Rembrandt and The Cross of Christ

One of the truths that were recovered in the Reformation was the power of the Cross of Christ. The truth of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It was during the time leading up to the Reformation there was a focus on our works what we could do in this life and after this life to be pleasing to God. On Good Friday we are reminded of the need for the Cross of Christ. Living in light of the Cross changes how you live because it changes why you live.

David Brainerd said it this way “I found that when my people were gripped by the great doctrine of Christ and Him crucified, I had no need to give them instructions about morality.” Living in light of the cross changes you because you see that Christ was crucified for your sin and by your sin.

The reach of the Reformation went far beyond Germany and began to shape culture. We see this in the life and work of Rembrandt (1606-1669). “Rembrandt had flaws in his life, but he was a true Christian; he believed in the death of Christ for him personally. In 1633 he painted the Raising of the Cross for Prince Frederick Henery of Orange.” Francis Schaeffer

The Raising of the Cross

In his painting, The Raising of the Cross Rembrandt painted Christ being crucified Rembrandt showed how the preaching of the Reformation had profoundly affected him. Rembrandt paints himself in his own painting. Rembrandt is the man in blue raising Christ upon the cross.

“He is stating for all the world to see that his sins had sent Christ to the cross. Rembrandt’s biblical base enabled him to excel in painting people with psychological depth. Man was great, but man was also cruel and broken, for he had revolted against God. “

Francis Schaeffer

Rembrandt saw himself as guilt. What is interesting to note is the fact that he not only painted himself as the one raising the cross in it’s place but he is also the Commander on the horse behind in charge and overseeing the death of Christ. What is striking is the commander isn’t looking at those carrying out the punishment he is staring at the person painting the picture. He is looking straight at Rembrandt as he is painting. He is looking at you and me as we are taking the painting in. He is looking to Rembrandt for orders. Rembrandt a child of the Reformation understood the weight of his sin and the power of the cross.

The last thing that stands out in this picture is the grave and the shovel in the bottom righthand corner. This grave is not for Christ because he was buried in a tomb this grave is the call to Rembrandt and to you and I to die in Christ to die with Christ and for our sinful man to be buried to await newness of life.

Good Friday is only as good as the promise of God. Rembrandt was well aware of his sinfulness. He was well aware that he was more than just “broken”. He was responsible for condemning Christ to the cross and for raising the cross in it’s place and his only hope was not to do better or try harder but to die to sin and be buried and experience a new birth new life the cross guarantees. May we this Easter season be aware of the depth of our sin and the greater depth of his grace.

Pastor PreachersNSneakers Should Concern You.

If you aren’t up on the latest Christian buzz there is a new site called PreachersnSneakers . It is a site calling out preachers for having expensive shoes and clothing items. It started off as a “funny” site and has clearly hit a cultural nerve gaining 60k followers on Instagram in four days.

As funny and as crass as some of the comments are, I think the content of the posts and the content of the comments are very telling and are deserving of more than a cheap laugh. I think the problem we have to ask ourselves as those who are a part of the evangelical world is – In our desire to relate to the world and connect with lost people has our message has been lost? When you are so immeshed in the images and artifacts of culture that you are inseparable from culture your message will always either be dismissed as hypocrisy or changed into another gospel.

Sites like this should make all Christians and especially Christian leaders look at their lives and ask themselves is there anything I am doing that is a hindrance to the gospel of Christ? What we as leaders must guard against is the pride of own hearts that says I would never dress like that or spend that kind of money on shoes. We must also be aware of who we are portraying ourselves to be online. Are we as leaders pointing people to Christ or drawing them to ourselves? Are we unintentionally stirring up in those who follow us the sin of envy?

A famous preacher once said that the dress and style of a pastor should be forgettable so that what you remember is his message, not his clothing. Any Christian minister that upstages the gospel in their methods or lifestyle needs to repent. I think a good guideline for every preacher is to avoid poverty and opulence so that what you say matters more than what you look like.

Why does some Celebraty pastor wearing 5,500.00 sneakers concern me? Because even if you do not wear such things you can be guilty of pride or envy. Pride because you feel that you are better than the person who is wearing expensive things and you do not. The other half of the population wishes they had these items for themselves, the sin of envy. So even if you were gifted items that are very expensive by people who hope you wear them so other people can see and desire them, should you? I don’t think you should. Not because the gospel is opposed to nice things, it isn’t, it views everything we have as a gracious gift. The gospel should make you more aware of inflaming the passions in others tha can not be fulfilled without sin.

One of the greatest problem with expensive and even good things flaunted on Instagram is what it does to the hearts of those who are weaker and are prone to the sin of envy (which is all of us by the way). In The Rule of Love J.V. Fesko says this about the tenth commandment.

The tenth commandment has much to say about motives. In this regard, it is a unique commandment, for few cultures have laws that govern motives. Recognizing that the tenth commandment targets heart motives helps us to see that Christ was not raising the demands of the law in His Sermon on the Mount. Rather, by connecting the demands of the tenth commandment to the rest of the Law, Christ revealed that merely dealing with external behavior was not enough; the Law also dealt with motives of the heart. That is because violating the tenth commandment is often the gateway to violating the rest of the Law.

 J. V. Fesko, The Rule of Love: Broken, Fulfilled, and Applied (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2009), 125.

Can you have nice things without nice things having you? I think you can. There are those who with pride say Christians shouldn’t have nice things I don’t think that’s true at all. The problem comes when you are defined by your things more than who you are in Christ. When you have to have certain things because of the crowd you run with. When you think that things and stuff, rather than the fruit of repentance, define your acceptance before God. As Piper famously said, “No one says Jesus is all satisfying because you drive a BMW” or wear Gucci. They say “Did Jesus give you that? I’ll take Jesus.” When we confuse giver and gift we proclaim to a watching world another gospel. Jesus plus nice things equal God’s acceptance. When we properly understand every good and perfect gift I have comes from God and I am a steward of the things he gives me for the glory of God. Stewards are aware of their master’s desire and design, owners are only concerned with their own desires. Servants want to please their master, owners feel they deserve what they have worked hard for. Stewards view what they have as gracious gifts, owners view what they have as entitlements they have earned. The gospel is not opposed to effort it is however opposed to earning.

Let us strive to guard our hearts from the sin of pride in our right judgments of fellow Christians. Let us also protect others as much as we are able from the sin of envy.

Training Kids to be Truthful and Kind

At the risk of sounding like a nerd. I remember reading the encyclopedia as a child. The encyclopedia salesman came to the door and sold us a set. I loved it. It was the internet before the internet was cool. I had something many kids didn’t have I had a private stash of information. What I thankfully didn’t have was a platform to share that information I had gathered about historic events, strange animals and various states. This generation more than any other has more information at their disposal and more opportunity to share their ideas than ever before. Knowledge plus platform minus the humility that failure and difficulty over time bring is a recipe for arrogance and self-reliance.

When I was growing up information was hard to come by now information is everywhere. Growing up sharing what you have learned was not easy now with the advent of social media everyone has a platform. The job for parents when I was growing up was helping lead your kids to information. Today parents are no longer curators of information but clarifiers of truth.

As a pastor and a father, I have come to realize that if I don’t teach my kids someone else will. What we teach our kids today is not primarily information that can be found elsewhere we need to teach our kids how to use the information they have acquired. We have to give them a grid that will enable them to interact on social media and other online platforms that don’t feed the ego and the subtle arrogance that knowledge and opportunity bring. We have to teach them what no one else will. If we want our kids to be a meat eater and a bone spitter we need to teach them clarity and charity.

What are meat eating and bone spitting? It is the ability to in every conversation and situation look for what you can learn, look for what is true rather than trying to win every argument. If you have been on social media we have a massive problem in our country that is more than Democrat/Republican we have informed or misinformed people who think they are right and are hell-bent on making sure they do not lose an argument. What we need more of is not information. We need more clarity and more charity.

The first thing we need to teach our kids is clarity. Is it true? Is what they are reading is what they are saying true? We have a generation that is ruled by their emotional response to any given situation yet they have failed to stop and ask “Is this true?” Truth is not relative there is objective truth. As Christians, we believe that objective truth is the Word of God. We have to teach our kids to check their ideas, information, and presuppositions against what the Bible tells us the truth is. We do this by pointing them back to scripture over and over again. We do this by personally showing them how we filter our political, moral, and spiritual decisions based on what the bible says over what someone tells us we should say or do as an “Evangelical Chrisitan”. Clarifying for our kids what is true will help them properly filter information that they are given or come across on their own. If they are not clear on what is true they will belive a lie. If they don’t have an external filter for the truth they will believe things about God and themselves that isn’t true.

We would rather be certain we are right than charitable with those we disagree.

The next thing parents have to teach their kids is Charity. Modern culture has traded charity for certainty. We would rather be certain we are right than charitable with those we disagree. In our online and offline interactions, we need more charity. Charity is achieved over time through the crucible of pain and the realization that we don’t know it all. Without charity, we will produce a generation that is convinced they are right and will never learn how wrong they are until it is too late. Charity is more than an attitude towards others it is manifested in neighbor love. When we no longer have to live to one-up our “enemies” on facebook we are free to learn from them and ultimately love them. Jonathan Edwards said this in his book Charity and her Fruits. “Do not make an excuse that you have not opportunities to do anything for the glory of God, for the interest of the Redeemer’s kingdom, and for the spiritual benefit of your neighbors. If your heart is full of love, it will find vent; you will find or make ways enough to express your love in deeds. When a fountain abounds in water it will send forth streams.”

If your heart is full of love, it will find vent; you will find or make ways enough to express your love in deeds. When a fountain abounds in water it will send forth streams.”

– Jonathan Edwards

The greatest gift you can give your kids and the kids you pastor is the twin girds of clarity and charity. Is this true and is this kind? Information is superabundant truth and kindness are not. May we raise kids who collect information and in an attitude of charity spit out the bones of untruth and cling to the meat of truth. May our kids grow in their knowledge but grow even more in kindness and truth.

How Do We Train Our Kids to Stand Firm

Liturgy, Theology and Love

In our country, we do not have armed guards forcing us to step on the face of Jesus. We do, however, have a secular culture and progressive Christians. They ask us to trample on scripture and tradition in order for us to find acceptance to their table of tolerance. The modern movement away from orthodoxy has the taste of Japanese guards saying to our youth, “Trample, Trample,” and the voice of the serpent saying, “Did God actually say?” Our kids are not being crushed by atheism they are being seduced by secularism, materialism, and individualism.

“Love, which we would consider an “ultimate” love could be described as that to which we ultimately pledge allegiance; or, to evoke language that is both religious and ancient, our ultimate love is what we worship. The reasons we emphasize that this is a matter of love is to signify that our orientation to what’s ultimate is not primarily on the order of thinking. It’s not what I think that shapes my life from the bottom up; it’s what I desire, what I love, that animates my passion.”  James K.A. Smith

We are not primarily what we think or even what we believe. We are primarily, as Smith says, what we love. So how do we raise kids who will not trample the faith handed to them? How do we not just inform the minds of our kids but also help them form their loves?

  1. Biblical Theology – Kids need to understand the Bible is about God, not about them. They need to see the broad sweeping themes of sin, redemption, and restoration. They need to see Jesus on every page of the Bible. If Christianity is only ever theological facts to be memorized and not a God to be adored, culture wins every time. We need to give our kids a Biblically faithful picture of a God of who is holy and loving. Biblical theology is not just information, but the understanding that all of scripture is the unfolding story of God’s love for us. Properly communicated, it should warm our hearts and fill our minds with wonder.  – Great interview with Paul David Tripp on recapturing awe. 
  2. Systematic Theology – Kids need to understand that the Bible is more than a story. It is that, to be sure, but it has practical implications for how we live. Biblical theology doesn’t answer life’s difficult questions. It shows us the beauty of Christ. Systematics shows us the implications of that picture of beauty. Here is a post I wrote that has resources I would recommend for this.
  3. Devotional Life – Kids need to learn the discipline of daily practice that both inform and form their love for God. This is best taught by modeling to our kids that devotion is not something earned or which merits grace but is the natural byproduct of the grace freely given. Here is a post that gives resources for family devotions. 
  4. Embodied faith – Faith is more than an idea and belief. If faith is not manifested in love, it is seen as a faith that tramples and devours. Our faith is seen in our practices and in our love for others. The liturgies of our churches need to reinforce the love of God so that it creates places where faith and trust will be outside the reach of the snake’s lies and the guard’s insistence to trample.

A faith that lasts is one that is marked by an embodied love and worship of a God who came down made himself small and embodied sacrificial love and resurrection power. That is the kind of faith our kids need.

How Kids Walk Away

Silence, Liturgy and Faith

Most kids who grow up in Christian homes think they would never deny God and turn from Him. They would never say that serving another god is a good idea. Yet many kids who grow up in Christian homes and grow up in Christian churches walk away and make gods to serve that are in their own likeness. They say things like “My God would never do……”, “My God would never say……”, “My God would never act in a way that is unloving (based on what they feel love is).”

Who you love informs how you act which in turn informs what you believe. In the American church, we have moved away from a physically practiced liturgical faith to a faith primarily of mental accent. What we believe and what we do are not connected. Some have seen this mental belief divorced from practice as harmful causing a return to returned to liturgy, but liturgies disconnected from Biblical belief. The result?We have people who talk about personal stories having the same power and weight as Scripture. We see people gathering around tables at homes to preach the gospel of grace with stark absence of repentance. Instead, we long to see people gathered around the Lord’s table marked by the forgiveness of one other and reconciliation to God through Christ.

Kids don’t generally wake up and decide to be an atheist. They lose their faith over time by practices resulting out of what they love. Philosopher James K. A. Smith says you are not what you believe or think but you are what you love. As spiritual beings with physical bodies, we underestimate how physical practices reinforce truth to our kids. You do what you believe and you believe what you do.

In the book, Silence by Shusaku Endo,a Catholic Priest, Father Rodrigues, goes to Japan during a time of intense persecution of the Christian faith in order to seek out a Priest that has been captured. He goes with confidence in his own abilities and a bit of arrogance in the strength of his faith. Eventually, Father Rodrigues is also captured and tortured alongside the people he had ministered to in Japan.

The Japanese learned that killing Christians spread Christianity so, instead, they started capturing leaders and forcing them to step on the face of Jesus. They subjected Father Rodrigues and those who followed him to unimaginable horrors. They told Father Rodrigues that these horrors would stop if he would just trample the bronze sculptured face of Jesus they had placed on a wooden board. His captures said to him “It is only a formality. What do formalities matter?’ The interpreter urges him on excitedly. ‘Only go through with the exterior form of trampling.It’s only a formality. It didn’t mean anything.”

But in the physical trampling of the face of Christ Rodrigues trampled the remnants of a shattered faith. He turned from his faith and lived in Japan helping the Japanese government identify Christian contraband smuggled into the country. Father Rodrigues, living a life marked by shame, asked God why he was silent when he was being tortured. God responded to him, “I was not silent, I suffered beside you.”

In our country, we do not have armed guards forcing us to step on the face of Jesus. We do however have a secular culture and progressive Christians asking us to trample on Scripture and tradition in order for us to find acceptance at the table of tolerance. The modern movement away from orthodoxy has the tinge of Japanese guards saying to our youth, “Trample, Trample!” and the voice of the serpent saying “Did God actually say?” Our kids are not being crushed by atheism, they are being seduced by secularism, materialism, and individualism.

So how do we raise kids who will not trample the faith handed to them?