Beginning and Ending in Waiting

December 8, 2018

sunset-pixabay-SarahRicherArtAs we follow the church calendar, we end 28 weeks of Ordinary Time as we end one year and then begin the 4-week Advent season, which starts another year. One season of waiting followed by another. In the church calendar we spend a full 32 of 52 weeks … waiting. This makes sense. From the time the first image-bearers were created, there would be thousands (if not thousands of thousands) of years waiting for the first coming of the Messiah. The first coming lasted only a few years, and now it has been two thousand years of waiting so far for the Messiah’s return. And here we are waiting again.

It’s hard to blame the world for wanting to focus on the celebration. There was the long time of waiting. And now, in America, we start getting ready for the celebration with longer and longer Christmas shopping seasons. Unfortunately, in all the gift-buying it’s easy to lose sight of the best gift which came free – for us anyway. It’s truly a gift that we can’t repay. It’s the gift from the one who from the riches of love in his own heart paid the price for our gift. It’s a gift from the one who desires to be our Father – and brother – and friend. Even though we can accept the gift right now, the complete gift requires waiting for the final fulfilment. We can have the deposit now, but we have to wait until we finally consummate the gift.

Waiting is hard. From the beginning we had trouble waiting. We wanted access to all the wisdom and knowledge without waiting. We just grabbed for it. We’ve been paying the price ever since, but we never learned the lesson and keep on trying to grab things when we want. We can’t wait. The stores can’t wait for profits and we can’t wait to buy things and some day we will probably start wondering when the Christmas gift-buying season will be 52 weeks.

We desperately need the Advent season to keep us from focusing on all the other gifts and forgetting the most important gift and, more importantly, the One who gives it. Even with our little gifts, the most important part is the relationship of the ones giving and receiving. Stuff can’t replace our need for each other and our need for a relationship with the best gift-giver of all. The stuff is just the icing on the cake.

Relationships never blossom in an instant. Relationships take time as we get to know each other and do things with each other. While we wait for the biggest gift, the biggest gift-giver of them all is giving us the time, right now, to start getting to know him and do things with him. We don’t have to wait to receive the relationship or wait to start building it. We can do that right now – while we are waiting.

Not Just a Number

November 29, 2018

birthday-party-pixabay-epollato0

It is a normal process to grow. As children grow older, we often celebrate the passage of another year of a life that was lived – another year of a life where we celebrate milestones in growth. With children, we often note the physical changes of growth as their bodies mature towards adulthood, and then we often celebrate new accomplishments in physical, intellectual or social abilities.

When the physical process of children maturing into adults is a visible process, we usually take the time to also note the more invisible but measurable aspects of maturity: physical growth can be measured in bodily changes, intellectual growth can be measured in academic accomplishments; emotional or social growth can be measured by notable changes in behavior. However, once children legally reach adulthood and the easily visible changes in physical growth stop occurring, the measurable milestones become fewer and so do the celebrations. It is then, that the less easily measurable processes of growth and maturity can become ignored. We may pay attention to some landmarks like graduating, getting married, having kids, or buying a house but they don’t truly signify increasing maturity.

Because we have difficulties in adulthood in trying to measure intellectual, emotional, social or spiritual maturity, it is hard to set goals that will mark our journey into maturity. Because we have not, as a culture, a clearly articulated set of standards or values to mark maturity, our popular culture substitutes other values like sexual freedom or personal autonomy. I would suggest that we have some possible markers of maturity listed here: http://www.emotionallyhealthy.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Session-7-Grow-into-an-Emotionally-Mature-Adult.pdf, http://www.rogerkallen.com/how-to-become-emotionally-mature/, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/artificial-maturity/201211/the-marks-maturity

In the meanwhile, having no culture-wide agreed-upon set of goals for maturity, but having instead a desire to avoid the frailties of “growing old,” we have instead become a culture that celebrates youth.  Becoming old is seen as the loss of functionalities, bodies and minds that don’t perform like they used to, while youth is seen as vigorous and desirable. This is happening even though the large baby-boom population is entering the senior years because our popular culture values youthful vigor over maturity. Wisdom isn’t sexy. Since our popular culture esteems youth over maturity, it sees only the downside of aging. This leads some people to regard age as “just a number,” sometimes ignoring birthday celebrations because there are no goals for maturity lying ahead to be celebrated.

In the meantime, I would suggest that we broaden our viewpoint on aging and open our imaginations. It is normal for living things on this “old earth” to grow. What do you suppose that means for us when this world “passes away” and we find ourselves living on the new earth? If living means growing, how shall we then grow? What does it mean for us, whether on the old or the new earth, to become more like Christ? Won’t that be an eternal goal, to grow in maturity, becoming more like the one in whose image we are made?

I have to admit, that I sometimes wonder if another year older means another year wiser. Each year I seem to increasingly find that I rather need to hold my supposed wisdom lightly. And yet, I think that our birthdays as adults can become more than a marker of time passed. Maybe we should be more diligent about finding ways to discover in what ways our maturity has increased. In the meantime, let us celebrate, whether young or old, another year of becoming more like Him in whose image we are made. For indeed, in the end, by His grace the Lord will fulfill his purpose for us (Psalm 57:2).

 

Preserving the Union

October 31, 2018
ehrenamt-fachdozent-pixabay Pixabay, Fachtdozent

There are conversations that are not happening. So many of them that I don’t know where to start. These need to be long and thoughtful conversations where there is goal of understanding one another. These cannot social media bytes or monologues aimed at criticizing, but they should be conversations that are intended to preserve a union. In fact, in regards to preserving our Union, there are strategies for dealing with our current conflicts (ex: https://ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents/implement/provide-information-enhance-skills/conflict-resolution/main or https://medium.com/@dbhurley/conflict-resolution-in-a-community-1fc1f1150296 ) it would also be appropriate to use fair-fighting rules already established for married couples (http://www.foryourmarriage.org/25-ways-to-fight-fair/ ). These kind of conversations are particularly important at a time when we have conflicts even on what it truth.

In our national conversations, we all see some things that we think need changing. In our impulse to make those changes we currently are gravitating towards legal solutions. The reason we are inclined to reach for legal solutions is that there has been a loss of trust. The problem with trying to mandate change with legal solutions is that mandates by themselves do not change culture as seen in the past by alcohol prohibition or in current times by forced desegregation. Laws by themselves do not change hearts or create new cultures. Change comes by the long hard work of changing community values. It has taken decades of challenging the value of smoking tobacco, replacing the value of smoking with the value of health, to reduce the popularity of smoking.

The situation we face is that within our country, we have multiple communities with different cultural values. Over time we have seen the isolation of those communities from one another which has brought us to this moment of conflict. Because the isolation has bred lack of trust, the impetus has been to enforce values through legislation rather than by building community. The problem is, if we simply try to force everyone to conform to our values by legislation without having the right conversations beforehand, we end up losing more trust and only build resentment, making any further changes even more difficult.

There is a place for laws as they can create a minimal framework for society to exist and, within some limits, to flourish. However, laws do not make a caring, committed community, laws do not encourage kindness and thoughtfulness, laws cannot create love. That said, our constitution helps create the framework for our society, but it does not create the values held by the members of our Union. The constitution can create the context for our conversations. but it cannot create those conversations. The constitution can provide the basis for our communities, but it cannot build those communities.

Our technologies provide a similar conundrum. Our technological developments have exponentially provided means for communicating with each other anywhere in the world, allowing us the opportunity to build community by communicating with many different people and learning many different things. But the same technology has also allowed us to isolate ourselves: 1) We can isolate ourselves into affinity groups, hearing only what we want to hear, not dealing with what makes us uncomfortable, self-limiting our ability to gain wisdom by only listening to only people who think like we do. 2) We can isolate ourselves from face-to-face contact, losing our sensitivity to a more robust human contact which makes us susceptible to violating others by disregarding their humanity and anonymously attacking them.

I think we can all agree that the state of our Union is broken. Our divisive politics reflects our divisive culture and our political and technological tools can amplify that divisiveness by playing on our fears. Our house may be on fire, but we can find a solution if can replace the calls for alarm and panic with a countervailing voice of unity and reason. We need to be smart about using the tools we have to counteract the panicked voices, to amplify the good and not just the bad. We need to become aware of the good that exists not just in our own communities but in the communities that we don’t know and don’t understand.

We also need to be willing to acknowledge our own weaknesses, to admit that we are broken just like everyone else. That will allow us to look beyond the brokenness that we are more prone to look for in other communities and also look for the good in those communities as well.  This is not easy work. We cannot do this work in sound bites and tweets nor by pontificating on the faults of others. We need to admit that we have faults as much as others find faults. We don’t need to find faults, we need to find solutions.

To find those solutions we need to look beyond ourselves and our own communities where we are prone to think we know all we need to know. We also must engender a sense of humility and be willing to admit that neither we nor our isolated communities have the solution to our conflict, that the solutions to end divisiveness in our Union will require the wisdom of the entire Union. We will need to be intentional: allow ourselves to be inconvenienced and made uncomfortable, be willing to go out of our way to listen to people who are not like us, listen to points of view we disagree with, spend enough time and thought trying to understand other viewpoints. All this so that common ground can be found, that the values of this greater community we call our Union, our country, can be defined and shared.

No one person or one community owns the Union. We all need to share in its definition.

 

Thanksgiving for the Social Order

October 29, 2018
hands-truthseeker08-pixabay Pixabay. Truthseeker08.

In light of recent events, this entry from the Common Book of Prayer seems appropriate …

O God, who created all peoples in your image, we thank you for the wonderful diversity of races and cultures in this world. Enrich our lives by ever-widening circles of fellowship, and show us your presence in those who differ most from us, until our knowledge of your love is made perfect in our love for all your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Singing to babies

October 26, 2018

beach_zinz25_pixabay

Jeremiah 18:6 He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.

As I was walking down the street, I was privileged to hear a mother singing to her baby – in what language, I do not know. It occurred to me that, in probably every culture, parents must sing to their children. That made me wonder, in what language does God sing to us?

Our language may constrain our ability to understand God, but God is not constrained by our language. He is not constrained by our own lack of words, for he is able to speak to us through his creation – even the stars and children, through the works of the hands of his image-bearers, through our imaginations and dreams, through stories and poetry, through our conscience and sub-conscience. He is able to talk, even sing to us, in all sorts of ways even we are not listening.

Psalm 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Psalm 8:2 Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.

Romans 8:26-27 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

It is his song that we sing to our children for he gave us the gift of music. It is his love that we show when we take care of our children for he gave us the gift of compassion. It is his provision we give when we provide food and shelter for our children because he is the one who provides for us. Even if the gifts we share are not perfect, they are his gifts. This world may be broken, we may be broken, but God is able to make broken things whole and good things glorious.

Matthew 7:11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

The love that we show may seem imperfect, but because it is his love we share then we cannot hide it. Even if we are incompetent or rebellious, we may distort but we cannot hide the glory of God. The lumbering train banging and screeching on ill-maintained railroad tracks cannot hide God’s transcendence made visible through his image-bearers. Even if we mistreat others, our misused gifts are nevertheless the gifts God has given.

2 Corinthians 9:6-9 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.”

Matthew 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

If we are aware of our own brokenness, we should not be surprised that our society as a whole is broken. If we can also admit that, within our brokenness, we are poor – that we need each other, that we need to be generous, mutually sharing our gifts with each other then we can all abound. It is within our mutual brokenness that we can be listening for God’s voice. Perhaps when we are listening to each other, particularly to those with whom we cannot understand and with whom we disagree, then we can hear God sing.

1 Corinthians 14:21 In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.”

Psalm 96:11-13 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it. Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in  righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness.

 

 

The Problem Isn’t Politics

October 12, 2018

boy-prince-pixabay-victoria_borodinova

Photo: Pixabay, Victoria Borodinova

1 Samuel 8:4-7 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.

 John 18:36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

In the times of the prophet Samuel, the nation of Israel looked at the problems they saw and they thought the problem was political – they thought that the answer was to get a king, like everyone else. In the times of Jesus of Nazareth, the Jews looked at the problems they saw and they thought that the problem was political – they thought that the answer was a king, a Messiah, to overthrow the Roman government. In both cases, the real solution was much more personal. The enemy is not “the other” – the enemy as so pithily stated by Pogo is “us.”

Our national political scene is fraught with fear of “the other.” Our major political parties have deep concerns about what will happen if the other side gets their way and both sides have engaged in the politics of fear of what will happen if the other side gets more power. Again, the problem is not “the other,” the problem is us.

For several decades, the combination of politics and technology have combined to increasingly polarize our national and personal discussions. Our increasingly precision political gerrymandering has combined with our social media technology to create a toxic mix. Physically we can isolate our political communities with precision gerrymandering. Electronically we can both isolate ourselves in like-minded online communities while at the same time hide ourselves in online personas where it is safer to criticize “the other” because we don’t have to meet “the other” face-to-face in community and spend the time getting to know “the other” as a neighbor long enough to understand and appreciate “the other” as a person.

As with the problems stated in the first paragraph, we are seeking a solution in the wrong place. Our problem has more to do with our increasingly isolated lives in combination with our human preference to find fault in someone else other than ourselves. If we try to solve the problem through political power, we will find ourselves constantly battling to force our way of thinking onto others who will respond in kind. There will be no peace.

The soluton to our current turmoil is not to be found in politics or power.  The solution is goodness … To Make America Good … without quibbling over whether it has ever been or not. We each must seek the common good, the good of all people, to treat each other, even those with whom we disagree, with respect and dignity.  We must learn to listen respectfully, to seek out the common interest, to make sure that we hear each other and build trust. Once we build trust than we can take actions that transcend politics and power and instead build trust and community. Societies built on community, trust, respect and goodness will not need as many laws.

Politics and power by themselves, not built on a foundation of goodness, decency, respect, and trust is building a house on a sand foundation that will not withstand a storm. If we do not stand together, if we do not mutually support one another, if we do not trust one another, if we cannot be decent with one another, if we do not seek each other’s good then we will ensure the continued destruction of community, creating problems that no government, no laws can fix. If we build walls within our country it matters not what walls are on the border. But a country united by the common good and willing to regard the common good of other nations will be stronger than a divided country with the strongest border walls because we will destroy each other first. Politics and power cannot build community, cannot build trust, cannot build respect, cannot build goodness.

A president once said that we should ask “not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country.” If t’s time to revisit that idea. It may be foolish of me, but I would rather be known to be good if not great, than to be great and not good.

 

 

The kingdom is near again

October 5, 2018

Jesus Christ, Statue, Children, Catholic, Virginia Public domain

There was a common message that John preached and that Jesus preached after John was arrested, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” The kingdom of heaven once overlapped the earth within the Garden of Eden and then again on the mercy seat within the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle. That time we had limited access because of our sin. Before the temple was built to replace the tabernacle, there was a period during David’s reign when the ark was not kept in Moses’ tabernacle but in Jerusalem where everyone had access.  When the temple was built, the ark was placed inside the Holy of Holies once again, and again, only the high priest had could have access. But now the kingdom of heaven was present within Jesus, and as with David’s tabernacle, everyone would have access again.

Excerpt from the latest draft of  Engaging the Journey

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


ChuckWarnock.com

Engaged churches, enriched communities.

Already Not Yet

to him who was, and is, and is to come

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

Having My Say

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: