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February 14, 2014

The school of snow

by Jesse Johnson
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Image from createdsign.com

Yesterday much of the US woke up to a winter wonderland. Sheets of snow fell in the night—at my house we got over a foot. School was canceled and the ground was covered. For some people (like Canadians) this is normal. But for many cities, this was extremely unusual.

Have you ever wondered why it snows? I’m not talking about the hydrological reasons. I get that water freezes at a certain temperature, and that granular ice particles form and if the atmospheric pressure and ground temperature match some sort of range, voilá! Snow. But at a more basic level, why did God design a world in which it snows? What is snow designed to teach us? There are two major lessons from the school of snow:   Continue Reading…

“Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown . . .”
– Philippians 4:1 –

Laurel CrownThe way Paul addresses the Philippians in this verse is unparalleled in his writings. It is a piling up of no less than five terms of endearment, and it illustrates the love and affection that can and should exist between believers. Those final two terms are particularly noteworthy.

His Joy

He calls the Philippians themselves his joy. And that is a striking designation for a number of reasons. First, given Paul’s overwhelming emphasis on joy throughout the letter (there is some reference to joy and rejoicing 16 times in these four short chapters), it’s significant that he would identify his joy as the Philippians themselves. It’s also striking, secondly, because of where Paul is as he expresses that the Philippians are his joy: chained 18 inches away from a Roman soldier under house arrest, waiting to stand trial before the Roman Emperor. Paul’s joy is unshakable, because he does not derive his joy from the pleasantness and ease of his circumstances.

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The refrain: “in those days, everyone did what was right in their own eyes” echoes through the book of Judges. But it also echoes through our culture today. It is a sure sign of our world’s wickedness that it has taken a biblical phrase that expresses a complete surrender to sin, and turned it on its head, as if it were somehow virtuous to try and be a good person by living according to your own standards.

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An often-overlooked element of our culture’s sprint toward Sodom is the world view that people are capable judges of morality. In fact, if you were to ask your average American why they think they will go to heaven (assuming for the sake of argument that it exists), you would hear “because I am a good person.”

The follow up question has to immediately be, “why?” to which you will undoubtedly get the response: “because I try to do what is right,” or some variation therein. Maybe “because I always try to be a good person,” or “I help people,” or, “I live and let live.” But if you are really lucky, you may actually even hear them say, “Because I always do what is right in my own eyes.”

This phrase is, of course, drawn from the Bible. Its remarkable and more than a little bit ironic how today’s culture is quite familiar with this biblical statement. In fact, people borrow it liberally, failing to see that in the Bible, a culture is at its lowest when it views people as their source of morality. Continue Reading…

February 5, 2014

Judges Judging US

by Jesse Johnson

Judges-when wrong becomes rightLast week I wrote that the book of Judges has particular application to current popular culture, and that Christians today should familiarize themselves with it. Its likely that believers in every generation feel like theirs is the most wicked culture ever—but denying the serious speed at which ours is sliding toward Sodom would take note-worthy naiveté. In fact, it is a fair question: has any generation slid this far, this fast?

The answer, of course, is Yes, and the Bible has much to say about it. Now allow me to say this: I am not a fan of the Americanized reading and patriotic application of Scripture which is all too common. You should not read Revelation as if it described the phases of European history leading to the American Revolution. You should not read Joseph’s stock-piling of food as a sign for Americans to prepare for seven years of famine. And please, please, pretty please, don’t see Bartonesque Americana in Isaiah’s description of an eagle. Gag.

So the moral decline described in the book of Judges was not written as some sort of veiled prophetic description of the US. Yet at the same time, the delight in depravity displayed in those days certainly finds its parallel in our own world. And the Holy Spirit wants us to do more than just gawk at it: Judges is written for us to learn from it. Here are three lessons that I find particularly sobering (two for today, and one for tomorrow):   Continue Reading…

evictionSuppose there was a landlord who rented out his house to others. One day he sends a messenger to collect rent, and the tenants not only refuse to pay, but physically abuse the messenger and send him away empty-handed.

Instead of summoning the police, the owner sends another messenger. After all, this may have simply been a case of mistaken identity. This new messenger will have all of his credentials in order. But this second messenger is likewise abused.

Yet the landlord is still reluctant to evict the tenant, much less to call the police. Instead he sends a third messenger, and this one gets murdered. Still, the landlord holds out hope that one more messenger will do the trick, and get the tenants to pay the rent they owe. So he sends messenger after messenger, some of which are murdered, all of whom are abused and rejected.

Finally he sends his son—his only son—thinking that he will command the respect of the tenants, but instead they of course think, “if we murder the son, then there is nobody to charge us rent, and we can live here forever!”   Continue Reading…

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
– Philippians 3:20 –

TCitizens of Heaven_T_NVhis verse teaches us that the posture of the heavenly citizen is one of patient, eager anticipation of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. While we usually think of “waiting” and “anticipating” as generally being passive endeavors, the Greek word apekdechomai has a much more active force. The great 19th-century Scottish expositor, Alexander MacLaren, commenting on this verse, wrote, “The eagerness of the waiting which should characterize the expectant citizens is wonderfully described by the Apostle’s expression for it, which literally means ‘to look away out’ … like a sentry on the walls of a besieged city whose eyes are ever fixed on the pass amongst the hills through which the relieving forces are to come.” This eager anticipation is nothing less than the active fastening of one’s gaze and attention on a dearly desired end.

This is how the New Testament speaks of the Christian’s enthusiastic anticipation of the return of Christ.

  • In Galatians 5:5, Paul describes the Christian as one who “through the Spirit, by faith…eagerly wait[s] for the hope of righteousness” (ESV).
  • In his opening words to the Corinthians, he commends them for not lacking in any spiritual gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:7).
  • In 1 Thessalonians 1:9 and 10, this is how Paul defines a Christian: one who “turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven….”
  • And of course, in that section of the believer’s future hope in Romans 8, in verse 23, Paul says, “…even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.”
  • And then in 2 Timothy 4:8, as Paul prepares himself to go to his execution, he looks forward to his heavenly reward and says, “In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

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