Saturday, April 3, 2021

The Black Sabbath, and God's Faithfulness

I was talking with someone last night after our Good Friday service about what we should call the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. We have a name for the other days, but I'm not aware of a name for that in-between day, whereby we might commemorate the day of the disciples' waiting. My conversation partner suggested that, since the day was the Jews' Sabbath, it could be called Black Sabbath! I was impressed that this older fella knew that band's name, but when I reciprocated by beginning to sing the lyrics to "Iron Man," he didn't follow. Eh, I'm used to it.

God's Work in Our Little Faith

In any event, I was reading a passage in Luke this morning that is no doubt familiar to all of us, but also felt surprisingly pertinent to this "Black Sabbath" the day before Easter. In Luke 12:22-34, Jesus famously teaches his followers to not be anxious about their material needs if they're seeking first the Lord's Kingdom. They need not fear, because as they cling to Jesus and seek the Father's glory, He will take care of and provide for them, because they are His (Is. 43:1, Phil. 3:12). Jesus says so many things here that are so balmy for the fearful and worried soul. Perhaps the disciples were reminded of this as they waited praying before Jesus rose on Sunday. Here are a few highlights, followed by one final lesson that deserves a few more thoughts: 

    1. If God takes care of soulless natural matter like grass, he will clothe you, oh you of little faith (12:28). Did you catch the sentence's last clause? Even if you have weak faith - and let's be honest, even the strongest among us still wishes they had a stronger faith in the Lord - that doesn't change the Father's love for you. Even when Peter sunk into the water, all he needed was to cry out and the Lord immediately reached out his hand and pulled him back up (Mt. 14:31). Even in our worst, most faithless moments, the Father still promises to provide for us. It isn't our hold on Him that protects us, but His hold on us.

    2. The little flock of God need not fear, because the Father's good pleasure is to give us His Kingdom (12:32). Even if everyone else were to turn from Christ, leaving only six followers throughout the world, those six would not need to fear, as the Father not only promises to give them the Kingdom, but promises that is gives his pleasure (Gk - eudokesen, delight) to do so. He is no timid, self-conscious god from whose hands we have to pry blessing. He loves to bless and care for His people, seeking their happiness. 

So far, we see two things: First, the Father cares for us when we're faithless; and second, the Father, being pleased by whatever is happening around and in us (just reflect on that: He's happy with the direction history is going in, because "our God is in the heavens, doing all He pleases" Ps. 115:3), is moving time toward giving us His Kingdom, and He'll complete what He's begun. 

Marinating or Floating Away 

But there's one final thing I want to reflect on: 

    3. We need not "be anxious ... (or) worried" (12:22, 29). It is interesting to me that in the original of these two verses, Jesus' uses different words that are basically synonymous to us. In v. 22, talking in general about our life and more particularly about our clothing, we are told to not be merimnate (a general term used often in the NT, referring to having your thoughts preoccupied with a fear). So, don't be preoccupied with your tangible needs: God will clothe you. But in v. 29, talking specifically about your need for food and drink, he tells them not to be meteorisesthe. This word means to "be suspended," or held in suspense. From this Greek word derives English "meteor." So, don't be held in suspense over something that is so certain: The Father will give you what you need, and Jesus is not saying, "Just wait and see" as much He is saying, "Believe me, and let your heart be at rest because what I'm saying is true." 

I don't have any proof of this, and neither online searches or my old-school resources (books) show any connection, but when I read "merimnate" it sounds a lot like the word "marinate." I wonder if the latter is a cognate of the former (ie, it sounds a lot like the former word, because it derives from it). Etymology resources online say that "marinate" originally comes from Italian, and is related to "mariner," referring to being submerged. Since Italian stems from Latin, which itself has a lot of ancient relationship with greek, it's an interesting connection to consider. Jesus might then be telling his followers, "Don't marinate on what might happen for your hurt. It'll submerge you in fear, when your Father's pleasure is to bless and keep you." 

But then on the opposite end of the illustration spectrum, Jesus also says not to be meteorisesthe, or be suspended in the air, with the fear of a painful fall back down to "reality," which, in our flesh, often seems to predict our abandonment. Jesus says, "It's not true. Your Father won't let you fall." 

I suppose then that since we're dogged by the twin temptations to a) let our thoughts wander through the air in worry, and b) let our thoughts get submerged in what-if's, Jesus would simply have us stay on the ground. Jesus is telling us, "Don't let fear sink you, and don't let it float you away. Live in the present, on the ground, knowing your Father loves you, and is out for your care, as you seek His Kingdom. Live simply, quietly, and peacefully. Enjoy life with your feet on the ground" (which sounds a lot like Ecclesiastes, doesn't it?)

He Loved Them Til the End

Indeed, the disciples' faith almost fell during those dark days at the end of Holy Week: Peter denied knowing Jesus, all the disciples all scattered from Him, and it was perhaps the darkest time in history. But Jesus had prayed that Peter's faith would stay strong, and that he'd then be able to return and strengthen the rest (Luke 22:31-33). And what do you think happened? It just took waiting on the Lord, and in time, He restored them all, because He loved them to the end (Jn. 13:1). And you better believe that if you wait on Him, keeping yourself on the ground, not floating into Fearville or marinating in Anxious Lake, He'll keep your footing steady, and your heart strong. He gave too much at the cross for us to think he'll short us now.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Jesus' Two Birth Names

Two Sundays ago one of our church’s missionaries Robert Walter visited and gave a powerful gospel presentation out of Leviticus. Working with Chosen People ministries, a ministry focused on bringing the gospel of Jesus the Messiah to Jewish people, Robert has been in a pastoral-evangelist role in Brooklyn for ten years. So he has plenty of practice demonstrating the presence of the gospel in the Old Testament. His experience was evident in his Sunday gospel presentation from Leviticus. Jesus is there! 

The message reminded me of a study our Wednesday night prayer group did a couple of years ago. Studying Leviticus, we saw that it is essentially a telling of how a sinful people can live in the presence of a holy God. All of the sacrificial and purity laws that characterize Leviticus are in place so that the people can draw near to His presence. The need for such laws is not due to God’s raising the standard of holiness so that humans struggle to know him. Rather, the need for laws is due to the fact that something happened to humanity in the Garden of Eden whereby they can no longer live in God’s holy presence without mediation (hence their expulsion from Eden). Therefore, God establishes the system in Leviticus, centering on the Day of Atonement, which is placed in the exact middle of the book (Lev. 16). 

Leviticus and Advent

This brings us to Advent. You’re probably familiar with the account of Jesus’ birth and the events leading up to it in Matthew 1. There, Mary is found “with child from the Holy Spirit” (1:18), and her fiancĂ© Joseph, no doubt feeling betrayed upon learning of his fiancĂ©’s unforeseen pregnancy, resolves to divorce her quietly because he’s a good guy and doesn’t want to shame her (1:19). At that point, an angel appears to Joseph and tells him the child comes not from sexual promiscuity on Mary’s part, but from a miracle of God. And when the child is born, he is to be named Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins” (1:21). Jesus is English for Greek Iesous, which is itself a translation of Hebrew Yeshua/Yohoshua, which means “the Lord saves.” Finally, Matthew tells us that all of this fulfills what the prophet Isaiah promised when he said that a virgin will have a son who shall be called Immanuel, which means “God with us” (1:23-24). 

You’ll notice that in his birth narrative, Jesus has two names: 

1. “The Lord saves,” because He came to save His people from their sins; and 

2. “God with us,” because He came to bring God’s presence to His people.  

Don’t miss Matthew’s point—the two names are intimately connected. Bringing back the theme of Leviticus, how can God dwell with sinful people? Only if there is mediation, so that the sinful people can somehow be placed into a position whereby their sins don’t keep them at odds with God. And whereas Christianity is not unique in contending that sin keeps us from God (for many religions claim the same), yet Christianity is unique how it contends that sin is dealt with: Through an act on God’s part, not ours.

Notice, Jesus comes as a baby born to a virgin (a miracle only God could perform); then (Matt. 2:13-15) he escapes Herod’s extermination efforts by being taken to Egypt, to show His continuity with Israel who had earlier lived in Egypt and were called the “son of God” (Ex. 4:23); eventually, after countless other actions to demonstrate that this is all God’s doing, He offers himself in the place of His people at the cross, to complete and fulfill both the sacrificial system and his own word that He’s come to “give his life as a ransom for many” (20:28) thereby establishing the new covenant which purchases the forgiveness of sins for all who believe (26:28). Finally, Matthew ends with the risen Christ telling his disciples that He will be with them always, until the end of the age (28:20). One might say that Matthew is sort of a New Testament Leviticus, answering the question, "How can God dwell with sinful people?"

Grace as a Means to Presence

The point is this: Jesus did not come to remove sin’s penalty and power as an end to itself. Rather, sin is removed so that there is room for the Holy Spirit to come and live with us, so that we can gain reality with God. We might say that Friday happened so that Pentecost could happen: Sin is taken away so that the Holy Spirit can be taken in. But let’s not miss the middle-portions of the story. First, Jesus rose from death, so that death is not the end of our story or our time with God; in fact, it is a sort of beginning insofar as we then experience His presence more gloriously. And second, He ascended back to His earlier heavenly throne, with humanity added, so that He can give His Spirit to all who seek God through faith in Him (Ac. 2:33). Therefore, with confidence (confidence!), a sinner can draw near to the throne of grace, because Jesus always lives to* make intercession for him or her (Heb. 4:16, 7:25).

What this means is that even if you were to have a continual struggle with sin—and let’s be honest, to some degree we all do (1 Jn. 1:8-10)—in your need, Jesus’ heart warms to you, longing for you to seek the Father’s grace and care, because the Son gave an offering at the cross which the Father accepted. That’s why Jesus rose: The Father took the offering, and now all who need Him can have confidence that He is there for them. Continual need doesn’t disqualify you from the grace of the one who saves; instead, continual need alone qualifies you. Or to borrow a verse from an old hymn: 

“Let not conscience make you linger, nor of fitness fondly dream;

All the fitness He requireth is to feel your need of Him.” 

So come. Immanuel saves so that we can stay. And He has more grace than you have need.

*Note, he lives to make intercession for them. One of the main reasons He’s in heaven now is so that sinners can have confidence that God receives them because of Jesus.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Reformation Cries

For a long time Protestant Christians have observed October 31 as “Reformation Day,” celebrating the anniversary of what began with Martin Luther’s nailing of the so-called 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenberg in 1517. Because of the prevalence in America of non-denominational Christianity, many Christians are unaware of what the Reformation was about. This Reformation Day 2020 I want to offer to what were the main “cries” of the Reformation, simplified for those who might be unfamiliar: 

  1. Scripture is the Word of God before it is the Word of the church. That is, while the church is built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets (Eph. 2:20) proclaiming Christ’s identity as Savior and Lord of all (Matt. 16:16-18), which is the essence of both Testaments (OT - Prophets, NT - Apostles), it is the Word of God that governs the church, not the church that governs the Word. The Reformation was fundamentally a shifting of authority away from the church and back to the God who, by His Word, builds the church and calls the nations to Himself. Jesus does give the church the kingdom keys (Matt. 16:19). But the church exercises them in proclaiming and living out life under Jesus’ authority as Lord and Christ. 
  1. Salvation is less about what you can do for yourself and more about what God does for you. That is, salvation is God-centered, not man-centered. “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God,” says the Apostle (1 Peter 3:18, emph. mine). Far from bringing to the table an unbiased will able to choose Jesus, we only bring our need for His saving grace. He brings the saving grace, redeeming the one who recognizes that they they’ve been, as it were, snake-bitten by sin (see Jn. 3:14-15) and are in need of the One who bore the penalty for their sin at the cross so that a just God can forgive an unjust sinner without compromising His justice (cf. Rom. 3:24-26). He and He alone - not our so-called “free will” - can bring us to God. Therefore, just like God spoke creation into existence by His Word, so, through the Word, He shines the light of the glory of His Son into our hearts so that with eyes of faith we see Christ's glory and come to Him (2 Cor. 4:4-6). Therefore Jesus says, “No one can come to unless the Father who sent me draws Him” (Jn. 6:44), and, “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him” (Mt. 11:27). Thus, He gets the glory, because He alone has done it (Ps. 52:9).
  1. Since sin has so ruined humanity that even their good works are “splendid vices” (Augustine), our only hope in the throne room of God must be the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. Why is it that, in that familiar Sermon on the Mount passage, Jesus tells people who did good works in His Name that He has never known them in the first place (Mt. 7:21-23)? It is because, by claiming their good works as the reason why He shouldn’t cast them out, they betray that they are trusting in those works instead of trusting in His redeeming work at the cross. Let's personalize: If you think you’re going to heaven and the New Heavens and New Earth because you’re a good person or better than anyone else, you’re not going. As I tell my 8th grade students, either Jesus takes your “F” at the cross and gives you His “A,” or, in Adam, you have an “F,” with no hope of an “A” (Rom. 5:12ff). But since Jesus offers you his "A," take it! 
  1. Since it’s all about what God does for us, whether discussing Jesus’ perfect life leading to the cross or the Holy Spirit’s ability to help us believe, one can only receive the Gospel by faith. And “faith” is here defined as looking to Jesus as the only hope anyone has before God. Luther once said that whereas we are more sinful than we ever imagined, yet, since Jesus wants fellowship with us, we know that He also is more gracious than we ever imagined. The door into Christianity is the heart attitude that says, “Christ must clothe me with righteousness or I will be clothed with unrighteousness, no matter what I do.” The heart attitude that believes and confesses that is faith. And even believing that requires God’s help, for “It has been granted you to … believe in him” (Phil. 1:29). As the old hymn says, "Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling." That is the attitude of faith.
  1. Finally, God is a missionary God, interested in drawing the nations to Himself for life transformation from the inside out. In other words, God’s message to the world is, “You must be born again, and I am open to you.” The pre-Reformation church didn’t not believe this. But from the 4th century onward, the missionary heart of God became, in many peoples’ view, more about colonizing and control. But since the reformers understood that God is about a new creation by faith in His Word (2 Cor. 5:17), recovered was the mission not to win wars (i.e., the Crusades, which admittedly has a complicated history), but to make disciples. Therefore Jesus tells the disciples that He (not they), by virtue of his resurrection, has ultimate authority over the whole of creation, and the disciples - and by extension, the church - are to go and teach obedience to His Word, sure of His presence, until He returns again (Matt. 28:18-20). 

In short, the Reformation was a movement that recaptured things that history either lost or de-prioritized (I think the former). While many have rightly claimed that the Reformation is responsible for some problems in subsequent church history (and even world history),* one can not deny that the Reformation changed the world for the better. There are issues, yes, especially in the church. But the recapturing of, or, if you prefer, restating of the Gospel in the 16th century was a recapturing of the very idea necessary for said issues: God is at work, and God will orchestrate history to His decreed goals until the end. And until then He will help His church to sort things out as she fulfills her mission of disciple-making.  And whether it be a worldwide pandemic or contentious political ordeals, all will in the end terminate to His glory. For, “from him, through him, and to him are all things. To him be glory forever!” (Romans 11:36).

Indeed, soli deo gloria!  

*Kevin Vanhoozer surveys recent work criticizing the Reformation’s effect on the western world, even among Protestants, in Biblical Authority After Babel, 109-111 (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2016). 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Some Thoughts on Being a Christian in This Election

I'm not sure if you're aware or not, but 2020 an election year in America. Yeah, really. And elections, along with every other semi-important avenue of public life, have become so contentious that it seems safest to just stay out of any substantial discussion. Especially if you're a Christian, you're placed into an awkward position. Most evangelicals tend to be conservative politically, and yet the conservative candidates, including the current president, tend to have conspicuous character flaws. So believers have to decide where they want to place their compromise if they vote at all. I think it is important in a country like ours for citizens to vote. So, in my opinion, we should try and arrive at some clarity of conscience, and make a decision. 

Eric Metaxas and David French are high profile evangelicals who, as far as I can tell, well represent the two Christian positions during the current election. Watch the video linked above (rather lengthy) to hear their views. (If you’re on a smartphone and the video isn’t showing, click here. Sorry about that.)  I'd recommend that if you're short on time, watch the first 30 minutes. This time frame will give you both mens' opening arguments. If you have more time, at least go to about halfway through (50 minutes), as this will give you both of their rebuttals. 

I don't want to comment much on their arguments.  But let me say a couple of things: First, it seems that French is a little more optimistic about America's current societal moment, while Metaxas is a little more pessimistic. I think that there is truth on both sides. French does say early on that things are bad in America, but his arguing that Christians need not fear the results of this election assumes certain things about the current moment which I don't think opposing Christians assume. Metaxas sees the election as a clear issue of "Vote for Trump or else the current progressive trend in America will continue." One criticism of this view could be highlighted by asking Metaxas if he thinks the progressive trend has slowed down during Trump's current term. That being said, my disdain for progressivism and what it produces puts me into more agreement with Metaxas than French here. Nevertheless, to French's point, Jesus is King regardless of who is president. 

Second, French might warrant some criticism for suggesting that Christians' witness is compromised by voting for Trump. In a day like today where progressive metaphysics (read: beliefs, values, affections) seems to be growing quickly, I'm not sure if Christians could do anything that wouldn't get criticism from non-believers. "Vote left, for our witness" has at least as many problems as solutions. 

That leads to my third and final point: While Jesus did tell his followers to make sure that as much as it depends on them, they live at peace with everyone and be light-shiners in a dark world (see Mt. 5:14-16, Rom. 12:18), he also said quite clearly that the way the world knows our faith in Him is by our love for one another (see Jn. 13:35). How we treat each other is meant to set us apart from the world. Therefore, my prayer is that Christians would love one another and not write each other off in this election cycle. I think French and Metaxas demonstrate that there are good reasons to vote either way. If it can be settled that your vote is a conscience issue (and I think it can be settled - make a choice based on what will leave you with a clear conscience), then we in the household of faith shouldn't be judging one another for our vote. "Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all appear before the judgment seat of God" (Rom. 14:10). 

Abortion is evil, and I'm closed-minded about this. Progressive metaphysics are functionally atheistic, and prone to produce more injustice than justice. Classical liberalism is all but dead, and progressivism is filling the gap left behind. But it is also true that Trump has character flaws and has done and said things which Christians shouldn't support. An all-out apologist Trump-support is problematic and worthy of criticism. Sigh, this is difficult. Let's show a little grace toward each other, let the Lord be the Lord, and disagree well. The Lord has been building his church for 2000 years; He will not stop because candidate A or B is elected. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Jesus, Scripture, and Creed


Greetings all,

Forgive the funny look on my face in the above video thumbnail. Our adult Sunday school class is currently going through a remote study of the Westney Catechism, a catechism on Christian doctrine written and published by Westney Baptist Church in Ajax, Ontario. Westney's theologian-in-residence is Craig Carter, whose books I have been reading recently in my doctoral studies.

I'm sharing the video because I love how this portion of the study lays out what I consider to be the most importance aspects of Christian teaching. I'm not suggesting that there is such a thing as "less important" teaching, but that, as Al Mohler has stated, Christians need to learn to do theological triage--that is, to distinguish between the foundational aspects of Christian doctrine and those other aspects that are secondary, and then focus most attention on the former. In this video, I work through the what I consider to be three of the main aspects of Christian teaching (what follows are not sentences from the catechism verbatim, but summary statements of my approach): 

1. What is Scripture? 

It is the revealed Word of God, written for our instruction,  bearing out the message of the Person and work of Jesus Christ, so that lost people would come to know Him and thereby enter into eternal, joy-filled life with God. The Bible is bi-covenantal, meaning that it is written in two parts, both after God reveals himself to a chosen people - the Old Testament to Jewish prophets, and the New to messianic Jewish apostles who believed Jesus to be the promised Messiah. The Old employs typology and prophecy to predict and promise Jesus. The New demonstrates Jesus' coming, and interprets the typology and prophecy of the Old so that they make sense in Him.

2. What does it mean to believe in Jesus? 

It means to believe the Bible's message because the Bible's goal is to reveal Jesus. Scripture is not a set of instructions more than it is a revelation of a Person so that lost people, in finding Him, would themselves be found (Lk. 15:5). You can't have Jesus without the Bible, nor can you know Jesus without the Bible. Why? First, because each gospel account - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John - anchors Jesus' identity in the Old Testament (so we need the OT to understand and appreciate him); second, everywhere in the gospels, Jesus upholds the authority of the OT as the Word of God to which his followers are responsible (ie, Matt. 4:4); and third, He told His disciples that He would send them His Holy Spirit to keep fresh in their minds all that He said and did and to help them to understand the meaning of it all (Jn. 14:26, 16:13). Therefore, they wrote, and their inspired writing comprises the the New Testament. Jesus ties himself to His Word, because He is Himself the Living Word (Jn. 1:1), and as the church opens the Bible and proclaims Him, He still speaks (Heb. 12:25). There is no Christianity that doesn't take Biblical doctrine seriously.

3. Is there a place for creeds and confessions? 

Yes, because we late modern Christians are not the first Christians. Rather, generation after generation of believers has come before us. Therefore, Paul passed down the teaching to Timothy who was then himself supposed to pass it down (2 Tim. 2:1-2). And Jesus prayed (and continues to intercede for) those who would believe the Apostles' message (see John 17:20-25), promising that He'd continue to lead them into His truth (17:26). It is good for believers to study and utilize the reflections on Scripture offered by previous generations. 

That is why the Westney Catechism uses the Apostles Creed as a "convenient and reliable way to sum up the Biblical message." The creed is framed in orthodox Trinitarian terms (I'll make a few comments under some chosen sections): 


I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth 

    -Notice that the Creator is a Father - creation was produced by the outflowing of the eternal loving relationship of the Son and the Father. Hence, all things being made through Christ, the Word (Jn. 1:1-4).


I believe in Jesus, God's only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and buried. 

    -Note, Jesus couldn't have had an earthly father involved in his conception, because sin would have passed to him since "all sinned" in Adam (Rom. 5:12, 19). Yes Eve was the deceived one (1 Tim. 2:13-14), but Adam was responsible, and sin passes through the dad. Hence, circumcision throughout the OT is a reminder of Adam's responsibility (and also the responsibility especially of dads). But Jesus had his mother Mary and his Heavenly Father, as the Holy Spirit conceived him in Mary. 

He descended to the dead.

    -Note, I like this rewording, from "He descended into hell." In one sense, He went through hell at the cross, and then went to the dead. 1 Peter 3:19ff is a difficult passage to use in support of a notion that Jesus went into hell after death, especially considering that he told the thief on the cross that He'd see him in paradise that same day (Lk. 23:43).

On the third day, he rose again; He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come again to judge the living and the dead. 

    -Note, according to Daniel 7, the Son of Man receives the Kingdom when he appears before the heavenly throne. That's why He went back to heaven - having accomplished the work the Father gave him to do, He receives the Kingdom. And He thus sends out His Spirit to believers (Ac. 2:33), and they are transferred into His Kingdom (Col. 1:13-14). The Kingdom is not on earth yet in fullness, but it is present substantially in the church and among believers throughout the world. 


I believe in the Holy Spirit 

    -Note, all that is following is included under the heading of the Spirit, because it is all accomplished by the Spirit. 

The holy catholic church

    -That is, the universal church, wherever the true gospel is preached, believed, and lived. 

The communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting, Amen.

    -Thus, the church continues on 2000 years after Jesus established the New Covenant, with the saving message that binds Satan, redeems the world, and restores that which was lost in the Fall. All glory to God for what He continues to do! 

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Fake News and the Man Who Is Truth

Theologian Miroslav Volf recently tweeted this: 

“We are drowning in fake news, and complain about it. But it’s ubiquitous partly because we actually crave it. We fear truth about the world and replace it with fantasy, just as we fear truth about our own hearts and flood ourselves with a steady stream of our intimate ‘fake news.’”

As I read Volf’s tweet, I was reminded of a viral tweet thread from a year or so ago by a philosopher named Nick Hinton that suggested that in 2012, the world entered into an alternate dimension or universe. Hinton's proposition would explain why so many of us look back and wonder what happened to the “normal” world we thought knew before 2012. Surely it isn’t that the world was perfect before, but it was manageable and things just felt different than they do now. It seems like something happened then, and there is no explanation. This theory would also explain the so-called Mandela Effect, where people my age remember certain things from childhood the same way that others do, but can’t find evidence of those things being how we remember them. One example, among many: Many thought the beloved bear family's name from the children's series was spelled Berenstein Bears, but it was actually Berenstain Bears.

When I first read of the alternate universe theory, my initial thought was about how we are masters at creating theories to explain the unexplainable and elusive world around. And as Volf said, we crave when others offer theories, whether plausible or implausible. I wonder if it is the case that people crave theories like this so that they can avoid true reality. 

When the Apostle John called Jesus the “logos” (read: logic, reason, order) of God (Jn. 1:1-2), he was saying that Jesus is Himself reality. To come to him for the grace and truth that He offers (1:14,17) requires recognizing the need for grace (that we need saved) and for truth (that we’re confused and need him to reorient us to reality as He alone can define it.) Given that since the Fall humanity has been, as it were, hiding behind the bushes and running from God (see Psalm 2:1-3, 53:1-3; Is. 53:6), we do all that we can to avoid taking God’s diagnoses, instead accepting conspiracy theories and fake news. And not only do we accept them; we crave them. We need them to stay in our little partial-truth realities which we’ve constructed to feel safe and righteous.

And the sad thing is this: You can read this and say, “Yes, that’s me; I’ve avoided him,” but if you then say, “But I want to come to Jesus now,” He’ll not only receive you, but will throw a party for you (Lk. 15:6, 9, 22-24). He’d be so happy to bring you home where you belong. Further, you could say, “No, I don’t care, fake news is better,” and if you have a change of heart five years from now, he'd still be ready. Though I'd caution you to be careful, because if you put it off until then, you might find yourself stuck and unable to find Him. (Our hearts change as we make choices, usually unbeknownst to us.)

Why in the world would I say his willingness to receive you is sad? Because although this grace is so incredible, so free, and so freeing, we'd rather live off a diet of fake news and conspiracy theories. The sadness isn’t his willingness to give life, but our unwillingness to question ourselves long enough to consider whether or not He can. And we don’t realize what our addiction to autonomy and therefore fake news and conspiracies is doing to us.

But if you’re ready for reality, He is ready to give it to you. And it doesn’t matter how long you’ve avoided Him; come to Him now. It might seem like there is cultural, sociological, and personal baggage associated with becoming a Christian these days. But there's baggage and prejudice with whatever way you choose to live. I’m suggesting that you consider leaving your half reality and come into Truth, whose name is Jesus. He’ll change your life, answer your questions, and take care of your baggage. He promises rest to the weary and peace to the war-torn. Is that you?

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Learning Love

I’ve been engaging recently in a lot of reading about the loving nature of God. This love is Trinitarian  and eternal, which is why Jesus says what He says in the so-called High Priestly prayer of John 17: “Father I desire that they (my followers), whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (v. 24).  It is a remarkable notion that God and the Son loved one another before the foundation of the world. That means that before God is rule-giver and even Creator, He is Father and Son in loving relationship.

This undergirds why the Gospel is all about family and loving relationship:
   -Family - being adopted into God’s family so that the believer is an heir with Christ who calls on God as Abba Father (Jn. 1:12-13, Gal. 4:5-6);
   -Loving relationship - living in the reality that your Father hears you, is looking out for your very best, and is working for your good (Lk. 18:7-8, Rom. 8:28, 1 Jn. 5:14).

It is in his nature to be this way: A loving Father who expresses that love to his children in whom he delights.

What Salvation Is

But this also explains what salvation is: The restoration of the relationship which was lost in Eden. If the Fall is the descent from knowing God in truth (so that now, “none seek for God,” Ps. 14:2, and now there are “strongholds raised against the knowledge of God,” 2 Cor. 10:4-5), then redemption is Jesus’ descent to us in order to consequently ascend us back into the relationship with the Father for which we were created.

Notice that Jesus ends the aforementioned prayer this way: “I made known to them (my followers) your (the Father’s) name, and I will continue to make it known...” why? “That the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (17:26). Make two very important notes here: First, that the the name of the Father is an expression of His love for His Son. That is, God’s self-expression is a statement about His eternal love for His Son. Think of Jesus’ baptism - “This is my son, whom I love” (Mt. 3:17). To know the Father is by necessity to know His love for His Son. This means that, if I can be so bold, before you can appreciate his love for you, you have to appreciate his love for the Son. Only when this Trinitarian love settles into your mind can you understand that He therefore loves you too because you are united by faith with His Son.

And secondly, notice that once the knowledge of this Father and Son love is acquired, that very love comes into the believer along with Jesus’ own presence. This is a knowledge that is more than intellectual ascent. Rather, it is a knowledge that enters into our hearts and changes us. This is why Paul says that with the heart one believes and is justified (Rom. 10:10). Further, note that Paul elsewhere says that this love of God is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). When Jesus prayed this prayer in John 17, he had just finished telling the disciples about how the Holy Spirit is his very presence with them: About the believer, “(My Father and I) will come to him and make our home with him ... the Spirit of truth (will) .. be with you forever” (Jn. 14:23, 16). At 17:26 He is praying that the Holy Spirit will continue bringing home His very presence as the disciples continue to grow in knowing the love of the Father and the Son.

I think this is why Paul prays in Ephesians 3:18 that the Christians in Ephesus would be able to comprehend “what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that (they) may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:18-19): When your heart learns this love of Christ and the Father, Christ and the Father enter into your heart by the Holy Spirit. So, Paul prays for it. The fullness of God consists in the enjoyment of the love of the Father and the Son. Far from being a theologian’s theoretical construct, the Trinity is actually the very shape of Christian faith. Maybe this is why the ancients spent so much time trying to articulate the doctrine accurately: The Trinity is more than a doctrine - instead, we’re talking about God’s own nature, and that which we are brought into when we come to Christ.

Running From, or Running To God

I know this is all theoretical and heavy theology, but let me make it personal: The essence of the fall in Eden was Adam and Eve’s giving into Satan’s temptation to think that God doesn’t love them, is instead lying to them, and isn’t out for their good. Read the first six or seven verses of Genesis 3 - that is exactly the temptation: God is lying to you, don’t listen to him. And I would suggest that that wrong belief is the fuel for the world’s continued run from God, whether atheistic and anti-Christ societies, or young adults in a generally Christian society growing up in church and then leaving it behind: Wrong thoughts about God and whether or not He loves you enough to tell you the truth about yourself, the world, and how to become the you you were made to be. Usually it is a God who is first concerned with rules from whom people are running. And of course He is the Lawgiver and, as Creator, demands our acknowledgement of Him and loving fear (Prov. 1). But what if before anything else, He is a loving Community who invites people into life with Him so they can enjoy His love as they journey into eternity? In other words, what if, instead of following your heart, you were made for “the fellowship of the Father and the Son” (1 John 1:3), and it is not until His love fills your heart that you can trust your heart enough to follow it?

Jesus offers himself at the cross as the demonstration of the fact that even if you don’t believe it, God’s heart is a Father’s heart. And He will not only have you, but He’ll embrace you, clean you, save you, and give you your life back.

Run to him.