Archive for February, 2013

Sharing the Gospel…Even When It’s Hard

ShareTheGospelHow far would you go to share the gospel?  Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9 constitute a rallying cry to “pull out all the stops,” as it were, to get the gospel to those who need to hear it:

Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.  To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.  To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)

Paul’s call to “become all things to all men…for the sake of the gospel” has been a topic of many a conversation about what is involved in showing and sharing God’s love to a world that is hostile to the exclusive claims of Christ.  Though many things could be said about proclaiming the gospel in a world like this, there is one thing in particular that I would focus on in this post:  Proclaiming the gospel to a world adverse to its message often involves pain.

Proclaiming the gospel involves much more than just being familiar enough with the culture around you to speak the gospel in a way that is intelligible to that culture, it involves enduring persecution from that culture when it takes umbrage with the gospel’s message.  This was certainly the case with Paul.  Paul writes, “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews” (verse 20).  To become like a Jew was no easy task for Paul, especially since his Jewish comrades considered his message of a crucified Messiah blasphemous.  And the punishment for speaking blasphemy was nothing less than a beating.  This is why Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 11:24:  “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.”  Interestingly, a compendium of Jewish rabbinical teaching called the Mishnah considers lashes to be only a secondary punishment for blasphemy.  The primary punishment was that of being cut off from the Jewish people.  The rabbis wrote, “All those who are liable to extirpation who have been flogged are exempt form their liability to extirpation” (Mishnah Makkot 3:15).  The primary punishment for blasphemy, then, was that of being excommunicated from the Jewish community, but if a person could not stand the thought of excommunication, he could instead choose to be lashed.  Paul chose the lashes over the shunning.  But why?  It certainly wasn’t because he took any particular pride in being a Jew by birth.  Paul says of his Jewish pedigree:  “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 1:8).  Paul chose the lashes because he could not stand the thought of being excommunicated by his Jewish comrades.  After all, such excommunication would spell the end of his efforts “to win the Jews” (verse 20). Paul was so desperate to share the gospel with his Jewish community, he was willing to be beaten within inches of his death to do so.

The apostle Peter writes, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21).  Sometimes, becoming “all things to all men…for the sake of the gospel” means suffering for the sake of the gospel.   By the Spirit’s enabling, may we be prepared to face adversity and pain to share and spread God’s message and power of salvation!

February 25, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

When A Little Is A Lot

Mustard SeedIt has long struck me how God can do so much with so little.  A little bit of water and the name of God spoken over us in baptism – and we are brought into the family of Christ.  A little bit of bread and a little bit of wine – and we receive Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins.  It doesn’t take much for God to do great things!

I was reminded of this point once again as I was teaching Daniel 10.  In this curious chapter, Daniel receives a vision of “a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around His waist.  His body was like chrysolite, His face like lightning, His eyes like flaming torches, His arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and His voice like the sound of a multitude” (Daniel 10:5-6).  The characteristics of this man are strikingly similar to those used to describe Jesus in Revelation:

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me.  And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to His feet and with a golden sash around His chest.  His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes were like blazing fire.  His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of rushing waters. (Revelation 1:12-15)

Daniel, it seems, is having an encounter with the pre-incarnate Christ.

What is Christ doing before His incarnation?  What He does after His incarnation:  fighting the forces of evil.   He says, “I will return to fight against the prince of Persia” (Daniel 10:20).  Many scholars take this reference to “the prince of Persia” as a reference to a fallen angel and not to the human leader of Persia at this time, Cyrus.  After this prince of Persia, Jesus says, will come the king of Greece.  And then, Jesus ends the chapter by saying, “No one supports me against them except Michael, your prince” (Daniel 10:21).

It is verse 21 that especially struck me.  It is just the Son of God and His archangel Michael against the many and varied forces of darkness and evil.  Daniel 11 goes into detail concerning those many and varied dark forces.  It’s two forces for good marshaled against a countless number of forces for evil.  It’s a little against a lot.  And yet, good carries the day:

At that time your people – everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered.  Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:1-2)

Evil is consigned to everlasting contempt.  The redeemed of the Lord enjoy everlasting life.  The seemingly little forces for good defeat the massive forces of evil.

Throughout the Bible, evil constantly seeks to gain power using sheer numbers.  The Psalmist writes about how “the kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One” (Psalm 2:2).  But no matter how many forces evil may be able to marshal, evil is no match for the goodness of God.  The quantity of evil foes is no match for the perfect quality of God’s goodness.   As Luther writes in “A Mighty Fortress” of God’s power against the devil and minions:  “One little word can fell him.”  One little word of God can destroy vast army of evil.  And that little word has already by spoken from the cross:  “It is finished” (John 19:30).  From the cross, Jesus sealed Satan’s fate with just a little word.  For “It is finished” means “Satan is finished.”  This little word defeated great evil and saved us.

So never overlook the little things of God.  A little can do a lot.  After all, what the world thought was nothing more than an insignificant execution on a cross wound up offering salvation to all humanity.  From a little cross flows big hope.

February 18, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Sacrificing the Wrong Lives

Fetus 1It was an article that took my breath away.  Yes, I’ve read many an article arguing for “a woman’s right to choose.”  Yes, I’ve heard the cries from Planned Parenthood, insisting that a woman’s “reproductive rights” be maintained.  But this article did not invoke any of the more traditional language wielded by abortion proponents, except to criticize it.  Writing for Slate Magazine, Mary Elizabeth Williams opens her article analyzing the state of the abortion debate thusly:

While opponents of abortion eagerly describe themselves as “pro-life,” the rest of us have had to scramble around with not nearly as big-ticket words like “choice” and “reproductive freedom.” The “life” conversation is often too thorny to even broach. Yet I know that throughout my own pregnancies, I never wavered for a moment in the belief that I was carrying a human life inside of me. I believe that’s what a fetus is: a human life. And that doesn’t make me one iota less solidly pro-choice.[1]

Mary Elizabeth Williams is bold enough to write what so many people have suspected for so long:  there is no way around the fact that a fetus is a life.  Abortion, then, by logical default, ends a life.  Williams, in contradistinction to many other abortion advocates, is willing to admit this.  But this does not temper her view on whether or not abortion should be legal and widely available:

Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers. Yet a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always.

Williams is willing to cede the argument on whether or not a fetus is a life.  She admits it is.  But that does not matter.  It may be a life, but it is a life that can be extinguished at the will and whim of the woman who carries the fetus.

Such a crassly genocidal view of abortion is new, even for its advocates.  Margaret Sanger, the very founder of Planned Parenthood, would have winced at this kind of notion:

We explained what contraception was; that abortion was the wrong way no matter how early it was performed it was taking life; that contraception was the better way, the safer way – it took a little time, a little trouble, but was well worth while in the long run, because life had not yet begun.[2]

Margaret Sanger, though she certainly paved the way for abortion’s modern-day legality, availability, and promotion, promoted contraception over abortion, at least publicly, because abortion ended life.  Until now, pro-choice advocates have been largely unwilling to engage the question “Is the fetus a life or not?” and instead focus on a woman’s “right to choose” because many abortion advocates would be loath to talk about ending a life.  No longer.  Williams is perfectly willing to speak of a fetus as a life.  And she’s perfectly willing to talk about ending it.  As she concludes in her article, “I would put the life of a mother over the life of a fetus every single time – even if I still need to acknowledge my conviction that the fetus is indeed a life.  A life worth sacrificing.”

In the face of words like Williams’, words from the prophet Jeremiah come to mind:

This is what the LORD says:  “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.” (Jeremiah 31:35)

May we weep with Rachel at the children who are no more.  They were not lives worth sacrificing.  The life worth sacrificing has already been sacrificed.

[1] Mary Elizabeth Williams, “So What if Abortion Ends a Life?Slate Magazine (1.23.13).  NB:  The link posted in the title Williams’ article takes you to  Google’s cached version.  The most inflammatory of Williams’ statements have since been removed.  The current version of the article can be found here.

[2] Margaret Sanger, Margaret Sanger, An Autobiography (New York: W. W. Norton, 1938), 217.

February 11, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Minute Of Your Time

Super Bowl XLVIIHow much is a minute worth?  If you ask Volkswagen of America, it’s worth close to $10 million.  At least if it’s a minute during the Super Bowl.  In an article for USA Today, Bruce Horovitz writes about the high price – and high stakes – world of commercial advertising during the Super Bowl:

Few moments of public pressure compare to that of airing a Super Bowl commercial.  Not only will it be watched by more than 110 million consumers, the social-media buzz before, during and after the game can generate tens of millions of additional views.  Thirty-some advertisers – from veteran Anheuser-Busch InBev to newcomer SodaStream – will air 50-some commercials in Super Bowl airtime that cost them roughly $3.8 million per 30-second slot.  That’s a record average price for Super Bowl slots.

It’s the most expensive media money can buy.[1]

If you want 30 seconds, it’ll cost you $3.8 million.  60 seconds will cost you more than twice that.  Justin Osborne, general manager of marketing communications at VW, says of such an outlandish price, “If I put this in financial terms, it would give me hives.  I can’t look at the zeros.”

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Time is money.”  If you quoted Franklin’s axiomatic aphorism to a Super Bowl advertiser, I suspect he might respond with a hearty “Amen.”  Of course, these advertisers are hoping that time is not only money spent, but that it is money made.  This is why these advertisers are willing to pay such haranguingly hearty prices for airtime.  After all, with hundreds of millions of people expected to watch the big game, some of them are bound to put their money into the companies, products, and services they see in the commercials.  Right?

Macdonald Carey used to say during the opening sequence of the famed soap opera, “Like sands through the hour glass, so are the days of our lives.”  It’s true.  For the most part, our seconds, minutes, days, weeks, months, and sometimes even years slip past us with barely a notice – certainly not a Super-Bowl-sized-notice worthy of $10 million.  But perhaps the time that all too often slips by us is worth more than we realize.  For, as Scripture reminds us, time is a precious gift from God, not to be unthinkingly frittered away:  “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

The other day, I attended an excellent presentation by the former publisher for the LA Times.  As part of his presentation, he cited a poem by Benjamin Mays, mentor to Martin Luther King Jr. and former president of Morehouse College:

I have only just a minute. Only sixty seconds in it.
Forced upon me.  Didn’t seek it, didn’t choose it,
But it’s up to me to use it.
I must suffer if I lose it.  Give account if I abuse it.
Just a tiny little minute – But eternity is in it.

Every minute is precious.  Every minute is a gift from God.   How will you use yours?

[1] Bruce Horovitz, “Inside the making of VW’s Super Bowl ad,” USA Today (1.29.13).

February 4, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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