Overcoming … The Flesh

The Flesh.  We now turn to the enemy within; the flesh.  In the New Testament, the apostle Paul gives us three visuals, complete with action verbs, for defeating the flesh.  They are walking in the Spirit, crucifying the flesh, and putting on Christ.  “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh … those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Gal 5:16,24-25).

Walking in the Spirit is living into all that Christ promised regarding the Spirit’s indwelling.  When we allow the Spirit of God to live the life of the Son of God through us, we are walking in the Spirit.  And I like the “walking” word picture used throughout the New Testament (Eph 4:1 and others).  There is an “action” to walking.  It is not a passive activity.

Here are some things Christ promised about the Spirit’s work in our lives.  We will hear the continuing voice of Jesus (Jn 10:27) through the Spirit (Jn 16:13).  We will be reminded of the words of Jesus through the Spirit (Jn 14:26).  The Spirit will be our Paraclete who comes alongside us; helping us to obey Christ’s commands (Jn 14:16).  And we will experience the fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal 5:22-23).  This is all part of walking in the Spirit.

We have also been called to crucify the flesh; to deal a death-blow to the flesh at every opportunity.  The Bible says, “Consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.  For it is on account of these things that the wrath of God will come on the sons of disobedience.  And in them you also once walked, when you were living in them.  But now you also, put them all aside” (Col 3:5-8).

Basically, we are to treat the flesh as if it were dead.  Do not feed it.  Do not listen to it.  Do not follow its wishes.  Don’t even poke it to see if it is alive.  In short, we are to crucify the flesh; treat it as if it were dead.  And in its place, we are to put on Christ.

“Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” (Rom 13:14).  The picture Paul uses throughout his letters is the idea of putting on the character and attributes and mindset of Christ just as we would put on the clothes in our closet.  There is a constant theme throughout the New Testament of laying aside the bad stuff and putting on the good stuff.

“Put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other” (Col 3:12-13).  These attributes are what “putting on Christ” looks like.

What might be new to you about this theme is that it is not a drudgery.  Laying aside and putting on is not a daunting task.  You have been empowered by “Christ in you” to do it.  It is not another list, another task to be attempted by our self-effort.  It is fully relying on the Spirit to do His work inside us; conforming us to Christ Himself.

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom 15:13).  May the God of hope through the power of the Holy Spirit cause you to believe in abounding ways that you can do this.  You can overcome the flesh.

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Overcoming … The World

How do we overcome the remnants of our indwelling sin and the enemies that stir them up?  How do we resist the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil?  We have talked often about the theological answer to these questions; overcoming sin by the power of the resurrected Christ literally living His life through us.  But what does that look like in practice?  Let’s take a look at some specifics.

The world.  We overcome the world by our love for Jesus.  “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world” (I Jn 2:15-16).

In the gospel of John, chapters 13 – 17, Jesus emphasizes the connection between love and obedience.  Simply put, our love for Jesus will motivate us to obey.  “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also 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 made full” (Jn 15:9-11).

When we abide in Christ’s love, the love of Jesus and of the Father abides in us.  And this love will so fill us up that our love of the world will grow distant and dim.  Our desire to obey will increase.  And the beauty and end result of this love and obedience is incredible joy.  There is a joy in obedience – when motivated by our love relationship with Christ – that completely supersedes the promised joy of the world.  Obedience is not a drudgery; it is a source of joy.  The lure of the world diminishes as we experience the joy of loving and following and serving Jesus.

Earlier in His upper room discourse, Jesus makes the same love and obedience connection.  “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper [Gk. Paraclete, one called alongside to help], that He may be with you forever” (Jn 14:15-16).  In this instance, Jesus promises a Helper in our quest to keep His commandments.

It is as if Jesus is saying, “Because you love Me, you are going to want to keep My commandments.  But you are not going to be able to keep them through your own self-effort.  So I am sending my Spirit to live inside you (Jn 14:17), and He – living inside – will empower your obedient life.”  Once again, it is Jesus Himself who provides even the guide within us to know and follow the way beyond sin.

This obedient life, energized by love, overcomes the siren call of the world; a world that is fading away.  “And the world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever” (I Jn 2:17).

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“Sin Which So Easily Entangles Us”

Last time, we talked about the continuum regarding sin found in Hebrews chapter 12.  “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1).  On one end of the scale is the encouragement and expectation to “lay sin aside”.  At the other is the acknowledgement that “sin so easily entangles us”.

In light of the New Testament promise that our sin nature was destroyed at the cross and that we are now indwelt by the sin-crushing power of the resurrected Christ, how is it that sin still manages to gum up the works?  Let’s start by looking at what did – and what did not – change about sin at our new birth.

When you embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, your interaction with sin was radically changed.  What did not change was the presence of sin in your soul.  It remains inside, and it is still sin.  What did change so dramatically was sin’s status (it no longer reigns) and our relationship to it (we are no longer its slaves).  This change in status and relationship is a glorious deliverance for you and I.  Sin not longer holds us in bondage, outside of God’s presence.  Instead, this deliverance changes completely our interaction with sin.

We can now deal with sin in our lives from a perspective of promised victory rather than hopeless despair.  Let those words “promised victory rather than hopeless despair” sink in.  You need to hear them.  Because, quite frankly, they are too often missing from much of our Bible teaching today.  We hear too much about a civil war within as if we still have an equal powered sin nature and God nature battling it out in our lives.

Here is good news straight from God’s Word.  The battle is over.  Victory over sin was won at the cross.  The civil war does not exist.  Your fight with sin is from a stance of victory.  Our battles are skirmishes and mop up duty as we learn to live into the power over sin that Christ provides.  As Sinclair Ferguson writes in The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction, “Not only has our relationship to sin changed, but God has planted within us His divine seed, and in this sense has “added” to our powers as well as “subtracting” from sin’s status!  We have good reason to enter the conflict with the enemy of sin in an optimistic mood!”

The enemy called sin referred to by Dr. Ferguson is often summarized as a conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil.  One passage of Scripture that alludes to these three enemies is Ephesians 2:1-3.  “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world [the enemy of the world], according to the prince of the power of the air [the enemy of the devil], of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.  Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh [the enemy of the flesh], indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Eph 2:1-3).

This specific passage clearly identifies these enemies as having held sway over us prior to our salvation, when we “were dead in our trespasses and sins.”  But it does give us a good picture of sin’s manifestations in the world, the flesh, and the devil.  And what we learn from the rest of the New Testament is that they are enemies still.

But never ever ever forget that on this side of our conversion their powers have been greatly diminished.  Their power is gone, but their presence remains.  Their mastery over us is gone, but their temptations remain.  And they still can entangle us.

So how do we overcome these entanglements of sin, empowered as we are by the Christ within?  We will tackle some specifics of all three of these enemies and our response to them next time.

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Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Sin Itself

So we have examined a lot of chains in the past few weeks; chains from which Christ offers sweet release.  We have examined:

  • the chain of the Law
  • the chain of legalism
  • the chain of pride
  • the chain of shame
  • the chain of guilt
  • the chain of fear
  • the chain of worry
  • the chain of selfish ambition
  • the chain of idolatry
  • the chain of our own unworthiness

We now come to the last chain, the chain of sin itself.  And let’s be very careful to explain exactly what that means.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1).  In this one verse, we see an interesting continuum regarding our sin.

On the one hand, the author tells us “to lay our sin aside”.  Now that implies to me that “laying aside our sin” is possible or why would God instruct us to do so?  Would God call us to do the impossible?  I don’t think so.

At the same time, there is a clue in this verse that this “laying aside” is not just an easy once-and-done process.  The author refers to our sin as “easily entangling us”.  Somehow the sin we are to lay aside is also the sin that so easily entangles us.  And there is the rub.  You have the power – by the risen Christ living in you – to lay your sin aside.  But the process of doing so often encounters a tangled mess.

Because I think most of us are comfortable with recognizing the tangled mess, let’s start with the power to lay sin aside.  And this power is fully dependent on Christ living His life in you.  Just hours before His death, Jesus gave us this promise, “The Father will give you a Helper (Gk. Paraclete, one called alongside to help), that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, who the world cannot receive because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you” (Jn 14:16-17).

Christ promised us the presence of God’s Holy Spirit inside.  And based on this promise, we often limit the indwelling presence of God to the Spirit.  But Jesus goes on in this passage to add, “In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (Jn 14:20).  Over 200 times in the New Testament, we see reference to either God in us, Christ in us, or the Spirit in us.  They are undeniably interchangeable.  The bottom line?  The God of the universe – in every form available to Him – has miraculously come to live inside you when you embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ.

So how does this relate to laying aside our sin?  Think about it this way.  Not only is Christ in you, but Christ … and His character are in you.  By virtue of Christ in you, His qualities of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience live in you.  By virtue of the Spirit in you, His fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control live in you.

We often look at these lists as character qualities or character traits to aspire to.  We lift them up as something Christians should strive for, usually through greater effort.  We present them in  a way that makes their attainment and practice look like a grueling task.  But calling these character qualities or character traits to aspire to is really aiming way too low.  They are so much more than that.  They are literally manifestations of Christ.  And when you live into them, they are literally manifestations of Christ being lived out in you.

Putting these “manifestations of Christ” into practice is like putting on the clothes in your closet.  They are already in your closet, just waiting to be put on.  So often, when we see admonitions in Scripture to lay aside the bad stuff and put on the good stuff, we don’t think we own or have access to the good stuff.  These righteous traits are for the super saints, not for us regular folks.  But Christ has made you full of Himself and you are just as empowered to follow where He leads as any other saint.

In a word picture that the apostle Paul uses over and over in the New Testament, you already have these clothes in your closet.  You do not have to go out and buy them.  They are not something you have to strive to acquire.  They have already been purchased by the precious blood of the Lamb, done deal.  And they are hanging in your spiritual closet.  Our job is to simply get dressed; to simply put on the clothes of righteous actions that Christ has already purchased and supplied for us.  He has supplied these clothes, not by dropping them into our shopping cart like apples falling from a tree, but rather by filling us up with Himself!

Now this righteous action, while clearly available to us, is not as easy an experience as grabbing a polo shirt and putting it on in the morning.  We still have that entangling sin to deal with; a topic we will address next time.  But until then, remember, you have more righteous clothes in your closet then you probably recognize or honestly have been led to believe by teachers stuck in a law or Old Covenant mentality.

Go ahead.  Put them on and shine in whatever path Christ has called you to today.  “And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on the clothes of a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other…and beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Col 3:12-14).  Christ is calling.  Get up and get dressed!

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Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Our Unworthiness

There is a branch of theology that says, “You are not worth it.”  There are voices in your past that say, “You are not worth it.”  There are messages from the church that say, “You are not worth it.”  There are Bible teachers who say, “You are not worth it.”  My simple answer to all of these is, “Do not believe it, you are worth it.”

“Worth what?” you might ask.  You are worth being ransomed, redeemed, delivered, rescued, set free.  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).  God’s love, God’s plan, God’s salvation, and God’s promise are so beautifully summarized in this one verse.

But in the beauty of seeing God’s love extended to the entire world, we sometimes miss the personal message God has for us.  Did you know that, “God so loved you that He gave His only begotten Son for you, so that if you believe in Him, you will not perish, but you will have eternal life”?

God loved and loves you.  Christ gave His life for you.  And He says you were worth it.  Christ did not die in your place out of obligation.  Christ did not die in your place as a noble sacrifice.  Christ died because He loves you.  When Christ died in your place, there was a joy in your rescue.

“Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2).  There was and is joy in Jesus’ rescue of you.  You were worth “the precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (I Pet 1:19).  We often think that an incredibly valuable sacrifice – the blood of Christ Himself – was required because of our great sin.  But could it be that the sacrifice was so great because that is what you were worth; that was the price required because you were worth it?

I guess what I am trying to say is this.  What God – in His judgment, purposes, and wisdom – determines is worthy of being redeemed is never to be devalued.  Never, never, ever.

Now, lest we get carried away and think that somehow we were “worth it” because we were basically good people, without sin, let’s come back to reality.  Prior to Christ, we were sinners indeed.  We were totally lost without any hope of saving ourselves; lost with absolutely no value in any of our own self-righteousness.  So how do we go from depraved, lost, and sinful individuals to worth the precious blood of Christ?

We need to understand the difference between worth and merit.  Regarding merit, in our standing before God, we have none.  We did not earn our salvation.  We were not “good enough” to warrant redemption.  We contributed nothing to our ransom from sin.  It is all grace.  It is all a pure gift.

But worth is a different thing altogether.  We arrive at our high view of worth because of our brand new and united identity with Christ.  As Dwight Edwards writes, “What frees us from the paralyzing grip of inferiority and inadequacy is not the power of positive thinking but the astonishing wonder of united identity.  As believers, we no longer have the option of thinking about ourselves apart from the indwelling Christ to Whom we are inseparably united.”  As a “partaker of the divine nature” (II Pet 1:4), you are inseparably united with the indwelling Christ.

I write all this because I see two prominent errors affecting the church in this theology of our unworthiness.  First, if we believe that we are just worthless sinners somehow covered by Christ’s blood, we will never fulfill the destiny that God promises of experiencing victory over sin.  God’s promise is that sin will not be our master after our conversion.  Your “worthless sinner” status was removed when you embraced the gospel message; when you were saved.  Your destiny as one united with Christ is to experience His power, living inside you, to live the Christian life.

The second error is that if we believe that we are just worthless sinners somehow covered by Christ’s blood, we will seek to rise above that status through our own self-effort.  We will try to “prove” our worth by our works.  We will be always striving to attain God’s acceptance by our works.  And there is no joy in this approach to living the Christian life.  You are already loved and accepted by God.  And He is doing the work inside to lift you into the supernatural Christian life.

So don’t let those voices of your unworthiness that rattle around in your head keep you in chains.  In your daily functional beliefs, embrace His freedom by seeing who you are in your united identity with Christ.  You are a new creation who carries not only the image of God – as all mankind does; but in us, His followers, you carry His divine nature as well.

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Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Idolatry

Idolatry is a powerful chain in the lives of many believers.  I am not talking about images of wood or stone.  I am talking about the place in our lives where we run to receive what only God can give.  I am talking about that place where we put our “functional trust”.

If the word “idol” sounds strange to you in this context, let me pose some questions to help us identify our “idols”.  What is that thing, that when you have it in your life, you feel fulfilled?  Or what is that thing, that when it is absent, you feel unsettled and discontent?  Or what is that thing, that when you have Jesus + ______ , all is right in your world?

Pastor Eric Hoffman writes, “Idolatry begins when we put something else where only God belongs.  When we say that God is not enough or His ways are not what I am going to follow, we are consciously putting our hope, trust, security, and identity into a created thing.”  Later, Eric asks, “Where are you putting your functional trust?”

On an intellectual or theological level, we know the danger of idols.  But on a practical or functional level, in our daily living, what or who are we trusting in?  Where are we looking for proof of our value and worth?  What are we driven to protect at all costs so that we can project a positive image?

This topic is an expansive one so I will only give it a broad overview in this post.  But here are some categories of idols to get us thinking about our own situation.

The idol of power.  Are you driven to and find your satisfaction in success, winning, gaining influence?  Do you fear humiliation or lack of respect?  Maybe power is an idol.

The idol of approval.  Do you seek affirmation, love, relationships, at all costs?  Is rejection your greatest fear?  Maybe approval is an idol for you.  This is very much a challenge for me.

A few weeks ago, I represented our neighborhood at a city council meeting to speak against further development at the end of our street.  I thought my presentation went well, but the highlight was as I went back to my seat, I received an outpouring of gestures of support and thanks from our neighbors in attendance.  Since we had not made much of a connection with some of them yet, I remember this clear thought in my head, “I think they like me.”  Why was that approval so important to me?  The approval idol in me needed their reassurance to be satisfied.

The idol of comfort.  Is your highest goal your own comfort, privacy, freedom, lack of stress?  Are your greatest fears wrapped around demands, stress, pain, or loss?  Maybe comfort or its variations of pleasure, health, materialism, and recreation are idols in your life.

The idol of control.  Are you driven by self-discipline, certainty, standards being kept?  Is uncertainty and things beyond your control your greatest fear?  Is security in your finances, your career, your family an idol in front of you?

These ideas have barely scratched the surface, but I hope they give you an idea of what I am referring to in the topic of idols.  What created thing are we placing our functional trust in?

The answer to idolatry is to place our intellectual, our heartfelt, and our functional trust in Jesus Christ.  Look at how the apostle John relates our abiding in Christ to freedom from idols.  “And we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ.  This is the true God and eternal life.  Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (I Jn 5:20-21).

What John is saying in these verses is this:  “We are in the true God and in His Son.  Our abiding, our identity, our purpose, our provision, our comfort, our security, our approval, and our power are all wrapped up in our connection to God and to His Son Jesus.  We know that He is the true God, and we are in Him.  Jesus + nothing is what we need.  And this truth is part of the eternal life that we are already experiencing.  Now, in light of these facts, guard yourselves from idols.”

In light of knowing and abiding in the One who is true, do not accept a counterfeit.  Do not accept a cheap imitation.  Do not accept a substitute for the real thing.  That is what idols are; counterfeits, imitations, substitutes.  Life in Christ offers freedom.  Idols enslave.  They never come through on what they promise.  And our pursuit of them keeps us from being secure in the grace of God’s leadership in our lives.

Throw off the chain of the idols in your life.  Ask God to reveal what things are enslaving you.  What idols are you chasing after that keep you from being present, that keep you from being available to serve the people and situations God has placed in front of you?  God has called you to a life of living free; and identifying and confessing the “lesser” things we depend on is the first step to freedom from our chains.  Lift up your eyes to the only One who is worthy of our trust, the Lord Jesus Christ who leads our lives.

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Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Selfish Ambition

One of the great freedoms Christ promises us in the New Testament is the freedom from ourselves; the freedom from our selfish ambition.  The Bible makes clear that selfish ambition is at the root of so many of our sins.  “If you have envy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and lie against the truth.  This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic.  For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:16).

Could selfish ambition be the foundation for “every evil practice”?  It often forms the foundation or motivation for our evil actions.  The apostle Paul encourages us to lay aside selfish ambition as a motivating force.  “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty conceit” (Phil 2:3).  Is that kind of “nothingness” regarding selfish ambition even possible?

As with all things pertaining to living the Christian life, we have been freed from the dominion of sin as our master.  This includes freedom from selfish ambition.  This freedom was accomplished by our being united with Christ in His death and resurrection (Rom 6:4-7).  But learning to live into that promise, that spiritual reality, is a process.

Yes, you have the power to overcome your selfishness.  And the positive replacement for it is found in the rest of Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.”  Humility is the answer to selfish ambition.  And by virtue of your new life in Christ, you have this humility inside.  The question is how to put this humility into action.

The interesting thing about selfish ambition is that only you know how deep it goes.  The Bible teaches that even preaching can be done out of selfishness.  “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife…proclaiming Christ out of selfish ambition, rather than from pure motives” (Phil 1:15,17).  Because selfish ambition is a motivation more than an action, you cannot always tell how deep my selfishness goes.  But I know.  And God knows.

Engage with God’s promise and God’s power to overcome what is really our greatest and last enemy; ourselves.  Set yourself free from selfish ambition by practicing humility of mind.  We do this in many ways.  Not having to win every discussion or disagreement.  Stopping to hear one another’s thoughts, intentions, and opinions.  Looking out for the interests of others by celebrating the successes of our brothers and sisters and by honoring the gifts they bring to the table.  Practicing hospitality by allowing others to be served and thinking of their needs first.  Thanking those who have been hospitable and generous to us.  Using our freedom to serve others, setting aside our own plans when an urgent and sincere need arises.  Being generous, as God is generous to us.  And the list in Scripture for how to put your humility into action goes on and on.

You have been set free from your slavery to sin by Christ’s death and resurrection.  And you have been set free from selfish ambition as your primary driver or motivation.  God has given you the power and the Spirit to break the chain.

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Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Worry

Just as the peace of Christ is the antidote for the chain of fear, the joy of the Lord is the antidote for the chain of worry.  Much like fear, worry is so often colored by this anxious age we live in.  The list of things to worry about is almost endless.  But into this milieu, the call of the New Testament is, “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!”  (Phil 4:4).

Or, as Karl Barth has written, “It is astonishing how many references there are in the Old and New Testaments to delight, joy, bliss, exultation, merry-making, and rejoicing; and how emphatically these are demanded from the Book of Psalms to the Letter to the Philippians.”  Yes, throughout the Scriptures we are urged to live joy-filled lives.

Our fundamental, foundational stance as a believer is to be one of joy.  Our serious, melancholy pessimism should be the exception.  Yes, those empathetic emotions are real.  And there is a time for grief over our struggles; and those of our families, our communities, our churches, and our world.  But underlying our concern is a bedrock of joy given to us by the Father.

Did you know that you have already been given the incredible gift of joy?  It is not something you have to strive for.  It is not something you have to work for.  It is not something you have to earn.  You already have it inside.  How?  Joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22).  When you embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, you were given the Holy Spirit to live inside you.  You did not earn it; it is pure gift from God.

And by virtue of this gift – by virtue of His Spirit living inside you – you already possess all of the Spirit’s fruit.  In the natural world, a fruit tree can only produce the fruit of its DNA.  It cannot produce any other fruit.  Likewise, you were ordained to produce the fruit of the new Spirit that lives inside and one of those fruits – already there by virtue of your spiritual DNA – is joy.

It may seem like a subtle distinction, but the key to experiencing that joy is to recognize it is already in there and then proceeding to unwrap it at every opportunity rather than seeing it as a character quality that we must strive to attain.  It’s already in there!

Can I encourage you to throw off the chain of worry?  There are many more aspects to breaking this chain in terms of our faith in God’s goodness, His sovereignty, His love, and so much more.  But for today, our focus is on the joy that He plants inside.  Rejoice in the gift of joy that He has given to you.

Is there a time to ponder the sobering reality of evil in the world?  Yes, there is.  But the underlying reality of a joy-filled life is a constant theme throughout the Scriptures.  And it is a reality that has been beautifully summarized by English author G. K. Chesterton, “A person is fully human when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial.  Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul.  Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labor by which all things live.”

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Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of the Imposter Syndrome

Have you heard of the “imposter syndrome”?  It is a term coined by psychologists in the late 1970s to describe high-achieving individuals who were marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud.  It is really another chain of fear.  Let me describe how this fear manifests itself in our spiritual life.

Depending on the church you grew up in, your family of origin dynamic, or even your present day experience in a community of believers, we generally develop some standard in our lives that we feel we must live up to in order to be accepted by the community.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I like standards.  I like encouraging each other to pursue holiness.  There is nothing wrong with helping each other move forward into a maturing Christian life.

The subtle way this can go awry is when we rely on keeping the standard as the basis for our acceptance with God and our community.  We so often put the cart before the horse.  Even if we don’t say it out loud, our attitude is, “You keep the standard, you arrive at some level of righteous living, and we will accept you.”  But true spiritual community is just the other way around.

True Jesus-following community starts with, “I will shower you with love, acceptance, and forgiveness no matter where you are in your Christian walk.  And because I love you, I will invest my friendship with you in ways that help both of us move toward Christian maturity.”  The love and acceptance come first.

This kind of community frees us from the fear of the impostor syndrome.  When we rely on others’ opinions of us for our spiritual self-worth, we live in fear of “being discovered”.  We live in fear of those around us finding out we are not all we were cracked up to be.  We have flaws. We have besetting sins.  We have personality disorders.  We are not perfect.

But when your opinion about yourself comes from what God has already done for you through His grace, then this is what you learn.  You are deeply loved, completely forgiven, fully pleasing, totally accepted, and complete in Christ.  And the sheer beauty of grace is that we are not any of those things because we deserved it or earned it by our merit.  No, we are all of those things because God gave them to us.  Just receiving and not earning is such a freeing experience.

You are loved because God loves you.  You are forgiven because God forgave you.  You are pleasing to God because He made you righteous.  You are acceptable to God because He paid the price for your sins.  Nothing else is required to gain His acceptance.  Christ already paid the price.  And you are complete in Christ.

So dismantle the chain of the fear of being “found out”.  The more I discover about you and the more you discover about me will be the building blocks to a friendship that moves both of us forward into experiencing all that Christ promised in a life set free.

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Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Fear

Another chain that shackles our living free experience is the chain of fear.  We live in an anxious age.  I honestly don’t know when in my lifetime I have felt such angst about every single topic that comes up in conversation or in the news.  Think about these issues; marriage, family life, health, immigration, the well-being of children, politics, clean water, violence, climate change … and we could go on and on.

We all have ideas of how to respond to these political and social issues and it discourages us when the answers we see in the world around us show not only a pervasive immorality, but an outright complete lack of common sense.  Instead of moral or even common sense solutions, we are bombarded by extreme positions, moral confusion, complete dysfunction, scarcity, and intimidation by those in power.  It stirs up fear.

Into this confusion and anxiety, Jesus says, “Do not fear, do not be anxious.”  And He gives us this promise, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33).  The antidote to fear is the peace of Christ.  The answer to fear is courage; the courage to trust His constant presence and ultimate power to make things right.  The remedy for fear is our faith in the promises of God.

“And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).  Christ’s promise and Christ’s presence drive out fear.  We sometimes struggle to experience that presence today because to be honest it is not always easy to sense the Holy Spirit inside.  It is a little bit of a mysterious connection.  It requires us to stretch our faith muscles and believe what we cannot see.  But in the world to come, when our present world has been overcome for good, we will see and grasp God’s presence in the most real way possible.

But until then, we have the promise that Christ has now, in the present tense, overcome the world.  And through our connection to Christ, as our Savior and Brother, we can overcome the world, and the fear that comes with it.  It is not a physical victory – our personal world and the larger world may still be falling apart around us – but we are promised a spiritual victory of experiencing the peace of Christ inside.

So throw off the chain of fear.  Do not allow yourself to become immobilized by the sheer volume of moral confusion in our world.  Love, serve, and encourage those Christ has brought into your life.  Demonstrate to those around you what a life set free looks like; a life set free from fear, worry, and anxiety.  Because despite all the pompous declarations of the world – and political or social victories they celebrate – deep inside, the peace of Christ is the desire of every heart.

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Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Guilt

Moving now from shame to guilt, let’s review.  Guilt is, “I have done something wrong.”  Shame is, “I am something wrong.”  Shame is never who we are after our conversion to Christ.  Guilty, on the other hand, is who we are when we sin.

Understanding guilt is an important piece of understanding our salvation.  In a legal (from a moral standpoint) sense, prior to Christ, we are all guilty.  We are sinners in Adam and we are sinners in our actions.  We are guilty on both counts.  But Christ took our guilt upon Himself when He died on a cross in our place.  The concept of substitution – Christ dying in our place – is at the heart of the gospel’s message of redemption.  Christ died for our sins.

The beauty of the love, grace, and mercy of God is that all the guilt related to our sins goes away when we embrace the gospel message of Jesus Christ.  “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).  “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).  “Having forgiven us all our transgressions, having cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col 2:13-14).

Your sins, in a legal sense, are forgiven; past, present, and future.  So what if I sin today?  Is the penalty covered?  Are there no consequences?  When we sin today, the legal penalty of that sin is already taken care of.  But in the area of our daily practice of holiness and of living into our new freedom in Christ, there is guilt and consequence when we sin.

Since sin is not compatible with our new identity in Christ, not fitting with the Holy Spirit who now lives inside, sin breaks our fellowship with God.  It also breaks our fellowship with God’s family, our brothers and sisters in Christ.  So when we sin, we are truly guilty.

But God has given us a way to restore that fellowship through confession and repentance.  “If we confess our sins (acts committed, not our sin nature), God is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (those ways we are not living into our identity in Christ).  God’s cleansing is removing the hindrances to living the fruits of the Spirit that we already possess but are stunted by sin.

Think of it this way.  By virtue of our spiritual DNA – the Holy Spirit living inside – we are destined to produce the fruit of the Spirit as outlined in Galatians 5; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  This is who we are.  But just as a fruit tree can be stunted and produce bad fruit or no fruit due to disease, so we can produce bad fruit or no fruit due to sin.  Our “fruit” production can be damaged by sin.  When we confess our sins, God is faithful to heal the disease of sin.

So if we are truly guilty when we sin, how does guilt become a chain?  Guilt becomes a chain when we forget God’s two great promises regarding our guilt.  The first promise, in a justification sense, your sins are forgiven forever.  The second promise, in a sanctification sense, you can be forgiven your present sins, be restored to fellowship, and infused with power to overcome sin.

When we fail to believe those promises, we are under the chain of guilt.  When we aren’t really sure if God’s forgiveness is complete; for example, am I still paying the price for attending a séance as a teenager or for wishing my classmate dead when they cheated me out of my first place award or … you fill in the blank from your past.  These sound crazy, but trust me, when we fail to believe and embrace and live into all of God’s promises regarding our forgiven guilt, we can be hamstrung by some crazy ideas.  Let the chain of guilt go.  Confess any sins of the present and move on in the grace, freedom, and joy of who you are in Christ.  There is no more “paying for your sins” to be done.  By God’s grace, by His free gift, you are forgiven.

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Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Shame

As we consider the shame side of the pride/shame cycle, let’s turn to Hebrews chapter 12.  “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2).  One of my favorite phrases about what Christ has done for us is “despising the shame”.

Death on a Roman cross was the epitome of shame.  A naked man publicly put to death on a stick of wood.  Its cruelty and shame would have us turn away in horror.  But instead of turning away, we are called to “fix our eyes” on our dying Savior.  And when we do, we see the suffering Son of God rejecting the shame put upon Him.

Jesus did not accept the shame of a cruel death on a cross.  Jesus did not embrace or believe the shame.  Jesus refused the shame.  What Satan meant for shame, God turned into glory; the glory of the Lamb of God “enduring the cross” for the “joy set before Him” of bringing us to salvation.  Jesus rejected the shame.  Jesus despised the shame.  Jesus threw aside the chain of shame.

Can I encourage you to do the same?  How many of us are caught in the pride/shame cycle feeling the pain and shame when we disappoint God, ourselves, or those around us?  How many of us carry labels from today or our past meant to induce shame?  How many of us believe, accept, embrace, and live into those labels of shame; even those labels from years ago?  How many of us still hear the words of shame from the authorities in our lives and feel them haunting us to this very day?

Perhaps a parent expressed a constant disappointment in you; an incessant drumbeat of you are not good enough.  Maybe an employer or teacher in your teen-age years told you that you would never amount to anything.  Or an unwise spiritual leader in your life called you out as a stubborn child, a slow learner, or disobedient.  Maybe an unappreciative spouse has let you know in no uncertain terms that you have let them down.  Whatever the shame you carry from your past or present; reject it, destroy it, send it packing, do not accept the shame.

Does that mean we have no guilt for our past and present actions?  What about our contribution to those labels?  After all, maybe we were stubborn, selfish, unresponsive to correction, and earned the shame we received?

At this point it is critical to understand the difference between guilt and shame.  I have written a previous post here that goes into great detail about the distinction.  Yes, you and I are guilty.  You and I have done things in our past and present that were wrong.  You and I have sinned.  And when we sin, we are to confess our sins and we will be forgiven of our sins.  Guilt is, “you have done something wrong.”  This is a true statement.  Shame is, “you are something wrong.”  This is not true or correct.  Do you see the difference?  Guilt refers to our actions.  Shame addresses our identity.  And shame is meant to leave you in a hopeless state, feeling and believing you are worthless.

When you embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, your sins were forgiven and your identity changed.  Your “you are something wrong” was done away with forever.  You were set free in Christ from the shame of your past or present never to go back to that identity again.  By the resurrection power of Christ who lives in you, the shame you were labeled with is no more.  You have been set free from its power in your life.  You are free to let it go.

When we sin we have true guilt to deal with because “we have done something wrong”.  But never listen to Satan’s accusations from your past or present that “you are something wrong”.  It is just not true.  Christ walked through that shameful death for the purpose of redeeming each of us back to God’s presence as proof of the worth He places on us.

Now I recognize that this advice is a short answer to a what can be a very complex problem.  Please talk to a trusted friend or counselor if shame is crippling your experience of the joy of your new life in Christ.  But Jesus’ example leads the way to an important starting point.  Jesus shows us, by rejecting the cruelest shame a man could experience, that shame is not who you are.  You are holy.  You are righteous.  You are wonderfully redeemed.  And that redemption has removed your shame.

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Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Pride

A dangerous side effect of legalism – reducing the Christian life to a set of rules – is pride.  Paul says as much in Colossians 2:18 calling the rule-promoters “inflated without cause by their fleshly mind.”  An inflated ego is a hallmark of legalism.  And it is driven by the flesh, not by the Spirit.

When we set up a rule-following system as the picture of Christianity, we almost always fall into a comparison mode that has no spiritual value.  How am I doing today compared to yesterday?  How am I doing at keeping the rules compared to person A, B, or C?  Are my community’s rules more godly than the church down the street?  Do you ever feel these comparisons?

These comparisons are fueled by pride.  They are motivated by a need to find my identity and worth in my performance.  When I am doing well in meeting the standard that I have set up for myself and others, I feel a sense of pride in my accomplishment.  When I feel like I am “measuring up”, I tend to become critical and judgmental of others who are missing the mark in my view.  Far from being a positive, this pride is a red flag that I am operating in the flesh, as Paul refers to it, rather than in the Spirit.  In my flesh-driven pride I am effectively saying, “My worth and righteousness are found in Christ plus my rules.”

The flip side is also true.  When I do not perform well, I am overcome by a sense of shame.  “How could I have performed so poorly?  How could I be such a terrible person?”  When we put both sides together, we find that legalism puts us in a never ending cycle of pride and shame based on our performance and comparison with others.  We always can find someone who is “doing better” or “doing worse” than us, leading us invariably into feelings of pride or shame.  We will address the shame side of the pride/shame cycle next time, but for now let’s come back to the pride.

We destroy pride by understanding how unworthy our human efforts were in our receiving the gift of the gospel and how worthless they now are in living out the gospel.  When we embrace the gospel message [the good news of a life set free], not just in our once-for-all salvation decision, but also as a way of life, we learn that our worth and acceptance by God has nothing to do with our performance.

When we seek to “prove ourselves” or “justify ourselves” by showing God (and others) that we are good enough, we are not living into the grace of the gospel message.  We have been justified by faith in what Christ has already done.  And God accepts us on the basis of Christ’s work, not our own.  There is nothing you can do to make yourself more acceptable to God.  Hear me on this, never more acceptable to God than the first moment of your new birth.

I think a useful term here is “functional trust”.  We have the appropriate Bible knowledge to say our trust is fully in Christ.  But on a functional level of how we live our lives, are we trusting the work of Christ or in our performance to earn God’s daily grace?  Living the gospel is transferring our trust – intellectually and functionally – away from ourselves and resting it in Christ.

So throw off the chain of pride by living into all of Christ’s promise of a life set free.  If you see a performance-based prideful effort in your walk with the Lord, confess it to Him, and see His life breathe a sweet joy into His instructions.  One of the greatest freedoms Christ is offering is the freedom from pride; the freedom from always having to protect our image.  A life set free is not about our accomplishment.  It is about Jesus’ accomplishment on our behalf.  This is living the gospel.

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Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Legalism

While most believers recognize that we are set free from the Old Testament Law, there is still the danger of a New Testament version of the law that creeps into our thinking, our churches, and our approach to living the Christian life.  Our attempts to keep things as black and white as possible, as well as looking for a holiness that we can measure, often lead to a new set of rules to follow.  This rule-following approach to living the Christian life is known as legalism.

In Colossians chapter 1, the apostle Paul summarizes the mystery of the gospel, “Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the Word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:25-27).  The mystery of the gospel is, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Paul then goes on in Colossians chapter 2 to expand on what “Christ in you” looks like.  And his focus is clearly on Christ and our connection to Him.  Observe how many times Paul refers to you as “in Christ”.

  • “Your faith in Christ” (vs 5)
  • “As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (vs 6)
  • “Being built up in Him” (vs 7)
  • “According to Christ” (vs 8)
  • “For in Christ all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (vs 9)
  • In Him, you have been made complete” (vs 10)
  • In Him, you were also circumcised in the removal of the body of flesh” (vs 11)
  • “You were buried with Him in baptism” (vs 12)
  • “You were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God” (vs 12)
  • “He made you alive together with Him” (vs 13)
  • “Having triumphed over the rulers and authorities of the world through Him” (vs 15)

In this chapter, describing so many aspects of “Christ in you”, the emphasis is clearly on Christ.  When we fall into legalism, the focus is on us.  Are we following the rules?  Are we measuring up to earn God’s acceptance?  The Christian life is uncovering, exploring, and experiencing who we are in Christ and living into that identity; understanding what it means and looks like to have Christ literally living His life through us.  When we reduce the Christian life to a set of rules, we are missing the power and mystery of who we are in Christ.  We are missing the God-sized faith growing times of responding to His Spirit’s message to us moment by moment.  Our focus should always be on Christ.

We know the apostle is comparing who we are in Christ to rule-keeping because of how he closes out chapter 2 in verses 16 through 23.  Paul writes, “Let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or a festival or a new moon or in keeping the Sabbath – things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.  Let no one defraud you of your prize by delighting in and promoting self-abasement, which appears pious but is actually fueled by pride.  When you died with Christ, you died to these elementary arguments – which are really just teachings of men – over what to handle, taste, and touch” (Col 2:16-22).  These rules are really just the teachings of men.

Paul then finishes the chapter in verse 23 with a fascinating conclusion that not only is legalism the wrong approach to living the Christian life, but at its core it does not even work in moving us toward the holiness we desire.  “These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Col 2:23).

Ouch!  The very thing that we think will stop sin in its tracks – a severe adherence to rules – is of no value in the big picture of our relationship with sin!  Look at Paul’s words.  “The appearance of wisdom … self-made religion … no value against fleshly indulgence.”  Legalism is a self-made religion with nothing to fuel the Christian life.  Can I encourage you?  Throw off the chain of legalism.  Pray for God’s Spirit to move your focus onto Christ and His life in you.

Looking ahead, legalism not only enslaves us, but also has a deadly side effect.  Do you know what it is?  We will talk about it next time.

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Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of the Law

One of the first chains we are to throw off in our quest to live free is the chain of the Law.  Many of the earliest believers in Jesus were of Jewish background and they needed clear direction regarding their new relationship with the Old Testament Law.  The apostle Paul explains on several occasions that the short answer to the question of the Law is that we have literally died to it.  It is no longer in effect.  It is no longer influential or applicable to those who have embraced the gospel.

At the beginning of Romans chapter 7, Paul illustrates our death to the Law by comparing it to the death of a spouse.  “Just as a woman is free to be joined to another man after the death of her husband…you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God.  For while we were in the flesh (i.e. prior to our conversion and still under the Law), the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.  But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter” (Rom 7:3-6).

Our break with the Law is as severe and final as death itself.  The Law died as a part of our life and we were married to a new groom, Christ Himself.  And the consummation of our new marriage is the Spirit of Christ coming to live inside us.  Rather than the “oldness of the Law”, we move, serve, and love in the “newness of the Spirit”.

Paul expounds further on this topic in his letter to the church at Galatia.  The book of Galatians is essentially a treatise on our death to the Law and our new freedom in Christ.  Here are just a few highlights of the book:

“But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the Law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed.  Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith.  But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.  For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:23-26).

You became a son of God by faith in Christ, not by keeping the Law.  The Law was preparatory in nature and having finished its job of pointing us to Christ, it is no longer needed.  Or to quote from the passage, “We are no longer under a tutor [the Law].”

Another highlight:  “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?  This is the only thing I want to find out from you:  did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?  Are you so foolish?  Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?  Did you suffer so many things in vain – if indeed it was in vain?  Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” (Gal 3:1-5).

The Christian life is lived by faith, not by works of the Law.  Paul’s argument for freedom from the Law throughout Galatians is that just as you were saved by faith apart from keeping the Law, so the Christian life is lived by faith, not by works of the Law.

Here is another:  “But it was because of the false brethren who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.  But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you” (Gal 2:4-5).

The Judaizers, the false brethren, taught that despite being saved by Christ’s death, the Christian life requires adherence to the Law.  This confusion is understandable given the transition from Law to grace that is only now, in New Testament times, being explained and taught by the apostles.  But even in this transition period, requiring new believers to follow the Law is such a grievous and oppressive error that Paul says, in our vernacular, “We did not even give them the time of day!”

And finally:  “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1).  It is an interesting comparison between the “yoke of slavery” and the “yoke of Christ”.  Jesus called His yoke “easy and light” (Mt 11:30) and invites us to join Him in it.  We are to embrace the yoke of Christ and reject the yoke of slavery.

The yoke of slavery is the burden of living under the Law.  The burden of trying to keep the Law.  The yoke of Christ is light because with Him living His life through us, He is doing the heavy lifting.  Christ is in the yoke with us providing the power to move ahead.  As for the yoke of slavery to the Law, Paul says to no longer be subject to it (Gal 5:1).  In other words, “Throw off your chains!  And start by throwing off the chain of the Law!”

Now, given that most of you reading this post are not from a Jewish background and the Law is now 2000 years in the rear view mirror, is the chain of the Law really a problem in today’s church?  I believe it is.  But it has taken on a more subtle form than the Law vs grace situation of Paul’s day.  What we are facing today is a New Testament form of the law.  And it can be just as dangerous and oppressive as its Old Testament counterpart.  We will talk about it next time.

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Living Free

I love this quote by hip-hop artist Lecrae in his new book Unashamed, “I had finally been set free, but I was about to find out if I could live free.”  Did you catch those powerful two words, “live free”?  That, my friends, is the Christian life in a nutshell; learning to live free, learning to live in the freedom that we already have in Christ.  That is really the question at the heart of living the Christian life, “Can we learn to live free?”

When you and I embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, we were instantly set free; free to enjoy the fullness of Christ in us.  We were immediately set free from the penalty of sin.  “And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven all of our transgressions, having cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which were hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col 2:13-14).  We have been set free from the penalty of sin, fully alive in Christ.

But we have also been set free from the power of sin.  Our freedom from the power of sin has both an immediate and ongoing aspect.  In the immediate sense, we were instantly indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:11) who infuses us with godly character and a desire for righteousness (Eph 4:24).  We instantly received a new heart inclined toward God (Ez 36:26); inclined toward His laws and ways (Heb 10:16).  We were instantly released from sin as our master (Rom 6:6) and were set free to obey a new master, the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 6:13).

But even with all these (and many more) instant changes, learning to live into all these “set frees” is a lifelong process.  This is the ongoing aspect of a life set free from the power of sin.  As God continues to mold, shape, and change us from the inside out, we learn more and more how to experience the freedom we have already been given.  We learn how to experience the supernatural presence of Christ in us.

One of the first steps to learning to live free is to identify and throw off the chains that hold us back, the chains that place us in bondage.  What are some of these chains?  Over the next few weeks, we will be learning what the Bible says about throwing off …

  • the chain of the Law
  • the chain of legalism
  • the chain of pride
  • the chain of shame
  • the chain of guilt
  • the chain of fear
  • the chain of worry
  • the chain of selfish ambition
  • the chain of idolatry
  • the chain of our own unworthiness
  • the chain of sin itself

Now on a scale going from bondage to freedom, where would you say you land in your experience of the Christian life?  If you are more toward the bondage end, do you have an idea why?  Are there spiritual authority figures in your life who want to place or keep you in bondage?  Is there a family history that keeps you in chains?  Is there a besetting sin that is holding you back?  Are you actually more comfortable in a trapped, enclosed negative space?

After all, on a strictly human level, freedom can be scary.  Freedom can be dangerous.  Freedom can look like life unscripted.  I can measure and see the edges of the box I have been placed in or put myself in.  Freedom, on the other hand, cannot really be measured.  It has a limitless quality to it.  And that can be frightening.  But the freedom wrought by Christ’s death in our place, is the freedom embodied in Him and lived through Him.

Over the next several weeks, we will literally scour the New Testament to see what “living free” looks like.  We will learn that freedom does not equal autonomy.  It is not a personal freedom untethered and loose.  It is a freedom to walk in Christ’s ways.  And we will also come back to those pesky chains.  What does God want us to do with them?  Won’t you join us?

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I am seeing the word “freedom” in lots of ads this time of year.  Most of them revolve around, “Come celebrate our country’s freedom by buying a new car, new appliance, or new mattress.”  Of course, in the fine print you realize that rather than freedom, you will experience eight years of debt for your mattress that will wear out just as you make your last payment.  (By the way, have any of you ever met a mattress expert; you know, those geniuses quoted in TV ads who have decided that a mattress must be replaced every eight years?)

All this talk of freedom reminds me of this quote from hip-hop artist Lacrae, “I had finally been set free, but I was about to find out if I could live free.  A person can be removed from slavery in an instant, but it takes a lifetime for slavery to be removed from a person.”

This thought of learning to “live free” captured my attention.  I think it is an apt description of living the Christian life.  It all comes down to learning to live free.

So I have in the works a series of posts on living free.  My usual method of writing is to have one or two posts planned ahead and just see where things lead.  However, in this case, I am working on having the entire series of ten or twelve posts written before I publish the first one.  This allows my editor (Rhonda) the chance to see how they flow and fit together.  As always, she is a huge help in corralling my random thoughts into something readable.

I guess I am posting this to let you know that we have not disappeared into the small town life of ice cream, parades, and fireworks here in Franklin Tennessee.  We look forward to seeing you soon around the idea of what it means to “Live Free”.

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The Bible, Science, and Adding to the Gospel

My primary motivation for my last post is to dispel the idea that the Bible and true science are in disagreement on the issue of God’s creation process or timeline.  And my greatest concern about how we approach the issue of the theory of evolution is to make sure that we are not adding anything to the pure message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  What do I mean by “not adding anything to the gospel”?

The gospel message of Jesus Christ is best summarized in the middle chapters of the gospel of John.  In a long discourse, Jesus says about ten times that he who believes in Jesus has eternal life, having passed from death to life by faith in Christ.  “Everyone who beholds the Son, and believes in Him, has eternal life” (Jn 6:40 e.g.).  The gospel message really is that simple.  He who believes in Jesus has eternal life.  But in our human desire for a system, we are often tempted to add to the gospel.

He who keeps some New Testament form of the law and believes in Jesus has eternal life.  He who keeps the traditions of the church and believes in Jesus has eternal life.  He who believes in a young earth and six literal 24-hour days of creation and believes in Jesus has eternal life.  Do you see where I am going?  All of these ideas add to the gospel.

When we add our beliefs about a creation process and timeline as a requirement for what it means to be a Christian, we are adding to the gospel.  And this requirement puts especially our young people in an unnecessary and dangerous predicament.  We are forcing a choice on them that I do not believe the Bible requires.  We are asking them to choose between the scientific evidence for a long progressive creation and Christianity itself.  We are tying our (and their) faith in Christ to a belief in young earth creationism.

Creationists in their defense will say, “We are not adding to the gospel with our young earth creation ideas.  We are preaching faith in Christ alone for salvation.”  But good communication is entirely based on what was heard and understood by the listener, by the audience.  It is not based only on what was said.  We can say all we want that our gospel is based on Christ alone, but the communication our students and parishioners are hearing in our debates, sermons, and scolding of old earth believers is that embracing the gospel requires embracing a young earth creationist view.  The message we are hearing is, “Young Earth + Jesus = Salvation.  This approach is “adding to the gospel”.

And this box we put our students in is unnecessary.  It springs from the divorced parents idea of science and the Bible where a choice between the two has to be made.  As I have said many times in the last few posts, a better picture of science and the Bible is a strong marriage where the differences get worked out.

Now there is a clear distinction that we need to make with our students, whether they are headed to a secular university or a private school; whether they are headed to a career in science or any other education.  There is a huge difference between the science of evolution and the naturalistic philosophy of evolution.  I believe the science of evolution is supported by observational facts.  The philosophy of evolution?  Not so much.  In my opinion, a random naturalistic form of evolution does not fit the facts and has no place in the world of true science.

Please hear this clearly.  A theory of evolution that cuts God out of the picture is to be rejected by believers everywhere.  The God of the Bible is the Creator God, no matter what timeline He chose to work in.  The random naturalistic version of evolution is not Christian in any way, shape, or form.  This is the distinction we need to be teaching our students.

Finally, as I have said before, do not limit God’s creative activity on the basis of any presuppositions about the “one” way that God could have done it.  God is so off-the-charts in His ways, His methods, His attributes, His beauty, His mystery, His holiness, and He will have the last word on how He did it.  My goal is to pay attention to the science wherever it leads and my experience to this point and my confidence in any future discovery is that we will see “the genius of the God who did it that way.”

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The Theory of Evolution – A Disconnect in our Science and the Bible Marriage?

One of the areas where there appears to be a disagreement in the otherwise strong marriage of science and the Bible is the theory of evolution.  To summarize the conflict, the theory of a long, progressive creation process to describe life forms past and present has been seen as a direct attack on the biblical account of creation.  But in the last few years, I think the conflict is shrinking.  And I think the war between the Bible and a long progressive creation should be brought to an end.  Let me explain by telling you part of my story.

Many years ago, as a geology major at a secular university, I was an ardent young earth creationist.  I believed that essentially all that we see around us was created in six literal 24-hour days and the earth was around 10,000 years old.  When my professors taught about evolution, I learned the material, but personally wrote them off as atheists.  I did my historical geology book report on the creationist book, The Genesis Flood, and I graduated with a geology degree totally unconvinced that the theory of evolution had anything to do with a true understanding of earth’s history.

When I entered the work world, I soon learned that the age of the rocks or even how they got there was less important than the content of their pore spaces.  “Was it filled with oil or natural gas or water?” became the only question that mattered.  So the theory of evolution became a non-issue in my work.  I also concluded that in a workplace populated with geologists and geophysicists who generally accepted the theory of evolution it was more important to be Jay Christ-follower than Jay Creationist.  I wasn’t embarrassed by my creationist views and still believed in a literal six-day creation.  I just felt that the creation/evolution distinction was less important than the gospel message of new life in Christ Jesus.

Fast forward about 25 years.  As I casually observed geologic bits and pieces that increasingly supported an old earth/evolutionary view, I didn’t pay much attention because I really didn’t see a biblical alternative to a literal six-day creation in Genesis chapter one.  Then friend of mine and top notch Bible scholar (who had also been a young earth creationist in his college days) told me he was working on a manuscript demonstrating the compatibility of interpreting Genesis chapter one in an old earth framework.  The manuscript became the book, In the Beginning…We Misunderstood by Johnny V. Miller and John M. Soden.  I took notice and decided to revisit the topic.

What I found in my new study of the subject was that the latest discoveries in the fossil record, radiometric dating, DNA sequencing, and many other areas were indeed falling in line with an old earth, progressive creation view.  All the details are too much to add here.  Suffice it to say, that I now consider the old earth progressive creation view as most consistent with our geologic observations.  And I believe Genesis chapter one can be interpreted in this framework.  Again, to try and explain everything that went into my change of thinking is beyond the space of this blog post, and quite frankly could be easily misunderstood.  If this shakes your world, please give me a call.  I would love to hear your thoughts and dialog about this topic.

Would I call myself an evolutionist?  No.  The connotations of that word imply a belief in a random, natural selection process of creation without God in the picture.  I believe a proper understanding of the progressive creation of living things is just the opposite.  I think the evidence supports the idea that the results of progressive creation that we see around us today could never have happened without God in the picture.

If evolution is how it happened, it is definitely not random, and certainly not natural.  It is supernatural in its design and implementation.  Evolution is so complex, so purposeful, so orderly that we could only have arrived at this point in earth’s history with God in charge.  I see a God-directed progressive creation over a long time just as much of a miracle as a six-day creation.  Recognizing evolution as a creative mechanism does not have to lead one into naturalism and atheism.  In my opinion, evolution itself is a God-size miracle of epic proportions.  Again, please give me a call or email if this topic is of interest to you.

Now I would be remiss to stop the discussion here, focused only on the science and leaving out the biblical account of creation.  I want to make clear my absolute confidence in Scripture and my confidence in Genesis chapter one and God’s account of what He wants us to know about His incredible creative process.  So what is God saying in Genesis chapter one?

In the context of God revealing the creation story to Moses who in turn wrote it down in his five-book history (the first five books of the Old Testament) of the children of Israel, I believe God is making two main points.  First, God created it all out of nothing.  As God is setting the foundation for Israel’s pattern of worship, He is identifying Himself as the One True Creator of everything.  It is as if God is refuting the message that may have informed the children of Israel in their 400 years of captivity in Egypt by saying, “You know all those things the Egyptians worship as gods?  They are not gods.  They were all created by Me.  Specifically, the sun, the moon, the stars, the animals – all these things the Egyptians worshiped – I made them.  I am the One True Creator God.”  This monotheistic Creator God was a unique idea for its time in history and critical to Israel’s understanding of the One True God.

The second main point of God’s creation story is that man is a unique creation; created in the image of God Himself.  Man is a special creation who somehow carries the image of God, the Imago Dei, inside him.  You were created, separate from the animal kingdom, to bear the very image of God.  This is the second important message of Genesis chapter one.

With these two critical messages in mind, I still do not have a good answer for the length of “days” of Genesis 1 or how the order of the “days” fits a progressive creation.  But not being able to fully understand or resolve an exact timeline does not take away from these two clearly articulated facts of God’s revelation about His creation.  1) God created it all out of nothing, and 2) God created man, special and separate, in His own image.

The absolutely fascinating part to me is that when I look at the science, I see these same two facts confirmed.  I have already written here about how I see the Big Bang theory fitting perfectly into the idea that God created the world from nothing.  And moving on from there, evolution as a creative process would have been impossible without the supervising hand of God.  In my opinion, the science of geology, biology, chemistry, physics, and astronomy all point to the handiwork of the Creator God and the “genius of the God who did it that way.”

At the risk of digressing, think about the eye for a moment.  We used to use the complex design of the eye as evidence against evolution, and as evidence against a random natural selection form of evolution we were exactly right to do so.  Where I would take the argument today is not that the evolution of the eye is impossible, but that if evolution of the eye is how it happened, God was at work in the intricate design and creation of the eye no matter the time frame for its creation.

Alan Rogers, in his book The Evidence for Evolution tries to make the case for the evolution of the eye by natural selection.  In my opinion, his chapter on the eye reads like a fairy tale.  Despite his book being somewhat helpful in the big picture of how things appear to have evolved, when he dives into the natural selection aspects of things he is way off the mark.  A designer is required for the eye and a million other complex aspects of evolution.  I think the theories of the Big Bang and evolution actually support the belief that God created the world out of nothing.

Now on point two – man is a unique creature made in God’s image – we are again supported by science and the simplest of observations.  Without the Bible, we would not know that our unique image came from God Himself.  But even without knowing the “who”, the fact that man is unique from the rest of the animal kingdom is so obvious that it almost requires no discussion.  Our personality, vocabulary, intelligence, dominion, ingrained morality, and recognition of beauty are just a few of the ways we are unique.  And our ability to operate in ways that are aesthetically and morally beautiful has no basis in the world of random natural selection.  We only operate in those ways because we bear the image of God inside.

I remember a few years ago when the science community was celebrating that a chimp had learned to recognize over 200 words after 25 years of training.  The observation was meant to convince us of our similarity to the ape world.  I looked at my toddler who was learning about 200 words a week and thought, “Not really buying the intelligence similarity”.  I believe the science of human psychology and physiology fully supports that we are made in the image of our Creator.

So where does that leave us?  I think that even in the area of evolution we are back to the strong marriage analogy for the agreement of science and the Bible.  I think it is important when viewing the science objectively to not come at the topic with a preconceived notion of the only way God could have done things.  We actually limit God if we insist on only one way He could have done the job.  True science is a wonderful world of discovery where we learn that, “The more we study and understand the universe, the more we recognize the genius of the God who did it that way.”

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“The God Who Did It That Way”

I hope our last few posts have opened your mind to the fact that Christians can approach science with a curiosity and a child-like wonder without giving up their faith.  Science and faith are not divorced parents who leave us in the spot of having to choose between one or the other.  Rather, they are like a strong marriage where disagreements arise, but eventually get worked out.  In a marriage, when two people are focused on the same goal, they usually find ways to work out their differences.  Likewise, my interest in science and my pursuit of faith have the same goal; seeking the truth.  The apparent differences between the two get worked out.

My advice to believers everywhere, and especially to young people, is do not be afraid of scientific discovery.  Do not be afraid to pursue a career in physics, biology, or chemistry.  Do not be afraid of the secular bias of your college professor.

Science, at its core, is about data, facts, and theories that are basically independent of a religious angle.  But scientists who do not believe in God will imply – or even forcefully require – that one interprets all science through a purely natural lens that excludes God.  I hope over these last few posts that I have whet your appetite to the idea that our latest discoveries in science actually make the most sense, have the least “something just happened”, when we include the Creator God in the picture.

Is the universe 13.8 billion years old?  I don’t know.  God has not specifically spoken on this subject.  But I find an order out of chaos, a beauty in the complexity of the Big Bang theory that could only have happened with God at the helm.  Going from the Big Bang to where we are today by only the natural march of time and chance is unfathomable.  It is literally impossible.

My friend Dr. Michael Guillen, former science editor of ABC News, has drawn the same conclusion.  As a young professor at Harvard University, he began to question how the incredible beauty and order and form of the universe from the smallest subatomic particle to the most massive galaxy could stay so consistently perfect without a creator.  Those questions inclined his heart and mind toward God.  Reading the Bible and believing the gospel took him the rest of the way.

So rather than fear scientific discovery, we should see the hand of God in all that we discover.  I like the way Professor John Lennox of the University of Oxford put it when I heard him speak at Park Street Church in Boston.  In the context of not fearing new discovery – whether in the fossil record, the Cosmic Microwave Background, or the human genome – he said, “The more we study and understand the universe, the more we recognize the genius of the God who did it that way.”

May you recognize and be encouraged by “the genius of the God who did it that way.”

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Leap of Unfaith

There is an underlying current in some parts of the science world that Bible-believing Christians are not using our brains.  That we have turned off our curiosity.  That we ignore science and follow ancient myths.  We are accused of taking a “leap of faith” into the unknown by believing the Bible is true rather than following where science leads.

I see it as exactly the other way around.  The secular scientists are taking the leaps of faith – or should I say leaps of unfaith, since these leaps ignore the Creator and His infusion of order, design, and purpose into the universe.  Let me give you an example.

We have talked at some length about the super-squished time line of the Big Bang theory.  In the first billionth of a trillionth of a second the universe went from a singularity to a unifying superforce to the separation of the four fundamental forces (gravity, electromagnetic, the strong and weak nuclear forces) and the formation of elementary subatomic particles.  In the middle of this evolving stew, a very interesting battle was taking place.

In the blink of an eye, as matter began to materialize from the super dense state of pure energy, its mortal enemy antimatter arrived on the scene as well.  Based on the physics as we understand it, matter and antimatter were created in equal numbers.  Their mission was to quickly seek out and destroy each other.  Every matter particle that hits an antimatter particle was annihilated.  In short, all matter should have been destroyed.

Here is our atheist friend Dr. Lawrence Krauss, “All the matter would have eventually found the antimatter and they would have destroyed each other producing pure radiation and we would now have a universe – I was going to say we would now be living in a universe of pure radiation.  But we wouldn’t be living in such a universe because we wouldn’t be here.  There would be nothing but radiation.”

But we are living here.  We do exist.  Matter exists.  Matter unexpectedly won the battle over antimatter.  And the physics involved give us no reason why.  For some unknown and unexplained reason, “something happened” just after the Big Bang that tipped the balance in favor of matter in its war with antimatter.  Something that theoretical physicists do not have an answer for.  Because matter exists, the secular scientist has to take a leap of unfaith and just say “something happened”.

I don’t know about you, but I am a curious person and I do not like explanations like “something happened”.  It sounds too much like a child standing next to a broken vase.  Is “something happened” really the best we can do.  I think I know what happened.  God in charge is what happened.  God creating the heavens and the earth is what happened.  When matter won out, God had you and I in mind.  Believing that God is the reason matter won out is not a leap of faith.

Yes, it involves faith.  But I would not call it a leap.  I find it to be a perfectly reasonable and scientifically acceptable response to the evidence all around us.  The naturalists are the ones taking the leap; seeking a natural explanation for what only God could have done.

Be encouraged.  Your faith is reasonable.  True science is not its enemy.  True science puts us on the path of discovering how God did what He did.  And true faith is not a leap in the dark, it is a leap into understanding the world that God has created.

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Tell Me Why

We now have a robust theory (the Big Bang) for the origin of the universe.  And we also have a scientific model for how it has progressed since.  But no matter how deep we drill down into our science world, we are missing the answer to one giant question:  Why?  Why is the universe here?  Why are you and I here?  Why did things develop this way?

It is interesting to me that while science may not know the why, scientists do know that something very special is happening here.  Let’s start by looking at one of the forces that was created and active in that first billionth of a second of the universe’s existence; the force of gravity.

Dr. Michio Kaku is a theoretical physicist and popular figure in science news.  You may recognize Dr. Kaku and his flowing white hair from appearances on CBS This Morning, the website Curiosity Stream, or those Turbo Tax commercials.  In a documentary titled, How the Universe Works: Expanded Edition, Dr. Kaku says this about the origin of the universe, “We think that the original universe was a state of perfection; a single unifying force that existed at the instant of the big bang.”

Soon after the “instant of the big bang”, the force of gravity broke off from the unifying force with just the right properties to carry our universe through the ages to life as we know it today.  Again, here is Dr. Kaku, “If gravity were a little bit stronger perhaps we would have had a big bang which would stop and then it would re-collapse immediately into a big crunch.  Life would be impossible.  If gravity were a little weaker, then we would have a big bang that just keeps on going and the universe would freeze to death.”

Do you get the picture?  Gravity sprung forth from the unifying superforce at exactly the right strength to create galaxies, stars, and life itself.  I believe this “fine-tuned for life” points to a Creator.  I believe it points to God.  The universe is not a random accident.  And this uniqueness is recognized and understood by much of the science community.

Dr. Kaku, not a professing Christian to my knowledge, sees the same thing.  He concludes in the show, “So our universe in some sense is fine-tuned.  We are just right to have a universe that expands slowly making it possible to create DNA and life as we know it.”  Yes, just right to create life as we know it.

I believe that “life as we know it” is the “why”.  It is the why the universe is here.  It is the why you and I are here.  It is the why it developed this way.  God is the Creator behind the why.  God is the “perfection” that existed at the instant of the big bang.  And He created the universe, He created the earth, He created you and me to experience life as we know it.

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The Search for Earth 2.0

With the Big Bang Theory in their pocket and a new array of instruments at their disposal, astronomers are hot on the trail of looking for Earth 2.0; an Earth-mass planet orbiting a Sun-like star at a distance similar to Earth’s orbit.  Or, to put it another way, the search is on for a rocky planet in a potentially habitable zone?  Will they find another Earth?

I don’t know.  I happen to think that we inhabit a unique place in the universe created by God as a dwelling place for mankind.  But my faith would not be shaken if Earth 2.0 exists.  What is more interesting to me is how many unique and life-giving features of our present Earth keep popping up during our search for life on other planets.  What we are discovering is that just finding another “rocky planet in a potentially habitable zone” may not be enough.

A recent issue of EOS magazine, the newsletter of the American Geophysical Union, (I am sure most of you have one lying on your coffee table even as we speak) detailed some of the latest developments in the search.  One of the foremost efforts is to find a planet with surface water, a life-essential as we understand it.

Now in our own solar system, both Venus and Mars are considered to be in the “habitable zone” based on their distance from the sun.  There is one small problem, however, to either of them being “habitable”.  Neither planet has liquid water on its surface.  Where did the water go, if it was ever there in the first place?

Regarding Mars, the latest theory suggests that the solar wind that interacts with the planets of our solar system would “strip away the atmosphere and water” if they were to exist on Mars.  Why?  Because Mars does not have a significant magnetic field to protect it from the solar wind.  Do you want to guess a planet in our solar system that does have a significant magnetic field protecting its atmosphere and water from the onslaught of the solar wind?  My guess is planet Earth.

Let me quote from the EOS article, “The study of the magnetic field and its interaction with the solar wind is an important element for understanding how Earth’s magnetic field might have protected our home planet over the millennia.”  Did they say “might have protected?”  I would argue it has positively protected life on this planet.  Who knew something as benign as the earth’s magnetic field could be so important to sustaining life?

Why does Earth have the required magnetic field for life and Mars does not?  Is that the random outcome of planetary evolution?  I think it is one small piece among hundreds of small pieces of evidence that God has created a planet where life as we know it can thrive.  Welcome to your unique and wonderful home, Earth 1.0!

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A Universe From Nothing

I first heard Dr. Lawrence Krauss describe the Big Bang Theory regarding the origin of the universe on an afternoon radio program.  The topic was strictly scientific and there was no reference to God or religion.  Later, in my search for more information on the subject, I came across one of Dr. Krauss’ most popular books, A Universe From Nothing.

Did I read that right?  A Universe From Nothing?  With a title like that, I thought, “Wow, this guy must be a Christian.  Who else would pick that kind of a title?  Only a like-minded scientist who has discovered the incredible connection between what we now theorize about the first moments of the universe and what the Bible describes as God creating the world out of nothing.”  I could not have been further from the truth regarding Dr. Krauss’ religious affiliation – or more precisely – his lack thereof.

Dr. Lawrence Krauss is an atheist.  Dr. Krauss’ book is as much an anti-religious pamphlet as it is a science textbook.  His idea is that the universe came from nothing.  Exactly nothing.  No God.  No Creator.  No nothing.  And, in my opinion, he could not be more off base.

So how do two scientists look at the same Big Bang theory and draw such opposite conclusions.  It all starts with our presuppositions.  I believe in the supernatural.  I believe that a world exists outside of our five senses; a world we experience by our spirit and by God’s revelation.  In that world, the Big Bang theory of instantaneous creation fits what we would expect from a God who spoke the world into existence by the power of His word.  It is a world that theists – believers in God – are comfortable in.

Dr. Krauss, and many scientists like him, have created a world with no room for the supernatural.  It is a world of creation and order only dictated by natural processes.  And to be honest, it is a world that can be constructed from today’s theories and observations.  I just don’t find it to be the best fit for all that we experience and observe.  But it can be done.

As a Christian scientist, I am quite comfortable with both a supernatural beginning to our world and supernatural interventions that go against the natural flow.  I believe God has ordered the world such that it generally works along the lines of scientifically understood processes.  And that might lead one to conclude that it has always been this way.

But thinking along this path of every explanation being a natural one ignores the strong evidence that on many occasions God has supernaturally intervened in our world.  In pre-historic time with the creation of man and woman, in ancient time when He sent His Son Jesus to dwell with us, throughout history as God built His church around the world, and in future time when Jesus returns to earth.

The bottom line is this.  Don’t let the naturalists chip away at your faith.  They are the small thinkers, confining everything to a small box of natural processes.  They are living in a fantasy world of their own creation.  They reject the possibility that “something” coming from “nothing” might mean there is a “Someone”.  I have met the “Someone” as I think most of you have as well.

We are the big thinkers.  We are the ones embracing both tangible and intangible reality.  We are the ones willing to accept a supernatural intervention into our world.  So don’t let these smooth-talking naturalists have the last word.  Brilliant, but Godless, scientists may be able to unravel the scientific mysteries of the universe, but they are not the ones to look to for the complete theological picture.

Now another reason believing and non-believing scientists might go on divergent paths when faced with the same data has to do with our opinion about the earth.  To the skeptic, Earth is just one of billions of random planets.  But when they say this, they are ignorant of some pretty special features about our planet; features that make it uniquely tuned for life.  Something we would expect from our life-giving Creator.  We will talk about it next time as we search for Earth 2.0.

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Don’t Be Afraid of the Big (Bad) Bang Theory

The Big Bang Theory is the standard model for the formation of the universe and is widely accepted among today’s physicists.  So my question for you is this, “What does this standard model and its acceptance mean for those of us who believe that God created the heavens and the earth?”  In my opinion, it means something quite spectacular.

Here is the standard model in a nutshell:  The universe sprang into existence as a “singularity” around 13.8 billions years ago.  This “singularity” was infinitesimally small, infinitely hot, and infinitely dense.  (How do you even wrap your head around infinite as a quantity?  Not sure, but let’s continue on.)  This “singularity” was not a tiny fireball in space.  Space did not exist.  Time did not exist.  Matter did not exist.  Energy did not exist.  They were all wrapped up inside the “singularity”.

Then the “singularity” suddenly inflated.  This sudden inflation was so rapid and so large that we have come to refer to it as the “Big Bang”, and its result is the universe that we now inhabit.  The fascinating piece of the puzzle to me is that this inflation was not a constant and linear path through 13.8 billion years.  No, when we say “suddenly inflated”, we mean “suddenly inflated.”

How sudden?  We measure time associated with the major events of the big bang in 10-43 seconds.  That is a decimal point followed by 42 zeroes and a 1.  That is a pretty tiny part of a second.  Important events at the beginning of the expansion such as the separation of the four forces (gravity, electromagnetic, the strong and weak nuclear forces), the creation of matter and antimatter, the formation of quarks, gluons, and other elementary particles, rapid cooling, and much more are all measured in very very very tiny fractions of a second.

So when we say “sudden”, we mean a sudden that is almost impossible to imagine.  And when we say “inflated”, the numbers are just as incredible.  The current theory has the universe increasing by a factor of 1026 in the first fraction of a second.  That means going from the subatomic (smaller than the particles of an atom) to the cosmic (think huge galaxies) during these incredibly small time frames of the first second of the universe’s existence.

Again, by “sudden” we are talking about time measured in 10-43 pieces of a second, and by “inflated” we are talking about the building blocks for every star and every planet in the cosmos created within that first second.  Pretty incredible.  Can you see where I am headed?  Even as a math and physics guy used to working with outrageous numbers, the reality of the situation is that “suddenly” might as well be “instantaneous”.  Because realistically, that is what it is.

As a believer and a scientist, this gives me goose bumps.  The prevailing theory for the formation of the universe suggests that all that we see, no matter how far we peer into deep space and time, was literally created instantaneously out of nothing.  Does that sound like a creation account you are familiar with?  It should, because it fits one of the main tenets of our faith.  God created the world ex nihilo; out of nothing.

The scientific steps that brought us to this point is a fascinating story in its own right, and I do not think we arrived at this understanding by accident.  Dr. Lawrence Krauss, one of the science popularizers of the Big Bang Theory, recently said, “We are fascinatingly lucky at this point in time to be able to see the evidence of the Big Bang.”  Are we “fascinatingly lucky” or is God revealing the wonder of Him instantly creating the world as we know it from nothing as the Bible teaches?

It all depends upon your point of view.  It all depends on your presuppositions regarding religion and the supernatural.  The connection between the “Big Bang” and God’s instantaneous creation of the world is stunningly obvious to me.  To Dr. Krauss, not so much.  It is a comparison we will take up next time.

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The Bible and Science – A Strong Marriage

I recently attended a presentation here in Franklin by Dr. Michael Guillen, former science editor for ABC News.  It is good to have another science geek in the neighborhood who is also serious about the Bible.  In fact, his talk was about science and the Bible.

I liked the word pictures that Dr. Guillen used in describing the current state of affairs.  He said that the world insists that science and the Bible are like divorced parents.  They are incompatible.  And as children of this divorce, we can no longer live with both parents.  We have to choose.  We have to choose one or the other.  But, as Dr. Guillen pointed out, that is not an accurate analogy.  And, as a truth-seeker in both the science world and the absolute truth of Scripture, this is a choice I am not going to buy into.  It is a box that I am not going to allow myself to be trapped in.  Because it is not necessary.

Dr. Guillen paints a more accurate picture of the relationship between science and the Bible by describing them as partners in a strong marriage.  That is a good analogy.  They are compatible.  They support each other.  We can find compatible and truthful answers in both.  Are there ever disagreements in a strong marriage?  Of course there are.  And we have places today, such as evolution or the age of the earth, for example, where science and the Bible appear to be at odds.

But just like any strong marriage, the issues get worked out.  This is the long view of science and the Bible.  Issues in the past where the disagreement seemed intractable have faded away as we gained more and more understanding in how our world truly works; of how science and Scripture work in tandem.  I think that compatibility is part of why so many scientists are also committed believers.  The high percentage of believing scientists is one of the clearest evidences that the issues get worked out.

In 1916, a survey of one thousand prominent American scientists revealed that 42% believed in a personal God.  While the public was appalled at the low percentage, the authors of the survey suggested that as scientific knowledge progressed through the twentieth century the number would soon approach zero.  Why?  Because these researchers were of the divorced-parents mindset about science and God.  And the rise in scientific understanding would put an end to belief in God.

But their conclusion proved incorrect when the study was replicated in 1997 with a new group of science luminaries.  The percentage of “believers” was 39%, not much different then eighty-one years earlier.  In addition, many respondents to the 1997 survey decried the narrow line of questioning which followed the original survey word for word equating belief with the 1916 Evangelical Christian view of God.  Many participants who answered “no” to the narrow line of questions indicated a belief in a supreme being in their written comments.

Remember the prediction in 1916 was that the number of believing scientists would go down to zero in a direct correlation with an increase in scientific knowledge and discovery.  But the percentage remained roughly the same, a finding that surprised the authors of the new study.  Why?  Because, again, the new authors were operating from the divorced-parents mindset.

No, science and the Bible are like a strong marriage.  And in the narrow world of science that I can understand as a geophysicist, the rapid expansion of scientific knowledge and theory continues to support and strengthen my biblical world view; not argue against it.  Next post, we will discover one of our most unlikely allies in the strong marriage of science and Scripture when the Big Bang Theory steps up to the witness stand.

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You Must Be Born Again

Nicodemus was a member of the Jewish ruling class of Jesus’ day.  One evening, Nicodemus approached Jesus to inquire,  “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (Jn 3:2).  Nicodemus was saying what I am sure many were thinking.  Jesus’ miracles pointed the way to His being sent from God.  But Jesus was so far from fitting the mold of what the Jews expected the Messiah to be, that even the Jewish leadership was confused by His identity and His message.  Who is this Man?

Jesus answered Nicodemus’ inquiry with a powerful word picture.  “Nicodemus, if you want to join My kingdom, you must be born again” (Jn 3:3).  What a curious answer to the question.  Looking back, with the rest of the story now in our hands, we can see what Jesus was saying.  But think about what a head-scratching statement this was to Jesus’ contemporaries.  Nicodemus was so confused that he tried to pin Jesus down on how a man could enter his mother’s womb a second time.  What does Jesus mean, “You must be born again?”

Did Jesus have several options for a metaphor here to visualize how we enter His kingdom?  Or is there something specific in why Jesus chose this comparison?  Why did Jesus equate entering His kingdom with physical birth?  I think the word picture He used could not have been more powerful.

I believe a reasonable reading between the lines of Jesus’ short response is this.  You do not enter My kingdom by experiencing a moral makeover or moral improvement of some kind.  You do not enter My kingdom by adding a higher standard to the law you already know.  You do not enter My kingdom by an improved path of sin management.  No, the message I proclaim is a complete and radical transformation into a new person.

Your old heart is so wicked, it cannot be cleaned up.  You need a new one.  Your old nature is so lost, it cannot be turned to righteousness.  You need a new nature.  Your disposition to sin is so deep, it cannot be fixed.  You need a new disposition.  Your power to live in obedience to Me is too weak to be improved upon.  You need a new power.  And the list goes on.  You need a new Spirit and a new self.  You need a new life.  You literally need to become a new creation.

The only way to receive a new “all of the above” is to undergo a radical new beginning.  A new beginning so transformative that it is as if you have entered your mother’s womb a second time.  But this time it is a spiritual birth, and when you emerge from the spiritual birth canal, you will possess a new everything.  Not because of what you have done.  But what God has done for you.  God has made you a new creation.

Think about physical birth.  When that little one emerges from the womb, they are fully human.  There is nothing to be added to make them more human.  They are tiny with a need to grow, but everything is already in place for them to do so.

It is the same with your spiritual birth.  By virtue of the New Covenant – God’s new arrangement with you – your are spiritually born righteous.  Just as a baby is born fully human with a need to grow, so you are born again fully righteous with a need to grow.  And just like our little infant, everything is in place for you to do this.  There is nothing more required to make you righteous.

Now we know, looking back, that Christ’s death and resurrection is what secured that new birth for us.  And we also know from the remainder of Christ’s message in the gospel of John that there is a work we need to do to receive the new birth.

The crowd asked Jesus, “What shall we do that we may work the works of God?” (Jn 6:28)  In the context of the passage they are asking Jesus how to join His kingdom.  “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent’ ” (Jn 6:29).  Throughout the gospel of John, Jesus says over and over and over again, “He who believes in me has eternal life” (Jn 6:40).  Our only work is to believe in Jesus.

How do we enter the kingdom of God?  By being born again.  How are we born again?  By faith in Christ; by believing that He took the punishment for our sin in our place by His death on the cross.  And are the implications for this new birth just a one time thing of having our sins forgiven?  No, no, no.  The implications of the new birth are so much more than a single event.  Yes the new birth is incredible in the immediate acceptance and entrance to the kingdom of God.  The transfer to His kingdom is instantaneous.  But there is so much more to the new birth.

If you have embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, you have been born again.  You are a new creation.  May you experience all of the incredible “new” that came along with your new birth.  May you live into all the ramifications of your new identity, your new nature, your new Spirit, your new heart, you new disposition, your new self, your new purity, your new power over sin; everything that came with your new birth.  Welcome to the new!

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The Love of God

At the heart of the most succinct summary of the gospel message is the love of God.  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).  “God loved” is the foundation upon which the gospel stands.  And God’s love reached down and rescued you and me.

In the Old Testament and other Jewish writings, God’s love was reserved for the children of Israel.  We have some hints here and there that the Gentiles would eventually be included in God’s redemptive plan, but His love appears to have some boundaries.  In the New Testament, God’s love is shown to be boundless.  “God so loved the world.”  His love was now showered upon the entire population of the earth.  God’s love for “the world” makes it possible that “whoever” believes has eternal life.  As part of the progressive revelation of God’s character, we now see God’s love without limits or partiality.

Did God change?  No, but as with many aspects of God’s character, the curtain is pulled back in the New Testament and we see and experience more and more facets of who God is.  And at the heart of who God is, at the heart of His character, at the heart of His very essence is love.  God is love.

In his hymn The Love of God, Frederick Lehman put to music an ancient poem that paints a beautiful picture of the vastness of the love of God.  Read slowly and let the enormosity (God’s love is so beyond description that I could not even come up with a proper English word) of God’s love fill your soul:

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

As a holy and beloved saint, wrapped up forever in God’s love, may this be your and the angels’ song.

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Seeing the Father in the Face of Christ

Last time we ended with the idea from II Corinthians 4 that we see the glory of God when we look into the face of Jesus.  Beyond all the wonderful descriptions of our heavenly Father that we have uncovered in the New Testament, the greatest revelation still remains in the person and work of Jesus Himself.  The best expression we find for what the Father is like is in the face of Christ.

When we look into the face of Jesus, what do we see?  We see love.  When Jesus wept for Lazarus, “The Jews were saying, ‘Behold how He loved him!’ ” (Jn 11:36).

When we look into the face of Jesus, we see forgiveness.  “And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, ‘My son , your sins are forgiven’ ” (Mk 2:5).

When we look into the face of Jesus, we see acceptance.  “And both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them’ ” (Lk 15:2).

When we look into the face of Jesus, we see compassion.  “And moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him saying, ‘Be cleansed.’  And immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed” (Mk 1:41-42).

When we look into the face of Jesus, we see healing.  “And Jesus was going about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people” (Mt 4:23).

When we look into the face of Jesus, we see humility.  “Jesus rose from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel girded Himself about.  Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded” (Jn 13:4-5).

And ultimately, when we look into the face of Jesus we see a love that sent Christ to the cross on our behalf.  “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13).  “But God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).  But the power of His love did not end at His death.

When we look into the face of Jesus, we see the Son of God bursting forth from the tomb.  “And the angel answered and said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified.  He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said.  Come, see the place where He was lying.  And go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead’ ” (Mt 28:5-7).

And in an incredible stroke of overwhelming blessing, we were raised with Him.  “Therefore we have been buried with Him [Jesus] through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (Rom 6:4-6).

Our power over sin in this present life is a direct result of our union with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.  If you have embraced the message of the gospel, you have been united with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.  And you are now infused with the power of His resurrection life.  His righteous and resurrected life flows through you.  This is what you see and what God invites you to experience when you look into the face of Jesus.

The sheer volume of all the wonderful attributes of God seen in the face of Jesus is vast and we could recount them all the way to the end of the Internet.  But we will end with one more.

Finally, when we look into the face of Jesus, we see the return of a triumphant King.  “The stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken.  And then they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory” (Mk 13:25-26).  Even so, come Lord Jesus!

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“You Have Seen the Father”

Over the past few weeks, we have learned many wonderful things about our heavenly Father.  We have delved into not only His beautiful character and identity, but into how that translates into His caring relationship with us, His children.  But a greater revelation of God the Father is yet to come.  And it is found in His Son, Jesus Christ.  When you see Jesus, you see the Father.

If you are a believer, you have met Jesus.  If you have met Jesus, you have seen the Father.  In the gospel of John, Jesus said,  ” ‘If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.’  Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’  Jesus said to Him, ‘How long have I been with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip?  He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so why do you say, “Show us the Father”? ‘ ” (Jn 14:7-9).

Probably on occasions prior to this passage, but definitely in these verses, Jesus explains that if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.  But the concept seems to go right over the disciples’ heads as Philip asks to see the Father.  So Jesus explains it one more time, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.”  It is a theme found throughout the New Testament.

“[God’s final revelation] has been through His Son, who He appointed heir of all things, through who also He made the world.  And He [Jesus] is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Heb 1:2-3).  Jesus is the exact representation of God’s nature, God’s essence.

“And He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation…For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness of deity to dwell in Him” (Col 1:15,19).  “For in Christ all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form” (Col 2:9).  All the fullness of God Himself dwells in Jesus.  There is nothing missing.

“For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (II Cor 4:5-6).  Do you want to see God the Father in all of His glory?  Look into the face of Jesus Christ.

As we wrap up our series on God, our Father, and our unique relationship with Him, we will explore next time what it is we see about God when we look into the face of Jesus.

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