Category Archives: Theology

How Jesus Rope-a-Doped the Devil

victorThe phrase “rope-a-dope” refers to a boxing tactic of pretending to be trapped against the ropes, goading an opponent to throw tiring ineffective punches.

Muhammad Ali popularized this technique in his 1974 boxing match against George Foreman. Ali allowed Foreman to angrily swing away at him against the ropes, leading Foreman to eventually punch himself out in the process.

It recently occurred to me how this boxing technique is a lot like what Jesus did on the cross. On the cross God absorbed all the sin of the world, allowing evil to do its worst to him (1 Jn 2:2). The devil unleashed his fury on God’s Messiah and he thought he had punched his lights out.

The “ruler of this world” thought it was all over. No contest.

In the gospels we read how Satan went to work on Jesus from the moment he is baptized in the Jordan to his last breath on the cross. The devil was swinging for Jesus’ gut in the wilderness, maneuvering him into the corner with the sinister traps laid by the Pharisees, and had Jesus up against the ropes in his mock trial, dehumanizing torture, and brutal execution by the Romans.

A dead Messiah is no Messiah. It means God loses. Right?  Wrong.

Just as it seemed like the Father had lost the struggle of good over evil with the death of his Son on the cross, the victorious Christ came bursting forth from the darkness of the tomb.

The apostle Paul marvels at this upside-down wisdom of God when he writes:
And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross (Col 2:15 NIV).

This seemingly foolish response to the horrific violence Christ endured on the cross was the counter-attack of heaven. In this way, Jesus smashed the head of the serpent and brought the devil down from his high place, falling from his lofty position like lightening (Lk 10:18).

The enemies of God never even saw it coming.

The demons shrieked, “What do you want with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” (Matt 8:29). The dark powers were oblivious to the divine strategy that was being used against them.

Jesus told the Pharisees, “If I am casting out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you” (Matt 12:28).

They would thus seek to kill him. In their demonic state of delirium, they set out to unleash hell on Jesus of Nazareth. Knowing this, Jesus readied himself for the relentless blows of the unseen principalities and powers.

The devil would inflict pain on Jesus by the hands of men, those whom he loved. But Jesus recognized this tactic and spoke over those crucifying him, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they’re doing” (Lk 23:34).

It was the devil’s work the Son of God came to destroy (1 Jn 3:8b). It was the real and ultimate battle for the salvation of humanity, and for the promised renewal of all things (Eph 6:12; Rev 21:5). And Jesus accomplished it.

It was the fight of the ages… when the lamb defeated the dragon. It will forever be remembered as the time when Satan punched himself out.

And that’s how Jesus rope-a-doped the devil.

So the next time your enemies come swinging at you and have you up against the ropes, remember that the real enemy is unseen. If you will wait on the Lord, new life will come forth out of what appears to be your defeat.

Let your accusers punch themselves out. Let the Father raise you from the dead. You may have to take some hits, but the victory belongs to the Lord.

D.D. Flowers, 2016.


Denouncing Judge Dredd (Sermon)

Those who follow my blog know that I’m a pastor and teacher. I don’t post many sermons on my personal blog, but I like to occasionally pass one on that I think is timely and relevant, and also remind you where you can find more of my sermons if you’re interested in subscribing.

You can subscribe at our church’s website or stream recent sermons from my Sound Cloud profile and listen regularly while you’re on the go.

Last year I delivered a message called Denouncing (Your Inner) Judge Dredd. I think about the content of this sermon often, as it is extremely relevant for us as the church today. I’m trying to live and work it out myself.

It’s common in our culture for folks to think that all judgment is bad, but the Scripture says there is a right and wrong way to judge.

In this message, I talk about that difference and how Christ wants to set us free from our tendencies to judge others. Judging others actually reveals our own emptiness. Jesus calls us to a higher way that is better for all of us.

Listen to how we are called to embrace an identity that engenders a deep love for our neighbor, and denounce our inner Judge Dredd for life in the Kingdom.

D.D. Flowers, 2015.


The Unseen Wrath of God (Divine Justice in a Culture of Miscreants)

underwater-jesusI’m not a Christian fundamentalist. I’m not a conservative fundamentalist or a progressive (liberal) fundamentalist. I try to be very intentional about that. I increasingly see the problems with the attitudes and biblical interpretations of both my conservative and progressive brothers and sisters on a range of theological and political issues.

I survey my Facebook newsfeed and see the stuff coming from my conservative and progressive friends and I’m like, “Say what? Huh? Seriously? You believe that? Are you reading your Bible? What about this other verse? Jesus said more than that. C’mon, really?” (facepalm)  Jesus, where are you in this mess?

I’m active, but I’m not a hipster activist. I don’t think I have to weigh in publicly on every hot button social issue. I don’t think my opinion is that important, nor do I think it matters as much as my ego would have me believe some days. I don’t want to add to the noise. (sigh) Really, I don’t.

One of the reasons I continue to blog, for now, is that people tell me all the time how I write what they feel but have trouble expressing. So it appears that I’m connecting with an overlooked audience. If I can be a voice for the voiceless and encourage others, I’ll keep sharing my views via the blogosphere.

It’s unfortunate that the voices in the middle often get drowned out in the debates between polarizing extremes. The pendulum swings back and forth, and I’d like to think I see this happening most of the time. I’m trying.

My sincere desire is to help call us back to the center.

While I often question the effectiveness of posting anything to the web, especially on social media, I do feel that I have a responsibility as a pastor to people and a teacher of the Scriptures to bring clarity, if possible, in an effort to encourage and challenge the church where I see it’s needed, knowing full well that it’s the Spirit that changes us. I’m just a conduit of God’s grace.

For me, that often means addressing neglected or misrepresented theological and biblical issues, even if it’s a bit risky in doing so. I think it comes with the pastoral territory. It’s also part of the prophetic ministry.

We’re looking for faithful followers of Christ, not nice comfy fans.

God Doesn’t Freak Out, But He Is Concerned

In response to the recent SCOTUS decision in favor of same-sex marriage, the progressive blogger Benjamin Corey posted on how God isn’t freaking out.

It’s clear that Corey is trying to challenge the conservative fundamentalists who think God’s wrath is about to be unleashed, as if all of the other American atrocities haven’t been enough to trigger it. He makes an excellent point.

It’s true. God looks like Jesus, not Zeus.

I’ve sat down face-to-face and listened to Corey’s heart for the church at a joint in PA. He is an extremely nice guy. That doesn’t always come through on his blog. While I don’t agree with all of his positions, like celebrating the SCOTUS decision as progress, I’d like to simply respond to what I sense is the theological pendulum swinging too far to the left to make his point.

In this case, you might read Corey’s post, and others like it, as saying Jesus has done away with wrath altogether (i.e. if it hasn’t come yet, it never will). Maybe he doesn’t think that, but you could be led to believe it. So let me respond to the biblical “wrath” idea, because I think it’s too often misunderstood.

To be clear, this isn’t about my brother, Ben. It’s about the biblical concept of wrath. Please allow me to challenge the thinking that there is no such thing.

The Way Wrath Really Works

Regardless of what you think about the SCOTUS decision, I’d like to try and bring some clarity and balance as it pertains to God’s wrath, in light of Christ and the NT. For what it’s worth, here is how I understand it.

Jesus’ central message was about the coming Kingdom–salvation of sinners, release for the captives, sight for the blind, the year of favor and blessing (Matt 4:17; Lk 4:14-20). He didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save it, welcoming all those who would believe (Jn 3:16-17). Good news, right?

He showed outrageous love and mercy to the worst of the Jewish community, and taught us to do the same for Romans (Gentiles). God then extends his agape fellowship to the whole world–initiated with Abraham, made evident in Jesus, to be lived out by his church. That’s the story in a nutshell.

As so far as he is quoted in the gospels, the Jewish Jesus reserves judgment and “wrath” language for Jewish religious skeptics and hypocrites (Matt 23:13; Lk 10:13). This ought to be sobering for all of us who count ourselves among the “chosen” and elect of God. His harshest words are for the religious.

But did you catch that? Jesus’ primary audience was Jewish. He even said that his ministry was to the children of Israel (Matt 15:23). So, Jesus isn’t interacting much with Gentiles, certainly not with all of the particular vices common among them, including homosexuality.

Yes, that’s why, “Jesus doesn’t say a word about it.” It wasn’t an issue among religious Jews. It was clear and settled for them. But he did talk about the original design for sexuality and marriage (Matt 19:1-12), and its eschatological trajectory (Mk 12:25). It’s his Kingdom effect on human sexuality.

Jesus referred back to what God intended before the Law, allowances, concessions, and “no fault” divorce, before humanity brought on confusion caused by rebelling against the good order of God, and then he pointed us forward. It’s his love his way that truly wins.

Now back to wrath.

Jesus said some tough things that are not politically correct, nor do they sit well with our individualistic, post-modern, nice, therapeutic, new-age spirituality that’s so prevalent today. Have we really accepted this? He said there will be sheep and goats (Matt 25:31-46). At the end of human history, some will be turned away for not being true followers (Matt 7:22-23).

I’d call that “wrath.”  This is Jesus of Nazareth. Let’s deal with it.

The OT presented shadows of God. Christ in the NT is the reality (Col 2:17). We know what God is really like by looking long and hard at this Jesus—the Jesus who does warn of a final judgment. There’s no way around it, folks.

And we can’t leave out John’s depiction of Jesus in Revelation. Here we have an apocalyptic vision of Jesus judging the nations by the power of his word (Rev 19:15). He merely sorts it all out in the end by the word of his mouth.

In the meantime, something that often goes “unseen” is happening to evildoers.

Let’s consider Paul’s words about “wrath” in Romans 1:18-32. Look at verses 18 and 24. How does Paul describe God’s wrath in his context?

Paul, apostle to the Gentiles, writes, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness…” (v.18) and a few verses later says, “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts…” (v.24 – italics mine).

Paul says wrath is indeed being revealed. How is this happening?

According to Jesus and Paul, it’s built into the very system of creation and fall. Wrath is revealed as people get their way and do their own thing to the point of consequence. No fireballs from heaven. No divine warrior or butt-kicking stuff. Just sowing and reaping.

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Paul, Gal 6:-7-8).

Greg Boyd describes it as God’s “boomerang justice” or us getting what is coming to us. Hindus call it karma, the Scripture calls it wrath. It’s the great cosmic equalizer. It’s God’s universe correcting itself.

Therefore, Paul can say that God gives people over to their sin in order to experience the natural consequences of exchanging the glory of God for lies of the devil and the flesh. He means to say that indulging in and celebrating sinful behaviors as a society and culture is in and of itself revealing (in time) the wrath of God. We sow the wind, we reap the whirlwind (Hos 8:7).

The wrath doesn’t always come immediately, it comes slowly and is perpetuated by more evil that in time brings about hell on earth—chaos, destruction, and ultimately death. Whether it be slavery or sexual licentiousness, if not repented of, it leads to more evil. The “wrath” that follows is part of God’s divine program, if you will, coded into his good creation, working to self-correct.

We call it “God’s wrath” because it’s his holy programming, his divine laws, his order to the cosmos. He wired it that way, so he takes full responsibility.

An Invitation to Enter Grace

God’s grace to us is that Jesus absorbs the wrath of the system that we violated. The full consequences of our sin have fallen on him, because he chose it. He took our sins to the cross, then the grave, and set us free in his resurrection triumph. We broke his world, but he is fixing it.

The NT does not teach that we’re being saved from God, as if the Father is someone other than the Son revealed in Jesus (Jn 14:9), but instead from the wrath we essentially store up for ourselves as a result of our own rebellion against the Creator of everything, who knows better than we do.

Therefore, the invitation is to come into this Christ, to be safe and secure from all alarm, and to join him as agents of new creation. This is what God’s grace affords us! We weren’t meant to be objects of wrath, but persons of his love and affection. We were made in his image to reflect his glory into the earth, and then back to himself in worship and holy living.

To my conservative friends, if we take Jesus seriously, we need to see that God is not going after anyone with bloodthirsty vengeance. And to my progressive friends, you’re right to speak that message, but please don’t gloss over passages that bother you. To suggest such a thing is to remove any need for repentance, discipleship, and the gift we have in Christ. Let Jesus be Jesus.

Finally, I thank God for his grace received through repentance, the only way to escape the wrath we all deserve. For followers of Christ, that “wrath” meets grace and is experienced as loving discipline. For all scoffers in the culture who spurn God’s good will for human flourishing, his love will in time no doubt be experienced as wrath, in one form or another.

As long as we’re alive we can know for sure that there is hope for all of us miscreants, in this life and the next. I pray that we all will step into that costly grace and find the peace that the church and the world so desperately needs.

Shalom.

D.D. Flowers, 2015.


Biblical Faith (More Than A Feeling)

The Christian life is hard. I’d never tell anyone anything different.

Why is it hard?

Well, first off… life itself is hard. We all experience pain, loss, disappointment, heartache, heartbreak, trial, and tribulation.

In our most cynical moments, life can feel like we’ve fallen out of a really tall tree. The goal of life, or at least one subconscious desire we have, is to hit as few branches as possible on the way down.

The truth is that nobody is immune to or safe from the hardships of life. We must all experience them. We are fragile beings living in a world that is groaning from her many afflictions. And we’re never allowed to forget it.

From the increasing complexities and the magnificent mysteries of the universe, we can’t help but feel very small and insignificant. Of all the billions of bodies made up of dirt and water that have ever lived on this pale blue dot, I’m supposed to believe that I matter in some way to the unfolding of time and human history? I know how difficult it can be to believe that.

Now add to that a belief that requires that I move in the opposite direction of the post-enlightenment herd of empiricists and rebuke the modern systematic attack on faith—the gospel that says God became flesh, was crucified for my sins, and was resurrected from the dead to give me life everlasting.

Sorry, Karl (Marx). That’s not an “opiate” for me or the masses.

In that sense, being a person of faith isn’t making life easier. In fact, I could easily argue that it makes life much more challenging, as it necessitates that we believe in more than what we can see, touch, and put in a test tube. The science lab is no help in that respect. The “proof” I’m looking for isn’t there.

I suppose that if a person’s idea of “faith” is simply to stop all critical thinking, become anti-science, and just believe a bunch of mystical teachings in an ancient book, well then, it no doubt seems absurd, even psychotic, to embrace such a view. That sort of “faith” is like gouging out your eyes and trying to convince everyone else that you see. But that’s not biblical faith. And we should stop promoting it as such.

I know that it’s much more complicated than this, but I’ll sum it up this way. It has been the anti-intellectual voices of the church that helped to fuel this cultural confusion with faith. The response of the “enlightened” to this anti-intellectualism was to run in the opposite direction of mystery and accept a worldview that leaves no room for God. That’s unless “God” is a scientist.

But what if biblical faith isn’t about numbing the pain, dodging the hardships of life, or inventing a myth and wishing it to be true in order to create meaning and purpose in what is nothing more than a cosmic hiccup?

Instead, what if biblical faith is about opening our eyes to the meaning and purpose that’s already there, right in front of us? In that regard, faith is all around us. All we must do is reach out for it. And I believe it begins with accepting that life (and faith) is hard, ambiguous, and a perplexing paradox.

Therefore, biblical faith might best begin by coming to terms with this truth.

I don’t mean to say that everything we experience or that happens to us is from God. Of course not! Rather, we live in a world where the Creator’s original intent and design was derailed long ago. Even now, we are free, but we often use that freedom for destructive ends. We are the culprits. It isn’t the God we often love to blame (or hate) so much.

Think about this. We repeat the fall from Eden every day. That story in Genesis 3 isn’t primarily about a primal pair sinning against God and violating their own conscience, only then to find themselves naked and alone.

No, it’s about you and me. And it happens every day. In an effort to cover our own nakedness and shame, we end up covering our eyes from seeing the truth that God loves us and wants to bring good out of our evil.

We must factor this in when trying to understand the darkness in our lives and our world. No sufficient explanation can be given to the problem of evil without a theology of the fall. If you’re blaming God for the problems in the world, then you haven’t encountered the God revealed in Jesus.

So biblical faith is about facing up to our own sin, brokenness, and limited understanding. It’s this humble path than unlocks the door to peace, forgiveness, and hope. Christ, our redemption, is found here.

I’ve known many people who have never been able to overcome their feelings in order to go deeper in their faith. Their emotions drive them, even when they believe it’s their logic and reasoning. Actually, their feelings cloud their vision and judgment. They are cut off from the faith that unlocks peace because they fail to persevere in their doubt and hard times.

These folks want it easy, and they want it their way. If these people don’t get it their way, they quit. And they step away from faith, sometimes for good.

But Jesus said that if you want to find your life, you must lose it (Matt 16:25). Believe me… there’s nothing easy about that. It’s hard. It hurts. But it works.

In other words, you must learn to press on through your momentary fickle feelings by clinging to what you believe to be true, indeed what the Scriptures say, about the God revealed in Christ. If we trust him regardless of circumstance, that is biblical faith. If we don’t trust him, we have no faith.

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:6

Perseverance is about pressing on to find life, even when you feel like you’re losing yours. Perseverance is about busting through the stopping places! Just an ounce of faith is able to produce a pound of faith if we’ll allow it.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  James 1:2-4

I have personally discovered that my faith increases and I’m given access to more of Christ when I exhibit this trust. No matter the hardship or trial, I can testify that when I hold to what I believe is true about God’s character, displaying my faith, he will carry me through my feelings. I come out on the other side a better person. I’m more mature and complete.

What is needed for a biblical faith? More than feelings, that’s for sure. Faith is for those who wish to be strong. There are no quitters in the Kingdom.

If you want to go deeper in your covenantal faith with Christ, I encourage you to do these three things in community: (1) “hunger for righteousness”—for more of Jesus; (2) memorize Scripture about God’s love and faithfulness; (3) make up your mind to persevere despite your hardships. Then you’ll get your proof.

This is your part. It’s out part. Do this and give God the opportunity to prove his faithfulness to you. Follow Christ and let him reward you with his peace. Let him grow your roots down deep into the soil of his own faith.

D.D. Flowers, 2015.


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