Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Publican and Pharisee...According to Walt Disney

I remember while driving home from Montana some friends and I watched Walt Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (no, football fans, I'm not talking about the Fightn Irish) on a laptop. The whole time I kept thinking, "This is a Disney movie?" We spent the rest of the trip duiscussing the implications of film. Granted, it's hardly a perfectly theologically spot-on production, but there were some very interesting themes. For starters,in the end Notre Dame - which throughout the film symbolized the presence of God - sided with the humble and not the proud, hypocritical elite.

While niether song portrays this perfectly, I found striking contrast the prayer of the outcast...

...and the prayer of the legalist...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sermon Notes: Now Are We The Sons Of God

Last Sunday I had the privilege of preaching at my local church. Here are my sermon notes complete with random mental doodlings and notes-to-self.


1st John 3:1-3

1. Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. 2. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. 3. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.

I want to share with you something that has absolutely changed my outlook on life. It’s changed my view of myself, my identity, my purpose and my progress. I hope it will do the same for you. Identity – knowing who were are and how we fit into the universe – is one of the most powerful forces in the world. It effects how we live and in many cases how we die. Therefore, having a biblical understanding of who we are is vital. This is a huge topic however I want to explore one element of our identity as believers in Jesus Christ.


A New Identity (Verse 1)

According Verse 1 the Father bestows love upon us. John has a lot to say about love. And before we go any further this is a theme that needs to be explored. Elsewhere John says that God is Love. This is a huge statement. According to John, love isn’t just something God does. It’s something He is. This is huge. It also created a bit of a predicament. Love is something one person has for another and therefore love cannot exist with only one person. So, this raises the question, who did God love prior to creation.

Well, fkr the Christian this is really no problem at all. We believe in One God eternally existent in Three Persons. How’s that work? I have no idea. But that’s okay. If God were only as big as our brain He wouldn’t be worth the time of day. He won’t really be God.

For the sake of this discussion, I just want you to understand that the reality of the Holy Trinity is what allows John to say that God is Love. For love to exist you need three things – a Lover (someone who does the loving), a Beloved (the object of that love) and then from the love between the Lover and the Beloved will proceed the spirit of that relationship.

Thus, before time began, God the Father loved God the Son. And from eternity past Love Itself has proceeded from their relationship in such reality and intensity that it’s an actual person – the Person of the Holy Spirit. Example of Jesus’ Baptism.

So, what does all this have to do with us? Actually, it has everything to do with us. This love is the reason we exist. The awesome love that existed in the Triune God went on the road, if you will. Love existed within the Triune God from eternity past. And then it boiled over and the God of Love began creating things. The climax of His creation was, of course, man.

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26) Note the plurality of the pronouns. The Triune God determined to create a creature in the His Image who would therefore be able to enjoy the fellowship of love that is Himself. Relationship is the reason the universe exists.

But of course man’s rebellion ruined all that. Now, you and I are, in our natural/normal state, outside of the relationship of God. We can’t fellowship with God. We can’t enjoy the splendor that is Himself. And since we’re severed from Love Himself we find that our love for others is also plagued with selfishness and sin. We cannot truly communicate with the Father. In our natural condition, we are enemies of God – enemies of Love Himself.

But this brings us to 1st John 3. Read Verse 1. He doesn’t just bestow love upon us. He bestows a particular manner of love; the type of love that gives us a new identity. In love, God gives us a new identity. He makes us sons of God, just as Christ is the Son of God.

In the Bible, sonship means more than simply being someone’s offspring. It’s a defining characteristic of how you are. To a point, we still recognize this in our culture. Every time I write my full name I’m reminded that I’m not just Josh, I’m Josh Stilwell. Or, other way to say this is that I’m the child of a Stilwell. Like it or not, this is a part of my identity. PDI illustration.

Moreover, the Bible speaks of being a son as a matter of identity. For example, throughout the Scriptures wicked mean are referred to as sons of Belial. Now, this doesn’t mean that their dad’s name was Belial. Rather, it means that Belial is what characterizes them. In the biblical lexicon to say that so-and-so is a son of such-and-such is to say that so-and-so is like such-and-such.

Look at what Jesus said to the corrupt religious leaders in John 8:44: “You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” Christ equated sonship with identity. He told his enemies that their father was the devil and so the behaved like the devil.

So, when John says that we’re sons of God it’s not just a label or a position. It’s a change of identity. He’s saying that in Christ you are no longer like your father the devil or your father Adam. You’re now a son of God. You’re now like God. Your identity is now wrapped up in God.
It was John how talked so much about being born again in his Gospel. In birth we’re a new person. Now longer bound to our sinful flesh. Rather, now you’re a son of God.

Elsewhere, John tells us that this glorious blessing is acquired through faith in Christ. John 1:12: “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” And when we put our faith in Christ we become bound to Him.

“And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ;” (Romans 8:17)
Our identity is now linked to that of Christ. Everything Christ is we are to lesser degrees. He’s the King of kings and the High Priest Forever, we’re kings and priests unto God (Revelation 1:6). He’s the Only Begotten Son of God, we’re adopted sons of God. Through Christ, we enter this triangle of love. So, in Christ, the Father looks at us – sinful creatures – and says, “This is my beloved son” and gives us His Holy Spirit. The Father is our Lover. We share in Christ’s status as the Beloved. And the Spirit energizes and secures that relationship.

This is a truly awesome thing. The triune fellowship becomes a foursome. God saw fit to bring us into this relationship. Now the Father stands before us, the object of our affections. Christ stands beside us, as our Holy Brother to whom we owe everything. The Spirit dwells within us sealing us to Himself.

How awesome is this! Frail mortal creatures are invited by God to share in this dynamic, breathtaking, intimate relationship that was within the Triune God since before the world began! Illustration of prayer.

But, if you’re like me you don’t always feel like a child of God. You don’t always feel that intimacy that maybe you think you should. I don’t feel like I’m like God. I don’t sense that identity is bound to His. So why is that? If we’re children of God why it is that it sometimes seems like such a distant reality?

Well, John offers us an explanation for that as well as a hope. A hope that is found in a new destiny.

A New Destiny (Verse 2)

Read Verse 2a. So, John assures that we are now sons of God. That’s a present-tense statement of fact. If you’ve put your faith in Jesus Christ you are right now a child of God. However, he also tells us that it “doth not yet appear what we shall be”. So, even though you’re are at this very moment of a child of the living God not all of the practical realities of this status have been fully realized yet.

You still live in a sin cursed universe with a sin cursed body influenced by our adversary. Therefore, the full effects of beings a child of God are not yet fully realized. But, thankfully, John doesn’t stop there. Read Verse 2b.

This is the assurance that all believers have. When we see our Lord and Savior we will be like Him. We will be sons of God is the fullest sense. Not just positionally or in some abstract metaphoric sense. We shall really truly be like Him. And that means, among other things, that this glorious relationship with the Father will be realized an even greater level.

“For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Romans 8:29

As a believer it is your preordained destiny to look like Jesus. As sons of God, when we see Jesus we will look like the Son of God. The goals, as stated in Romans 8:29, is so that Jesus might be the first born of many brethren. Big brother illustration of Christ protecting and looking out for us.

This is what Jesus came to give us. He didn’t just save us from hell. He gave us a new identity – His identity. The Son of God became man so that men become sons of God. He took our place on the cross so that we might share in His place before the Father.

So, remember this next time you’re struggling with temptation or feel that you’ve suffered spiritual defeat. Your victory is secure and immutable. You will be like Christ. Your destiny is now bound to His. And so, like Him, you shall be victorious.

But, wait, you might be saying. If my victory is so certain – if it’s practically a done deal that I will be like Jesus – than can’t I just kick back and relax? Why do I have to worry about laboring so much to be like Christ right now? Can I sin that grace may abound?

John actually argues for the exact opposite. Rather than being a hindrance to our sanctification, the certainty of our destiny is actually presented as motivation for our sanctification.

A New Priority (verse 3)

Read Verse 3. John is telling us that something is to change in the person who has this hope. In the Bible, indicatives always fuels imperatives. Reality motivates practice. We have a new reality. Our identity is now in God. We are children of God called upon to live accordingly and one day that identity will be fully realized. The individual who knows that one day he will be like Jesus Christ is to live differently than the person who doesn’t know or accept that. The person who understands that he will one day look like Christ we behave as if he already does.
Because we as believers are promised that one day we will be pure like Christ we are to live pure lives now. We are to stretch out our arms and reach for our destiny. We are to live in accordance with our destiny right now.

There is a sense in which we are, as C.S. Lewis described it, “dressing up like Christ.” We are to behave like full fledged children of God, in anticipation of one day experiencing that to its fullest. This “pretending” to already be like Christ affects really every element of the Christian life. Even our prayer life. Jesus taught us to address God as He would address God – as our Father. We are to overcome temptation because that’s what Jesus did. We are to submit to the Father even unto death, because that’s what sons of God do. In our everyday lives, we are to be pure as Christ is pure.

In short this means that we are to behave, not like ourselves, but like our Holy Brother. And the incredible thing is that when we start behaving as if we were like Jesus eventually we really truly become like Jesus. We’re like a little boy who dressed up in his daddy’s clothes and then one day wakes up to discover that he is very much like his dad. Or, to keep with my earlier illustration, we’re little kids tagging along with our Big Brother. I would sometimes get annoyed when my little siblings tried to follow me around and do everything I did. But our Eldest Brother, Jesus Christ, wants us to be imitating Him. He wants us to follow the path He has trailed. And as we imitate Christ we become more and more like Him in reality. There are certain traits that my younger siblings picked up from me. But, eventually those traits become just a natural part of who they were, and not just imitation.

Now if this whole idea of pretending that we may become seems a little odd to you, remember that most things in life actually work that way. For example, have you ever been in a situation where you had to be friendly to a person you don’t real feel very friendly towards? But you know that the right thing to do is to be friendly and so you do. But as you pretend to be friendly you discover that you sudden feel friendlier in actuality. Pretense becomes reality.

Thus, because we have the hope of being like pure Jesus Christ we are to live that way now. Though John teaches that this will not be fully realized until we see Christ, he also teaches us to begin living as if it’s true right now.

So, because we’ve been made sons of God let us be mindful of that reality. Sonship is a blessing of justification and a means of sanctification. Let us not take for granted to blessing of knowing God and being invited into this relationship with Him. But let us also remember that the full practical realization of our sonship has not been fulfilled. Therefore, we must labor to be pure as Christ is pure with the hope that when we see Him we shall be like Him. We need to behave like the children of God that we are.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

7 Christian Fantasy Books That You May Never Have Heard Of But Should Totally Read

Many of you may know that I'm an absolute sucker for quality fantasy fiction (by quality I mean that Twilight doesn't count). I'm eagerly anticipating The Hobbit movie(s) and have always appriciate the imagination is takes to create these works.

But I've also learned a great deal from many fantasy writers. Because it deals almost by definition with the supernatural, fantasy is probably the most inherently spiritual genre. While this means that it can be very dangerous when done badly (Satanism, paganism and so on) it also means that fantasy can be a powerful tool is exploring Christian truth.

Christians have a long history in the genre. The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia are of course the bulwarks of the Christian fantasy - one the standard of allegory and the other the standard of Christian applicability. While these two works are definitely the best known, there are many other like works that I think deserve some attention. I'd like to direct you to my personal favorites.

From John Bunyan:

I was first introduced to this style of writing when my Sunday school class read The Pilgrim's Progress. Since then my mind has been captivated by the educational and inspiration power of allegory. But it's only been recently that I've been introduced to two other allegories written by the Baptist preacher. The Life and Death of Mr. Badman is the reverse of The Pilgrim's Progress. Holy War is a mind blowing tale of God's benevolent conquest over the human heart.

From George MacDonald:

C.S. Lewis referred to George MacDonald as his master. It was while reading Phantastes that a young atheist Lewis was confronted with holiness. He would later say that MacDonald baptized his imagination. I would recommend starting your explanation of MacDonald by reading The Princess and the Goblins and the sequel, The Princess and Curdie. In these books you can definitely see the inspiration for Lewis' writing style. Likewise, the goblins of The Princess and the Goblins served as the inspiration for Tolkien's orcs.

From C.S. Lewis:

Of course, there's the basic Narnia stories which every human being on the planet should read. However, Lewis also wrote many other fiction stories. The Screwtape Letters is a classic that will make you laugh out loud when it's not scaring you to death. In it, Lewis provides many insights into human nature and spiritual warfare. But Lewis believed Til We Have Faces to be his very best work and I can't say that I disagree. The characters are rich, the writing style engrossing and the plot mind blowing. But you have to stick with because it all "clicks" at the very end.

From J.R.R. Tolkien:

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are absolute must-reads. However, for someone looking to dig deeper, The Silmarillion is a good read. In this massive postmortem work, the professor is much more overt about his Christian faith. Valaquenta (a sub-section of the book) begins, "In the beginning Eru, the One, who in the Elvish tongue is named Iluvatar, made the Ainur of his thought; and they made a great Music before him." If you don't want to read the whole thing just read Of Beren and Luthien. It was Tolkien's personal favorite, inspired in part by his own marriage and the first one he showed to his best friend, C.S. Lewis. It is also pay tribute to through the relationship between Aragorn and Arwen in The Lord of the Rings.

These are some of my favorite which I hope you'll enjoy too. I'd love to hear from you as well. What are some of your favorites?