you Lord that You are not like this man.

 

 

 

 

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