Speculations

August 27, 2018

doors-pixabay

This inability to totally understand God forces us to make speculations as we try to find a way to reason things about God. We do have to be careful though, for we will create all sorts of arguments with each other if we insist on certain speculations as the defined truth of God. It is true that God has revealed himself to us but, most of the time, in the Bible where we look to see how God has revealed himself to us, we are simply told about what is or about how God has interacted with people. There are many things about which we are not given explanations. It might be that if we study those revelations of God that we can draw some conclusions, but we need to be careful about making dogma out of something that we truly don’t understand.

(excerpt from Engaging the Journey, Chapter 2)

Engaging the Journey – Chapter 2

July 15, 2018

Chapter 2 -Setting the stage: The Creator, His Creation and His stewards

The God who Created

The Paradoxes of the Living God

ParableOfSower
Public Domain, Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Parable of the Sower, from The Story of Christ
Series/Portfolio: The Story of Christ
Artist: Georg Pencz (German, Wroclaw ca. 1500–1550 Leipzig)
Date: 1534–35
Medium: Engraving
Dimensions: Sheet: 1 1/2 × 2 1/4 in. (3.8 × 5.7 cm)
Classification: Prints
Credit Line: Bequest of Grace M. Pugh, 1985
Accession Number: 1986.1180.114

What can we tell about an artist when we look at a work of art that the artist created? What can we find from the skill in using materials, the subject matter, the emotional content the values? Sometimes we can figure out more than other times, but if the life and times of the artist are revealed then we might be able to appreciate the artwork more[1]. So as we begin to explore what we can know about the Creator we can look both at his artwork, the creation, and what he has revealed to us.

So let us begin by looking at the living things God created. Sometimes, we think we can look around us and figure out what is living and what is not; but when look at the spectrum of living things, especially through the eyes of the scientists who specialize in it, it becomes more difficult to try to come up with a definition. In fact, one organization catalogued over 100 of them[2] … and none of them satisfy everybody. What does that say about the one who created those living things? If we get so confused about what was created, it is likely that we will get confused about the Creator.

As we look at how the Creator has revealed himself, one of the conclusions we can draw is that the Creator is full of paradoxes: characteristics that seem to oppose each other. So, for us to understand the Creator in terms of those paradoxes, we must hold those qualities in tension with each other. Sometimes we might not totally understand how these characteristics can all be true together, but that is what we should expect. If we cannot fully comprehend the creation, why should we think that we can fully comprehend the creator. We should also consider that if we ever think that we totally understand the Creator of the universe then we probably are not understanding things correctly – we are probably creating a god in our own image rather than the other way around.

This inability to totally understand God forces us to make speculations as we try to find a way to reason things about God. We do have to be careful though, for we will create all sorts of arguments with each other if we insist on certain speculations as the defined truth of God. It is true that God has revealed himself to us but, most of the time, in the Bible where we look to see how God has revealed himself to us, we are simply told about what is or about how God has interacted with people. There are many things about which we are not given explanations. It might be that if we study those revelations of God that we can draw some conclusions, but we need to be careful about making dogma out of something that we truly don’t understand. Unfortunately, we will see in future chapters that various theologians and congregations have sometimes split up over some of those issues which no one can fully understand.

Dynamic Tension

While these paradoxes regarding God have seemed to create tensions between different people who have tried to nail down which particular way to resolve various paradoxes, I submit that it may be more productive to simply accept the tensions between paradoxical attributes rather than nail down an understanding to a particular point. I give the following example we find in biological systems.

In biological life, it seems that there are no simple formulas, no simple rules. Although, on the one hand, there are underlying precisely defined processes like the laws of chemistry and physics, on the other hand, there are overlying complex and variable biological processes that are adaptable to circumstances around them. Even more, living organisms by themselves are noted by intricately balanced but unstable processes that, if the balance between processes fails, there is a most certain death. One of the standard definitions of life is that living things must maintain themselves away from equilibrium while at the same time maintaining internal order and organization[3].  If you examine the processes within living organisms, you will see that the internal structures seem to be stable. Yet, in fact, matter and energy are constantly flowing through them and the materials within the internal structures are being constantly refreshed. More remarkably, all of this activity is sustained by an array of complex sets of interdependent processes where one set of processes feeds off the by-products of other processes and visa-versa. All this activity is delicate in one sense, if some processes fail at one point the result can be death. In another sense, the processes are flexible, allowing an organism to live in a wide variety of circumstances (environments).

You can see this complexity on another level with the interactions of bone and muscle. In a given skeletal muscle, some fibers are attached to one bone in one direction and some fibers are attached to a bone in another direction. As the fibers within a muscle pull against one another the bones they are attached to move. Exactly which way the bones move is determined by the creature that controls the muscles, as the creature interacts with the environment and is determining what direction to go or what task to do. While it seems at one level that in a given muscle the fibers are working against one another and seem to work opposite to one another, they are in fact on a larger scale working with each other to accomplish particular tasks.

All of this seems to reflect what we see in spiritual life. On one level, the attributes we see in the living God, His holiness, grace, etc. never change although they are constantly interacting with each circumstance. As circumstances change, although it may seem that God’s response may change, it is not because God has changed, only that God’s dynamic response to different circumstances, whether globally or locally, has changed.

So as we consider this, it may seem that some of God’s characteristics conflict with each other or are pulling against one another. For instance, how is God’s perfect desire for justice able to be reconciled with God’s grace? Or how is it that He can be the Lord of all and able to also be the Servant of all? In fact, God is interacting with the world, determining what He wants to do and then coordinating His attributes to do what He desires. For example, although God’s authority and servant-hood seem to be in tension with one another, He is coordinating them to deal with our individual circumstances.  At some point He sees the need to demonstrate more authority and at other times, more servant-hood.

I call this interaction, Dynamic Tension; a process controlled by a person or an organism in which the attributes which seem to be pulling in different directions but are in fact working in concert with one another to accomplish particular goals.

We are blessed to have both creation itself and also God’s revelation available to us as we try to try to learn about the Creator[4]. Fortunately, it is to our blessing that we don’t have to know everything about God for us to know or understand him – otherwise there would be no hope. That still leaves us with paradoxes about God for us to examine and we will start exploring some of those paradoxes now.

Transcendent and Immanent

Gen 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth …

Isaiah 4:22 It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain And spreads them out like a tent to dwell

Philippians 2:6 Christ, “although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men.

 Genesis tells us there was a time when the universe, the heavens and the earth, began to exist. Before that moment of time, they did not exist – but before that beginning there was God and God created the universe. From that starting point, we can see the transcendent nature of God. He was not part of the universe (as pantheism claims) but he is apart from the universe. No matter what happens in the universe or to the universe, those things do not affect God who is separate from all that. Fortunately, we are not simply left with a God who is unreachably “out there” and are therefore left to fend for ourselves (as Deism believes); but in the chapters ahead we will examine many of the ways God has inserted himself into the middle of creation and even address how God is involved in ways we can’t even imagine.

This paradox of God’s transcendence and imminence has sometimes bewildered many who try to examine it through sheer logic[5], but as we unwrap the significance of this paradox, we discover many interesting attributes of God. Here are a few:

  • Regarding God’s Transcendence
    • God’s existence apart from creation, and apart from the brokenness of the world is described as his holiness. This holiness is so profound that mortal, sinful people (as we all are) could not stand to be his presence[6].
    • God’s omnipotence is seen in his ability to not only create the universe, but in his ability to sustain it.[7]
    • God’s omniscience is seen in his knowledge about the hairs on our head[8], our everyday actions[9] and even in our destiny[10]
    • God is present everywhere[11]
  • Regarding God’s Immanence
    • Although God is apart from the universe, He is the one who holds the universe together[12]
    • God is present throughout the earth and available to all who call for him and even to those who are not calling for him[13]
Timeless and in Time

Psalm 102:25-27 In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.

 Closely related to the paradox of how God is both transcendent and immanent is how God is both timeless and in time. Many scholars in philosophy and science have trouble difficulty trying to resolve questions such as: How can God even have both attributes? Did God create time or is God himself confined by time?  Is time static such that the past, present and future all exist simultaneously and that is how God see them or is time dynamic such that the future does not yet exist – and is therefore God does not yet know it?[14]

It is not practical to try to summarize all the arguments with all their nuances here. For our purposes, we will not try to resolve the many difficult theological/philosophical issues but, as Psalm 102 does, accept the finite mortality of our life on earth and the fact that God exists outside of that.[15]

Sovereign and Servant

Philippians 2:5-8 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

 There is a contemporary name for this juxtaposition of attributes: servant leadership. In this case, the one who is the creator and sustainer of all things does not wield that power in a self-centered way but uses that power to serve the needs of the very beings he created – even though they defied his authority and it cost him much anguish.

When the Creator decided to make creatures in his image, creatures that had the ability to love (and therefore the ability to choose to not love), he imbued these creatures with the ability to make independent decisions. Doing that required releasing some control and then providing enough space be given so that those creatures would be free to make choices.

Then, when those creatures violated that love, incurring an awful penalty, the Creator did not just mete out the penalty, but with compassion, and at great cost to himself, put in place a plan that would restore his relationship with his image-bearers. This costly plan would highlight an attribute that already had been revealed, the attribute of servanthood in which Creator acts on behalf of his creatures.

Not to be overlooked, the ability to create and sustain the universe necessitates tremendous knowledge and wisdom[16] as does the ability to create creatures in his image and then to be able to guide them in the midst of their missteps and varied circumstances. Were God to simply control each and every action in the universe, that would be difficult enough, but although God has things happen directly through his sovereign will, there are actions which he desires, but he gives us the option to obey or not (his will of command[17]). We cannot even begin to comprehend the vast knowledge and wisdom that God needs[18]. In fact, wisdom is so pervasive not only in creation but as part of the many ways God interacts with us that it is metaphorically portrayed to us in Proverbs as a person[19].

Merciful and Just

 2 Samuel 24:14 Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.”

Psalm 86:5 For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.

Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

Revelation 19:15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.

 

There is a common misunderstanding of how God is seen in the Old Testament vs. how God is seen in the New Testament. The perceived contrast has caused reactions such as thinking that they are two different Gods or ignoring the Old Testament while focusing exclusively on the New Testament. It is easy to see how this misperception happens while looking cursorily at the Bible, but this misperception can be resolved by looking more carefully into the text.

God’s love, mercy and grace can be seen in the Old Testament right near the beginning. There is grace in the placing the image of God on creatures that did nothing to earn it. There is mercy in the judgements meted onto Adam and Eve after their sin and grace in the provision of covering for their nakedness. While we could look at more particular instances of mercy and grace in the Old Testament, let’s just consider the meanings of the Hebrew words that have been translated as “mercy.”[20]  One Hebrew word, “racham” can also be translated as compassion and another “chesed” can be translated as steadfast loyalty and is seen as God’s steadfast compassion and loyalty to Israel even after repeated rejections from them.

But even beyond mercy and grace, God’s compares his love with his chosen people with the love of a husband to a wife. This Hebrew word that God often used for love, “ahavah,” refers to a giving type of love, which indeed was the way God showed his love to his chosen ones; even though time after time his people rejected him, God patiently worked through it all giving us a chance to see ourselves as we really are and the chance to put our trust in his unfailing love.

Wrath and justice in the New Testament can be seen in God’s strong desire to eliminate sin and in his zeal, even jealousy, about the welfare of his chosen ones. In both the Old and New Testaments, God is clear about his desire for justice and righteousness. God expresses his very clearly that he is angry when we try to cover-up our lack of justice with religious exercises or pretentiousness.

God’s response to injustice is his wrath. Although God’s wrath has been long covered by his patience and his desire that all people would come to him, his wrath will eventually be revealed when he comes back to earth to fully restore his kingdom on earth[21]. While he cautions us to allow him to carry out vengeance, that does not mean we should not be concerned by the injustice that we see. The Greek term “dikaiosuné” which is usually translated as “righteousness” can also be translated as “justice.[22]”  Jesus exemplified justice throughout his ministry and he encourages us to practice justice as well[23].

 God’s response to injustice that we most often see is patience and mercy – and we all need the kindness of God so that we can respond with repentance and receive forgiveness. However, God will eventually administer justice and respond with wrath[24].

Creative and Orderly

Isaiah 45:7-11 I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things. “Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit; let the earth cause them both to sprout; I the Lord have created it. “Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’? Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’ or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’” Thus says the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him: “Ask me of things to come; will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands? I made the earth and created man on it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host.

God’s creativity can be seen in the extremely diverse types of plants and animals: differences in colors and shapes; digesting food; moving and observing to name a few. The creativity we see is awesome. From out of nothingness, from no previous model, God created a whole system of particles and energy fields that interact with each other to form the building blocks of subatomic particles which are used to form atoms, which are used to form molecules of all sorts of complexity, which are then used to form stars and planets and, at least on one planet, were used to create living things like plants and animals in all their complexity and then those living things were used to create communities (ecosystems) that allowed living things to thrive and flourish

Yet, within the overwhelming creativity displayed and within all the diversity of living things there is an order that is controlled by a set of ordered processes, some of which we call scientific (natural) laws. Christians, like Rene Descartes, pursued these laws as an extension of God’s moral laws in the universe, which then led to the development of modern science[25].

The one God who is a Community

Matthew 3:16-17 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

It is sometimes said that a picture is worth a thousand words as it would take many words to describe the colors, shapes and expressions detailed in the picture. But sometimes, it can also be said that a word is worth a thousand pictures, as it is possible that one word in one document can be referenced to many other situations where it is used. For example, the first sentence in the Bible says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Now let’s consider the word “God.” In the Hebrew language that was used in the original writing of the first part of the Bible, that word is “Elohim.” The curious thing is that “Elohim” is a plural noun which could be translated as “gods” while the verb “created” (“bara” in Hebrew) is singular[26]. This combination of “Elohim” with a singular verb happens throughout the Old Testament part of the Bible and in all those cases, “elohim” is translated as the singular noun, “God”. So what’s the story with this?

On the one hand, the Bible is very strident in insisting that there is only one God. One of the central doctrines taught to the Jews is, “The LORD our God, the LORD is one[27],” which in the time frame that the Bible was written in, strongly contrasted with the other cultures with multiple gods. On the other hand, the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments, talks about God as Father and also God as Son and also God as Holy Spirit. This phenomenon shows up even as we look at Genesis 1, where we can see that God created and that the Spirit hovering over the water. We continue to see this concept of one God, but three persons referred to as God develop throughout scripture, both in the Old Testament as the New Testament.[28] So how do we make sense out of the insistence on there being one God while also revealing that there are multiple personalities associated with “God.” This is certainly a tough question that has created problems in the church (more on that later) and is but one thing among many that God seems to have revealed to us without explaining it.

The Good and Overflowing God

God created a good universe that reflected his character[29]. Into that universe he created creatures that reflected his character[30]. When his image-bearers rebelled, they and the world they inhabited suffered the consequences but then his image-bearers were relentlessly pursued with the intent of restoring not only them but all of creation as well to the good condition that he intended[31].

Within the story of creation and the relentless pursuit that followed, God’s character is revealed as he pours himself out even to the point of taking on the form of a man and the giving of himself to humility and suffering of being tortured to death on a cross. Even though all of creation is now marred by the rebellion, it is possible to examine the character of God as it is revealed in this outpouring of himself into his creation and his image-bearers.

Goodness, Generosity and Shalom

Psalms 69:16 Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.

Revisiting Genesis 1:1, we see God creating … everything in the heavens and the earth. The rest of that passage shows the orderliness in how the creation happened. We see that as God creates each set of creatures or things that God declares them to be good. Then after God creates humans, he declares “it was very good.” We will see later in Genesis that things got messed up, but at this point the core of everything in the universe, everything was good and beautiful and working as it should. Certainly, as we look around us now, it would be hard to say that everything is working as it should, but at the beginning, everything was good.

That goodness was further amplified when, despite the rebellion of his image-bearers, he tirelessly invited them to come back to him although they would continue rebelling over and over again. The generous invitation and re-invitation would be highlighted by the parable Jesus told which has been commonly called the “Prodigal Son” (Luke 15:11-32) in reference to the wastefully spending son but could equally called the “Prodigal God”[32] in reference to the extravagant giving of God.

These continuous and generous offers from God are to restore to us the good and generous life that God has intended from the beginning, life free from suffering and pain, life full of joy and peace, wholeness and health, contentment and completeness[33].

Trustworthy and Faithful

Psalm 100:5 For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

God has continued to offer us lives of goodness, generosity and shalom despite our continued waywardness. Our opportunity to experience the faithfulness of God comes as we hold to his promises, and even when we fail to hold to his promises[34]. Scripture is full of passages of God’s commitment to faithfulness despite the lack of our own[35] and those examples are helpful for us to hold onto as we experience our own trials and difficulties in life.

Self-sacrificing and Forgiving

Acts 2:36-38 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart,and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

God’s faithfulness to us is sealed in the love he showed to us by the ultimate sacrifice he made on our behalf. His commitment of love towards us could not be made any more clearly than through the excruciating death he suffered when he allowed us to put him on the cross in order that he should bear the penalties of our sins. And it is through His suffering and dying that he can offer us forgiveness for the sins we have committed[36].

Goodness and the Laws

Natural Laws

Amid all the creativity displayed in the universe we see there is an order to it all, that there is an overall structure to the universe. It’s the kind of order that inspired Christians in the past to develop a field that we now call science.[37] It’s within science that we examine orderly processes at work that we call the natural laws. These laws describe how all physical things behave: there is a force that pulls objects together that we call gravity, a force that causes objects with a positive charge to be attracted to objects with a negative charge that we call an electric force, etc. There is no disobeying these natural laws. If you think that you can try to violate them, for instance, standing on the top of a table and then jumping off and assuming you will not be subject to gravity but rather float without falling to the floor, you’d be wrong. You can’t violate gravity. You can try to set up circumstances that will cause other forces to come into play – such as airplanes do when they use aerodynamic forces that counteract gravity – but you simply can’t violate gravity, for there will be consequences if you try.

Moral Laws

By observing natural laws we can ascertain some aspects of the character of God. The order of the universe reveals a God of order. The creativity of the universe reveals a God of creativity. The natural laws that govern how things are supposed to behave reveals a God who expects things to behave, and that violations are not tolerated. But when image-bearers were brought into the world there was a new level of complexity added to this physical model constrained by natural, physical laws.

On the one hand, we image-bearers are physical creatures and are therefore subject to the natural laws, but on the other hand we image-bearers were created to reflect God’s transcendence and were even given dominion over the creation into which God had placed us. With that capacity we image-bearers were given the freedom to choose between good and evil. This freedom could not be given without some risk, because in order for image-bearers to be able to reflect God’s character of being good and choosing to do good there must be the possibility for the image-bearers to be able to choose to not be good.

And just as there are natural, physical laws that govern how physical things behave with consequences for trying to violate those laws, God has also imposed spiritual, moral laws to govern how the image-bearers ought to behave in the good universe He created with consequences for violating those moral laws.

The image-bearers and their intended future

John 15:8-11 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

As much as we can comprehend the character of God, we can comprehend what he has intended for those creatures that made in his image. Those image-bearing creatures are not gods or duplicates of God, but they are imbued with character of the God that made them. In this chapter we will specify some of the general ways in which God intends for us to reflect his image then, in later chapter, expound on those characteristics in more detail.

It was into this good universe that God prepared beforehand that God created creatures to bear his image. Good creatures – actually very good creatures – bearing his very good image, were placed into a world that was good. These very good image-bearers, these people, were given the task of taking care of the good creation that God blessed them with – and God declared it to be very good. The image-bearing creatures were created in the complex image of God – the one God who was a community within Himself, the God who was immensely creative, the God who was generous and loving beyond imagination, the God who is sovereign over the universe, the God who is above all things.

Transcendent and Immanent

Ecclesiastes 3:11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

God has placed each one of us in a particular time and place[38] and within that time and place and people he has plans for us[39]. Each of us has a particular mind and body with which we need to discern God’s calling for us in our time and place. Sometimes we can discern what particular things we are called to but very often we can discern what general plans he has for us; such plans are revealed in many places in scripture.

And though we are called to particular times, places and people, there are ways in which God’s transcendent character spills over onto us. The mark of his transcendence is even placed in each of our hearts[40]. The expressions of transcendence are impossible to avoid in our day and age: we were not born with the ability to fly but we can fly to the moon, we were not born to live under water but we are able to spend months at a time under water even at incredible depths, we were not born to run like a cheetah but we don’t even think about climbing into a vehicle and going more than 60 miles an hour for hours at a time, we can create works of art that show places we have never been, we can use the resources of the earth to generate more power than we can imagine … and the list goes on.

With our gift of transcendence, God has indicated that he has set us aside as his representatives, “to be holy as he is holy”[41]. We are not to merely live as earthly creatures but as creatures who represent the living God.

Made for Sovereignty and Service

Genesis 1:28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Matthew 23:11 The greatest among you shall be your servant.

God is the master of all creation, yet he has given to us the responsibility to take care of the earth[42]. It is out of that mastery that we have managed to use the resources of the earth to create all the technological advances that we have; unfortunately, in many cases we have abused our abilities; abusing not just the resources of the earth but abusing each other.

In our sinfulness we typically appeal to our call to sovereignty while forgetting our call to service. This very issue Jesus took care to remind us of on many occasions [43]. If we mistreat the earth that we are placed in or mistreat others we dishonor the one in whose image we are made and even the others of whom God has also placed his image. In fact, it is out of our call to sovereignty and service that we are called to love, to willingly give of ourselves to the service of others as God gave of himself to us.

There was a danger in God creating image-bearers: to make creatures that were lovers – just as He was a lover – meant giving these image-bearers the freedom to not love – for the ability to decide to love means being able to decide otherwise, to decide to not love. To allow creatures that were the capstone of creation the option to not love and therefore to break their relationship with their Creator, risked an awful catastrophe, a catastrophe that could affect the entirety of creation itself. The good creation, all of it, would become not so good[44].

And so it was, creation was prepared for God’s image-bearers, then those creatures were created in the image of the loving God with instructions to be stewards of the world God had made. Everything was good, and the first couple had had free access to the provisions in garden prepared for them. Only one restriction was placed before them, a restriction not meant to deprive them of anything good but meant to provide the opportunity to test their love, their obedience to the one who created them.

We all now know that those creatures failed their test and we daily experience the consequences of that failure. We also daily experience our incapacity to restore holiness on our own efforts, to love God with all of our heart and soul and mind and to love or to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Merciful and Just

Micah 6:8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Flowing out of our call to sovereignty and service is our call to mercy and justice. But just like the servant in the parable of the unmerciful servant[45] we can forget the mercies shown to us when we are dealing with each other. There is much that makes us yearn for justice in a world filled with cruelty, but we need to remember that as God acted on his own demands of justice, he yet found a way to bestow great mercy on us. In our own search for justice we should remember the last phrase of Micah 6:8[46], “to walk humbly with our God.”

Creative and Orderly

Exodus 35:31-38  and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship,  to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze,  in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft. And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan.  He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver—by any sort of workman or skilled designer.

Our creativity erupts early on in our life as our desire to play and is evidenced, of course, in the desire of parents to play with their children. Then there is no doubt about how uniquely creative we are in the way we express ourselves not only in all the various art forms we use but in the ways we can solve all sorts of problems – even to the creative ways we try to cover up our sins. No other creature can come close to expressing creativity the way we can.

Our ability to create – and even detect – order is also unmatched. Our ability to detect order is evident in the way we can detect patterns in sight or sound. The sense of order is evident in our ability to recognize the faces and even the voices of our mothers or fathers as infants. Our sense of order is then seen as we grow in our ability to recognize the patterns of letters and sounds and to recognize and respond to language – even languages. Our sense of order becomes more evident in our ability to create order out of many abstract concepts such as math, science, philosophy and many other areas.

Community

Matt 3:16-17  And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him,[c] and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

We are created in the image of the self-sufficient one who is a community in himself: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Although each one of us is individually made in that image, it is clear from the beginning that we were not made to be self-sufficient; we not only need to have a relationship with the God but also with each other. God allowed the first man to see that he needed another human before God presented with a women to be his ‘ezer kegnedo. In Hebrew, ‘ezer is usually translated as “helper” and is most often used to describe God helping his people[47]; kegnedo is usually translated as “in front of” or “opposite” or “parallel to”.

Later on in scripture we see that we are called to be a nation of priests[48] and a body where all the different parts have a purpose as they work together[49]. We are called not just to a restored relationship with the one who made us but are called together as a people to serve each other and to serve the world around us.

Goodness, generosity and shalom

2 Corinthians 9:6-8 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

Goodness, generosity and peace all fit together. We begin with the premise that we are representatives[50] of the Prince of Peace[51]. Scripture is full of encouragement for us to live in peace[52] because it is through peace that much else flows, including goodness and generosity. Goodness flows out of the shalom which is concerned with our overall well-being and in necessarily linked to justice, mercy and humility[53] – and we are not to be content with helping God to usher the minimal amounts of justice, mercy and humility into the world but the kind of shalom, goodness, peace, mercy and justice that stem from the overflowing way that God has brought all of those to us[54].

Trustworthy and Faithful

Luke 16:11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?

We can’t seem to avoid broken promises; whether it’s the one’s others make to us or that we make to others. We usually expect broken promises from some people because we know they lack sincerity. Then sometimes we experience broken promises because things happen beyond our control, or circumstances change, or sometimes priorities are changed. Yet, in the midst of all that, we are called as God’s ambassadors to reflect his faithfulness to us.  We are called to faithfulness in truth-telling[55], in love[56], in doing good[57], in prayer[58], in doing the work of the Lord[59], in entrusting other faithful believers to be faithful in sharing the gospel[60], and even just to confirm our calling[61].

Self-Sacrificing and Forgiving

Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Our life in God does not begin with anything we have done but rather with the sacrifice made by Christ Jesus, the perfect sacrifice that was made on our behalf to reconcile us to God. Then when by baptism we join him in his death, we can also be united with him in his resurrection[62]. It is that resurrection power that enables us to present ourselves as living sacrifices, to worship him by continually dying to our sins[63] and offering ourselves to the service of God and to others[64]. And just as the mercies of God flow into our lives, so those mercies should flow over into the mercy we extend to others on God’s behalf, just as Paul shows us by “appealing” to us instead of “commanding” us.

Continued creation and the intended future

Although these image-bearers had close, unhindered, intimate contact with their Creator, there was enough space given them to think freely, as if they were not being watched all the time. It was in this space that they were given the responsibility of being stewards over all the earth and over all the other creatures[65]. We were given the assignment to fill all the earth, discover its possibilities and care for the world the way that God would care for the world[66].

[1] https://mag.orangenius.com/storytelling-for-artists/

[2] http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20170101-there-are-over-100-definitions-for-life-and-all-are-wrong

[3] Capra, Fritjof, “The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding off Living Systems” c.1996 Anchor Books

[4] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/2010/08/25/augustine-evolution-and-two-books/

[5] https://billmuehlenberg.com/2013/08/05/on-gods-immanence-and-transcendence/; https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/denying-gods-transcendence/; https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/God-Is-Transcendent

[6] Isaiah 6:1-5

[7] Hebrews 1:3

[8] Matthew 10:30 

[9] Psalm 139:2-3 

[10] Romans 8:29 

[11] Jeremiah 23:23-24

[12] Colossians 1:17

[13] Acts 17:27; Psalm 139:7-12; Psalm 145:18 

[14] https://www.closertotruth.com/series/god-temporal-or-timeless

[15] For more discussion on this difficult topic see: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2015/02/23/is-god-timeless/, https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/scholarly-writings/divine-eternity/god-time-and-eternity/, http://themelios.thegospelcoalition.org/review/the-end-of-the-timeless-god, https://www.allaboutgod.com/god-is-infinite-bible-verses-faq.htm

[16] Proverbs 3:19; Job 12:13

[17] https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/what-is-the-will-of-god-and-how-do-we-know-it

[18] Romans 11:33-35; Isaiah 55:9

[19] Proverbs 1: 20-23.

[20] http://theconversation.com/what-is-the-true-meaning-of-mercy-72461

[21] 2 Peter 3:9; Romans 9:22-24.

[22] https://www.sbl-site.org/assets/pdfs/TBv2i5_Fosterjustice.pdf’; https://peacetheology.net/2012/03/01/justice-in-the-new-testament/

[23] Matthew 5:6 Matthew 6:33 Douay-Rheims Bible uses “justice” where most versions use “righteousness”

[24] Romans 1:18; Revelation 19:15

[25] http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2012/05/08/3498202.htm

[26] https://thykingdom2020.wordpress.com/2016/06/07/in-the-beginning-god-was-both-singular-and-plural-bara-elohim/

[27] Deuteronomy 6:3

[28] https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_330.cfm

[29] Romans 1:20

[30] Genesis 1:26-27.

[31] Romans 8:18-23

[32] http://www.timothykeller.com/books/the-prodigal-god

[33] https://www.therefinersfire.org/meaning_of_shalom.htm, https://www.blueletterbible.org/search/search.cfm?Criteria=shalom&t=HNV#s=s_primary_0_5

[34] Hebrews 10:23

[35] https://www.gotquestions.org/faithfulness-of-God.html

[36] Hebrews 10:11-18.

[37] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/davearmstrong/2015/10/christianity-crucial-to-the-origin-of-science.html, Christianity: Absolutely Crucial to the Origin of Science OCTOBER 18, 2015 BY DAVE ARMSTRONG

[38] Psalm 139:16; Acts 17:24-28

[39] 1 Corinthians 12: 1-31; Jeremiah 29:11 

[40] Ecclesiastes 3:11 

[41] Exodus 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9.

[42] Genesis 1:26-28

[43] Matthew 4:10; Matthew 23:11

[44] Romans 8:28

[45] Matthew 18:21-35

[46] Micah 6:8 

[47] https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=h5828, http://biblehub.com/hebrew/5048.htm

[48] Exodus 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9

[49] 1 Corinthians 12:12-13.

[50] 2 Corinthians 5:20

[51] Isaiah 9:6

[52] Isaiah 32:17; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Romans 12:18; Ephesians 6:15; Hebrews 12:14 d

[53] Micah 6:8; Philippians 2:1-5

[54] 1 Timothy 6:17-19 

[55] Proverbs 12:22.

[56] Proverbs 27:6; Matthew 23:23.

[57] Proverbs 14:22.

[58] Colossians 4:2.

[59] 1 Corinthians 15:58.

[60] 2 Timothy 2:2

[61] 1 Timothy 6:11-14 .

[62] Romans 6: 4-5

[63]  https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/present-your-bodies-as-a-living-sacrifice-to-god; https://carm.org/what-does-it-mean-to-be-a-living-sacrifice; http://opc.org/cce/livingsacrifice.html

[64] 1 Peter 2:10-12.

[65] Genesis 1:26:28

s[66] https://www.tvcresources.net/resource-library/talks/what-is-the-cultural-mandate

Engaging the Journey – Chapter 1

June 17, 2018

 

Preface

This is the first part of what will be a 21`chapter book, “Engaging the Journey,” which will take the content of a 9-month theology discussion conducted by Brooklyn Fellows, which is offered by Resurrection Brooklyn, and puts into an historical context. I am taking advantage of much reading done over the last 40 years and adding that framework to the content of the book.

Chapter 1 – Made for a purpose

 

Anticipating the Journey

You look at the news and wonder where things are headed to. Sometimes you look at your life and wonder the same thing. Where is God? What’s His plan for the world – for the church – for you? Then you pick up the Bible and read the stories and wonder how they all fit together. Then you look at the church – well, churches, there are so many of them – and wonder why it’s so complicated and messy and wonder if anybody’s got it right. And then what about me, my story, my mess? How do I fit into it all that?

Well it is complicated – and the very first hint of how complicated it is starts with the first sentence in the Bible (more on that later), but God has been working through and has been intervening in the lives of many people through the years. It’s through those stories that we can at least begin to understand what the Big Story (the story that helps us make sense of the world) is, and our story is. As we begin to explore those stories we can discover that:

  • we don’t have to figure everything out by ourselves,
  • the stories (the Big Story and ours) are not over yet, they are in process, and
  • we’re invited to join in that process, that journey, and participate with the God of the universe in bringing His story and our story to the end that He has already planned out – or we can just be a spectator and wonder what’s going on.

The fun in the journey comes from realizing that while we don’t have everything figured out, He does. Furthermore, while we can actively participate in the journey, the results are not dependent on us but on Him, who is working through us. As much as we may mess things up, He is able to redeem all our messes and bring us to the destination He has chosen, ultimately restoring us and the rest of creation, making us all into what He had intended from the beginning.

Among all the creatures that God created, we are uniquely made, even if we are not the center of the universe as some people may have thought at one time. Through the pursuit of science, we now have instruments that make it very clear that we are not physically at the center of everything, not that we can prove anyway. We are only specks on a small planet spinning around a star in an apparently random solar system in an apparently random galaxy in a universe we cannot even see the edges of. Although we don’t know where the center is, the universe seems to have been created with us in mind.[1] The properties of the universe, the physical constants, the atomic structures, were all created such that it would support our existence. Interestingly, although we are creatures made of the stuff of the universe, not only can we can study and reflect on the properties of that stuff, we can also study and reflect on, and even reflect, the one who created us.

The Story-Teller God

It is frustrating though, to try to figure out who this Creator is. There is so much of the creation itself that we don’t understand, it “makes sense” that we would not be able to entirely understand the one who created it. So in what seems to be a deliberate pattern, the Creator doesn’t try to explain Himself, rather He does things and then tells us who He is and what He does, such as:

  • The creation of the world and His response to it
  • the first people He created and the messes they made and how He responded,
  • the family he chose to give His laws to, the messes they made, and how He responded

And then, when God came to us in human flesh as Jesus, a man from Nazareth, his basic teaching was in the form of stories. It’s within those stories and through those stories, the stories of God’s interactions with people and the stories told by Jesus, that children as well as adults can intuitively grasp the character of the Creator.[2]

The Intended Destination

God created the universe for his glory, and within that humans were created to experience the true joy of living, to bear the fruit of His nature, to reflect His presence. We are designed to be image-bearers of God himself, stewards of the creation He inserted us into while reflecting the very character of God. God’s initial reaction to creating us was, “It was very good.” His intent was that we would fill and take care of the earth, all the while reflecting His character to each other and to His creation.

He gave us unimaginable delight and freedom, but that very freedom He gave us was joined to a responsibility, a responsibility that was wrongly used and caused immense far-reaching damage – damage we could not possibly undo.[3] Our pride-laden rebellion damaged the relationships between each other, between us and God, between us and the world and even between heaven and earth; but God had a plan from the beginning, a plan which is now underway, to ultimately restore what was lost and undo that damage.[4]

Ultimately, we will be freed from the bondages of sin and death and all the relationships that are now damaged will be restored. In fact, in a time-line that we cannot fully grasp, God waited from the beginnings of mankind until 2000 years ago to defeat the power of sin and death and begin the process of restoring His kingdom on earth. Then He told us that someday, he will complete that process and he will return again in the fullness of his glory and fully restore all things at that time.

Our hope looks at the resurrection of Jesus as a harbinger of the resurrection that awaits all those of us who will be united with Him in our own transformed bodies in the new heavens and the new earth.[5] Furthermore, our hope doesn’t ask for us to simply wait for that time when the Kingdom of God is fully restored, but that we can be part of God’s plan to bring the Kingdom of God into our broken world, and therefore bringing hope to the rest of the world.

The In-between Time

In the meantime, we do not know when that will be, and we find ourselves in the middle, in-between those two times, between the beginning of the restoration of God’s kingdom on earth and the time when it will be fully accomplished. In this in-between time, sometimes we see some signs of God’s restoration – and sometimes we can’t – and it’s hard to figure out what God is doing, especially when there are times that He seems to be absent. In those times, we need to call upon our faith to hold onto the hope that God is still working out His plans. We need to recall all the times that we did see Him at work, and then we also need to remember that getting to the end of the plans that He intends for us may require some pain on our part just as it required pain on His part as well. But in our case, as it was with His, the pain will be overwhelmed with the glory that will be revealed.

Our ultimate destination is not a mere returning to the way we started out, but to the full flourishing of our potential, where God will establish a kingdom of image-bearers released to display God’s character and reflect His glory.[6] With that in mind, we can do more than just hope and more than just sit and wait to arrive at the destination. We can participate with God in bringing His kingdom to earth and bring a little shalom into a broken world that desperately needs it, knowing that the little shalom that God allows us to help bring to the world is just a foretaste of the fullness of the shalom that awaits us in the fully restored earth.

The purpose of this book will be to take a grand overview of God’s story, looking at highlights of that story through the history of the Bible and the history of the church and our current situation so that we can see where we fit in and how we can engage in the journey that God has entered us into and more fully and consciously participate with Him in bringing His kingdom into this world.

Big story – Arc of history

The following sketch lays out the overview of what the Big Story is that we are living in.  As we go through the rest of the chapters, we will be filling in the details about the different parts of the story, but this will give you a sense of where we are going. The sketch is based on the “Big Story” created by James Chuong[7] and was further implemented in an app produced by Intervarsity.[8]

The sample script shown below the sketch gives an idea about how to work your way through sketch.

NOTE: When presenting this to someone else, first draw the 5 circles in the pattern shown and then gradually fill in the extra sketch-work and the titles as you talk your way through the story. As indicated in the sample script below, start with the second circle, then return to the first, second, third, fifth and then the fourth circle.

ArcOfHistory

Sample Script

DAMAGED – Most of us have no problem seeing that the world is messed up – it’s not the way it’s supposed to be, what with the injustice and harm that’s done – the wars, crime, poverty, pollution, etc. – and we ache for better world (draw in “people” and the squiggled lines on circles). Interestingly, when we are hungry it points to the existence of food because that is the way we solve our hunger, and similarly when we are thirsty it points to the existence of water. So, when we feel an ache about the messed-up world it points to better world – that did or will exist. The Christian world view is that not only was there once a better world but that the currently broken world will be restored some day.

GOOD. God designed world for good and he designed us (draw in people) to take care of it. We were also designed to love and serve each other and flourish in human communities. Genesis 1:18-31

DAMAGED. However, we decided that we would run things our own way (draw arrows), chased after our own needs instead of the needs of others or for the planet (draw arrows and the line between people). The consequence was that we damaged the planet and the relationship between ourselves and between us and God.  Isaiah 53:6; Romans 6:23; Isaiah 59:2; Galatians 5:19-20; Romans 1:21-22; Romans 3:23

REDEEMED. The good news is that God loved us too much to leave us that way, so 2000 years ago God sent Jesus (draw in people, the cross and squiggle lines) who taught us a better way to live and then, by his death and resurrection made it possible to restore our relationships with each other and with him and with the planet. By his death and resurrection, he redeemed everything – our relationship with him, with each other and with the planet. John 3:16; Philippians 2:6-7; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 2:8; Romans 3:25-26

RESTORED. But he wasn’t going to complete everything right then. He let us know that He was going to leave us for a while, that he would return someday and at that point would transform us and all of creation (draw in people and the alpha and omega). At that time, He will fully remove all evil from us and from the world and we will then dwell with him, each other and the world in peace. It’s only something we can do. We don’t have the power ourselves to heal everything ourselves. Revelation 21-22

INBETWEEN. In the meantime though, we are in an in-between time (draw in squiggle lines and people), a waiting time, the time between his first coming when he started this revolution and his second coming when he will fully restore his kingdom. During this time, although he left us with things still broken we can join the revolution he started. We can join Him in the healing process that He has begun. This is possible because, although he left us as a physical individual, he did leave behind his Spirit (draw symbol for Holy Spirit (bird)) which we can receive His power, the through that power (draw arrows) to bring healing to our relationships with Him, with each other and with the planet. He invites us to receive that power by accepting the forgiveness He offers and accepting his rule for our lives. Acts 3:6-7; Matthew 5:14-16; John 20:21-22; Micah 6:8; Luke 4:18-19; Philippians 2:3-4; 1 John 4:10-11; Romans 5:110-11; Mark 1:17; Mark 2:14; John 3:17-18; Galatians 2:20-21; Romans 10:9; 1 John 1:9 Acts 10:43; Acts 1:8; Matthew 5:14-16

 

WHERE ARE YOU?

1 – You think the world is fine. But how do you reconcile that with the suffering in the world?

2 – Are you overwhelmed by the evil in the world or in your heart?

3 – You have some understanding of what Jesus did. Would you like to become a follower of Jesus and engage in his mission to heal the world with his community and with the help of the Holy Spirit?

4 – Are you involved in Jesus’ community and engaged in his mission to bring healing into the worlds?

 

 

[1] Slezak, Michael. “The human universe: Was the cosmos made for us?” New Scientist, “www.newscientist.com/article/mg22630190-400-the-human-universe-was-the-cosmos-made-for-us” 29 April 2015, Accessed 5 May 2018

[2] Cp. Matt 13:10-17 Parables were also designed to conceal the truth from those that God whose hearts have become dull

[3] Romans 8:19-22. The whole universe is groaning, waiting for to be restored

[4] Pursuing God, Heaven and Earth, “www.pursuegod.org/biblical-themes-an-animated-explanation-of-heaven-earth/ “

[5] Wright, N.T. Surprised by Hope, Harper Collins, 2008 pp4-5, 18; Rev 21-22

[6] Wright, N.T. Surprised by Hope, Harper Collins, 2008

[7] Chuong, James. “The Big Story,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCVcSiUUMhY

[8] Intervarsity. https://store.intervarsity.org/big-story-gospel-presentation-tool.html

Liturgy of Mobile Devices

November 6, 2017

Most of us struggle in some fashion with the distractions of cell phones/mobile devices. In fact, we can honestly admit that this technology, which has brought us a tsunami of social connectivity, is driving us more than we are driving the technology. Our normal urges for social connection, in a healthy environment, provide the glue to bind us in mutually nurturing relationships, but now, in a changing tecchnological culture which is developing more quickly than our wisdom, we are experiencing advances that are now being used to hijack and manipulate our urges. Furthermore, it is challenging as a society to develop an effective cohesive check on the rapidly developing technologies. So, how do we regain control? How do we change our unhealthy habits?

Usually, we do not just dispose of unhealthy habits, rather we replace the unhealthy ones with new ones. We replace one ritual (or liturgy) with a new one. I am proposing that there are a couple of levels of liturgies that are available for us to replace our unhealthy liturgies.

LITURGY OF THE DAY

While all our days look different from each other’s in many ways, the component of the day that I am looking at right now is the part where we interact with our technology. Various studies, such as the one’s mentioned here (http://www.aish.com/ci/s/Smartphones-Negative-Effects-A-Summary-of-Latest-Comprehensive-Research.html), show the effect of unabated use of cell phones, when we allow ourselves to be slaved to the demands of the device. Part of our task is to realize that we need to confront what has been called the tyranny of the urgent (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6803033-tyranny-of-the-urgent) and thoughtfully consider what things are truly important versus those things we are perceiving as urgent and structure our days appropriately according to our thought out priorities. As we do that, we need to keep in mind the Great Commandments and we also need to humbly consider how we interact with God through the day and confront our perceived need for our control vs. our actual need to recognize God’s control. It is in that context that we may need to let others know that we are not always going to be instantly responding to notifications.

There are a few techniques that are available for cell phone app management. A couple are mentioned in the first article referenced above.

  • Silencing the phone: This can be done in hour before bedtime in order to not have the phone impact our sleep or at other times when we want to focus
  • Putting your cell phone away and out of sight (or in another room) at various times during the day (e.g. mealtimes, while meeting with friends)
  • Controlling your notifications on your apps. This can be done by turning off notification sounds, banners, etc.
  • Putting the notifications with banners on a secondary screen and planning what times of the day you will choose to look at those apps

LITURGY OF THE CALL TO PRAYER

With the liturgy of the day established, we have the context set for the next step. If we are receiving the emails for the daily prayers, we still may have the challenge of handling the very device that is distracting us from what we hold to be important to with things that we are perceiving as urgent. But now if we establish that the email containing the prayer is important compared to what we have perceived as the urgent notifications from the apps, we have the possibility of establishing a liturgy to counteract our old mindset.

There is one technique of managing the mobile device distraction by simply not using it. That is a valid strategy but a purely defensive one. However, we may be able to use the emailed prayer in an offensive strategy, and replace our liturgy of distractedness with a liturgy of focus. To create this new liturgy we can use a centering prayer (https://www.pcusa.org/resource/lectio-and-centering-prayer-conflict/). In the prayer emails sent out by Resurrection Brooklyn, the first two sentences are:

God is near because he loves you. Turn your hearts to him and find new life.

So one option is to use those sentences in our centering prayer. Whatever we decide to use, once we have a prayer set up that we always use then over time we can memorize it and use that prayer anytime, not only when we are intending to open the prayer email but whenever we pick up the phone, causing the phone to now be an object that calls us to prayer instead of being an object that causes distraction.

The Masterpiece

August 31, 2017


We never get life’s canvas blank it always comes filled in
With who we are and where we’re from and all the good and bad
And so provides the place and time in which we get to grow

I cannot show how great a love when everything is easy
I cannot know how far I’d go if i had never journeyed
If every day i had enough and nothing caused me worry

I cannot grow in knowledge if i never have to learn
I cannot grow in strength if I never have to strain
If nothing made me try too hard and never was I troubled

It’s the pull between the light and dark and good and bad we grow in
That shows us who we are right now and who we are becoming
When we choose the paint we add onto the Master’s canvas

The canvas is full of joy and pain and light and somber hues
And scenes of peace and conflict and scenes that are confused
And for every scene in black and white are hundreds gray and blurred 

On this canvas we leave our marks to make it more complete
With marks of joy or sorrow or light or dark or pain
The Master then transforms our marks into his radiant glory 

For it takes the bleak, forbidding, world to reveal His love and peace
And our confusion and despair to show His hope and joy
And on the day when we go home we’ll see His Masterpiece 

Remembering who is in control

August 23, 2017

Zech 4:6 – So he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.

Zech 8:10 – Before that time there were no wages for people or hire for animals. No one could go about their business safely because of their enemies, since I had turned everyone against their neighbor.

I am reading the above passages this week. So now, as I hear the responses to the President’s speeches, I am reminded that the Lord is still in control and orchestrating our affairs. Zechariah was written as Israel was in exile and the Lord was reminding them that there is hope at the end of His discipline – He is able to draw all His people to Himself. Unlike Trump’s claim during the campaign, that he is the answer to all our country’s problems – God is reminding us here that He is the one in control, even if God has ordained Trump’s presidency.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with the statements made by the President, it is clear that, despite all our communication tools, there are groups in this country that do not know how to listen to each other. With insulting categorizations, quick responses and blanket statements thrown around, there is precious little communication (listening) actually happening. There are fears and doubts that are not being understood. There is healing of relationships that needs to occur. There is a need to understand that God is more than we can understand and is larger than our biased (whether we acknowledge it or not) agendas.

When “our side” is winning, we can become complacent – not bothering to hear what concerns others my have, and when “our side” is not winning, we can become aggressive – caring more about being heard than listening. In either case, the call is the old prescription, “to love our neighbor as ourself,” whether we don’t want to or need to. And for those of us who consider God to be on “our side,” we need to confess our brokenness, that we have not loved God or neighbor as we should, that we need to ask God how we can be used by Him to help bring healing to the land in which He placed us, and that we need to acknowledge that we need God’s intervention in our own lives as well as in the lives of those we disagree with.

The problems we see are bigger than the President, than Congress, than the Supreme Court, and bigger than the Constitution. The solution to the problems is not ultimately to be found in the laws we make, the culture we make, the schools we build or the walls we build. The problem is all of us – our sin. The solution is love and grace – taking the time to get uncomfortable and listening to those who are different, wrestling together with the messiness of all our situations and acknowledging that the fears and concerns of others are just as real as our own.

That said, the love and grace we need is from God. Once we have fully grasped just how much we ourselves need that love and grace, we can then share that with others in this broken world. Meanwhile we need to patiently wait for the time when He will complete His work in us.

Reconciling the nature of the God in the Old Testament and New Testament

February 23, 2016

murals-losangeles-politics-201289-h

Photo: Flickr.com, Montezuma’s war, Photographer: llpo’s Sojourn

The Old Testament seems full of violence, not just man against man, but violence that God seems to promote and even participate in. This seems so antithetical to the way God seems to be portrayed in the New Testament, there exemplified by Jesus who seemed to focus more on serving and forgiving. How do we make sense of this? I think that there are two issues to be looked at:

1. The initial question comes from the way God initiatiates and commands violence in the Old Testament, particularly against seemingly innocent people, causing many of us to be uncomfortable or confused; how can the God who loves, cares for and nurtures us to the point of dying and suffering for us, be so violent against the people He wants to draw to Himself? Particulary, when the violence seems to be carried out against innocent people, it seems to contradict the sense of fairness and kindness we expect of God.

2. The first question leads to a more fundamental question. How do we reconcile that the God of love and peace in the we are familiar with in the New Testament with the God of wrath and violence we see in the Old Testament – is the nature and character of God the same in both testaments? It is this question we will look at first.

The nature and character of God

One of the first things to do reconcile these two seeming disparate points of view is to be more thorough examination of the revelation of God in both testaments. If we look carefully, we will discover that there is much in common between the two testaments:

The themes of love, grace and mercy run not only through the New Testament but through the Old Testament as well

Ex 34:6-7, Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.
Hos 11:8-9, My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger nor will I devastate Ephraim again.
2 Samuel 24:14 David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands
Psalm 51:1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Isaiah 55:7 Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
Nehemiah 9:31 But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.
Hosea 6:6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
Micah 6:8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

The themes of justice and wrath run not only through the Old Testament but through the New Testament as well

Luke 3:7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Matt 10:14-15 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
Matt 10:34  “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.
Mark 9:42-48  “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell,where “‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’
Luke 18:7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?
John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.
Romans 9:22 What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction?

Understanding the context of violence

For those of us who are disposed to relate to God as our Father, our Friend, and our Shepherd, we become uncomfortable with the expressions of wrath and violence displayed by God, particularly in the Old Testament. Part of our discomfort is due to our incomplete understanding of God (which we just addressed and partly due to our lack of understanding of the context of the culture in Biblical times.

Violence is found not only in the Old Testament but in the New Testament as well

⦁ Revelation 19:11-21 Heavenly warrior defeats the beast.
⦁ Rev 16:1-21 seven bowls of wrath
⦁ Mark 9:43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.

Malachi 2:16 “The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the Lord Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful. In this verse, divorce is considered an act of violence. How little do we understand what other violence we commit with any of our sins.
Lex tolionus (Code of Hammurabi) – the concept of “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” is actually a counter-cultural idea that the MAXIMUM penalty for a transgression should be not greater than the transgression itself
Herem – devotion (to destruction)- The destruction of entire cities was necessary to eliminate the gross sins committed by a city. Part of that elimination of a corrupted culture was so that it wouldn’t contaminate the Israelites (as was proven in the later history of Israel, Deut 20:18) as simply a patient and forbearing God executing his delayed judgement. In the dream where God was informing Abraham of the future (Gen 15:12-16) captivity and release of the nation of his descendants, he also informed Abraham that the time of judgements against the Amalekites had not yet come but would come at the time when Abraham’s descendents would return to the Promised Land.

God gives people up to their sins

  • Genesis 18:20 Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous
  • Pharoah who hardened his heart and then the Lord further hardened the Pharoah’s heart

Throughout scripture, there is a pattern in how judgement is carried out

  • God declares judgement for sin.
  • Warning is giving, and the opportunity to repent and avoid judgement is provided.
  • God’s judgement is carried through.

The deaths of innocents, the children

  • Throughout history, parents have always been the determinators for the welfare of their children – for good or for bad.
  • A declaration of war would have typically provided a warning period with opportunity for women, children and the elderly to flee.
  • The children killed in these episodes lived in a depraved environment with a miserable outlook for the future (a future that they may not have even experienced as a result of the culture of child sacrifice pursued by their parents).
  • Killing by the sword is a more merciful way to die, especially when compared with abandonment and starvation that would have resulted if only the adults were killed.
  • Death is not the end, and we can trust God to do what is right, not least of all with children who are not old enough to know any better

The sovereignty of God and other issues

God’s desire for justice for His children – While we need to be careful about how we ascribe our own feelings to God, there is a scriptural basis for our Heavenly Father’s passion for His childrena and a desire to seek justice on their behalf. Consider how an earthly father would respond if he saw his family being maliciously attacked by people who have no shame and whose intentions are purely evil.

God is God and we need to accept His authority not only when we don’t understand it but when His actions cause us consternation. We have had no voice in why He has chosen us to be His children and not chosen others. His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isa 55:8) and we need to have a humble spirit about what we do not understand. Think of the disciples reactions when they were in the boat and saw Jesus command the winds and waves to stop.

References

How could a loving God command acts of violence
Jesus and Old Testament vengeance
Old Testament Killer God

The heart of the Sabbath

February 17, 2016

Are we really ready to trust in God and rest in His provision for us. (John 5: 1-30, also Mark 2)

church-JesusHealing

How God longs for us to come to Him, to be healed from our sin and to rest in His provision for us. In this encounter with the invalid man, Jesus probes not only the heart of that man but also the hearts of the Pharisees and through this passage preserved for us to read – our hearts as well.

To the invalid man, he asks what could seem to be an unnecessary question, “Do you want to be healed?” We are apt to think, of course the man wants to be healed, isn’t that why he is there at the pool? But after all these years of waiting, is it still in his heart to desire healing, or after all this time, has he resigned his heart to never being healed or perhaps he has gotten to the point where he is used to being taken care of and may not want a real change in his life, would he rather be in a place where he would complain about his situation or would he rather be able to take responsibility for his life?

And there is also the question for us: are we ready for God to change us? If God were to heal us of a sickness in our body or our spirit: What vulnerabilities would we feel if the sickness or bitterness or whatever is troubling us is taken away? What changes would have to happen in our lives or what changes would have to happen in our attitudes if we no longer could hide behind our disability? What self-righteousness would we have to let go of to let other people see a change in me? Are we ready to trust Jesus to change us?

It seems that Jesus was also thinking of the Pharisees reactions when He instructed the invalid man to not just “get up and walk”, but to “get up, pick up his pallet and walk”. He knew that when the man would be seen carrying his pallet that the Pharisees would notice and would verbally protest about “working on Sabbath” but in their hearts they would also protest Jesus’ authority which would be validated by the healing. Taking the offense, Jesus further challenged them by not only clarifying His relationship with the Father but by also outrightly accusing them of not believing in Him.

That leaves questions for us: Are we putting our trust more in Scriptures than in the one who gave us the Scriptures? Are we seeking more to know about God or to know God Himself? Are we ready to trust Him, rest in Him and  accept His authority over us?

Grief in the midst of hope

February 11, 2016

Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.” A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death they are like the new grass of the morning: In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered. We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan. Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endure; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow Psalm 90:1-10

graves

We are foreigners in a fallen, broken world. It is with faith and hope that we look forward to the time that we go home and are fully healed and unencumbered by our bodies of sin and free of the need of daily penitence. But it is a great privilege we have in this world to not only be a witness of the love and the work of God but to be able to participate with Him in bringing His kingdom into this one. This privilege comes with a burden, though. The great love we receive from our Heavenly Father overflows in our lives as we share that love with all those around us – and that love experiences the pain of loss as our loved ones suffer the inevitable death that awaits all of us. Even though that death is a necessary precursor to our eventual healing and restoration to the God who loves us, it still hurts. It should hurt. It hurts in the same way that God was hurt by our rejection of Him beginning from the time of Adam and Eve and by the rejection experienced when the Son suffered and died and was separated for a time from the Father.

This is the pain we feel when we are separated from our loved ones, whether they leave prematurely or after a long life in this world. And though we look forward to the time when we can be reunited once again, in this world we experience the real loss and the real pain of separation. Even in the midst of hope there is grief. As we wait – we grieve and hope all at the same time.

Sometimes it’s a friend who leaves before us

On Glory’s shore

One more day of wondering of what the day will bring
Will it be a day with crying, some laughter or a song

Will it be a day with grief or sorrow, or overflowing joy
But we cannot worry for there’s never a way to know

And then maybe some tomorrow, I’ll wake on Glory’s shore
With no more tears of sorrow and no more cries of pain

And then one day in Glory, with joy I’ll shake your hand
For precious are the memories of the journeys that we shared

No more beers of sorrow will pour across our lips
No more furrows of worry will crease across our brow

No more silent worries, no more burdens we can’t bear
No more secret heartaches, no more fears we cannot share

For the one who’s shared our journey, shared our sorrows, laughs and joys
Is the one who’s shared His life with us and the one who’s brought us here

Sometimes our children are taken, sometimes very young, sometimes before they are born.

This Child of Ours

This child of ours we give to you
This little one we surrender
This tiny child we offer you
This helpless one so tender
This helpless one so tender

For ours is not to give and take
But merely hold awhile
It’s from your hand that we bring forth
Then return into your hands
Then return into your hands

What we conceive we dearly love
With bitter tears we grieve and lose
But we remember you also grieved
When from your Son you turned away
When from your Son you turned away

And it was yours to give and take
But you let go awhile
And from your Son you turned away
Then returned him to your hands
Then returned him to your hands

And we await the final day
When we shall finally see
The ones we lost beside you
And we shall cease our sorrowing
And we shall cease our sorrowing

It’s only for a little while
That we must bear our pain
The hands that brought us all forth
Shall restore us then in peace
Shall restore us then in peace

Sometimes our spouses are taken from us.

All in eternity

We wait for troubled waters to be finally stilled
We wait for dreams and wishes to be finally filled
We wait for some tomorrow when we shall finally be
All together, all is better in eternity

We had some fun and good times, with laughter as we’d fall
We had some small and big plans, our life was very full
We had our precious moments and memories so warm
Life together is life better, life in eternity

Side by side we labored, shouldered all we could bear
Side by side we wrestled, rested only in our prayer
Side by side encouraging each other as we’d go
Worked together, walked together towards eternity

I’ll miss your lilting smile that brightened up my day
I’ll miss your calming touches that kept me from going astray
I’ll miss your warm embraces, the joy you raised in me
Love together, love is better, love in eternity

Until I go to meet you on that eternal shore
Until I lay my burdens and my labors are no more
Until I greet you once again, my heart will ache for you
All together, all is better, all in eternity

Deeper

The shadows in the valley are deeper
The light of life
Who walked by my side
Is gone

I long for the arms that once held me
That made me feel warm
That comforted me
At night

The pain of my journey o’erwhelms me
Away and at home
I’m feeling alone
Right now

But the one who called you home
One day will call for me
And we’ll all meet beyond the vale
And we’ll walk on the mountain of joy

The death of my beloved goes deeper
It rips through my soul
It causes my heart
To weep

I long to hear the voice that once called me
That made me feel home
That filled my heart
With peace

I’m missing your love and your friendship
The joy of my life
That anchored me through
The storms

But the one who called you home
Will one day call for me
And we’ll all meet beyond the vale
And we’ll walk on the mountain of joy

The light in my life goes deeper
Through pain and death
I shall find my rest
And peace

I look to the day I will hold you
Forever again
Life with you again
In heaven

There’ll be joy to displace all the sadness
The pain and the hurt
The loneliness will
Be gone

But the one who called you home
Will one day call for me
And we’ll all meet beyond the vale
And we’ll walk on the mountain of joy

As our loved ones are at the brink of passing from this life to the next, what do they experience as they draw near to heaven?

The Sweetness of Death

The sweetness of death all around me
The sweet taste of death in the air
Is the sweet breath of Jesus who’s taking me home
And the pain that surrounds me is the pain he will bear

Through the pain of the sorrows around me
The incense of heaven comes near
And reminds me of home and that I’m not alone
And the soft hand of Jesus is drying my tears

As the shadows of heaven enfold me
And the mercy of Jesus draws near
The pains and cares of this world start to fade
While the comfort of heaven overwhelms all my tears

In our room full of shadows we see dark and light
Some things that pain us and some things delight
But as we pass through the portal and out of the night
We’ll see shadows of heaven transform into light

All the people I regarded so lightly
And the friends I have clung to so tightly
I must let them all go but I’ll pray that they’ll know
The God of all Comfort who calls through the night

What would our loved ones say, now that they in the unrestricted presence of Glory.

My Eyes Have Seen the Morning Star

I ran as to win the race of life
I ran to win those who were lost
I ran with patience to the Lord of Lords, the King
I ran, but now I rest my weary bones

My eyes have seen the Morning Star
My ears have heard the Living Word
My hands have touched the nail pierced palms
My soul’s found rest within His arms

The treasure that was in the earthen jar
Is now released from chains of grief and pain
My soul has found Jesus at the journey’s final end
I wait for you to join me with my Friend

My eyes have seen the Morning Star
My ears have heard the Living Word
My hands have touched the nail pierced palms
My soul’s found rest within His arms

The life we shared together did not end
But in a while more we’ll meet my friend
And while you wait gain wisdom and you’ll shine like heaven above
So run, until you rest your weary bones

My eyes have seen the Morning Star
My ears have heard the Living Word
My hands have touched the nail pierced palms
My soul’s found rest within His arms

In the meantime, in this broken, foreign land, let us keep focused on Him who sustains us.

The Flame

When the fortunes and the heartaches that befall us
Burn away and the Lord shall reappear
The real work of our lives will rise triumphant
And the work of the Lord will be complete

When the Flame has burned all things around us
And the fortunes and the heartaches disappear
When the testing of our lives has been completed
Will our flames still be burning bright and clear

As the seasons of this life fly by our window
And the toils of our lives seem but a waste
When discouragement mounts high outside our doorway
We still can have the Hope that gives us peace

When the Flame has burned all things around us
And the fortunes and the heartaches disappear
When the testing of our lives has been completed
Will our flames still be burning bright and clear

When our lives are filled with wealth that falls around us
And the things in our lives are working well
When the blessings in this world come to our doorstep
Let us hold onto the peace that can endure.

When the Flame has burned all things around us
And the fortunes and the heartaches disappear
When the testing of our lives has been completed
Will our flames still be burning bright and clear

There are no obstacles to God’s plans

February 7, 2016

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11Acts 27-28)

the-storm-4
Photo credit: gulfman1 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND
 

Back when Paul was in Ephesus, he knew that he must go to Jerusalem and then to Rome, no matter the obstacles. When in Ptolemais, despite receiving ominous news that he would be imprisoned in Jerusalem, he would not be dissuaded from going. In Jerusalem, when he was taken into custody by the Romans, he used the opportunity to appeal his case to Caesar – and get to Rome that way. Then, when being transported to Rome by sea, in circumstances he could not control himself and was subject to the decisions made by the Roman soldiers, God would not be deterred by the decisions that were made and allowed the Romans and all their passengers to survive a storm and shipwreck. On top of that, Paul would even survive being bitten by a viper.

God plans for you – and the world – will not be deterred. We should not get discouraged when circumstances seem against us; not by the stop lights we encounter, not by accidents, not by people opposed to us. We need to understand that our plans might not be His plans – but would we not rather be subject to His plans than ours. If we find ourselves getting  frustrated for any reason, we should keep in mind, that His plans for us will happen anyway – but if our plans are not His plans then we should question our plans.

 

 

 

 


Thicket of the Jordan

Exploring New Testament Scholarship, Anglicanism, and the Black Experience

Dr. Claude Mariottini - Professor of Old Testament

This blog is a Christian perspective on the Old Testament and Current Events from Dr. Claude Mariottini, Professor of Old Testament at Northern Baptist Seminary.

PastorBrianChilton.wordpress.com

This site shares information that can be found by the author at BellatorChristi.com

zacharypierpont.com

all for the glory of Christ

Storyshucker

A blog full of humorous and poignant observations.

Pew Theology

Faith | Life | Society

TLP

Finding Clear and Simple Faith

RJ's Corner

Think For Yourself / Question Everything

SaintlySages

The words of saints and sages.

A disciple's study

This is my personal collection of thoughts and writings, mainly from much smarter people than I, which challenge me in my discipleship walk. Don't rush by these thoughts, but ponder them.

Churchmouse Campanologist

Ringing the bells for Christian traditions and getting our story out there. If we don't, who will?

Global Sojourns Photography

Photography & Philosophy

Ellen Burch

art and illustration

Following Jesus Together

Experience Jesus with your neighbors

Johnathan L Baker

CONSIDERING WAYS TO REFLECT CHRIST

%d bloggers like this: