Saturday, July 31, 2010

Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) ...251 years

Resurrecting an old post this morning, in honor of British abolishionist William Wilberforce's 251st birthday. I reviewed the movie "Amazing Grace" here:

Do rent the movie, if you haven't seen it. It is worth it for the history lesson alone, as well as the uplifting message of a life transformed by Christ.

(The video can only be viewed on YouTube)

Watch the movie trailer below:

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Love of God Which is in Christ

Last night, I was re-reading John chapters 14-17. John's Gospel, in particular, always causes me to reflect on the steadfast love Christ displays towards us sinners...and how quick we are to doubt Him.

When you think of the sacrificial depths of Calvary love, doesn't it just slay you?

If it doesn't, it should.

Paul never got over it:

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:2)

"Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!" (Romans 5:7-9)
The finite, mortal mind cannot fully grasp the extent of God's love for sinful man, although it was Paul's prayer that we would be able, in some small measure, to do so (Ephesians 3:18). Think on the fellowship (koinonia) which Christ Himself desires with us, and that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit invite us all personally and collectively, to enter. What is staggering is that God desires to make us His own, and treats us as "part of the family". The Epistle of 1 John frankly states that God wants us each in fellowship with Himself.

In His High Priestly prayer, Jesus said that He longed for believers to be with Him where He is (John 17:24). Earlier, He has assured the disciples that the love the Father has for Him is also in them (and, by extention, us). This is truly mind-blowing: in light of who we are, Who God is, and how costly His agape love is.

Trust God's Word, Not Feelings

The human tendency is to doubt this enduring, deep, and abiding love God has for the believer when we see ourselves as less than lovable. Actually, it is pride to think there is ever a time when we are "more worthy" to approach God or enjoy His fellowship than another. If His love were based on our performance rather than the perfect righteousness of Christ, we would have no reason to hope for His grace or come boldly before His throne (Hebrews 4:16).

Many times, Christians with depression are stuck in this rut of disbelief. Because of sin, a Christian's conscience convicts him or her and causes her to doubt the present reality of God's love for her. Quite predictably, this causes her to "run away" from Him, exactly the opposite of what she should do (turn to Him in repentance). Trusting in one's emotions or what one's feelings are saying can hinder the walk with Christ like nothing else. Sometimes, the very sin that keeps a person out of fellowship with God is what is allowed to prevent him from opening the Bible and reading the truth: God loves you, believer. His will is that you humble yourself and return to Him. It is there that He greets us with joy.

Everywhere is Scripture this truth is proclaimed, and yet we take it for granted. Often, God's love is given lip service or considered as just another attribute of His diety, when in reality it defines Who He is and why we exist to worship Him. As Richard Ochs of Lake Road Chapel recently stated, "Sin, in light of what God has done for us in Christ, is always a sin against love." Axiomatically, loving God always will cause you to be misunderstood, rejected, and even worse. The Lord Himself warned us of this, but it is more than worth it.

My response to what Christ has demonstrated towards me is an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Once you know that joy of being forgiven and accepted in the beloved, you can't help but be changed by it. The security of knowing His tenderness, compassion and sacrificial love is both an intellectual and spiritual engagement - both the Word and the Spirit testify to this incredible truth. Sometimes, you will hear the term "head knowledge" set over against "heart knowledge", but the Bible makes no such distinction. We are called to study to show ourselves approved, and the logos (the Word) is the way in which God has chosen to reveal Himself to us. More often than not, when I have counseled someone who doubts the reality of Christ's love for her, she is neglecting the Bible.

Pastor Kevin Williams has been posting a superb sermon series on the allegory of Christ's love for the believer (and the believer's loving response to Him) on Puritan Fellowship. I would strongly encourage you, especially if you find your love waxing cold, to listen to this encouraging series (you could easily listen to any one part of the series alone, and be greatly blessed by it). When we doubt His love, we are implying that God is a liar. When we fail to respond, we are demonstrating a lack of faith and gratitude. This series is a great reminder of the gentleness and mercy of our Savior.

There is no joy on earth like knowing you are loved by the King of Kings, and being able to glorify His Name in worship. When you realize the depths from which you've been brought, your deepest desire is to fall at His feet and eternally reflect on His grace, beauty and majesty.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Baptism in History, Part 1 | SharperIron

The Apostle John, Aristides, Justin Martyr, Eusebius and Augustine couldn't have all been wrong...and they were all credobaptists.

Baptism in History, Part 1 SharperIron

Monday, July 26, 2010

A God Who is Not Sovereign is Not God

This afternoon on the way home from work, I caught part of a radio program in which Rabbi Harold Kushner (“When Bad Things Happen to Good People”) was being interviewed. Kushner was weighing in on a tragedy that befell a family here in Massachusetts last week: twin two-year-old girls drowned in their swimming pool, presumably while their mother was inside with a 9-month-old baby brother. It is difficult to imagine the enormity of the family’s loss, and our hearts break with them. This is every parent’s worst nightmare come true.

Kushner, who lost his son to progeria in the 1980’s, made several good points. He observed that grieving parents are incapable of consoling one another as they would had the loss been a parent or sibling, and often lash out. He advised the parents to seek counsel from others, and mentioned several bereavement support groups. He noted that the death of a child is something one never really “gets over”, but they may expect to get to a point where they can enjoy life again. He also very wisely cautioned others against offering advice; seeking to minimize the tragedy; or rationalize it away (“Talk less; hug more”.) Seeking solace from those parents who can truly empathize in their grief will also lead to their ultimately being able to offer that same compassion to others. This, in turn, will counter, in some small measure, the devastating helplessness that they felt when their daughters drowned.

Is God Sovereign?

However, when the interviewer turned the line of questioning to “Can we blame God?”, Kushner essentially denied the concept of a sovereign God. (Obviously, as a Jewish rabbi, Kushner’s view of God and redemptive history differ significantly from the Christian position to begin with. We needn’t get into soteriology or dwell on self-evident doctrinal differences between Jews and Christians). In fact, what I found interesting was Kushner’s low view of God’s omnipotence and omniscience; and his de facto denial of man’s depravity and the effect of sin’s outworking in the world (hamartiology).

Kushner stated that just as God cannot be “blamed” for tragedy, (which is true, of course; calamity is a result of the fall of man), neither can one say that tragic events are “His will”, orchestrated by Him, or permitted by Him. That is a disappointingly humanistic worldview, and would be natural coming from a secular psychologist, a Deist, an agnostic, or perhaps Oprah. But follow it to its natural conclusion: if God did not have foreknowledge of a tragedy, then He is not omniscient. This is “open theism”, and it is heresy. (See Job 37:16; 1 Jn 3:20; Heb 4:13; Mt 10:29-30). Further, Kushner maintains that when people credit or praise God for good events, blessings in their life, or sparing them from disaster, they are actually just putting a “theological face” on their relief at not being the unfortunate victims.

The idea of an omnipotent God is also distasteful to Kushner. He passionately said, “Given a choice between a deity that is all-good but cannot control what will happen, and an omnipotent creator who allows the death of innocent children, I find the compassionate god much more comforting! Where do we get the idea that power is the highest virtue?” (I was driving at the time and thus did not take down the precise quotes, but that was pretty close).

What disheartens me is that Kushner, who certainly embodies the godly qualities of compassion, empathy, and love for his fellow man – especially the hurting – does not seem to realize that these attributes of God IN NO WAY negate His power, omniscience, or sovereignty. If God is not sovereign, He is not God. Kushner seems to be setting up a false dichotomy: if God is sovereign, He allowed those poor children to drown. That would be, in his mind, evil. Therefore, God would not be all-good. If God is all-good, He would not have allowed small children to climb into the swimming pool and drown. If He is good, and had foreknowledge of the incident, He should have done something. He did nothing. Therefore, He is not all-knowing.

The truth of the matter, of course, is that God is both all-good, and in His sovereignty, knew what would happen to the girls. He did not intervene (for reasons we cannot understand, and should not try to speculate upon); and tragically, they died. An additional truth here, which should not be glossed over too lightly, is that His heart is as broken as those of the parents’. God is close to the brokenhearted and is moved to compassion by our grief. (See Psalm 34:18; Psalm 147:3; John 11:35; Hebrews 4:15). By contrast, Kushner seems to imply that by allowing what is such a horrific tragedy that the human mind recoils, God is callous or indifferent to human suffering. It is arbitrary; unfair.

Are People Really Good?

Why does the notion of God allowing terrible events seem so repugnant to Rabbi Kushner? A word he kept using was “innocent”. ‘What kind of God would allow two innocent girls to drown?’ I would counter, 'the same kind of God Who let His innocent Son suffer and die on a Roman cross for my sins'. While I agree with Kushner that no family deserves what these folks are going through, if we really get down to the nitty-gritty, there’s a flaw in his argument for ‘innocence’ (not just of the girls; but of all victims of tragedy): none of us is truly innocent. Only Christ was, and God not only allowed Him to suffer; He ordained it (Isaiah 53:10-11). Does the atonement mean God is unjust; uncompassionate; indifferent?

Even without getting into a debate about Penal Substitution, we can see from the Torah, Law and Prophets alone that we are all, from birth, guilty sinners who inherently deserve nothing but eternal separation from God. We are, in fact, guilty through Adam’s representative act (federal headship), and are born corrupt and therefore oriented toward sin. This is NOT to say, of course, that individual sin is the reason for calamity (the Lord Jesus emphatically dispelled that notion in Luke 13:4); but that when sin entered the world, part of the consequence was misfortune and tragic circumstances. Ultimately, this is the reason for earthquakes and other natural disasters; bloodshed; famine; genetic mutations; childhood illnesses; and the ultimate curse: death (both physical and spiritual). See Genesis 3:14 ff.

Kushner, as the name of his book implies, seems to see human beings as basically good. This is part of the problem with his view of God: he does not see man’s true position in relation to Him. Because he hold a flawed, high view of man, of necessity his view of God’s sovereign will is skewed. While God is completely holy and completely loving, we humans strike out on both counts. Throughout the entire Scripture, the inherently evil condition of man is set out over against the impeccable nature of God. As I have explained before, the term “total depravity” doesn’t mean we are as bad as we can possibly be; it means that there is no part of our being that has not been tainted by the effects of sin. The following are just a small sampling of some of the verses pointing to man’s natural condition: Ecc. 7:29; Rom. 5:7-8; 5:12,19; Psalm 143:2; 2 Chr. 6:26; Isaiah 53:6; Micah 7:2-4. He also stated that expressing anger at God is fine; and that He can take it. Let's be clear: being angry with God is a sin. It is, in essence, denying that He is perfect, and putting one's self in the seat of autonomy. Jerry Bridges, in "Respectable Sins", equates blaming God/being angry with Him to blasphemy. At best, it is certainly unbelief.

I should note that I have not read Kushner’s book; my observations are based solely on the radio interview he gave today. As a biblical counselor knee-deep in theology coursework that deals with some of these particular issues, flags go up when a man-centric worldview attempts to understand God through a faulty hermeneutic. Because there is often truth mixed in with erroneous beliefs (both about God and man), the idea of a compassionate yet impotent god may seem more palatable. Many listeners probably swallowed the whole message, without comparing Kushner’s view of God to the One portrayed in the Scriptures.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Montenegro Mission Bearing Fruit

More mission team news from Stoneworks International (the umbrella ministry that funds Spring of Revival Belarus, MIR in Russia, and church plants/summer camps in Montenegro, part of the former Yugoslavia). The following is from the latter ministry's monthly newsletter.

Summers are always a busy and fruitful time for our ministries. The work in Russia, Belarus and Montenegro continues to grow, as the Lord gives grace. He said that if we're faithful with little, He will entrust more to us. We are blessed to have many faithful servants who pour out their lives, serving in the name of Christ. Please keep them in your prayers, that God's blessings will be on them and their families.

We had another team come from the United States, this time from a church in Texas that has committed to building a church plant in Bijelo Polje, a mostly Muslim town in the mountains. The team basically had two jobs for their week here: one was to encourage the church in PG, and the other was to host a small event in Bijelo Polje to raise interest for the gospel.

Those of us from the church in PG, who were able to go, went with the Texas team up to the Tara river gorge and had a sort of retreat. The team taught out of Philippians and it was a really encouraging time for all of us.We also helped the team distribute fliers in Bijelo Polje announcing their event, which was a lecture on "Authentic Christianity," basically calling people to go back to reading the Bible instead of just believing what a priest says.

The lecture drew some attention, more than we predicted for a small town that didn't seem particularly open to new ideas. We know that some Orthodox people were there, and at least one Atheist.

Some good discussions ensued after the lectures, and people were at least encouraged to go home and read the Bible.

This is a start, because " comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). Speaking of "hearing the word," TEENAGE CAMP BEGINS IN 10 DAYS!!!!

PLEASE please be praying for our teenagers, and for us a we prepare for camp. This is the best opportunity we have to build relationships with our teens and to present the gospel to them. We are collecting the last of their registration forms these next two days.

Please pray that the teens who come will really listen and take in what the Bible has to say about Love (this is our theme): what it means for God to love us, for us to love Him, for us to love other people, and what dating/marriage/sex looks like from a biblical perspective. Thank you all for your interest, and especially for your prayers and financial support. :)

-To hear more about teams arriving for ministry in Montenegro click here.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Problem with Images of Christ

Going in a different direction from yesterday. I realize peeps have strong convictions on this issue, and feel very free to weigh in, but please keep it respectful. Thanks!

Are artistic renderings of the Lord Jesus Christ wrong? As in, sinful, potentially dangerous spiritually, blasphemous, or idolatrous?

I'm thinking that portraits of Christ, even with the best of intentions, are a bad idea at best, and can be all of the above at worst. However, I don't think all drawings - especially those clearly not intended to be representational - are necessarily in violation of the second commandment.

First off, if you read Deuteronomy 4:15-17 in context, it is clearly talking about "graven images" in the context of worship. If we were to isolate those two verses from the passage at large and take it at completely literal face-value, all artwork depicting nature and animals would be forbidden as well. This prohibition on making "graven images" for the purpose of "bowing down to" them is a reiteration of Exodus 20:3-4. Clearly, we would all agree that praying TO a statue, image, or representation of anyone (even Christ-centered art) would be unbiblical, so we don't have to exegete the Decalogue any further.

What about images of God? Since God is Spirit, He cannot be depicted as a physical being. Does this, however, extend to images of Christ? The hypostatic union means that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, now and forever more. He ascended into heaven in a glorified body, and during His earthly ministry appeared "in the likeness of man". Devotional artwork, then, seems reasonable - at first glance.

Part of the reason I have never been too strongly opposed to drawings or artwork of Christ is because of the strong educational/evangelistic purpose such media serves, both historically and currently, among illiterate people (I include both small children and the uneducated of the Third World). A couple of summers ago, we brought our children to the Rila Monastery high in the Rhodope mountains of Bulgaria. Showing them the intricate scenes painted around the outside and all over the interior walls of the chapel, my husband explained that those biblical scenes were painted by the monks of the 10th century in order to educate the parishoners about biblical history. Although the Slavonic-speaking countries had the written Word before those in the West, few could read it and many relied on what little information they could glean from the liturgy. Pictorial scenes helped.

Interestingly, in Byzantine iconography, the distinctive artistic style is designed to be somewhat unrealistic. Unlike the Western Renaissance and Medieval religious art (which is more aesthetically beautiful and realistic), Byzantine icons are deliberately symbolic and originated as a form of instruction. Unfortuantely, that has not stopped many millions from worshipping them - and, in the words of a now-deceased Patriarch, was one of the reasons Protestants have traditionally been so despised in the Orthodox countries: "...They refuse to worship the Holy Icons..."*

But let's consider the purely educational benefit of symbollic (as opposed to representational) images of Christ. Children's Bibles, Sunday School worksheets, and things of that nature....I personally think are harmless. Even a two-year-old knows that a googly-eyed cartoon character in her Beginner's Bible is not a photograph of Jesus, and she does not pray to the picture (or visualize Christ as a cartoon character). My boys have long had this sketch on their wall, and recognize it for what it is - an artist's sketch of Jesus, loving on a child:

However, when I was a middle schooler in parochial school, we had a very realistic, large portrait of Christ by the same artist. For years, I pictured the Alpha and Omega as looking like the kindly gentleman in Frances Hook's painting (and certainly not like the blond Norweigan-looking Viking Jesus in an illustrated Bible I had!) Popular artwork trends have changed in how they portray Jesus over the years, and this is, IMO, a sign of what's wrong. We cannot just come up with our own "favorite image" of Jesus, and visualize Him thus.

As Glenn pointed out in yesterday's combox, that is akin to carrying around a picture in your wallet and telling people it's your wife - when it is someone else entirely. I was uneasy carrying around a certain image (even in my mind's eye) of Christ, when in fact none of us know what He looks like. You don't have this issue with childish, cartoon-style drawings; the more realistic the imagery, the more it sets up an image in one's mind - which is not really Christ. This is the problem, at it's heart, with "devotional" artwork (paintings designed to encourage devotional feelings, such as the Hook portrait I liked so much). Your devotion is to a false image of a real Person.

Additionally, many of the more recent depictions I have seen of the Lord Jesus are disrespectful at best; even blasphemous. While I doubt this was his intention, Stephen Sawyer's portraits definitely strike me this way. We don't even need to get into a discussion about all the creepy kitsch in Christian book and toy catalogues of all stripes (Jesus playing soccer with kids; Jesus action figures sold at Walmart, etc.)

Films about the life of Christ present a similar dilemna, to my way of thinking. No one can deny how greatly God has used The Jesus Film and similar evangelistic movies, such as the Indian "Man of Mercy". And yet, for every reasonably-accurate biblical film made about Christ, it seems there are ten more entertainment-driven, inaccurate trainwrecks that take a dangerously wide berth from the Scriptures. Add to their number the films that are downright heretical ("The Last Temptation of Christ"; "Jesus Christ Superstar") and again there is a slippery slope. Even the "good" ones run the risk of misrepresenting the Jesus of the Gospels.

Just as every portrait has a model (the real subject of the painting, if you think about it), films feature actors. One Good Friday, a friend blogged about how an image from "The Passion of the Christ" was used during Mass to inspire private prayer. As she pointed out, staring at Jim Caviezel's bloodied form did not inspire worship of Christ. She had to close her eyes to concentrate (I would probably have opened to John's Gospel, which never fails to move me in a way no movie ever could). In a similar way, I worry that a friend who wept all night and re-dedicated her life to Christ after seeing the film is more in love with Caviezel than Christ (although she probably doesn't realize it). Christian Bale once played Jesus in a horrible, made-for-TV movie that promoted a feminist agenda. Comments about the film from young, female fans online focused on his physical attractiveness. One young fan even jokingly stated that Bale "could convert [her] anytime!"

This was never the purpose of the Gospel.

Taking the iconoclast position to the extreme, where we feel we need to burn every children's drawing symbolizing Christ, is (IMO) going too far. However, I am beginning to see the danger of visualizing or depicting in realistic, devotional artwork an image that is supposed to portray Christ. In "Worship: The Ultimate Priority", Macarthur discusses in some detail why visualizing God is wrong - the bottom line being, it degrades Him. God is so much bigger, more beautiful and awesome than any image made by humans could capture, that to even try is to do Him injustice. The Bible does not describe the appearance of Christ - perhaps for a reason. Some things are not meant for us to know this side of eternity, perhaps because of our propensity towards idolatry.

*Quoted in "Heralds of the Truth: The History of the Evangelical Church in Bulgaria" by Pastor Hristo Kulichev. Copyright 2009.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

If Your Favorite "Picture" of Jesus is from a Cult, is it Still Your Favorite Picture?

There are two distinct, but related, questions I would like to discuss in the next couple of blog entries: if you happen to like a sketch, drawing or portrait of the Lord Jesus Christ, does the origin matter to you? Secondly, are all artistic depictions of Christ sinful; in violation of the Second Commandment; or just a really bad idea? Please note much of what I write on this topic is purely subjective, and undoubtedly some of you have given the subject much more thought than I have. I am not extreme in one opinion or the other; this series is simply me thinking out loud. Feel free to disagree, correct, or add your own observations.

Somewhere around 1991-92, my Dad gave me an 8x10" portrait of Jesus, given to him by a Mormon lady that same summer. He had been somewhere - possibly upstate New York - on some sort of business/research trip, and there was a high Mormon population. I think it was Palmyra, NY. Anyway, this kind-hearted lady told my practicing Catholic, self-professing agnostic father all about their "martyr" Joseph Smith, the hills in Cummorah with the Golden Plates, and all things Mormon.

Now, there are two things you need to know about my Dad: one, he is a now-retired history professor. He holds a PhD in American history, has written a couple of books, and probably knew far more about Mormon history than this lady did herself (but I am sure he did not tell her). The second thing you need to know about him is that he cares about as much for religion as I do for quantum physics (which is to say, not a whole lot). His knowledge of ancient and Renaissance history was, in large part, what drove him to despise Romanism, and the papacy in particular (although he faithfully attends Mass each Sunday with my mother. That's actually pretty common among Irish catholic husbands). He thinks my "Luther is My Homeboy" T-shirt (which I always wear to dinner at their house) is a riot, although attempting to discuss theology with him is a dead end.

In short, the Mormon lady made no headway. My father was not a potential convert. However, as a parting gift, she gave him this portrait of "The Savior", which he very thoughtfully passed on to me. I say that in all sincerity - I had become a Christian the year before; my Dad thought, "This lady loves Jesus. My daughter loves Jesus. I bet she'll appreciate this lovely portrait!" Of course, I thanked him; although I instantly recognized the painting as "The Mormon Jesus". I'm sure you've all seen the picture:

That portrait is as recognizable to a Mormon as the Sacred Heart image is to a Catholic (although I believe the artist was a Seventh-Day Adventist). I slipped it back into the brown paper envelope he'd carried it back to Massachusetts in, and put it in my desk drawer. I knew it was supposed to represent the Lord Jesus Christ, just felt funny displaying it. It was The Mormon Jesus. How could I hang a false jesus on the wall? It felt...weird. Mormon Jesus stayed in my desk drawer at my parents' house. I don't know what became of him, but I doubt they hung it up when I moved to Bulgaria.

Now....I told you that story so that I could tell you this one.

A couple of years or so ago, a Christian online friend posted a black and white picture on her blog or MySpace page. I instantly liked it:

I love the message behind it....the embrace of Christ, Who loves us eternally, tenderly, and personally. I believe that Jesus gives hugs (and that God, as the "inventor" of love and affection, is the originator of the embrace). Besides, children were drawn to Christ during His earthly ministry. Pure speculation here, but it's quite possible that He was a hugger. In any event, I really liked the picture.

Except....there was something...disturbingly familiar about it. The style struck me as eerily similar to the artwork I had seen from a certain cult called "The Children of God" (now known as The Family International). I had first encountered CoG/TFI on the streets of Sofia, where they were doggedly pursuing young people with their colorful tracts and message of free love. I won't go into the aberrant teachings or doctrine of this cult as it is so perverse and blasphemous as to put disturbing images into your head, but if you're really curious you can Google them. CoG grew out of the "Jesus Freak" movement of the 1970's, and was led by a delusional guy named David Berg who claimed all sorts of "new revelation" from God.

This lovely drawing of Jesus hugging a girl instantly reminded me of the cult's artwork, so I found the clipart gallery where it was downloadable and e-mailed the owner. He replied that he had no idea who the artist was; he has thousands of images and, after all, it was okay to like it. It's just a picture. I was satisfied with his response, and I even used the image myself to illustrate a posting on my other blog. Recently, a Christian friend of mine started using the picture as her Facebook avatar.

Well, not long ago, I came upon an online forum of ex-Family survivors, and decided to ask. I just could not get it out of my mind that that picture so closely resembled the cult's artwork, although much searching of their online, archived publications had turned up nothing. The moderator agreed that it resembled The Family/CoG artwork, but was unsure as to whether it actually was from the cult. Well, last week, it was confirmed - by a former member of the cult:

Report this postReply with quoteRe: Is this picture Children of God artwork?
by robber » Wed 14-Jul-2010 6:15 am

Hi Marie,
That picture is definitely TFI. It's by an artist who draws for most of their material named Tamar, and I think the pic is from the front of one of their mailings called 'They'll always be mine'.
The Family/Children of God has destroyed many of their more explicit publications and tried to sanitize their image, so I cannot find the publication in question (which is probably just as well). But do you see where I'm going with this? The image, which I (and many other Christian women) like presumably because of the warm, emotional response it's designed to evoke, turned out to have been produced by a cult. A cult which has promoted unspeakable heresies and practices. Ironically enough, The Family Int'l artist who produced this image (and many others) was sued for plagiarism. Not only is she following the doctrine of demons; she's a thief, as well.

So how do you like them apples?

Naturally, there's that initial "ick" factor that makes you remove the image and want to wash your hands. But the real issue runs deeper than that. As Glenn pointed out, cults can produce good (and seemingly innocent) artwork. I just scanned an LDS online gallery, and half (if not more) of their depictions of Christ are also well-known portraits on Christian sites and galleries. One, of the resurrected Lord, I have seen in churches and I swear it's Mormon Jesus in a different robe. Kinda messes with your head, doesn't it?

Not that I'm an extreme iconoclast, mind you. At least, I don't have a history of being such, for reasons I'll get into in tomorrow's post. But artwork, supposedly depicting a realistic image of Christ - symbollic or representational - from a dubious source is...weird. Just...icky somehow. If we think this through to it's logical conclusion, I think we might have to do away with portraits and "devotional" images of Christ. Does the artist's intention or Christology matter? I'm not sure. Since we cannot get into the head of another person, we really don't know what h was thinking - or who the model was, or so forth.

To be continued.....

UPDATE 7/28/10: I received confirmation from The Family International's public affairs office that this artwork is, in fact, theirs. So the "mystery" is solved:

Hello, Marie,
Thank you for your correspondence. The image you are referring to was done by one of our artists, but the art is not entirely original. The girl in the picture was copied from a paperback novel found in a used bookstore many years ago (artist unknown), and our artist added the picture of Jesus. The illustration was used in a publication that was distributed internally amongst TFI membership and is not on a public domain, and so we would not be able to provide a link.

I hope that provides you with the information you need, and let me know if I can be of any further help.

Carol Cunningham,
for The Family International

Back from Vacation

We just came back from a brief family vacation to Washington DC on Friday, and our little man turned 7 yesterday. I haven't had too many deep theological thoughts in my head this past week, beyond the fact that I finished Jay Adams' "Is All Truth God's Truth?" in the hotel room (for the biblical counseling course I am waaay behind in, due to revisions on my own book).

Speaking of hotel rooms, don't you just love cable TV? (That was irony there). I saw a guy down 50 hot chicken wings in 15 minutes ("Man vs. Food") and several PhDs defending the oh-so-plausible theory that life on earth came from aliens of another galaxy, who systematically programmed their DNA into the embryonic human race. (I swear I am not making this up.) Wouldn't it make more sense to just believe in God, and oh...I don't know....take the Bible at face-value? We did have a good laugh, though. The Smithsonian museums were great fun. The kids enjoyed "neanderthal-ing" themselves on a computer-generated imaging screen, and the flight simulator at the Air and Space museum.

Wednesday night, the Comfort Inn where we stayed had a BBQ for guests, so we enjoyed some hot dogs - and karaoke night outside in the garden. Man, those peeps down South sure do like their bluegrass and country music! Funny stuff. Our three younger kids got into the action with a rousing rendition of "Old Macdonald Had a Farm". Loud cheering ensued. (I am not making this up, either. Even the Southerners get sick of Travis after a while.)

Well, when I get back to writing for pleasure (and hopefully the glory of God), here's a topic on my mind of late: does the source of religious artwork defile it? Strange way of wording the question, I know. What I mean is this - think of an image of the Lord Jesus Christ that you rather like. Now suppose you discover it was produced by a cult. What, if anything, does this change in your mind or view of the image? Does this affect whether or not you think it's wrong to even MAKE or have images of Christ, either symbollic or representational?

I know what I think, but I'm interested in what you all think. There's a reason behind this topic. More to come later this week.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Review: Elyse Fitzpatrick's "Because He Loves Me"

Elyse Fitzpatrick is who I want to be when I grow up.

Of course, I mean that completely in the Ephesians 4:15 sense of "grow up". The ability to articulate the simple, profound truth of the Gospel and its implications for day-to-day life as beautifully as Elyse has in "Because He Loves Me: How Christ Transforms Our Daily Life" speaks of a real spiritual maturity. Her passion, from the first page of this encouraging book, is for her reader to have the same joyful, settled assurance of Christ's love that she herself has found in the pages of Scripture.

Why is it that so many of us recognize our need for the Gospel - the Person and work of Jesus Christ - for salvation; then slowly move past the Good News in our daily strivings to "please God"? We come to the Cross for justification, but practically live as if sanctification depended solely on us. Elyse spots this tendency - which often leads to a moralistic, defeated attitude - and reminds the reader of the only antidote: applying the finished work of Christ to our continually sinning hearts. Weaving the entire thread of Scripture around a central point - that God FIRST loved us - Elyse shows how getting this knowlege of His deep, abiding, personal and unfathomable love for us down into the very marrow of our bones completely changes everything. In fact, it transforms our whole identity - who we reckon ourselves to be.

If we see ourselves as "foster children", who can be evicted or abandoned at any moment, we will live like it. Realizing we are a permanant, cherished part of the family - His adopted children - transforms our hearts and enables us to live for Christ in His strength. As she writes on page 148, "Any obedience that isn't motivated by His great love is nothing more than penance." Well said.

How does the Gospel message impact our walk, 10, 20, even 30 years after our conversion, when we can rattle off the Doctrines of Grace like the days of the week?

"If we don't consciously live in the light of His love, the gospel will be secondary, virtually meaningless, and Jesus Christ will fade into insignificance. Our faith will become all about us, our performance, and how we think we're doing, and our transformation will be hindered."
This tendency to take our eyes off of Him and focus inwardly on our failure becomes a viscious cycle, especially when one is battling a life-dominating sin. Many of you bear witness to this fact. This week, I received the following in an e-mail from a reader:
"...I have been REALLY struggling again lately. I have trouble turning to God, because I feel sometimes like I don't deserve His forgiveness, or to ask Him for help. Lately I have been obsessing about food and eating all day long, and binging and purging A LOT! I work as a nanny, so I am alone with kids and in a house full of junk food I wouldn't buy, and have found myself unable to keep from destructive eating behaviors. Please pray for me that I will go back to Christ for guidance, and be able to truly repent for my sin. Please also pray that I will stop worshiping false idols of food and thinness, and instead live to glorify Him..."
(emphasis mine).

This young lady sincerely loves God and wants to please Him, but her words reveal that she has fallen into the trap so common to all of us: living as if our position before God is based on our own merit. When did any of us, in our "best" moments, EVER "deserve" His forgiveness? We didn't. Christ secured it for us - while we were still His enemies. We forget this. When we succeed, we feel good and can worship. Failure brings shame and a fear of approaching God, which naturally leads to more failure and despair. We are, as Elyse points out in this book, essentially not trusting God that He is as good as He says He is.

This is unbelief, and it leads to idols. When we don't feel fully secure in our position in Christ - solely based on His righteousness and grace - we seek the satisfaction that should be found in Him alone through counterfeits. Putting our trust in these "earthly treasures" leads to fear, worry, and anxiety - which leads us ever further away from the Cross. Freedom from fear comes from contemplating and remembering the love of God, manifested in Christ. As I have written before (and Elyse so much more articulately), change in our behavior can only come from truly realizing and appreciating who God is and what He has done for us. Knowing that His kindness is what has led us to repentance (Romans 2:4) motivates us to love Him back, and approach Him with confidence. Our 'identity in Christ' (as Elyse refers to it; I might use 'position') is permanent and irrevocable. It is what frees us up to walk in love.

In the final section of "Because He Loves Me", Elyse demonstrates how remembering and contemplating this unfathomable love God has for us is the true motivation for lasting change. She writes,

"Our natural unbelief will always cast doubt on His love for us. It is the awareness of His love and only this that will equip us to wage war against sin. Until we really grasp how much He loves us, we'll never be able to imitate Him. We won't come near to Him if we're afraid of His judgment. We won't repent and keep pursuing godliness if we don't believe that our sin doesn't faze His love for us one bit. We won't want to be like Him if we believe that His love is small, stingy, censorious, severe. And we'll never be filled with His fullness until we begin to grasp the extent of His love (Eph. 3:19). As a member of His family, you're the apple of His eye, the child He loves to bless. You're His
"Every failure in sanctification is a failure in worship."

Far from minimizing the seriousness of sin, Elyse reminds the reader how costly it was to God - and invites her to rest in this reality. At the same time, we are thus enabled to "wage a vicious war against sin" - the imperative (command) that naturally follows the indicative (what God has already declared to be true). Every sin, from greed to sexual immorality, is a failure to love as we've been loved - at its root, unbelief. The key to walking in freedom and joy, then, is remembering that we're beloved children, redeemed by Jesus, set free from the power of sin. This settled confidence produces thanksgiving ane edifying speech, rather than complaining and bitterness. This is what applying the Gospel to every area of our lives looks like in practice.

I have been recommending "Because He Loves Me" to women who write me about their specific struggles, as well as counselors and anyone else who would benefit from the reminder of what Christ's perfect life, love, cross, resurrection and intercession really mean to us as we grow in Him. In short, everyone reading this would likely benefit from the encouraging and joyful explanation Elyse presents on the synergy of God's grace and our response. Like C.J. Mahaney's "The Cross Centered Life", "Because He Loves Me" trains the reader to reflect more deeply on the finished work of Christ on her behalf as a catalyst to worship, rather than presenting sanctification as a spiritual self-help plan.

See more about this wonderful book at the official website: