Posts Tagged Life
While the superstore would never ever admit it, what I witnessed this “Black Friday” morning was a major corporation organizing itself in such a way for which the only reasonable explanation is that they do not believe in the “goodness” or in the “reasonableness” of humanity.
I have not done “Black Friday” door buster shopping for probably 14 years. This year, there is one gift (the initials of it are Nintendo Switch) that I rolled out of bed to try to nab. Alas, to no avail, “online special only” I was told.
Upon entering the store, the door buster cohort and I were literally herded (no other appropriate term here) by Walmart shepherds through a single looping one-way street with a towering median of door buster items. Credit goes to the workers for having the median so well-organized. However, this plan was doomed to fail. People are going to cross the median; they are going to go the opposite way in the one way lane; they are going to get to the thing for which they woke up at 4am.
The amazing observation here is that Walmart anticipated this. Not only did they anticipate our/my consumerism would prevail over circumstances of pandemic proportions, but also the powers that be saw the nasty cocktail of “Black Friday” during a pandemic, and said, “Cards on the table; we don’t trust in the orderly goodness of humanity. We will build a wall and corale them into our loopity loop. We’ll station workers like security guards at every 10 yards.” While the superstore executives would never ever say it publicly (nor would the government), actions speak louder than words. Walmart believes in total depravity.
For those reading who are unfamiliar with total depravity, it is the Christian doctrine found in the Bible that teaches that humanity is not always as bad as it can be, but it is as bad off as it possibly could be.” That is to say, at any given moment, human beings by nature possess an indwelling spiritual bankruptcy that has the capability to be and do great evil.
Walmart anticipated this. They acted as one would expect a believer in total depravity to act. Did the superstore’s plan work? Not at all. The plan disintegrated after the first person had to wait at the first turn. People dispersed and broke every law.
Every external law fails to cure or order the totally depraved soul. Law simply can’t do the job. This is why Paul wrote in Romans 8,
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.(Rom. 8:1–6 ESVi)
Only the God of the Bible through the work of Jesus Christ by the power of the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit can resurrect spiritual life in a totally depraved sinner. Jeremiah the prophet asked,
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?(Jer. 17:9 ESVi)
The answer is God.
“I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”(Jer. 17:10 ESVi)
And upon his searches and tests, humanity is found wanting; we are found incurably wounded with a heart that lies to us about our spiritual condition. For this reason, God sent and revealed his Son, as the Nicene Creed teaches,
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven;
he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,
and was made human.
He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried.
The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again with glory
to judge the living and the dead.
His kingdom will never end.
If the Spirit of God is awakening you to the truth of your own depravity (as he did me), then you are ready to receive the good news,
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”(John 3:16 ESVi)
Thanks Walmart. Thanks for reminding us that we really aren’t as good as we think we are. We aren’t okay. We aren’t law abiding, good little boys and girls. We are sinners. Thanks be to God, for he has spoken to us in these last days by his Son, who after making purification for sins, sat down at the right hand of Majesty and now offers to us a life and salvation sweeter than ten thousand charms (and Nintendo Switches). Merry Christmas! Christ has come!
and in the desert, where you saw him carrying you along like a man carries his son. This he did everywhere you went until you came to this very place (Deut 1:31).
Father, today help me to see how you have carried me through many deserts like a father who carries his son. Give me confidence in you as I journey down this rugged road of emptiness. Give me fullness Father – like the fullness you gave to Naomi that she might once again be delightful on the earth.
Recently, I joined some buddies for dinner and a movie. We are all sci-fi fans – even though to be such a fan means that one must deal with the occasional film that is drenched in cheese :). I was expecting exactly that when we decided to watch the new Bruce Willis film Surrogates (see trailer above).
The film was fast – often moving forward to advance the story without stopping to explain details. The action was fair; I for one could have used a little more action emphasizing the superhuman abilities of the surrogates – just for fun. However, it is clear that the minds behind the film wanted to keep things moving. Overall, it wasn’t too heavy on the cheese.
I would like to highlight four features that I found incredibly redemptive: 1) Willis’ desire for and commitment to his wife, 2) the exposure of our lack of integrity in the cyber-world, 3) sin is present in humanity and utterly dark when allowed to reach its full potential, and 4) there is something special about being human. It is clear from the beginning that Willis longs for the real presence of his wife in a world that has chosen to live life in a false reality where any one can be anybody (e.g., a fat, ugly guy can pose as a beautiful, blonde woman by means of his surrogate) and anybody can do anything. Morality and accountability become things of the past. For Willis to remain committed to his wife is heroic in and of itself.
Secondly, the viewer is forced to ask, “am I person of integrity when I roam the online community?” Further, “Is the cyber-world my unrestrained playground, or do my convictions and beliefs in reality extend to the virtual world?” A related concern for me as a student pastor is whether or not we are equipping our tweens and teens to “proceed with caution” during their time online. Online strangers aren’t always who they present themselves to be.
Third, our capacity for evil, if left to our own devices, is grotesque. If this isn’t clear in reality, virtual reality is the realm where we feel “safe” giving ourselves over to our desires – because after all, it’s not real right?
Lastly, there is something special about being human. Very basic and simple things often taken for granted in human experience are so vivid in the film: seeing one another, hearing one another’s voice, touching one another. There is something special – divine even – about humans in relationship with one another. During premarital counseling, Pastor Jim Riggle at Shawnee Hills Baptist Church in Jamestown, Ohio looked me straight in the eyes and urged me, “When you get in the car and realize that the gas gauge is on ‘E’ because Aimee used your car yesterday, I want you to say, ‘That’s my Aimee.'” I try to make it a habit of taking note my wife’s “That’s my Aimee” habits. These are the things I would miss so much if she were not with me. There is something indeed special about being human and being in relationship. Thank you God, and thank you that relationship both with you and with other humans is being reconciled through your Son, Jesus Christ.
Rejoice in hope, endure in suffering, persist in prayer (Romans 12:12 NET).
Two days ago, Aimee and I sat within the four walls of a Restland Memorial Park meeting room in order to approve the design on Hadlee and Jaxon’s burial marker.
We wake up each morning faced with the reality that two people who should be growing inside of Aimee (at what would be almost 22 weeks) are gone. There are two members of our family that we were never able to get to know.
I feel that I mainly grieve over not getting to know my daughter, Hadlee, and my son, Jaxon. Everyone is born; everyone dies, but most people are able to be “known.” What are Hadlee and Jaxon like? What is unique about their personalities, gifts and abilities? What joys would they have shared with us, and what tragedies would we have shared with them? We were with them in their conceptions, their births, and their deaths. We miss and grieve not having life with them.
So, where is the hope in which I am to rejoice? Of course, we endure in suffering, and of course, we persist in prayer. Even the pagan might squeeze out a cry for help during days of intense suffering. But where is hope for the 25 & 27-year-old couple who buries their children? Where is hope for anyone who suffers?
I told a dear friend over breakfast this week that I was surprised by way in which our local church’s worship service caused me to respond. I did not expect to be caused to hesitate so much in my thinking and in my worship. I found myself confronted with trying to reconcile the strength and love of God (in song) with the pain and questioning in my mind and heart. In a few words, I shared with this friend that I was challenged to hold fast to my homologia, that is my confession. BDAG has two glosses for this term: 1) the expression of allegiance as an action (see 2 Corinthians 9:13), and 2) the statement of allegiance, as content of an action (see 1 Timothy 6:12). In my inability to reconcile my understanding of who God is and my experience, I am challenged as to whether or not I will remain in allegiance to the triune God and his way or to revoke my allegiance. I am choosing by the aid of the Spirit to hold to my allegiance to God and the gospel of his Son, Jesus Christ even though I struggle to reconcile his goodness, his power and his love with Death’s “freedom” to enter in and cripple me and my wife.
There is a theological issue that has helped me to maintain my confession. Many times, Aimee and I have discussed the eternal destiny of infants – both before and after Hadlee and Jaxon’s deaths. She has always stood firm in her belief that God applies the work of Christ to infants by his grace and takes these little ones to be with him. I, however, was not always comfortable with this. I believed that God is gracious and that he is righteous. I felt that it was too much for me to say that in every case, God has chosen to distribute his grace because I trusted him to be righteous from which I reasoned that he is right no matter what he chooses to do regarding the eternal destiny of my children. However, through many conversations with many dear friends, I have become more confident and comfortable with believing that Hadlee and Jaxon are indeed with God and that their eternal destiny is one of blessing and joy in his presence.
Here is my confession regarding the eternal destiny of infants:
I trust God to apply the redemptive acts of Christ to infants because of who they are, because of who he is, and because of the whole of the redemptive story.
Regarding infants, a dear pastor friend brought three things to my attention when counseling with Aimee and me. First, how would infants who did not have the cognitive ability or opportunity to form thoughts about God view his justice if they found themselves in a place of eternal condemnation? Would they be able to confess that he is just and their condemnation is just? This is related to the second observation. In Revelation 20, John writes this concerning the judgment of the unrighteous dead,
And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne. Then books were opened, and another book was opened—the book of life. So the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to their deeds.
The preposition kata (“according to”) is used to express “the norm according to which a judgment is rendered, or rewards or punishments are given” (BDAG). The basis for the judgment of the unrighteous are their deeds. This is consistent throughout Scripture. Hadlee and Jaxon have committed no deeds worthy of God’s judgment. Furthermore, Romans 1 condemns those who have suppressed the knowledge of God as revealed in creation. Hadlee and Jaxon were snatched away before any possible suppression of this knowledge could have occurred.
Cyprian, in his epistle to Fidus on the baptism of infants, writes,
But again, if even to the greatest sinners, and to those who had sinned much against God, when they subsequently believed, remission of sins is granted—and nobody is hindered from baptism and from grace—how much rather ought we to shrink from hindering an infant, who, being lately born, has not sinned, except in that, being born after the flesh according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of the ancient death at its earliest birth, who approaches the more easily on this very account to the reception of the forgiveness of sins—that to him are remitted, not his own sins, but the sins of another.
While I am not necessarily an advocate for infant baptism, Cyprian defends the practice by emphasizing the personal sinlessness and purity of infants. He acknowledges that infants have inherited death and the sin of Adam, but alludes that the infant, “who approaches the more easily on this very account to the reception of the forgiveness of sins—that to him are remitted, not his own sins, but the sins of another” [italics mine].
Further, Cyprian notes that infants do nothing less than “entreat” the mercy of God,
And therefore, dearest brother, this was our opinion in council, that by us no one ought to be hindered from baptism and from the grace of God, who is merciful and kind and loving to all. Which, since it is to be observed and maintained in respect of all, we think is to be even more observed in respect of infants and newly-born persons, who on this very account deserve more from our help and from the divine mercy, that immediately, on the very beginning of their birth, lamenting and weeping, they do nothing else but entreat.
Lastly, is it possible that the song of Revelation 5:9 may speak to us in this matter?
They were singing a new song:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals
because you were killed,
and at the cost of your own blood you have purchased for God
persons from every tribe, language, people, and nation [italics mine].
We often struggle with the question of those who have never heard the message of the good news of Jesus Christ. Could it be that from among those tribes and peoples, God redeemed for himself infants who knew not the world but only the afterlife? I know I am speculating and perhaps not dealing enough with the range of meaning for “tribe” and/or “people,” but it seems possible.
Returning to God, the salvation of infants is not inconsistent with his righteousness or any attribute found in his character. Actually, having known God for eight years now, I find it much more difficult to affirm the alternative. While his righteousness is not bound to the salvation of infants, it certainly is not opposed to it; therefore, considering his grace, his mercy, his kindness, his comfort, the Lord Jesus’ reception of little ones (Luke 18:15), even the allusion to the sanctification present in the home of believers (1 Cor 7), and many other things, I maintain my confession in the triune God and the gospel of Jesus Christ and my belief that Hadlee and Jaxon are present with God – today.
As I consider the redemptive story of the Bible, I rejoice in the hope that God will soon make all things new. Death will be defeated and destroyed, those found in Christ Jesus by the grace of God will experience the long awaited resurrection and newness of life that has been promised. Here, I continue to roam as a stranger. My children, Hadlee and Jaxon, have preceded me, and they have arrived safely and securely at home with my Father, my Savior, and my Comforter. Days will come when Aimee and I will get to know them and learn of the unique way in which our God has created them. When days of suffering enter into our journeys here, I invite you to join me – rejoice in hope, endure in suffering, persist in prayer.
Rejoice in hope, endure in suffering, persist in prayer (Romans 12:12).
For those of you who do not know me personally, Aimee and I moved to Dallas, Texas in June of 2007 so that I could continue my study of God and the Bible at Dallas Theological Seminary. We are originally from Ohio, and nearly all of our family lives there; so, for such a tragedy to strike with family so far away really had the potential to cripple us with loneliness and no support structure.
Enter the Body of Christ. The days in which we are now living are tragic, depressing, confusing, and an onslaught of other things; however, God’s grace and love for us has been clearly expressed through the kindness and actions of the Body of Christ. From the moment we entered the hospital until now, thousands of people in California, Oregon, North Dakota, Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and elsewhere have been praying for us. We have received cards and even handwritten letters from folks we have never met. Gift cards, money, Gideon Bibles in memory of Hadlee and Jaxon, flowers, fruit baskets, food, and much more have arrived at our doorstep from hearts that have sought to minister to us and aid in our comfort and healing.
There are several communities for whom I must publicly praise God. The first is Scofield Memorial Church in Dallas, TX. Aimee and I have served in the Student Ministry at Scofield since September of 2007. We have always felt loved and supported by the people of Scofield, but the way in which they have loved us in these recent, tragic days has been the clearest expression of gospel living I have ever witnessed or experienced.During days when we did not want to be alone, they laid down their lives to mourn and be with us. They came and sat next to us in the hospital and wept with us. I never had to leave my wife’s side because someone always brought me a meal. We didn’t have to worry about picking up Aimee’s parents from the airport because someone in the church already had it covered. I didn’t have to go through the pain and agony of finishing the painting I had already started in the room we had designated for Hadlee and Jaxon’s nursery because a group of men decided to finish it for me. I didn’t have to worry about feeding our cat because a brother took care of it for me. We didn’t have to tirelessly and emotionally search all of Dallas for a funeral home and cemetery to rest Hadlee and Jaxon bodies because our head Pastor had taken care of the detail for us. We weren’t strapped with the financial burden of burying our little ones because the people of Scofield took care of that for us. We don’t have to worry about food for two months because the families of Scofield are providing food for us.
I could go on. Not only has Scofield ministered to us, but also they have ministered to our family because they have witnessed first hand their love for us. I give thanks to God for our church family and that he has given his Spirit to the Church to comfort and care for the weak and wounded. Jesus’ Body has wrapped us up in his embrace.
The Seminary community at DTS has also demonstrated kindness toward us. The campus continues to pray for us, and the faculty and staff have been kind, generous and actively involved in our story. Chaplain Bill visited us and comforted us by participating in Hadlee and Jaxon’s funeral service. Dr. Daniel B. Wallace visited with us, attended the funeral service, and has been a constant encouragement. Dr. Gordon Johnston has ministered to me through conversation, attending Hadlee and Jaxon’s memorial, and messages through email. Dr. James Allman and Dr. Mike Svigel has comforted us as well. The students have embraced me on campus. There are five special men on campus who responded to a late night request. I will never forget their kindness toward me and how they laid down their lives so that a friend would have someone to talk to. Rob, Mike, Matt, Sten, and Ryan – thank you.
Two other communities that have ministered to us are the NNICU unit at Parkland Memorial Hospital and Shawnee Hills Baptist Church in Jamestown, OH. Aimee’s friends in the NNICU at Parkland have poured out their sympathy and love toward us. Thank you all for your frequent visits, your love for my wife, and your many gifts. SHBC used their benevolence fund to fly Pastor Jim Riggle in to conduct Hadlee and Jaxon’s memorial service. Pastor Jim did our pre-marital counseling and joined us in marriage before God. He has been a faithful guide and counselor ever since. Pastor Jim sat and counseled with for more than two hours the night before the memorial service. The Spirit of God was able to use him to draw out many of our questions, fears, insecurities, and to encourage us to “think all of our thoughts, feel all of our feelings, and walk by faith.” Thank you Pastor.
Each post has (and will) begin with Romans 12:12. In the next post, I’ll talk more about these words and address my hope for Aimee and me and for Hadlee and Jaxon. Ryan, you gave me these words at a crucial time when I was falling and reaching frantically for something to hold on to. You have been the dearest of friends to me. I am so thankful for you and the work of the gospel in your life. May God continue to bless our partnership in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Amen.