Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"If I perish, I perish."

"If I perish, I perish." These are the haunting words of Esther as she prepares to enter boldly into the presence of King Ahasuerus. Looking at the story we may think this seems like an odd statement because Esther is the queen and she was highly favored by the king. Why in the world would she perish? Well, like Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, she was about to break a law, or at least take a huge risk. The law that she was risking transgressing was that no one was to enter into the kings presence without being summoned. If they did so they would be killed. Now there was one caviat, if the king extended his septer to the person then they would be spared. Now, I shouldn't have to explain the deep imagery of this as it relates to the way we enter into the presence of God and I don't want to spend much time on it because I want to focus on something else, the attitude that Esther has about this risk. "If I perish, I perish." These words are echoed by the aforementioned trio that would ultimately end up being thrown into the fiery furnace when they, in so many words, tell the king that they will not bow to his statue because God can deliver them, and even if He doesn't they still want it to be known that they wouldn't bow to an idol.

Where does an attitude like this come from? Why would people be so willing to forfeit their lives for what they believe in? Simply put, that is the message of the Bible, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our lives are not our own. Jesus tells us that if we love our lives we will lose them and if we lose our lives for His sake we will gain eternity. Dietrich Bonhoeffer tells is that the call of Christ to follow Him is for Him to bid us come and die.

I think this idea flies in the face of some popular theology in America, and perhaps other parts of the world, today. Some call it "Prosperity Gospel," I would simply like to label it incomplete theology (that is a small effort to be kind to this type of preaching). This theology is marked by the idea of "favor" and that we need nothing more than to claim God's favor in order to have it. Let me pause for a moment and look at the One who was the favored One of God, His Son Jesus Christ. In fact, let me start with His mother, Mary. She was declared to have been blessed with God's favor and what did that bring with it? Yes, it meant that she was blessed to carry and mother the very Son of God and surely this was a blessing. It also meant that she almost lost her relationship with her fiance, Joeseph. Mary was ascended to a place of power and for all we know she never lived a life of royalty and wealth but remained the wife of a carpenter.

Now let me get back to Jesus. There is no doubt that He was favored by God, He was God's Son. He also lived a relatively short life and one that was defined by poverty and ultimately a cruel and painful death. In the end Jesus was called cursed by hanging from a tree. If these are the plans that God has for me, plans for good and not for evil, then most would decline the generous offer.

The words of a certain, famous preacher are that, "we are strong, we are able.," and that we should be "speaking victory over the future." What of Paul who found that when he was weak, then he was the most strong. This is the man who claimed to be the chief among sinners and most unworthy to carry the Gospel to the world. The same preacher said that the congregations "favor was going to rub off," on him and the other congregants. If that were true then it would be wonderful because more people would be dying to themselves and they would see the blessing, not of overflowing bank accounts, but of close communion with the Author and Perfector of our faith.

Finally, Victoria Osteen has written a book, which I have not read but the title tells me what I need to know, "Love Your Life." I don't know what the contents are but with a title like that I can hardly imagine that the message is, "If I perish, I perish." The message of the Gospel is not, "love your life." It is hate you life, deny yourself, get ready for pain and suffering like you have never experienced and then after that is all over and you die, then you can enter into bliss and joy like you could have never dreamed of.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Habakkuk, that's the stuff they make cigars out of right?

Wrong! Habakkuk is a small book found between Nahum and Zephaniah and if I'm not mistaken is commonly referred to as one of the "minor prophets." Of course, the term "minor" is no indication of the weight of the words but rather the amount of words. Anyway, this short, three chaptered, book was my Bible reading this morning and though I'm sure this is not the first time I've read Habakkuk I'm equally as sure it can't be any more than the second. Thus, I was amazed at the meat and potatoes that were available from this so-called "minor" prophet.

First we have those rascals the Chaldeans who are going to be used to punish the Israelites for their continued disobedience. There was one verse in particular that struck me in the first section of this book and it was 1:7 which says, "Their justice and authority originate with themselves." Now you may or may not have read my other posts about Jeremiah being an American but I would like to add Habakkuk to the list. Justice and authority, if it does not originate with God, must originate in the human mind, in ourselves. Well there is big business in trying to rid people in the westernized world of that pesky, moral compass known as "God." I would venture to say that in many democratic nations justice and authority originate with popular opinion, as does most everything else. God does not need a Gallop Poll to determine what is the right decision or what is right and wrong. Our opinions are of very little importance to an omnipotent and omniscient God. Now, that may sound overly harsh and with that truth I don't want anyone to lose sight of the fact that God does care for His creation and His children. One only has to look as far as Calvary to see that. But remember, if God has asked Israel what type of Messiah they would like to have they would not have asked for Jesus (I only single out Israel because they were the only ones looking for a Messiah. I think no human would have dreamed of Jesus being the Savior of the world so I'm not condemning the Jews because we are all equally guilty in that respect).

The second thing that struck me in this book was found only a few verses later in 1:13 where Habakkuk askes, "Why do you look with favor on those who deal treacherously? Why are you silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than they?" In these questions we see the age old question of, not why do bad things happen to good people but rather, why do good things happen to bad people? This is a reverse of the typical questions of "theodicy" and a plea for justice in an unjust world. If we were to take a poll my guess would be that very few people would consider politicians to be trustworthy or "good." Everyday we see another elected official being brought up on charges of adultery or some kind of mismanagment of funds. Furthermore, we see the stars of Hollywood and sports arenas driving drunk, beating wives and dog fighting. The moral fiber of our famous elite is thin on most accounts. Yet, these are the people that seem to be "blessed," or to use another term "charmed." Why are these people allowed so much when the honest, good and seemingly righteous Mother Teresa is given a life of poverty? Then the Lord answers the prophet in chapter 2 and I will paraphrase His answer, "Wait for it. Just wait for it. Their time is coming. I've got it under control." The truth of the matter is that God's justice time-table runs slightly different than ours and His vision and plan are eteranal, not temporal.

The third and final thing I want to point out comes to us from chapter 3. This is a point that has become something of a thinking point for me lately due to my wife and Erwin Lutzer. It is the fear of the Lord. The chapter opens with these words in verse 2, "Lord, I have heard the report about You and I fear." Habakkuk has heard about God and he is fearful. He then spends the next 17 verses listing all the reasons why he is fearful of God. These are terrible and frightful things such as, "Before Him goes pestilence, and plague comes after Him (v.5)," and "The mountains saw You and quaked (v.10)," and "In indignation You marched through the earth; in anger You trampled the nations (v.12)." Then comes verse 18, "Yet I will exalt in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of our salvation." The book of Proverbs is famous for telling is that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (1:7). I would also say that fearing the Lord is where we begin so that we can be truly reverent and truly filled with awe in the presence of a mighty God. I must say, there is nothing awe inspiring or worthy of worship about the Care Bears or Barney the big, purple dinosaur that allegedly loves me. To know that they "love" me is nothing short of anticlimactic. But, when a terrifying, awesome and infinite God who makes the earth tremble and measures the heavens in the span of His hand says that He loves me, there is something to write home about. That is a God worthy of falling on my face and praising. That is the God that I can say, " I am unworthy because I have unclean lips," and fall prostrate before in total reverence. That is the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob. The God that focused His wrath on His only Son so that I could have forgivness and eternal life and His justice would be satisfied. In the words of Louis Giglio, we don't worship a "namby pamby God." We worship the God who spoke creation into being. One who poured out His wrath on His Son so that we could have the opportunity to live with Him forever.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Reflection and Thanks

Just this afternoon I was able to catch part of one of the episodes of Band of Brothers on the History Channel. I've read the book twice and seen the entire mini-series but the power of it never fades. I am always in awe of the men that fought in World War II and their humble heroism. I suppose I would like to take just a few minutes, as the Fourth of July approaches, to say "thank you" to those who have taken their turn defending freedom throughout the history of the United States. I fear that with the way that values and culture are heading there will be fewer and fewer who are willing to recognize what these valiant men have done and show their appreciation.
Three of my grandfathers were, in some way, involved in World War II. My mother's dad served with the Civil Air Patrol in Manteo, NC. Their mission was to hunt German U-boats off the east coast and keep America's citizens safe. My father's dad, about whom I know very little as his passed on before I was born, trained pilots. My step-mother's dad, was an infantryman in the European theatre and fought in Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge.
I myself served eight years in the NC National Guard and served one year and five days in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Though I too have answered my countries call I feel it is nothing compared to what my forefathers endured in World War II. Whether they survived or perished the men of our armed forces paid dearly for the freedom of, not only Americans, but also for that of other countries citizens. For that I give my deepest and more heartfelt thanks.
There are so many thousands of men, and women alive today that served from the beaches of Normandy, to the frozen hills of Korea, to the jungles of Vietnam and the deserts of the Middle East. To all of you I say thank you.
As I reflect on these facts I cannot help but be shocked by the absurdity of war. War, in my estimation, is the most horrific thing that man has ever devised. With its ability to destroy human life, twist human minds and rip apart families it can only be described as horrific. War is the admission of utter failure to negotiate. It is the terrible and tragic end to diplomacy. Even with that in mind I know that there are some wars that must be fought, tyrants that must be deposed and evil men that must be removed. However, I cannot help but feel that war is the tragedy of tragedies and something that must be worked to eliminate. The Bible tells us that war will only end with the return of our Lord, Jesus Christ and that in the last times there will be many wars.
Perhaps, the most distressing thing about war is the fact that those who participate in it are often those who have little choice in the matter. However, the most heroic men are those who choose to become one without a choice and volunteer themselves and put their lives on the line so that others don't have to. I am no fan of war and I eagerly await the day when there are none to be fought but to those who have fought, particularly those last few veterans from World War II, I say thank you and God bless you.