Month: November 2014

Les Misérables on the Response to Grace

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SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen/heard/read Les Misérables, be aware that I give away some of the plot below.

Every time the gospel is preached, hearts are changed.  Guaranteed.  When the grace of God is proclaimed to humanity, people will walk away changed in one of two ways.  First, when people encounter the grace of God, they may (by God’s grace) respond favorably to the invitation.  Breath is breathed into dry bones (Ezek. 37) and the heart of stone is melted (Ezek. 36).  Second, the proclamation of the gospel may lead to hardening of one’s heart.  The rejection of the gospel can lead to the hardening of one’s heart.

In the book/musical/movie Les Misérables, these two different reactions are clearly portrayed in the characters of Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert.  Near the beginning of the movie, Valjean is offered freedom from prison by a wonderful act of grace from a priest.  Near the end of the movie, Javert is offered his life by Valjean.

This contrast is made most strongly in the musical version of this story.  The same tune/song are sung by Valjean and Javert after their respective encounters with grace, with vastly different results.

First, Valjean:

Second, Javert:

The lyrics from the two songs:

Jean Valjean’s Soliloquy

What have I done sweet Jesus? What have I done?
Become a thief in the night? Become a dog on the run?
Have I fallen so far and is the hour so late?
That nothing remains but the cry of my hate?
The cries in the dark that nobody hears?
Here where I stand at the turning of the years

If there’s another way to go, I missed it twenty long years ago
My life was a war that could never be won
They gave me a number, murdered Valjean
When the chained me and left me for dead
Just for stealing a mouthful of bread

Yet why did I allow that man, to touch my soul and teach me love?
He treated me like any other
He gave me his trust, he called me “brother”
My life he claims for God above. Can such things be? 
For I had come to hate the world, this world that always hated me
Take an eye for an eye, turn your heart into stone
This is all I have lived for, this is all I have known

One word from him and I’d be back, beneath the lash upon the rack
Instead he offers me my freedom
I feel my shame inside me like a knife
He told me that I had a soul. How does he know?
What spirit comes to move my life? Is there another way to go?

I am reaching but I fall, and the night is closing in
As I stare into the void, to the whirlpool of my sin
I’ll escape now from the world, from the world of Jean Valjean
Jean Valjean is nothing now! Another story must begin!!!

Javert’s Soliloquy

Who is this man? What sort of devil is he?
To have me caught in a trap and choose to let me go free?
It was his hour at last to put a seal on my fate
Wipe out the past and wash me clean off the slate!
All it would take was a flick of his knife
Vengeance was his and he gave me back my life!

Damned if I’ll live in the debt of a thief!
Damned if I’ll yield at the end of the chase.
I am the Law and the Law is not mocked
I’ll spit his pity right back in his face
There is nothing on earth that we share
It is either Valjean or Javert!

 

How can I now allow this man To hold dominion over me?
This desperate man whom I have hunted
He gave me my life, he gave me freedom.
I should have perished by his hand!
It was his right.
It was my right to die as well
Instead I live, but live in hell!
And my thoughts fly apart
Can this man be believed?
Shall his sins be forgiven?
Shall his crimes be reprieved?
And must I now begin to doubt
Who never doubted all these years?
My heart is stone and still it trembles
The world I have known is lost in shadow.
Is he from heaven or from hell?
And does he know
That granting me my life today
This man has killed me even so?

I am reaching, but I fall and the stars are black and cold.
As I stare into the void of a world that cannot hold
I’ll escape now from the world from the world of Jean Valjean
There is nowhere I can turn there is no way to go on…..

The response is seen immediately after these songs: Valjean lives a life of gratitude in response to this offering of grace, but Javert is unable to understand this grace, hardens his heart and commits suicide.

When we hear the good news of God’s grace, let us respond as Jean Valjean, and not as Javert.

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Service in the Troubled Times (Ps. 31:14-24)

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David experienced more difficulty and hardship than most of us probably will ever have to deal with.  Yet throughout all these times, he remained focused on God and his plan.  David relies on the sovereign goodness of God in the difficulty of life.  When we face struggles in this life, sometimes we are tempted to grow complacent in our walk with God.  We have a mindset that says, “God isn’t doing anything for me.  What’s the point in doing all this for him?”  Yet this type of approach to difficult times shows that we don’t fully embrace the Gospel, the good news of God’s unmerited favor.  This psalm instead calls us to faithfulness, for it is the saints who “love the Lord” and are “faithful” who are preserved by him (v. 23).
Prayer:
Father, we pray for an extra sense of your presence when we are difficult times.  We confess that when we don’t feel you near, we are tempted to turn our backs on you.  Help us to remain faithful to you, through the power of your Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Cross-Cultural Preaching

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I have heard that one of the most important guidelines for cross-cultural preaching is this:

Never have expectations.

Let me explain.  You may expect the service to be two hours long.  It could be four.  You may be expecting to preach only sermon.  You might have to preach two.

When I was preparing for this preaching in East Africa a few years ago, I was excited for the opportunity to worship with the body of believers in a much different context than I am used to.  I was told that I was going to be preaching once, and before the service I was going to be leading a church Bible study.

“No problem,” I thought.  After all, I had a sermon prepared, and a Bible study would just be a discussion-based approach to a specific text.  So imagine my surprise when I discovered that there is little difference between a sermon and a Bible study.  And imagine my surprise when I discovered this just minutes before the service!

During the Bible study time (i.e., the first sermon time), I preached my prepared sermon.  It was a look at the call of Gideon in Judges 6:1-32.  God, in his grace, was able to speak through me into a different context than the sermon was originally written for.  During the sermon time (i.e.,, the second sermon time), I preached through Philippians 4:1-9, a passage that I have preached from a few times.  Praise God once more, as I had many people approach me after the sermon and tell me that was exactly what the church needed at this time.

Thank you Lord, for using a broken and leaking vessel like me to proclaim your Word and truth to your church!

Holier Than Thou

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As human beings, we like comparisons.  “This team is better than that team.  This food is better than that food.”  And oftentimes, that is how we approach holiness.

When we think of our holiness, we compare ourselves to others and say, “Well.  At least I’m holier than he is.”  Sometimes this can be used as a statement of pride.  (An Anchorman-esque, “Hey everyone, come see how good I look.”)  And of course, no one needs to convince us that is wrong.

But I am convinced that more often than using comparisons to build up our own pride, we use comparisons to be complacent.  If the standard is to just be holier than the people who live next door–who, let’s be honest, are not holy at all–then I got it covered.  I’m in the clear.  But what if the ungodly generation around you was not the standard?  What if the standard was God himself?

“You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15).

As this realization hit me this morning, I heard God saying to me, “Jordan, enough with the comparisons.  That’s not how things work.  But if you’re dead-set on making comparisons, here’s a comparison for you–me.  You want to shoot for holiness?  Your holiness should be like mine.”

When our goal for holiness is God himself, and not those around us, then complacency disappears.  And so do the excuses.

Baptism: a sign of unity?

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In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul mentions baptism as one of the unifying factors of the church.  He writes,

4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 

-Ephesians 4:4-7

When addressing the deeply divided church of Corinth, Paul calls on their baptism to unite them:

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

– 1 Cor. 12:13 (cf. also 1 Cor. 1:13-17)

In today’s church, we often see baptism as one of clearest signs of division in the church: infant baptism vs. believer’s baptism, with no room in the middle.  Yet we see that one of the functions baptism served in the early church was to unite the people of God.  All have been baptized in Christ, and as members of his body, we are to look to him.

Regardless of one’s view on infant or believer’s baptism, the baptism is into the name of Christ, something that all believers share in common.