Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Prayer of Thanksgiving
 
Father, I thank Thee for Thy predestinating grace, for of Thee, and through Thee, and to Thee are all things. You have purposed it; You will do it. You have spoken it; You will also bring it to pass. I thank Thee for the Everlasting Covenant ordered in all things and sure, by which You ordained the salvation of Thy people, electing them in everlasting paternal Love; redeeming them by the blood of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, and pledging Thy Holy Spirit to seek and save that which was lost.

I thank Thee for Thy prevenient grace that covered me in my mother's womb, that made me the apple of Thine eye, commissioning Thy holy angels to encamp round about me and deliver me; compassing my path before and behind, ordering my steps and leading me to Thyself.
 
I thank Thee for Thy providential grace that supplies all my physical and spiritual needs through the unsearchable riches of Thy bountiful grace. Thou art my bread and my water; my life and my light; my joy, my peace, my love, my salvation, and my righteousness.
 
I thank Thee for Thy preserving grace, which is able to keep me unto salvation; which picks me up if I fall; which heals my self-inflicted wounds; which dries my tears if I should weep; and which will deliver me safely to my desired haven.
Amen
 
 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Covering.

Ready or not...

We've all said the words.  We've all heard them.  We've all played the game.  The seeker buries his eyes in the crook of his arm, leaning against a tree, and begins counting...

1...2...3...

We run.  We run as fast as we can, torn between sneaky silence and the urge to get away and hide.  We try to move quietly, but must flee hastily toward our temporary shelter, our disguise, our hiding place.  We know that the seeker is fair.  We know that the seeker isn't peeking.  But we also know that the seeker is, while counting loud enough for all to hear, also listening to our footfalls, listening to the various directions we are each running to hide.  

10...11...12...

We each find a space, a spot that seems to be just our size, a covering that seems to be made just for us, perfectly waiting to hide us from the prying and determined eyes of the seeker.  We crouch down and try so slow our breathing and wipe the sweat from our brows.  We can hear the pounding of our hearts and are convinced that if the seeker comes near, he will hear it, too.  

18...19...20..."Ready or not, HERE I COME!"

We have only two hopes:  that our subterfuge will hold, and that the seeker will find someone else out before he finds us.  And so we wait.  We wait in silence and fear.  We wait like a prey worried by an imagined predator.  We crouch and pant and tense every muscle of our bodies only to stay still.  We try not to make a sound.  Try not to make a move.  Try to blend in to our immediate surroundings, our hiding place.  But we cannot.  We do not belong.  Our hiding place is not of us, and not for us.  We do not belong hidden away and crippled by fear.  We do not belong here, and we know it.  We know that we belong out in the open, and we know, as strange as it seems and as opposed as it is to our every effort, we know we belong trapped in the gaze of the seeker.  

Work. Hobbies. Relationships. Self improvement. Savings accounts. Subjective righteousness. These are our hiding places,  These are your hiding places.  These are the things in which you try to blend, in which you try to lose yourself.  But you cannot.  You do not belong there, and you know it.  You know, as strange as it seems and as opposed as it is to your every effort, you know you belong trapped in the gaze of the seeker.  And you know that He knows exactly where you are.

And as He asked in Eden, again He asks you now: "Why are you hiding?"

Ready or not, here He comes.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

God Gave Them Up

The opposite of love is not hatred, but apathy.

Before addressing the opposite of love, we should first consider the origin of love - God. The Bible clearly states “God is love” (I Jn 4). One writer labels love as “the bond of perfection,” which would corroborate with Paul’s pen, “put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col 3.14, ESV). If you think about it, both the “binding” and “perfect” nature of love make sense when considering both the triune and eternal nature of the Godhead. Before God loved any other, the Godhead is bound in perfection; thus, God is love.

The same idea of binding love is also true among men, which is more to Paul’s point. The effectual nature of love is that it “binds (men) together in perfect harmony.”

I have heard it argued since God is love, He is incapable of hatred. As the point goes, God does not have the capacity for hatred since He is only and always benevolent, since he is always seeking to only “bind” men to Himself. The logic might even continue - it is a contradiction for God to be one thing and at the same time be its opposite. Since the opposite of love is hatred and God cannot contradict Himself, else he would cease to be God, God cannot hate. This view is really nothing more than the most popular contemporary view of God the Son - Jesus Christ. From the Vatican to the local Vineyard fellowship, “for God so loved the world” translated today means “for God only loves the world.”

On the point that God cannot contradict Himself I certainly agree. However, the logic used to support an idea that God is love and therefore cannot hate is wrong. It is bad logic mostly because hatred does not oppose love; rather, hatred is a companion to love. Hatred is a manifestation of love by other means, not its opposite. To hate one thing is always and necessarily to love another thing. In fact, hatred cannot be separated from love. Even in the extreme, the most non-sensical hatred for a certain thing or idea must be tied, however warped or non-sensical, to a certain other thing or idea that is loved, however much or little. Even if it is simply tied to a love for the nonexistence of that thing or idea that is hated, it is always related. Hatred does not exist in a vacuum. Neither does love.

To love one thing is always and necessarily to hate another thing. For example, if I love Ford, I might not necessarily hate Chevy. If I love the Longhorns, I might not necessarily hate the Aggies. But to truly love Ford or the Longhorns must mean that I must either not love Chevys or the Aggies as much, that I must dislike the idea of not loving Ford or the Longhorns, or that I actually do hate Chevys or the Aggies. Any of these scenarios would not only strengthen my love for Fords or the Longhorns, but it would also protect that love as well - strengthened because my love is wholly focused on the one and protected because my love for the one is not threatened by any love for another.

More practical and personal examples might be:
- Am I loving my wife if I do not hate anything that would threaten my love for her alone?
- Am I loving my children if I do not hate their disobedience?
- Am I loving the truth if I do not hate my own lies?
- Am I loving righteousness if I do not hate my own self-righteousness?

Otherwise, if it were possible for love to exist in a vacuum - where love might exist without the existence of hatred - then it would cease to exist at all. If it were possible that everything would be only loved, then nothing would be truly loved. Put another way, only when something or some idea is truly hated can some other thing or idea be truly loved. Therefore, the opposite of love is not hatred; rather, hatred of one thing is absolutely necessary in order to fully love another thing with strength and protection. Love needs hatred in order to fully display itself.

Jesus taught this concept when he spoke these harsh words, “if anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own live, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26 ESV). To say that we love one thing or idea must mean a hatred for another lesser or contrary thing or idea; otherwise, the love we claim to have is not really love.

The sine qua non moment in human history displays this concept as well. When God the Father’s hatred for sin is miraculously and mysteriously consumed by His Son on the cross, only then is the depth of love God has towards his own people fully revealed. Hatred for sin to the point of death is the only way His love is manifested into life.

Therefore, if fundamental in God’s love towards man is indeed a “bond” that makes “perfect,” then its opposite, that opposed to God’s love towards man, must have to do with separation from God, or more specifically, a separation that makes more imperfect.

On three occasions within four verses, Paul describes this type of separation as “God gave them up” (Romans 1). Wait a second...“God gave them up?” How is this even possible? Is this even possible? If God is love, how can He, even if temporarily, give up on someone? Wouldn’t this make God somehow apathetic, since giving up on someone must mean you no longer have any interest, enthusiasm or concern for them? Without looking back at Romans 1, if a place existed where "God gave them up," what would it look like? If a separation making imperfect were to manifest itself, how would that appear? Perhaps in a place like this:
- Where most of the time you would feel little to nothing at all about most everything
- Where ideas and opinions are rarely loved or hated but are always tolerated
- Where the goal is to plot your own course and to never face any real obstacles
- Where getting what you want when you want it is ultimate achievement
- Where being consumed by materialism, by events, by status is simply what everyone lives for
- Where morality is determined by what you can get away with
- Where it is possible for the illogical idea that all truth is only relative might be not only accepted, but standardized, and not only standardized, but championed as an ideal worth fighting for

Says a remarkable commentator, “the enterprise of setting up the ‘No-God’ is avenged by its success.” Perhaps the most frightening scenario to consider is not one where man is made to somehow see and know the wrath of God. Instead, the most frightening scenario begins with four simple words - "God gave them up." Where man is determined to separate God from his world, God often gives him exactly what he wants.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Adam and Inerrancy

Several months ago my local community college hosed a science & religion symposium. "Science and Religion Symposium," as you may know, is code for, "we're going to talk about evolution and how fundamentalist Christians are stupid for rejecting it."

It was a two-night affair, headlined by Karl Giberson, a Christian man who earned his doctorate in physics from Rice University in Houston. He's an interesting fellow, incidentally; he teaches writing and science-and religion at Stonehill College, and according to his online bio "Karl enjoys writing in his gazebo, listening to Bob Dylan, watching re-runs of Star Trek the Next Generation, and drinking Diet Coke." But for the limp libation I heartily endorse the man's pastimes.

Dr. Giberson gave a captivating talk, one-part biography, two-parts science-and-religion. He spoke of having grown up a fervent believer in a young earth, cultivating a desire to obtain a doctorate and go work for the Institute for Creation Science out in California, seeking to prove beyond doubt that the earth is 6,000 years old and no more. He went to college and was shocked that his Christian professors of science believed the earth was, in fact, billions of years old. Long story short, he's a convert to the old earth view, and like most converts, Dr. Giberson is very vocal about what it is he converted from.

Yet he came off as a gentle soul, answering questions from the crowd that he's probably responded to a thousand times before.

So I was sitting there, in this symposium, attended by 50 or so very old people and 50 or so college kids staring at their phones "earning" some sort of extra credit, and it dawned on me: what a strange, strange discussion. There is one group of people who believes the earth is billions of years old, and then there's another group who believes that the earth is approximately 6,000 years old. Millions of years is not an option. Hundreds of thousands of years is not an option. It's billions, or a few thousand. There is no in-between.

The "Age of the Earth Debate!!!" has always interested me. I've never been all that intrigued by how the old the earth actually is, mind you. I just enjoy listening to the debate. Having enjoyed a pint many times while listening to various friends discuss the issue (not to mention watching innumerable videos online) I can sum up the debate. (YE = Young Earther; OE = Old Earther.)

OE: Why do you continue to believe in a young earth when astro-physicists, geologist, and biologists all proclaim the evidence says the earth is billions of years old?

YE: First, there are scientists who believe the earth is young. The scientific establishment silences their voices because they're operating from competing world views. But even if every scientist said the earth is billions of years old it wouldn't matter; the Bible says the earth is 6,000 years old, and ultimately that's my reasoning.

OE: Well, I don't mean to discount the renowned scientists produced by Liberty University and Orel Roberts... ahem, but the Bible does not say the earth is 6,000 years old. It offers a creation myth of the Hebrews which is clearly written in a different style than is Genesis 12 on, where the book slows down to focus on the history of Israel.

YE: Are you saying that the first 11 chapters of Genesis are untrue? Do you not accept that the Bible is inerrant? How can you even believe the resurrection, then?

OE: You know, the guy who coined the term "inerrancy" was open to an old earth. Regardless, i'm not saying that the firs 11 chapters of Genesis are untrue. I'm saying they're not intended as a literal, comprehensive history of the world, or as a rendition of the mechanics of how the universe was created. In other words, it lays the groundwork for the story of redemptive history, not the groundwork for science.

YE: Jesus and the apostle Paul believed Adam existed. Are you saying God himself, in the flesh, was wrong?

OE: I'm not saying that at all. Jesus wasn't offering a lesson on history, but a lesson on marriage in Matthew 19 and Mark 6. The purpose of the dialogue from his perspective was not to pronounce the age of the earth ,but to show that divorce is wrong, and that Moses' laws regarding divorce were an accommodation to the sinful nature of man.

YE: Well, even if you think you have an explanation for Jesus' discussions of the Beginning, you cannot explain Paul's comments without explaining them away. Do you deny that Paul thought Adam was real?

OE: First, let's drop "real" and go with "historical." Paul likely thought Adam and Eve were historical people, or that the names "Adam" and "Eve" represented historical people. There is no question but that Paul sets up a First Adam/Second Adam construct, but this has little to do with history and everything to do with Redemption History. We are given the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis for a reason--a theological reason, not a historical or scientific reason. That theological reason is quite clear if you read Paul--sin has indeed come into the world through our original ancestors, whoever they may be, and the only one who can redeem is Christ.

YE: You are at the precipice. I'd have to give serious consideration as to whether one can reject the historical Adam and still be a Christian. Too much depends on it.

OE: Pauline analogies don't depend upon the historicity of Adam, but upon Adam as presented in Genesis. There's a critical difference there--Paul is using the creation account to display that man is fallen, but just as sin is presented as coming to the world through one man, so we are redeemed by one man.

YE: If sin didn't actually come to the world through the one man, then Paul's analogy loses all force, and we may as well reject his conclusions regarding Christ since they rest on faulting footing.

OE: If you think Paul's point is a historical one, then you needn't concern yourself with the historicity of Adam, for sin did not, in fact, enter the world through Adam if you take Geneses as literal. Let's count the number of sins that occur before Adam takes the fruit:

1. The serpent plans to lie to Eve;
2. The serpent lies to Eve;
3. Eve listens to the serpent without running away;
4. Eve misquotes the commandment;
5. Eve lusts after the fruit;
6. Eve desires to be like God;
7. Eve takes the fruit;
8. Eve eats the fruit.

That's no less than eight sins before Adam enters the picture. Surely the serpent brings the first sin into the world; surely Eve is the first human to sin. So if Paul is seeking to share history with us on how death came into the world, he's dead wrong. As soon as Eve sinned, she merited death. So I might ask you, then, do you think Paul was wrong about how sin came into the world? Does he give a sloppy reading of Genesis?

YE: Original Sin is passed down through Adam, as he is the federal head of mankind. Sin passes generation to generation through the man, not the woman.

OE: Original Sin came to the world through the Fall, which is not a person but a process explained in the first few chapters of Genesis in poetic terms. And sin passing physically through sperm is laughable, at best. All of creation has been affected by sin, and i suspect most of creation is... unsullied by the physical seed of man.

YE: Seriously, do you even believe in the resurrection? If you can so easily dismiss the Biblical, historical record on origins, how can you trust the Bible at all?

And so it goes, with OE eventually accusing YE of being a pernicious moron with his head in the ground and peddling fanciful ideas around that have nothing to do with reality, and YE accusing OE of denying Christ himself.

But what they're both really arguing about is the meaning of inerrancy. They'll both claim to believe in the inerrancy of Scripture but YE will accuse OE of rejecting inerrancy because OE rejects YE's hermeneutic. All the while OE won't accuse YE of rejecting inerrancy, but instead will accuse him of being blinded to scientific realities. One thinks his counterpart is stupid; there other thinks his counterpart may not even be a Christian.

This is a most dangerous dynamic. We, as Christians, should recognize that the text of Genesis 1-11 is open to debate as to its meaning. We should acknowledge that if facts are learned that challenge our interpretation of a passage, we need to rethink our interpretation. At the same time, OE Christians cannot expect YE Christians to reject their YE view in light of the theological import YE theologians place upon a literal reading of the Genesis creation account. Gentle discussion is necessary in this regard, and all sides of the debate need to acknowledge that our religion is about the god-man, Jesus Christ, who was born of a virgin, lived a life of obedience to the Father, was crucified for our sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day, and that he will come again to judge the quick and the dead.



Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Life from Death

Life from death is perhaps the most powerful motif in all of Scripture. It begins, of course, with “In the beginning,” and goes right on through to the resurrection of the saints and the new heavens and new earth. The image of life appearing out of death is moving because it’s absurd, eschewing reason in favor of imagination and meaning. The doctrines of Paul are wonderful and challenging and true and good, but greater meaning is found in our Savior’s resurrection from the dead and the promise that he is the firstborn among many brethren.

God saw that the earth was without form, and void. He caused life to spring therefrom. The ground itself was to produce the beasts of the field; the dust of the earth was to make man.

Moses knew the power of life springing from death. Aaron’s rod that miraculously budded, life-giving waters flowing from a stone, even the blood of the lambs covering the doors of the Hebrew people all portend the gospel.

But then there is Abraham. No mortal figure in the Bible is more stunning than father Abraham. The great patriarch of the Jews, the man who would kill his own son because he believed that the God of heaven would resurrect his boy if only he was obedient to the divine command, Abraham knew of life coming from death. And the courage that lifted his dust-caked sandals and burdened heart up the imposing mountain in Moriah came from experience. For Abraham had seen life appear from death, even in his own house.

When we read the story of Isaac’s miraculous birth, we think of it in terms of a miracle in Sarah’s womb. Indeed, it was that, but it was more. The ancient near east view of reproduction thought of the man’s semen as being a “seed” that was planted, so to speak, in the woman. It’s easy to see why they had this view, given what they saw in agriculture—the barley seed falls to the ground, where it grows into more barley. So the thought was that the woman was akin to the soil and the man would, ahem, plant his seed in the woman, thus the thought of earth as a “mother” in the ancient world. So when Abraham impregnated Hagar, it was clear at that point that Sarah was the only issue---she wasn’t fertile, but he was.

Some thirteen years after the birth of Ishmael, God promised Abraham that he would conceive again, this time with his barren wife. Abraham was understandably incredulous, asking how a 99 year-old man could sire a child. Paul rightly understood Abraham’s response as his recognizing that his loins were dead, as was Sarah’s womb. The birth of Isaac was a double miracle. Powerful, because it was impossible; meaningful because it was absurd.

In my own life, I have twice seen life come from death, with both the adoption of my son and the pending birth of my daughter. We cannot conceive. Yet life came into our home through the miraculous placement of a hundred dollar bill, a substitute court reporter, and a dozen other events providentially woven together to form one cohesive miracle. Life first appeared, not in a delivery room surrounded by nurses, doctors, and the sterile equipment of the modern birth, but in a run-down McDonald’s in a small East Texas town, where flies had infested the dining area, eight television screens blared some talking head griping about the economy, and an elderly woman ate a cheeseburger while her husband, donning a mesh-back ballcap perched on his head like he was a 1980s trucker, hunted one of the flies with a napkin. A miracle delivery in an utterly normal, ho-hum, everyday place: precisely the kind of miracle God seems to love most.

And life has come again, though my body was, like Abraham’s, without life, God “quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.”

Two lives where life could not be. These miracles within my household typify the beauty and majesty of the gospel. They shout, “Jesus saves” in a way didactic reasoning never could. The miraculous in our everyday lives represent God’s way of preaching the gospel to the world. This is why we are not simply told that God can win battles, we are instead given the book of Joshua. The mechanics of the resurrection are never recited; we are told of Lazarus and the magnificent-yet-puzzling, dare I say mystical, statement, “I am the resurrection.” Justification is not only explained in forensic terms; we have the life and the Passion of our Savior.  

The ancient formulation of the holy and transcendent is that which is good, true, and beautiful, elements with which we are all very familiar, though not necessarily trained to see. And we are blessed to live in a world where the transcendent can appear in our communities, our churches, and our homes and yet somehow be normal. Here we see the power of the child’s imagination. A black bunny appeared in our backyard last year. My wife and I were fascinated with it, as it came back three or four days in a row. But our son, then two years old, thought it was no more interesting than the squirrels, the birds, or the newspaper that magically appeared on our walk each morning. It wasn’t that he didn’t have an appropriate appreciation for the rarity of a black bunny rabbit. Rather, he was already fascinated by the beauty of our world. In his mind, “Why shouldn’t a black bunny hippity-hop over to our azaleas?” Our unwavering parental focus on the black bunny for a few days served to remind us how numb we had become to the robin’s chirp, the squirrel’s scamper, and the morning dew glistening on a red rose. The world is amazing, rich, and mysterious.

It didn’t have to be so. The world didn’t have to be a place where flowers bloom, where food tastes good, or where music could ring forth from a dead tree fashioned just so with some strings. The world didn’t have to be a place where the parentless can find a mother and father, or where the barren could both adopt and conceive. And it certainly didn’t have to be a place where sinners are glorified, to be conformed into the image of Christ; where we are invited to participate in his divine nature. But praise God it is!


“Thy life’s a miracle; speak yet again.”