Blue on Blue and Eschatological Optimism

The proprietor of Genesis 2:24, Neil Novotnak, has offered a review of my book Contra Mundum Swagger. You can find the review here. I appreciate Mr. Novotnak’s sincerity and zeal in desiring to seek out truth, identify falsehood, and obey God’s word. We need more men like this. I’m also tremendously grateful for the fact that he has demonstrated with his own life the courage to follow Christ in our divorce culture. Most men are too cowardly to sacrifice their lives to follow Christ in our era. Mr. Novotnak is not among those men. I consider Mr. Novotnak a brother in Christ and one with whom I have much common ground and agreement regarding the necessities of orthodox Christian faith, or what C. S. Lewis called our “mere Christianity.” However, the Kingdom of God is a big place filled with sons and daughters of the King who disagree from time to time on issues of secondary and tertiary importance. How should the Kingdom be run? What does the Kingdom look like? When is the King returning? He has chosen to highlight some of these disagreements in his review, so I’ll do my best to adequately address some of them here.

The eschatology of the book is one of the more prominent issues Mr. Novotnak takes issue with and really the main one I’ll be dealing with here. It’s genuinely baffling to me how problematic this aspect is for him. I commend him for seeing the connection of an optimistic eschatology and the issue of divorce and remarriage. I think he’s correct in seeing the two as influencing or affecting each other. However, he ascribes things to me that I don’t write about in the book and I’m astounded at how little he interacts with what I have actually written. However, he has accurately represented my position in numerous places, too.

It should be noted that just because I identify my eschatological views as postmillennial doesn’t necessarily mean I agree with every aspect another postmillennial author may write about, or every description of postmillennialism one may happen upon on the internet. If eschatological views are on a spectrum with premillennial dispensationalism on one end and postmillennialism on the other, I am definitely closer to the postmil end. I don’t have everything figured out on the subject, but where I’m at now and how I understand the Bible can best be described as postmillennial.

Considering that divorce and remarriage is adultery, and those who practice adultery will not inherit the kingdom of God, and a majority of Christians currently do not preach or practice discipline on this issue, I think it’s a strategic mistake to unduly focus on secondary and tertiary doctrinal differences between fellow Christians who are fighting against the greatest heresy of our time. It’s like being part of the Allied Invasion of Normandy, traversing the beach in a hail of Nazi machine gun fire, noticing an Allied soldier from another platoon wearing boots that are out of standard Army regulation, and shooting him in the head for doing so.  I would describe everything Mr. Novotnak brings up, particularly eschatology, boots that aren’t standard issue – secondary or tertiary doctrine. Is it really wise to get in a huff over these things? However, I also appreciate the fact that Mr. Novotnak believes the problems in the Church or more structurally entrenched than merely divorce and remarriage, and so his alarmist tone is understandable. For now, I would simply disagree with him on this point and possibly address it in another post. Let’s stick with the end times stuff.

There is deluge of words that could be said about all these things, but I will try to limit myself in responding to what Mr. Novotnak has written in attempt to achieve at least understanding of each other, if not agreement. Mr. Novotnak writes, “But the Lord also answers questions from his disciples about the times of the end. (Matthew 24) It is clear to my understanding that before the Lord Jesus Christ returns, there will be apostasy and a falling away just as in the times of Noah (Matthew 24:37),  and Paul also tells us about the “last days” in 2 Timothy. (2 Timothy 3:1-7)” It seems to me that Mr. Novotnak has done little to understand the exegetical reasons for why someone might disagree with his eschatology. This can be easily clarified by saying that I believe most of the “last days” language in the New Testament and particularly Matthew 24 are in reference to the last days of the Old Covenant era and the beginning of the New Covenant, Messianic, Kingdom era. And that the tribulation and judgment referred to is usually, but not always, in reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Matthew 24 is a great example of this.

I didn’t become postmil by encountering a system and then trying to get the Bible to fit the system, I became postmil by trying to understand the Bible, and then realizing there is a label for how I understand the Bible. Premil explanations of passages like Matthew 24 and other New Testament passages that I was taught were about the end of the space time universe simply weren’t convincing to me. So, let’s look at a few of these passages, starting with Matthew 24.

First, what is being discussed at the beginning of Matthew 24? “Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, ‘Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.’” (Matthew 24:1-2) Jesus is making a prophetic statement about the destruction of Jerusalem, and particularly the temple. Then his disciples ask him to elaborate. “Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?’” (Matthew 24:3 – the greek word for age here is αἰῶνος or aionos, aion, which can be translated as world or age, doesn’t matter) They ask Jesus about the destruction of the temple, which is described as “the sign of Your coming, and the end of the age.” They don’t ask Jesus to tell them about the destruction of Jerusalem and then the end of the space time universe, or Left Behind movie conceptions of the rapture, which is how most modern readers take this verse because they are thinking in modernistic categories, and not in Biblical categories.

Let me explain further. The Jews believed in the age of the law and the age of the Messiah. When they ask when the end of the age is going to happen, they aren’t asking about the end of the world in its entirety, they are asking about the end of the Old Covenant World. They are asking about the end of the age of Mosaic law. And what better sign of the age of the Mosaic law than the destruction of the Temple, which Jesus had just mentioned in the previous verse, and which Jesus goes on to prophesy about for the rest of this passage? Jesus doesn’t say, “Good question guys, but let me just tell you about the end of the entire world instead.” There is little in the text that indicates this if you are thinking in thoroughly Biblical categories. Let me explain some more.

Consider the decreational language Jesus employs in verse 29. “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.” He says the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give her light, and the stars will even fall from heaven. I still see the stars in the sky, so this must be a prophecy that’s going to happen in the future. Right? Wrong. We only think this because we aren’t reading these prophecies as the Bible would have us read them.

The way Jesus prophesies the destruction of Jerusalem corresponds almost identically to the way prophets in the Old Testament prophesied the destruction of nations or cities, which employed the same metaphorical decreational language. In Genesis we are told that the stars in the sky were put there to rule the night and day. (Genesis 1:14-18) The celestial lights represent rule, governance, authority. In these prophecies the destruction of celestial governance symbolizes the destruction of human governance.

Consider the prophet Isaiah.

The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw.

 Behold, the day of the Lord comes,
cruel, with wrath and fierce anger,
to make the land a desolation
and to destroy its sinners from it.
For the stars of the heavens and their constellations
will not give their light;
the sun will be dark at its rising,
and the moon will not shed its light.
I will punish the world for its evil,
and the wicked for their iniquity;
I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant,
and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless. (Isaiah 13:1, 9-11)

Isaiah is saying the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light, the sun will be dark, the moon will be dark, he will restore justice and punish the world for its evil. All of this is described as the day of the Lord, yet, we are told that this is a prophecy concerning Babylon! This sounds like a prophecy of the end of the world, of Jesus’s Second Coming, but it’s not. We are explicitly told it’s a prophecy that anticipates something that has already happened in history. Babylon is destroyed by the Assyrians in 689 BC by Sennacherib, and 539 BC by the Persians, Cyrus the Mede.

Okay, that’s just one prophecy. Maybe it’s a one off kind of thing. Oh wait, here’s another.

The Prophet Ezekiel: “In the twelfth year, in the twelfth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, raise a lamentation over Pharaoh king of Egypt and say to him:

‘When I blot you out, I will cover the heavens
and make their stars dark;
I will cover the sun with a cloud,
and the moon shall not give its light.
All the bright lights of heaven
will I make dark over you,
and put darkness on your land,
declares the Lord God.'” (Ezekiel 32:1,7-8)

Sun, moon, and stars going dark. Sounds familiar, yeah? Is Ezekiel prophesying Jesus’s Second Coming? Nope, it’s about Egypt. Egypt is destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar the Babylon in 605 BC.

And another.

The Prophet Amos: “The words of Amos…which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake…

And on that day, declares the Lord God,
‘I will make the sun go down at noon
and darken the earth in broad daylight.'” (Amos 1:1; 8:9)

Universal decreational language, again, in reference to a particular judgment in history of a particular region and people. Northern Israel is destroyed by Assyria in 722 BC.

Another.

The Prophet Joel: “The earth quakes before them;
the heavens tremble.
The sun and the moon are darkened,
and the stars withdraw their shining. (Joel 2:10)

More decreational language. However, we only know that the prophecies here are directed toward “the inhabitants of the land.” (Joel 1:2) There is necessarily a specific time frame of judgment here, except that we do know parts of Joel is fulfilled at Pentecost. Peter says, “‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh.” (Acts 2:17) He then goes on to quote Joel extensively. Notice when this is happening – in the last days! When were the last days according to Peter? 2,000 years ago. Peter explicitly relates the events of Pentecost 2,000 years ago to the “last days” prophecies of Joel. Uh oh, that doesn’t help with an eschatology that is largely informed by Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series does it? No, it doesn’t. 

Paul, like Peter, also says of himself and the Corinthians that they are living in the last days, or more specifically “the end of the ages.” After citing examples of Israel in the Exodus and wilderness, he says, “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” (1 Corinthians 10:11) Isn’t the end of the ages supposed to come in 2025 or something? What is Hal Lindsey predicting these days? I know it’s hard for us not to narcissistically read these passages and think Paul is talking about 21st Century America, but once you wrench yourself from that paradigm, and simply read Scripture on its own terms, it becomes clear that many of our eschatological conceptions are more informed by what we watch on the news and the Left Behind series than they are from Scripture itself.

What about Revelation? Isn’t Revelation about Russian attack helicopters and some one world Anti-Christ or something? I mean, Revelation is clearly a prophecy about the end of time as we know it. It probably says the things prophesied there will take place in the distant future from when it was written, right? Let’s check. Uh, well, maybe, err…It says the Revelation given to John are of “things which must shortly take place…for the time is near.” (Revelation 1:1-2) ““These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place. Behold, I am coming quickly.” (Revelation 22:6-7) When Daniel prophesies about Alexander the Great and Antiochus Epiphanes, which culminated 400 years later from the time Daniel wrote about it, he is told to “seal up the vision, for it refers to many days from now.” (Daniel 8:26) But John is told, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.” (Revelation 22:10) This indicates that the prophecies in Revelation were at least to occur within 400 years of John writing them. I submit to you that they occurred within a few years of him writing them.

What about the date of John being post AD 70. Comes from an obscure reference in Irenaeus’ Against Heresies which could be interpreted to mean a number of things. It isn’t definitive. All internal evidence, like the fact that the temple is still standing in Revelation, points to a pre AD 70 date. What about a day is like a 1,000 years and a 1,000 years like a day for the Lord. Yup, that’s true. But you have to ignore all the evidence that points to these prophecies being about the destruction of Jerusalem, and abandon a more natural and Biblically consistent and informed reading of these prophecies.

I want to return to the Olivet Discourse, but let me make a few remarks about Revelation. The book is a highly symbolic and difficult book to understand. I don’t have it all figured out and any eschatology that has Revelation as its starting point already is making things difficult for itself. My understanding of eschatology comes from looking at the entire Bible and trying to harmonize everything. With that said, a few things to consider about Revelation. As we mentioned already, we are explicitly told that the things in the book are going to happen soon. There is no mention of an anti-Christ anywhere in Revelation, only a beast. Anti-Christ is mentioned only mentioned in 1 John and John defines anti-Christ as a spirit that denies that Jesus came in the flesh. (1 John 4:3) There seems to be a lot of confusion which clumps the beast together with the anti-Christ spirit, so I figured I clear that up. Much of Revelation also lines up nicely with historical realities in the first century. Check out the gematria explanation of 666 as Caesar Nero. Nero’s reign fits well with Revelation 17:9. “The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits. There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time.” Rome was known as the city built on seven hills. There were five Caesars prior to Nero. Five have fallen – Julius, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, one is – Nero, and the other has not yet come. And when comes, he must continue a short time – Galba, who only reigned for seven months and seven days. Lastly, I believe that Satan is bound now as it says in Revelation 20, but that binding is qualified in Revelation 20:3, which states that he is no longer able to deceive the nations. Jesus says all authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to Him. How many nations worshiped the true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prior to Christ? One. The rest were under the authority of the evil one. That changed with Christ. How many nations have millions of people who worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob since Christ? Many, just as the Bible promises. 

Despite how grim things are now, I don’t know how anyone can study history and not see how clearly Christianity has been dominating for the past 2,000 years. The Kingdom of God ebbs and flows and has peaks and valleys. It doesn’t ascend like a rocket ship or an escalator. It grows like tree which weathers storms and gets pruned, loses branches, grafts in new branches, grows so large that “that the birds come and perch in its branches.” (Matthew 13:32) It is like ascending a mountain which has crags and crevices and valleys. We can be 8,000 feet up the eschatological mountain, and when we fall down a 50 foot crag we all forget that we’ve ascended 7,950 feet. We deny that the mountain exists at all, and that the only thing that exists are cliffs and blackholes. And we launch into an evangelical version of existential despair wherby we cry “Maranatha!” But Jesus has told us that He is already with us as we ascend this mountain and that it’s not a vain endeavor, but one which does see the view from the peak.

I believe that most of Revelation can be understood preteristically with the exception of most of the last two chapters, which I believe are in reference to the culmination of the new heavens and the new earth and Christ’s eternal reign of heaven on earth. But I also believe there is a lot in Revelation that is difficult to understand. I’m not laying out a precise chart for how I think things will happen. I’m not coming at this with a “I know exactly what everything in the Bible means” attitude. I’m simply pointing out that when Mr. Novotnak dismisses my eschatological position as being unBiblical, he appears to not have understood the exegetical reasoning behind my position, which is overwhelmingly Biblical. I’m not saying I’m totally right and everyone else is wrong. I recognize these issues to be extraordinarily complex and I don’t get in a huff over people who view these things differently. I’m happy to have the disagreement and still be in charitable unity. I’m also fine with saying I don’t have all these things figured out. I enjoy resting on the mystery of passages that still remain enigmatic to my mind. So, I’m not interested in getting into an eschatological cafeteria food fight. I’m simply presenting my position as a reasonable one.

After Jesus prophesies what some interpret as his second coming and the end of the space time universe, Jesus says, “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” (Matthew 24:34) What makes more sense? That by “generation” Jesus means over 2,000 years later and hundreds of literal generations or by “generation” Jesus means exactly that. If we take the latter meaning, it very easily fits in with the interpretation that Jesus began prophesying about the destruction of Jerusalem and continued to reinforce this prophecy throughout the passage since many of the hearers of the prophecy would have been witness to its fulfillment exactly 40 years later. 

Jesus begins the Olivet Discourse prophesying about the destruction of Jerusalem, his subsequent prophecies reinforce this idea throughout the passage by using the same celestial decreational language as Old Testament prophets who also prophesied concerning the destruction of particular nations or people, and He tells his hearers that they would witness the fulfillment of everything he prophesied to them in the passage. This is reinforced by the the Apostles, Peter and Paul who explicitly identify themselves as living in the last days, and John whose prophecies in Revelation we are explicitly told in numerous places will take place soon, and implicitly told this in comparison to Daniel’s prophecies.

There are many other things Mr. Novotnak brought up in his blog which demonstrates that he does not understand my position or has ascribed things to me that I do not believe. Perhaps I will more thoroughly address these in another post, but for now I’ll simply bring up the fact that I place guys like Instone-Brewer and Craig Keener in the position of the Benjamites of Judges 19, which I refer to as a wolf in the book. There are dozens of examples of me giving very severe chastisement and evil categorization to these men. And so, the reader should read my book and decide for themselves if I only think they are a little misguided.

I appreciate Mr. Novotnak as a brother in Christ and one who has fought hard battles that many Christian men have not. I hope this blog and perhaps subsequent blogs will only bring more charity and clarity between us and those who read Contra Mundum Swagger.

The Faith of Gideon

Text: Judges 6:28-40

Gideon, it seems to me, is more popularly known for fighting the Midianites, but I think this episode of baal destruction within Israel is one of the things that Paul has in mind when he mentions Gideon in Hebrews 11. It is illustrative of the kind of faith described there. How so?

Well, at this point in Israel’s history, as with many other points, the wisest men in Israel were fools, and all gave their approval to unlawful public worship. And not only did they give their approval, they facilitated it. And everyone else slavishly followed along. Consequently, Israel got shellacked. Midian was kicking their tail. So, why didn’t anyone do anything? We all would like to think we would have done something. That we would have been like Gideon. But consider this. When Gideon finally did something, everyone wanted to put a bullet in his head. And Gideon knew he was going to piss everyone off. That’s why he tore the altar down at night. But he didn’t know specifically what was going to happen. He could have been killed. He could have been ostracized. He could have been disowned by his family. He could have lost any number of things.

But faith doesn’t consider those things. Faith doesn’t look at the outcomes, which are usually horrifying, and then decide how to act. Faith looks at what God would have you do, and then act with absolute indifference to the consequences. And that’s where amazing things happen. It’s magic. And to the spiritually naïve, this looks like suicide, it looks like crucifixion without resurrection. It fails to see that this is how God operates in history over and over and over again.

And this type of faith is how you are to live. You are to live with a recklessness that places everything precious to you on an altar called obedience. So do it. Crucify yourself. Crucify your fear of men. Crucify your reasonableness. Reasonable men have never done anything great for the kingdom. But faithful men have.

Mat and Nichole’s Wedding

Ephesians 5:22-33
Homily

In the reading of Scripture, Paul quotes Genesis. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Paul goes back to creation in his exposition of marriage. When Jesus teaches about marriage He goes back to creation. The basis for the teachings on marriage are grounded in the Edenic created order. In the paradise of the Garden, God puts Adam to sleep and takes a rib from his side in order to form his bride– Eve. Now, at this point, you may be thinking to yourself, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. We know this story. We’ve heard this before. So what?” And I would understand, so I want to point out that this event is gospel. Sleep is often used synonymously with death in Scripture. And so this event with Adam, sleeping, his side, Adam’s awakening, and Eve is nothing less than a foreshadowing of Christ and the Church. Christ dies/sleeps on the cross, where He is pierced in His side, from His side He is poured out, and when He resurrects from the dead, when He wakes from His sleep after three days, the Church begins to form. His Bride is formed from this event. Additionally, John’s visions on Patmos in Revelation teach us that Christ will return at the end of history for His bride and she will be beautiful, and her beauty will be the righteous acts of the saints.

And so we see that marriage is found in the beginning of history in Genesis, it is found in the middle of history with Jesus’ death and resurrection, and it is also found in the end of history in Revelation. Marriage is woven into the tapestry of redemptive history. Marriage is gospel, and the gospel is marriage. And this marriage is part of that gospel. Meaning that the vows about to be taken must abide in that gospel. Jesus will never abandon the church, because he has declared as much. And thus the declaration of fidelity by Mat and Nichole must reflect the same. Put simply, they must be like Jesus, or even more simply, they must be Christians.

Jesus and the Apostle Paul teach us that the covenant of marriage is for life and can only be broken by death, and there are no exceptions. Should your reaction to this be characterized by disparaging and sarcastic thoughts, well, let me be the first to say you’re a fake, a pretender. You’re pretending. But we are not pretending. We are not pretending that this marriage covenant is for life. We actually believe it, not as an ideal, but as a fact. Jesus declares that, “What God has joined together let no man separate.” This is not merely prescriptive. This is descriptive. Meaning Jesus is describing laws of the universe that are as fixed as the laws of physics. And you say, well, what about this, what about that, and what about these circumstances, you don’t understand, you’re not being realistic, all of this under the pretense of a bastardized version of grace, and Jesus says, “From the beginning it was not so.” Jesus has come to restore humanity and to establish His kingdom, and His kingdom is glorious and beautiful. And if the decrees of His kingdom are offensive to your sensibilities, then go build your own. You can pretend to have sovereignty over your own kingdom, but it will be ugly, and will eventually burn. But if you want to be part of a glorious and eternal kingdom, you will abide in Jesus, you will abide and delight in His commandments.

Charge for Mathew

And so Mathew, I charge you first because God created Adam first to be the guardian and protector of his wife, and because you as the husband are to be the head of Nichole as Jesus is the head of the Church. Therefore, love Nichole as Jesus has loved you and gave his life for you. Give your life sacrificially to her. Die to yourself. Die to every aspect of you that wants to remain by itself. In marriage you are one, and the Mathew Szula that walked in here is not going to be the same Mathew Szula that will walk out.

Sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of the Word. Lead her in feasting on the Word of God. Lead her by your example. Do the will of your Father in heaven, as Jesus’ very sustenance was not merely temporal food, but His food was doing the will of His Father. Live with Nichole in an understanding way, and show her honor, so that your prayers will not be hindered. Mathew, everyone here knows that you are a man’s man. You were the star middle linebacker in college, you are decisive in your deliberation, you eat bacon, drink beer, and I’ve never seen you wear skinny jeans. So, I want to stress the point that Peter makes to husbands – and that is to be gentle with their wives. To cater to that feminine dimension which Nichole will be joining to you. By doing this you will be reflecting the image of God, for Genesis says that God created man in His image – male and female he created them. So, be steadfast in your example, your leadership, your faithfulness, your sacrifices, and your gentleness. By doing this you will love Nichole, just as Christ love the Church.

Charge for Nichole

Nichole, I charge you second because we save the best for last. In a sense this true, I charge you second because God created Eve second from Adam as the culmination of creation. But Eve was not taken from the feet of Adam to be his slave, nor from his head to be his ruler, but from his side to be his companion. However, I am not charging you as a daughter of Eve, but as a daughter of the Church, which Paul says in Galatians, is the mother of us all. You are not to be like your mother Eve, but you are to be like your mother the Church. You are to submit to Mathew, as the Church is to submit to the Lord. Jesus is the head of the Church, and Mathew in marriage is the head of Nichole. The thing that is difficult with submission, is that it’s often not submission, if it’s what you want to do anyway. And so you submit in the things that you may not want to, not because you’re trusting Mat, but because you’re trusting the Lord, that His words are true and beneficial and life giving. Sarah submitted to Abraham when Abraham did some bonehead things, and yet the Lord protected her. In fact, Peter says, “You are her daughter if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.” And Peter also says that by your respect for Mat and pure conduct, you will win him over when he’s not being obedient to the word. A gentle and quiet spirit is a winsome and beautiful thing. Everyone here can see that you are beautiful, but I exhort you to be intentional about evidencing Biblical beauty to Mathew. Strive for this beauty because it is precious in the sight of our Father.

So, be steadfast in your example, your submission, your sanctification, and your faithfulness, by doing this you will be a good wife to Mathew and you will properly display the beauty and glory of being a daughter of Sarah, a daughter of the Church, and a daughter of your Father in Heaven.

Charge for Both

I charge you both to keep the Lord as your primary love. C. S. Lewis once said that when first things are put first, second things are not suppressed, but increased. This means that loving God will not take away your love from each other, but will only increase it. And the less you love God, the less you will love each other. He will give you the strength to keep the commitment you’re about to make. So, love God like crazy, and love each other like crazy. Love the Lord so that other people will want it. Love each other so that your marriage will cause an unbelieving and cynical world to cover their mouths, and like Job say, I have spoken too soon. Make your marriage appealing to the world. In this, you will be making the gospel appealing to the world.

Encouragement and Reflections from a Christian Friend

Brandon asked that I give a short exordium entitled Encouragement and Reflections from a Christian Friend

And so I want to do that. Brandon is my friend and I am a Christian. So it works out quite well. Brandon and I became friends at Hillsdale College. We were both drawn to the life of thought and letters and what that means as a Christian. And as I was thinking about what to say about marriage today I kept coming back to this combination – the contemplative life and the life of a Christian. Let me explain.

Brandon has a knack for writing and a sweet tooth for good literature. I’m also the kind of person who enjoys having pages flick my fingers. This is something Brandon and I have in common because it allows us to enter into what the Western tradition has called the Great Conversation. This conversation asks questions like, “What is good? What is true? And what is beautiful?” This conversation has been carrying on by intellectual giants for several millennia. But here’s where being a Christian changes things. Being a Christian means more than merely entering into conversation. Being a Christian is less about entering into a great conversation and more about entering into a great gospel brawl. Being a Christian means entering into warfare. But how does warfare relate to marriage?

In Genesis 3:15, God promises to pick a fight with Satan – that serpent, or that dragon whom Adam failed to fight against. God says concerning His Son, the Second Adam, that, “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” This is the first whisper of Christ’s victory on the cross. And it is more than mere whisper. It is God trashing talking the opposing team. He is taunting the bad guys. He is saying, “I am going to kill you and I’m going to get the girl you tried to kill.” And how does He do this? He does it by sacrificing Himself. He does it by letting a mob, a pretentious religious elite, an abdicating Roman prefect, and knuckle dragging soldiers, beat him, mock him, spit on him, and nail him to a piece of wood for the sake of his girl. This is good news – this is Gospel. Because all of us are that girl, in that all of us need saving, but all of us are also the brawlers in that all of us in the Church as the Body of Christ are participating in overcoming the Evil One, the serpent, or as John says that murderer from the beginning.

But how are we conquering?

Through things like this, today. God has instituted this Gospel story in little bite-size chunks called marriage. Every individual marriage is like a preview to a really great movie. If done right, you’re going to want to see the whole thing. Or like a quote from a really great book. If it’s appealing enough, you’re going to want to read the whole book. Marriage is a symbolic representation of the union between Jesus Christ and His Church. Paul says this is mystery, but it is a mystery that has been embedded in the story of mankind since creation – it is the story of the Bible. It is the foundational story of every great story ever told. It is the story of killing the dragon and getting the girl.

Let’s pray: Father, we thank you for giving us the opportunity to witness the covenant between Brandon and Jenna. We thank you that you that you sent your Son, the Second Adam to fight and win where the First Adam was passive and lost. We thank you that you’ve instituted marriage to be a proclamation of life and good news to a dying and hopeless world. We ask that you bless the union of Brandon and Jenna and that their union would be living proof of the joy found in your Son and His Bride the Church.

Excommunication: Laboring for Joy and Restoration

Lamentations 2:1-9, 14-17

2 Corinthians 1:23-2:11

Anyone who has been part of a business, sports team, class project, social club, any organization made up of other human beings knows the difficulty of harmonious interaction. Church life is no different. It isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. I remember my grandfather, who is a pastor, tell me, “To dwell with the saints above, that’ll be glory, but to dwell with the saints below, that’s another story.” It is another story. One that has needlessly strained relationships because of sin, but sometimes it has strained relationships because it’s a design feature that God has embedded in the church to deal with sin. If you’ve ever known someone who has been excommunicated, the relationship between that person and the rest of the body can be strained, awkward, non-existent, or maybe just bitter. How do you interact with someone in this position? And what’s the purpose of this seemingly harsh, yet instituted, church function?

This is what Paul is dealing with in Corinth. He wants to make it clear that his instruction to excommunicate an incestuous member of the congregation was not done to cause anyone pain. He wasn’t being a bully. He wasn’t being mean. It was done to demonstrate his love for them. He says, “we work with you for your joy.” The Corinthians obeyed his instruction to exercise church discipline, and Paul says this punishment by the majority was enough, indicating that the desired effect had been achieved – repentance of the immoral believer. But with regards to follow on actions by the church, the Corinthians seemed to have missed the point – his restoration. His restoration to fellowship and the restoration of his joy was the point. Paul says, “Forgive him and comfort him…I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.” Paul is laboring for their joy in all these things because he loves them.

This is how God works. This is how He works with us individually, and we see it on the corporate level as well. The Lord disciplines those whom He loves. And He chastens every son whom He receives. And so it is with church discipline. As students of New Saint Andrews, you will most likely be involved in church life at some level, and you need to ensure yourselves and everyone involved in such gritty affairs that discipline is gospel. That the goal of discipline is restoration and joy. And the governing principle for reaching that goal is love.

Ends of the Earth

Incarnational Words

Exhortation delivered at New Saint Andrews College Morning Prayer February 24, 2014

Proverbs 3:11-20
I John 3:18-4:6

By wisdom the Lord founded the Earth, by understanding he established the Heavens; by his knowledge the deep broke open, and the clouds dropped down the dew. Think about what’s going on there. While still maintaining an element of mystery, we see a connection of understanding, knowledge, and wisdom with implementation, action, and things happening. Cause and effect. The Lord has wisdom – he founded the Earth. The Lord has understanding – he establishes the Heavens. The attributes of God tangibly express themselves. They are incarnational. Things about God do not exist purely in an abstract, Platonic way. They have manifested themselves to us in the things that we see.

So, when John tells us not to love in word or talk, but in deed and truth, we’re being God-imitators. God’s Word became flesh. God’s Word didn’t stay word. It manifested itself by doing things in the world that we see. So all of our talk, all of our words, all of our, for example, “I love you’s,” are a type of “in the beginning was the Word.” In the beginning was the proposition “I love you,” but it can’t simply stop there. It must not stop there. It has to manifest itself into things seen. So, the question becomes how does your “I love you” become flesh? How does it manifest itself in what it does?

You, as NSA students, are particularly blessed to be in this community. And you will no doubt walk away with a lot of knowledge and a lot of understanding. You’re growing in these things daily, and for you to even be here indicates that you have a measure of these things already. I’m continually astounded by the level of ability which NSA students possess. It’s humbling to me. So the exhortation is this: take that knowledge, take that understanding and don’t keep it to yourself. Don’t restrict that understanding to formal abstractions. Do something with it. Find ways to serve, to love your friends, family, church better. Find ways to do this and as John says, “you will know that you’re of the truth and you will reassure your heart before God.”

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