Thursday, June 8, 2017

When God Stopped Being “Abba”

The Significance of the Father Forsaking the Son


Have you ever been overwhelmed by sorrow?  Can you remember a time when you heard news that was so terrifying or so painful that you found yourself overwhelmed with mind-numbing, soul-searing, heart-rending pain?  Have you ever been emotionally ambushed by an experience or encounter that left you feeling completely alone and isolated?  While those questions may qualify as rhetorical, there is another related but different question that does not:  Did God, the Father, really abandon His Son when He was on the cross?  And why does it matter? 

The short answers are “yes” and “because we need to take sin seriously,” “because it says a great deal about the very nature of God,” and “because Christ’s affinity with and love for us is boundless.”  First, we need to understand the meaning of Jesus’ words “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”

In speaking those words, Jesus is quoting Psalm 22.  Amazingly, in the midst of the greatest pain of His life, Jesus’ heart turns to God’s word.  The question centers around the nature of the “forsakenness” that Jesus experienced.  Did the Father actually separate Himself from the Son at that moment? Was the mystery of the bond of the Trinity fractured in that instant? Was the eternal community of Father, Son and Spirit somehow ruptured, even for a moment?  No.  God can never stop being God, and God has always and will always exist as three, in one.  2 things shed light on what Jesus actually experienced that day on the cross; the Psalm itself and the actual words that Jesus used.

Just before his crucifixion, Jesus cried out to the Father.  Matthew 26:39 records,  "Going a little farther, He fell with His face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will."  The word Jesus used for Father was “Abba,” a term of endearment, which we might translate “papa” or “daddy.”  As His life ebbed away, Christ again "called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last.”  (Luke 23:46)  Again, Jesus used the word “Abba.”  But in quoting Psalm 22, Christ used the more generic name for God, “El.”  “El” is the sovereign God, the judge and ruler of all the earth.  So what is Jesus saying in juxtaposing these 2 different addresses?

The forsakenness that Jesus experienced was not because His Father was not there, but because He WAS there, as the just Judge of the universe.  The Father was pouring out His just wrath upon all the sin that had defamed Him—past, present, and future sin—and in His role as Judge he drained the cup of His wrath to the dregs on the head of His Son.  The anguish and the overwhelming sense of isolation that Jesus experienced cannot be imagined.  He was desperately in need of succor.  In His anguish, Jesus cried out "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachtheni?"  But He was doing more than just quoting a passage.  He understood that the Psalm itself defined his forsakenness.  

Like Jesus, the psalmist experienced the absence of the presence of God.  "O God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night but I find no rest...All who see me mock me; they wag their heads...they say "He trusts in the Lord, let Him deliver him...for trouble is near, and there is none to help...But you O Lord, do not be far off!  O you my help, come quickly to my aid!  Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog!  Save me...!"  But no help comes!  There is no answer!  “Abba” is far off!  There is no deliverance, no salvation, only silence.

It is precisely in this sense that Jesus experienced being forsaken.  Think back to those moments when you felt alone or isolated, when you felt the crushing weight of the consequences of sin, in your life or the lives of others.  Now magnify that a million fold and you will still not come close to feeling what our Savior felt in that moment.  What would compel both the Father and the Son to bear such a burden?  What would animate the God of all creation to be "pleased" in bruising His Son (Isaiah 53:10), and what would keep Jesus on the cross under the weight of the sins of mankind, when He could just as easily have stepped down?  

For the sake of glorifying His own name in loving sinners and reconciling them to Himself, for the sake of the joy that was set before Him, for the sake of  Their great love, the Father forsook and the Son was forsaken.  The greatness and grievous nature of our sin, is only eclipsed by the greatness and the gravity of God's great love for us, and that is captured perfectly in this mystifying and stunning moment when the Father turned His back on His Son.  "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinner, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). 


The pain experienced by BOTH Father and Son at that moment ought to drive us to our knees in worship.  Let the significance of that moment, when “Abba” released His grip on the Son, and “El” unleashed His just fury against sin seep into your heart.  In that moment, it was not nails that pinned Christ to the cross, it was obedience and love.  In that moment, the triune God never stopped being God, but the fullness of His glory and love were put on display in a way that will never be repeated.  Stand in awe.  Marvel.  Be afraid.  But above all, be filled, with the very presence of the God who IS love, and let that love abide in you and ooze from every pore of your body (I John 4:7-15).  For the sake of His forsakenness, the Son guarantees that you and I will never be forsaken again.  For the sake of His forsakenness, we can be confident that our cries of “Abba” will never fall on deaf ears.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

This Election: Conflicted, But Convinced


To say that this election has many Christians conflicted would be an understatement.  On the one hand, we have a candidate whose odious and horrific comments regarding women have caused us, myself included, to cringe.  On the other hand, we have a candidate who has distinguished herself by routinely lying and by lining her pockets at the expense of United States.  As conflicted as I am, I am equally convinced of several things.

Many folks have prided themselves in standing on “principle” this election:  translation?  They will either not vote or vote for a third-party or write-in candidate.  I am convinced that these are meaningless gestures, and that the larger issues of “principle” are somehow lost.  The choice is as clear as it is simple--a vote for anyone other than Donald J. Trump is a vote for the left and more of the progressive agenda of the current administration.
I have heard people that I love and respect comment that this election is about the lesser of two evils, which makes voting for either candidate, evil.  As Eric Metaxas remarked in his Wall Street Journal Op-ed piece, such talk is sophistry.  Neither candidate is pure evil.

So what are we left to do?  As conflicted as I am, I am equally convinced that the Left, both here and abroad, has done more damage to the United States and Western Civilization than any other worldview.  Hilary Clinton is a candidate of the left, pushed further left thanks to the popularity of self-professed Socialist Bernie Sanders.

I am convinced that the policies of the left have hurt the poor, the disenfranchised, and minorities.  Every major city in this country has been under the control of the left for decades.  As a result, they remain crime-infested, impoverished, and despair-filled communities with no hope of any real change.  The War on Poverty, championed by the left, has spent trillions on failed project after failed project.  Minorities have been pandered to and taken for granted.  Despite talking points to the contrary, it is the party of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr., the party that championed civil rights before it was politically expedient, and the party that spearheaded abolition that possesses the principles and values that can offer substantive solutions to the problems faced by minorities and the poor.  That is the party of the right.

I am convinced that history confirms that the strategy of the left is not to engage those they differ with, but to silence them.  The left in this country has used the IRS to silence those they disagree with, and the Justice Department and FBI have ably demonstrated that those with the “right (meaning “left”)” values are above the law.  A Hillary Clinton administration will eviscerate the first and second amendments, and everything from the Internet to the pulpit, from the bedroom to the boardroom, will become increasingly regulated by the government or foreign authorities.  On the basis of what "principle" can we vote for that?

The left has always known that the legislature is not needed to pass laws as long as one controls the courts.  Clinton will nominate Supreme courts justices who will continue to shred the constitution and legislate from the bench.  Clinton proudly applauded when the courts denied bakers and photographers the right to conduct their businesses on the basis of conscience and faith.  The courts have rendered decisions regarding marriage that fly in the face of common sense and millennia of human history, and again, the left rejoices.  How na├»ve must we be to think that it will stop there? A number of people have suggested that a Trump presidency will inevitably result in the creation of a “banana republic.”  Where have these people been?  We are already there!  It is the very principles and values of the right that make such an outcome LESS likely, not more. On the basis of what “principles” can we stand idly by and watch this happen?

I am convinced that our immigration system is broken, and I am equally convinced that amnesty and open borders will not fix it.   Affirming, as the left does, that foreigners have a RIGHT to immigrate here, will only serve to weaken our national sovereignty and make our country less safe.  I am equally convinced that building a wall or deporting millions of immigrants will not fix the problem either, but I certainly know which candidate is more willing to look at the problem seriously.  One candidate sees potential and prosperity coming from immigrants while at the same time carefully vetting those who enter our country and deporting or imprisoning those who commit violent crimes while here.  The other candidate sees little more than potential voters.  On the basis of what “principles” will we seek to address the problem of immigration?

I am convinced that the left continues to wage a war on children, and that, despite supposed compassion for blacks, the most dangerous place for a young black child to live remains their mother’s womb.  On the basis of what “principles” can any person of conscience support a candidate who not only favors broadening the availability of, and tax-payer support for, abortion, but has gone on record as being fine with the gruesome practice of partial-birth abortion? On the basis of what principle will we encourage the expansion of the slaughter of so many innocents?

I am convinced that the left will continue to promote policies that will embolden our enemies and weaken our allies.  The candidate of the left has already demonstrated a cavalier attitude toward national security and a foreign policy that confirms that she believes that there is no such thing as American exceptionalism.  We will continue to sign treaties with our enemies while affirming United Nations resolutions condemning our allies.  We will continue to engage our enemies with kid gloves and continue to create power vacuums where the likes of ISIS and other terrorists groups will flourish.  We will continue to turn over our legitimate role in the world as the standard-bearer of freedom and liberty to thugs and dictators who lead countries that are either state-sponsors of terror or countries where human and civil rights are crushed at the first sign of dissent. 

The left will continue to convince us that they are the champions of women’s rights, all the while either overtly or tacitly supporting countries where women are at best treated as second-class citizens, or at worst tortured and sold as sex slaves.  Donald Trump has said things about women that are as demeaning as they are unconscionable.  But he does not have the blood of innocent women on his hands that the left does due to their ill-advised and feckless foreign policy.

I am convinced that the earth is getting warmer.  I am just as convinced that this is where the agreement of many scientist’s stops.  The computer models, upon which all of the climate change projections are based, are seen as dubious by many leading climatologists and outright fraudulent by many more.  Even if all the man-made carbon emissions were eliminated tomorrow, the change in temperature would be inconsequential. (I challenge my readers to do some research on their own, rather than accepting at face value the “97% of scientists” data.)  The real tragedy is the cost of pursuing the left’s so-called solutions.  We will spend trillions of tax-payer dollars depriving third-world and developing nations of the natural resources that made our own country great. On the basis of what principle will we console ourselves in the face of the inevitable starvation and economic stagnation that the left's policies will bring?

I am convinced that the left has always been fueled by manufactured hysteria, from acid-rain to mass starvation due to overpopulation, from heterosexual AIDS to the environment, from health risks to animal rights, from the threat of religion to climate change.  This kind of "crisis-mongering" is a critical part of the left's strategy, because it paves the way for the expansion of the state.  "Extreme times demand extreme measures," they opine.  The inevitable fruit of such thinking is increased regulation, increased taxation, and increased government intervention, which only serve to weaken an already stagnant economy and further erode our personal liberty.  On the basis of what principle will we vote to encourage government overreach?

I could go on:  health care, taxes, energy, jobs, education, the economy, etc.  In the final analysis, this election is about understanding the difference between a compromise of principles and a principled compromise.  I recently heard a popular talk-radio host listing the Biblical qualifications for Church Elders and then applying those standards to the candidates.  Yes, those standards are absolute, but we are not choosing an Elder, we are electing a President of the United States.  The leading function of the State and the leading function of the Church are as dramatically different as the two presidential candidates are.
  
As obnoxious as Donald Trump may be, I cannot in good conscience or on the basis of principle cast my vote for a candidate who will continue to ruin our country with well-meaning but horribly flawed policies. Trump is no Messiah.  He may not even be a conservative.  But in terms of who will do the least damage to our nation and the world, and who will, at the very minimum, buy us enough time to step away from the very real cliff at which we stand, the choice for me is clear.  As a Christian, I will have to give an account for the choices I have made in this life.  The very freedom to think that way, or to write such things, is at stake in this coming election.  That is the very real choice set before us—will we vote to continue the “radical transformation” of America, or will we vote for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as our founders intended?  While I am not absolutely sure of what we will get with Trump, I am sadly and painfully confident of what we will get with the candidate of the left.  Of that, I am certain.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Is God a "Hater?"



Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can crush my heart.  Public and private discourse are often shut down, not by engaging each other’s’ ideas, but by ad hominem attacks on the person—“bigot, sexist, homophobe, etc.”  None cut quite so deep as “hater.”  Now imagine that you are the Creator of the universe, the all-just, all-loving God of the Bible.  How many jarring and inflammatory epithets have been hurled at Him?  Part of the reason for that is that the emotions of God are complex.  What would one expect from a Deity that claims top position in the pantheon of gods?  But He is complex, and we would do well to avoid the trap of assigning human understandings and definitions to God.  God is capable of feeling and yearning and expressing those longings in ways that defy complete understanding.  For example, we read in Romans 9, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau I hated.”  How can that be?  How can a loving God “hate” someone?  The answer is wrapped up in the very nature of God.

Another example.  Can or does God ordain things to happen that He hates to see happen?  Yes!  The prime example is the murder of His own Son, Jesus Christ.  Was God “happy” to see His son treated in that way, pleased over such a gross miscarriage of justice and then delighted in the fact that Christ actually became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21)? And yet we read: But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand (Isaiah 53:10 NAS).  For God, to be pleased to crush His Son AND pleased to prosper Him is not contradiction.  He can do both at the same time.

All this leads us to the “question” that was put to me regarding 2 Peter 3:9.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.  So then, how does this verse square with the overwhelming evidence in Scripture that God “elects” some to salvation, and “hardens” others (Romans 9:18)?  If he doesn’t want anyone to perish, then how can He choose that some would perish?  The answer is that God can desire one thing while at the same time willing the opposite.  There is no contradiction for God.  God DOES want everyone to repent.  He is intentionally postponing the return of Christ precisely to give more time for more people to repent.  His heart “breaks” at the thought of people who willfully reject His free offer of grace.  Yet He ordains that only some will accept that offer, while others will be hardened to it. 

Is this some sort of game?  Is God “playing” with us?  Does God think this is fun(ny)?  No.  The fact remains that people go to Hell because they choose to reject God’s free offer of salvation.  And the fact remains that God elects some to salvation and hardens others.  And the fact remains that there is no way for us to perfectly reconcile those two facts to our human satisfaction.  So where does that leave us?

1.      Be content.  For those of us who love God and who long to experience the full measure of life “in Christ,” we often feel the need to defend God.  We want to remove every obstacle that might keep someone from coming to faith.  Of course, IT IS ESSENTIAL THAT WE ALL BE PREPARED TO GIVE A GOOD DEFENSE OF OUR FAITH (1 Peter 3:15). But there are many things about God that remain beyond our complete understanding.  This is one of them.  As for this one, let God be God.  Rest in the confidence that the very God who remains “beyond” us is the same God who will be irresistible to those He has called.

2.      Be humbly grateful.  If you are a believer, it would behoove you to fall on your face and thank God for giving you the faith to believe and the grace to be saved.  That is ALWAYS the human emotion that should be the response to the teaching of election (Ephesians 3:7-8; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Ephesians 2:8-9).

3.      Be stunned.  God is Holy.  The word “holy” literally means “other, heavy, substantial…”  God is not like us, just as surely as we are like Him.  While we are made in His image, we do not MIRROR Him, we reflect His glory.  We are not identical to Him, but we echo Him.  But He is so completely perfect and righteous and just and loving that we could not possibly begin to comprehend His holiness.  THIS IS WHY WE WILL SPEND ETERNITY WITH HIM, because it will take that long to begin to know Him fully!  That God can long for one thing and then act in ways that are at cross purposes to His longing is simply another indication that He is God and we are not.

4.      Be a witness.  “Witness” is a legal term.  We testify to what we know and what we have seen.  We must be witnesses to this great and glorious God who has, before we did anything good or bad, chose us to experience His grace unto salvation.  While we were still sinners, He saved us!  Every people on earth must hear this good news.  Election is not our prerogative, or even our concern as it relates to others.  Our calling is to “go and make disciples.” 

In the final analysis, God DOES desire that every person should repent.  This is precisely why He has not sent His son to earth a second time…yet! But that day is fast approaching.  Our concern must be to worship Him and glorify Him to the end that many more WILL come to repentance.  As for who responds to the witness we bring, God knows.  And that is where we must leave it, in the complex, infinite, unsearchable mind of God.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Ask The Pastor: The Holy Spirit and Heaven


This question came from a member of Manna:

Ephesians 1. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

What exactly is meant by 'guarantee of our inheritance...until we acquire possession' does that mean that when we are in heaven we will not have the Holy Spirit in us?

A great question.  First, what is the “inheritance” of which Paul speaks?  You have correctly associated "our inheritance" with "Heaven."  But it means much more than just Heaven. Paul often uses the word "inheritance."  For example, in Galatians 3 he writes, “What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. 18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.”  Here, Paul means us to understand the word “promise” as synonymous with“inheritance.”  In other words, whatever was promised to Abraham, was his inheritance, in this case, the land, a people, and most importantly, a covenant relationship to God.  All of those were his “inheritance.”  That this is Paul’s meaning is confirmed in Hebrews 11, where we read:  “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.”  He was promised a “place” (the Promised Land) which was his inheritance.

We live under the umbrella of a “new covenant,” which was like the old one, only SO MUCH BETTER.  As good as the “old” inheritance was, ours makes the old pale by comparison.  Paul points us to this reality in Colossians 3:23-24-- “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.”  What is implicit in Colossians is made explicit in Hebrews 9:14-15.  After discussing the shortcomings of the old covenant, the writer of Hebrews celebrates the new covenant:  “14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death,[c] so that we may serve the living God! n15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.”

Our inheritance is eternal!  This must mean that our inheritance is  the riches of personally experiencing the glory of God in Heaven.  Our inheritance is not so much a "place," like the promised land was part of Abraham's inheritance, as much as it is EVERYTHING that has been promised to Christ, which we will enjoy forever.(Romans 8:17)  Our inheritance is nothing less than actually sharing in the glories of Christ Himself, which means we will reign with Him, govern with Him, rule with Him, create with Him, and so much more.    So now the question becomes, “how certain can we be that we will get what is promised?”  Answer:  It is guaranteed on the full faith and credit of God Himself.  Just as surely as Abraham got what was promised, so shall we.  “But how can we be sure?”  Because God has made a “down payment” on the place that Jesus is at work preparing for us(John 14:2).  And it’s a beaut!  Mine is right on the ocean.  That is a big part of the role of the Spirit in our lives now--to assure us that we WILL make it to Heaven, and that God will remain true to His word. 

Now to the heart of the question:  “until we acquire possession…”  “Does that mean that when we are in heaven, we will no longer have the Holy Spirit in us?”  Yes.  That is precisely what that means.  The down payment is no longer needed when “paid in full.”  While on earth, Jesus was “filled with the Spirit (Luke 4:1),” but in heaven, He no longer requires that same indwelling.  In heaven, we will no longer face the assaults of Satan and his demons, while here on earth, we still need the Spirit’s protection (1 John 4:4).  In Heaven, we will no longer need the convicting presence of the Spirit, or His guiding us away from error and into the truth (John 17:7-15).  Above all, the very purpose of the Spirit’s presence is to reveal and glorify Christ here on earth.  In heaven, that will no longer be necessary, because we will enjoy regular time with Christ, face to face! 

So then, we look forward to the day when Jesus and we are no longer apart.  We look forward to the day when our need of the Spirit becomes redundant.  We look forward to the day when the struggle will be over and the final victory won.  Just as Jesus once said, “it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7), someday He will say, “Come receive your promised inheritance.  Well done.  Welcome Home!"  Maranatha.  Come quickly Lord Jesus.