Friday, April 30, 2010

The Gospel According to Disney (Part 3)

One of the most unmistakable things about a trip to Disney is the fact that the whole day is meant to be a joyful celebration. The park opens to singing and dancing by characters at the front gate. There are parades throughout the day and fireworks at night. Everything is pointed in a celebratory direction. It is one big party.

As Christians, celebratory joy ought to be one of the hallmarks of our lives. If we are truly those who, by God’s grace, have been brought from death to life so that sin might no longer have dominion over us (as we are promised in Romans 6:13-14), then we have more reason to celebrate than anyone!

Again, this is not to say that life is just a bowl of cherries. The Bible is clear that we will face affliction. The key in this matter is the attitude that Paul exhibits in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 where he writes, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

As we look to the unseen, we rejoice in what Christ has accomplished on our behalf, namely living the life of perfect holiness that is required of us, and dying the death that we should have died when we failed. We rejoice that he has risen from the dead, displaying his power over sin and death, vindicating his claims and guaranteeing his promises. We rejoice that he ascended to the right hand of the Father, where he physically lives today, making intercession on our behalf. And we rejoice that he will one day return, bringing with him the glorious restoration of all things.

In light of all of this, may the Apostle’s words in 1 Peter 1:8 be true of us all: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.”

Other Posts in This Series:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 4

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Gospel According to Disney (Part 2)

One of the many things that's great about Disney is the fact that the good guy always wins. There have been many times that I've been watching a Disney movie with my children and they have become worried for the well-being of the main character. I always tell them not to worry, even if I've never seen the movie. "Remember," I say, "this is Disney. Everything is going to turn out okay." The glass slipper always fits Cinderella, Prince Charming never fails to shows up in the end, and every time Peter Pan defeats Captain Hook.

That's not to say that everything is always easy. For instance, in Disney stories there is often tragedy to deal with. To the dismay of moms everywhere, this most commonly seems to come in the fact that the main character's mother dies or is already dead (Bambi, Cinderella, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Finding Nemo...), but it also comes in many other forms ranging from drudgery to (temporary) death.

Likewise, in real life, we face various difficulties and trials. Life is not always easy. Despite what purveyors of a prosperity gospel would tell you, the Bible never promises health and wealth to Christians. It does however promise difficulty:
  • "Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you." (John 15:20)
  • "Then Jesus told his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'" (Matthew 16:24)
  • "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness." (James 1:2-3)
Throughout it all though, we do have this comfort:

"And Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me...and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18,20)

That's the beauty of the Gospel. We do nothing to deserve it, but we are essentially on Jesus' team. We may be the benchwarmer who doesn't even get into the game, but when our star performer wins the championship, we too become champions. And just like with Disney, in the end, the Good Guy does indeed win!

Other Posts in This Series:
Part 1
Part 3
Part 4

The Gospel According to Disney (Part 1)

I recently was blessed with the opportunity to spend a day with my family at Walt Disney World. I have been there twice before and enjoyed it each time. This time though, it struck me more than ever how much of what Disney does resounds with echoes of the Gospel.

It’s not a completely foreign thought to me, I actually preached a sermon once on Ephesians 2:1-10 entitled “Fairy Tale Grace.” In it I recounted the tale of Snow White’s encounter with the wicked queen. This evil monarch, filled with envy and pride and murderous thoughts deceived Snow White into eating a deadly fruit. And having eaten, as she lay there dead, it did not matter what good works she had done, she was utterly incapable of doing anything to save herself. After all, she was dead.

But then along came her prince. He kissed her, and because his love for her was so great, she was brought back to life. Our story is not all that different from hers. We too once laid helpless, having been deceived by an evil monarch to eat of a deadly fruit. As we read in Ephesians 2:1-2, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air…”

Even so, Christ Jesus is our prince, who has loved us though there was not a thing we could offer him. He has revived us by his love though we truly could do nothing to deserve it, and he has taken us to be his bride, to reign with him forever.

J.R.R. Tolkien once made the point that the reason every culture has so many fairy tales (or as he called them, “fairy stories”) is because they are an echo of the one true story, that of a loving, redeeming God and his people who are the object of his affection. This is the reason Snow White’s story so resonates with us.

Over the next week or so I will be posting some other observations of how my trip to Disney World similarly reminded me of the Gospel. I hope you will be following along, and if you are, that you will be blessed by the beauty of the Gospel.

Other Posts in This Series:
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pursuing Godliness

I like to listen to sermons online and on my iPod. If you like to do the same (or even if you don’t, for that matter), let me commend to you a sermon I recently heard dealing with the need for Christians to be dilligent in their pursuit of Godliness.

Last Sunday night at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, Kevin DeYoung preached a message from 2 Peter 1:8-11 entitled The Premise for Godliness. I won’t spoil the whole thing for you in case you'd like to check it out, but here are a few points that particularly stuck out for me:

  1. Godliness is not a destination at which we arrive. Rather it is something in which we must always be increasing.

  2. A quote from John Calvin: “The blood of Christ has not become a washing bath to us that it may be fouled by our filth.”

  3. Bearing fruit is not primarily a matter of things which we do. Rather they are, at their core, evidences of who we are.

  4. We are justified by faith alone, but the faith that justifies is never alone.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Faith Like a Child

One of my greatest joys in all of life is when my children ask me good, biblically-informed questions. My daughter just turned six about a month ago. Today, while giving her a ride to school, we had the following conversation out of the blue:
C: Dad, Where does God live?

Me: In Heaven.

C: Where’s that?

Me: We don’t know for sure.

C: Doesn’t the Bible say that when He comes back, He’ll come on the clouds?

Me: Yes, it does!

C: Then heaven must be in the sky.
For a second, I actually thought about explaining to her that while it’s certainly possible that she was right, it's also possible that “on the clouds” could just be a metaphor referring to “in great glory.” Instead, I think I did the wise thing: I commended her for being very bright and I silently gave thanks to God for the fact that He is already working in my six-year-old child’s heart to pique her interest of spiritual things.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Like his brothers in every way except for sin

Question 35 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks. “What does it mean that he ‘was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary’?” The answer it proceeds to give is, “That the eternal Son of God, who is and remains true and eternal God, took to himself, through the working of the Holy Spirit, from the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary, a truly human nature so that he might become David's true descendant, like his brothers in every way except for sin.”

As I read through Q&A 35, I was struck by the fact that Christ was “like his brothers in every way except for sin.” It is clear that two passages in the book of Hebrews had great influence on this answer:
Hebrews 2:14-18 - Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Hebrews 4:14-16 - Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
What comfort we indeed have in the fact that Jesus is not some far off God, unable to relate to us, but rather has condescended to become like us, sharing in our trials and in our sufferings! A God who now bids us to do what otherwise would be unthinkable: to boldly approach his throne to find grace in our time of need.

There is one other way that Jesus is decidedly not like us. He didn’t just share in our trials and sufferings, he experienced them on our behalf. As such, he is unlike us (at least those of us who have placed our trust in him) in that we will never face the wrath of a just and holy God. This of course is precisely what happened to Jesus on the cross.
It was for our sake that he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21)…For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers (Romans 8:29)…And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Oh how I long for that day when this transformation will be complete! When God not only will see me through the righteousness of Christ, but when that righteousness so fills me and flows from me that I sin no more. In that day I will be truly like my elder brother! Come, Lord Jesus!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What exactly is the Gospel?

Tullian Tchividjian, Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, posts today on his blog a series of thoughts on the gospel, as related to him by Scotty Smith, the Founding Pastor of Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee. While in seminary, I was blessed to take a couple of courses Scotty taught, and he is a man who loves the gospel. I think that comes through clearly when he says:

    • The gospel is God the Father’s irrepressible commitment to redeem his pan-national trans-generational family, and restore his broken creation through the person and work of Jesus, and the power and presence of his Holy Spirit
    • The gospel is the glory-story of how God the Father is redeeming a people from every single race, tribe, tongue and people group for a life of worship service in the new heaven and new earth. All of this is being accomplished through the person and work of his Son, Jesus, and the power and presence of God the Holy Spirit.
    • The gospel is the doxological drama in which Jesus, the second Adam, servant-Savior and loving Lord, is redeeming his pan-national Bride and making all things new, to the glory of God.
    • The gospel is the unfolding story of God’s contra-conditional love for an ill-deserving people, and for his beloved and broken creation-a story which has Jesus as its hero, the nations as its characters, the world as its storyboard, and the new heaven and new earth as its goal.
    • The gospel is like a great song: It has a lyric to be known (theology), a music to be loved (doxology) and a dance to be learned (mission). Indeed, the gospel calls for informed minds, en-flamed hearts and engaged feet.
    • The gospel is God’s passionate, joyful, covenant commitment to make all things new through the person and work of his Son, Jesus, and by the power and presence of His Holy Spirit. “All things” include both a people and a place-the Bride of Christ, and the new heaven and new earth. We dare not emphasize one of these to the exception of the other.
The only thing I would add to Scotty's great reflections is to explicitly state what I think he implicitly is saying when he refers to "the person of work of Jesus," namely, "that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred..." (1 Corinthians 15:3-6).

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Jesus saves...but from what?

As you probably already know if you follow my blog regularly, I am a big fan of Kevin DeYoung. He is a pastor in East Lansing, Michigan who has written a number of very helpful books including Why We're Not Emergent and Why We Love the Church (both of which he co-authored with Ted Kluck), as well as Just Do Something, a great little book on discerning God's will for your life.

Right now I am reading his most recent book, The Good News We Almost Forgot which is an overview of the Heidelberg Catechism. In dealing with question 29 of the Catechism ("Why is the Son of God called 'Jesus,' meaning 'Savior'?"), DeYoung states:
The point of the gospel is not that Jesus saves us from low self-esteem, or from singleness, or from a crummy job. As evangelicals, we do better defending that Jesus is our Savior than we do remembering what He actually saves us from. Sin is our deepest, most fundamental, most pervasive problem. Other teachers and heroes may be able to save us from life's stresses and disappointments, but with this problem of sin, there is only One who can save, and His name is Jesus.