My own words convict me. I'm working on my Good Friday message and here are the opening words:
D. A. Carson is a well known Bible scholar and theologian who says this about the Apostle Paul.
“He cannot long talk about Christian joy, or Christian ethics, or Christian fellowship, or the Christian doctrine of God, or anything else, without finally tying it to the cross. Paul is gospel centered, he is cross-centered?”
How about you? How about me? Are you gospel-centered? Are you cross-centered? Forgive me for piling on the quotes but I have to quote Jerry Bridges, a well-known author who says this:
“The gospel is not only the most important message in all of history, it is only essential message in all of history. Yet we allow thousands of professing Christians to live their entire lives without clearly understanding it and experiencing the joy of living by it.”
Let me repeat something there –
“The gospel is the only essential message in all of history?”
What is the cross to you? Is it the only essential thing? Is it one important part of your life among many others? Is it the most important thing in your life? Or is it the only essential thing in your life?
Do you remember those immortal words from Vince Lombardi to the Green Bay Packers? He is famous for saying:
Gentlemen, winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.
Well, Vince was a great football coach but a lousy theologian. It is the cross that is the only thing.
If you have read me the last couple of days you have seen that I have gotten pretty worked up about the whole Terri Schiavo situation. I think it is unconscionable what is being done to her by her husband Michael and by the courts of our land.
Yet, with all of my moral outrage on this, I have to stop and ask myself if I am viewing this situation, and Michael in particular through a gospel-centered lens, or through a cross-centered lens?
Viewing Michael through a cross-centered lens won't change the sinfulness of his actions. Viewing Michael through a cross-centered lens won't change our obligation to rescue those being led away to slaughter. Viewing Michael through a cross-centered lens won't change our obligation to voice our opposition to the laws that make the starvation of a person like Terri possible.
But we are also faced with how we are to respond to Michael as a person. Put more precisely, how does the gospel guide our response to Michael as a person? If all should go his way, how should the Christian community react to him in the future?
Let's begin with the apostle Paul. Here is a man who was involved in the murder of Christians. He committed these murders with malice aforethought and yet the gospel reached him. There is at least one similarity between his situation and Michael's. He was involved in the taking of life, yet there was no civil judicial system there to hold him accountable. Paul never paid for his crimes against the Christians.
In our day it is common to say that a person can commit a crime and Christ will forgive him for his spiritual guilt and make him a new person, but that doesn't absolve the person from civil and temporal penalties. I agree with that.
Yet when God ensnared the apostle Paul with the gospel, He never meted out civil or temporal justice to Paul. Our judicial system is such that Michael will never be called to account for his actions. Nor will the doctors and judges who have taken a part in this.
I fear that, for the rest of Michael's life, Christians will be praying for his comeuppance more than they will for his salvation. Christians will be mostly concerned that Michael receive justice for his part in this rather than mercy.
I also fear that Michael will receive a lifetime of hate messages from professing Christians.
It is true that he must be held accountable for his actions, just as Paul was accountable for his. Wouldn't it be better that we pray that Michael's sins be charged to Christ's account rather than his own and that he come to know the redemption that is in Christ.
Being a conservative, both theologically and politically, I have listened to evangelical prayers in regards to those they disagree with. For 8 years I heard evangelicals seek to obey the words of I Timothy 2:1-2 with regard to Bill and Hillary Clinton:
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
Most of the prayers I heard weren't for them, they were against them. I was amazed and blessed when I went on staff at a church where the pastor prayed for them every Sunday. He prayed for blessings upon their health, protection from harm, and for their prosperity. He was against many of the things they stood for politically, but he understood that I Tim. 2:1-2 is a call to pray for the welfare of our leaders.
Similarly, I hope we can pray for Michael's welfare, not against it. Yes he needs to come to repentance, we need to remember that it is the kindness of God that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4)? Can we pray for God to pour out His kindness on Michael in order to bring him to repentance or will we be "Sons of Thunder" who cry for God to pour out destruction on Michael (Luke 9:51-56). If we do the latter will we not also receive the rebuke of Jesus?
I have to confess that, until now I have not looked at Michael through gospel eyes, or through a cross-centered lens. I have committed the sin of moral indignation, forgetting that I am the chief of sinners. I have also forgotten my favorite of Jonathan Edwards' resolutions:
8. Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God. July 30.
None of us should dare think that Michael has sunk to a level of "vileness" to which we ourselves have not sunk.
Viewing Michael through the lens of the gospel will cause us to acknowledge that he is a sinner, but will cause us to desire that he receive the same mercy from God that we who call ourselves Christians have received.
As for me, I am not under any illusion that my blogging for Terri is going to change the outcome of this whole thing, but I am happy to add my voice and my prayers to the huge outpouring of support for her life that is going on. Maybe it will make some small difference. Unless and until I hear that she has died I will keep praying and keep blogging away in support of her life. And I will stand against any and all actions on the part of Michael or anyone else that seeks to deprive Terri of life.
But as I do this I will keep in mind that I am the chief of sinners and that neither Michael nor the judges or doctors in this case are worse sinners than I. Also, as for me, I don't want justice from God, I want mercy. I'll pray that they receive the same.
Update 3-24/05 @ 2:15pm: Since I have been
mentioned in an AP news story that has been featured on the websites of
ABC News, Fox News, MSNBC, Yahoo and others I am getting lots of
visitors reading what I have written about Terry Schiavo. All are
welcome here and all are welcome to leave comments, even those who
disgree with me. For the most part we have had respectful and helpful
interaction from people on all sides of the issue. However, today the
comments are starting to turn nasty. I've already deleted several
comments from a gentleman seeking to incite violence against Michael
Schiavo and others involved in this matter. Others are resorting to
name-calling, and at least one comment has been laced with profanity.
I realize the emotional nature of this issue and I feel passionately
about it, as do many of you. But, this blog will not be a forum
for threats, name calling, profanity or anything else I feel is out of
order, no matter who it is directed against. I will delete all such
comments. Again, I welcome comments, even from those who disagree with
me. But when you comment, stay on point, speak as passionately as you
want to, but speak respectfully.