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Redeemer Church

Redeemer Church
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Monday, August 27, 2007

The Victims of Tyranny and Tragedy

Living in a fallen, sinful world, it is easy to start thinking of one's self only in degrees of comparison to others. When we compare our own lives and behavior to those of the criminals and devils we see on the news and in history, the tendency is to begin to feel pretty good about ourselves. However, this sort of grading on a scale is dangerous and misleading and can have eternal consequences.

No matter what your position is on the state of man's sinfulness and the degree to which we are in bondage to it, only a liar can claim to be sinless and perfect (don't miss the irony in that). Indeed, every human being is guilty before God, every human being owes a debt. Consider these verses, then, to be a litmus test of your perception of the extent of man's guilt and God's holiness. If Jesus' response in this passage shocks you as much as it did me, please give new reflection not only to how high you esteem God as holy and just but also how low you esteem us as sinful and guilty.

Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who lived in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." Luke 13:1-5

Are you not shocked at the response of Jesus? He is informed that a group of Galileans (biblical historians estimate there were nearly 6,000 of them) were murdered in cold blood by the resident Roman thug. This act had cultural significance as well: not only were the Galileans killed but their remains were desecrated by the mixing of their blood with a pagan sacrifice. We expect Jesus to say they didn't deserve this, that they will be rewarded for enduring such a heinous crime. Or we expect Jesus to tell us that they were all actually exceptional sinners and earned this above and beyond other sinners. Either way, we expect Jesus to either defend or "excuse" God in allowing this to occur.

The last thing we expect is the response that Jesus gives. In fact, Jesus doesn't even stop at the retelling of such tyranny, He goes a step further and brings up His own example. He recounts another event that has no villain, an event that was simply a tragedy. If the crowd blamed Pilate for the first event, who could the crowd blame but God for the falling of a tower? If the crowd felt God needed vindication in their eyes in the first case, He certainly (and doubly) needed vindication in the second case. Undoubtedly Jesus would seek to absolve and exonerate God in the peoples' minds. Yet Jesus responds to both accounts of tyranny and tragedy with an identical answer.

"Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."

Jesus' response is quite the opposite from what we anticipate. God needs no justification to anyone in allowing these things, and others deserve no less if they do not repent. This didn't happen because the departed were greater sinners, and others were not spared because they were lesser sinners. However, just because these victims could claim innocence in these situations did not mean they were innocent altogether. Both events were rooted in this fallen world and happened to sinful man. The crux of the situation was not the amount of sin in the lives of the victims, but rather the sinfulness of both victims and hearers alike. Again, if this surprises you or strikes you as harsh, consider if what I've said seems true to the text, then consider your own presuppositions on man's sinfulness and God's holiness.

I know there are probably contemporary parallels that come to your mind that mirror the two situations Jesus addresses. I know there are several I've thought of. Tyranny and tragedy still occur on a daily basis. They fill our newspapers. If my words sound harsh, please do not mistake it for taking lightly the lives lost. No, it is not that the lives should be taken lightly, but that the glory and holiness and righteousness of God should be taken seriously.

I don't believe it is a stretching of the text to say that if any of us today don't repent, we will all likewise perish. Of course, I don't mean that we will all be slaughtered or crushed by a falling tower, but what things are true of all the unrepentant, both in Jesus' day and ours? Death is a permanent, final loss that is permitted(and therefore ordained) by God as an end of one's time given to either seek God and repentance or live in rebellion to Him.

Our response should be the same Jesus called his hearers to, repent! Find the forgiveness of God in Jesus Christ. For not only is God perfectly holy and just, He is perfectly merciful and gracious as well. For those who feel that God, rather than Pilate, is the tyrant in this account, God's response is the offering up of His Son. Much like the Galileans, Jesus' blood was shed in a pagan ritual and His blood was desecrated, but it was done to pay our debt to God. For God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. The true tyranny of any life is denying Christ, the true tragedy is rejecting His grace.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

God's Warriors . . . but which God?

CNN has just finished airing a three-day television event highlighting the religions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity (including the most militant factions of each). Of course, this has been a hot topic ever since the events of 9/11 when the Islamic worldview was thrust to center stage in the American mind. In true postmodernist fashion, Christiane Amanpour presented these religions as three sides of the same coin (gotta love those three-sided coins), three equally valid worldviews that have more similarities than differences.

Before I go on, let me make one caution: be careful you do not judge a worldview or a religion by its abuses. This is a form of guilt by association and is a logical fallacy. I myself have been guilty of this in the past, decrying Islam on the basis of the terrorists and suicide bombers acting in the name of Allah. In the same way, I felt many of the quotes used during the segment on Christianity were taken out of context or simply not in keeping with biblical Christianity. Instead, one must judge a worldview by what it asserts and the founder who asserts it (in other words, deal with the ideas themselves). There is nothing left to believe if we rule out every worldview that is held (or twisted to fit an ulterior motive) by a murderer, a bigot or a moron. So I must resist my knee-jerk reaction, the same reaction of most Americans, to discount Islam based simply on what we've seen these past few years.

CNN and Christiane Amanpour went out of their way to present these religions as compatible worldviews that sympathetic characters use for discipline, humility, and self-betterment and that extremists use for hate, violence, and fear. This is not uncommon. Many people think that all religions are different only on the surface, but at the core are all the same. They cite the moral codes as proof, that they're all about "loving your neighbor".

In fact, quite the opposite is true! We should not be surprised that such similar moral codes appear in so many world religions. This moral code has been "written in their hearts" by our Creator, and it is here that the similarities end. In reality, the world religions are similar only on the surface, but at the core are vastly different. When the big questions are asked, questions of origin, meaning, morality and destiny, the differences quickly come to the surface. Where did everything come from? What is man's purpose? How do we determine right and wrong? Where do we go when I die?

One line of questioning that is immediately relevant to the three religions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity concerns Jesus. Who is/was He? Did He rise from the dead? What do we believe about His teachings? Through Jesus alone and by grace alone, Christianity guarantees eternal life, while Islam and Judaism deny salvation through Christ and can only offer the hope of salvation only through a strict adherence to a moral code. While this may seem exclusive (but isn't truth itself exclusive?*), the teachings of these religions stand in direct contrast of each other. It is clear, as you take a closer look, that all religions are not as similar or compatible as pop culture and CNN would have us believe.

*To assert that anything is true is to assert that the inverse is not true at the same time in the same relationship. For example, to say "I am here at the computer" is a true statement is to imply at the same time and in the same relationship that "I am not here at the computer" is a false statement. So to believe that anything is true is by default to believe that some things are not true, and this is the exclusivity I am speaking of.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Unforgiveness of Mr. Wiesenthal

Simon Wiesenthal, a Jew who lived through the atrocities of World War II, wrote a compelling book called The Sunflower, addressing the human struggle with guilt. In it he recounts how he had once been taken from a death camp to a makeshift Nazi hospital and brought to the bedside of a Nazi officer who had been mortally wounded and would soon die. The officer, in a pained whisper, told Wiesenthal that he had ordered an entire Jewish village to be burned to the ground with all its inhabitants still trapped inside its structures. The screams of the men, women and children who died at his command now haunted him in his waking moments and hung heavy on his conscience.

The officer then confessed to Wiesenthal that he had asked for a Jew to be brought to his bedside because he longed to seek forgiveness from one whose people he had killed. However, despite repeated and heart-felt pleas for pardon, Wiesenthal could not bring himself to say the words. He had himself lost 89 of his own relatives at the hands of the Nazis, and he would eventually walk away from the officer's side without offering any words of forgiveness.

My heart breaks at hearing this story. The pain of guilt and loss is so poignant in its telling that I can't help but feel pity for both men. To my knowledge, both men lived out the remainder of their lives (one much shorter than the other) in relatively unchanged positions of unforgiveness and without Christ. How I long for the story to end instead with Wiesenthal declaring to the man, "You are right to ask forgiveness, but I am not the Jew you should be asking it of!"

However, at the very moment that I begin feeling fit to pass judgement about how the story "should" have ended, my sense of introspection kicks into high gear. How can I condemn the officer when I am in the same state of sinfulness and guilt until the forgiveness of Christ takes over? How can I vilify Wiesenthal when I (a new creation in Christ) am so often unforgiving? As Jesus illustrated in his parable, shouldn't we who have been forgiven so great a debt of guilt in turn forgive those indebted to us? Let the breaking of our hearts at this story be the impetus to drive us to an unnatural forgiveness, one that can pardon anything because we have been forgiven everything!

Matthew 18:23-35

Thursday, August 2, 2007

American Idol and the Trophy Generation

A new term has been coined for Generation Y, those currently college age and younger. They are now being called the Trophy Generation by some, a term that reflects the trend in competitive sports (as well as many other aspects of life) where "no one loses" and everyone gets a "Thanks for Participating" trophy. This generation, more than any before them, are characterized by a heightened sense of entitlement, of comfort, and of rights and privileges.

No longer do they have to deal with a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place trophy while everyone else loses. No longer do they have to worry about not making the team. In an effort to build self-esteem, the preceding generations have only fed into these tendencies. Just look at the number and nature of lawsuits in the news every year. Just look at the dumbing down of our public school's curriculum under the guise of "no child left behind". When compared with their peers from other countries, American students' scores continue to drop but their feedback on how well they think they did remains higher than any other country. It seems it's becoming "every child left behind and okay with it".

I was struck recently with how perfectly this explains the American Idol phenomenon (as all eligible contestants are part of the Trophy Generation). My favorite part of the show every year is the auditions where we see some of the most ridiculous attempts at singing, and every year I am shocked at the abundance of these awkward attempts. Yet they continue to come out of the woodwork: contestants who can see others fail (for six seasons now) and, with little or no sense of objective self-evaluation, think they are so much better. And instead of being honest with them, instead of encouraging on to excellence, we pander them with half-truths and flat-out lies.

However, the Trophy Generation remains unfazed by American Idol, many of them storming through life saying "I have to make it", "I don't need them, I'm going to be famous anyway", "They don't know anything, I've always known I was going to be a star someday". The reaction is defensive, accusing their judges of ignorance and ineptitude rather than considering the fact that they just might not be that good.

Here's why I bring all this up: this is the generation that many of us are attempting to reach with the Gospel. Yet the same approaches that worked yesterday may not always work ("Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" may not have the same impact it did 200 years ago). This generation's sense of entitlement is often suppressing their sense of need, their need for a Savior, their need for forgiveness. People will always have need, but each generation is getting more skilled at masking it, covering it up, or escaping from it. We need to be aware of the fact that our language and communication of the Gospel will need to shift with the culture. We need to be ready to meet them where they are. Of course, this is not a new strategy as Paul was doing this in the days of the early church. Perhaps it means we appeal to truth. Perhaps it means being ready to dig a little bit to reveal the need (or a suppressed sense of guilt) in each life. Or perhaps it means simply loving them, being available, and being there when the mask comes off and their world comes down.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

From the library of Jared Barclay Totten

Hello. If you've found this page through a search, you may have come across one of my books with my seal in it. If this is the case, feel free to contact me through this blog or my e-mail. I will arrange to get my book back or just say "enjoy the book" as the case may be. If you've found this page for any other reason, this must be awkward for you.

From the library of Jared Barclay Totten


From the library of JBT Jared Barclay Totten