*It’s 1998, and there is pandemonium at NASA. After a series of small asteroids come out of nowhere to destroy New York City, a larger one the size of Texas is also detected, hurtling its way through space with no more than an 18 day notice before it’s catastrophic rendezvous with planet Earth. Unless something is done, everyone in the world can expect to die…
*It’s 2004, and humanity is finally paying for the sin of global warming. Dr. Jack Hall, a scientist in the field of paleoclimatology (you figure it out), postulates the immanent arrival of a worldwide climate change that could threaten to decimate human life as we know it. Only days later, the unthinkable occurs, as tidal levels rise to unprecedented heights, drowning coastal cities in polar ice cap melt-off. Unfortunately, the sudden change in longstanding ocean current routes subsequently leads to the rapid cooling of the planet and the dawning of a new ice age…
*It’s 2012, and mankind literally has a date with destiny, a date the ancient Mayan calendar has for centuries heralded as the year the earth will abruptly end…
If the arts are humanity’s ‘canary in the coal mine,’ it’s fascinating to note the shrill tune this bird’s singing. The funny thing is, I’ve only named three movies from ‘recent’ years; there were about ten others I thought of offhand that had to be cut from this letter for the sake of length. So what’s this fascination with the final destruction of the human race? Why the obsession with worst-case scenarios, the determination to cinematically punish ourselves through such a vast array of gruesome implements? I think the answer is probably pretty simple. The book of Romans, chapter 8, describes the context of our toxic coal mine this way…
“18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
The melodramatic self-flagellation in so many movies today is a manifestation of humankind’s guilty conscience, seeping through the façade of ‘fine.’ Forget the reasons you’ve heard; the human psyche (soul) is haunted by its suppressed awareness of an impending Judgment Day, a day of reckoning for a willful rebellion against spiritual Truth. And the unsaved are right to be afraid, because God is threatening—“But He threatens with Justice” (R.C. Sproul)… Although this is a critique meant for non-Christians, I’ve been surprised to find uncertainty even among the saved as to what awaits them on the ‘Day of Judgment.’ Some Children of God have been taught that fear of this impending day applies to them as well, as if they should expect some big screen debut of their life’s most shameful secrets:
*It’s the end of time, and the entire world is watching as God begins the midnight screening of (Your name here)'s life on His heavenly flat screen, in all its high-def splendor… To which I respond with a resounding “NOT SO!”
In John chapter 5, Jesus buries his spurs in the sides of the Pharisees after they grow indignantabout a comment of his which seems to imply equality with God. He does this by… agreeing with their observation. The comment that got them so riled up was this one: "My Father is working until now, and I am working." Jesus had just healed a lame man on the Sabbath day, and they were angry; didn’t Jesus know this was a day for rest? NO HEALING ALLOWED. Jesus scoffs at this by pointing out that just as God the Father is constantly at work to sustain His creation, so He, as the Son, works despite the calendar date to sustain and bring wholeness to the created order, Sabbath or no Sabbath. Besides, he points out, the Sabbath itself was created for man, and for just such a purpose—renewal. What better day to renew a person’s health?
Jesus was not a good politician; this only made the religious scorekeepers even madder. ‘He’s doing it again! Claiming equality (gasp)…WITH GOD!’ To which Jesus replies, ‘Oh, you think that’s impressive? If you like my working to heal on the Sabbath, you’ll really be impressed by my working when 1) THE DEAD RISE AT THE SOUND OF MY VOICE & 2) I JUDGE THE WHOLE WORLD.’ Yikes. Jesus then goes on to say this…
24”Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
27…And he (the Father) has given him (Jesus) authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29and come out, those who have done good (hearing Christ’s word and believing) to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (ESV version, parenthesis mine).
The resurrection of the Christ-follower looks like LIFE, not JUDGMENT. Why? Because for those who have already responded to the voice of Jesus with belief, Judgment Day has already happened! In his sermon last weekend, Pastor Bill talked about the meaning of Passover, that the lamb slain to provide the blood smeared around the house doorways of God’s people represented Christ, ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (Jn. 1:29)! A Judgment Day is coming because God demands justice for sin, so that, as in the story of the first Passover, His retributive justice will one day come calling at the threshold of all humanity, unless the price for justice has already been paid, unless a death has already occurred! This is what Jesus did on the cross, placating the wrath of God by accepting on Himself the judgment of God for the cumulative sins of all humanity. Jesus died in our place. He was punished in our place, once, and for all who will accept his substitutionary sacrifice by faith. Through His death, Jesus offers the world a way out of the 'judgment' in Judgment Day.
This is why the Bible says “1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). What will be a Day of Judgment for the unsaved will not be a time of condemnation for you if you are a follower of Jesus; it will be a day of commendation, because we will ultimately be judged according to the life of Christ! Will there be varying degrees of commendation for those who believe? Yes, absolutely, our rewards will vary according to what we did with the gift of a redeemed life while on earth, but not one of us will be publicly shamed or punished for our shortcomings on that Day, because our day of punishment has already come—but it came to Christ, and through Him, “It is finished!”—thanks to God's judgment, poured out on Him at Calvary. We who are saved live post-Judgment Day lives!
If you are a Christian, your Judgment Day has already come—and gone!—transforming a day of condemnation into a coming day of commendation. As you celebrate Thanksgiving this week, be at peace, and joyfully give thanks… for that.
Two Sundays ago in church, I asked our congregation to join me in praying through Psalm 103 to begin our service. It was a moving time of praise, and set the tone for the rest of that morning’s worship. There is a line in that Psalm that always unnerves me and reassures me at the same time; maybe you remember it – “13As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. 14For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” And there you go. We are dust.
Why can that bother me so much? I suppose because I’d like to believe I was made of something cool like Wolverine’s adimantium, or maybe something pleasant like ‘sugar and spice and everything nice.’ Even ‘slugs and snails and puppy-dog tails’ would be better than dry mud. Ooh, I know, what about stardust? Yes, that’s better, being made out of intergalactic, interstell—‘No,’ the Bible says—‘Josh, you are dust. Normal, everyday, brush out of the dustpan into the wind kind of dust.’ Ouch.
The other day I was driving to pick up my son Nathan from school when I heard an incredibly touching story on KVIP. A young doctor noticed a very elderly man walk into the waiting room of the hospital one busy morning. The man was dressed nicely, but was obviously alone. Later when the doctor passed through that area, he again noticed the man, still waiting. Then he saw him check his watch. Over the next fifteen minutes, the young doctor caught the man checking his watch with increasing frequency, becoming obviously concerned. Knowing what a busy day it was, that it would probably be at least another hour before the man could be helped, and because of his obvious hurry, the doctor dropped what he was doing to tend to the elderly gentleman.
As the doctor finished the check-up with his grateful patient, he asked the man if he was late for what must be an important meeting? The elderly man smiled and said, “It is an important meeting, but I’m not late yet.” As the physician inquired further, he discovered this 80-something year-old was a devoted husband, and that the important meeting was with his wife at a special care facility. “She has Alzheimer’s” said the man, “and she wouldn’t know it even if I was late. In fact, she hasn’t recognized me in five years. All the same, I’ve never missed a lunch date with her, and I don’t intend to miss it today, either.” The man’s story moved the young doctor, but still, he couldn’t help but wonder out loud why he would keep going to her, over and over, every day, if his wife didn’t even know who he was? The elderly man smiled knowingly and patted the physician on the arm. “Because I still know who she is. I still know who she is.”
There are two sides to being known for ‘what’ and ‘who’ we really are. On the one hand, it’s incredibly sobering-- It’s a reality Check. Reality = DUST.
In the beginning, God took the dust of the earth into His hands and gave humanity its essential dignity as He “…created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). There was an incredibly destiny for this dignified dust called humanity, but along the way it was hijacked by sin’s Alzheimer power, so that we chose to forget God’s plan for us in favor of our own plan— and it was impossible for the memories of original identity & purpose to grow back on their own.
God reminds us of our sobering origins as dust because, as a race, we have pride issues, and ‘God opposes the proud.’ God reminds us of our origins because it points us in the direction of humility when we start to think too highly of ourselves and ‘what we’re capable of.’ Like military recruits, God has to break us down to size before He is able to rebuild us into something stronger. He cuts us off at the knees and we feel the crippling effects of admitting dependency, but once we accept it, that we aren’t ‘self-made men,’ neither self-created nor possessing any sort of inherent ‘self-worth’ in the substance of our origin before being taken into the hands of God— once we admit that who and what we are without God leads only to catastrophe— God then opens up a second chance opportunity for us to embrace His plan for our lives. God makes it necessary for us to admit and accept what we are without Him so He can then reveal to us what we were meant to be with Him… “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). Grace = DESTINY!
On the one hand, being fully known by God is incredibly sobering. On the other hand, it’s incredibly comforting! In response to our rebellion, God sent “…his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3), and He lived his entire life in perfect memory of His Father’s perfect plan as a ‘do-over’ in your place. He also took upon Himself all the results of humanity’s (your) rebellious amnesia. His name is Jesus, and the results of sin’s Alzheimer power and God’s righteous anger, poured out on Jesus, killed Him as it should have killed us. Today, God is telling you He can rebuild and restore your identity by reminding you of your destiny if you’ll believe and accept this testimony of what Jesus did on your behalf. When you do, you are promised the very life and mind of the resurrected Jesus, unshackled from sin’s Alzheimer power and equipped with the capacity to clearly see, understand and live out a new life according to God the Father’s reinstated plan!
So the Bible says we're 'dust.' Don't panic! We may be dust, but the One whose we are waits to reveal again that we are dust with a destiny! And what is the destiny of dust? The destiny of dust is to be made into the likeness of God’s Son, so that we might fully experience all the benefits of His rich inheritance as co-heirs with Christ, both in this life and eternity (Rom. 8:28-30).
Even when you forget about God, when you join in Peter’s denial, when you stand Jesus up for a ‘quiet time’ appointment, push Him away because He’s unrecognizable to you in some crisis of pain, or simply ignore Him because the ‘Christian’ label has become inconvenient or embarrassing, even then, God still knows who you are, He’ll never forget, and He will keep coming to you— again and again and again. This is unspeakably encouraging, especially for those of us who wrestle with who we are out of a sense of brokenness, confusion or deception. The comforting side of being ‘fully known’ by God is that your identity is not determined or defined by your behavior, the quality of your relationships, the sum total of your accomplishments or the negative impact of your failures. Instead, your identity is determined by the One Person who cannot be confused, misled, tricked or coerced into forgetting who you are. Your identity is held secure in the hand of the unchanging, eternal, almighty, omniscient, omnipotent God of the universe, who ‘knows your frame’ even when you don’t know yourself, and ‘who remembers that you are dust’ bound for glory even when sin’s Alzheimer power tries to rob you of your sacred, God-given destiny: if you are saved, your identity is defined by the Life of Christ, and your destiny is His shared glory!
28"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified." (Rom. 8:28-30)
God knows who you are. And His perspective is the one that defines you.