Wednesday, May 25, 2011

On rejoicing at Bin Laden's death

After Navy Seals took out Bin Laden, some Christians criticized the American reaction, which was generally rejoicing--especially if Christians did it. I was thinking of that as I read these words recently:

Schadenfreude is a dangerous emotion only when injustice is celebrated, not when justice is served--as is the case in Israel's songs and in Woman Wisdom's sermon at the city gate (Prov. 1:20-33). John Portman, in his book When Bad Things Happen to Other People, argues that justice is a virtue and so is the feeling of pleasure when we see lawbreakers brought low: "And it's all to the good that we do, because this pleasure reflects our reverence for law.... Schadenfreude is a corollary of justice."*

And I agree.

The most frequently posted verse for those who objected was this: "Don't rejoice when your enemies fall; don't be happy when they stumble" (Prov 24:17). What they didn't quote was the following verses: "For the LORD will be displeased with you and will turn his anger away from them.  Don't fret because of evildoers; don't envy the wicked. For evil people have no future; the light of the wicked will be snuffed out" (Prov 24:18-20).

And what about the Bible's frequent imprecatory language in the mouth of the righteous?

   * Bruce K. Waltke, Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2006), 395; quoting John Portman, When Bad Things Happen to Other People (New York: Routledge, 1999), 200.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Emerging church

On a lighter note.

Hope of heaven

The last few days have seen a lot of jokes at the expense of Harold Camping and his followers. Camping had somehow figured out some esoteric formulas to "prove" that Jesus would return May 21st to take away his people, and then October 21st the world would end. I don't know if he's massaging his math, preparing a mea culpa (somehow I doubt this), or just licking his wounds right now.

Why do people like this get a voice? Perhaps it's because they speak into a vacuum that the genuine church's pulpit as created by neglect. The blessed hope is for the Lord's return to raise the dead and create a new heaven and new earth. Has the church neglected the blessed hope and just left it to cranks?

While we kick Camping for his manipulative folly, let's not forget to look inward and see if we could have left him less space in which to operate by proclaiming the Lord's return more insistently.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Living Life by the Immanuel Principle

Texts: Lev 26:11-12; Rev 21:3 (NLT)
Preached: 11 May 2011 at AGTSChapel


The catechistic question asks, "What is the chief aim of man?" To which the answer is, "To glorify God and enjoy him forever." If we were asked, "What is the chief aim of God?" We might well answer, "To glorify man and enjoy him forever."
A central Old Testament covenantal promise was this: "I will live among you, and I will not despise you. I will walk among you; I will be your God, and you will be my people" (Lev 26:11-12). And it comes to its ultimate fulfillment in the New Testament announcement: "I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, 'Look, God's home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them'" (Rev 21:3).
We serve a God would takes the journey with us, even through the valley of the shadow of death. He lives among us here below and will take us home to glory.
He is the God who journeys with us. From the beginning till eternity, God's plan has been to walk among his people. From His first walks in the garden of Eden to his frustrating journey through the wilderness with people who complain and reject his path, God has told us that he wants to go on the journey with us.
He is a God who lives among us. By his glorious presence in the wilderness tabernacle, by his glorious presence in Solomon's temple, by his humble presence as the Incarnation Logos, God tells us, "I want to share your life."
He is the Gogsd who brin us home. God tells us, I want to bring you home: By his promise of a land that flows with milk and honey, by Jesus' promise: "There is more than enough room in my Father's home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. (John 14:2-3)

The Old Testament Foreshadowed God's Final Presence
We see in the Garden (Gen 3:8). It was only sin that stopped those evening walks in paradise with God.
The Tabernacle and Temple showed this. When God liberated his people from slavery, he told them, "I will live among you, and I will not despise you. I will walk among you; I will be your God, and you will be my people" (Lev 26:11-12). The wilderness tabernacle and Jerusalem temple proved a glorious shadow of his presence (Exod 40:34-35; 1 Kgs 8:10). At the tabernacle's dedication, God's glory so overwhelmed the temple that Moses couldn't minister there (Exod 40:34-35). And the same thing happened at the temple's dedication (1 Kgs 8:10-11).
But the tabernacle and temple were only a shadow of his presence. David exclaimed, "the Lord is in his holy Temple; the Lord still rules from heaven" (Ps 11:4). His son Solomon built a house for the Lord and prayed, "O Lord, you have said that you would live in a thick cloud of darkness. Now I have built a glorious Temple for you, a place where you can live forever!" (1 Kgs 8:10). But even Solomon recognized the house wouldn't contain the Lord (1 Kgs 8: 27). He knew what the Lord said: "Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Could you build me a temple as good as that? Could you build me such a resting place?" (Isa 66:1).
So even in the Old Testament, there was still a need for the "Immanuel" Promise. God used Isaiah to give King Ahaz a sign of his presence: "For this reason the sovereign master himself will give you a confirming sign. Look, this young woman is about to conceive and will give birth to a son. You, young woman, will name him Immanuel" (Isa 7:14 NET). Whether the father named him Hezekiah, or more probably, Mahar-Shalal-Hash-Baz (Isa 8:1-15), his mother would call him "Immanuel," and Ahaz would be forced to reckon with God's presence in his troubled times.

The New Testament Displays God's Final Presence
The Incarnate Logos opened up the New Testament display of God's presence among his people. When Jesus Christ came in the flesh, he brought heightened fulfillment of the Immanuel promise (Matt 1:23; Isa 7:14). He began heightened fulfillment of the tabernacle principle. John said it this way: "The Word became human and made his home among us" (John 1:14). And Paul said it this way: "God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ" (Col 1:19). " In Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body" (Col 2:9).
The Resurrected Christ continued the fulfillment of that promise. Jesus promised to fulfill the tabernacle principle by resurrection. He said, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up…. When Jesus said 'his temple,' he meant his own body" (John :19, 21). And he promised to fulfill the Immanuel principle: "Where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them" (Matt 18:20).

Fulfillment comes about in two ways, some of which we have already, and some that we still await.
Already, we have the promise of God's presence with us. Individual believers have that promise, if they are obedient: "All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them" (John 14:23). Paul followed that promise to warn against sexual immorality: "Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. Don't you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?" (1 Cor 6:18-19). And the corporate body of Christ experiences fulfillment of that promise. Peter said it: "You all are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple" (1 Pet 2:5). And Paul used the reality of that promise to warn against divisions in the church:
"Don`t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple" (1 Cor 3:16-17).
And the fullest realization something we do not-yet experience. But it's coming. John sees a heavenly temple dedication marked by awesome theophany: "Then, in heaven, the Temple of God was opened and the Ark of his covenant could be seen inside the Temple. Lightning flashed, thunder crashed and roared, and there was an earthquake and a terrible hailstorm" (Rev 11:19). And like the dedication of tabernacle and temple, the heavenly temple is filled with God's glory: "The Temple was filled with smoke from God's glory and power. No one could enter the Temple until the seven angels had completed pouring out the seven plagues (Rev 15:8). In the end, we dwell in the heavenly final temple, with a reminder that God's promises are sure (cf. Lev 26:11-12): "I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, 'Look, God's home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them" (Rev 21:3). And because it's always been about the presence of God, not about any particular building, the heavenly manifestation of the Immanuel principle is temple-less: "I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple" (v. 21).

What does this all mean to us now? It means three things:

1. We're in the presence of a holy God.

God wants us to keep the temple whole and holy (1 Cor 3:16; 6:18-19). Whether by Levitical cordon or apostolic injunctions against division (1 Cor 3:16) and sexual immorality (1 Cor 6:18-19), God will keep his temple holy. And God will keep the final temple holy:
All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children. But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars—their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death (Rev 21:7-8). Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there. And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city. Nothing evil will be allowed to enter, nor anyone who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty—but only those whose names are written in the Lamb`s Book of Life. (Rev 25-27)
2. We're not mere earthlings.
For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come" (Heb 13:14). Jesus is leading us onward "to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to countless thousands of angels in a joyful gathering." He has enrolled in the assembly of God's firstborn children, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God himself, who is the judge over all things. You have come to the spirits of the righteous ones in heaven who have now been made perfect. You have come to Jesus. (Heb 12:22-24).
3. We never walk alone: "Be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt 28:20).