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The Gospel According to Les Mis

by on November 21st, 2014


I used to avoid musicals. Didn’t get the point of interrupting good acting with singing. That was until I heard Les Miserables for the first time.  Les Mis is all singing and so by rights, I should dislike it as well. But what songs! When Valjean sings “Sweet Jesus what have I done/become a thief in the night/Become a dog on the run?” I begin to feel the stigma of living under the French parole system where one is always guilty and will ever be a criminal. When Javert the policeman tells Valjean that “I was born inside a jail/I born with scum like you/I am from the gutter too.”  I can begin to see that both men are two sides of the same coin. The story of Valjean and Javert is the story of two men and how they react to unmitigated, undeserved grace. And in that sense it really is all of us. It is Gospel in miniature.

After being released on parole, Valjean tries to find work but no one will hire an ex con and when he is taken in by a bishop for the night cold and hungry, he repays the kindness by stealing silver. When the police bring him before the bishop, we expect justice to be done but instead we find perplexing, awe inspiring grace:

“But my friend you forgot these also” I absolutely love the look on Valjean’s face. That sort of consternation at undeserved kindness is one of the very few weapons Christians can use to completely pierce the armored hearts of modern Americans layered with cynicism and distrust. To give people not only mercy but undeserved grace is insanity to a cynic, but in Valjean’s case it changes his entire world view. He is no longer mad at God but dedicated to him. He begins his discipleship by sacrificing his his money to buy back the daughter of a destitute woman he inadvertently had fired from his factory. He works out his salvation with fear and trembling.

Later Valjean extends mercy to Javert when Javert is captured by the French revolutionary students which Valjean helps. Javert is sure that Val Jean will take revenge because his nature is criminal.  Javert still thinks of Valjean as prisoner 24601.  What Javert doesn’t realize is that Valjean’s nature has changed because of the grace given him and he extends mercy to Javert for that reason.

“There are no bargains or petitions” but Javert cannot abide this mercy. To a cynic it is insane, or as Paul says, “It is foolishness.” Javert and Valjean run into each other again. And again Valjean’s changed character perplexes Javert. When Javert finds Valjean he is standing over the injured body of young Marius. Valjean pleads with Javert to have mercy and let Valjean get the boy to a hospital.

Mercy and the Law are incompatible for Javert. Javert cannot accept forgiveness. There is only law and as he says, “the law is not mocked.” In one of my favorite songs, “Stars” Javert sums up his worldview with these lines about God’s judgment.

“And so it has been and so it is written on the door way to paradise that those who falter and those who fall must pay the price.”

Javert is correct of course but only half correct. His is a world of judgement without grace. He has no room for the forgiveness that changed Valjean. He has no room for the mercy Valjean extends to him. And of course that refusal to accept doesn’t come from his honoring of the words written on the doorway to paradise. It comes from his own stubborn pride. The only sure fire protection from grace is pride. Stubborn pride that says, I will do it on my own. If I fall I fall. If I win I win. But that pride changes a man. Hardens him. Javert says, “He gave me back my life . . . and I live in hell.”

The real torment of hell is not some caricature of God’s judgment. It is that one cannot, will not ever yield one’s pride.  He is stuck and cannot grow. As C.S. Lewis said, one must “hatch or go bad” and Javert refuses to hatch. “I will not yield at the end of the chase. I will spit his pity right back in his face.” So Javert kills himself by jumping off a bridge rather than accept mercy:

Valjean however reaches the end of his life having grown in God. He is greeted at death by those who meant the most to him. The priest who first extended him mercy and grace and Fantine, the woman who gave her child into his keeping. That child gave Valjean a purpose God could use to make him into someone who can glorify God. Throughout the musical the refrain “Do you hear the people sing” has been an anthem of angry political revolution. “Do you hear the songs of angry men. It is a music of a people who will not be slaves again!” but at Valjean’s death, the theme changes. Ultimate revolution is redemption. And the kingdom of God is the only true triumph somewhere beyond the barricades of angry resistance. In words that could easily paraphrase Isaiah and Paul, the chorus sings:

Do you hear the people sing
Lost in the valley of the night
It is the music of a people
Who are climbing to the light

For the wretched of the earth
There is a flame that never dies
Even the darkest night will end
And the sun will rise.

They will live again in freedom
In the garden of the Lord
We will walk behind the plough-share
We will put away the sword
The chain will be broken
And all men will have their reward!

Read more: Les Miserables – Epilogue (finale) Lyrics | MetroLyrics


Too Stupid? Random Thoughts on American Voters and the Church

by on November 13th, 2014

[jwplayer mediaid="4851"]Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber was paid $400K for his work on crafting the signature legislation of Barak Obama and the Democrat party made news again this week as he boldly proclaimed that the law was intentionally crafted to deceive the Congressional Budget office and the American Voter because according to him American Voters are too stupid to know what is good for them. So, according to Gruber, the best way to govern is to not be transparent but rather to be intentionally deceptive. In fact, he says, “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage.”

While I was cogitating the implications of this admission we had a comment on last week’s blog, “Persecuted, but not forsaken” from a reader that goes by the name “Ben” who took a quote from the blog and pointed out something I had not heard or considered:

Beth Felker Jones, professor of theology at Wheaton College, said, “Orthodoxy is life-giving, and God’s people need access to it.” Participants who gave unorthdox answers are not heretics, but probably lacked quality resources, she said. “Church leaders need to be able to teach the truth of the faith clearly and accurately, and we need to be able to show people why this matters for our lives.”

I hadn’t heard that part of the story yet. I’ve heard the survey lamented by pastors and professors but conveniently not this bit. :)

Apt to teach… and refute those who contradict.

He is on to something here. It may be that the pastors and professors he has heard may not be aware of that part of the quote, perhaps the material they are reading doesn’t include it, or that they intentionally left it off I am not sure. It may be both. Some who are reading may be wondering how these two stories are related? Those who know me well are already beginning to see the connection. In both cases they problem is a lack of sound truthful information from the leadership to the average person. In the case of Jonathan Gruber the lack of transparency is intentional, by his own admission. I wish I could say that is an affliction that is only found in Progressives and Liberals but sadly it is not. Conservatives can be just as opaque in what information they allow out. An odd thing seems to happen to those who take positions, either elected or hired, as “public servants.” It is true they are on the public payroll but many forget the part about being a servant and abuse their position and often the people they are supposed to be “serving” as well. Withholding information, making backroom deals and other practices keep the average voter in the dark. But lack of information is not the same as stupidity. However, withholding information does make it easier for public officials to work their will on the unsuspecting while coming across as the one in the white hat.

In churches the issue is a lack of information perhaps more by omission than by intentionality. As Beth Felker Jones is quoted in New Poll Finds Evangelicals’ Favorite Heresies:

“Orthodoxy is life-giving, and God’s people need access to it.” Participants who gave unorthdox answers are not heretics, but probably lacked quality resources, she said. “Church leaders need to be able to teach the truth of the faith clearly and accurately, and we need to be able to show people why this matters for our lives.”

Ben is correct, “Apt to teach… and refute those who contradict” This comes directly from 2 Timothy 2:24-25. Too many who sit in church week after week are not given sound doctrine but lite spiritual fare but nothing to ground them in the essentials of the faith. From time to time I am asked what I think about the Left Behind series. My response is that I haven’t read it. As far as I know there is no direct heresy in it (although those who hold to a non-pretrib rapture would disagree) but my concern is that so many seem to get their theology from novels. In the end they may have a novel theology (double entendre intended Pastor Dan:D) but not a biblical one.

What is worse is it leaves them defenseless against false teaching which may be part of a website that has a very orthodox statement of faith such as The Christian Post. CP affirms the doctrine of the Trinity in their Statement of Faith but also hosts Anna Diehl and her “Pursuing God” blog in which she asserts tritheism, denies Jesus was truly human and denies the inerrancy of Scripture. For example, in her post The Messiah Crisis she writes:

Notice Yahweh isn’t saying, “Hey, that’s Me in a human form.” He’s identifying Jesus as someone else—Someone who is NOT Yahweh, yet who claims to be EQUAL to Yahweh. This was why the Jews went spastic over Jesus: not just because He claimed to be God, but because He claimed to be ANOTHER God. It’s very important to understand this, for Yahweh’s current Covenant demands a belief in MULTIPLE Gods, and if you run too far with this Trinity theory which insists that “God is One”, you are in danger of missing salvation.

Missing salvation by believing in the Trinity. Hmmm. We and our friend, Rob Bowman at The Institute for Religious Researchhave been looking at her material. Rob emailed CP with his concerns. So far they have not responded in any way. Rob posted his letter with additional remarks under the title, Pursuit of Gods: Anna Diehl and Christian Post . The problem is that enough unschooled and undertaught believers with “novel” theology can and will be duped because they are unequipped to know why what Anna Diehl is teaching is unbiblical. It is possible that Ms. Deihl herself may be as Beth Felkner Jones suggested, “not heretics, but probably lacked quality resources” and needs church leaders who are “able to teach the truth of the faith clearly and accurately, and we need to be able to show people why this matters for our lives” to come alongside her and do just that.

In the area of politics and faith the primary problem seems to be a lack of credible, reliable transmission of essential and truthful information. In both cases the solution is the same. Remind those in leadership positions they are servants not bosses. They must therefore live their lives in glass houses and be accountable or be removed from their positions. There is too much at stake for the rest of us to think or act otherwise.

Persecuted, but not forsaken

by on November 6th, 2014

Persecuted-2014-poster 2As I write this we are nearing voting day. By the time it posts the election will be over and, most likely, barring hanging chads, miss programmed voting machines and run offs, the results will be known. Will liberals hold on to the political power or will conservatives capture the Senate and hold the House? Will either one make a substantial difference? I am not sure. What I am sure of is that we live in a post-Christian age at least among the movers, shakers and decision makers who control the nation.

No longer is it permissible to view the practice of homosexuality as a sin but churches who teach the biblical view on this may be subject to having to answer to the government for their teaching as demonstrated by Houston Mayor Annise Parker sending out a subpoena to five pastors demanding :

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Creation Changes Everything

by on October 30th, 2014

Creation-of-AdamAn old joke illustrates just how radical and trans-formative the concept of creation and creator is.

God was once approached by a scientist who said, “Listen God, we’ve decided we don’t need you anymore. These days we can clone people, transplant organs and do all sorts of things that used to be considered miraculous.”

God replied, “Don’t need me huh? How about we put your theory to the test. Why don’t we have a competition to see who can make a human being, say, a male human being.”

The scientist agrees, so God declares they should do it like he did in the good old days when he created Adam.

“Fine” says the scientist as he bends down to scoop up a handful of dirt.”

“Whoa!” says God, shaking his head in disapproval. “Not so fast. Make your own dirt.”

This joke is still funny and still relevant even if one believes as Pope Francis declared: “The Big Bang, which today we hold to be the origin of the world, does not contradict the intervention of the divine creator but, rather, requires it.”

This is because “creation changes everything.”

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The Unappeasable Cry-Baby Boomers Sexual Revolution

by on October 23rd, 2014

2 Timothy 3:1-5 has an interesting description of people in the “last days.” One of the descriptors is “unappeasable.” I like that word. It is also an accurate description of what we are seeing today. The definition is simple and easy to understand. According to the Oxford Dictionaries

adjective: unappeasable

not able to be pacified, placated, or satisfied.

No matter what changes are made or what is done the “unappeasable” won’t be happy. They are cry-babies. Of course, not all of the “Boomer Generation” are Cry-Baby Boomers that fit this description but the activists, liberal politicians and liberal media elites certainly do. Wikipedia describes the Sexual Revolution in 1960s United States:

The 1960s in the United States are often perceived today as a period of profound societal change, one in which a great many politically minded individuals, who on the whole were young and educated, sought to influence the status quo.

Attitudes to a variety of issues changed, sometimes radically, throughout the decade. The urge to ‘find oneself’, the activism of the 1960s, and the quest for autonomy were characterised by changes towards sexual attitudes at the time. These changes to sexual attitudes and behavior during the period are often today referred to generally under the blanket metaphor of ‘sexual revolution’.

It goes on to name which groups and agendas were involved:

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Bill Gothard; Déjà vu All Over Again

by on October 16th, 2014

Yogi Berra is known for what are called Yogiisms which make me smile. One of his observations on baseball was “Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical.” Another is “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t go to yours.” One of my all-time favorites though has to be “Its Déjà vu all over again.” Watching Bill Gothard’s repeat performance of non-repenting repentance is a case of having Déjà vu all over again. We have seen this before. In the early 1980’s in the midst of a sex scandal which was in the national news Bill Gothard met with the Board of the then Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts for about 12 hours. The board members would ask Bill, “Did you ever…” (there were a number of accusations) to which he would respond, “I never…” Witnesses and evidence would be brought forth, he would confess that indeed he was guilty and by the end of the meeting he resigned. That resignation, however, was short lived. In less than 3 weeks (about long enough for a nice vacation) he returned to the helm and the blood-letting of those who had attempted to hold him accountable began. His response at that time was not unlike we read about Diotrephes in 3 John 1:9-10:

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Letters to My Child if They Tell Me They are Gay (Part 2)

by on October 9th, 2014

WashedLast week I took up John Pavlovitz’s challenge to formulate what I would say to my children if one of them told me he or she was gay. That particular letter was aimed at a young adult who came out to me. This time, I want to formulate what I would say if a younger child–say 14 or 15–or even younger told me that they were attracted to someone of the same sex. The “letter” is a contrivance because obviously I would not “write them a letter.” I would sit down with them and talk.

So you’ve told me that you think you might be gay. You think this because you don’t find yourself really attracted to the opposite sex but find yourself very much attracted to the same sex. Chances are, I’ve suspected this for some time. Maybe you are like one of my heroes Wesley Hill who has tried to “like” those of the same sex but just can’t. In his book Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality describes trying to feel attracted to girls all his life to no avail. That may be you. You may have had same sex attraction for a long time and just been too scared to say anything. So you want dad’s thoughts on all this:

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