Banned

No matter how kindly we frame it, the message of Jesus draws opposition.   Several years ago, Vanderbilt University derecognized various Christian groups because they required that to hold a leadership position in their group, you needed to believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead after his crucifixion.

The Vanderbilt administration said that to forbid someone from being a group leader for not believing in the resurrection was intolerant! The Christian leaders showed a winsome attitude as they explained what they believed and why they believed it. But basically the administrators said, “We don’t care about your kind attitude; your beliefs are discriminatory and your groups are hereby banned from campus.”

I at least give the administrators credit for having an accurate grasp of the real core issue. You might think that they would evict Christian groups due to disputes about cultural issues such as abortion or gay rights.  But the administrators chose the key Christian distinctive that has not and will not ever change: we owe our lives to, and base our lives on, faith in a resurrected man.

The Vanderbilt fight, then, has a helpful lesson:  We don’t want to erect false obstacles by saying that being a Christian is defined by a list of positions that you must take in the culture wars. (Indeed, when fights about abortion and gay rights die down, they will only be replaced by a new set of culture war issues.)

I’m not saying that political issues are irrelevant or unimportant. But they are all less important than this claim:  Jesus is alive. And he wasn’t blowing smoke when he said he will return to rule as King. Neither Republican nor Democrat, and not a capitalist and not a socialist, he won’t allow any fights over culture war issues. We will laugh at the idea that we once thought that the right political solutions would bring heaven on earth.

Does all that sound too good to be true? It’s not. Check out this promise about Jesus’ return: He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)  

Before Easter: How ticked off did Jesus get?

Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, “Prophesy to us, Messiah. Who hit you?” (Matthew 26:67-68)

In our men’s Bible study we wondered whether Jesus would have felt seriously ticked off at those clowns who were hitting him. Was he furious? How badly would he want to retaliate?

Or was Jesus so far above all our own normal reactions, so ethereal, with a beatific look on his face, that he blessedthe spitters without one second of hesitation, even as the saliva dripped down his face?

We know that Jesus was a real man who underwent the same temptations we did. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

 So there was something real about Jesus resisting the temptation to bust their heads when he had the chance to retaliate. He had real gut reactions to things. Yet he did learn how to control his reactions: Picture him learning to handle the situations he faced while working as a carpenter — like how to ask for payment from someone who had not paid their bill on time without blowing his top and screaming at them and getting red in the face and yelling “Don’t you realize who I am ??”

His training consummated with being able to deal with the people who wanted him dead. He knew ahead of time that he would get outrageous, lying, unjust opposition. Yet he knew that death was an important part of God’s plan for him and for the world. So he was thoroughly convinced that the spitters and mockers were part of God’s will. Because of that deep conviction, he could take what they dished out without lashing out and busting their heads.

  Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him (Hebrews 5:8-9) His obedience led all the way to Jesus’ death on a cross. And this life of submission and restraint is our rescue.  We are thankful that Jesus put up with beating and mockery without taking revenge into his own hands. For on Easter he was raised from the dead bringing us eternal salvation!

Fight For Our Rights ?

In the book of Hebrews Christians are being persecuted. Punishment for following Jesus raised a question for them: Should they lash out at the officials who were hassling them?

Fast forward 2000 years. The legislature passes a law that seems to whittle away our first amendment rights. We are enraged and furious. How dare they do this!  We’ll see them in court!

But what if political rights are a privilege and blessing from God, which we then receive with humble thanks? When we consider the whole gospel message, we are reminded that God in Christ gives me privileges that are much more than I deserve.

I am not saying we should passively accept it when our political rights are infringed, and do nothing. Rather, we can petition for redress while yet having a humble attitude rather than an aggrieved one of offended pride and entitlement.

The first amendment says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; “

What if that were repealed?

Would we be boiling with rage …? and even taking up arms?……or would we see a stunning alternative:  that we have better and lasting possessions that are even better than the government allowing us free exercise of religion.   Here’s what Paul said:  

 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated.  You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. (Hebrews 10:33-34)

To joyfully accept having my property taken from me with no payment??? I must admit, that would be ridiculously hard for me! My natural reaction would be to feel super ticked. That shows me something, though.  I think am holding to and insisting on my rights tighter than I should, instead of being thankful for them.

Does the Bible directly give us any political rights? I couldn’t find any, but here is the one guaranteed right that I can find in the Bible.

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12)

So we enjoy our first amendment rights but we hold them loosely. And we hold on very tightly to the privilege of being a child of God!

Can we slice God up?

The slices on this pizza correspond to the attributes of God. The most popular, of course, is love.

 But God’s attributes also include holiness, justice and righteousness. We all have fallen so far short on any of those three that we deserve to be doomed.

That’s why I am glad that love is the most vital attribute of God.   

Because think of what we deserve. We deserve justice and falling under wrath because of our rebellion. Thankfully, God’s love in Christ frees us from judgment. Jesus paid the debt we each owe for our rebellion. Indeed, our rebellion carries a high price. It’s higher than the national debt, which is $27 trillion as I write this. Yet for each of us who believes, we know that Jesus paid the price. God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.

Forgiven, we are free to enjoy a life that is on the safe side of God’s holiness, justice, and righteousness.

But there’s a danger nowadays. All God’s attributes on the pie together make up what he is like. But people try to cut God up into slices.   And when they do, the only slice that they take is love. Now, the scripture does say God is love but it most definitely does not say God is only love.

When that slicing happens, we end up with a marshmallow love! All squishy with no firmness or character. This kind of love says that whatever feels right to us….is good.

If God has a marshmallow love I can be a monstrous whiner and complainer and filled with lust and not care in the least about changing.

But since God’s love is inseparable from all his other qualities, this means that God has a lion love. There is something quite fearsome about the love of God. God’s lion love is a jealous love. We smile when we think how that means he is protective of his people, but we are filled with reverent awe when we think of God’s fierce anger when we love other things more than he!

Jesus is the lamb of God but he is also the lion of Judah. When we grasp both God’s fierceness and  his compassion, then we can rejoice and be secure in knowing that our passionate God loves us with an unwavering love.

If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31b)