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Life

Terry Harrington spent 25 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit

A gripping story from Sports Illustrated about an Omaha man who unjustly spent 25 years in the Iowa State Pen for murder.  Here was an eye-opening paragraph:

Harrington recalls the prison experience with a string of “de” words: demoralizing, degrading, dehumanizing. He has stories of gang fights and riots and inmates throwing feces on guards. He says that by the end of his first week, two inmates had been killed, one of them “cut up and put in a laundry bag.” Still in possession of his faith, Harrington went to church services. He soon quit when he saw the chaplain, also a prison guard, clutching a rifle, threatening to blow an inmate’s head off. “This guy’s going to teach us about morals and forgiveness?” says Harrington. “No, thanks.”

The story is quite long, but it is well worth it. You will not be disappointed. It is a tale of an man seeking justice and needing an outside advocate to provide it for him. The parallels to the gospel fall drastically short; however, the story makes me thankful for Jesus, who was innocent and took our death sentence for us. It also makes me long for his return when he will make all things right and bring justice to all those who have been unjustly tried and treated.

Read the whole thing.

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Life Theology

Three Questions about God’s Wrath

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18).

Three important questions need to be answered:

1. Who is it revealed against? Paul writes that God reveals his wrath against ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.  He is revealing his wrath against those who are not believers—those who do not believe the gospel.  In 2 Thessalonians 1:5-9, Paul says that “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict [Christians], and to grant relief to you [Christians] who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”  In 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 Paul writes, “The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.”  In our verse, of course, God is revealing his wrath against those who “suppress the truth.”  Those who belong to Satan, not God, who are perishing, not living, are those who are the recipients of God’s manifested wrath in the world.

2. How is it revealed? Paul does not give us much as for how God’s wrath is revealed.  But from the immediate context, we do have some clues.  The word revealed in Greek is in the present tense.  And I believe it is more than just a cognitive disclosure to the mind.  Just like the same word in verse 17, it has some historical reality to it, letting us know that something is physically being manifested in the world.  Verses 24-28 in chapter 1 tell us that God has given people to the lusts of their hearts to commit impurities (v. 24), to the dishonoring of their bodies (v. 24), to dishonorable passions (v. 26), and to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done (v. 28).  All of these things show us two paradoxical, yet non-contradictory facts: 1) God is sovereign over man’s sin, yet 2) people are to blame, not God.  Though God, in his sovereign wisdom and insight, causes people to be given over to depravity, he is never to blame.  We are sinners by nature and by choice.

In Romans 1, God’s wrath is something that is real, not just cognitive, something historical and not just futuristic.  It is something that is being manifested in the daily life of unregenerate people.  We can say that God’s wrath is revealed as a constant, ongoing reality in and through a sinful, unhappy, wasted life that is lived for the pleasing of self and not God.

At this point it might be helpful to say something to those who would think that a God who is full of wrath is either an archaic, mystical God, or simply no God at all.  First of all, think of this question.  If you were holy, perfect, and righteous, had never committed sin, and were completely and utterly pure, would you get angry at things that were not perfect, holy, and pure?  I’m willing to bet you would.  So God, in his perfection and righteousness, gets angry at all that is not righteous.  Paul David Tripp has said, “You wouldn’t want to worship a God who didn’t get angry.”  Some people would not argue with God getting angry at rape, murder, theft, or other “awful” vices.  But when it comes to them personally, whether it is abortion, domestic violence, drunkenness, gluttony, impatience, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, or any number of other sins, they would say, “It’s my life.  A God who gets angry at me is no God at all.”  But turn the table.  What if one of those awful things happened to you or someone you loved.  Wouldn’t you want God to get angry at that sin?

The other problem is so-called Christians who don’t believe the God of the Bible gets angry.  The problem above is one thing.  This is altogether another.  To say that the God of the Bible is not an angry God is simply nonsense.  From Genesis to Revelation we see God hating sin, punishing unrepentant people, and destroying those who will not turn to him.  Moo (p. 100) points out that “the OT regularly pictures God as responding to sin with wrath” (see Ex. 4:14; 15:7; 32:10-12; Num. 11:1; Jer. 21:3-7).  He also notes that Paul stresses “the working and effects of God’s wrath.  Paul speaks of wrath as a present reality under which people outside Christ stand” (see Rom. 3:5; 4:15; 9:22; Eph. 2:3).

3. When is it revealed? The tense and mood of the verb “revealed” tell us when God’s wrath will be manifested.  The verb shows us that God’s wrath is continually being revealed. It is a present tense verb in the indicative mood (the exact same as verse 17).  Moo said that it is difficult to give the same form of the same verb a present reference in one and a futuristic reference in another (p. 100).  Paul does teach a lot about future, cosmic events that will bring God’s wrath once and for all at the end of history (e.g. Rom. 2:5, 5:9; Col. 3:6; 1 Thess. 1:10).  However, in this verse, it is an actual, present reality for people who are not believers.  They are feeling God’s wrath now in an unhappy, wasted life—even if they don’t see it that way.  And at the same time, as we know from other Pauline Scripture, they are also storing up wrath for themselves on Judgment Day (see the passages above).

These people upon whom God’s wrath is resting are experiencing this because they (literally) “hold in the truth in unrighteousness” (that is, to “suppress” [ESV]).  God’s “truth” is not something that simply needs to be acknowledged or memorized.  It is something that needs to be believed as true and obeyed.  When someone suppresses a truth they are not giving themselves over to it in order to be developed and shaped by it.  They are not living by that truth and thus make a mockery of God and all that he is and stands for.  Finally, what is causing this suppression?  Their very own unrighteousness.  They are blind and dead, in the darkness of sin, and have no excuse (see 1:20; 2 Cor. 4:4-6; Eph. 2:1-5; cf. John 3:19).  Their inability to make themselves believe the truth does not alleviate their guilt.  It only increases it.  It shows how totally depraved man is.

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Life Theology

“We are rich. Filthy rich.”

I love Mondays.  You see, I have Mondays off.  So I get to kind of relax as I spend time with the Lord in his word.  There’s (usually) no distractions and no work to go too.  As I sat down on the couch this afternoon, I looked around our apartment and said, “Lord, you have given us so much stuff.  We aren’t poor.”

Carly and I both have average-paying jobs — and I work part-time at our local French retailer, Target — but we have more than, not just the average person in the world, but probably the average American. We are truly “blessed.” I was truly humbled as I sat there and stared at all this stuff in our living room.  I said, “Lord, I praise you that we can afford to have the lights on.”  You know what else is humbling? I get two days a week off. Most people get one. Some people don’t get any.

After reading the Scriptures, I read chapter 5 in Francis Chan’s book Crazy Love.  He wrote about the exact thing I was meditating on. Francis writes:

Which is more messed up — that we have so much compared to everyone else, or that we don’t think we’re rich? That on any given day we might flippantly call ourselves “broke” or “poor”? We are neither of those things. We are rich. Filthy rich.

Francis goes on to talk about how this hurts us spiritually:

The reality is that, whether we acknowledge our wealth or not, being rich is a serious disadvantage spiritually. As William Wilberforce once said, “Prosperity hardens the heart.”

Understanding that we aren’t poor, but rich — filthy rich — starts in the heart. Do I want to prosper materially or spiritually? What do I really want? Of course I need to eat and sleep and wear clothes. I need a car and I need to put gas in it. God understands this. But where is my hope and energy and adoration going? I pray that everyday it goes to God, not because he gives stuff, but because he is the only thing that will give me satisfaction.

Prosperity hardens our hearts because it causes us to depend on our money and stuff and not God. If we daily lack food and clothes and shelter, we will be on our knees begging God for help. I don’t need to do that. But I want to be on my knees thanking God for what he has given and begging him for his mercy because all I deserve is hell and damnation.  When that sobering truth is on your mind, you will never say, “I’m poor.”

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Life

A Prayer I Need to Pray

My friend Marty Everding recently blogged on Hating God in Despising Justice. At the end, he wrote this prayer:

Father help us today to believe more deeply that sin is always far more vertical in its aim than horizontal, and that it is far more evil than we can imagine. In light of this reality, increase our faith and let us understand Your wrath more as we see it poured out on Christ at the cross to save those who believe. Help us understand Your hatred for sin, what it cost You to save us from it, and the eternal  cost of sin in hell for all who have spurned your holiness. We too cry out, “I believe! Help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

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Life

Does God Love a Non-Christian’s Justice?

This question came from a blog of a pastor friend of mine.  He asked if we agreed or disagreed with this statement from an unnamed author:

Everyone who struggles for justice, everyone who makes just claims in unjust surroundings, is working for God’s reign, even though not a Christian.

Here was my short response:

Yes and no.

No because anything that is not from faith is sin (Rom. 14:23) and without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). Anything not done for the glory of God is sin and therefore even Christians can do something that is “just” and have it be sinful because it was done with a stained motive or intention

Yes because Proverbs 11:1 says, “A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight.” So anything that is just is God’s creation. Certainly there are things non-Christians do that the Bible affirms are good and because justice and honesty and integrity are God’s design, it delights God. This is what the doctrine of common grace is all about. (Biblical example: Cyrus who didn’t know God (Isa. 45), but delivered God’s people from captivity.)