Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Things That Make For Peace

What if we are thinking of marriage in the wrong way? What if marriage is, as the French feminists assert, the smallest unit, the basic bedrock of community, and community is made up of men and women? What if the marriage between a man and a woman is a living, breathing, walking, talking declaration of the truth that man cannot get along without woman and woman cannot get along without man? If the Supreme Court rules that a man can marry a man, aren't they ruling that men don't need women and women don't need men? That we can get along on this earth without each other. In fact, if two men can marry, then what is my marriage to Farhad in the eyes of the law? Certainly it would not be that living, breathing, walking talking declaration of truth anymore! Remember why Jesus wept over Jerusalem? Because he saw that she did not anymore know the things that make for peace.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


The other day I received a unsigned letter in the mail. Although I usually counsel people not to write anonymous letters, this letter had a very big silver lining and I am grateful for it.  The letter got me thinking. The very first sentence “If we have a faith in Jesus Christ, we go immediately to the presence of the Lord.”  Two questions occurred to me.  First, where did the writer get this “if” and second, in what sense did she mean it?  --I should add here that the handwriting and the stationary seemed to denote a woman writer, if I am in error I sincerely apologize!--  But back to the two questions. To answer the first, I think the writer’s “if” came from Romans 10, where Paul writes, “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” As to the second question, let me first say that there are two kinds of “ifs” in the Bible, what I call “sentry” “ifs” and “reassuring” “ifs.” A sentry “if” means an exchange of some kind, like a sentry at the gate of military base demanding your pass in exchange for entrance. A reassuring “if” is talking about something you already have.  Let me illustrate:  I am walking hand in hand with my little five year old niece Audrey.  She asks sadly, “Will I ever dance as good as you and Mommy?” I reply with African adage, “Audrey, if you can walk, you can dance.”  This is an “if” of reassurance.  She certainly will dance as well as or better than either her Mommy or me and she doesn’t need to worry.   I think the writer of the anonymous letter had in her mind belief as a kind of pass that you present in order to enter into the presence of the Lord.  In other words, a sentry “if.” But in Romans 10, Paul means his “if” as a reassuring “if.”  He is saying that since the congregations at Rome confess and believe that Jesus is raised from the dead they shall certainly be saved. After all, Paul had already spoken of their faith, “proclaimed throughout the world,” in the very first chapter of Romans. The confusion about this comes in chapter three of the letter, where Paul seems to say that we are justified by faith in Jesus.  However, this is a mistranslation.  What it says is that we are made right by the establishment of Jesus.  That is, to use more familiar language, are made right by the cross, we are made right by Jesus’ victory on that cross.  We are made right by the Father who sent his only begotten son because he so loved the world. 
It is important to remember that there is nothing we “do” to be saved.  What the God has done in his son is pure rescue; it is a lifeguard rescuing a drowning man, it is God awakening the dead, we who were once “dead in our trespasses and sins.”  It is only after we have been saved, born again, that we believe.  Think of the Israelites at the Red Sea, on the near side of the Red Sea they were afraid and crabby, grumbling against the Lord and wanting to go back to Egypt, but after God has saved them then and only then do they believe.  Believing in God is easy to do, but our spiritual enemies, like sin and death and the devil are hard as iron.  It’s only when we have been saved from these enemies that we believe.  As it says in John 3:16, God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that all who believe in him might not perish but have eternal life.  Here again, our belief is not like a pass you give a stern sentry but instead the result of something that God has done through his son in his love for sinners like you and me.
 It’s not just in the Bible that we see people being saved before they believe.  We see it in day to day life too.  Has anyone ever known a single person who prayed the sinners prayer or accepted Jesus into their lives, or went to an altar call who was not saved, transferred from darkness to the kingdom of the beloved son BEFORE he ever asked Jesus into his life?  I have not.  The Billy Graham School Evangelism graciously invited me to be a student for its week long conference one year.  We heard many testimonies, many stories of people who had asked Jesus into their lives.  In all of them without exception, the asking was preceded by a revelation from God.  Every single person who testified had had God shine the light in their lives, “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.”  Furthermore, I have known many, including myself who have never “asked the Lord into their life” at least in the way that some mean it. Certainly I have asked the Lord to help me, to be with me, to save me, to uphold me, to come to where I am and lift me up...and that’s just this afternoon, but the truth is that God broke into my life.  I didn’t ask him to come and save me, he just did, in his mercy he came to me like the Good Samaritan came to the man who had fallen prey to thieves and lifted me up.  Only after I had been lifted up, made alive did I change my life and turn from the course of destruction that I was eagerly pursuing.  Think of Paul on the road to Damascus, he certainly did not ask that God come into his life.  God came anyway and how thankful we are as Gentiles that the Lord  re-created Paul in Anointed Jesus and sent the Gentiles a preacher of the good news.  Faith, as Paul himself says, comes through hearing.
Now of course we can reject salvation.  Lazarus could have looked at himself walking around again healthy and whole after four days in the tomb and said, “Jesus I want to be dead again.”  I am sure that Jesus would have not forced him to live. In fact, Jesus might well respond, “Lazarus, you indeed do not belong among the living.” By the way, such rejection however farfetched it seems is not without precedent, think of the men who rejected their Messiah and despised him in 1 Samuel.  One of the complaints of the anonymous letter writer was that I “make it sound” like all go to heaven, that all attain eternal life. Let me be clear, I have never said this, even in my heart.   But I do believe that the only thing separating people who go to church and love the name of Jesus is a word, the word of the Lord, who raises the dead to life, one little word which has the power to fell all our enemies and all the weapons ever forged against us in hell.  My dearest friend does not believe, but that does not mean that by this very evening somewhere in Chicago, God will not come into her life and save her from the darkness.  Moreover, this life does not seem to be the limit for God as we learn in 1 Peter 3:18 and 4:6.  Jesus even preaches to the souls in hell, to the dead.
 I do not know how it will be when Jesus comes again and we stand and see his beautiful face.  All I know is, it will be wonderful, far more glorious than we could ever imagine: “what eye has not seen, ear heard, or the heart of man imagined, what God has in store for those who are waiting on him.”