25 March 2016

Good Friday, 2016

Once upon a time, I fancied myself a cryptic and tortured lyricist for a band I knew was going to be the next U2.  Unsurprisingly, reading high-school-era lyrics is a very humbling experience.  But every once in a while I come across something in the scrap heap that's worth revisiting.

Below is something I wrote, well over a decade ago, with Resurrection Sunday in mind.  In my head, the scene is a bit of a time-lapse: Golgotha's stony, unforgiving face transitioning from nightfall on Friday to daybreak on Sunday.

The reality that is so crucial for us to remember when it comes to Christ's atoning work on the cross is that the physicality of His death -- the lashings, the mocking, the cross, the nails, the suffocation, the humiliation -- all of this pales in comparison to the true suffering that Christ experienced: the divine wrath of a Holy God, for every single sin you, I, and the rest of humanity have and will ever commit, poured out on the innocent and perfect Lamb in the space of six agonizing hours.  Condemnation for us, separation from His Father -- a severing as such the Trinity had never experienced in all of eternity.

Yet it was by this sacrifice that God so perfectly glorified Himself by so deeply manifesting His love.

Jesus was crushed for our iniquities.  Upon Him fell the chastisement that brought us peace.

Thank You, Jesus.


The curtain is drawn
Hear the broken bugle call
The sky of iron swathed with cloud
And the crystal bullets fall

The broken, rocky face
An unworthy grave for a King
The roses pale and sway with the rain
Wondering what tomorrow will bring

The twisted thorns of agony
Lie before the temple veil
Torn in two, a liberation
Will anyone believe this tale?

Cold stone and iron nails
See the dead tree on the hill
The bloody sunrise sets the scene
For glory fulfilled

The empty field is parched by sun
Full of lilies sweet
Laughter flows across the scene
As the lame man gets to his feet

Said the lowly Son, “It is finished
The task is done.”
He said, “Father forgive them
They still think that death has won.”

Said the man of broken spirit,
“I can’t go on anymore”
Said the fisher of men,
“Let me lead you to the shore”

18 March 2016

Creation: What MUST We Believe?

We began a series of discussions on creation last night in the college group I teach.  Studying this topic in any capacity must be inherently apologetic, because creation is perhaps the biggest source of contention for the scientific community with the Christian faith, but the beauty of developing our understanding of cosmology from a biblical perspective is that the entire Bible speaks to the important components of creation.  That means Christians aren't restricted to beating our foreheads against Genesis 1 & 2 and trying to build an entire theology around 56 brief verses.

In that regard, in order to properly understand creation's significance, its finer components, and the implications that it holds for us as modern-day followers of Christ, our study of God's work in the beginning must be systematic.

In other words, we must ask the question, "What does the WHOLE BIBLE say about creation?"

For example, when we read Hebrews 11.1-3, we are understanding creation through the lens of faith.  By definition, Biblical faith involves the most solid possible conviction -- not an uncertain "I hope this is true," but a steadfast "I know this is true because God said it was."  God-given assurance of past or future realities is not based on empirical evidence, though it is bolstered by it.

Furthermore, faith enables us to be comfortable with gaps in our understanding and tension between seemingly paradoxical elements, because our faith is primarily in the character of God, not in logic, science, or philosophy (though faith does not by any means exclude these elements).  No one has instructed the mind of God (Isa 40.13), which means that our highly sophisticated schools of thought and study are still substandard to His ways.  And because we were created in His image, by the way, it is only reasonable to conclude that the very tools which naturalists attempt to utilize in dissuading belief in intelligent design are actually God-given.

When we read Colossians 1.11-17 and John 1.1-5, we are understanding creation through the lens that is the person of Jesus Christ.  This is important for two reasons.  One, it clearly points to the fact that Jesus -- God the Son -- was the Person of the divine Trinity Who was responsible for the act of creation.  God the Father ordained, God the Spirit empowered, God the Son orchestrated.  Two, this beautifully illustrates the reality that redemption began at creation.  It was eternally purposed that the One who made all things would die for all things in order that they might be restored.

When we read Psalm 33, we are understanding creation through the lens of the Lord's steadfast love.  All of creation has His attention (33.13-14, 18-19).  All of creation -- including the hearts of men -- was fashioned directly by God (33.15).  In the same way that we love, cherish, preserve, honor, and protect the things we make, God loves, cherishes, preserves, honors, and protects the things HE has made.

When we read Psalm 104, we are understanding creation through the lens of God's divine power (omnipotence).  We understand that God possesses absolute power to create and tear down and sustain.  Furthermore, it is His flawless wisdom (omniscience) that dictated the manner, method, and motive with which He created (104.24).

These are just a few examples, but when we finally backtrack to the actual creation account beginning in Genesis 1, we have these important pillars in place so that we might more deeply understand God’s work of creating all things.  Understood this way, the Genesis account is therefore full of real, concrete, and -- yes! -- even historical detail, as well as personal application.  We can understand what God is doing in the beginning as something that is eternally purposed, as something that impacts our faith in His character, as something that influences our understanding of our own humanness.

We must certainly keep in mind the fact that, as this is an account of the beginning of time and cosmology and nature and reality from a human perspective, there will be things that are incredibly difficult to understand.  This is, after all, the moment of scientific laws being set in place, the open system of the universe being established, the elemental foundations being laid, and the sudden introduction of living, breathing, feeling, thinking, reasoning, growing human beings into reality.  All of this is going to be complex and brain-bending -- even if the Genesis account is the direct word of God given to man.  And it is exactly that!  Far from being a long-handed-down oral tradition among the Hebrews, the Genesis record was the direct result of God's extended conversation with Moses on Sinai, where God personally gave all of the Laws and instructed Moses about Himself.  This is important, because -- unlike the creation myths of various cultures that are kept in oral tradition and are prone to modulate over generations -- this is a stable, directly-from-the-mouth-of-God account of what He did at creation.

Additionally, it's also important to note that every subsequent genre of biblical literature (history, prophecy, poetry, wisdom, epistle, gospel) altogether support the literal Genesis account.  It isn't just the books of poetry, wisdom, or prophecy (which all incorporate lots of metaphor) that line up with a literal reading of Genesis, but the epistles, gospels, books of law, and works of history (which all don't incorporate lots of metaphor) also support a literal reading of Genesis.

So, with all these elements in mind, I think it's important to draw a line in the sand.  Regardless of where you land on the spectrum of creationism, I would strongly argue for six guiding components as the absolutely necessary conclusions (not presuppositions -- we're building this argument off of a systematic, whole-Bible understanding of creation) that must influence your beliefs if they are to truly be considered "Biblical."

  1. God created from nothing -- ex nihilo (Job 26.7; Isa 45.18; Rom 4.17; Heb 11.3); only He existed before time, and everything that exists now had its source and beginning in Him
  2. God created personally (Isa 66.2; John 1.3; Gen 2.7, 22); God actively created -- whether you think He employed evolutionary devices or that He literally spoke everything into being instantaneously, He must be personally involved
  3. God sustains creation (Neh 9.6; Psa 104.27, 30; Isa 42.5; Col 1.17; Heb 1.3); God is still involved in creation, and without His divine influence, it would all collapse; in Him we live, move, and have being (Acts 17.28)
  4. God is in control of creation (Psa 148.2-5; Rev 4.11; Job 38-41); God maintains sovereignty over all things; as He made it, He actively directs it
  5. God cares deeply for creation (Psa 65.9-13; Matt 6.26; Acts 14.17); God did not act mechanically, nor does He have no regard for human suffering/need
  6. God did not need to create man, yet He created us in His image, for His own glory (Psa 8.4; Jas 1.18; Rom 11.36); God did not act under compulsion -- of His own favor and divine Will, He eternally purposed to create and to redeem when what He made would require salvation

Whatever we choose to believe about the literal aspects and mechanics of creation, those beliefs must have both systematic Biblical basis and must point to the magnitude and power and majesty of God. Otherwise, they are biblically unfounded.  I believe the six principles above are quintessential elements of any cosmology that is truly Biblical.  When we abandon these pillars, we make room for all kinds of alternate and contradictory beliefs that undermine not only our understanding of creation, but also our understanding of the person of God Himself.

The big problem with many modern creationist theories and nearly all naturalistic evolutionary models is that they deny entirely God's role and existence, or they detract from God’s glory and instead glorify the system itself.  Neither man nor his habitat deserve this honor.  It is the system -- this glorious, wonderful, intricate system we call reality -- that gives glory to God, because He is the One who made it.  May it never be that we who purport intelligent design begin to tolerate notions that compromise and detract from the majesty of our Divine Father.

The reality that might be uncomfortable to some is that there is room for both Old-Earth and New-Earth theories -- and perhaps even Theistic/Guided Evolutionary models -- in the camp of intelligent-design creationism.  If we are truly wise, we will be willing to admit that we won't fully know what God did at the beginning of time until we see Him face-to-face, and so we must exercise the faith that grounds us in Him as opposed to our own understanding of cosmology.

In the meantime, if we can unite on the above principles and rally around the standard of redemption from sin through the grace of Jesus Christ alone, we can stand united -- even if we disagree on the nuances.  Together, as the church, we can make significant headway in dissuading completely unbiblical cosmology in Christian circles, and -- in so doing -- nurture creationists who can have tremendous impact on modern naturalistic schools of thought.

16 March 2016

Divine Access

I'm not a huge proponent of evangelism methodology.

From my perspective, if I love people the way Jesus wants me to love them, and if I conduct myself the way Jesus wants me to conduct myself, then my conversations will naturally involve the gospel and will naturally point toward Jesus.  Of course, that isn't to say that methodology isn't helpful for shaping our thinking, nor am I implying that we should never employ a method to help us get conversations started, but typical evangelistic methods are intended to be universal, one-size-fits-all templates when people are far too unique -- far too individualistic thinkers with far too individualized experiences -- for a blanket method to influence them all the same way.

Certainly, the gospel is one-size-fits-all, but God's grace is not.  It is unique and personal and wonderfully, situationally suited to specifically and sufficiently meet the needs of individual sinners.  Do the Biblical standards apply to everyone?  Of course.  All have sinned, all need grace, and all must confess the name of Jesus personally as Lord and Savior.  But the point at which different people come to understand these truths is unique to each, as the Spirit moves in his or her heart via experiences, conversations, and -- above all else -- His Word.

Consequently, I find evangelistic methods sometimes more conducive to self-evaluation and worship than to making new disciples.  As followers of Christ, we should constantly be preaching the gospel to ourselves, after all.  Hebrews 2 attests that, the more we mature in our faith, the more we should focus on the core concept of the gospel to continue to impress the weight of grace upon our hearts.

In particular, the age-old evangelistic hypothetical strikes me as a humbling reminder:

If you died today and stood before God Almighty, and He asked you, "Why should I let you into my heaven?", what would you say?

The guy who partners with me to teach the college group at our church proposed this question the other week during our discussion time.  Whether or not standing before the Throne will literally involve such a query, my answer to it is nevertheless humbling to ponder.  Because if you believe as I do that access to the Kingdom of Heaven is determined not by any merit of my own, then I am required to answer that nothing but the cleansing blood of Jesus can grant me entrance.

"Why should I let you into my heaven?"

Please, gracious Father, let me overcome my tendency to stammer and "um" and mumble for just that one precious moment, and respond clearly and intentionally with something akin to this:

Gracious Father, in life I was dead and helpless in my sin.  Your Son took on Himself the atrocious iniquities I committed, every last one of them.  He also bore Your holy, righteous wrath, which I justly earned for those failures.  Because of that eternally ordained act of love, mercy, and grace -- Your wrath satisfied in crushing Your Son instead of condemning me -- I am now and forever Your child and my heart is Yours.  By no right of my own, I am an heir to Your Kingdom and all its splendor because Christ has claimed me and healed all the animosity between us.  And while this resurrection to a perfect body and beholding the glory of Your heaven is certainly an incomparable privilege, it is YOU whom my heart has craved and worshiped and adored.  Though I've failed and stumbled, Your steadfast mercy and grace have been sufficient to sustain my weary soul, perfecting me throughout my years until this very moment.  Now, perfected, I will spend eternity before You in humble, joyful, exclamatory celebration -- not to pay You back, because that would be impossible, but because I owe You everything.  Thank You, my Father.

Ephesians 2.1-10:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.