Cru @ SRU : Ask Anything Night (Part 3)

64079-ask-me-anythingMy apologies for the delays in responding. My preaching weeks become scattered. Back to the joyful grind! (It’s probably healthy at this point to remind folks that I’m not on staff with Cru, so these positions are not meant to reflect the organization! I’m just a pastor guy asked to participate – if you have a beef… it’s with me!)

 

Have you struggled or do you struggle to sit still and listen for God? If you can hear God during quiet time how does that happen for you and what can I do? 

There are a couple things going on in this question. I’ll take them in order. I have always struggled to find the mythical “quiet time” that some folks describe. That does not mean I do not have meaningful time with God – it simply means that my meaningful time works in ways that fit my life and personality. For example, one of my favorite things to do is to walk with my Bible. I’m always the first awake in my family. In the seasons when the sun is up early, I’ll grab my devotional passages for the morning and walk the streets/sidewalks of town with my Bible. I find that walking is helpful for me to carry on conversation with the Word. I love to ride my bike in the summer. I try to take a verse or passage with me to consider while I pedal. In the months where I can’t walk, I miss it. Walking inside is not as fruitful. But still I’ll spend time at the dining room table (my “office”) or elsewhere with the Word. Walking is my preference, though.

I believe the calling on each individual is to meet with the Lord in a way and at a time that is fruitful. If I were to wake up early and then close my eyes to seek the mythical & magical quiet time, I would be asleep in two seconds. Likewise at night… or any other time. Life can be exhausting. But I’ve found a way that I am able to dial in (so to speak) and enjoy the Lord’s presence through his Word. If I were to offer advice in this matter, it would sound like this:

  1. Give the Lord your most fruitful mental hour. If your mind and heart are strongest in the morning, then devote time in the morning.  If it is evening, then evening. There is no prescribed time.
  2. Include the Word. The only way to know 100% that you’re hearing the voice of God is to hear his revealed Word in the Scripture. We so often take for granted the fact that the Word is living and active. It cuts. It heals. It is true and abiding. Whatever you do, do it with the Word… written, digital, memorized. Do it all.
  3. Explore until you find fruit. Some people can withdraw and be in a literal prayer closet. Some have places that allow for focus. Some walk 😉 Some talk aloud. Some journal. Some draw. There are lots of ways to interact with the Word that speak from your heart as a reflection on what God has revealed to be true. Pursue. Pursue. Pursue. Don’t be discouraged if something isn’t “working.” It just means you’ve found another way that, in this season of life, is not fruitful for you. But there is a way. I guarantee it.
  4. I am often discouraged by hearing how others do it “differently” (which my heart unfortunately believes is “better”). This is a poison on our devotional life. I’ve spent years whittling away the methods at which I fail. But in that I’ve had great times and seasons, and I’ve found things that encourage my soul. Listen to others (including me) for ideas and encouragement, but don’t believe my answers are better… they’re better for me.

 

What does Philippians 4:13 mean to you? 

Philippians 4:13 is unfortunately mishandled by the body. It does not mean if you put your mind to Jesus you can do whatever you want, which is most often how people understand it. We live in a sound clip culture that wants one sentence (preferably with 140 characters or less) to fix our lives. This approach does not work with Scripture. Bible verses do not exist in a vacuum. They require context.

The context of Philippians 4:13 is so beautiful and relevant that it is doubly tragic to see it abused. I encourage folks to read the whole letter! That’s the way it was written. It has a flow. But even the few verses surrounding 4:13 serve to debunk the way it is mistreated:

… for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.
I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.
In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret
of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 

Incorrect understanding: I can do anything if I put my mind to it (and keep Jesus in my pocket)
Correct understanding: Life will have highs and lows, but I can endure with Jesus.

Philippians 4:13 is a verse about contentment, the satisfaction that Jesus provides a satisfaction that extends beyond circumstance. Whether in joy or suffering, Jesus is enough. And because Jesus is enough, he provides the strength to abound with humility and to suffer with dignity.

 

What is your view on gay marriage? Also, what do you think of people who are Christian but support gay marriage? Do you think it’s a bad thing? 

My view on marriage begins with God, because God created marriage.
My view on marriage comes from the Bible – the WHOLE Bible – because it is the Word of God.

God created marriage in Genesis 2. Adam, though enjoying the full fellowship of God, was lonely. God exists eternally in relationship as three Persons – Father, Son, and Spirit. Because we are created in his image, it stands to reason that we, too, would desire relationship with others. In the garden, before the fall, God provided for Adam more than just a mate. He provided woman as a friend and companion who filled a very specific void, who would serve alongside him to fulfill the commission of Genesis 1. Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth. Have dominion. God created humanity to bring him glory by extending this commission. This has not changed. This is true today.

Marriage was not created to give us the warm fuzzies and make us feel good about who we believe ourselves to be. It was created to glorify God by living in line with his commission. Obviously sin screwed everything up. We still seek to fill the earth and to exercise dominion, but not to glorify God. This is the heart condition of all humanity. As such, it makes sense that we would distort what God has revealed to be true about everything, which would include marriage and sexuality. As such, any perversion of God’s intended design for humanity, marriage, and sexuality would stand as sin. This is ONE reason why sexual sin is so extensively dealt with in the Bible.

The other reason, just as important, is the gospel. From the beginning, God has used language depicting himself as a husband and his people as a bride. Most often, his people have played the role of the harlot – idolatrous and unfaithful, giving ourselves to any alternative that tickles our fancy. The ultimate expression of this marriage metaphor is the gospel. Jesus died to save his bride, the church. Paul says in Ephesians 5 that marriage is a picture of the gospel – a faithful husband dying to himself to present his bride pure to God… a bride loving her husband above herself. God, in his sovereign omniscience, gave us marriage to prepare us for what would be necessary in Christ – a plan which was laid forth before the foundation of the world. There is more at stake in the marriage question than a human relationship… it is the picture of the divine-human relationship that is compromised.

All that being said, I do not see homosexual marriage as honoring to our God, who created us for his purposes (not our own – that’s where the whole sin problem came from), and who created marriage as an active and widespread demonstration of the kind of love he has extended in Jesus Christ. The heart of sinful humanity is to do what we want, not what God wants. Every human faces this struggle. I face this struggle. The struggle will manifest differently in different people. As such, I believe in compassion. I cannot endorse the marriage, but that does not mean I cannot love the individual.

To answer that part of your question, I believe love is key, but love involves truth. The church is a hospital for sinners, and so I do not believe in casting down any one person for any one particular sin. But there must also be an understanding that certain sins have a far reaching impact. This means we stand on delicate ground. May God have compassion and help us! May he be glorified by the love that is indicative of his sacrifice for us! May we humbly approach him!

One final consideration (because this is a looooong dialogue these days) is with regard to identity, because the argument is very often made that sexual preference is a matter of identity – that it runs at the core of who we are. Human sexuality, by nature, involves another human. In fact, it requires another human. Sexuality involves the identification of an object of desire… but there has to be an object to desire, or it’s not human (we’re not asexual?!?). As such, I think sexuality is disqualified from providing true identity. True identity is in our souls. Regardless of the label, if we place our identity on something that is not intrinsic, we’re actually abdicating identity in favor of letting something outside of self define us.

The biblical assumption is that the image of God is intrinsic, stamped on our souls. That is how we were made. Obviously, folks can make the argument that God is outside of self, and so it’s the same thing. But I would also argue that if there is a transcendent God capable of speaking the universe into existence, then he is best qualified to tell us what we’re made of and why. (I know that sounds harsh, but I am brought low by this truth with regularity!)

The good news of the gospel is that, in Jesus, there is hope. The good news of the gospel that we cannot – in our sinful flesh – understand is that surrender to Jesus will involve surrender of those things which we have heretofore believed to be defining qualities. That last line might have sounded like bad news, but I assure you it’s not. Surrender to Jesus is to rightly acknowledge and agree with God that our basest desires are eternally flawed (and I’m not just referring to sexuality here. EVERY desire is broken and in need of new life). No matter who you are, what you do, or what you believe prior to meeting Jesus,  you must necessarily give it ALL to him and let him tell you what is right and true. The Christian life is a long sequence of finding out that he has better things for us… but most of those better things involve laying down sinful things that we are convinced will provide us happiness. That is the lie of the garden, the poison on God’s commission. There are numerous qualities that I would have used to define myself prior to meeting Christ. I am never happy to find that they are sinful. But I am ever grateful that he has shown me a better way.

There is hope.
And in our hope, there should be love.

 

How do I overcome judging myself and others? I know it is not my place to think negative thoughts about others and I do my best not to act on those judgments, but is there anything I can do to overcome judging as if I was God? 

Strangely, the answer is simple. But the outworking is lifelong and humbling. The gospel is the key. The good news of the life, death, resurrection, and reign of Jesus is not a get out of hell free card. It is not a ticket to be punched, a doctrine we adopt in a moment and then tuck in our back pocket. It is a truth into which we immerse ourselves, letting it shape us – heart, soul, and actions.

Why do I start there?

Because we are in desperate need to be reminded of the sin from which we’ve been rescued. We are in continual need of being reminded of his sacrifice. We live at the foot of the cross because his blood is an ever-present reminder of the vileness of our own hearts, and his willing compassion to die for us anyway. As we dwell on this truth, we find ourselves able to believe two truths:

  1. Jesus loves me.
  2. Jesus loves them.

As we come to understand that we’ve been loved, we are able to see ourselves through the eyes of God – flawed, yes. But loved. Oh, we are so loved! While we were enemies, God died for us! If you are in Christ, you are an adopted son or daughter of God, given by Christ the right to call him Abba! Father! Daddy! God draws so near, not because you’re perfect, but because he is good. The revelation of his goodness will change you. Get in the habit of preaching the gospel to yourself – in good days and in bad. In the good days, the gospel will humble you. In the bad days, the gospel will pick you up. The truth never changes, so live there.

As we come to understand the vast love of God, we are able to see others through his eyes as well – flawed, yes. But loved. They are so loved! Whether his enemies or his children, the sacrifice of Christ stands as hope for them, the hope of adoption stands for them! Just imagine what it would be like to call them brother or sister! Not because we chose them, but because God’s love is bigger than our choices. I might suggest you get in the habit of praying for the people you are prone to judge. Asking the Lord to smile upon them despite their flaws will change you.

The gospel will also, in time (and in relationship!) impart to you the kind of love that enables you to be honest with another person about a matter of the soul. In other words, it is possible to judge rightly without condemnation, with an eye towards restoration (Galatians 6!). While there may be times to address matters of sin in a broad forum (like an “Ask Anything Night”, or in expositionally preaching the Word of God), I believe the  intention of biblical community is that sin would be addressed in relationship with other people, where healthy fellowship allows for compassionate conversation, prayer, and accountability. My final suggestion would be to seek community, kindred souls tethered to the gospel of Jesus Christ, who can help you live an honest and humbly surrendered life!

 

 

I’m still letting these churn. If you have questions, or would like to pursue additional conversation (in person… I’ve never seen a fruitful extended online conversation), contact me!

Cru @ SRU : Ask Anything Night

I am excited to have had the opportunity to sit on the panel last night (Thursday, March 31, 2016) for Cru’s Ask Anything Night on the campus of Slippery Rock University. The evening was quite encouraging to me. I appreciate honest reflection and an atmosphere that welcomes discussion, so I was glad to take part. At the event, students were able to text questions to be addressed by a panel of four believers. The evening was only an hour, the texts were numerous, which means many were not answered ‘live’. Even with the invitation to face-to-face conversation afterwards, we just couldn’t tackle them all. As such, there is a heaping pile of text messages on my phone – questions asked by college students about the nature of God from a variety of perspectives. I thought I’d take the time to post the answers here for two reasons:

  1. I am not exactly adept at texting long answers. I struggle not seeing the whole answer in front of me, and I struggle with typing – even with swipe.
  2. I thought many if not most might like to see some of the questions, and ponder some of my proposed answers.

If I’ve answered YOUR question here, know that I am still available for extended conversation. I welcome the possibilities! But I wanted this to be a starting point and a resource for you (maybe even for me!). I’m not pouring hours into the aesthetics of these posts, just aiming to answer honestly the questions I’ve received.

Finally, know that I could not possibly exhaust the full possibility of every answer to the 40 individuals and nearly 100 questions currently on my phone. However, I will attempt to draw from every topic covered with at least a nugget of my feeble understanding. Without further delay, here we go:

 

Why is God portrayed as having much more wrath in the Old Testament than Jesus does in the New Testament? For example, God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for not having any righteous people… why didn’t he try to save the sinners of Sodom and Gomorrah instead of passing judgment on them and destroying the city? 

I’ll offer thoughts in two parts for this. First, with regard to the perceived different portrayal of God’s character in the Old and the New Testaments, I might point you to Hebrews 1:1-3. If you want to see the fullness of the revelation of God’s character, you look no further than the person and work of Jesus Christ. Admittedly, it is not particularly easy to understand every decision God has made throughout history, but he is best understood by the fullest expression of his nature – that being the person of his son with the work of his cross. Justice and mercy converge at the cross. In an instant, God was both pouring out wrath and extending grace to undeserving sinners. That is the perfect imprint of his nature.

Jesus experienced the fullness of God’s wrath – something not even Sodom & Gomorrah tasted. And for that, I would argue the New Testament contains the fullest portrayal of separation and punishment. However, the shadows of the Old Testament – real life events that reveal the character and nature of our Creator – serve to foreshadow the depth of the deserved penalty for sin. But temporal pain does not carry the same gravity as eternal separation. In addition, S&G demonstrate the breadth of sin AND the depth of mercy, as God was willing/wanting to spare the entire city for even 10 righteous.

A fair look at the Old and New Testaments reveal every aspect of God’s character which we are capable of ingesting. His mercy is as great as his wrath in all of Scripture. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are portrayed as the embodiment of every divine attribute – whether we like them or not. His character is quite consistent, but we are prone to hang on the stories we don’t like and/or don’t understand. As an extension, might I suggest this thought: In Scripture, we have received that which we require to find the truth of God unto salvation in Christ. We do not have every tangible aspect of the story (we so rarely do in this broken life!), and so we do not fully understand. We have been given the story in order to seek the truth – and in this case we find the truth of the severity of sin, of the justice of God, of the desire for mercy, and the provision for the redeemed (Lot!). We cannot presume to understand the entirety of the story or the eternal implications for every human life, but we can learn from what God has revealed and preserved as true. His desire is for us to see and trust his son, not to become omniscient ourselves.

 

How can God be benevolent, all knowing, and all powerful, but there still be unnecessary evil in the world? 

We talked at the event about the danger of definitions. In this case, I stick on the word unnecessary. I’ll ask a question: what if God granted Adam the freedom to choose evil? And what if, by choosing evil, Adam was introducing a depth of depravity that he could not have foreseen, but against which God issued a stern warning? What if God, despite man’s decision to rebel and choose evil over love, decided to carry out a plan of redemption that would ultimately quench and defeat evil and all of its consequences because he knew that an eternity won by love would outweigh the pain it would take to get there? I would call that benevolent, all knowing, and all powerful. In light of what has happened, then, I might ask what a necessary level of evil would entail? At every exposure, we would ask for less, yet the consequence of our sin is far greater.

Why would he wait thousands of years to redeem a nation/family from slavery, only then to wait over one thousand more to bring into the world his incarnate son through that nation/family, only then to have his perfect sinless son die in order to pay the required penalty of justice, only then to wait two thousand years more while people turn to him in faith? Why is a difficult question. But let me ask, what would you call a god who does only what you agree with, only at a level you can understand, using means that only you might produce? I would call him no god at all, but rather an extension of broken human thought. There is comfort in the mystery of God when the fullness of his revelation demonstrates that he has in fact, in utter love – yet without compromising holiness or justice – provided a solution that enables eternal bliss, albeit only after a lifetime of enduring the messy world we’ve created.

 

What happens to people living in 3rd world countries where they are unable to hear the gospel? What about people never given the opportunity to hear about the Son, if he is the only way? 

I have to be honest, this question breaks my heart. The Scriptures are indeed clear that the only way to the Father is through the Son. And as Paul said in Romans 10, how will they know if they’ve not heard? And how will they hear if no one goes to tell them? This question underscores the desperate need for Christian mission. There are countless stories of missionaries giving up their lives in order to pursue the Great Commission to tell the world. I read a book about Dr. Robert Foster this year – an amazing story of faith, hope, and love. And there was fruit of such a mission, but there are so many who need to hear. The encouragement of Revelation 7 is that every nation, all tribes and peoples and languages will stand before the Throne in praise of God – the Great Commission will succeed!

But in the interim, what about those who fail to hear? The truth of Scripture is devastating. Creation itself is enough to reveal the fact that God exists and is worthy of praise. (Romans 1), but creation is only enough to condemn, for creation cannot redeem. Only the gospel of God’s kingdom in Christ can redeem. The gospel must be received by grace through faith. The gospel must awaken repentance in the sinner. There is no way around this truth in God’s word. I have heard many stories of the Lord visiting remote villages through dreams and visions. I have heard stories of faith that give me hope that no one is beyond the reach of God should he reveal himself in such a way. But because we are called to participate, I believe our emphasis must be on praying, equipping, sending, and going – leaning on his everlasting arms. God has revealed himself to be good, and I believe he will be vindicated when our faith becomes sight. Yet until that day, we must weep and pray that many would come to Jesus.

 

Do you feel that God has abandoned us? Considering he is omniscient, why would he allow Adam and Eve to fail in the garden of Eden? 

I’ll give two thoughts. No, I do not believe he has abandoned us. He has provided for us two great gifts. First, he has given us the gift of his son – God in flesh, walking the earth, revealing perfect obedience and dying sacrificially to save sinners deserving of torment. Second, he has given us the gift of a written word. Think about it – an incomprehensible being has accommodated lowly rebellious creatures in order to be certain that the message of his grace, mercy, and love, is within the grasp of our darkened understanding through a written word. God who, were we to see the fullness of his glory, would consume us has made a way that we can know him intimately. Far from abandonment, God has given us every means and reason to embrace him.

Why would he allow Adam and Eve to fail? Again, asking why can evaporate our sanity. Perhaps a more interesting question is, why would he create at all knowing we would fall if given the choice? What I believe is that he is best glorified in his loving rescue of creatures who chose to be enemies rather than friends. I can’t answer why that is true, but I believe it to be true. He was so moved to share love and relationship that all this mess must be worth it. And if he believes so, and is willing to sacrifice deeply to enact a blessing, I am inclined to think he knows what he is doing.

 

Do you believe that everything happens for a reason? 

Yes. The world is not a random place. God has revealed himself to be sovereign. And sovereign means sovereign. This means nothing happens apart from his knowing. If God is sovereign, this means even if he allows something to happen, by virtue of withholding his sovereign hand, he is in fact exercising dominion over the moment. This makes people uncomfortable. At times, this makes me uncomfortable. Yet the glorious mystery is that God’s sovereign hand in no way removes the responsibility of every man, woman, and child for the consequences of their actions. In Scripture, God is revealed to be at work in the most devastating of moments, in fact bringing about the most glorious redemption. (Genesis 50:20, Acts 4:28)

The truth of God’s sovereignty is that he is not obligated to explain his motives or the full implications of every occurrence. But by showing through his word his benevolence and his unyielding drive to bring about good in the life of the believer by bringing glory to his son, he opens the door for us to trust his intentions in the strangest and most difficult trials.

Understanding God to be sovereign does not guarantee our comfort in every moment. BUT…

Understanding God to be sovereign means we can view every moment as an opportunity to draw near to him, to grow in wisdom, to grow in faith by virtue of our surrender to his gracious hand.

 

Look for more posts as I am able in the coming days!

 

 

King Me

(This post is taken from a recent sermon on 1Samuel 8)

 

Having grown up in the US, I’v never lived under the reign of an honest to goodness, earthly king. I’ve never been a subject to a monarch. We choose leaders through an electoral process. And thanks to a culture of 24hr news that not only feels the desperate need to let ANYONE talk about SOMETHING for all 24 of those hours EVERY SINGLE DAY, but also feels the pressure to make the endless drivel sound exciting, our electoral process feels like it is wrapped in useless minutiae to the point that by the time we go to the polls, we’re somehow exhausted and annoyed at having exercised our constitutional rights.

But it’s always nice when the homestretch is in view. (Just think only 8 more months… sigh)

My practical knowledge of monarchy is limited, so in my Monty-Python-esque daydreaming, I kind of wish real-life monarchy would work like the game of checkers… or Draughts, if you embrace the game’s British roots.

Imagine with me, if you will, ancient kingdoms lining a battlefield. Men moving across the battlefield in a series of diagonal maneuvers, jumping OVER the opposing soldiers along the way. As opposing soldiers are leapt OVER, they recognizes the athletic prowess of their opponents and lay down their arms. But one brave man finally reaches the far side of the battlefield, he shouts, at which point one of the previously defeated men climbs on TOP of his shoulders, instituting the monarchy which comes with no particularly special powers other than the ability to move, and continue jumping over men, this time whilst backwards.

THEY say (you know you can trust what they say, because they are they.) that it is more difficult to master the game of checkers than it is to master the game of chess. Who would’ve thought?

This post is a reflection upon our relationship to God as KING. I really do believe it’s hard for us to practically understand what it means to have a sovereign reigning over us, because our cultural context is not exactly comparable. We can chase book smarts, but in our context, we rejected monarchy centuries ago, choosing instead to allow the people hold the power collectively – which has its merits and flaws in a sinful and broken world.

 

 

 

You need to know that it was always God’s revealed plan to provide a king, a sovereign who would reign over the earth with justice and peace. This king would come as a man in fulfillment of a promise. A long time ago, God told Abraham (Genesis 17:6)  that, in addition to blessing all the families of the earth through his family, kings would also come through his line. This promise was often renewed to the Israelites, ultimately leading to a narrower vision of one True king, the blessing for the earth who would sit on the throne forever.

Trouble springs when the people, in sin, try to wrestle the plan out of God’s hands, demanding the right thing for the wrong reason. This story is from Israel’s past. The heart behind it is as old as the garden of Eden, and the implications stretch to the cross of Christ and to you, to us today.

 

 

In 1Samuel 8, the nation of Israel asked God to provide a human king. Until this particular moment in history, the nation had lived under the kingship of God. As needed, in the midst of trouble wrought by their own sinfulness, our good and saving God would raise deliverers, called judges, who would restore freedom from oppression according to the will and the work of the Lord. But the judges were temporary. The day to day affairs of the nation knew YHWH, the God of the Exodus, as sovereign King. Samuel, the man after whom the book is named, served the Lord by leading the chosen people.  Samuel had been good to the people of Israel. He served faithfully as a prophet and judge. The people love Samuel. But his kiddos are rotten. The people fear for the future in a land surrounded by enemies. They fear life under poor leadership. So they ask for a king… it seems reasonable.

And I’ve already told you this was God’s plan. So why all the trouble? Why is it such a big deal that the people are asking for what God has promised them?

Sometimes asking for the right thing is, in fact, the wrong thing, when desired for the wrong reason.

Israel didn’t want God’s king. They wanted a king. They wanted this king to do what kings do. But their heart’s desire was to be just like everyone else. That we may be like all the nations. (1Samuel 8:5, 20)

The heart problem here is that God’s call upon his people is to be holy. Be holy as I, the LORD your God, am holy. To be holy is to be set apart. Consecrated. Different. To be holy unto the Creator of the universe is to stand out as belonging to the One who is distinct from this world in all the best ways. To be holy unto God is to be unlike any nation, any people, by virtue of faith according to his grace. Here the people of God ask God to make them just like everyone else. Plain. Fallen. Broken.

God recognizes the brokenness of their request when he acknowledges that it’s not Samuel that they’ve rejected. In fact, they’ve rejected God himself – because until this time, there was no human king in Israel. Only God occupied the throne. But these people flatly and boldly told their God that he was not enough – he was not what they had in mind.

Even after Samuel tells the people just how selfish and corrupt their king would be, the people will not relent. They iterate their demands for a king. This king would not just pronounce judgment on the people. This king, requested in sin, would be judgment on the people. And from an historical perspective, this was true of the first human king of Israel – a man named Saul. Saul would exhibit very few admirable moments. Through his continual sinfulness, his favor in the eyes of God would disappear almost as quickly as he was anointed. He becomes a picture of everything that happens when we, in our sinfulness, are given the reins of a kingdom.

 

 

If you read the story of Saul, don’t fall into the trap of believing that he is a bad guy and you are somehow better. Saul is we. He is a for real man who lived a for real busted life that stands as a stark reminder of what our fallen nature looks like if given a throne. His sin is our sin. His darkness is our darkness. I know this because the heart of Saul, the heart of the people’s request for a king, was born long before, in the garden, when Adam ate the fruit and told God he thought he’d make a better king.

Think about the familiar sin of the garden. Real life Adam is faced with a choice. Obey God, receive and follow him as the sovereign of his life. Or take the fruit. Disobey. Knock God off the throne and take it by seemingly genuine but more like imaginary force.

The parallels are striking, really. But the heart of the issue is a rejection of God as king. Adam, misguided and self-centered, wanted the throne for himself. He believed the enemy of our soul. The serpent whispered to his willing ears that God was withholding something from humanity… that partaking of the fruit would somehow open a window to our full potential! Wisdom! Knowledge! Lay God aside and claim for yourself the very thing he has promised to be!

Foolishness.

The lie of the enemy and the heart of Adam are alive and well in the people of Israel in 1Samuel 8. Take the reins. Hijack the Lord’s promise, claim it on your terms. By asking you to be holy, God is holding out on you! You’re missing the boat on the good stuff! Kick him to the curb and you’ll find what you’re looking for by being just like everyone else.

When you read the story of Adam, don’t read it like a victim. Don’t read it like you could’ve done any better, like if it weren’t for this chump in the garden I wouldn’t be so broken. The Scriptures are clear, and any honest reflection on the condition of your soul would agree – you’re just as busted as Adam, and you’re just as responsible for the sinful condition of the world. We all are.

 

 

I wish these stories represented the worst of our sinful rejection of God. But there is one worse yet. You see, God did send his king to the earth. He sent his Son. Humanity had the opportunity to meet God in flesh. Jesus Christ came to earth as the eternal son of God, stepping down from glory to visit the world created by his hand.

Jesus walked the earth as the radiance of God’s glory, the perfect representation of God’s being.

Poetic people say the eyes are the window to the soul. For the precious generation who walked the earth with Jesus, they had the opportunity to gaze upon him, to look into the eyes, and thereby the very soul, of God. God remained true to his word. All of the promises. All of the waiting came to a crescendo at the fullness of time, the very moment for which God started the hands of the clock spinning. And now God’s people, the very people who rejected an invisible God in favor of a visible, if broken, king; would have the opportunity to welcome the fullness of God’s promise in the person of his Son.

Instead Jesus was met with skepticism, anger, hatred. Many who did draw near did so for selfish reasons, attracted to the novelty of his teaching and the spectacle of the miraculous. But when they were truly challenged by his perfection, most walked away. When he started to face persecution fueled by the religious leaders, many more abandoned him. When authorities arrested him and tried him for claiming to be himself, even those closest to him turned their backs in fear. The Jewish establishment condemned him for claiming to be God. The Roman establishment condemned him for claiming to be a king.

At the height of human sin, the most damning and simultaneously glorious moment in ALL of human history, Roman governor Pontius Pilate asked the crowd a question. (John 19:12-16)

Shall I crucify your king?

The response of the chief priests?

We have no king but Caesar!

In a moment, the full and final rejection of God took place as he stood, in the flesh before them and listened to the people boldly declare that earth’s emperor, the delusional, self-declared deity, was the ruler to whom they would submit. The people declared, as Johan Herman Bavinck so beautifully states, “that they would rather have a king who takes than a God who gives.” And they handed God over to die.

The sinful heart is as old as the garden.

But… there is good news.

Good because, what the chief priests didn’t realize is that, in their moment of rejection, God was also carrying out his plan. Never doubt the brilliance of our God to enact the perfect plan, even in the face of the insurmountable problem of our sinfulness. In the NT book of Acts, Peter declares in the 4th chapter that even this sinful rejection of the people was under the sovereign hand of God. Here is a glimpse of the mystery of God’s sovereignty.

Under the old covenant, the high priest’s job was to perform sacrificial rites, destroying the life of a sacrificial animal, a lamb or a goat, as a substitute on behalf of the people. By offering the sacrifice, the priest would atone for the sins of the people, a picture of reconciliation between a holy God and his rebellious people. The wages of sin is death. Without the spilling of blood, there is no forgiveness for sins. As the chief priests and elders of the people handed Jesus over to Pontius Pilate to be executed, they were filled with sinful hatred. Yet it was in that very act that they were leading the spotless Lamb of God, the sinless Son, to become the eternal atoning sacrifice. The chief priests, blinded by sin, were completely oblivious to the fact they were, on a mysterious level, doing their job. They were setting apart a sacrifice to atone for the sins of mankind.

Ultimately, Jesus is not only the sacrifice, but also the very real and perfect high priest who willingly laid down HIS OWN life on behalf of the world. But God was at work, in the sinfulness of humanity, carrying out his plan of redemption. That as the blood of Jesus was spilled on the cross, the price was being paid for countless generations of sin. Countless generations of rejection, faithlessness and idolatry, weakness and shame. His blood paid it all.

Felix culpa.

 

 

Three days later, as our Savior was raised to life, overcoming death and delivering the crushing blow to the enemy of our souls, he was making another promise. This time, the promise is that all who grab hold of Jesus by grace through faith would experience a resurrection like his. That one day, God’s promised King, the one who is now in heaven, exalted and reigning, will return to claim his own to be with him, bodily, forever.

 

He is our king.

And we who have received him, have received an inheritance that cannot be shaken. Surrender to him today as king,

 

In Brief : The Brick Bible

Title: The Brick Bible – The Complete Set
(Click image to view on Amazon)

Author: Brendan Powell Smith

 

I come at this review with such a heavy heart, because I believe the premise is brilliant, but the execution is terribly flawed. Using Legos to tell the greatest story ever told is fascinating and appealing to multiple generations. My generation would read out of nostalgia. My kids love everything Lego, and so the appeal would obviously be there. Smith’s execution of the scenery from an artistic standpoint is amazing. The photography is wonderful, the product of a decade of work. These graphic novels read so easily and well, that I am equally joyful and devastated, because the content couldn’t be more short-sighted and void of the fullness of God’s character.

I would summarize this attempt at a biblical synopsis as caricature at best. In leaving out the essence of the gospel, the story becomes a mockery of God’s revelation.

 

Regarding that violence…

Before I completely lose the people who might love this work, I am NOT upset at the violence or even the vulgarity of particular scenes. (Though I understand a number of panels have been removed because they carry the shock factor far beyond what might be “necessary” – I am thankful) I applaud the attempt at maintaining authenticity in the historical account. The Bible is a violent and vulgar story at times. Read the last two sentences again, because most reviewers who disapprove of the depiction do so for this very reason. In fact, it is the violence and vulgarity that caused Sam’s Club to remove this volume from their shelves.

Any faithful telling of redemptive history will include lots of blood, and lots of inappropriate accounts of sin. Yes, even sexual sin. The Bible is not shy about reminding us all of our legacy of sin. For the many who complain that a kid might just pick this up and be scarred, I remind you that they also might pick up the actual Bible and read the very same stories, though with words instead of toy pictures. Instead of silly plastic figures, they’d just have to use their imaginations to decide what it looked like when the Levite cut his concubine into a dozen pieces and shipped her to the tribes of Israel.

 

Brick Bible 1

 

A bigger issue…

I’ve spent a couple days trying to sum up the theology of the Brick Bible in my head. I still haven’t nailed it down, but here are a few key observations that bother me way more than the violence.

1) God the Father is always angry. Smith uses real Lego pieces from real Lego sets to provide faces throughout the work. (As a side note, it is part of the fun to look for characters I recognize – various Star Wars and Harry Potter, for example – and how they were used.) Smith’s chosen face for the Father is one of upturned eyebrows. God is presented in perpetual anger.

2) Missing the mark on Moses. Bible quiz: why didn’t God allow Moses to enter the promised land? You won’t find the answer in the Brick Bible. The account of Numbers 20 is included, but without the sin of Moses. Consequently, when God forbids Moses later in the Brick Bible, it is just another account of Angry God withholding goodness from people. The absence of grace is also reiterated by the inclusion of Moses among the murderers in hell at the conclusion of Revelation. Moses actually has the front and center place in hell for that crowd. So while our forgiveness towards others is necessary (see #5 below), God’s forgiveness is conspicuously absent.

3) God’s judgment is the big picture. It is true that Jesus talked about hell more than heaven, but Smith spends so much time on hell that you wouldn’t even believe heaven is a reality. I also missed the kingdom of heaven come crashing to earth. At every turn in these novels, God is judgment. Absent is “the LORD, the LORD, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulnessbut who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children”. (Exodus 34:6-7) I’m not saying God isn’t the epitome of justice, but his justice does not exist in a vacuum.

4) Jesus died for no good reason. The Lord is depicted as a kind of nice guy. He teaches – but his teaching is a frustrating mixture of moralism and futility, telling people to be good, but that it’s unlikely our angry God would ever let them into heaven. He provides no solution. His death was not only ineffective to pay the ransom for sin, but it was not appropriated to anyone to draw them near to God. It just sort of happened. Angry God strikes again.

5) Forgiveness might be the basis for salvation, rather than faith – and certainly not grace. Forgive others and God will forgive you. In other words, tolerance is king. Because the life of Christ was not a preparation for the death of Christ, and because neither the life nor the death of Christ are presented as a gift to sinful humanity through the good news, then the resurrection also is a byline. There is no real basis for hope. The way to heaven comes by forgiving everyone. The introduction to the New Testament Bricks, written by a seminary professor, provides the foundation for the relativism that follows. Truth is subjective (especially stuffy old truth provided by millenia of scholarship, prayer, and ministry by Christ through his Church), and so forgiving everyone as they live out their experience of truth is the apparent key to eternity.  Granted, this is not explicitly stated – but in the absence of the gospel, this is the most consistent message throughout.

 

Brick Bible 2

 

 

Can you make the Bible say that? 

The New Testament includes Scripture references near the spine, which is helpful – I’m guessing an idea that sprung up after the Old Testament novel since they are there absent. And yes, the vast majority of the text is direct quotation from the Scripture. But quoting half of a Bible verse is not necessarily helpful. Context matters. “Behold, the Lamb of God…” is a flowery half-quote, but it is given weight by the other half, “… who takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29) Guess which half was not found in the New Testament novel?

A series of half-verses and quarter-passages without access to the explanations offered elsewhere in Scripture will only create a fractured doctrine built on a heaping mound of misunderstanding. The Brick Bible is a series of hand-picked illustrations used to portray a partial understanding of God. Imagine with me, if you will, the backlash if I were to use the same process to caricature another person? To see sin without seeing the image of God? To see their faults without their qualities? There is an inherent hypocrisy in this work of tolerance to skip out on the whole revelation of God as the perfection of love, justice, mercy, grace, wrath, and forgiveness.

Overall, I enjoy exercises in critical thinking. So I embraced the mental calisthenics. Though my facial expressions at times may have suggested otherwise, I found something in this reading. But where I had hoped to find a fun resource to reference in ministry from time to time, I instead found an account too dangerous to even grant such an endorsement. I would not recommend these books to anyone who is not familiar with the Scriptures. Otherwise, the absence of context could be very damaging.

The introduction states that the novels are an invitation to read the Bible. I’m not so sure. For those who already believe this always angry, one-sided caricature of God, they will only be emboldened in their incomplete views – such a result does not require further Biblical exploration. Believers might be drawn to the Scriptures to reaffirm what the novels miss. I’m not sure what happens in between.

If only someone would write a toy Bible with sound doctrine. A toy Bible with the shock of God’s forgiveness in the midst of our overwhelming sin will compel people to read the real thing for a good reason.

 

 

 

Domain: In the Beginning (part 2)

(excerpt from a recent sermon given on Genesis 1:1)

In part 1 of the series, I briefly touched on God’s relationship to time. This second portion continues the first verse in Genesis, turning to God’s role as Creator and his continuing interest in human creativity. Admittedly, this is the most scattered portion of the sermon, but then again, I’ll be processing this part for awhile… Take the ball and run.

In the beginning, God created…

Not only did God create using the stuff of the universe, he created the stuff of the universe! He did this without buying a blueprint or a plan. God imagined this stuff and spoke it into reality, then used his creativity to divvy it up and make cool things. His creativity is on so high a plane that creativity itself is God’s domain.

God CreatedIf you dig into the squiggles, dots, and dashes of the Hebrew language that read “he created,” they are used in two ways in the Bible – specifically the verb exists in two stems. One is a special use reserved for God’s creative activity, because his work is different. His work is other. God’s imagination is crazy good.

The other use – the second tense – of these particularly glorious squiggles speaks of man’s version of creating. Man’s creating comes by wiping clean something that has been done in order to start over. More clearly, we further divide what God has already created and divided. BUT, we never start from nothing. All of our creativity has a context, a foundation. We think using brains that God created and thought processes that he invented. We apply our thoughts with materials he designed and provided. This means our creativity, no matter how seemingly original, is subservient to his.

How limited is our ability? We can’t even imagine the nothing from which God created everything. We call that ex nihilo. (Hebrews 11:3) Go ahead. Try. If you are picturing darkness, it’s not nothing. Darkness was a product of creation upon which God has shone light. Maybe your mind’s eye moves to pure white… something like blinding light? Again, it’s a concept that has a foundation, a base. Nothing. No thing. It is entirely other.

God’s pre-existence to our own is a big deal.

Truly original ideas are hard to come by. Don’t get me wrong, I come up with original and creative ideas all the time. But my original ideas aren’t creative, and my creative ideas aren’t original. (I even stole that quote)

God has laid the groundwork that we engage & call imagination. Genesis 1:26-28 says that we are made in the image of God. We are reflections of his glory. One way we do this is by creating. By imagining. By finding answers to questions. By studying and figuring things out. By receiving the raw materials from the hand of God and building. We do these things because the God who created us owns and shares his vast imagination.

Every human who has ever lived bears the image of the Creator, whether we or they have loved God or not. This means that ALL creativity… let me say that again, ALL CREATIVITY is evidence of God’s glory. Creativity doesn’t all of a sudden “glorify God” when it’s done by a Christian or with an explicitly Christian theme. The very existence of imagination points to God, no matter who expresses it. Now, the expression of human creativity is driven by the deceitful human heart – and so there are expressions which do not necessarily honor God as LORD. But the ability to think, to imagine, to create IS the stamp of our Maker. Christians can and should seek and learn to appreciate creativity.

The Scriptures say God has written eternity on all of our hearts. (Ecclesiastes 3:11) Because that is true, human creativity will often serve the gospel.

Think about the books, movies, TV series, paintings, music you enjoy. Not necessarily “Christian” stuff. Anything. What makes it good? Good creative stuff makes us imagine paradise. Good creative stuff helps us explore and understand brokenness. Good creative stuff desperately wants justice and redemption. Good creative stuff ponders judgment. Good creative stuff chases after the eternity found only through the gospel. We like this stuff because, in the end, we’re all after one thing. We’re all chasing eternity. If the Bible is true, then this eternity is only found by chasing after Jesus with every last breath.

On the flipside, where good creative stuff explores truth, deceptive creative stuff twists or exploits truth. Consider the extreme: pornography. Porn misrepresents paradise, glorifies brokenness, feeds injustice, abandons redemption, and ignores righteous judgment. Pornography denies eternity and replaces it with instant gratification. It is the product of sin and the work of the Enemy. When your conscience recoils around this stuff, it is your heart’s eternal longing shining through.

But even the presence of the lie suggests the existence of the truth and makes us cry out for something better. The desire to create is an image thing. The abuse of creativity is a sin thing. Human creativity is stained by sin and the fall, which means there will always be an absence of perfection. But rightly engaged, imagination will serve to draw us nearer to our God – who is creative – by drawing us into the narrative of redemption (creation, fall, redemption, consummation in Christ Jesus); a narrative that he first imagined and then brought to fullness in the life, death, and resurrection of his only begotten Son.

Big picture application for the Christian: Engaging healthy creative expressions helps us to see how humanity processes eternity. Ask questions that get to God’s arc of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation as you are blessed by the expression of the image of God in another. Drag someone else into it with you. You will be blessed.

Big picture application for the non-believer: If our creativity and creative activities are subservient to God’s; if our creativity is designed to draw us nearer to him through Christ as we explore truth, then we will never create an avenue apart from him that will lead us into the eternity we all so desperately desire. It may provide a temporary escape, but never an answer.

The truth is: in the end, creativity can’t save us.
But imagination CAN help us explore the eternity God has created.
Ultimately, creativity is good, because creativity is God’s domain.