Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Satanic Sickness

C.S. Lewis wrote in the preface to The Screwtape Letters: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. The evil spirits are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist and magician with the same delight.”[i]

Ask the average person on the street today if Satan exists and they will shake their head in the negative. Satan has been relegated to the dustbins of mythology by our sophisticated, scientific culture. In fact, a recent survey done in 2009 by Lifeway asked thousands of evangelical young people if they believed in the existence of Satan and 40 percent of Millennials (those born from 1980-2000) said Satan is “not a real being but just a symbol of evil.”[ii]   

When I hear things like that I am reminded of what one poet quipped:

And so they voted the Devil out,
and of course the Devil’s gone,
but simple people would like to know,
who carries his business on?[iii]

Perhaps, the greatest trick the Devil ever played is convincing the world that he didn’t exist.

Yet, the other day as I was reading through the Bible I came across something that startled me. In Luke 13 Jesus heals woman who had what the ESV text calls, “a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself” (Luke 13:11). When Jesus healed her scoliosis, the Pharisees criticized Him because He did this miracle on the Sabbath. The Lord replied, “And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:16).

What struck me was that Jesus said the cause of her infirmities was Satan. This sent my mind reeling, and I went in search for other instances in the Scriptures where Satan was directly linked to sickness. Here is what I found after just a brief search:

·         Job’s body was inflicted with painful sores from his nose to his toes. “So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head” (Job 2:7).

·         Jesus encountered a demoniac who went by the name Legion. Before, Jesus healed him the pitiful creature lived like a wild beast, having broken through every restraint. He lived among the tombs, regularly cried out like a howling wolf and practiced self-mutilation (Mark 5:1-5).  

·         After His glorious transfiguration, Jesus came upon a demon possessed boy who also suffered from epileptic seizures. The boy’s father explained, “And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid” (Mark 9:18).

·         The Apostle Paul suffered from what he called “a thorn in the flesh,” but in that same passage he tells us where it came from, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited” (2 Cor. 12:7, emphasis mine).

                                      Image result for Jesus healing demonic

For some reason, I had never made this connection in my mind—that sometimes we suffer sickness because of the work of Satan. We shouldn’t be surprised, because after all his M.O. is to “steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10). In some mysterious way that we cannot fully understand, the physical world and the spiritual world intersect in our bodies and our Enemy knows how to exploit this to his advantage. Our bodies and our souls live so closely together that sometimes they catch each other’s diseases.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that behind every headache, toothache and stubbed toe is a demon. But, we forget that disease is a weapon in the Devil’s toolbox to wage war against humanity and to handicap the saints of God. Moreover, I’m not certain how we would discern if a disease is demonically caused or not, unless it was supernaturally revealed to us by the witness of the Holy Spirit.    

Of course, the answer is the same yesterday as it is today—Jesus. 1 John 4:4 reminds us that, “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” Christ is still the Great Physician who knows how to heal body and soul. And when He heals there is no mistaking it—Jesus heals instantly, completely and powerfully.

Perhaps one of the most powerful demonstrations of miraculous healing in modern times can be found in the example of Marolyn Ford as told in her book, These Blind Eyes Now See.

                                                       Image result for marolyn ford these bilnd eyes

“You are blind, go home and learn to live with it.” Marolyn was devastated when she heard the doctor's announcement at the age of eighteen. In confusion, she sought God to know how to go on with life as a blind personality. She was determined to lead a normal life.

While attending Temple schools in Chattanooga, Tennessee Marolyn furthered her education with the use of a tape recorder and by taking oral exams. She met her husband Acie Ford, who was studying as a ministerial student. Together they believed God for a miracle. They married and eventually started ministering at Memphis, Tennessee’s Broadmoor Baptist Church in 1981.

                               Image result for marolyn ford
                                                                        Marolyn Ford

Acie and Marolyn had prayed for God to restore Marolyn's eyesight for 13 long difficult years. Marolyn had never seen what her husband looked like, nor their five-year-old daughter Sharon Marie. Then God came through. It was just after midnight August 26, 1972, the day of Acie's 33rd birthday. While having a devotional prayer at their bedside the Lord Jesus opened her blind eyes. Marolyn yelled at the top of her lungs, “Acie, I can see you…” and then she added, “…and you need a shave!” Acie brought her the newspaper and said read the headline, she exclaimed, “Acie, I can read the fine print!” When they went back to the optometrist, the doctor was flabbergasted. -DM    

[i] C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (London, UK: Geoffrey Bles, 1942), 9.
[ii] Rob Phillips, “Research: Millennials Are Spiritually Diverse,” Lifeway, 27 April 2010 <http://www.lifeway.com/
[iii] Billy Graham, Peace with God (Nashville, TN: W Publishing, 1984), 65. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

How Should A Christian Vote?

In the spring of 2015 an Amtrak passenger train in Philadelphia was speeding more than 100 mph down the track when it hit the Frankford Junction curve in an area where the speed limit is 50 mph. Because of the excess speed the train derailed, and sadly the disaster resulted in the deaths of eight people and injured hundreds more.
As investigators began trying to make sense of the wreckage they came upon two critical pieces of evidence. First, they concluded that the accident could have been avoided if that train would have been properly equipped with a technology called, “positive train control” which automatically slows a speeding train as it comes upon turns in the track. Second, investigators said the other and more glaring cause was “the human factor” which is code for the engineer was not paying attention while at the helm.[i]  

In many respects, I believe that unfortunate incident is parable for the current direction of our country. We are a runaway train speeding toward a precipice and the engineers aren’t making any moves to apply the brakes to slow us down before it’s too late. There are many in this nation who can see that “we the people” are headed in a dangerous direction, but feel helpless to effect any real change that would bring us back from the brink.

Peggy Noonan, a former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and Wall Street columnist recently captured the angst of so many in these uncertain times, “I think there is an unspoken subtext in our national political culture right now. In fact I think it’s a subtext in our society. I think a lot of people are carrying around in their heads, unarticulated and even in some cases unnoticed, a sense that the wheels are coming off the trolley and the trolley is off the tacks.”[ii]   

Another keen mind who studied the rise and fall of nations down through the ages has distilled the life cycle of a nation like this:
            “The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations from the beginning of history, has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence: From Bondage to spiritual faith; From spiritual faith to great courage; From courage to liberty; From liberty to abundance; From abundance to complacency; From complacency to apathy; From apathy to dependence; From dependence back into bondage.”[iii]

If that assessment of history is correct then you can clearly see that the current trend has our nation sliding back into bondage. With each election cycle that passes the stakes for our country are only raised higher, just as a speeding train eventually runs out of viable track.

I understand your anxiety. I also feel your frustration. Every four years we go through a grueling series of campaigns and then we are finally presented with the lesser of two evils when it comes to a presidential candidate. If you are like me then you find yourself voting against a candidate, rather than for a candidate. We are choosing which candidate will do the least amount of damage while in office—whether candidate A will slow down the train or whether candidate B will put the pedal to metal and accelerate us faster toward a collision.       

As we take part in the election process I have felt compelled as your pastor to present what I believe are the essential biblical guidelines for how our faith interacts with politics. I am not telling you who to vote for, nor am I endorsing a particular candidate, but I am telling you that the Word of God should shape our hearts and minds more than any political rhetoric or party.

1.      We are called to participate in the process (Matt. 5:13-16).
There are some in the Christian community who do not think that the church should get involved in the political process at all. Picture the ostrich with his head shoved in the sand. They say, “Politics is dirty and corrupt, we should focus just on preaching the Gospel and not get entangled in the affairs of government.” The problem with this approach is that it sounds pious, but really it actually compartmentalizes Christ between our private beliefs and public behavior.

Moreover, Jesus has called us to be “salt and light” in a decaying and dark world (Matt. 5:13-16). Salt is meant to slow the rate of decay. Light is intended to drive back the darkness. We cannot fulfill Jesus’ commands if we say that certain areas of life are “off-limits” to the Gospel.

God has called us to be salt and light in every endeavor—in our families, workplaces, schools, and even where our faith intersects with government. Besides it makes no sense for us as Christians to say, “We should obey the law, but let’s leave the lawmaking up to the pagans.” Moreover, our young men and women in the military give their limbs and their lives to ensure our freedom, and yet most won't even vote! That’s inexcusable; no wonder we are in a mess. 

In the 2008 presidential election approximately 40% of the 208 million eligible voters stayed home. George Gallup estimates that about 40% of the electorate is evangelicals. Given that there is no evidence that the evangelical turnout is greater than the rest of the population that means that nearly 30 million Christians did not vote in the 2008. Obama’s victory was considered a landslide because he won by about 10 million votes.
            My point is not that “had more Christians voted they could have kept Obama out of the White House (not all evangelicals vote straight down party lines),” but that Christians have the ability to heavily influence an election, which determines the direction of our nation. But we can’t have that impact if we’ve decided that our vote doesn’t really count in the long-run.[iv] 

Some have said, “Well, I don’t vote because I’m just one person and I can’t make a difference.” Tell that to Al Gore who lost the 2000 election to George W. Bush by less than 600 votes.
Edward Hale said, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

We are to preserve our nation from premature decay and closing darkness by standing as God people against the advancement of evil. God has given Christians in democratic countries a unique way to be salt and light that the earliest Christians did not enjoy. We have been granted freedom to choose leaders that will advance righteousness or unrighteousness.

The alternative of Christians being passive, apathetic or uninvolved in the political process is demonstrable and frightening. Dr. Jeff Meyers noted that during the 20th century atheistic leaders (Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot) gained control of nations all across Europe, Asia and Africa and the result was that, “Almost 170 million men, women and children were shot, beaten, tortured, knifed, burned starved, frozen, crushed, or burned to death by tyrannical regimes.”[v] Evil triumphs when Christians fold their hands and do nothing.   

2.      Before we go to the polls we should pray. (1 Tim 2:1-3)
Maybe the greatest thing that we can do in this political process is pray for the leaders of our nation and that God would raise up men and woman of faith who would run for office. If those in power aren’t saved we should pray for their salvation. Paul admonished us in this way:
            “1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior . . .”  

Understand that the Apostle Paul is writing this instruction to his protégé Timothy at a time when the vile emperor Nero was at the helm of the vast Roman Empire. At this time, Christians were viciously persecuted, tortured and killed for sport in the Roman colosseum.

Prayer for those in authority will create better social conditions favorable to the preaching of the Gospel. The prayers of those first century Christians must have made a difference because within a matter of a few decades the Gospel went from being oppressed to transforming the world’s most powerful empire. Paul understood that smallest man or woman on their knees before a Sovereign God was more effective than the mightiest Caesar sitting on the throne.        

Emma Daniel Gray died on June 8, 2009, at the age of 95. There was a big story about her in the Washington Post because for 24 years she was the woman who cleaned the office of the President of the United States. She served six presidents till she retired in 1979. What made the story even more interesting was that Mrs. Gray was a devout Christian. She would stand and pray over the President's chair each time she dusted it—her cleaning supplies in one hand, the other on the chair. She'd pray for blessings, wisdom, and safety for the man in the Oval Office.[vi]

3.      Our vote should be shaped by biblical principles.  
Jesus is not a Democrat, a Republican, Libertarian or Independent. We should never give-in to the rhetoric that one party or another is the “Christian party.” When it comes to voting we should not be swayed by our geographical location—whether we live in a red or blue state. We should not be persuaded by our political affiliation—how you are registered doesn’t matter. We should not vote based on our racial identification, nor should be we tied to our union obligation. Instead, our vote should be primarily influenced by our biblical convictions.

Allow me suggest a few non-negotiable items that should be paramount when we vote.

·         Sanctity of human life (Ps. 139:13-14)
Americas would never put themselves on the same level as Nazi Germany which eradicated 6 million Jews during the Holocaust.  Yet, America is the world’s leading practitioner of abortion and has extinguished nearly 9 times as many lives as the Nazis since Roe v. Wade. Someone has calculated that if we observed one minute of silence for every child aborted since 1973 then we would stand silent for a little over 98 years.  It is inconceivable that any Bible-believing Christian could support a candidate who morally has no problem with the mass murdering the unborn.  

·         Traditional marriage (Matt. 19:4-6)
Marriage between one man and one woman is the basic building block of society. When you undermine the biblical model of marriage then you are also attacking the foundation of civilization. The current administration endorsed SSM and celebrated the homosexual agenda by bathing the White House in the colors of the gay flag. This disgraceful act once again legalized what God called an abomination and the five Supreme Court justices that voted in favor of the ruling may have chiseled the date June 26, 2015 into America’s headstone as the day we as a nation died. Therefore, we cannot support a candidate that promotes the destruction of traditional marriage and the family.

·         Religious liberty (Ps. 33:12)
Psalm 33:12 says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” War has been declared on Christianity in our nation. We have seen the Ten Commandments taken down from civic buildings, prayer taken out of schools, Christian business sued and fined and even some public officials put in jail because they would not compromise their faith. We must vote for a candidate who is going to champion our first amendment right to the freedom of religious expression. Just listen to words of a few great American presidents on this.

George Washington set the tone as our first president declaring, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.”[vii]

Consider the words of John Adams, the nation’s second president, “The general principles, on which the Fathers achieved independence, were the general principles of Christianity.”[viii]

Woodrow Wilson in 1911 said, “The Bible is the supreme source of revelation and meaning of life, the nature of God and the spiritual nature and needs of man. It is the only guide of life which really leads the spirit in the way of peace and salvation. America was born a Christian nation. America was born to exemplify that devotion to the elements of righteousness which are derived from the Holy Scriptures.”[ix] 

Ronald Reagan, “If we ever forget that we are one nation under God, we will be a nation gone under.”

·         Pro-Israel (Gen. 12:1-3)
God’s foreign policy statement for any gentile nation is found in Gen. 12:1-3, known as the Abrahamic covenant. God clearly explains that He has a chosen people—the descendants of Abraham, the Jewish people who have had their own sovereign state Israel since 1948. If we as a nation want to be blessed by God then we need a president who is going to bless God’s people, not bully them or make deals with Islamic nations who want to destroy Israel.

·         Character and integrity (Ex. 18:21).
 Listen to advice that Jethro gave Moses when he was selecting elders to help him judge the Israelites. “Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens” (Ex. 18:21). Those basic qualifications are enough to rule out 90% of the candidates. As Lincoln said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character give him power.” 

4.      Understand God has a sovereign plan and purpose (Dan. 2:20-21)
In the book of Daniel 2:20-21 the prophet is given many panoramic visions of the rise and fall of future nations, including a preview of the last days just before the return of Christ. Daniel reminds us as he interprets these amazing prophecies who is really in charge of world politics:
            “20 Daniel answered and said: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. 21 He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding . . .” 

As of this moment, God is moving the chess pieces on the board of world politics. He is setting the stage and putting all the props and characters into place for the curtain to rise and the final act of His divine drama to be played out as it was written down in advance so many years ago.

If this election doesn’t go the way that we want it to, we should not lose heart because I’m not looking for a politician to solve this country’s problems. We cannot rely on sinful men and women to balance the scales of justice, or create a program to end poverty, or bring about lasting world peace, or even to make sure that our freedom to preach the Gospel is secure. No matter the outcome on March 15 or in November God is still sovereignly running things.  

My hope is not government, but in God. I don’t look to the Supreme Court for my moral compass but to the Suffering Savior. I’m a dual citizen of America, but more so of the New Jerusalem. Down here I must render unto Caesar what is his, but my real allegiance is to the nail-scarred King of Kings who told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” I’m not looking to the party of the elephant or the donkey, but to the Lamb of God who has dead but is now alive forever more and returning in power and glory to rule and reign in complete righteousness.

The issue is not, “Do you think God is finished with America?” That’s the wrong question. The right question is: “Is America finished with God?” Although we may not be able to stop the decay of our nation we can be salt and light and delay that destruction. We can’t save America, but we can save Americans by living out the Gospel. By acting as a preservative in a decaying culture we may be able to buy some more time for those who still have not repented of their sins and accepted Jesus as Savior before God’s period has ended and the Tribulation begins.

Given that our time is limited and our nation in peril we ought to be doing all that we can, wherever God has placed us to be His faithful witnesses. 

The legacy of Billy Graham is permanently cemented in our nation’s history as “the pastor to the presidents.” From Truman to Obama, Dr. Graham did his best to exert a godly influence on our nation’s leaders, despite their political position. Some listened to his direction, others didn’t. Perhaps, Graham influenced one president more than any other—George W. Bush. According to his own words George Bush invited Dr. Graham to spend a weekend with the Bush family. During a fireside chat, Graham presented the Gospel. Here is the 43st president’s account of the events:
            “He didn’t lecture or admonish; he shared with warmth and concern. Billy Graham didn’t make you feel guilty; he made you feel loved. Over the course of that weekend, Reverend Graham planted a mustard seed in my soul, a seed that grew over the next year. He led me to the path and I began walking. It was the beginning of a change in my life.”[x]

We may not have the ear of the president, but God has given us a sphere of influence so that we can be ambassadors of Christ first and patriots second. Dr. Graham is good examples for us, of not letting politics get in the way of our true mission of sharing the Gospel with a lost world.   

[i] Eyder Peralta, “Positive Train Control: The Tech That Could've Prevented Amtrak Derailment,” NPR, 14 May 2015 <http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/05/14/406652406/positive-train-control-the-tech-that-couldve-prevented-amtrak-derailment>
[ii] Mark Hitchcock, The Late Great United States (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2009), vii.
[iii] Ibid., 35.
[iv] Robert Jeffress, Twilight’s Last Gleaming (Worthy Publishing: Brentwood, TN, 2011), 120.
[v] Ibid., 122.
[vi] Patricia Sullivan, “’Christian Lady’ Cleaned for 6 Presidents,” The Washington Post, 21 June 2009
[vii] David Jeremiah, What in the World Is Going On? (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008), 126.
[viii] Robert Jeffress, Hell? Yes! And Other Outrageous Truths You Can Still Believe (Colorado Springs: Water Brook, 2004), 173-174.
[ix] Jeremiah, 127.
[x] Michael G. Long, The Legacy of Billy Graham (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press), 29.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

What's Love Got to Do with It?

After Napoleon’s devastating loss at the battle of Waterloo, the diminutive field marshal was exiled to the lonely island of St. Helena. In an ironic turn of fate, his kingdom, which at its height extended across Europe enfolding Germany, Austria, Italy, and France, was now reduced to a tiny outcrop in the Atlantic. There in his solitude and the ignominy of defeat, Napoleon turned his mind from the battlefield to spiritual matters. In his memoirs he wrote these powerful words about the kingdom of Christ, “Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and myself founded empires; but what foundation did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus alone founded his empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him.”[1]     
That story reminds me of what the apostle John in his first epistle, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). Notice that the apostle focuses on three aspects of Christ’s perfect agape love. 
First, John noted the voluntary nature of Christ’s love. Notice the words of 3:16, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life . . .” True love does not have to be coerced. Jesus willingly gave up his rightful place in heaven beside the Father to assume the role of a servant so that He might suffer and die in the most horrific way (Phil 2:5–8). Like the songwriter has sung many times, “It wasn’t the nails that held Jesus to the tree, it was His great love for you and me.” At any moment he could have called down legions of angels to end His suffering, yet He relinquished His divine power (Matt. 26:53). Jesus literally loved us to death. While His death on the cross looked like a tremendous tragedy, Christ had everything under control because He was a willing victim.  
“. . . just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep . . . As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:11–15).

“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:17–18).

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Second, John noted the vulnerable nature of Christ’s love. Christ did not withhold anything from humanity when He came to earth. He was made vulnerable to persecution, rejection, the cruel elements, false accusation, sadness, and even death. In loving the world Christ paid the ultimate price by making Himself vulnerable to unrequited love. But real love does not count the cost. Love takes wild risks at the expense of the lover and for the benefit of the beloved. C.S. Lewis has written:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable . . . the only place outside heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love is Hell.[2]   
Thirdly, John noted the vicarious nature of Christ’s love. At the end of 3:16 the text reads, “. . . He laid down His life for us.” Paul says in Romans 5:8, “But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” At the cross of Calvary Jesus took our place. The hell that we deserved, Jesus experienced as our substitute. An eternity of suffering was compressed into six hours one Friday afternoon.  
There is a true story of a little boy whose sister needed a blood transfusion. The doctor explained that she had the same disease the boy had recovered from two years earlier. Her only chance of recovery was a transfusion from someone who had previously conquered the disease. Since the two children had the same rare blood type, the boy was an ideal donor. 
“Would you give your blood to Mary?” the doctor asked. Johnny hesitated. His lower lip started to tremble. Then he smiled and said, “Sure, for my sister.” Soon the two children were wheeled into the hospital room. Mary was pale and thin. Johnny was robust and healthy. Neither spoke, but when their eyes met, Johnny grinned. 
As the nurse inserted the needle into his arm, Johnny’s smile faded. He watched the crimson liquid flow through the tube. With the ordeal almost over, Johnny’s voice slightly shaky, broke the silence. “Doctor, when do I die?” the boy asked. Only then did the doctor realize why Johnny hesitated, why his lip trembled when he agreed to donate his blood. He thought giving his blood to his sister would mean giving up his life. In that brief moment, he made his decision to be like Jesus.[3]  

[1] William Jospeh Federer, America’s God and Country: Encyclopedia of Quotations (St. Louis: MO: Amerisearch, 1994), 463.
[2]C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1988), 121.
[3] Alice Gray, Stories for the Heart: The Original Collection (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2001), 131-132. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Delighting in the Trinity

            One of the earliest heroes of the Christian faith is a man who was labeled by his enemies “the black dwarf.” He was a short, dark-skinned Egyptian bishop named Athanasius—and he had a lot of adversaries for his insistence upon Biblical truth. Born in 296 AD, Athanasius was ordained to be the bishop in Alexandria, Egypt, at the same time that one of the biggest storms was about to ravage the early church.
            His most ardent opponent was a leader in the early church named Arius who began teaching the heresy that Jesus Christ was not divine. Arias insisted that Jesus Christ was not fully a member of the Trinity and He was actually a created being, just higher than the angels, but not co-equal or co-eternal with the Father. Arius’ twisted views on Christ and the Trinity began to gain traction, so much so that the fragile church was divided on the issue.
            To Athanasius the aberrant doctrine that Arius preached was not merely theological hair-splitting. If Christ was not an original member of the Trinity, then He was not fully divine, and if Christ was not fully divine then His death on the cross was not able to provide salvation. Everything about the Gospel was at stake and Athanasius said, “Those who maintain there was a time when the Son was not, rob God of His Word like plunderers.”  
            The controversy over the nature of the Trinity became so hotly debated that one historian from that time remarked, “In every city, and in every church, bishop was contending against bishop, and the people were contending against one another, like swarms of gnats fighting in the air.”
            Word of the argument eventually made it to the ear of the newly-converted emperor Constantine. Fearing that this debate could fracture his kingdom into a holy war, in 325 AD Constantine convened 318 bishops at Nicaea to hash-out this theological problem once and for all. Arius stated his position and then Athanasius argued his. After several days of debate, a verdict was reached—Arius was heretic and was ordered by Constantine to be exiled.
Athanasius was vindicated, and the church recognized what the Bible already declared that Jesus was not only the eternal Second Person of the Trinity, but He was fully divine. This council resulted in the Nicene Creed which stated, “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father . . . And in the Holy Ghost.”      
Athanasius had won the battle at Nicaea, but the war was just beginning. Within a few months of the council’s decision, Arius’ supporters convinced Constantine to free Arius from exile and the emperor ordered Athanasius to restore him back to the church in Alexandria. When Athanasius refused, his enemies charged him with all kinds of accusations—from treason to sorcery and murder. Amazingly, the smear campaign worked to change public opinion about the fiery preacher and Constantine, not taking kindly to open defiance, ordered Athanasius into exile. He was forced out of his own congregation into hiding.
In the end, Athanasius was exiled 5 times by 4 different Roman emperors and he spent a total of 17 years in excommunication. Yet, he never gave in to those who opposed the doctrine of the Trinity and the deity of Christ.  In fact, someone once said to him, “Athanasius don’t you know that the emperors are against you, and the bishops are against you and the people are against you. The world is against you!” He replied, “Then I am against the whole world!” And thus a phrase was coined in the early church that became very popular among believers, “Athanasius against the world!”[i]

Image result for athanasius

Friends, we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to men like Athanasius who laid everything on the line for the purity of Christian doctrine—especially the Trinity. For he literally lived out the command given in Jude 3, “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”
As the record of church history bears out, the doctrine of the trinity is not a peripheral issue. 

Michael Reeves writes, “The Trinity is the governing center of all Christian belief, the truth that shapes and beautifies all others. The Trinity is the cockpit of all Christian thinking.”[ii] Wayne Grudem adds, “Christianity stands or falls with the doctrine of the Trinity. In the doctrine of the Trinity throbs the heartbeat of Christianity: every theological error results from or upon deeper reflection may be traced to, a wrong view of this doctrine.”[iii]

It is this all-important doctrine that has perhaps produced more counterfeit faiths than any other. The reason is because man has corrupted the mystery of the Trinity by trying to bring God down to his level, or he has rejected it all together claiming it to be a contradiction. I like what one old preacher said about that, “If you try to fully explain the Trinity you’ll lose your mind, but if you try to explain it away you’ll lose your soul!”

While the Trinity is an unfathomable mystery, it is not a contradiction. While the Trinity may be beyond reason, it is not against reason. No finite being can ever comprehend an infinite God, any more than an astronomer can know every star in the universe. But we can gaze upon the Trinity with wonder. We can delight in a God we cannot put into a box. We can worship the triune God and we can understand as much as God has revealed to us about Himself.        

1.      What Does the Trinity mean?
When it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity, most Christians are poor in their understanding, poorer in their articulation, and poorest of all in seeing any way in which the doctrine matters in real life. One theologian joked, “The trinity is a matter of three persons, two processions, one divine nature, and no understanding.” All of the mystical jargon seems like theological code best reserved for monks, certainly not for moms and mechanics.

The doctrine of the trinity can be summarized in a few brief statements. 1) There is only one God 2) who exists in the persons—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit 3) which are all co-equal and co-eternal in divinity 4) and are each distinct in personhood and function. The unity and diversity in the community of the Trinity is often represented in the diagram called “the shield of the Trinity.” This shows that all three members are equally God, yet distinct persons.

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In an attempt to dumb-down the Trinity into more manageable terms well-meaning Christian thinkers have offered a plethora of analogies to explain the doctrine. While these may seem helpful at first, when you scrutinize them logically they distort and degrade the triune God.

·         Modalism: This interpretation says that there is one God that acts in three different modes. Sometimes people like to explain the Trinity as if it were a man who assumes three different roles—he’s a son to his parents, a husband to his wife and a father to his children. But this analogy falls short because the doctrine of the Trinity says that God is three separate persons, not just three expressions of one person.

·         Partialism: This view explains that the Godhead is composed of three parts—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—and combined they make up the Trinity. You may hear people uses analogies like an egg, which is made of a shell, a yolk and the white—yet it’s all one egg. Or ole’ Joe Christian may say the Trinity is like a shamrock it has three distinct leaves that make up one shamrock. Now the problem with this is that each member is fully God and not just a part of God and God cannot be broken down into components.    
·         Subordinationism: There are many cults and Christian-off shoots, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, that claim this view. The idea here is that God the Father created the Son and from the Son proceeds the Holy Spirit. Subordinationists offer the analogy that the Father is like the Sun in our solar system, which creates light, which then emanates heat. This very much akin to the heresy that Arius taught during the fourth century. The problem is that there is no Creator/creation relationship in the Trinity. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are co-equal and co-eternal.

If you are looking for an earthly analogy to completely encapsulate the Trinity—you won’t find one. There’s a simple reason they don’t work: The Trinity isn’t like anything in creation. There is nothing in nature that we can use to deduce the concept of the Trinity. All analogies are from the natural world, but God is supernatural. Moreover, the Trinity is something we could not have figured out unless God chose to reveal to humanity through His Word.

2.      Where do we find the Trinity in the Bible?
If you are looking for the word Trinity in the Bible, don’t waste your time because it’s not there. However, even though the word isn’t there the concept is. By the way, there are lots of terms that aren’t in the Bible, that we believe—for instance the word, “Bible” isn’t in the Bible, neither is the word “Rapture” or “monotheism” or “incarnation” yet all these are evidently taught. We know that the truths of Scripture are true whether or not we discover them.    

·         Creation (Gen.:1:1-2, 26; John 1:1-3, Col. 1:16)
From the very beginning we find hints of the triune God in Genesis. In Genesis 1:1-2 we read, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” Then in Gen. 1:26 at the creation of man the text declares, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Who do you think the “us” refers to?

We have the Father and the Spirit listed as agents of creation in the OT, and when we come to the NT we find Jesus listed as well. In Colossians 1:16 Paul writes, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” Each person in the Godhead played a role—the Father willed it, the Son spoke it into being and the Spirit breathed it to life.  

·         Incarnation (Gal. 4:4; John 1:14; Phil 2:5-8; Luke 1:35; Matt. 3:16-17)
The Bible informs us that the entrance of the Second Person of the Trinity into humanity was a triune affair. The Father sent the Son according to Gal. 4:4. The Son submitted to the will of the Father and took on human form (John 1:14, Phil 2:5-8). The Spirit who hovered over the face of the waters at creation, now overshadows Mary and brings about a miraculous conception in the womb of the virgin (Luke 1:35). At the baptism of Jesus we have all three members of the Trinity—the Son is being blessed by the audible voice of the Father and anointed for ministry by the Holy Spirit in the form of the dove (Matt. 3:16-17).

·         Atonement and Resurrection (John 3:16; Mark 10:45; John 10:18; Rom. 1:4, 8:11)
When you look at the events of Calvary and Easter morning you see the Trinity operating together in cooperation. The Father offers up His only Son out of love (John 3:16). Christ lays down his life as a ransom for the sins of the world. Three days later on the first Easter, the Bible says that the Holy Spirit raises the body of Christ back from the dead (Rom. 1:4, 8:11).  

·         Salvation (Eph. 1:4-13)
Each member of the Trinity has a distinct role in accomplishing the salvation of the Church. Paul in Ephesians 1 gives a brief overview of the Father’s sovereign election of the saints from before creation (1:4-5), the Son’s purchase of the saints by paying the ransom fee with His life (1:7) and the sealing of the saints for eternity by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (1:13-14). The salvation of the church is thoroughly Trinitarian—the Father sought us from heaven, the Son bought us on the cross and the Spirit brought us into God’s family. 

·         Great Commission (Matt. 28:19)
Before Jesus exited the Earth he left the church with His marching orders. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

3.      Why is the Trinity important?
There are numerous reasons why the Trinity should capture our attention, hearts and lead us to more heartfelt worship. Let me suggest three practical applications:

·         The Trinity is the only logical doctrine of God that explains our existence (John 17:24-26)
Let’s do a thought experiment for a moment. Let’s imagine that you are God. Now think would you in your divine wisdom and power ever want to create a universe, and if so why? Would it be because you feel lonely and need some friends? Is it because you like being pampered and want some servants? It’s a profound issue to ponder, if there is a God why is there anything else at all?

The religions of the world have tried to answer this question. One of the earliest attempts can be seen in the ancient Babylonian creation myth, the Enuma Elish. There the chief deity, Marduk, puts it bluntly: he will create humankind so that gods can have slaves. That way the gods can sit back and live off the labor of their human workforce. It’s an attractive deal if you’re a god. This model was adopted by many polytheistic religions of the ancient world in which the gods used humanity as pawns for their own entertainment and desires.

Aristotle, the Greek philosopher from the fourth century B.C. postulated an impersonal creator which he called the Unmoved Mover. Aristotle believed that the Unmoved Mover continually upheld the universe and that the universe had existed alongside God from eternity. The problem with Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover is that God did not freely choose to create, and therefore He is not greater than the Creation, but equal with or perhaps subservient to it.      

In each of these cases we have an example of a god who in some way is tied to or needs the creation to serve a purpose. These gods are incomplete and lack something to find ultimate fulfillment, thus they create to fill the gap. Listen to what Michael Reeves says about this:
            “Such are the problems with non-triune gods and creation. Single-person gods, having spent eternity alone, are inevitably self-centered beings, and so it becomes hard to see why they would ever cause anything else to exist. Wouldn’t the existence of a universe be an irritating distraction to a god whose greatest pleasure is looking in a mirror? Creating just looks like a deeply unnatural thing for such a god to do. And if such gods do create they always seem to do so out of an essential neediness or desire to use what they create merely for their own self-gratification.”[iv]  

Only in the Trinity do we find a Creator that’s fully satisfied without reference to his creation. What do you think God was doing before He created? Sulking in loneliness? Bored? Jesus answers this question for us when He peels back the veil of mystery in John 17:24-26:
            “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Because of the Trinity God did not need to create. According to Jesus, before the creation, the Father eternally loved the Son by the Spirit and there is complete fulfillment in the community of the Trinity. God needed nothing because there was infinite love, joy and beauty in Himself. The reason why God chose to create was because He wanted to share His love and allow His creatures to join in the love that the Father had for the Son from eternity. 

·         The Trinity is the litmus test for the true worship of God
There are many religions in the world offering a plethora of deities to worship. But Christianity is unique from all others because it preaches that God is three-in-one. The spirit of the age is pluralism which says that all paths to the divine are equally valid—they all lead to the mountain top. You might even hear someone say, “The god of Christianity, Judaism and Islam” is basically the same god.” Nothing could be further from the truth because every religion in the world except for biblical Christianity denies the Trinity. The Trinity is a test for orthodoxy, anything else is an idol.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis offers a great thought. He explains that God has truly reveled His nature to men through the Trinity. However, he argues, man has come away with all kinds of distorted deities. The reason for this Lewis explains is because we are like children looking through a telescope with a dirty lens. He writes, “If a man’s self is not kept clean and bright, his glimpse of God will be blurred—like the Moon seen through a dirty telescope. That is why horrible nations have horrible religion: they have been looking at God through a dirty lens.”

Lewis goes on to explain, “The Christian definition of a three-personal God is not something we have made up . . . If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about.”[v]     
·         The Trinity is the only way a loving God can be possible (1 John 4:8)
The Bible informs us that, “God is love.” This is a profound statement because love is only possible if God exists eternally as a community. If God were not three-persons then there could be no foundation for love. Since before the creation of the universe God has been in a love relationship with the Trinity—the Father eternally loves the Son, the Son reciprocates the love of the Father, and the Holy Spirit in turn adores the Son and the Father.

This is extremely important especially when you compare the God of the Bible to Allah of the Koran. Muslims contented that Allah has ninety-nine names and one of them is “The Loving.” But this is impossible because Muslims deny that God is triune. For example, the Koran explicitly states in Sura 4.171, “Say not “Trinity.” Desist; it will be better for you: for God is one God. Glory be to Him (far exalted is He) above having a son.”[vi]

In Islam Allah has no son and therefore has no concept of community, fellowship or love—since He has no one to share His love with. Love cannot exist in an audience of one, which is why Allah and any Unitarian belief system leads to a cold, distant, impersonal god. The Trinity answers the deepest needs of the human heart—because it offers us a God who wants to win our heart by love, not make us bow our knee in submission out of fear.

             In fact, the doctrine of the Trinity has actually won over many Muslims because it offers an invitation to accept God’s love. In the last book he wrote before passing away, Chuck Colson argues that the Trinity is one of the best evangelistic tools at our disposal. He writes about a Muslim friend of his who was converted to Christ when he stated studying the Trinity:
“Take the case of “Farid,” originally a nominal Muslim who came to the United States in 1993 to study. He fell under the spell of the MSA [Muslim Student Association] and soon joined their ranks, evangelizing. In debates with Christians, he contended that the Trinity was idolatry, or, as the Muslims call it, “shirk.” But in those same debates, he found his own positions weak when he was forced to argue that Jesus didn't die on the cross, only appeared to, as Muslims believe. Although he was warned against investigating the topic, Farid began to study.
Farid soon gave up his evangelizing on behalf of the MSA, continuing his search more deeply into Christian theology. He came to see that far from rejecting the Trinity, it “was the only logical explanation of what is reported in the New Testament, and [it] was logical and non-contradictory, just as a wave-particle duality principle in physics was the only plausible yet unbelievable and seemingly contradictory way to explain the world.”
Eventually, Farid’s search brought him to the point of exhaustion, where, in his imagination, he lay outside the gates of the City of God. At this point he cried out to God to rescue him, if God would. “I felt a strange feeling of God's love, as if he was telling me that I am his, and that he will love me and take care of me for the rest of my life and after.” This experience led to Farid committing himself to a new life as a Christian. God became Farid's eternal Father, “an infinite being who cares about me personally, and who wants me to be fully committed to him.”[vii]

[i] Mark Galli, 131 Christians Everyone Should Know (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishers, 2000), 17-19.
[ii] Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 16.
[iii] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 248.
[iv] Reeves, 41.
[v] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: Harper One, 1952), 163-165.
[vi] Surah 4.171.
[vii] Chuck Colson, The Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 104-105.