Traveling on God’s Road

April 26, 2013

Whose road are you on?

Scripture often compares life to traveling:

  • We are to take care how we walk (Ephesians 5:15), not walking in the counsel of wicked (Psalm 1:1);
  • men often judge a particular road to be right, but it leads instead to death (Proverbs 14:12);
  • when God’s people turn off of His road, He will call to them, “This is the way, walk in it!” (Isaiah 30:21).

Among the many other comparisons of life to a journey is Psalm 25:8-10. To help us in our American context to capture the sense, I’ll change all instances of “way” or “path” to “road:”

Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the road. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his road.  All the roads of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

Consider this image: You are driving down the highway of life. You think you know the right directions. You think you know the most desirable destination. You’ve packed your bags; you’ve filled up the tank; you’re on your way. But God’s GPS – that is, the Scriptures – instruct you: “You’re on the wrong road! Your directions are wrong; even your destination is wrong! This is not the road to life; this is not the road to joy; this is the road to everlasting pain and sorrow, to lack of fulfillment and lack of purpose, to eternal rebellion and loss.”

  • Will you say, “Oh, that old GPS! It’s outdated! It’s unaware of recent road improvements!”
  • Will you say, “Ha! Never rely on a GPS when you’ve got a brain! I know shortcuts no one else has even discovered!”
  • Will you say, “I know what destination will really give me joy, and no one else can possibly know better!”

Or will you humble yourself before God’s GPS?

How do we do that?

Isaiah 66:2 uses the same Hebrew word for “humble:”

This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.

To be humble is to confess that we do not and cannot know the right road apart from God’s GPS, God’s Word, God’s Scripture. To be humble is to acknowledge that all His directions lead us on roads of lovingkindness, roads of covenant faithfulness, roads of joy, roads of life – even when they lead initially to hardship and persecution. To be humble is not to be “overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance” (as a major lectionary defines the Greek translation of the Hebrew word in Psalm 25).

In commenting on verse 9, Charles Spurgeon writes:

[The humble] know their need of guidance, and are willing to submit their own understandings to the divine will, and therefore the Lord condescends to be their guide. . . . Proud of their own wisdom, fools will not learn, and therefore miss their road to heaven.

So: Whose road are you on? Whose directions are you following?

God has given us His GPS. He tells us to drive on His roads. He knows what is around the corner, what is past the next town. The road may be potholed; the pavement may be cracked. But He promises that, whatever their appearance, all His roads are steadfast love and faithfulness.

Will you then humble yourself, and travel on His roads?

 

Will You Love Jahar Tsarnaev?

April 21, 2013

On Monday, they were just terrorists.

I ran Boston in 1979. I lived in Massachusetts for 12 years. For me, Boston, rather than the Masters, is “a tradition like no other.”

Monday I watched the last hour of the elite race online. I enjoyed it, but turned off the computer after the top 10 finished.

So when a friend called me at 4 and said, offhandedly, “I guess you know about the bombs in Boston,” I was floored. Bombs? At the marathon? Who would do something like this?

Terrorists. Only terrorists.

Friday morning, I wrote about the bombing for the blog. By that time, we knew something about the terrorists. They now had names. A nationality. They were brothers. They were athletes. The younger brother was an excellent student.

We also got a glimpse of the alienation of the older brother, Tamerlan. Several years ago, he wrote: “I don’t have a single American friend, I don’t understand them.”

That resonated with me. Three weeks ago, the Saturday before Easter, I met a Nepali man who had been in the US for almost four years. During that time he had only cursory interactions with Americans. He had never been in an American’s home. I asked him if he knew why he had Good Friday off of work. He said, “I think it has something to do with eggs and rabbits.” The name “Jesus” was vaguely familiar, but he didn’t know who He was. He had no inkling about the Gospel – until that day.

It sounds like Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s experience was similar.

At lunchtime on Friday I turned on the radio, and heard program host and Boston resident Robin Young say, “Some of us have found out that we know these boys.” I was intrigued, and kept listening. It turns out the younger brother, called Jahar by his friends, wrestled on a high school team with Robin Young’s nephew. They were good friends. Jahar had been the life of a party that Robin held for her nephew in her home.

As information streamed in over the internet, I noticed their birthdays. Jahar is 11 months younger than my son Matthew. Sixteen months older than Joel. Tamerlan was a few months younger than my son Jonathan.

That Friday afternoon something clicked in my heard. These two were no longer defined by the word “terrorist.” They were no longer abstractions. They were people. They were individuals. They were persons with birthdays and high school friends. They were the life of the party or the quiet kid in the corner.

All that – yet of greater importance:

Tamerlan and Jahar Tsarnaev were made in the image of God.

And: they murdered and maimed others made in the image of God. They committed an act of terrorism. By so doing they had made themselves my enemies, your enemies, our country’s enemies.

Enemies, yes.

And Jesus said:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.  (Matthew 5:43-45)

Yesterday evening, I was praying about whether to preach this sermon or the one I had planned. Driving home from a meeting about 8, flipping through radio stations, I heard a host reading emails from listeners. Each was suggesting what should be done to Jahar when he is convicted. One wrote: “Remember the end of Braveheart, when Mel Gibson is disemboweled?” I can’t even repeat some of the others.

We need to hear God’s Word on this issue.

How do we wrap our minds around this?

How do we love those who have committed such heinous acts?

What is the relationship between such love and love for the victims of their crimes?

What is the relationship between such love and a longing for justice?

Loving Your Enemy: Eight Propositions

1) If we are to love our enemies, surely we are to love those who are NOT our enemies but resemble our enemies.

In this case: Who resembles Tamerlan and Jahar?

The foreigners around us. International students. Refugees. Especially: The Muslims around us.

  • No one is your enemy BECAUSE HE IS A MUSLIM
  • No one is your enemy BECAUSE HE IS A FOREIGNER
  • No one is your enemy because of language or ethnicity or dress or skin color

We must never treat anyone as an enemy because he looks like or talks like someone who is our enemy.

Rather: Can we love and care for and show hospitality to those who resemble our enemies?

Scripture is quite clear on this:

You must regard the foreigner who lives with you as the native-born among you. You are to love him as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.  (Leviticus 19:34)

Love those who resemble your enemies.

2) To love your enemies is not to deny that they are your enemies

Jesus does NOT say: “No one is your enemy. We’re all just one big happy family.”

Jesus had enemies. They tortured Him. They killed Him.

We have enemies. Indeed, Jesus prophesied:

Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. (Matthew 24:9)

Once Tamerlan and Jahar decided to commit an act of terror, they became our enemies. Nothing is accomplished by denying that.

More broadly: A small number of Muslims from around the world has become radicalized. These few want to do all they can to wreak murder and mayhem. Those who are taking steps in this direction are our enemies.

Government is charged with helping us to live peaceful and quiet lives, and thus to protect us from enemies. We are charged to pray for government leaders and officials as they take on this difficult task.

We do have enemies.

3) To love your enemies is not to hope against justice

We must long for justice. We must long for every sin to be paid for, for every wrong to be righted.

God is a just God. He is the moral authority in the universe. He guarantees that the right punishment will be rendered for every sin.

In Revelation 6:9-10, John sees “under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne.  They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”

God doesn’t tell them: “O, don’t long for justice; love your enemies!”

They are right to long for justice – EVEN as they love their enemies.

So in Jahar’s case, love does not imply that we must hope for a lenient sentence, or no sentence at all. We hope for justice – not against it.

4) To love your enemies is perfectly consistent with loving your enemies’ victims

Sometimes in our politics we become advocates, on the one hand, of victims rights, and advocates, on the other hand, of rights of the accused.

Jesus tells us to be advocates for both.

We are to love our enemies AND we are to love EVERY neighbor as we love ourselves. That surely includes our neighbors who are victims.

And so: pray for the families and friends of Lu Lingzi, Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Sean Collier. Pray for the seriously wounded, including Richard Donohue, tThe officer critically injured in the Thursday night shootout.

Love the victims.

In propositions five to eight, we turn to how we should see our enemies – in particular, how we see Jahar Tsarnaev today.

5) To love your enemies is to see them as fundamentally like yourself.

What is true of you fundamentally?

What is true of Jahar Tsarnaev fundamentally?

What does Scripture say?

  • You and Jahar are made in the image of God
  • You and Jahar are made to glorify Him
  • You and Jahar have rebelled against God
  • You and Jahar deserve His judgment
  • You and Jahar can do NOTHING to make up for your sins, to pay the penalty for your sins
  • And God so loved you and Jahar – that He sent His one and only Son to die so that you might be forgiven by grace through faith

If you have not turned to God in repentance, with faith in Christ, you stand before God in exactly the same way as Jahar Tsarnaev. For as James tells us, “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10).

Should Jahar turn to Christ, he will stand before God FULLY cleansed – just as clean as anyone in this room, despite the enormity of His sins. For the blood of Jesus is able to wash clean even the vilest of sins.

And if that should happen – JUSTICE WILL HAVE BEEN DONE. For the penalty that Jesus paid – the beatings and whippings and overwhelming flood of God’s wrath that Jesus endured on the cross – is sufficient to satisfy the requirements of justice.

At root, Jahar and you stand before God in exactly the same way:

  • Apart from the blood of Christ: Without hope
  • Covered with the blood of Christ: Completely forgiven

6) To love your enemies is to be like God in showing mercy and kindness to the undeserving, because God showed mercy and kindness to you, the undeserving

Jahar does not deserve mercy. He certainly showed no mercy to his victims.

And our government, our court system, is under no obligation to show mercy. Rather, government is set up by God as His “servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4).

But what about you and me?

Acts like the bombing can lead to righteous anger on our part: An anger at the undermining of what is right and good; a steady, certain, deliberate intention to exercise justice. Such anger is consistent with loving our enemies.

But when that anger morphs into hatred, into a desire for personal vengeance, into the sorts of expressions I heard on the radio last night, we have sinned. We are not loving our enemies.

To love is to desire what is good AND TO DO GOOD for our enemies.

Remember what Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:45, immediately after telling us to love our enemies, and thus to be sons of our heavenly Father:  “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. “

Consider: God gives sun and rain and life and breath every minute of every day to people who hate Him!

God gave YOU sun and rain and life and breath every minute of every day to YOU WHILE you were under His condemnation – when you deserved death!

We are to be LIKE GOD in DOING AND DESIRING GOOD for our enemies.

Specifically, we are to desire the good Paul speaks of in 2 Timothy 2:25-26: We are to pray that God might “grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,  and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”

You have received God’s undeserved mercy and kindness when you were His enemy.

Be like Him!

Show undeserved mercy and kindness to your enemies

We’ll consider the last two propositions together:

7) To love your enemies is to see them as potential kings, potential heirs of the earth

8) To love your enemies is to see them as a potential part of the bride of Christ

Jahar Tsarnaev is made in the image of God. He has polluted that image by his sin and rebellion. By God’s grace, that image can shine forth in majesty and beauty.

Jahar Tsarnaev is potentially an heir of the earth (Matthew 5:5).

Jahar Tsarnaev is potentially part of the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-27), dearly loved by Him, indeed, dearly loved by YOU.  As John Newton writes, those who are our enemies now who truly follow Christ will one day be, “Dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now.”

Could that be true of Jahar?

Love Your enemies.

Pray for Those Who Persecute You

As we’ve said, we must pray for justice.

But also: Pray for Jahar.

  • Pray that God would grant him repentance
  • Pray that God would shatter the walls he has built to shield himself from the Gospel
  • Pray that God would protect him from the even greater hardening that could easily occur in custody
  • Pray that our Lord might open His eyes

And who else hates you? Who persecutes you? “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.”

Remember our text Matthew 5:43-48: If we claim to be followers of Christ, if we say to Him “Lord, Lord,” we are to be different. We are to do more than others. We are to take on a family resemblance to Christ. Indeed, we are to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. We are to be agents of God’s mercy.

So: List your enemies.

Some might be abstractions, anonymous groups. But be sure to include individuals: Those who would do you harm if they could. List them. Pray for them.

As for the Boston Bombings:

  • Pray for justice. By all means.
  • Pray for information about contacts with foreign terrorists, if any.
  • Pray for those whom they so cruelly injured.
  • Pray for the families who have lost loved ones
  • And pray for Jahar.

That You May Be Sons of Your Father

God in His mercy has invited you to be His child

  • He has covered your guilt with blood of Jesus
  • He has invited you into His Family
  • He will wipe every tear from your eyes
  • He will love you with an everlasting love
  • You can call Him Daddy
  • He will never leave you nor forsake you

And He enables you to look like Him. He empowers you to display His image. Indeed, He commands you by His power to treat your enemies as He treated you when you were His enemy.

He loved you when you were His enemy.

Will you love your enemies?

Will you love Jahar Tsarnaev?

By a process that we do not yet understand, he became your enemy. He became our enemy.

By a process that God has revealed to us, he can become your brother. May he become our brother.

Love Jahar. Love Your enemy. Pray for those who persecute you.

So that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.

(This is a shortened version of a sermon preached 4/21/13. The audio of the sermon is available here.)

The Boston Marathon Horror: A Response

April 19, 2013

As I write, one alleged Boston Marathon bomber is dead; the other is on the run. Both, apparently, are Muslim; both have been in the US for more than a decade. The younger brother was an excellent, scholarship-winning student and captain of his high school’s wrestling team. The older brother was a boxer.

These young men grew up in schools and in communities like those around Charlotte. They played sports, they hung out with friends, they worked hard in school.

And then they attempted to commit mass murder.

How should we respond to this shocking tragedy?

Here are four biblical guidelines:

First: We all rightly long for justice. Our God is the moral authority in the universe. He will see to it that all sin are paid for, all wrongs duly punished. Vengeance is not in our hands as individuals (Romans 12:19). Our anger and bitterness and vitriol will not effect justice (James 1:20). In the present age, however, God has provided the government to act as His “servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:4)

Second: Your prayers matter. In light of government’s heavy responsibility, the Apostle Paul instructs us:

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

So may we thank God for the hundreds of police who, right now, are tracking down the fugitive – many risking their lives. May we lift up civil servants and political leaders who make decisions about lockdowns and public transport and school closures. May we pray for judges and attorneys should the fugitive be captured and tried. And may this episode end with increased confidence throughout our nation that our authorities will act bravely and professionally to enable us to live peaceful and quiet lives.

Third: Life is fleeting. Lu Lingzi, Martin Richard, and Krystle Campbell woke up this Monday excited to watch friends and loved ones run the Marathon. They had plans for that evening, this weekend, and years into the future. And in a flash, murderers snuffed out their lives.

How long do I have in this world? How long do you? We have no idea. As James tells us:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil (James 4:13-16).

James is not telling us to forget about plans for the future. Rather, we must live knowing that we are dependent, fragile creatures, living and breathing today by the mercy of God. Thus, we should live humbly before the eyes of our all-knowing, all-seeing, all-sovereign Lord, confessing that He knows best, and gladly subjecting ourselves to Him, for His glory.

Finally: Your light matters. The deceased alleged bomber wrote, “I don’t have a single American friend, I don’t understand them.” Note that he came to the US more than ten years ago. Yet Scripture instructs us:

When a foreigner lives with you in your land, you must not oppress him.  You must regard the foreigner who lives with you as the native-born among you. You are to love him as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.  (Leviticus 19:33-34)

What might have happened if a follower of Christ had done unto Tamerlan Tsarnaev as he would that others do to him? How might lives have been changed if followers of Christ had been salt and light in this young man’s life?

And what might happen if you and I love the foreigners among us? If you and I reach out to those who have come to study, to those who have come because of war and chaos, to those who have come because of political oppression?

Our response to this tragedy must not be to shrink back into a fear of foreigners. Our Lord calls us to go, to be light and salt – so that others may see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

Through the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus, we are heirs of eternal life, entrusted with the message of God’s abundant mercy, to be proclaimed to all. May the horror of Boston compel us all the more to be His ambassadors, His heralds, holding out the word of life with love and compassion to all the peoples God has brought to Charlotte.

 

Seeking His Kingdom First and Nurturing Discipleship

April 12, 2013

In Sunday’s sermon, we considered Matthew 6:33: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

In closing, I asked each of us to consider the question: “How do I need to restructure my life so that I am seeking His Kingdom and His righteousness more than all else?”

We need food, drink, clothing, and shelter. Our Lord acknowledges that. But He assures us that “Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”

But we who have come to faith in Christ are not to be like “the Gentiles” – that is, the unbelievers, those who do not know God as Father. Such people logically seek first such necessities. Not so us. If our Father loves us, if He is the sovereign Creator, if He governs the world and feeds the birds and clothes the flowers – these necessities should not be our focus. Much less should the provision of food, clothing, housing, and cars far beyond the level of necessity be our focus. Instead, we must focus on becoming what He intends us to be, on fulfilling His plan for this world.

Over the past year we have developed resources to help us do just that. We desire each person to grow as a disciple; these resources are intended to help us nurture such growth.

Seeking God’s Kingdom and His righteousness is growing as a disciple. Such growth has three dimensions, which we can summarize as knowing, being, and doing:

  • Knowing: God, His Word, and His plan for all nations
  • Being: Conformed to the image of His Son
  • Doing: Glorifying God through life and ministry

We encourage all to read the details of these dimensions here, and to identify components to focus on in the months ahead. We encourage you to spur one another on through partnering with others at DGCC or at likeminded area churches through focusing together on certain components: Reading and discussing a book together, sharing the Gospel together, discipling a new believer together. We pray that in this way we may fulfill Ephesians 4:15-16:

We are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

This does take a commitment of time. No question. Knowing God, being conformed to His Son’s image, and glorifying God in our lives, of necessity require time and energy.

But Jesus says: This is what is most important. This is what is most rewarding. This is what will bring you the greatest joy and the deepest fulfillment. This is what will bring about the greatest accomplishment of all time.

So may we have the wisdom, the courage, and the determination to seek His Kingdom and His righteousness first, and to trust Him to give us whatever we need to fulfill His purposes.