Tag Archives: grace

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.

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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.


Why the World Hates Jesus of Nazareth (6 of 7)

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”  Jesus, Jn. 15:18

In the previous installment, I showed how Jesus challenged worldly wisdom on several levels. His entire life and ministry was an affront to the wisdom of the age. The person of Jesus is a major obstacle to the worldly mind.

At the heart of this challenge is Jesus’ own claim to be more than a man from Nazareth. His greatest offense was in aligning himself with God—both in his Kingdom mission and divine identity (Matt 21:33-46; Jn 3:16; 14;9b).

There was (and is) nothing palatable about Jesus Christ of Nazareth to those who love the world and have made their home in it. There is simply too much to stumble over when Jesus is not accepted on his own terms.

If you’re just joining this blog series, I said in the introduction that I’m using seven provocative statements as a way of summarizing the radical life and teachings of Jesus. This is why the world system hates Jesus of Nazareth.

And why the world hates those who follow him.

Before we wrap up this series with a final statement and overview of what has been covered, we must consider yet another controversial and often misunderstood aspect of the gospel of Christ. This concerns Jesus’ attitude toward sin, and a world that refuses to repent of it for the Kingdom.

6. Jesus Was Loving and Intolerant

Jesus lived in a Roman world that prided itself in the so-called “tolerance” of others. You could see this tolerance most clearly displayed in the Pantheon—a sanctuary of religious tolerance—that housed all of the gods of empire.

Rome boasted that it was the land of the free. There was freedom to celebrate religious and cultural diversity. As long as people played the system, followed the rules, and habitually pledged their allegiance to Caesar, they could live a relatively peaceful life—reaping benefits of empire.

While tolerance never made it to any written list of cardinal virtues, it was expected of every good citizen. Be tolerant in so much as the Roman way is protected and preserved. Rome defined tolerance and guarded it by force.

But the limits of this tolerance would become visible if and when someone threatened the Pax Romana (peace of Rome)—the Roman way of life. They would surely suffer Roman ridicule and violence, even a Roman cross.

Whether it be in ancient or modern times, a rejection or intolerance of societal norms is seen as ignorance and bigotry. The world’s tolerance ultimately requires that the only standard be no standard at all.

“Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.” G.K. Chesterton

It is good to be informed about differing opinions and respectful of another person’s point of view, but the tolerance of the world goes further by denying a fundamental basis for truth. It scoffs at objective truth claims.

It’s an old question. “What is truth?” Pilate asked Jesus (Jn 18:38). A few chapters earlier, Jesus said this to his disciple Thomas:

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6 NIV

In the original Greek, the words of Jesus are emphatic on himself being the way, the truth, and the life. It should read like this: “I MYSELF am the way, the truth, and the life” (εγω ειμι η οδος και η αληθεια και η ζωη).

This exclusive claim is anything but tolerant, according to the way the world defines tolerance. It is this very claim of Jesus that the early Christians upheld when they said they belonged to “The Way” of Christ (Acts 9:2).

It is no wonder that Christianity could not be tolerated by Rome. Seen through the eyes of a Roman, Jesus and his followers were intolerant, hateful bigots, and a subversive threat to a “civilized” society.

Jesus made an exclusive claim to be the only way to God. It’s the sort of thing you would expect from a guy that believes he is God in the flesh.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that Jesus uses his authority to speak on the destructive nature of sin as human disfunction which misses the mark of God’s holy design. Sin distorts the image of God within the individual and breaks community with God and others. It’s a misuse of human energies.

“In a world that has lost a sense of sin, one sin remains: Thou shalt not make people feel guilty (except, of course, about making people feel guilty). In other words, the only sin today is to call something a sin.”  Christopher West

Jesus, the sinless savior, loved sinners (Matt 9:13; Rom 5:8). He saw the world before him being held captive by sin and the devil (Mk 10:45). Because of this he loved the most wretched of sinners and treated them as victims. He didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save it (Jn 3:16-17).

“Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I’m here inviting outsiders, not insiders—an invitation to a changed life, changed inside and out.” Luke 5:31-32 MSG

Out of this love Jesus was motivated to confront sin at work in people. Jesus heals the sick and says things like, “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (Jn 5:14b NIV). This willingness to call out sin was not like that of the self-righteous, law-loving Pharisees. Jesus means to redeem.

Recall the story of the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8:1-11).

The religious leaders bring the frightened woman to Jesus. They want to know if he will follow the letter of the Law and stone her to death. Jesus writes something cryptic in the sand, causing all of those ready to execute her to drop their stones and leave. He says, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (v.7). BOOM!

Pay careful attention to what Jesus says next.

“Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” Jn 8:10-11 NLT

Jesus rebukes those who are self-rightous, and he reveals that his followers are to get down in the dirt with people. You open the sinner’s heart with God’s merciful love, so that repentance may give way to new life.

Jesus is showing the way to repentance for all who desire the Kingdom.

Jesus was no legalistic Pharisee. But he also wasn’t a libertine either.

According to Jesus, freedom isn’t about doing whatever you want, or even living in a society that does what it pleases. Instead, Jesus lived and taught that the gospel of the Kingdom is that salvation is received by grace, actualized through faith, and worked out in obedience to his commands.

True freedom is found in the cruciformed-looking Kingdom of Christ. It’s the new world God is shaping. And he’s doing it one disciple at a time.

If you’re going to follow Jesus, you need to know that the world doesn’t tolerate those who are intolerant of the Zeitgeist (spirit of the age), whose real leader is Satan himself (Jn 12:31; 16:10-12; 2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2; 6:12).

Jesus-followers should speak the truth and act in love for the sake of reconciliation and redemption. Like Jesus, we are willfully intolerant of the world system, because some things are just stupid and sinful.

D.D. Flowers, 2013.

Read the final post:  7. Jesus Revealed the New Way to be Human.


The Futility of Behavior Modification

Jonathan Merritt recently interviewed Tullian Tchividjian, pastor and author of the new book, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World (David C. Cook, 2013).

Tullian is the grandson of Billy Graham. And he seems to have Graham’s gift of stating things very plainly. Listen to what he says.

Tullian claims that grace has been “tragically hijacked by an oppressive religious moralism” that leads to condemning others in and outside the church. For these terrorists, it’s about rules, rules, and more rules!

Sadly, too many churches have helped to perpetuate the impression that Christianity is primarily concerned with legislating morality. Believe it or not, Christianity is not about good people getting better. If anything, it is good news for bad people coping with their failure to be good. Too many people have walked away from the church not because they’re walking away from Jesus, but because the church has walked away from Jesus.

That’s a hard pill to swallow for many evangelicals. And I’m glad to hear it coming from a reformed pastor. It needs to be said because it’s true.

I’ve seen it firsthand. I’m sure many of you have as well.

OK, maybe you don’t believe in legislating sin and supporting the Religious Right, but you may need to hear what Tullian says next.  Have you traded your identity in Christ for performance based spirituality?

Ironically, I’ve discovered that the more I focus on my need to get better, the worse I actually get—I become neurotic and self-absorbed. Preoccupation with our performance over Christ’s performance for us actually hinders spiritual growth because it makes us increasingly self-centered and morbidly introspective—the exact opposite of how the Bible describes what it means to be sanctified. Sanctification is forgetting about yourself.

What is the remedy for this neurosis of the soul? It is nothing more than discovering our true identity in the Christ of grace, and replacing our narcissistic self-absorption with an undying concern for others.

Read the full interview: Billy Graham’s grandson takes Christians to task: An interview with Tullian Tchividjian

What do you think about Tullian’s words of challenge and rebuke? How have you been discovering your true identity in Christ?

D.D. Flowers, 2013.


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