Archive for September, 2012

The Real Relationship Between Closed Doors and Opened Windows

Last week, Melody and I were startled awake to the sound of our shih tzu, Bandit, growling and barking frenziedly.  My hackles – and nerves – were immediately raised.  “What is he barking at?” I thought to myself.  “Is something wrong in the house?  Is something on fire?  Is there an invader?”  After I wiped the sleep out of my eyes, I sat up to see Bandit sitting on our bedroom floor, tail wagging back and forth, barking ferociously…at our cat.  There was no fire or invader.  Just a feline, as frustrated as we were at Bandit’s barking.

Melody was not at all amused by this nocturnal rowdiness, nor was she amused at the fact that, rather than putting an end to Bandit’s snarling, I just sat in bed, taking it all in.  “Get those animals out of here!” she exclaimed.  The dog and cat did eventually settle down.  But a few hours later, they were at it again.  And Melody was awoken again.  After kicking the animals out of the bedroom, I did what I should have done earlier that night:  I closed the door.  And peace ensued.

In our text for this past Sunday from Revelation 21, we catch a glimpse into the new Jerusalem, that is, the new creation which God will usher in on the Last Day.  In John’s description of this heavenly hub, I find this to be especially notable:  “On no day will Jerusalem’s gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there” (verse 25).  Like I shut our bedroom door at night to keep out the pets, ancient cities would often shut their gates at night to keep out nefarious invaders.  For example, when the city of Jericho learns that the Israelites are drawing near to attack, the book of Joshua notes, “Now Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites.  No one went out and no one came in” (Joshua 6:1).  Ancient cities closed their gates.  The new Jerusalem will not.

Why will the new Jerusalem’s gates always be open?  Because unlike the municipalities of antiquity, the this cosmic metropolis will have no foes of which to be afraid.  For all of the city’s enemies will have been conquered, even as John says:  “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur” (verse 8).  Thus, Jesus opens the city’s doors.

Jesus is in the business of opening doors.  As Jesus Himself says, “Knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).  Paul, after a mission tour through Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe rejoices that God “had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27).  He later prays “that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains” (Colossians 4:3).  Christ’s desire is to open doors for His followers.  Even at the beginning of Revelation, Jesus exclaims to the church at Philadelphia, “See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut (Revelation 3:8).

There’s an old, oft-repeated, and tired Christian cliché:  “Whenever God closes one door, He always opens a window.”  The premise of this statement is that God will make a way, even when things don’t turn out how you might expect or want them to.  As much as I appreciate the general sentiment, I’m not so sure that the specific imagery is accurate.  For when it comes to this specific image of a door, Scripture portrays God as one who opens doors rather than closing them. If we run up against a roadblock, before we blame God for slamming a door in our face, perhaps we should wonder if the door was ever open in the first place.  Or perhaps we should consider whether it was our own sinfulness that closed a door rather than God.  In fact, the only time that God is portrayed as closing a door is in Luke 13:23-28 when someone asks Jesus:

“Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” He said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’
But He will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with You, and You taught in our streets.’ But He will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from Me, all you evildoers!’ There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth.”

The door out of hell, it seems, will be locked up tight by Christ so that the gates of the new Jerusalem can be left open, free from the fear of God’s enemies.

So today, rather than bemoaning the “closed doors” in your life, why don’t you thank God for the ones He has opened for you?  For they are many.  He has opened the door to his knowledge through the pages of Scripture.  He has opened the door to forgiveness through His Son, Jesus Christ.  And He has opened the gates of His new Jerusalem so that we may come in.  I can’t wait to walk through.

September 24, 2012 at 5:15 am 3 comments

The Blood Drive Is On Its Way!

Next Sunday, September 30, is the final blood drive of 2012. We will have two buses available all morning long in the circle drive by the flags so you can donate blood as you are able. If you want to see who your donation of blood will benefit, just watch the video below. You’re sure to be inspired!

September 20, 2012 at 3:48 pm Leave a comment

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

From CBS News: “An armed man waves his rifle as buildings and cars are engulfed in flames after being set on fire inside the U.S. consulate compound in Benghazi, Libya, Sept. 11, 2012.”

Libya.  Yemen.  Egypt.  Last week was a rough one on the other side of the world.  First, in an attack deliberately timed to correspond to the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, Libyan Islamists staged a military-style assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, killing the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, along with three other Americans.  On Thursday, Islamist protesters stormed the U.S. Embassy in Yemen.  Riots also erupted in Egypt, with people climbing into the embassy compound in central Cairo and ripping down the American flag.

One of the inciting factors of these protests is an obscure movie with a less than positive portrayal of the Muslim prophet Muhammad titled, “The Innocence of Muslims.”  Clips from the low-budget film have been making their rounds in cyberspace for weeks.  In the movie, Muhammad is portrayed a womanizing, homosexual, child-abuser.  For many Muslims, any depiction of Muhammad is blasphemous – hence, the reason for these violent protests.

As I have watched these protests unfold, two things have struck me.  First, I have been struck by the fact that our Constitutional right to free speech does not carry with it a guarantee that such speech will be charitable or even accurate.  As Christians, we are called speak charitably and accurately to and about others not because our Constitution legislates it, but because Holy Scripture commands it.  As the apostle Peter reminds us, “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).  Patently offensive and inflammatory caricatures of other religions, though not civically illegal, are certainly theologically sinful.  After all, we, as Christians, do not appreciate having our faith lambasted by flimsy straw-men half-truths.  So we ought never do the same thing to other faiths nor should we encourage others who do.

Second, I have been struck by the intolerance – in fact, the violent intolerance – of these Islamist protesters.  These protestors breach embassies and kill ambassadors who have no relation whatsoever to those who made this outlandish film except that they all happen to be citizens of the same country.  This makes no sense to me.  And yet, for a few too many people, it seems to make all too much sense.  The headlines tell the story.

In the face of such intolerance, it is important to remember that Christians uphold the value of tolerance and its significance in public life.  Granted, the Christian conception of tolerance is not that same as its secular counter-conception.  Christians consistently do and have accepted the existence of different points of view.  We know that not everyone believes as we do.  Moreover, in general, we do not support the suppression – especially the violent suppression – of different points of view.  In this sense, then, we believe in “free speech.”  What is troublesome for Christians is not tolerance in this sense, but the secular conception of tolerance which not only advocates for acceptance of the existence of different views, but demands the acceptance of the truthfulness of these different views.  D.A. Carson explains this tolerance well:

The new [secular] tolerance suggests that actually accepting another’s position means believing that position to be true, or at least as true as your own.  We move from allowing the free expression of contrary opinions to the acceptance of all opinions; we leap from permitting the articulation of beliefs and claims with which we do not agree to asserting that all beliefs and claims are equally valid.[1]

Of course, the great irony of this tolerance is that if one refuses to accept this definition of tolerance or play by its rules, that person will not be tolerated!  As Leslie Armour, professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Ottawa, wryly noted, “Our idea is that to be a virtuous citizen is to be one who tolerates everything except intolerance.”[2]

One of the most striking lessons in true tolerance comes from Jesus in His Parable of the Weeds.  Jesus tells of a master who plants some wheat.  But while everyone is sleeping, the master’s enemy sneaks in and sows weeds with the wheat.  When the master’s servants see what has happened, they ask, “Do you want us to go and pull them up?”  But the master replies, “Let both grow together until the harvest” (Matthew 13:28, 30).  The master in this parable, of course, is Jesus.  The wheat are those who trust in Him while the weeds are those who reject Him.  But rather than immediately destroying those who reject Him, Jesus is tolerant:  He allows the weeds to grow with the wheat.  Martin Luther comments on this parable:

Observe what raging and furious people we have been these many years, in that we desired to force others to believe; the Turks with the sword, heretics with fire, the Jews with death, and thus outroot the tares by our own power, as if we were the ones who could reign over hearts and spirits, and make them pious and right, which God’s Word alone must do.[3]

Violent oppression of those with whom we disagree is not an option for the Christian, Luther asserts.  He goes on to state that if we violently deal with someone who is not a Christian and kill him or her, we take away that person’s chance to trust Christ and be saved by Him.  We thus work against the gospel rather than for it.  This echoes Paul’s sentiment in Romans where he speaks of God’s tolerance as kindness which leads to repentance (cf. Romans 2:4).

Finally, Christianity teaches an even higher virtue than just tolerance – it teaches love.  And after a week that has seen so much hatred, perhaps that is what we need to share with our world.


[1] D.A. Carson, The Intolerance of Tolerance (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2012), 3-4.

[2] Cited in D.A. Carson, The Intolerance of Tolerance, 12.

[3] Martin Luther, The Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House 1906), 100-106.

September 17, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Why Heaven Matters

This weekend, we kicked off a new series on heaven at Concordia.  Here’s a clip from last weekend’s message.  Join us Saturday at 6 pm, or Sunday at 8, 9:30, or 11 am for worship and to learn more about this important Christian teaching!

September 14, 2012 at 8:42 am Leave a comment

Cherry Picking Scripture

I had to chuckle as I was watching coverage of the Democratic National Convention last week.  I tuned in to see San Antonio’s mayor, Julian Castro, deliver the Convention’s keynote speech, which is quite an honor no matter what your political persuasion.  But what made me chuckle were not the speeches at the Convention, but the political pundits pontificating on the state of our nation between speeches.  I began watching the coverage that evening by tuning into a liberal-leaning news channel.  They asked a question that has become ubiquitous in political circles every time a presidential election rolls around:  “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”  One of their correspondents trotted out a chart that included numbers for jobs created and the state of the Standard & Poor’s index and confidently concluded, “Yes.  We are better off than we were four years ago.”  I then flipped over to a conservative-leaning news channel.  Interestingly, the pundits on this channel were debating this same question:  “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”  But my mouth dropped open when they too trotted out a chart with numbers on unemployment and the national debt and confidently concluded, “No.  We are not better off than we were four years ago.”  Apparently, whether you believe we are better off than we were four years ago depends on which numbers you look at – or which numbers you want to look at.

I am not surprised when politicians and the politically minded cherry pick the facts and figures which bolster their particular partisan position.  But it disturbs me when Christians do the same thing – especially with the Word of God.

In Acts 20, Paul is leaving the church in Ephesus which he had planted and subsequently served for three years as its pastor in order to journey to Jerusalem at the Holy Spirit’s behest.  One of the things that Paul touts about his ministry to the Ephesians is that he “did not shrink from declaring the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).  In other words, when Paul served the Ephesians, he didn’t cherry pick his favorite Bible verses or stories, nor did he selectively or subversively read the Scriptures in an effort to bolster a particular partisan theological platform.  Instead, he courageously declared the Word of God – all of the Word of God.

Part of the reason Paul prided himself on proclaiming all of the Word of God has to do with Paul’s belief concerning the nature and character of Scripture.  For Paul believed that all of Scripture comes from God and therefore all of Scripture is worthy of our attention, study, and application.  As Paul writes to the young pastor Timothy, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).  All Scripture is useful, Paul declares.  There is not a book, a verse, a word, or, to use Jesus’ description, even “a jot or a tittle” (cf. Matthew 5:18, KJV), which is not useful for us to know and take to heart.

The other day, I came across a blog titled, “5 Reasons Why We Should Still Read The Book Of Leviticus Today.”[1]  In this post, the author recounts a conversation he had with a PhD scientist who, though he was a Christian, saw no need to for believers to concern themselves with Leviticus, or with any other part of the Pentateuch for that matter.  After all, what could modern-day people possibly learn from a book that covers the eating of shellfish, the wearing of polyester, and the donning of tattoos?  Not much, in this guy’s mind.  But this blogger went on to do a terrific job arguing for the relevance – and, more importantly, for the divine inspiration – of this book.  He notes that the credo of Leviticus, “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:2), is still the preeminent model for Christian sanctification.  In our acting, speaking, and thinking, we are to reflect the God in whom we trust.  Indeed, Jesus Himself affirms this holiness credo when He declares, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).  More vitally, this blogger notes that the sacrificial system of Leviticus is a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  Without Leviticus, our understanding of Christ’s sacrifice would be significantly diminished, for the whole point of the Old Testament sacrificial system was to lead to and find its telos in Christ’s supreme and final sacrifice (cf. Hebrews 10:1-12).  In other words, the whole point of Leviticus, though it was written some 1400 years before Jesus, was to point people to Jesus.  And anything that points people to Jesus is something a Christian should want to know about.

Leviticus is just one example of the theological richness that Scripture has to offer – if we will only take the time to look.  If you choose cherry pick from Scripture, however, you will miss so much of what Scripture is and what Scripture gives.  So devote yourself to Scripture – all Scripture.  You never know what you will find, how you will be changed, and how your faith will grow.


[1] Scott Fillmer, “5 Reasons Why We Should Still Read The Book Of Leviticus Today,” scottfillmer.com (8.21.2012).

September 10, 2012 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Decisions, Decisions

It’s almost become a Keystone Cops routine.  Every Sunday following worship, my wife Melody and I try to decide where to go out to eat.  “Where do you want to go?” I ask my wife affectionately.  “I don’t know,” she responds.  “Where do you want to go?”  “I don’t know,” I fire back.  “That’s why I was asking you.”  After fifteen to minutes of pondering all the different places at which we could eat, we usually decide that neither of us are really in the mood for any of it and so we head home to eat leftovers.  When it comes to eating out, we have a hard time making decisions.

Perhaps we’re not alone.  Perhaps you have a hard time making decisions too.  Maybe it’s when you make it to a restaurant and you have to decide what dish to order off a menu that is twelve pages long.  Maybe it’s when you’re out clothes shopping and you have to decide:  the blue outfit or the gray one?  Maybe it’s when you’re car shopping:  the sedan or the SUV?  Life’s choices are endless.  And even seemingly simple choices can sometimes feel overwhelming.

One of the glories of the gospel is that it relieves us of the responsibility of choosing that which is most important.  From the Bible’s beginnings, we read of a God who makes and clear and decisive choices when it matters most so that we don’t have to.  Consider the following:

  • “Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him” (Genesis 20:18-19).
  • “You are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be His people, His treasured possession” (Deuteronomy 7:6).
  • “Rejoice before the LORD your God at the place He will choose as a dwelling for His Name” (Deuteronomy 16:11).

Time and time again, God chooses.  In fact, the gospel assures us that God has chosen us to be saved through faith by His Son.  As Jesus Himself says, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last” (John 15:16).  And as the apostle Paul writes, “For God chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight” (Ephesians 1:4).  God chooses us.

Sometimes, people take umbrage with God’s choice of people for salvation.  They want to be able to choose God for themselves.  They want to be masters of their own eternities.  But were our eternities left up to our own choices, we would most certainly make the wrong choices.  We read example after example in the Scriptures of people who choose the wrong way of sin rather than the right road of salvation.  The ancient Israelites choose apostasy through idolatry.  The first century Pharisees choose arrogance through self-righteousness.  And we choose our own desires over God’s command.  When it comes to choosing God, left to our own devices, we will always and only say, “No.”

Blessedly, God does not allow our choices against Him and for damnation to stand.  Instead, He rescues many people from their bad choices through His righteous choice!  And if I can’t even decide where to go to lunch, I sure am glad that I don’t have to decide on my salvation.  Aren’t you glad too?

September 3, 2012 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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