Tuesday, December 6, 2016

On Tending The Flowers of Marriage

Jesus makes His bride beautiful. In an analogous way, I think we make our own spouse beautiful (or handsome, as the case may be). When you tend a flower properly, it blooms. The work of tending causes the joy of greater beauty. A husband who pours love and affection and sacrifice and service into his wife will see her bloom before his eyes into a more beautiful woman, sparkling and shimmering with the joy of a woman who is loved. The wife who respects and admires and submits to her husband will watch as he, fueled by the shining eyes of his princess, becomes more and more the lion that she admired in the first place.

Beware, ye darkness. Such a flower will spill unquenchable light. Such is the power of the loving husband.

Beware, ye dragons. Such a prince knows no fear. Thus is the power of an admiring wife.

And beware, gates of hell. The bride will conquer, for her Husband has conquered, and His love makes her invincible.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

On Agreeing to Disagreeing

On disagreeing agreeably… Lots of Christian brothers and sisters that I know and love will be, like me, writing someone in or not voting at all rather than voting for Donald Trump. On the other hand, lots of Christian brothers and sisters that I know and love will be voting for him as the lesser of two evils. Now, I can bring out my arguments all day long, but that is not the point of this post. 
So long as we are doing what we are doing – voting for who we are voting for – based on our convictions from Scripture and the leading of God in our lives, we should be able to come out at the end of a political discussion shaking hands and smiling. 
We may disagree – and I by no means intend to suggest that both camps could in some postmodern way be correct at the same time. Only one side can be correct. I think it's crazy to vote for Trump, I think I'm right and the other guys are wrong, and I'm not ashamed to say it. 
Of course I think I'm right. Otherwise I wouldn't agree with myself. The humility we are commanded to clothe ourselves with does not come with an election season exception clause. 
Ultimately, God chooses our next president; there is only one vote that counts and it is His to cast. Jesus is still on His throne whether brother Jim Bob votes for Trump or writes in Darrell Castle. We can't and don't have to hold this thing together (and neither can any president). It is for us simply to be faithful. What happens in November is not important enough to divide the church of Christ over. 
I'll keep passionately speaking against Trump. May the dialogue, the prayer and soul- and Scripture-searching continue. Let's just remember that who is president matters far less than Who is King. 
And there is no end to the reign of the One Who holds that office.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The God Who Laughs

Horror movies are scary because they present a world in which evil triumphs; a world in which there is no hope; a world in which the gates of hell prevail. They present a sick and twisted look at human depravity that fascinates the flesh. They are full of inventions of evil, and the evil they present laughs- laughs at justice, laughs at consequences, laughs at God.

Yet Scripture contains the most terrifying premises imaginable; terrifying, not in a dark and shadowed and sinfully fascinating way, but in an overwhelming and inescapable and terribly beautiful way. While the horrors of sin invite the viewer to fantasize and indulge dark curiosities, the terrors of God send shudders down the spine and invite those who meditate upon them to fall on their knees.

The terrors of sin invite the roaches to explore the kitchen floor. The terrors of God send them scattering.

These are the horror films that Christians should make. These films would not explore the twisted paths of a sinful psyche and offer less inventive minds the chance to wander down the paths of death; they would explore the straight paths of God's holy Justice, and expose in blinding light how twisted the paths of our fallen minds truly are. They would cause terror not at the perversion of the evils but at the perfection of the inescapable justice of God.

These films would explore what it means to suppress the truth for so long that someone actually begins to live a lie, a life of self-inflicted blindness stemming from rebellion against the One True God. They would proclaim the chilling judgments of a righteous God on a rebellious nation, like the prophets did of old. They would show that though the wicked laugh and mock at God's eternal flames, those flames are waiting hungrily and burning all the same. They would show that the One True God is a God Who is to be feared.

In American culture the God of Scripture is not feared; instead, we fear an idol of our own making, carved in the image of tolerance, whose sacrifices are a pinch of apathy, a pound of groveling, and any lingering traces of manhood buried deep within your bones. But this leaves the question- has the American church been presenting God as He presents Himself? Or have we been presenting a god who is sitting up in heaven trying his very best to fight against the evil that is overpowering his forces here in America; a god who is begging, pleading with his enemies to just believe in him so he can bless them?

We serve a God Who laughs. Who holds His enemies in holy and unflinching derision. We serve a God Who is a loving, merciful, forgiving Father- but who is a terrifying, unflinching, fearless adversary.

"He Who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord scoffs at them." (Ps. 2:4)

"I will even laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your dread comes." (Pr. 1:26)

Romans 1 details the descent into madness- a descent which begins with refusing to acknowledge God, and ends with the judgment of God poured out like flooding rains on those who have turned against Him; a deep and chilling blindness so overpowering that the most simple and obvious truths are lost in the confusion like a baseball in a field of corn.

Scripture tells us that everyone knows; the Image of God is so indelibly carved into their being, so inescapably shimmering out of the world around them, that they are without excuse. If Woody would just look at his boot, he would know that he belongs to Andy.

But they've shoved their boot into a sock and have lived that way for so long that they have genuinely begun to believe that there is neither boot nor Andy at all; they've told themselves their own lie for so long that they have actually started to believe it; they have looked at the world through upside-down glasses for so long that their brain is flipping their eyesight to match.

And He Who sits in the heavens laughs. He laughs as the heathen nations rage, like ants picketing on the sizzling pavement outside the air-conditioned office of the exterminator, like pots starting a Facebook campaign against the rights of the potter (who happens also to own the internet... and a sledgehammer). He laughs as America pretends with all her might that magnets don't necessarily have to go N+S... if that N wants to self-identify as an S, who are we to say otherwise? He laughs as we hide from His Truth like a child under the blanket at bedtime, as we run from Reality only to be ambushed by her child, Consequence. He laughs as the brightest minds in the scientific community conclude that the universe is a cosmic accident and claim primordial slime as their heritage. He laughs as the prophets of Babylon dance and prance in a frenzy to a mirror-idol, cutting themselves and shouting louder, louder, louder in hopes that maybe the state will send fire from heaven and consume all the intolerant things they have heaped upon her altar.

And fire will come, but it will not be from the one they worship.

This is the God that Scripture presents; the God who melts mountains with the breath of His nostrils; the God at Whose voice the oceans flee. The scariest villains, both in our little fictions and in God's great reality, are the ones who commit their crimes and laugh. They have no fear; they have no remorse; they cackle at the pain they cause others and mock the sword of justice.

But God is the One Who wields that sword. And He laughs at them. He laughs at their pride, their bravado, their cute little insults which make them feel so big and strong. He is not trying to defeat them. He is defeating them- and that through their own perceived victories. He is defeating them with the ease of a giant wrestling an impertinent child, with the completely unconcerned dominance of a cat toying with a cricket.

He laughs, and knows that the ones who mock at the cup of His wrath will mock no more once they have tasted thereof.

And that is sweet solace for the righteous.

And that is utter terror for the wicked.

This is the God of the Bible. This is a Christianity with teeth. This is the God that the world must see.

What is the beginning of the descent to madness in Romans 1? A refusal to acknowledge God. What, therefore, is the beginning of revival? The submissive acknowledgement of God. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but how can we expect for wisdom to begin if we never present the truth about the God Who is to be feared? God is in the business of bringing glory to His worthy Name. How can we expect to see true reformation based only on moralistic platitudes, "traditional values," and pleas to acknowledge an ooey-gooey ambiguigod.

The God of the Bible does not share His glory.

And this is the God that we must present to the world.

How can we expect God's blessing if we will not give Him the glory for it? If we want to proclaim the pantheistic and tolerant elephant-shaped god of our own making, then we should only expect help from that god. And since that is no god at all, the rescue we are waiting for will be rather lackluster.

The Kingdom of God does not depend on America. America may fall, and God will not be searching desperately for a plan B. America doesn't need morality. She doesn't need traditional values. She doesn't need conservative fiscal policy.

She needs to fear God.

She needs to kiss the Son. (Ps. 2)

America needs Jesus. Just like every other nation on the earth.

And as Christians, our first duty is to proclaim Him as He says He is.

We serve a God Who laughs. It is time for His people to laugh too- not in pride in ourselves, not in self-exalting superiority, but in humble and childlike submission to the irrefutable Truth of God. In dealing with individuals, we should show Christ-like mercy, compassion, humility- for we, too, are sinners whose only claim is the Grace of God. But as followers of Jesus, we know the Truth; we have nothing to fear from the prophets of error. So in looking at the insanity around us, we should stand on the Word of God, proclaim it with boldness, and laugh fearlessly.

Because when you're looking through the eyes of reality, this stuff is pretty funny.


Thursday, June 16, 2016

What if Gun Control Really Worked?

Folks, let's say for a moment that gun control really worked. Let's assume for a moment that the government would actually be able to purge the entire US of guns. Let's say that they could actually reduce gun crime to virtually zero.
The simple fact remains that all the firepower would rest in the hands of the government, the criminal communities, and other nations. The people of America would be disarmed and unable to resist an intrusive federal government, a foreign invader, criminal mobs or Islamic aggression.
Let's not forget that the statistics about gun crime are not really the issue. Even if the gun crime was higher, the point is still one of liberty vs. security. We must encourage our fellow Americans to educate and arm themselves; train for such situations; take your children out of public school; *take responsibility.* The government's job, Scripturally and Constitutionally (but not generally at a federal level), is to punish evil- *not* to keep everyone safe and cared for. We need to set aside the victim mentality and take responsibility for our own. That's what free men do. Liberty is dangerous (but not as dangerous as the alternative).
Mass shootings are absolutely terrible. But Nazi regimes, Sharia law, rampant organized crime- these are worse. Even if we assume (wrongly) that gun control would solve the shootings, we must realize that we would be giving up liberty for security.
If you think my examples are extreme, look at the middle east, where ISIS is murdering Christians by the hundreds and the Christians are not prepared to resist; look at Nazi Germany and all the other communist governments that disarmed their populace before bringing them into subjection.
If more Americans were armed and prepared to act, the perpetrators of these heinous crimes would be numbered among the slain- and it would be a much smaller number. That's all there is to it.
It is not compassionate to the victims of these crimes to perpetuate the problem.
I known not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death. I'll take the animated contest of freedom over the tranquil servitude of slavery any day.
I don't trust these mass murderers any more than anyone else does, but I trust governments with incontestable power even less.
In any case, as the protector of my wife and my baby girl, the ability to fire back in their defense is a God-given liberty and responsibility that I am not willing to forsake in the vain hope that an angelic and incorruptible government will save us from all of the evils of a fallen world.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Seeing Jesus in the Butterflies

God has woven an illustrative world. Have you ever looked at a seemingly still piece of earth for more than a moment, only to see it transform with every passing second into a superhighway of insect industry?

God's world is like that. Everywhere we look, if we look closely enough, we will see microscopic metaphors wriggling around like maggots in a seaman's biscuit- but the metaphors are much more attractive, and they taste better.

Children are well known for asking the question "why?" Why do trees grow so tall? Why is the sky blue? Why do animals die? Why does two plus two always equal four? 

Too often as adults we confuse the question "why" with the question "how." When the child asks why seeds grow into plants, we respond with a scientific explanation of photosynthesis and germination. When they ask why grape juice becomes wine, we launch into a dissertation on fermentation. (Or maybe we look it up online with them because we have no clue...)

But while these scientific answers explain what happens, they do not explain why

And the answer to the why is, ultimately, "because that's the way God made it."

And why did He make it that way? Because He wanted to, of course... but why did He want to? The Lord of heaven and earth is the greatest of all storytellers. It should be no surprise that the poetic little rabbit trails scattered throughout His saga are not just random and unconnected rants; He has spun a world full of foreshadows and illustrations and poetic representations of deeper realities.

We see this in Scripture. Jesus is the Door, He is the Bread, He is the Water, He is the Good Shepherd. Christians shouldn't live on milk. God is a Rock. My wife is a crown. The heavens have voices.

So then, let us not be content with knowing how. Let us look deeper and ask why. The more we do this, the more we will discover that in everything our eyes rest upon, we should see Jesus, not just in the how- though the how is indeed full of rich illustrations of God's creative genius and the glory of Christ in holding all together- but also in the why. 

Maybe grape juice turns into wine because the intoxicating deliciousness of marriage grows better with every passing year.

Maybe the laws of physics bind us from walking through walls because the only way to come to The Father is through The Door. (John 10:9)

Maybe we cannot live without water because we cannot live without Jesus. (John 4:14)

Maybe gold is rare because a Godly wife is so hard to find. (Pr. 31)

Maybe hunger hurts because laziness should hurt too. (Pr. 16:26)

Maybe seeds grow into plants which produce a thousand-fold more seeds because sin is not stagnant and it will multiply where it is not uprooted. (Eph. 6)

Maybe muscles grow stronger with use because righteousness is not stagnant either, and the more we walk in obedience to Christ the easier it becomes. (Eph. 6)

Maybe trees take hundreds of years to reach their full potential because we will not see the full ramifications of our actions for generations to come.

Maybe leaven causes bread to rise because we will be influenced by those we associate with. (Matt. 16:6)

Maybe rocks are such a firm and immovable foundation because God is unwaveringly faithful. (Ps. 18:2)

Maybe caterpillars go into cocoons because God is in the business of making butterflies.

Maybe babies need so much from their parents because adults need to remember that they need so much from their Father. (Matt. 7:9)

Maybe weddings are so joyful because they are a taste of the consummation of the ages.

When we look at a plant, then, we should see Jesus. When we look at a butterfly, we should see Jesus. When we look at a rock, or a glass of wine, or a wedding, or a baby, we should see Jesus. 

The earth is already filled with the Glory of the Lord. (Is. 6:3)

The challenge is just seeing it. (Hab. 2:14)


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Feminism and Spandex

My daughter. Born May 7, 2016.

Our baby's name, Jael Bethany Hudelson, means the following...

Jael is called to be a fruitful, home-focused warrioress, like her Biblical namesake, and like her mother. 

Jael means "mountain climber" or "mountain goat;" our little girl is called to conquer obstacles and do hard things for the glory of Jesus Christ. 

Bethany means "house of dates;" Jael is called to bear fruit for the kingdom of God, both in her endeavors and accomplishments and, if God wills, in her womb someday. Just like her mother. 

The Biblical Jael was not a trained warrior; she was a homemaker who was courageous and capable enough to deal a decisive blow to the enemies of God. In the midst of a culture that holds up spandex-clad female warriors as ideal women, Jael's namesake represents a womanhood that is neither China-doll nor masculine; in the midst of a culture that counts dollars and not descendants, degrees and not dominion, Jael represents a woman who is fulfilled in her God-given role, keeping her husband's home; in the midst of a gender-confused and sexually perverse culture, Jael represents a womanhood which is clearly and happily feminine, even in her combat methodology; Jael represents a womanhood which sees her battlefield as the home. 

Jael is called to be a woman ready to put spiritual tent pegs through the temples of the ideological enemies of God like feminism, relativism, and political correctness; a courageous woman devoted to the Kingdom of God and not to her own comfort; a woman who, like her mother and grandmothers before her, will stand strong in the face of a culture that despises all that she represents. 

Jael is also called to be a woman who, if worst came to worst, could pour some literal milk and wield some literal tent pegs with deadly effect.

And then the symbolism of her middle and last names. 

Jael is called to carry on the covenant with Jesus Christ which her mother, Bethany, so dearly holds, and which is the most treasured legacy of the Hudelson name. 

It's all about Jesus, baby girl. 

Fill the earth. (Hab. 2:14)


As an aside, talking about feminism and spandex... I just watched my wife go to war, y'all. I held her hand and gazed into her eyes as she fought to bring a baby into this world. I saw in her face more ferocity, more determination, more perseverance through incredible difficulty than any super-woman movie character on any Hollywood screen could ever pretend to be overcoming. And I couldn't help but think- why do women go anywhere else to pursue greatness? Why try and compete with the guys when you could do something they can't? Why develop unnatural strengths when you are created with such amazing natural strengths?

I remember discussing fitness with my sister and a friend, and my sister asked "well, if guys are better at upper-body strength, what are girls better at?"

I said "having babies." The sad thing is that in our culture, that is seen as insulting. And so we see how feminism has degraded womanhood. Instead of honoring the incredible unique power of women to be mothers and homemakers, we force them to measure themselves as laborers against the men who were designed by God to be those laborers. 

My boss told me about a visit to Discount Tire during which he saw a 120-pound woman struggling to torque tire nuts to the required near-200 ft. lb. requirement... And another woman telling her manager that she couldn't get six tires onto the top shelf... 

Meanwhile, the military reduces their physical fitness requirements so women can go to war. 

Meanwhile, women are celebrated for being the first woman to do something that a hundred men have already done. 

Meanwhile, my wife goes through labor. And I am awe-struck. I see a depth of power and ferocity that I never knew in her. I see the thousand yard stare of a terrifying warrioress. And I think- for a woman, surely any other accomplishment, any other career path cannot compare; any other paper or trophy hanging on the wall can only ever be a step down from a picture of another human soul brought into the world by the kind of labor only a woman can do.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Amputated Church

What is the Church of Jesus Christ? A body. A bride. A family. An army.

And where do we see this manifested?

In the local church.

It is in the local church where we exercise our gifts. (Rom. 12)

It is in the local church where our love for the saints is expressed. (John 13:34+35)

It is in the local church where church authority is exercised to punish sin and guard and lead the flock. (1 Cor. 5)

It is in the local church where we fill roles as members of the body of Christ. (1 Cor. 12)

It is in the local church where we celebrate the New Covenant Passover. (1 Cor. 11:23-27)

It is in the local church where we labor together for the cause of Christ and build the bonds of family-friendship. (1 Tim. 5:1-2)

It is in the local church where all the functions of the Church towards the believer and of the believer towards the Church become real and practical. The Bride of Christ is a global institution, but we cannot fulfill our Scriptural duties towards the global Church without fulfilling them at a local level.

So how we relate to the local church is very, very important; choosing a church, attending a church, tithing to a church, joining a church, being invested in a church, and leaving a church are all matters to be taken very seriously.

The Scriptural picture of church fellowship requires deep relationships, pastoral involvement, confession of sin, accountability, fellowship, hospitality, generosity, prayer, perseverance, humility, the pursuit of Christ, and lots and lots of love. Real love. A love that says and does the hard things when it needs to.

And this requires commitment. Hard-charging, long-term commitment to a local body.

Today, it seems that the church is not taken so seriously; choosing a church is a buffet-style proposition. A little of this, a little of that, go back for more of the one you like.

It is certainly appropriate to vet a church before becoming a member. We should indeed examine the doctrines taught, consider the practices modeled, and see living Christian love in the fellowship.

But the first and foremost question must be "where does The LORD want me to plug in?" The decisive question must not be one simply of preference or comfort but of submission to the will of Christ and a desire to be used by Him to fill a need in His bride. As in every area of the Christian walk, we should be driven by love for God and for others- not by self-focus.

That's all foundational to the title of this article- the amputated church. That's what happens when someone leaves a local body.

If we are all members of the local body- "individually members of one another"- what happens when one leaves? Pain. Loss. A hole in the fellowship and the efficacy of the church.

If it's easy to leave; if there is no pain; if nobody misses the family that stopped attending- these are signs that something was already awry in the bond of fellowship.

It should be hard to leave. This doesn't mean that it's never right to leave a church; there are very good and legitimate reasons for doing so. However, leaving a church should be done with the seriousness and formality of amputating a limb- not with the impulsive or emotion-based decisiveness (or indecisiveness) of no longer eating pizza on Friday nights.

Before an amputation, there is first and foremost a significant reason for making such a drastic decision. Leaving a church should be a matter of "doctor, I have leprosy spreading up my leg- I think we need to cut it off"- and not a matter of "hey doc, my elbow hurts a bit after yesterday's baseball game- would you do me a favor and pull out your bone saw?" There are valid reasons- and they are not limited to problems with the local church, either. God could be calling you elsewhere. Regardless the reason, there should be a reason for breaking the fellowship of the local body. Like the founding fathers declaring independence from England, a proper farewell to a local body involves a list- either of grievances or simply of rationale for why God is calling you elsewhere. It doesn't have to be a physical list, but there should be real reasons.

Sharing those reasons with the church, or at least with the elders of the church, not only clarifies why you are considering leaving the fellowship, but it gives them the opportunity to hold you accountable if your rationale is not Scriptural, to repent if they are convicted that you are right, to agree that what you are seeing is a problem that needs addressed, or maybe just to agree to disagree. Even in that last case, at least both parties know what they are disagreeing over!

An amputation is only done after much counsel has been sought and any other way to solve the problem has been considered. Doug Wilson, in his Practical Christian Living talks, points out that generally we are prone to see defects in the thing we are gifted in. Someone God has gifted with teaching will notice that the sermon wasn't very well organized. A servant will notice that nobody is doing the dishes after the potluck. An evangelist will wonder why the stack of Gospel tracts by the door always seems just as tall.

We are remarkably good at turning good things into reasons for pride. "I'm so good at expressing these difficult doctrines. Most of the people here just don't get it as clearly as I do." "No one notices just how often I serve everyone. People here just don't love others enough." "If the folks in this church really loved Jesus, they would be evangelizing more."

"I have the gift of humility and I'm proud of it."

Before leaving a church because of a deficiency in its battlefront, perhaps we might consider that God has put us in that body to fill that void. Maybe the church doesn't evangelize enough because they need someone passionate about evangelism to come in and start poking them. Maybe the music isn't very good because no trained musician has ever come in and said "hey, I can help y'all with that!"

Maybe you see that problem in the local fellowship because God sent you there to fix it. If the focus is not on ourselves but rather on the Kingdom of God and the brethren, will we not be hungry and eager to fill those very voids?

If the problem is not a deficiency but rather an issue of sin or conflict, then healing must be sought through the Biblical patterns of conflict resolution. Fleeing from a problem only causes it to fester, and it destroys the freedom and openness of fellowship that should happen between brothers and sisters in Christ.

Even doctrinal problems are opportunities. It is one thing to decline to join a church because of bad doctrine; it's another to leave a church because they are compromising. If you are a part of that family, maybe God has you there to strengthen the hands of your family in the faith against the lies that are deceiving them. Or maybe God is showing you something that they haven't seen yet- that is your chance to edify the brethren. But maybe you're wrong... and that's their chance to edify you. Regardless, Scripture encourages dealing with stuff. Sin stuff, doctrinal stuff, conflict stuff. Deal with the stuff- don't run from it.

There will be stuff everywhere we go.

An amputation is decisive. People know when it happens and why. So if there is a doctrinal issue that cannot be resolved; if the pastor will not confess his sin; if you've tried every means to "be at peace with all men" that you can, but the conflict is still destroying the fellowship; if The LORD is just calling you to go elsewhere- then do so decisively. Please don't fade away and leave the brethren to wonder what happened. Let them throw you a party and send you away with their blessing- or, if necessary, let them know that you feel you've done all you can and are leaving them and praying for God's mercy on them- something. But don't, please don't leave the limb half-amputated; those don't heal very well.

It leaves others behind hurting. Missing you. Wondering what happened and if they should hope to see you again... or if they should resign to an occasional chance encounter in a room featuring an elephant and a floor of eggshells.

And it cheapens and devalues the realness, the depth of intimate Christian fellowship- just as divorce cheapens marriage. Is it real? Will it last? Can I be so open and vulnerable to this family? Or will they leave too, and take a piece of my heart with them?

If The LORD does want you to leave a good church, and it's not because they are failing to be a faithful body, then don't worry- He will bring someone to fill the void you leave. And the tears of goodbye, like those shared by the pilgrims on the shores of the old country before they left for the new one- they will be sweet tears. And the reunions, the chance encounters, the wedding invitations and the Facebook pictures will be marked with the signs of Christian fellowship- love, joy, wholehearted openness, the good old honest pain that comes with missing a dear friend.

That kind of love for one another will proclaim to the world that we are truly disciples of Jesus Christ.

Those aren't amputations.

They're transplants.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Broken Chains

Imagine the tears. Friday night. Saturday. Empty days. The heartbroken, heartbreaking moans and sobs. Dead. The Man they had come to love- to be loved by- more than any other. Gone. Buried. Imprisoned in the iron coffin that binds every soul it receives.

They had hoped so much. Seen so much. Years of their lives were spent following this Man, believing His Word. "Where would we go, Lord? You have the words of life!"

And now... now where do they go? How can life ever be worth living again?

Maybe Peter tried to go fishing, one of those dark days. Maybe he looked at his empty nets and, try as he might, could only see them brimful and breaking with the fish summoned by their Maker.

Maybe John tried to comfort Mary... but couldn't convince himself that there was really any comfort to offer.

Did any of them expect it? Did any of them remember the promises of Christ- hear them faintly echoing, but echoing louder and louder as Sunday approached?

Did Pilate sleep soundly- did his washed hands make a washed conscience? Or did he dream of the Man Who had come to testify to the truth?

Did the leaders of Israel post guards to keep the disciples from stealing the body of Christ? Or did they, deep down, know that that was a pretense to try to prevent a greater deliverance?

Did Joseph of Arimathea think that he would go down in history as the man who gave the tomb that held the Messiah? Or did he have the faith to see that the tomb couldn't hold the Messiah?

There was the sting of death. There was the victory of the grave. And they were all burdened and bound under its awful conqueror's rule. Their King, their Hero, had fallen in the battle. All was lost.

Imagine the tears Saturday night.

But imagine the morning.

Oh, imagine the morning.

#HeIsRisen #FillTheEarth

"Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?"

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Happy Tears

If you've ever been to a wedding, you probably know the feeling. You can't help but smile, and you can't help but cry. It's so happy that it hurts. There's a deep, aching, longing, bittersweet joy that leaves everyone there inspired and almost depressed (in a happy sort of way). Hearts so light and so heavy all at once.

This feeling of bittersweetness happens at other times through life, though the occasions are rare. A perfectly golden autumn day lit by warm sun through cool, dappled shade. A funeral for a Christian warrior released to glory. The end of a movie where the hero has died and died well. A piece of music that somehow transcends simple audio enjoyment and etches a mark on our soul. A day of fellowship at church where the love and unity is so real that no one wants to leave until long after the daylight has.

What is it, exactly? Why do we get this feeling, and what does it mean?

I can't speak authoritatively to that, but I have a theory, and my theory is not without at least some Scriptural support.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has set eternity in the heart of men. I suspect that maybe this feeling- the feeling of something so beautiful it is almost too beautiful, of something so bright it is blinding, something greater than our capacity for greatness, something so overwhelmingly, painfully good- maybe that feeling comes when events throughout our temporal life filter in and strike the chords of eternity which God has hidden in our hearts. Like sunbeams dancing through the suffocating dust of an attic and finding their way to grandpa's old prism, suddenly everything is light and beauty and it hurts not because it's too bad but because it's too good, hurts not because we want less of it but because we want more of it- and yet we couldn't handle it if it were given to us.

These moments throughout our lives- maybe they are pointing to something greater. Maybe they hurt because we can feel deep down that our eternity is calling; that we were made for something beyond, for a deeper satisfaction and a fuller joy than anything this world can offer- anything this sinful flesh could bear even if this world could offer it!

Maybe these moments are so overwhelming because they are little tastes of paradise, of the new heavens and the new earth, of the wedding feast of the Lamb.

Which brings me to a few things I can say confidently from Scripture.

Last weekend, my bride and I attended the Southwest Family Vision Conference. It was an enormous blessing; so rich and inspiring and convicting.

One of the themes that was really brought into crystalline focus for me was that earthly marriage between a man and a woman is a physical picture of the heavenly, eternal marriage between Christ and His Church. (Eph. 5:22-33)

The wisdom of God is truly so vast, so unfathomable, so unsearchable. He has spoken and woven into being a world full of foreshadows, of echoes, of tastes, of symbols. Everywhere we look there is a new illustration of Who He is and how He is. Leaven, fire, doors, bread and wine, water, rocks, lambs, lions, fruit, birth, death- it's constant. He has spoken and is speaking His glory all throughout the world around us. (Ps. 19)

And perhaps the greatest of all of His perfect metaphors is marriage.

A few things in particular struck me about the marriage analogy as I've rolled it around in my mind.

The first is the idea of the exuberance of the bridegroom. Every husband knows the feeling. It's finally the day, finally the hour, finally the minute, and then the moment- there she is. Beautiful. Breathless and breathtaking. He couldn't hold the corners of his mouth down if he tried. It's really happening.

All throughout Scripture is painted this picture of the joy of the wedding feast. (Rev. 19:7) Scripture says that Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2).

Notice that in both Rev. 19:8 and Eph. 5:26 the Church is given the white garments; Christ sanctifies His bride. The Church is made up of sinful people- people who were the enemies of God (Rom. 5:10). Yet Christ makes her a perfect bride through His blood.

And then there's the wedding.

And all of creation explodes into celebration.

And God makes us- unworthy sinful dust-to-dust us- the bride in the nuptial consummation of the ages.

To think that we, somehow, get to be a bride who brings joy to her Husband- to imagine that maybe, just maybe, Jesus Christ will smile at the sight of His bride- we are not worthy. That the creation could somehow bring pleasure and glory to the Creator- what a story God has penned!

And of course it's never about us. It's about the Bridegroom. We are not worthy. He is. But the amazing thing is that He makes us worthy. He makes us clean. He makes us pleasing to Him. That we could be pleasing in the sight of God- this truth should at once humble and excite us!

But there's another thing about this truth which brings us full circle. If all of creation, all of history is the love story that God the Father wrote by and for His Son, then every wedding from the beginning of time to its end is a foreshadow. Every "I do," every first kiss, every cheer and clap and wedding cake and first dance- they are all testifying to something greater. Every bride is a picture of the perfected Bride. Every groom is a picture of the perfect Groom. It's like hearing an echo from a celebration miles away. It's a taste. A hint. A picture. The joy. The smiles. The beauty. The covenants. The love.

It's the greatest novel ever written.

We are living in God's love story.

And every wedding is a foreshadow of the triumphant conclusion.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Have Yourself a Pagan Little Holiday

Ah, Christmastime. A time for joy, eggnog, and controversy.

Last year, my wife and I celebrated our first Christmas as us. Part of being an us meant having to stand- if with all the confidence of Bambi on ice- on our own convictions.

I had seen my parents, and other families, go through it before- Saturnalia, druids, and evergreen idols. This year, though, God brought the issues into razor-sharp focus, as our entire church came face-to-face with this issue.

Is the tree really an idol? Is the Grinch really a reformer waging war on idolatry? Can I get some eggnog with a shot of paganism, please?

It's an emotional topic, because if the answer is "yes," then a lot of fun memories and happy traditions need to be torn down like so many asherim, burned with the yule log, and buried with a sprig of holly through their heart.

But we must be willing for the answer to be "yes," or there is no purpose in asking the question. As with any other question which we take to Scripture, a good first step would be an examining of our own hearts- are we really ready to follow wherever God calls us to go? If we aren't ready to submit to any answer, then why bother seeking an answer at all?

There are many Godly believers who celebrate Christmas, and many who do not; furthermore, there are many from either camp who could argue their position very convincingly.

But last year, as my wife and I wrestled through it, I felt like The Lord clearly and decisively answered my questions about Christmas. I'm writing it down here because I'm sure the discussion will come up again and I don't want to forget what I learned. I'm also hoping that it will be a blessing to others who are or will be wrestling with the same issues.

So, without further ado- is it permissible, let alone good, for Christians to celebrate Christmas?

The Christmas issue boiled down in my mind to a few doubts that hovered like the shadow of an enormous Ebenezer Scrooge over the lights and the trees and the stockings. I'm going to focus on those here.

What about the Jewish feasts?

I have in the past participated in "Passover" celebrations which served as a way to look back on Christ as the fulfillment thereof, and insofar as the Old Covenant feasts are enjoyed as educational and historical exercises which teach us about Christ they are wonderful opportunities.

But if God decreed these feasts- some of which He called perpetual, and commanded for generational observance- why are we not celebrating them yearly? Why are we not quite literally religious about them? Shouldn't we be celebrating the Jewish feasts as a matter of obedience to God's Word?

No. We should not. What's more, we cannot.

The feasts were part of the ceremonial laws of the Old Covenant- laws which, unlike the moral and judicial laws, were abrogated in Christ, their Fulfillment. To which you say, "prove it, bub," and rightly so; we cannot just go cherry-picking through the Law of God, deciding which ones sound fun for us to keep and which ones are too old-fashioned. So is there a Biblical basis for calling some of God's Laws "ceremonial," and for saying that we are not obligated to keep them?

In Hebrews 9:8-11, we see that the laws regarding "food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body" are appointed until "a time of reformation," namely, "when Christ appeared." That verse succinctly clarifies what exactly the "ceremonial law" is. But noticeably absent from this list is any mention of feasts or festivals.

Hebrews 10:12, however, tells us that Christ was the final sacrifice. We are no longer supposed to follow the laws about sacrificing animals, because those laws pointed to Christ, and He has come and fulfilled them once for all. It is now not only unnecessary but actually blasphemous to sacrifice animals, because The Lamb has come, and we should not look to anything else for our atonement.

What does this have to do with the Jewish feasts? Many or all of them involved offering sacrifices. Most notably, Passover- the yearly passover lamb which pointed to the once-for-all Lamb to be slain for the sins of the world.

Since sacrifices are inherently woven into the feast and festival laws of the Old Covenant, and since the sacrifices are fulfilled in Christ, the feasts must also be fulfilled in Christ. We cannot keep the feasts for obedience, because we cannot actually follow the prescribed method for celebrating those feasts- through sacrificing animals!

One more note- our church celebrates the New Covenant passover every week, when we eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Lamb who delivered us from the Egypt of sin.

That's a New One

Fine, but we still have to answer- why Christmas?

Nowhere in Scripture does God command or even model the celebration of Christmas. So the question haunted my mind like Marley's ghost- do we have any Biblical precedent for creating new festivals like Christmas?

Yes. We do. In the book of Esther, after the Jews routed their enemies, Mordecai instituted the feast of Purim as a yearly holiday to commemorate the deliverance of the Jews. That's a new feast- a man-made holiday- commemorating an act of God in history. So there is Biblical precedent for making holidays of remembrance- and what better to remember than the advent (Christmas) and resurrection (Easter) of the Messiah?

Druids and Yule Logs and Solstice, Oh My!

That's all well and good, but isn't Christmas a pagan festival with Jesus sprinkled on top? Didn't the church just take idolatry and churchify it so that Christians could feel better about keeping right on sacrificing to the Baals?

This question is really twofold.

First, there is the question of whether the Christians stole a pagan holiday or the pagans stole a Christian holiday. The idea that the Christians began celebrating Christmas on their own is a very tenable position (an argument can even be made that the magi actually arrived in Bethlehem on December 25th- see this amazing film for more on that), but I do not have the historical knowledge to argue it here; for the moment it will suffice to say that it is at least debatable that Christmas actually does have pagan roots.

For a moment, though, let's give the Christmas critics a freebie. Let's assume for the sake of argument that Christmas is rooted in pagan celebrations full of dark deeds and idolatrous traditions.

If that is the case, then the church of Jesus Christ took a pagan celebration and transformed it into a yearly remembrance of the birth of Christ which is now celebrated worldwide.

I would call that a victory.

Why would we want to surrender such a glorious heritage- our Christian forefathers tearing December 25th out of the hands of the godless and claiming it for Christ? That it still proclaims like the herald angels the advent of our Lord is evidenced all around, from the stars and nativities to the carols and choruses to the very fact that the nations rage against the word "Christmas."

The Name of Christ is the Name seared into the season of Christmastime.

Rather than abandoning it to the pagans of today, it is for us as believers to take a cue from Saint Nicolas and take a stand for our King. (Next time Arius says "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings," he's in for it.)

The nations may rage, but He Who sits in the heavens laughs. And since He came down to earth and bought us with His blood, we should laugh too.


I can't wait for next year...

#JoyToTheWorld #TheLordIsCome