Death By Exile

There’s a scene in The Dark Knight Rises where Jim Gordon, Gotham City’s police commissioner, is being sentenced before a judge who happens to be a recently-freed felon.  The ultimatum is presented to Gordon: would he rather choose death or exile?

The question is made complex because winter has descended upon Gotham, freezing the bodies of water surrounding the city.  The exiled are forced to venture onto thin ice, and they will inevitably fall through.  Gordon knows this, so he tells the judge, “Death.”  He wants no part of an icy grave, no false hope.

The gavel smacks the desk, and the judge pronounces the sentence: “Death” but then adds “by exile.”  The viewer knows what this means: Gordon will be forced out onto the ice, and his exile means his death.

The phrase “death by exile” was applied to Jim Gordon in that movie, but sometimes cinematic phrases can ring true to the way the world works. “Death by exile” is the story of mankind after the events of Genesis 3.

In the true story of the world, God told Adam that eating the forbidden fruit would mean death (Gen 2:17).  Haven’t you noticed, though, that when Adam and Eve ate the fruit they didn’t die?  Instead, they had a very awkward conversation with God.  Adam blamed his wife, she blamed the serpent, and nothing seemed to resolve the problem.  Everything had been good and blessed, but now things went wrong and curses were pronounced.

How does the story in the garden end?  With exile. “[T]herefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.  He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen 3:23-24).

If we understand the important biblical motif of “death by exile,” we’re able to see that Adam and Eve did die, though not physically that day.  They experienced death by exile.  Physical death was part of the curse God pronounced–from dust man came and to dust he would return (Gen 3:19)–but for now they had to leave the garden sanctuary.

Their spiritual exile/death became a major motif that winds throughout the subsequent stories of Scripture.  No one is born in the garden.  Everyone after Genesis 3 comes into the world already exiled from Eden.  We all open our eyes for the first time in a state of spiritual death.

“Death by exile” is the story of Israel.  After the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC, Israelites were exiled to a land not their own.  But prophets like Ezekiel intimated that this exile, this national death, would be reversed.  God would speak to Israel as if looking into a valley of dry bones, and he would cause those bones to live again (Ezek 37:5-10).

We learn that the bones were “the whole house of Israel” (Ezek 37:11), which means that the restoration of the nation would be a resurrection from the dead. “Death by exile” preceded a “resurrection by return.”  And, sure enough, when Israelites returned to Jerusalem under the decree of Cyrus the Persian, it was like life from the dead.

The story continues unfolding as Jesus steps onto the scene.  He came to bear the whole gamut of our exile.  The Word Made Flesh would be rejected by his people, die bearing our reproach outside the camp, and be forsaken by his Father as holy wrath came down on an old rugged cross.

In short, Jesus’ mission was death by exile, spiritually and physically, that the way to the Tree of Life might be opened again for those who trust in him.  Jesus conquered death by his resurrection, and death will be the last enemy defeated at his return (1 Cor 15:26).

Death will not even hold our bodies in its grasp forever.  Because of Christ’s death by exile and return by resurrection, we have the hope that dust will not be the final resting place of our bodies.  The curse of death was reversed by Christ and one day will be reversed for all believers.

When our bodies die it is but a sowing.  The reaping will come at the sound of a trumpet, and once-perishable-bodies will be raised imperishable (1 Cor 15:42, 52).  There will be no more death, no more exile, only resurrection glory in the likeness of the Son of Man.

Guest Post from Stacie on Turning 30

August 11, 2012.  Today I turn 30.  I have to acknowledge the instinct to freak out but, somehow, all I feel is thankful and excited.  And it seems appropriate to spend some time reflecting on the last 10 years.

In my 20s, I graduated from college, married my best friend, moved away from my family, became an official pastor’s wife, moved further away from my family, graduated from seminary, had my first child, survived my parents’ divorce, moved even further away from my family, had my second child, and am currently pregnant with my third child.

Turning 30 makes me feel like I should do something wild and crazy—dye my hair, get a tattoo.  But, in reality, I’ve done something much crazier: I’ve become a grown-up.

I’m so thankful to my husband, Mitch.  He has been the Lord’s greatest tool in both my personal and spiritual growth.  I’m thankful also for my children, who are happy and healthy, as they have also had a great hand in my continual sanctification.

I’m thankful for my family (all the Passlers, Schaffners, and Chases), who, even though I continue to move further and further away, have been overwhelmingly supportive and loving as I support my husband’s pursuit of ministry.

I am thankful for my friends, who always keep me encouraged and grounded firmly in reality.

But, most of all, I am thankful to the LORD, who has been infinitely good to me; loving me when I have been unlovable; forgiving me when I have been unforgiveable; holding on to me when I have been unfaithful; and continually bringing me through challenges that test and grow my faith.  He is eternal.  Even when I turn 30.

Christians Don’t Have Freedom of Speech

The first amendment secures Americans the right to speak their minds, but the mind (and mouth) of the believer must be guided by more than the first amendment.

The Bible warns us about the unbridled tongue, set on fire by hell and dripping with deadly poison (Jam 3:6, 8).  The tongue is small yet its destruction can be widespread, like a forest ablaze from a thoughtless spark (3:5).

Do Christians give much thought to what we say in society?  Now, sure, the argument can be made that Christian convictions are often opposed by persons with public platforms, and sharing biblical positions can provoke the consternation of the media and secular elites (see, for a recent example, the Chick-Fil-A imbroglio).

But I’m not talking about that.  I’m aware that in 2012 it seems Christians can’t utter “unpalatable” parts of our biblical worldview without backlash.  What concerns me here, instead, is how some Christians vent their frustration and outrage.

If you’re a Christian with conservative political views, there are like-minded figures who don’t always express themselves with words honoring Christ.  One minute they may be praising the Lord, and then they get on Facebook, Twitter, or their blogs and curse people made in the image of God (Jam 3:9).

I’m thinking in particular of how conservative Christians sometimes speak of their governing authorities.  The issue isn’t policy disagreements.  The issue isn’t the role of satire.  The issue isn’t exposure of injustices, broken political promises, or constitutional violations.

The issue here is whether we’re still obeying commands like 1 Peter 2:13 and 2:17, which call for obeying and honoring even the highest office in the land.  The issue is whether we realize such submission and honor is God’s will for us (2:15).

Christians are the people who must “rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation,” and “be constant in prayer” (Rom 12:12).  The issue is whether our political concerns become prayer concerns, for Christians should intercede for those wielding political authority (1 Tim 2:1-2).

In our society we have the privilege of voting our conscience and electing our officials, and we have the protection of voicing our opinions.  But shouldn’t it concern us that the mouths of some believers sound more like political attack ads than exhortations to trust in Christ alone for salvation?

With an election coming up, I’m seeing a lot of posts and tweets full of anger, and not the righteous kind.  In a culture where rage can be packaged in a small amount of characters and then published for all to read, Christians should be more cautious.  Corrupt talk has no place in our mouths or our social media (Eph 4:29).  We’re new creations, so bitterness and wrath and slander don’t fit with the life we’ve been called to live.

On judgment day we will give account for every idle word spoken or written (Matt 12:36), and this eschatological reality should give us pause.  All Americans–Democrats, Republicans, and Independents–will gather before the world’s true Lord, and “by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (12:37).

Since believers are free in Christ, we should be more (not less!) careful about what we say and how we say it.  James 3 trumps the first amendment, always.  I think it’s wonderful that Americans have freedom of speech, but that is never a justification to sin with our speech.

So, in what we say and how we say it, let’s consider whether it honors the Lord and is in keeping with our Christian confession.  Engaging the political realm on any level is an important endeavor, so let’s make compelling arguments and advance the public discourse without compromising our convictions or dishonoring the governing authorities established by God (Rom 13; 1 Pet 2).

We can speak from a biblical worldview without being hateful, we can express our political disagreements without being hostile, and we can speak openly without speaking sinfully.

No matter who’s your president, governor, or mayor, let’s honor the Lord and the authorities he’s established.  Whatever culture you’re in, the way of wisdom is always best: “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin” (Prov 13:3).

My Favorite Lines from My Favorite Hymns

I grew up on hymns and can’t get enough of their rich theology.  Sometimes a phrase is so finely crafted that its meaning and emotional effect has stayed with me for years.  Here are some of my favorite verses:

“How Great Thou Art”
When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow in humble adoration,
And there proclaim: my God, how great Thou art!

“O Worship the King”
Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
In Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail.
Thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end;
Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend!

“This Is My Father’s World”
This is my Father’s world, O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the Ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world, the battle is not done;
Jesus who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and heav’n be one.

“Holy, Holy Holy”
Holy, holy, holy!  Though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in power, in love and purity.

“Be Thou My Vision”
Riches I heed not, or man’s empty praise,
Thou mine inheritance, now and always;
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of heaven, my treasure Thou art.

“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”
Here I raise my Ebenezer; hither by Thy help I’m come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger, wand’ring from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger, interposed His precious blood.

“The Love of God”
Could we with ink the ocean fill and were the skies of parchment made,
Were ev’ry stalk on earth a quill and ev’ry man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole, tho’ stretched from sky to sky.

“There Is a Fountain”
The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he, wash all my sins away.
Wash all my sins away, wash all my sins away;
And there may I, though vile as he, wash all my sins away.

“I Stand Amazed in the Presence”
When with the ransomed in glory
His face I at last shall see,
‘Twill be my joy through the ages
To sing of His love for me.

“Hallelujah, What a Savior!”
Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood,
Sealed my pardon with His blood;
Hallelujah, what a Savior!

“Jesus Paid It All”
And when, before the throne,
I stand in Him complete,
“Jesus died my soul to save,”
My lips shall still repeat.

“And Can It Be”
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fastbound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light.
My chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth and followed Thee.

“It Is Well”
My sin–oh, the bliss of this glorious thought:
My sin–not in part, but the whole
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

“Before the Throne of God Above”
When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there who made an end to all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died my sinful soul is counted free;
For God the just is satisfied to look on Him and pardon me.

“How Firm a Foundation”
Fear not!  I am with thee; O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

“Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me”
Not the labors of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
These for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
In my hand no price I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling.

“The Solid Rock”
When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

Do you have some favorite hymn lines?  Share them in the comments!  

Two Years in Louisville (Aug 2, 2010 – Aug 2, 2012)

Yesterday, August 1, marked two years since we pulled a U-Haul from Santo, Texas to Louisville to start a new chapter in our lives.  That last day in Texas was a Sunday, so I preached my final sermon at the church I’d been pastoring, we had lunch with the congregation in the fellowship hall, and that afternoon we made one final pass through the parsonage to gather up any loose ends.  We locked the door, handed over the keys, climbed in the idling vehicles, and drove onto I-20.

And today, August 2, marks two years since we arrived in Louisville, Kentucky.  We pulled up to the townhome we’d be renting (and still are!).  Wise or not, the day of our move-in was the first time we’d been inside it.  Unloading felt strange, jarring.  The reality was sinking in that we’d left our families in Texas and our familiar lives behind too.  Louisville was now home.

It’s been an adventure for sure.  Jensen was only a year and a half old, Stacie and I had been married five years, and we were journeying to a city where we had no relatives, close friends, or a job.  We’d been saving money in order to garner time for me to find ministry work, and that interval of time would give me the chance to focus on doctoral work as I began a PhD in Biblical Studies.

Now, two years later, Jensen will soon be four years old, we have a one-year-old named Logan, and another Baby is due in February.  Time has flown by, life is crazy a lot of the time, and our house is very noisy.  Though sometimes the decibel level is a mental strain, I’d much prefer that to the alternative.  On one occasion I was here a week while Stacie was away with the kids, and the silence soon became unbearable.  I love my little boys with their whackiness–probably because I was just like that when I was a kid.  (Stacie would say I’m still like that.)

Stacie and I just celebrated seven years of marriage, and both of us will soon leave our 20s.  I feel like I’ve known her forever, and there’s nothing like being married to your best friend.  We both agree that life in Louisville has been tough at times, but it has been such a rewarding and exciting season too.

We’ve seen the Lord provide financially through several part-time jobs, though a full-time ministry position is still what we’re praying for.  Not every month has been as demanding as some, but right before this summer there was a span of months when I worked four part-time jobs simultaneously: as a teacher at a Christian academy, a grader for several classes at Southern Seminary, a sales associate at the LifeWay bookstore on the seminary’s campus, and an interim pastor at Kosmosdale Baptist Church.

The Lord is good, and somehow I’ve found the time to complete all my doctoral course work in the two years we’ve been here.  My townhome office (which has no door) is ten feet from the living room, so I’ve managed to hone a particular set of skills.  I can exegete a Greek passage with “Green Eggs and Ham” on the television, I can study Hebrew flashcards with my three-year-old holding them up and then putting them in a separate stack, I can write a sermon through the shrill cries of a baby throwing fits, I can write and edit large sections of a research paper with either boy in my lap, and I can read long books in the living room as long as I stop intermittently to also read “Good Night, Moon” or a tale of Curious George.  Why bother with an office door at all at this point?

But Southern Seminary is worth it.  It’s an incredible school with an outstanding faculty, and I’m so blessed to study under the supervision of my friend and teacher Jim Hamilton.  The Lord used his classroom teaching to impact me greatly in Texas in 2005, and his writing and preaching continue to do the same to this day.  I’m so grateful to be at SBTS, and now my studies have an end in sight.  There’s a set of comprehensive exams I must pass, and then there’s a dissertation to write.  Lord-willing, sometime next year I’ll be done.

It’s simply not possible to recount all the blessings we’ve experienced while we’ve been here.  But we have two working vehicles, which is amazing, considering that my car is from my high school days and has 250,000 miles on it!  The other, a van completely paid off, was an unexpected gift from a family member, and it has been such a tremendous resource and has made a hundred things easier and more efficient.

We’re also grateful for Kenwood Baptist Church, which we soon began attending when we arrived in Louisville.  Their elders and leaders are tremendous men of God who love their families and the church.  For several months now, due to my interim pastorate at Kosmosdale, we’ve been away from Kenwood, but the Lord gave us such good friends during the time we were there.  Kenwood was a fountain of great refreshment and rejuvenation each week we gathered, and we commend the wonderful preaching and various ministries of that place.

I could go on and on, but I’ll force myself to stop right here.  We love Louisville and are so glad the Lord opened the door for us to come here.