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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Freedom

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.

Refrain:
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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The Father Who Qualified Us

The apostle Paul ends his prayer in Colossians chapter 1 with these words of encouragement, “Giving thanks to the Father, who qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light, who rescued us from the domain of darkness, and who transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:12-13).

Who qualified you?  The Father.  Who rescued you?  The Father.  Who transferred you?  The Father.

Your heavenly Father qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints.  You have your papers!  You are approved!  God Himself has stamped a big red APPROVED on your papers.  You are qualified to be here in the company of saints, because God Himself has made you a saint; a saint who is walking in the light.

Your heavenly Father rescued you from the domain of darkness.  By the death and resurrection of His beloved Son, you have been delivered from the darkness of both the penalty of sin and the power of sin.  As a new covenant saint, you have been set free from sin’s power.  Sin shall no longer have dominion over you.  Sin shall no longer be your master (Rom 6:14).

And finally, your heavenly Father transferred you into His kingdom.  We are now – in the present age – citizens of the kingdom of God.  The words “rescued” and “transferred” are past tense.  This transfer, this move to the kingdom of God, is not in the distant far-off future.  It has already happened when we placed our faith in Christ.  And this transfer is a complete “drag and drop” into the new kingdom.  We didn’t just have something added on to our old home, some new wing added to our old residence.  You were lifted from your old home in “the domain of darkness” and dropped into your new home in the “kingdom of His beloved Son”, the kingdom of God.  This kingdom is your new home in the here and now.

Your new home is an invisible kingdom ruled by an invisible King, our heavenly Father.  But even if He is invisible, we know a lot of great things about Him by His revelation in His Word.  Invisible does not mean unknown.  We have learned over the past few weeks, that our invisible Father is extremely present in our lives as our provider, our gift-giver, our personal trainer in righteousness, our deliverer, the One who lives inside us, the River who flows from within, and the one who loves us very much.

And even with all these wonderful things we have learned about our heavenly Father, His greatest revelation about Himself is yet to come.  We will discover it next time.

 

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Fear and the Good Father

“And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (I Pet 1:17-19).

If you can imagine the best possible father who adores you, who provides for you, who gives you good gifts, and yes, who disciplines you for your own good, you are beginning to see what your heavenly Father is like.  He is not only “like”, but so much more than the best father we can imagine.

But as we said last time, God is not an indulgent father.  He has a discipline program, a training regimen, designed to mold us into the righteous image of His Son.  And just like our earthly fathers instilled in us, there should be a healthy fear of our Father’s discipline.

When Peter talks in this passage about “the time of your stay upon earth”, he is highlighting the fact that we are actually aliens on this planet.  Our citizenship is in heaven.  Our eternal home is in heaven.  Our true King is in heaven.  Our Father is in heaven.  And we honor our Father by holy living.  We demonstrate our loyalty to our true King by our righteous behavior.

The fear referred to in these verses is a healthy fear, a reverent awe.  The ESV Study Bible notes that, “The fear in verse 17 is not a paralyzing terror but a fear of God’s discipline and fatherly displeasure; it is a reverence and awe that should characterize the lives of believers during their exile on this earth.”  We are to have a healthy fear of disappointing our good and loving Father.  We should have a healthy fear of treating lightly the sacrifice that was made for us, the precious blood of Christ.

This is not a fear of “God is waiting to pounce on us and crush us at our first offense”.  Fearing that kind of treatment from our Father requires us to explain away so much of the New Testament message about our good Father.  It requires us to ignore so much of the New Testament teaching about who we are as God’s child and how He treats His children.  We would have to cast aside His promise of His unconditional love, care, and protection.  And yes, we would have to neglect His own description of His discipline as being for our good; never capricious, never random, never mean.

There is a healthy fear of the Lord in the New Testament, but it is a reverence informed by all we have learned about our good good Father.

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The Good Father’s Training Program

If you have embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, you have a brand new connection to God Himself.  He is now your Father.  He identifies Himself as your Father.  He calls you His child.  As we have explored our new Father-child relationship over the past few weeks, we have come to learn that God is a good Father.  He is the giver of good gifts.  He loves you with an everlasting love.  He provides for your needs.  He truly is a good, good Father.

But God is not an indulgent father.  In fact, as one of His children, we will experience discipline, training, and even pain at the hands of our good Father.  “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him.  For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives” (Heb 12:5-6).

The Greek word translated “discipline” in this passage refers to a training regimen.  God has you on a training program.  He is training you in righteousness; in righteous living.  And this training program may involve pain.  But the beauty of God’s training program, and the most important thing to take away from this passage is that the pain is never random, cruel, capricious, or evil.  God’s training program is always fueled by His love for us and for our good.

The author of the book of Hebrews goes on to explain, “God deals with you as with sons.  For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.  Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them.  Shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness” (Heb 12:7-10).

If we are true children of God, we will all experience His training program.  Just as we respected our fathers who disciplined us for earthly goals, should we not more so worship and respect our heavenly Father who disciplines us for “our good and to share in His holiness”?  Our good and our holiness are the desired outcome of the training program of God.  And that training program may include the pain of discipline on our way to the joy and peace of righteousness that it produces.

“All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb 12:11).  The goal of God’s training program is not only our good and our holiness, but also joy and a peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Now the beauty of this journey and what may set this apart from what you have heard in the past about God’s discipline is that God’s training program does not take place in a mysterious and unknown vacuum.  It is not meant to be painful in a way that keeps us in the dark.  It happens in the framework of God being the good Father and loving us with an everlasting love.  God’s overarching attribute in His dealings with His children is love.  Even God’s discipline is motivated by His love, “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines” (Heb 12:6).

The upshot of this is that the discipline of God should always be understood through the lens of the good Father.  Because God Himself is using that analogy in the Hebrews 12 passage.  He is telling us what to expect of Him based on what we experience at the hands of a good earthly father.  Based on that comparison, we know that His discipline will never be capricious, never be random, never be mean, never be beyond understanding.  Even if the reason is delayed, our knowing that the Father is good informs our faith to trust His timing.  Again, think about this comparison with our earthly fathers.

Every good father disciplines with the goal clearly explained to the child.  In fact, before we discipline or correct our youngsters, we go out of our way to make sure they understand what behavior is expected.  We go out of our way to make sure they understand why they are being disciplined.  We make clear to the child what they did wrong.  They know what behavior needs to change.  A good parent never disciplines in a random, unexpected, surprising, or capricious manner.  And based on today’s Scripture, we would not expect our heavenly Father to do so either.  His discipline is always fueled by His love.

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“Do Not Be Afraid!”

When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, one of the first things he said to her was, “Do not be afraid.”  When an angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds on the outskirts of Bethlehem, his first words were, “Do not be afraid.”  And God’s word to you this Christmas is, “Do not be afraid.”

We live in a fearful world.  On a national and international scale, we are reminded everyday of who and what to fear.  I don’t know if our ramped up fear is a result of the 24-hour news cycle, or if the world really is going crazy.  As believers, we know what is behind the craziness.  We know that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (I Jn 5:19).  Fear, intimidation, and pure evil are being unleashed on the world in the wake of Satan’s influence.  Into this chaos, God’s word to us is, “Do not be afraid.”

But let’s set the big picture aside, if we can, and bring it down to a personal level.  Even here, we find much to fear.  Family dysfunction, broken relationships, chronic sickness, mysterious pain, financial setbacks, job insecurity, and the worry that accompanies these problems surge right to the front of our brains.  Into this personal chaos, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.”

This assurance from Jesus is not a Pollyanna, naïve, let’s-not-acknowledge-the-pain word from our Lord.  No, Jesus knows all about tribulation.  He knows all about pain; even to the point of carrying the weight of our sin to a painful death on a cross.  And He knows your pain.  He knows your trial.  And He has a word for you.

“In this world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33).  In this world, in this pain, in this fear, Jesus is asking us to “take courage, do not be afraid.”

How can we take courage when, on both a personal and global scale, our world seems to be falling apart?  The answer is the miracles of Christmas.  The first miracle is lying in a manger.  When we stare into the face of the baby Jesus, we are seeing Immanuel, God with us.  We are seeing the miracle of the Incarnation.  God Himself coming to dwell with us.

But there is a second miracle of Christmas that we often overlook.  If you are a Christ-follower, when you look inside yourself you are seeing Immanuel, God with us.  Do you believe that?  It is a miracle.  But, it’s true!  If you have embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, the God of the universe has taken up residence in you.  And recognizing this incredible and supernatural indwelling is key to overcoming fear.

The apostle John highlights this in his first letter.  “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He that is in you than he who is in the world” (I Jn 4:4).  Can you believe it?  Not only are you indwelt with God’s spirit, but it is a Spirit that is far stronger than Satan’s spirit of fear that grips the world.

Believe it because it is true!  The Spirit of God who indwells you is greater than the spirit of Satan that is wreaking such havoc in the world.  Notice the word “overcome” in both Jesus’ statement (Jn 16:33) and the verse above (I Jn 4:4).  We overcome the world, we overcome the spirit of the world, we overcome our fears though the Spirit that lives inside.

Embrace the Spirit of God living inside.  Run to the Spirit.  Walk in the Spirit.  Listen to the Spirit.  When you do this, the light of God’s Spirit will shine in you, through you, and out from you like the light shining in that first nativity stable.  Follow the light into the stable, and let your gaze land on the manger.  Look into the feeding trough.  Look into the face of the baby Jesus and see God Himself.

When we look into the face of Jesus, we see a miracle.  We see Immanuel, God with us.  And when we look in the mirror, we see another miracle.  We see Immanuel, God with us, living inside.  The miracles of Christmas.  The miracles that empower us to, “Take courage, do not be afraid.”

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Prayer and the Righteous Father

“Now Jesus was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not lose heart, saying, ‘There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God, and did not respect man.  And there was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying “Give me legal protection from my opponent.”  And for a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, “Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, lest by continually coming she wears me out.” ‘ ” (Lk 18:1-5).

Then Jesus draws this contrast, “You just heard what the unrighteous judge said.  But God, on the other hand, delights to bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry to Him day and night.  And will He delay long over them?  I tell you that He will bring about justice for them speedily.  However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:6-8).

I used to read this parable thinking of God as the judge in the story.  As a result, it seemed to me that our approach to prayer was to badger God into an answer.  As I studied the New Testament, my emerging view of God as the good Father, the giver of good gifts did not fit the unrighteous judge in this story.

Then it hit me.  God is not the mean judge at all.  In fact, the point of the parable is that God is just the opposite.  God stands in contrast to the judge, not as a similarity.  Look at the opening lines of the parable.  Many of Christ’s parables start with, “The kingdom of God is like…” or “The kingdom of heaven is like…”  But this story does not have that common opening line.

Because this judge is not like our God.  This judge is not like the good Father.  No, the point of the story is that God is the opposite of the unrighteous judge.  God is looking to provide relief and answer to His children “speedily”; the opposite of the judge in the story.

But there is a part for us to play.  The opening verse tells us that Jesus told the parable to illustrate the necessity of persistent prayer.  Our persistent prayer is an act of faith, not an attempt to loosen the purse strings of a reluctant father.  Our persistent prayer demonstrates our faith that God will answer.  The necessity of faith in our practice of prayer is driven home in the last statement in the passage (vs 8).  Will Christ find this kind of persistent faith on the earth?  Will Christ see this kind of faith in His people?

So take heart.  Let your prayers be bathed in faith.  Infuse your prayers in the faith that your good Father “knows all that you need” (Mt 6:32).  Do not grow weary of coming to the Father with your requests.  You are not trying to pry some breadcrumbs from an unwilling father.  No, you are entering the holy presence of the good Father, the giver of good gifts.

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The Father of Light

The contrast of light and darkness is a prominent theme in Scripture.  “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them” (Is 9:2).  This well-known verse opens Isaiah’s prophecy regarding the coming Messiah.  The darkness that covered the land prior to Christ’s coming will be swept aside by the light of His glory.  The “great light” is the glory of the coming Messiah.

In the New Testament, the apostle John announced the coming of the Messiah in similar light and darkness language.  “In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.  And the light shines in the darkness; and the darkness did not comprehend it” (Jn 1:4-5).  Jesus would later say of Himself, “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (Jn 8:12).

The theme of light continues in the epistles.  “Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow” (Js 1:17).  The context of this verse is James’ earlier explanation that God does not tempt us to evil because there is no evil within Him.  God is not the author or purveyor of evil.  Rather, according to this verse, God is the good Father; the giver of good gifts.  And the promise that God is good, all the time, will never vary or change or shift.

Have you ever noticed that a flame does not cast a shadow?  Try it with a match or your Scripto lighter.  I was a skeptic when I first saw a picture of this phenomenon.  So I took my lighter into Rhonda’s study and she shined a flashlight my way while I fired it up.  Sure enough, the lighter (and my prominent nose) cast a shadow, but the flame did not.  I thought it was a neat illustration of our heavenly Father, the Father of lights in whom there is no shadow.

God is illumined by His own light such that we can see and comprehend His perfect character, His essence of love, and His constant care over us.  He is totally open in His relationship with us.  There is no shadow.  God has no hidden agenda.  He is not lurking in the shadows waiting to pounce.  God is not hiding, playing hard to get.  The thought that His ways and character are beyond our understanding is an Old Covenant concept that faded away when we were infused with the mind of Christ (I Cor 2:13) and the Spirit of Christ (Rom 8:9).

Rather than lurking in the shadows, God’s light is shining like a laser beam right into your heart, right now.  “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 4:6).  We see and experience the glory of God in the face of Christ.  And that glory is lighting up your new heart; that clean soft shiny new heart you received at your salvation.

So run to the Light.  Embrace the Light.  Celebrate the Light.  And come expecting to be received by the good Father, the giver of good gifts.

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Abba! Father!

Some weeks ago, I wrote about the good Father; the Father who answers when we ask, can be found when we seek Him, and opens the door when we knock.  The picture that comes to my mind in this description of God, the good Father, is this:  God is not a father who is parked in his study, doing his God work while we remain locked out in the hall seeing only the glow of the study light coming out from under the closed door.  No.  No.  No.  As children of God, we have every right to fling the door open, run inside, and like an excited four-year-old, leap into God’s lap.  Is this picture wishful thinking?  Can it really be true?

“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God (i.e. all believers), these are sons of God.  For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba!  Father!’ ” (Rom 8:14-15).  Did you hear that?  We cry out, “Daddy!  Papa!”  And it is these words of tender relationship that inform my four-year-old in the lap picture.

“Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place (God’s personal study in my word picture) by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb 10:19-22).  We have the right to enter God’s study, God’s holy place, God’s personal space by the blood of Jesus.  We have the right to “draw near” by the blood of Jesus.  When we embrace the gospel message, we become adopted, and through Christ, we have direct access to the Father.  And by faith, I believe that when I leap into the air like a child, God’s loving arms will catch me and draw me onto His lap.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him and he with Me” (Rev 3:20).  When we see the light from God’s study and dash down the hall toward it, we do not run into a locked door.  No, we find an open welcome.  When we rush inside, we see God waiting for us and are invited in for tea and watercress sandwiches or a Thanksgiving buffet; whatever fits the need of the moment.  There is a tender relationship in dining together.

If this image of God sounds too tender, too grandfatherly to you, please heed this warning.  Do not let your Old Testament view of God put up a wall between you and your access to the good Father described in the New Testament.  Right there in our Hebrews passage, it emphasizes that Jesus “inaugurated a new and living way” to enter the Father’s presence.  I cannot say this loud enough.  Our access to the Father is a brand new way of relating to God, all made possible by the blood of Jesus.  The Old Testament way, the Old Testament arrangement, the Old Covenant method had been put on the shelf;  literally “made obsolete” (Heb 8:13) by the blood of Jesus.

Can I encourage you?  Do not approach the Father in a way that is obsolete and out dated.  Instead, enter His holy place.  Climb up beside your heavenly Father and find out what He is working on.  Find out what is going on in that God world of His.  And join Him in the work.  Working alongside the tender Father who loves you and welcomes you in.

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Thanksgiving and the New You

I am a stickler for truth in advertising.  When the Bible talks about God’s commands as not burdensome or His yoke as light, I want to know how this happens.  Because, quite frankly, I have felt the weight and burden of Christ’s commands and it was not always pleasant.  And I do not think I am alone in that feeling.

What lifted the burden for me was an understanding of all that changed at my new birth.  And one of the changes was an infusion of a new nature – an infusion of the righteousness of Christ – such that obeying Christ’s commands is now my new normal.  I am not saying my new normal is always easy, but following Christ’s commands has become my second nature and yours too.

When we recognize that Christ is literally living His life through us, that He is in the yoke with us (after all Jesus calls it “His yoke” and I fully expect Him to be in there with me), it lifts the burden.  On the other hand, when we fail to embrace or believe or expect that Christ is living His life through us, we become worn down, oppressed, and yes, burdened by all that He requires.  Our Christian life turns sour and gratefulness is the furthest thing from our minds.

But when we recognize that the gospel message is not only about our initial salvation, but also informs our new power to live the life now, a thankful heart is our natural response.  We can not add anything to what Christ has done for us.  We cannot live the life He wants to live through us by will power and shutting Him out.  We cannot lift ourselves up to righteousness by our bootstraps and true grit.  No, we live the life by accepting all that Christ has accomplished on our behalf.

In the book of Colossians, Paul explains that legalism – working our way to righteousness – is not only foolish, but has no value in defeating the flesh.  He goes on to explain that we live the life, defeat the flesh, and experience victory over sin by living into our new nature; by putting on the new self.  And this new self is infused with thanksgiving.

Gratefulness is so much a part of our new life that Paul comes back to it for three verses in a row as He concludes his treatise on the new self.  “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.  Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col 3:15-17).

In your unity and peace, give thanks.  In Christ’s word dwelling within you, give thanks.  In your singing, give thanks.  And then it is as if Paul looks up and says, “You know the more I think about it, just go ahead and give thanks in everything you do” (vs 17).  Thanksgiving and a grateful heart are that important.

May I encourage you this thanksgiving to thank the Lord for His goodness.  To thank the Lord for the friends and family in your life.  To thank the Lord for His material blessings.  But don’t forget to thank Him for making you a new creation; a new you with a soft and grateful heart.

Posted in Holidays, Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature | 1 Comment

A Tribute to My Friend

Last week our friend, Greg Miller, passed away due to cancer.  The rapid progression of the disease was a shock.  In five short months, Greg went from initial diagnosis of multiple myeloma to death’s door and through to the presence of the Lord.

Greg was a man of faith.  Greg believed and we believed and we all prayed for his instantaneous healing.  Last Wednesday, Greg was completely healed.  But to be honest, it was not in the fashion we had hoped and prayed.

Our friendship with Greg and Dee Dee started when our children shared some homeschooling classes together.  As we got to know them, their warmth and commitment to Christ drew us together.  Greg and I coached little league teams together.  We camped together as families (which always included a baseball game).  Our daughters recorded a beautiful Christmas CD together.  And don’t forget the carpooling.  In Houston, friends show their love by driving each other’s kids around.

Our youngest son, Joe, was a regular at the Miller’s dinner table as was Grant Miller at ours.  When Joe and Grant headed off to Texas A&M, we not only felt the emotional loss of the house turning quiet, but on a practical level, we lost our yard crew.  It was a big yard.

Our children were in each other’s weddings.  We truly have a family connection.  And we will miss Greg very much.

Our prayers now turn to Dee Dee and Kari and James and Xander and Eric and Grant and Scott and Rob.  We pray for God’s comfort, encouragement, and faith to face the future.  Greg is safely home.  But the pain and loss for us and more intensely for Greg’s family is great.  Dee Dee, we are praying for you.

Greg’s journey also brings into focus our own thoughts of someday being truly home; home in the place God has prepared for us to enjoy His presence forever.  But the path to find our way home is different for each of us.  Greg’s path touched many lives.  His influence in his family and friends and coworkers and missionaries will continue long after the journey’s end.  And it is a good and lasting influence.

“Enjoy the reward of heaven, my friend!”

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The Giver of Good Gifts

As we continue exploring our New Covenant relationship with God our Father, we come to Matthew chapter 7.  “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened.  Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone?  Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Mt 7:7-11).

Over and over again, I am drawn to the word “Father” when I read these New Testament passages.  I think we often just gloss over this title for God, maybe because have heard or read it so often.  But stop and think about it for a minute.  If you have embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, God is your Father!  The Sovereign of the Universe; the Almighty; the Omniscient and Omnipotent; God Himself is your Father!  It truly is incredible.

And one of the hallmarks of this fatherly care is that God is the giver of good gifts.  My hope for you is that you had a father who gave you good gifts, though sadly, I recognize that we do not all share this experience.  The “how much more” in verse 11 teaches us that God’s gifts are far superior to even the good gifts of our earthly fathers.

To receive these gifts, our role is to ask, seek, and knock.  There is a role for us to play in this transaction.  God’s promise, God’s side of the equation is to give, to be found, and to open the door.  And the foundation on which that promise stands is His identity as our Father.  We can trust God to come through on our behalf based on one simple fact.  God is our Father and He is a good Father.

Do you need God’s intervention in your life?  Ask.  Do you desire a closer walk with Jesus?  Seek.  Do you need a door blown open?  Knock.  Do you lack resources of some kind?  Ask.  Do you need direction for a pending decision?  Seek.  Do you sense the next step God has for you and your family, but are unsure how to proceed?  Knock.

God is waiting.  This passage starts with ask, seek, and knock, and ends with the assurance that our good Father will bring it about.  The ask, seek, and knock and good things will happen is not just thrown out as a maybe or a wish for or a hope so.  The promise is based on the character of the heavenly Father who is behind the promise.  And the Father-child relationship you share is the guarantee that “in asking, you will receive; in seeking, you will find; and in knocking, the door will be opened.”

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Taking the Wind Out of Our Worry

One of the beauties of the commandments of Christ is that they are never tossed out in a vacuum.  That is, Jesus never expresses Himself as “just go do this because.”  Jesus, in His graciousness toward us, always gives the underlying reason for His commands.

For example, when Jesus speaks against divorce in Matthew chapter 19, he doesn’t just prohibit it and say that’s it.  Rather, He explains that divorce violates the first principles of marriage.  God designed marriage as a lifelong partnership.  “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Mt 19:6).

Likewise, in our current topic of our Father’s care (Mt 6:25-33), Jesus instructs us not to worry; not to be anxious.  But Jesus doesn’t stop with just the instruction.  He tells us the why of “do not worry”.  Jesus demonstrates His compassion toward us by explaining the why.

Jesus says that you do not need to worry because your Father knows everything you need.  Your Father knows everything about you.  Your Father’s care for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field are just a small picture of His infinite and intimate care for you.  Jesus takes the wind out of our need to worry by not just prohibiting it, but by assuring us of our Father’s knowledge, care, and provision.

Following the example of Jesus in taking the wind out of our worry is something I needed to learn in leading our family.  Rhonda and I were married and started our family while still in college.  The combination of children (learning to parent when newly married) and college (having no money) led to plenty of anxiety.

My response to Rhonda’s anxiousness was a flippant, “Hey, don’t worry about it.”  It was a, “Stop worrying.  After all, the Bible says not to worry.”  This was my early approach to spiritual leadership in our marriage.  I did not recognize at the time that Rhonda’s gift for seeing the road ahead made her more aware of the dangers in front of us and the resulting worry that went along with that.  I was seeing life through my more naïve and phlegmatic nature which led to less worry on my part.  I needed to learn to ease her worries by my actions, not just words.  What did this look like in practice?

I discovered many areas of family life where I could ease Rhonda’s worries by taking action.  If Rhonda was worried about our finances and saw no clear path to pay for our next car need that was just around the corner, I learned to lead in planning together how we could save for that purchase instead of just saying, “Don’t worry about it.”  If Rhonda was worried that our homeschooling was going off the rails, I jumped into the planning with her rather than just telling her not to worry while I sat idly by.  If one of our children became disinterested in learning or their chores or connecting with our family goals, I stepped in with a plan to get us on the same page.  Do you see the pattern?

Jesus’ teaching assures us of the “why” to not worry.  In a similar way, those of us in a leadership position can often mitigate the worry around us by not only explaining and living into Jesus’ assurance, but by taking leadership action as well.  It is called leading by understanding and serving the needs of our family.

Posted in The Good Father, Thoughts | 1 Comment