Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Identity & the Gospel for the Judges 19 Woman (He was Torn for the 12 Tribes)

Identity and the Gospel Message for the Judges 19 Woman

Whenever the passage in Judges 19 is read, pastors and speakers alike typically take great care to caution their hearers about horrific events told concerning the concubine, her suffering, and her unredeemed disposition. Additionally most studies do well placing Judges 19 within the larger context of the book of Judges and bringing out the doctrine of the depravity of man whereby everyone did right in their own eyes, because in those days there was no king to rule.

Yet, the story of the Judges 19 woman requires more than a magnifying glass on her sinful condition and the sinfulness of others in the culture around her. Yes, absolutely, the wages of sin is death, and Judges 19 does graphically depict this for us. But it is my continued hope that women (and men alike) see how Christ redeems the hopeless state of the Judges 19 woman by bringing the Gospel message to bear even in those utterly hard and dark passages.

We might first start by thinking about the covenantal concept of identity. To this end, I found it quite interesting to note that none of the characters in Judges 19 are named. They are all anonymous entities, which is likely intended to achieve several different things, as many commentators believe. A common view is that the Levite, the stranger, and the concubine are representatives, like the literary “everyman” that ties us back to the point at the time of the Judges, everyone did what was right in their own eyes. In this way, the concubine is meant to represent the people of Israel as a whole who had been enslaved by sin, given over to wickedness by the very leaders who were responsible for their well-being. But there are some other layers of meaning here concerning the anonymity of the concubine. For instance, concubines who were barren or who did not provide a male heir to their masters were generally not named in the Hebrew Scriptures. A concubine would only derive a unique identity from fulfilling the particular role of heir-bearing and otherwise would typically not be remembered within the historical covenant. Interestingly, today when we think of women who are enslaved by sexual sin or who have been given over to the illicit and dehumanizing acts of sexual abuse, they become objectified and defined by their sinful acts. The shame they bear, both spiritually and culturally, often causes them to go underground, becoming anonymous entities whose lives matter little either to their new masters or the culture around them.

Even these deep issues of identity are redeemed by Jesus who is our true King,and, yes, even in a land where everyone only does what is right in their own eyes. And He is the true and better Israel. He is the perfect husband, who protects his bride. Jesus doesn't give his bride over to the enemy to have his way with her and abuse her. Instead King Jesus leaves His Father's house and offers his own body going in the bride’s stead to be torn apart for the twelve tribes. Instead of giving us over, without hope or any possibility for rescue, Jesus gives himself up on the Cross. His battered body is the sign to his people that he is our true King and Redeemer and Husband.

So, on the practical end, perhaps we should ask ourselves whether we are training folks in the church to be like the Levite who orders the woman on his doorstep to “Get Up”, even though she is dead (or nearly dead)? “Be a Biblical Woman by doing X and Y and Z or fulfilling such and such role.” Or are we equipping women to point these Judges 19 women to the true Savior and true King who redeemed us out of slavery? Unfortunately, too often the great temptation as we know it in women’s ministry is get to the imperatives too fast -- to be prescriptive far too soon -- because of our emphasis on women’s roles and what women are supposed to do, rather than who we are in Christ first and foremost. Identity.

The prophet Hosea looks back in Chapter 9 and 10 and warns Ephraim that they are behaving as those in Gibeah from the days of the Judges by going after false gods and idols and forget who they are; Whose they are; Who they belong to. They were forgetting their husband, over and over and over. Do we remind each other that we are His Bride and that he has redeemed us as the prophet Hosea was called to redeem his bride, Gomer? That at one time we were not a people (Hosea 1:10), but we too were delivered out of an Egypt, out of slavery (Exodus 20:2) and the kingdom of death and darkness (Col. 1:13), by the One who took our place and who has called us by name?

We are all prone to wander and forget our True King and Redeemer. Our savior Jesus, who has written our names on His hands, who has rescued us from the kingdom darkness described in Judges 19, and who has adopted us children of the Living God who will never leave us or forsake us!

Finally, I believe it it may be helpful for to consider the words of Paul written to the Galatian church regarding the contrast between Abraham’s concubine, Hagar (representing life in the flesh and slavery to sin), and Abraham’s wife, Sarah (representing the freedom of the new covenant in Christ). 
“Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia;  she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.  For it is written,
“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;

    break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
    than those of the one who has a husband.” ” (Galatians 4:25-27, ESV)

Now we know that we were all once the concubine, sold as slaves under the law, powerless to save ourselves from the kingdom of darkness, but God because of His great mercy, saved us by the blood of Christ, who gave Himself for us when we were nothing, so that we could be His very own treasured possession - His Bride .. That He called us by name and has written our names on His very hands so that we could have eternal life with Him .. Does this -- should this -- help change how we look at and minister to the Judges 19 woman? And to women in general? Just some food for thought.

To be continued...

Throwback: Thoughts on Mardi Gras and Lent

From February 2008 (with some updating):
Today is Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday. I remember going to Mardi Gras back in 1985 when I was in the Navy, stationed at Meridian, Mississippi. These were crazy times. As a 19- year-old gal, I could legally drink some things in some states and not at all in others. I can remember the thrill my Navy buddy and I had of going to New Orleans for the weekend on "liberty" with our Marine friends. Total freedom after complete restriction. We had just finished boot camp in Orlando and the first eight weeks of our training at our "A" school at NAS Meridian. After not being able to wear civilian clothes, go off post or do anything without being within earshot and full view of some petty officer, having a full four days of liberty... in New Orleans... during Mardi Gras was just too much for a bunch of young chicks like us to handle. We didn't get in any real trouble per se, but my friend and I were ill-equipped to handle the decisions and experiences we were about to encounter. Neither one of us had ever been away from home on our own before boot camp, and now here we were with some older 21-year-old dudes who were more than willing to introduce us to the wild world of Mardi Gras. Within a few days after all the frivolity, we knew we would be back in our highly structured and restricted environment again where every word and deed would not go unseen. Needless to say we took every advantage of our temporary freedom possible.

In a lot of ways this story reminds me a great deal of how Christians often treat freedom and legality, especially at this time of year, when many prepare to observe Lent and some even practice the revelry of Mardi Gras.

In terms of Christian liberty, we know that Paul writes (1 Cor. 6:12a)"everything is permissible for me, but not all things are beneficial" and again "to the pure, all things are pure"(Titus 1:15). Some of us would take this freedom to the absolute extreme on the occasion of Mardi Gras, so that the following day we may begin a fast of some sort leading up to Easter when we will observe and celebrate Christ's resurrection. So, Fat Tuesday is sort of a reward in advance for the coming harshness we expect to endure by giving up things that our hearts really long for secretly -- things that we are willing to white-knuckle it for a while, as we await the day when we can again pursue our various and sundry idols without the heavy guilt inflicted by our consciences. As if God closes His eyes for the day just so we can "Get it all out of our system." Then the following day, we get back on the treadmill of performance, doing all the respectable things that we think will earn God's approval and make us acceptable to be in His presence. Of course this kind of legalism is wrong, and it doesn't only happen at Mardi Gras and Lent, but in fact the cycle often continues well after the Easter holy day has ended. 

Moreover, the licentiousness of Mardi Gras is also not Biblical. In 1 Cor. 6:12b, Paul continues, "'Everything is permissible for me'—but I will not be mastered by anything." If we create days or situations for ourselves whereby we indulge our flesh as a reward for legalistic performance or as an outlet for dealing with emotional stress, it is still a just as much a form of idolatry. The behavior, thought, thing, food, drink, whatever, that we long to indulge has mastered us from the inside, even if we only secretly practice it once in a while. The Bible says all of our hearts are idolatrous this way, looking to dethrone our Creator, replacing Him with the things He has created to glorify Him. John Calvin said that our hearts are essentially idol factories that are always capable of manufacturing things to put in God's place. 

To use a more modern illustration of how we think of the cycle of idolatry, I submit to you: "Whack a Mole"

When we battle sin in the flesh, it seems like just as soon as we stop one idol, a new one pops up in its place. The more idols we whack or beat down, the better we feel about ourselves on the outside. In fact, if we live this way for a while we can often convince ourselves that we're doing quite well. Meanwhile, on the inside, Christians can't help but sense the compiling of sin and idolatry that is going on. Just like Paul in Romans 7, we eventually either come to the end of ourselves and are exhausted, or we delude ourselves thinking, "Game Over", I won on my own! This is a snapshot of the nature of our depravity since the fall. 

But recognizing our idolatry and nature of our sinful flesh does not have to result in condemnation. It is moment to fall at the foot of the cross and look on Jesus Christ, who is sufficient to forgive us. To surrender all our wiles and whims and games to Him. To find our complete rest and trust in Him. To have our hearts abide in His work on the cross and His unending love for us as children of the most High God. When we find our rest in Him, we also find that His Holy Spirit can keep us off the Mardi Gras/Lent treadmill. If we keep in step with the Spirit, we will neither feel the bondage of sinful slavery that used to rule our lives and beckon us to forsake the Lord, nor will we find God's Law a brutal and unending task master/drill sergeant/whack a mole machine that condemns us continually. Rather we will have peace with God through Christ, having been reconciled by His blood, and being given the ministry of the Holy Spirit who will renew us and remake us into His image bearers as we bask in His Word.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Let's Not Cut Christ to Pieces - (Horton)

Christianity Today published an article almost three years ago that is more relevant than ever: Let's Not Cut Christ to Pieces by Dr. Michael Horton (I gave it five stars back when it first came out. It's still all of that and more)

He writes about how the doctrine of sin and redemption is simple, but not simplistic and describes our sin nature this way:
"If sin were just a behavior, we could stop it. If we had done it a lot, we might need some help in stopping it, but eventually—if we tried hard enough—we could. However, sin is not just a behavior. Long before they made any choice about what to do with it, people were predisposed toward same-sex attractions. Affirming original sin, Christians don't have trouble accepting this. We reject the Pelagian reduction of sin to an action that one can overcome with enough will-power. We are depraved (warped) in every respect: spiritually, morally, intellectually, volitionally, and physically. Long before genetics became a flourishing field, Christians have spoken about sin as an inherited condition. Furthermore, we can inherit specific sins—or at least tendencies—of our fathers and mothers. Then add to that the ways in which people are sinned against by the attitudes and behaviors of others, especially in childhood. So even before we actually decide to take that first drink, place that first bet, unleash our first punch, or fool around with our best friend, we are already caught up in the tangled web of solidarity in sin. At the same time, we are responsible for our choices, which reinforce or counter the specific sins toward which we are especially disposed."
He goes on to provide some key insights into the nature of sin and redemption:
"The gospel frees us to confess our sins without fear of condemnation. Looking to Christ alone for our justification and holiness, we can finally declare war on our indwelling sin because we have peace with God... If there is no biblical basis for greater condemnation, there is also no scriptural basis for greater laxity in God's judgment of this sin."
"Unwilling to embrace the paradox of being 'simultaneously justified and sinful,' we reject either justification or sanctification. However, a simplistic view of sin as acts requires as its solution nothing more than red-faced threats or smiling therapies for getting our act together. 'Just stop doing it,' says the simplistic anti-gay position. 'Just embrace it,' says the simplistic pro-gay position." 
(more recently, the pro-gay position is a bit more disguised: Wheaton's gay-Christian counselor)
"Conformity to Christ's image can only be driven by the gospel. And yet it is directed by the specific commands and exhortations of God's word."
"We are all under church discipline: that is, the obligation to mutual accountability in the body of Christ. This is exercised, by Christ's own appointment, through pastors and elders."
"We dare not try to cut Christ in pieces, as if we could receive him deliverer from sin's guilt but not from its dominion, or as Savior but not as Lord. Nor can we cut ourselves in pieces, severing our body from our soul—as if we could give our heart to Jesus and keep the title deed to our body."
He also references 1 Cor. 6:13-20, where Paul draws the analogy of sexual immorality as uniting the body of Christ to that of a prostitute. 
"You are not your own, for you were bought with a priceSo glorify God in your body." (1 Cor. 6:20).

In my next post, I hope to follow-up by continuing with more thoughts beyond Dr. Horton's fine article here.