Best commercial in the history of commercials:
Best commercial in the history of commercials:
In True Spirituality Francis Schaeffer warned against the tendency within us to always be interpreting the world with ourselves as the center of all things:
“The basic psychological problem is trying to be what we are not, and trying to carry what we cannot carry. Most of all, the basic problem is not being willing to be the creatures we are before the Creator. Let us imagine that you meet Atlas and he is carrying the world on his shoulder. In classical mythology he has no problem in carrying the world on his shoulder, because he is Atlas! You meet him walking somewhere on the shores of North Africa, where the Atlas mountains are. He sees you coming and says, “Here, you carry the world for a while.” And you are squashed. You are squashed because you cannot carry what you have been handed. The psychological parallel is that man is trying to be the center of the universe and refuses to be the creature he is. He is trying to carry the world on his shoulder and is crushed by the simple factor that it is too much for him to bear. There is nothing complicated about it; he is squashed in trying to bear what no one exept God himself can bear because only God is infinite.”
I’m reminded of three basic applications of Schaeffer’s illustration as it pertains to being a spouse and a parent:
1. If I place myself at the center of the universe, my family will be crushed. Marriages suffer because one or both spouses enters the relationship assuming that the design of the relationship is to serve their own personal desires. They begin to see their spouses not as objects of self-sacrifical love, but as life-long servants designed to bring them total fulfillment upon request. Fathers and mothers frustrate themselves as they raise their children because their children will not bend perfectly to their will. Love of children becomes just another way to love oneself, trying to mold sons and daughters into little idealized versions of yourself. Self-worship will crush your spouse, and it will crush your children.
2. If I place my spouse or my children at the center of the universe, my family will be crushed. My spouse was not created to be the center of the universe. If I approach my marriage as the chief source of satisfaction for all of my deepest longings, I will frustrate my spouse who will despair over not being able to fulfill them. Children were also not created to be exalted to the center of the universe. If I place my children at the center of the universe, they’ll be squashed under the weight of trying to be gods and will become exasperated by the task I convinced them was theirs. It is the most unloving of deeds by a husband or a father to remove himself from the center of the world, only to place his wife or children there. Instead of being squashed himself, he leaves them holding the thing that will ultimately smash them. They were not created to carry the world on their shoulders.
3. The solution is to allow Christ his proper seat in the center of the universe. Christ is more than capable of carrying the world on his shoulders (Col 1). In fact, someday he’ll smash Atlas or anyone who boasts of such an ability (Rom 16:20). If we approach our spouses or our children with Christ properly centralized, our expectations of them become attainable expectations. We are able to enjoy them as they were designed. There is much joy both in marriage and parenting, but not enough to justify, satisfy or sustain the human existence. That is a burden only Christ can bear. Christ-centered families free themselves from the futile quest of perpetually turning upon themselves, only to suck the life out of their very own existence.
Self-absorption, self-involvement, self-centeredness, self-congratulation–indeed–self worship will destroy your home. The idea of a Christ-centered family is not just a nice little thought that sounds good in sermons or looks good on the printed page; it’s crucial. All of the other competing claims to centrality will leave your family feasting upon itself and ultimately destroying itself. Christ-centered families draw on an eternal source of life, a source of life that will not buckle under the burden of bearing the weighty responsibility of being the explanation and reason for the existence of all things, even your family.
In a scene from Tolkein’s The Hobbit, Gandalf, the dwarves and Bilbo find themselves stranded at the top of some pine trees that they elected to climb in order to escape from the Goblins and the Wargs who were in pursuit of them. The Goblins set fire to the trees and waited for their prey down below.
Normally, there is no way out of that situation. At the top of a burning tree, staring down at creatures who desire to eat you is a scenario that always leads to doom. However, in a completely unexpected turn of events giant eagles swoop in and save them. Tolkein’s books–as he was overcome with the Gospel in his own life–are littered with scenes of unexpected rescue.
Christmas, if it is anything, is a celebration of the idea of unexpected rescue, not by eagles, but by a long awaited king that many had begun to think would never come. But yet he does come. He comes like Joseph who in the midst of the evil done to him rises to power to save Israel from famine. He comes like Moses who unexpectedly rises to a position of authority in Egypt and rescues his people from slavery. He comes like David to the armies of Israel as they cowered in fear in the presence of Goliath and the army of the Philistines.
There are lots of Christmas narratives that play out each year, but the Christmas narrative that drives the story is the one of an unexpected rescue from an unexpected king. Christmas is a celebration of the rescue of the soul that cries out from the top of burning pine trees and creatures with fangs waiting down at the bottom, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:24). And because of Christmas we answer, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 7:25).
In the Christmas event, the Lord himself swoops down and provides an unexpected rescue at an unexpected time for an unexpected people. It is the celebration of God becoming man and rescuing his people from their rebellion against himself. What can be more unexpected than that? Nothing. That’s the story that grips our hearts as we anticipate this Christmas.
As election season has come upon us, many conservative evangelical churches shift some of their attention to what they consider the big issues or the big sins of the culture. It is during this season that many come out of the woodworks waving the flag of the church as they speak up and out against the atrocities of abortion, homosexuality, the hostility of government toward Christians, etc. There is a tremendous danger that Christians face as they engage in these conversations. The danger is not that they might be persecuted, but rather that they forget Paul’s words to the Romans, “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.”
On the one hand, we should certainly be those who stand against the moral degradation of our culture and seek to elect leaders who might assist in slowing down this obvious, but inevitable moral decay of society. On the other hand, however, we must never be rightly criticized as those who are primarily concerned about the sins of the culture so much that we overlook or even the downplay any concern about the sins of our own hearts. Quite often, the effect of our cultural engagement if done brazenly and gracelessly is that we begin to use the word “sin” as a fortress that shields us from “those sinners out there,” so that we might be able to hold them off long enough to buy us some time to lob bible hand grenades at them over the walls.
Election season brings to the surface a deep danger within conservative evangelical churches when it comes to discussing the depravity of our society. Our danger is to pragmatically redefine the word. If the fault of those who claim to be the voice of the more liberal, more tolerant arm of the church is that they have all but eradicated the word sin from their vocabulary, the fault of conservatives is that they begin to use the word to describe everyone else so often that they have functionally come to believe that the word sin doesn’t pertain to themselves.
Jerry Bridges in Respectable Sins, makes the observation:
“Indeed, strong biblical words for sin have been excised from our vocabulary. People no longer commit adultery; instead they have an affair. Corporate executives do not steal; they commit fraud. But what about our conservative, evangelical churches? Has the idea of sin all but disappeared from us also? No, it has not disappeared, but it has, in many instances, been deflected to those outside our circles who commit flagrant sins such as abortion, homosexuality, and murder, or the notorious white-collar crimes of high-level corporate executives.”
As an example, Bridges suggest you need not look any further than the typical public prayer meeting. The focus is so often on my friend’s sickness and my country’s sin, but rarely on my lack of love for neighbor and my bout with jealousy. It is true that at many prayer meetings, you might often hear someone pound the table and ask for prayer for Chick-Fil-A, but rarely will you hear an individual pound his chest and ask for prayer for the Lord’s mercy on his struggle with pride. One might suggest that a public prayer meeting may not be the place to confess one’s sins, but perhaps it should at least be a minimum pre-requsite that one should have a close group of friends praying for their sin prior to publicly asking for prayer for the sins of another.
Jerry Bridges writes, “It is easy for us to condemn those obvious sins (homosexuality, abortion, etc) while virtually ignoring our own sins of gossip, pride, envy, bitterness, and lust.” He goes on to point out that in our own society we draw a huge distinction between a “law-abiding citizen” who may get a parking ticket from time to time and the “criminal” who steals or kills or abuses. The law of God does not offer such a distinction. Rather, the kindly grandmother who covets her best friends cookie recipe is just as much a breaker of the law of God as the man serving a life sentence for a multi-billon dollar investment scandal. This does not mean there is no distinction between sins in regards to their seriousness. Certainly, we would rather be guilty of coveting something rather than taking it, but, as the Sermon on the Mount reveals to us, the secret desires of the heart make us all lawbreakers.
Sure, in most conservative evangelical churches we might be able to boast a robust doctrine of sin, but we must be careful not to slowly wiggle our way out from underneath the definition’s thumb by diverting our attention and the world’s attention to sins we consider bigger than ours. Our theology of the cross will be theologically correct, but we must be careful to have greater concern for our own sin than the sins of others, or we will have created a cross that’s tailor made for them but not necessary for us. We’ll be theologically sound but pragmatically self-sufficient.
“Many of us who recognize the health-and-wealth gospel as terrible theology nevertheless create our own mini-versions of it every day. Of course we don’t intentionally formulate a bad system of theology. Instead, we do it mainly through our false expectations of what this present world can and should offer us. As we enter a new day, we expect things to go right, not wrong. We have a baseline expectation that there will be ample and good food for breakfast, the car will start, the job will go smoothly, and the children will go to sleep immediately at bedtime. These false expectations are exposed when things don’t go according to our plan and we respond sinfully, as though God has failed to give us something he had promised.
God calls us to wait restlessly for Jesus with a patient assurance founded upon his promises: “But according to his promises we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). Eschatology gives us resources for understanding and addressing the brokenness we experience in this imperfect world as we wait for Jesus. It also reminds us of the great victory Christ has already achieved and the final victory he promises. Eschatology matters for all of life.”
The Christian must get used to waiting. I will admit I don’t even like waiting at a stop light much less anything more serious than that. In broken families, failing bodies, difficult job situations, wayward children, and even struggles with personal sin, the overwhelming word of comfort from heaven is “Wait.” As Christians we must remember that ”our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3.20). A time is coming when everything will be perfect. Unfortunately–rather as Christians we should say fortunately–that time will not ultimately come after the next counseling session, next anti-depressant, next doctor’s appointment or even the next Bible reading plan. Some of these things may help along the way, but the real comfort is in waiting for our Lord’s return.
Christians often wonder if they or someone else has committed the unforgivable sin of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Throughout church history, this sin has been associated with everything from adultery to divorce to suicide. However, instead of having the effect of causing insecurity in the life of a believer, this passage should work in the complete opposite manner. Here, Christians should find supreme comfort.
Just prior to Jesus’ healing a demon possessed man, Matthew quotes from Isaiah 42 and uses Isaiah’s words to demonstrate Jesus identity as the promised Messiah. Isaiah describes him as the one of whom God says, “I will put my Spirit upon him… and in his name the Gentiles will hope.” Isaiah’s use of Spirit throughout his prophecy always indicates God’s presence or stamp of approval upon whatever is being described (Isaiah 42:1; 44:3; 48:16; 59:2; 61:1). In other words, God’s Spirit identifies what is uniquely his. So when, Jesus is identified as the one with the Spirit, he is clearly the one through whom God will bring hope to the entire world.
This is why whenever Jesus responds to the Pharisees accusation that he casts out demons by Beelzebub that he has such an issue with their position. They had essentially called the one through whom God is redeeming the world, Satan. They had attributed to the evil one what God had performed by his Spirit through his Son. In that context, Jesus says, “Therefore, I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven” (12:31).
Certainly there is much warning to be heeded by Matthew’s audience here. Be careful that you do not dismiss God’s plan of justice and redemption that is unfolding before you as something that is evil. If you do, salvation is impossible for you. It is only found in submission to God’s kingdom, so turn with bended knee to the one upon whom God has placed his Spirit and joyfully surrender to him.
However, this bold warning against blasphemy of the Spirit ultimately should not drive the Christian to despair but to assurance. This unforgivable sin when combined with some of the examples of the despicable creatures that God has had mercy upon throughout the Bible should demonstrate to us how broad and radical the mercy of God actually is. To be clear, there is a real warning here for all of us not to continue on in sin and opposition to God even while thinking we are okay. The Bible is unfamiliar with an unrepentant, sin-loving Christian. However, if the evidence of our salvation is there, we must remember that the evidence itself points us back to mercy we did not deserve, and we may look in some respects at passages like this with great thanksgiving to God.
Thieves who have spent their lives ripping people off–guys who had surely outran the mercy of God–find mercy from the man hanging next to them (Luke 23:39-43).
Miracle-witnessing disciples who deny Jesus three times in the same night are later able to write “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead… (1 Peter 1:3).
Church persecuting Pharisees with blood on their hands can now say, “In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me… Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus!” (1 Timothy 1:13-14).
Everywhere a Christian stands, he stands as a former blasphemer upon whom the mercy of God has fallen. The hope in this passage doesn’t come from his or her nervously tip-toeing around being careful not step on the hidden land mine of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. No, their hope is found in the supreme assurance of salvation that comes from knowing that because of Christ, the one upon whom God has placed his Spirit, that forgiveness is unavoidable and unrelenting. The believer in Christ looks back and sees this warning like the survivor of an airplane crash looks back and sees a pile of smoldering debris. We look back at our sin-induced rebellion against an angry God and like Paul see this warning and say, “But God had mercy on me… Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was (1 Tim 1:14).”
Phil Vischer, creator of Veggie Tales, basically recanted the entirety of the Veggie Tales series a few months ago in an interview with World Magazine. His insight into the issue sheds a great deal of light on the subtle difference between morality and Gospel:
I looked back at the previous 10 years and realized I had spent 10 years trying to convince kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity. And that was a pretty serious conviction. You can say, ‘Hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so,’ or, ‘Hey kids, be more kind because the Bible says so!’ But that isn’t Christianity, it’s morality.
["It's Not About the Dream," WORLD magazine, Sep 24, 2011, 57-58]
That’s a statement that takes a lot of humility to make. Veggie Tales in its heyday generated millions of dollars in revenue with the moralism that it peddled. Now, its creator humbly admits that the entire empire missed the most crucial component of Christianity, the Gospel.
So now what? What do parents who have brought their kids up on Veggie Tales do now? In fact, what do adults who have been brought up on Veggie Tales do now? How do we bring ourselves back to biblical reality? Simple. Just remind ourselves that in our depravity, no matter how much we clean ourselves up, we will never even be as brave or as faithful as Larry the Cucumber, nor as loving or as forgiving as Bob the Tomato. In fact, if we were vegetables, even our best efforts would leave us deserving of being blended into V8 (Rom 3:23; 6:23).
Discarding our Veggie Tales collection may or may not be important. I will leave that up to moms and dads to decide. But discarding any effort or striving that aims to make ourselves clean enough to stand before a holy God is not negotiable. We must remind ourselves that our righteousness is found outside of ourselves in a crucified and risen Christ. Neither Bob nor Larry– nor Petunia Rhubarb for that matter–will ever lead us there. Mr. Vischer’s recantation is a reminder that perfect obedience can only be found in a man who is now seated at the right hand of God.