Our Love-Hate Relationship with Authority

As a first-born, I’m not the most rebellious person you’ll ever meet. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t know how to buck authority when I thought it was justified.

Indeed, isn’t that the problem with people like me: we think we know it all, so we don’t NEED authority?

Regardless of our birth order (or any other excuse we might conjure up), we all have that authority figure we find it hard to submit to at some time or another.

  • That Department of Motor Vehicles that should ask you how to improve their customer service.
  • The highway patrolman who doesn’t know that you really do have permission to ride in the HOV lane b/c you feel like it.
  • The librarian who lost that book you supposedly returned on time.
  • The cashier who counts your items to see just how many over 10 you have.

Yes … we love to buck authority.

And we particularly love to buck authority in areas where we are certain that we ARE the authority.

This is one of the reasons why the religious leaders and teachers of Jesus’ day had a hard time accepting Jesus’ authority. THEY were supposed to be the authority. But to show them just how wrong they were, and just how tragic their error was, Jesus told them this parable in Matthew 21:33-46.

There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. 34 When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. 35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ 39 And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“ ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing,and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46 And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.

The allegorical references are clear and striking. The landowner who planted a vineyard is God. The vineyard is Israel. The tenants are the religious leaders of the nation. The messengers (servants) are the succession of prophets whom God has sent to them. Last of all he sends his son, an indirect self-reference to Jesus.

And the point is as clear as the allegories: those who think they are in authority and reject the true authority will themselves be rejected. 

It’s absolutely frightening to me that Jesus’ authority was never questioned by Satan or demons or other blatantly evil beings, but WAS questioned and challenged by the most biblically grounded, respected, holy people known to man. It’s a parable that, while specifically addressing Israel and her leaders, in turn challenges me to look inward for those areas in my life where I’m questioning Jesus’ authority over them. In my heart of hearts, I often prefer a love-hate relationship with Jesus’ authority.

  • I love His authority over my eternal salvation, but I loathe it over my finances.
  • I love His authority when He tells me to get married, but I struggle with His authority when He tells me how to actually BE married.
  • I love His authority when He delivers me from my enemies, but I squirm with His authority when He tells me to love my enemies.

And so it goes: a love-hate relationship with Jesus’ authority.

But Jesus’ authority cannot be challenged.

It can … and will … only be submitted to.

The only question is whether it will be done joyfully or begrudgingly.

Two Lessons from the Josh Shaw Ankle Controversy

According to NBC Los Angeles: A USC football player and co-captain admitted on Wednesday that he lied when he said he hurt his ankles while jumping off a second-floor balcony to save his drowning nephew from a pool, the player said in a statement from his attorney.

Senior cornerback Josh Shaw first told USC’s Ripsit Blog that he jumped off the balcony on Aug. 23, landed on the concrete and crawled into the pool to rescue the child, suffering the sprains as a result of the jump. But on Wednesday, Shaw admitted that the story was “made up,” and school officials called it “a complete fabrication.”

I learn two things from this story.

First, character still matters. There is still a recognition in our culture that you can’t just be a great physical talent and get away with anything. I’m grateful USC is teaching this to its players.

Second, lots of people believe the gospel as long as Jesus’ name isn’t mentioned. Shaw was lauded as a hero for what he supposedly had done: potentially sacrificing his football career for a drowning nephew. “What a guy!” everyone thought. Yet tell the world that Jesus “emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave … (and) humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross” … and they balk at it as creedal discrimination.

David Could Not Bring the Ark, so the Ark Came to Us

It seemed like a great idea at the time. An idea that honored the Lord. An idea that pleased God’s people. An idea that would likely secure the people’s respect for forever.

The ark of God, once in the possession of the Philistines, was now on its way back to Jerusalem. The ark, which symbolized both the presence and power of God, would soon be back among God’s chosen people.

But two things happened along the way that brought the process to a screeching halt.

First, though God clearly instructed the Jews to only carry the ark, they placed it on an oxcart for transport back to Jerusalem. Second, when the ark started to wobble and a man named Uzzah reached out and touched it to steady it, he was instantly killed.

It was a tragedy for God’s people, and certainly a setback for King David. He longed for God’s presence to be back in Jerusalem. In fear of the Lord, David prayed, “How can the ark of the Lord ever come to me?” (2 Samuel 6:9) It was a question that would form into a prayer, now recorded as Psalm 101 (see below).

What’s fascinating about this prayer is how resolute David is for he and his people to be holy in the wake of their sin. The sum of the prayer is this: “I’m going to be holy. I”m not going to have anything to do with people who aren’t holy. I’m giving myself to eradicating sin in my kingdom. Then the ark of God will be among us.” Verse 1 sums it up well: “(My life) will sing of love and justice.”

It’s a bold prayer, one that we’ve all prayed a thousand times in the wake of our sin. “God, I’m not going to do it anymore, and then you and I can be in fellowship together.” And just like David, we’ve failed to live up to our end of the bargain. We’ve been prideful, lazy, adulterous and selfish, just to name a few.

So what are we to do? How can we fellowship with God if our best efforts fall short? Who can pray this prayer and actually live it out?

I think you know the answer.

David couldn’t bring the ark, but the ark came to us.

Yet, because Jesus was the essence of love and justice, I think His prayer would be a little different.

David said, “I will pay attention to the way of integrity. When will You come to me? (v.2).”
Jesus would say, “I am integrity, and I am coming to you.”

David said, “I hate sin and will not be involved with it” (vv. 3-4).
Jesus would say, “I hate sin and will the pay the price for it.”

David said, “The one who follows the way of integrity may serve me” (v. 6).
Jesus would say, “I will serve those who have no integrity.”

And so it goes.

And for those who have given their lives to Jesus and have the Holy Spirit living inside of them, they now have the power to pray the prayer David prayed and live as Jesus lived.

Never perfectly. Never pridefully. Always in gratitude.

For were it not for the One who lived perfectly on their behalf and took the punishment they deserved (love and justice), they could never be with God.

I will sing of faithful love and justice; I will sing praise to You, Lord2 I will pay attention to the way of integrity.

When will You come to me?

I will live with a heart of integrity in my house. I will not set anything worthless before my eyes. I hate the practice of transgression; it will not cling to me. 4 A devious heart will be far from me; I will not be involved with evil.

5 I will destroy anyone who secretly slanders his neighbor; I cannot tolerate anyone with haughty eyes or an arrogant heart. 6 My eyes favor the faithful of the land so that they may sit down with me. The one who follows the way of integrity may serve me. 7 No one who acts deceitfully will live in my palace; no one who tells lies will remain in my presence. Every morning I will destroy all the wicked of the land, eliminating all evildoers from the Lord’s city.

This is the Only Reason Why We Have Any Hope In this World

I hope many things for my three children.

Some of those hopes are quite mundane. I hope they brush their teeth. I hope their underwear is clean. I hope they learn to love green vegetables.

Others hopes are more grand. I hope they become Christians. I hope they are successful in life. I hope they have children of their own.

And if I’m hoping these things in full knowledge of the countless years of hostility on the earth, and in plain view of continued hostility, I can only imagine how great was the hope of Adam and Eve when their sons Cain and then Abel were born, for they knew only one (albeit very significant) act of hostility: their own in the Garden.

Though the consequences of their sin were many, God was gracious in many ways, and in Genesis 4 He moved to give Eve sons. Though Adam and Eve knew they would one day die, they had sons. Their family line would continue. And who knows? Maybe one of them would be the “deliverer” God spoke of in Genesis 3:15.

There was hope.

I imagine it’s the same kind of hope you might feel when you hold a newborn child, place your nose on their head, and take a deep breath: a futile attempt “suck in” the youthfulness of life. It gives you hope that things are better … or at least will be better … long after you’re gone.

For this reason, I can only imagine the devastation Adam and Eve felt they learned they had given birth not to a deliverer, but a murderer. Cain, in a fit of envy and/or spite regarding their respective offerings to God, killed his brother and buried him, perhaps from the very field that produced the food Cain had offered to God in the first place.

And just as God had come looking for Adam and Eve in the Garden, He came “looking” for Abel. Of course, he would not be found.

GOD said, “What have you done! The voice of your brother’s blood is calling to me from the ground. From now on you’ll get nothing but curses from this ground; you’ll be driven from this ground that has opened its arms to receive the blood of your murdered brother. Genesis 4:10-11, The Message

Hope was seemingly dashed. A son is dead and gone, murdered at the hands of their only other son. Abel’s blood cried out for justice, and justice was swiftly given to the unrepentant sinner.

But was hope gone?

No.

Adam slept with his wife again. She had a son whom she named Seth. She said, “God has given me another child in place of Abel whom Cain killed.” And then Seth had a son whom he named Enosh. That’s when men and women began praying and worshiping in the name of God. Genesis 4:25-26, The Message.

God graciously continued the lineage of Adam and Eve, just as He promised, so that one day the Deliverer would come.

And He has come. His name is Jesus.

But he, too, was killed by the hands of his brothers.

He, too, spilled his blood into the ground.

But unlike Abel’s blood that cried out for justice, Jesus’ blood cried out for grace.

Whereas Abel’s blood demanded that wrong me made right, Jesus’ blood made wrong right.

Abel was not the deliverer. Jesus is the Deliverer.

Or as the author of Hebrews puts it, His sprinkled blood speaks a better word (Hebrews 10:24).

So is there hope?

Yes. And it is a certain hope that God has acted once and for all to deliver us from the curse.

On Homeschooling, Wheat Grinding, Child Vaccinations, Yoga, and Essential Oils

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 2:2-5, ESV.

I’m disturbed by what I perceive to be a growing trend within American evangelicalism.

I’m not talking about anything heady or something only theologians worry about.

I’m talking about something very practical … something that touches the lives of us normal, everyday Christians.

I’d like to think that it’s merely a reflection of my social media stream, but conversations with others have confirmed my fears.

So what is it that is disturbing me?

That Christians are adamant about things we have no business being adamant about.

We are adamant that each couple have as many children as they can possibly manage, if not more.

We are adamant that everyone homeschool their children (which we currently do).

We are adamant that everyone grind their own wheat and make their own bread (which we often do).

We are adamant that the consumption of processed foods is sin (foods we don’t regularly choose first).

We are adamant that some, if not all, vaccinations are bad for our children (our shots are current).

We are adamant that our smoothie recipes are superior (I’ve got some good ones if you’re interested)

We are adamant that birthing moms at least consider a home birth (we’ve loved hospitals in the past).

We are adamant that there are essential oils for every ailment under the sun (we use these from time to time)

We are adamant that yoga is evil (which I do frequently).

We are adamant that everyone have an exercise routine (like I do).

And we are adamant about “arguing” over these things on social media.

We are adamant about many things, yet the one thing we must be adamant about, we are not. “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

An adamant attitude is not one of weakness, fear and trembling: it’s one of brashness, overconfidence, and pride.

An adamant attitude does not exhibit itself in speech that is humble and exemplary of the Spirit’s power: it’s one of vitriol, self-righteousness, superiority.

An adamant attitude does not lead others to faith in the power of God; it leads to despair as others attempt to be as wise as you demand they be.

Brothers and sisters, let us be adamant about only one thing: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

Force not your preferences on others. Force not those things upon which the Spirit may be leading you to do yet not others. God did not call us to be evangelists for the secondary and tertiary things of our faith, but only our faith. Our good news is not the fruit of the gospel, but only the gospel.

Let us not be adamant about the things we have no business being adamant about.

Let us be adamant, but be adamant about the gospel.

Stranded in Paris

I overslept.

In a huge way.

I woke up at 9:30 AM local time in the bunk bed of a Paris hostel, and I was supposed to get up at 6:00 AM.

I had a flight at 11:30 back to the States, and I simply could not miss that plane.

I quickly dressed and grabbed my bag, running for the train station that would take me to the airport. Fortunately, I had become familiar with the transit map over the last week despite my complete inability to read or speak French. Unfortunately, the train was late due to a mechanical problem.

But it came. And I ran in to the airport and approached the ticket booth 45 minutes before my flight was to leave.

In most any American airport, that would have been early. But in Paris in 1996, I was two hours late.

The French ticketing agent took no pleasure in pointing this out, but at the same time, it did not seem he would help me.

That is, until the sweet honeymooning American couple came up behind me, also running very late for the same flight back to Atlanta, GA.

With a sigh and shoulder shrug, the ticketing agent said, “Come with me.”

30 minutes later, we were on the plane, eternally grateful to be free of the chaos we whizzed through. No security lines. No checkpoints. No passport check. No visa stamps. Just straight onto the plane. All possible because of a reluctant ticketing agent who made a new way.

This is what the writer of Hebrews says Jesus did for us to give us the ability to draw near to God. “We have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh” (Hebrews 10:20).

No more earthly priest. No more animal sacrifices. No more burnt offerings. No limits to the amount of time I can spend or how often I can come. Through Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection, there is a new and living way to God.

Do we live in light of this? What are to be the practical implications of this great truth?

There are at least three, and I’ll write of those in future posts.

Don’t DEFINE. BECOME.

Jesus told stories … and used metaphors. Pharisees didn’t use language that way. They used language to define and defend.

The contrast in the two ways of using language became about as clear as it can get when one day a man asked Jesus to define “neighbor.” Pharisees loved definitions. Jesus answered him with a story, the story of the Samaritan (Luke 10). If Jesus had answered the question along the lines in which it was asked, the two men could have split hairs of a definition far into the night. But Jesus didn’t do that. He told a story. The story pulled the man into BECOMING a living flesh and blood neighbor (or not), not bloodlessly defining the idea of neighbor.

Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way, p 213-214.