Friday, November 19, 2010


Thanksgiving is right around the corner. And, trust me, I love Thanksgiving Day. I love celebrating a tradition our country has held for several hundred years, and I love all the food too. My wife and I are hosting our first thanksgiving this year, with several family members flying up to see us in Portland. Noelle is slightly nervous about making the turkey - her first one - but we've already practiced on a whole chicken and did very well, so I'm confident she'll be just fine. But this post isn't exactly about Thanksgiving day... it's about giving thanks in general.

I Timothy 4:4-5 says "For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer." Think about that... everything created by God is good. In this day and age, that verse flies in the face of popular thinking which favors the spiritual over the physical. I know I, for one, find myself sometimes feeling guilty if I'm enjoying physical things, created things. I trick myself into believing that God is most happy with me when I am totally detached emotionally from beautiful sites and good food, thinking instead that I should enjoy him spiritually. While we should enjoy God spiritually - meaning, regardless of our circumstances, or in the middle of tough times, or in the ordinariness of most of life - we as Christians are unique among the world in that we know God is the God of all things physical and made us to enjoy physically pleasing things. Everything created by God is good... the eggs I had for breakfast on an English muffin; the turkey in my refrigerator with which I'll make a sandwich for lunch, the lettuce and fixings that will make a salad later tonight. All of these simple things, created by God, are good. And they are to be received with thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving. Giving thanks. Obvious enough ideas, I know. But are you thankful? To give thanks regularly is to pause and remind yourself and those you are with that God has made things good. We, sinful mankind, abuse what he has made and we are not thankful for what he's done in giving us good things. But as Christians, with minds renewed by God's Spirit living in us, can give thanks today for all he has made. Take some time today, and the next day and the next, to give God thanks for simple and good things you have. Repent of constantly focusing on what you don't have, on what you think you should have. Give thanks.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why Creation Matters

I've never understood the obsession people have with how old the earth is, or the universe for that matter. I guess it has something to do with the fact that I don't have a bone in my body that is interested in geology and stuff. Sure I appreciate it and I know we need thinking Christians in those fields who are interested in discovering more about God's activity in the world, but it sort of loses out in my list of top 10 things to get amped about in life. But during a recent theology class, my professor got into the subject of creationism. He had many insightful things to say and I resonated very much with it. He has a view of Genesis 1 and 2 which is not the majority view - it hovers somewhere between new earth and old earth and, so it seems, he could care less about the final answer to the age of the earth. Ultimately he said he's an old earth guy but if evidence persuaded him to young earth he'd be happy with that too. His main point? Know what you are actually supposed to be fighting against.

In Christian circles, the battle appears to be between old and young earth schools of thought. But in the scientific community, no one regards that as too big of an issue. The greater issue is not "How long ago did the universe get created?" but rather "Is the universe created or random?" Dr. Breshears makes it clear: the true opposition to any Christian view of creationism is not the opposite Christian view, but rather the dominant view of evolutionism (not sure if that's a word but it's one he uses). Evolutionism is the philosophic conviction that everything has come from nothing; nothing created all that we see. Everything that exists is here because of natural processes, completely without the governing of any creator.

Dr. Breshears went on to say that if you are ever talking to someone from outside the faith about the concept of creation, never argue about the age of the earth. It is a useless argument which, in the end, we can't know with perfect certainty. Plus it gets us derailed from the central issue. Rather we need to argue for the fact of creation through reason and data. And the good news is that the data is constantly pointing to the conclusion that the universe had a beginning. This may sound like old news, but has only been true for about 25 years that most of the scientific community agrees on this - they used to vehemently argue that the earth and universe have always existed ("steady state universe" was the term). The great thing? Scientific data keeps pointing back to Genesis 1:1 - "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth..." The problem? The philosophic conviction of evolutionism often keeps intelligent people from following the truth wherever it leads.

Creation is an extremely important doctrine which Christians must hold onto and defend. From the truth of creation we understand that man is made in God's "image" - mankind reflects, to some marred degree because of sin, the characteristics and traits of God. We also know God is not one with the universe, and therefore the earth is not to be worshiped but God alone. We also see God's rhythm for working and resting in creation, something God has made us to enjoy in order to be healthy. We see that God is so powerful that creation came about by the word of God (identified as Jesus in John 1:1-14). We also see reason to enjoy creativity and beauty - God has made a world incredibly creative and humans have the privilege to create in some way just like God did. This list is by no means exhaustive.

So, rejoice in the fact that you have been created by a good and loving God. You are not random, purposeless or meaningless. God has made you in his image and salvation through Christ is, in part, a renewal process of the clear image of God you were made in. If it's your cup-of-tea to research more of the scientific side of things, go for it! Praise God that he has made a world where the more and more we learn about the universe, the more and more we see it pointing back to him.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Thoughts on Forgiveness

The type of forgiveness put forth in the Old and New Testament sets Christianity apart from all other faiths. Forgiveness is spoken of on a human to human basis and a God to human basis. While forgiving one another is an extremely important concept, I am seeking here to illumine some important ideas of God's forgiveness towards us in this article.

In Exodus 34:6-7 God defines himself. He descends in a cloud on top of Mt. Sinai to Moses, declaring his name and character. While I've written about all of the character traits he lists elsewhere, I am being struck deeply with the concept of forgiveness. Moses records that God forgives "iniquity, transgression, and sin" (ESV). The NIV puts it a little better when it says he forgives "wickedness, rebellion, and sin". Wouldn't it suffice for God to just say he forgives sin? Doesn't that encapsulate everything? Thought "sin" is a word nowadays that describes any wrong doing, their are interesting differences in the Hebrew words used in the text.

Wickedness: wrongdoing, with a focus of liability or guilt for this wrong incurred

Rebellion: revolt, i.e., to rise up in clear defiance to authority

Sin: to miss a mark or a way; what is an offense to a moral standard

God reveals that he is the one who forgives all of these things! He forgives guilty people who willfully and knowingly do wrong to others; he forgives those who clearly and intentionally rise up in defiance of his rightful authority, and he forgives those who miss the way he has laid out for mankind to live. God has a moral standard, we fail to meet that standard, and he is willing to forgive it. This is good news!

But, as you may imagine, there's more. The fact of the matter is that God makes it clear that he will "not let the guilty go unpunished", and this is a concept repeated throughout the Bible in one way or another. So, how can we guarantee God's forgiveness? Faith in the cross of Jesus Christ.

First, the cross. The cross says, basically, "your sin is this bad". It must be justly punished and death is the just punishment for sin. Death is the result of sin - from the first sin of Adam and Eve to every other person - all death can ultimately be explained by sin. It would not be wrong to say that even though there are thousands of "causes" for death ranging from murder to cancer to accidents, the foundational cause of death is the existence of sin. And so, God deals with sin perfectly in death. And this is why the death of Jesus on the cross, in my place, means so much to Christians. We realize that not only does God faithfully give the punishment for sin, but he graciously substituted his only Son in our place, dying for the forgiveness of our sin. In forgiveness God "lifts up", or takes away, our sin from us. He placed it on Jesus and gives us Jesus' righteousness as a gift (Romans 3:21-26). Martin Luther famously referred to this as "The Great Exchange".

Second, faith. We must receive this good news (Gospel means good news) as true and respond by repenting of sin. Repenting means basically to turn around, to do a 180 from the direction you were going and head in a new direction. To repent of sin and trust in Christ's death on the cross for you is what it means to place your faith in Jesus. It begins in an instant, when you acknowledge it as true and acknowledge your need for Jesus, and continues for the rest of your life as a Christian. Indeed, we must "live by faith", believing constantly that God's promises are true and his ability and willingness to forgive is as great as he says it is.

God's forgiveness runs deeper than you know, deeper than I know. It is impossible to overstate the importance of God's willingness to pardon us, to lift up our guilty sentence and give us, free for us but costing his Son, forgiveness. If you are a Christian, dwell on God's forgiveness in your life. If you are not a Christian, I plead with you to consider this good news, this Gospel. Do not assume God will wink at your rebellion, your disobedience, or even unknown sin in your heart. The way to a right relationship with the creator God who has made the earth and all that is in it is through faith in Jesus Christ. Trust that he is just in all his ways and will punish sin, and trust that he is gracious enough to freely forgive you in the name of Jesus.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Recommended Francis Chan videos

Below are a couple of great Francis Chan videos - one on living by faith and not in fear, and another about temptation. Some heavy hitting stuff!

Francis Chan - Balancing Beam

Francis Chan on temptation

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Stringing Pearls

I'm reading an excellent book called Sitting At The Feet of Rabbi Jesus for one of my classes. Click on the title to be taken to Amazon to see the book. I'm just a few chapters in but thought I would share some fascinating stuff about how rabbis in the first century often taught their students. It really sheds light on why we often miss the full meaning of a passage or statement because we are so far removed from the world of first century Jews. But we should not despair because the fact that we are far removed from that culture does not mean we can't uncover truth that they knew. The authors of this book mention something called "stringing pearls", and much of what I'm going to say is coming from chapter 3 of their book.

"Stringing Pearls" is a phrase used to describe the method many Bible teachers used to get their point across to their students and increase the students' knowledge of the Bible. The teacher would use parts of verses but intentionally leave off the other part, forcing the student to go back and look at the verse to see what was meant by the statement. Or, they would string together parts of several verses to get one major point across. Jesus seems to have incorporated this method of teaching often. It doesn't mean he was struggling to come up with the words or forgetting the ending of well known verse - he was actually so aware of the Scriptures that he would use parts of verses to make a whole point.

Going one step further, it seems that even God the Father was a fan of this method of using the Bible as well. The example given in the book is the one I want to make you aware of because it takes us way beyond the simple statement. In Mark 1:11, God the Father speaks the well known words "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." I'd always taken that at face value - and even if that's all we ever did it would be quite the explanation of who Jesus is. But the Jews who heard this mysterious voice from Heaven, who were accustomed to their teachers "stringing pearls" together, almost undoubtedly put the three phrases together from three important sections of the Bible. Check it out:

"You are my Son" is from Psalm 2:7 - "He said t me, 'You are my son, today I have become your father"

"whom I love" is from Gen. 22:2 when God commanded Moses to take his only son, whom he loved, and offer him as a sacrifice.

"with you I am well pleased" is from Isaiah 42:1 which everyone believed was a Messianic Prophecy, meaning a statement from God that would have future fulfillment in the Messiah (Jesus).

God, by stringing pearls together from the three major sections of Scripture - Torah, prophets, writings - was declaring that THIS man, Jesus, was the Christ - the long awaited Messiah. Not only that, he hinted at the sacrifice Jesus would become by referencing the story from Gen. 22. And not only that, but by using Isaiah 42:1 he decisively told the people that Jesus is the divine and holy one who they were waiting for. As the authors say, "By quoting all three (sections of the Old Testament), he is proclaiming that the entire Scriptures point to Jesus as their fulfillment" (p. 45).

This whole concept was news to me and I'm excited to dig in some more to see what else I can learn about the Jewish culture that will help open up the Bible in greater ways to me. You really should pick up a copy of this book!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Reflections on Psalm 33

As far as I'm concerned, some Psalms stand out much more than others. This isn't to say that they aren't all important; it's simply to say that different Psalms have effected me at different times in my life. For example, I usually can't resonate with Psalms that give a cry for the Lord's presence because I rarely feel without his presence. It has happened, but rarely. Or, I don't feel such strong negative emotions against enemies (because I can't say I have any) that I'd ask God to wipe them out. That being said, Psalm 33 is one I completely resonate with, particularly right now. I've been learning a great deal in one of my classes about the character of God, and this Psalm exalts in his character. Let's get into a few of the sayings and briefly see how they could (or should) affect us.

"He (God) loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord" - v. 5

God is not someone who sits in Heaven waiting to strike someone down for lying to their mother. God is not wringing his hands together with a smirk as to say "I'm going to get you one day!" No, the steadfast, or the remarkably consistent, love of God fills the earth. He sustains everyone - even the most ardent hater of God is breathing today because God is allowing him/her to continue breathing. We need a fuller view of God's love, one that is biblical - that while he hates sin and will not leave the sinner unpunished, his love and compassion fill the earth.

"The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations" - v. 10-11

God has a will and a plan for the world that will not be thwarted by mankind. In fact, God will confuse and destroy a nation's plan if need be! The biblical view of God's control is such that he is intimately involved in human history - not only the history of his people, but every nation. This means that any nation that has fallen and is no more has become that way by God's plan. History is not simply the study of things past as if they are mere "happen-stances" as some call it - history is, from a Christian perspective, a study of how God has intervened to accomplish his purpose in the world. And his purpose is the redeeming of a people from sin, rescuing them by grace through his Son dying and rising. He has his hand in much more than we have aware of.

"Our soul waits for the Lord, he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name." - v. 20-21

What is your heart glad in today? What brings you the deepest joy? If we're honest we could each name different things that excite and bring joy in our lives - children, marriage, money, accolades, new cars or gadgets... the list is endless. The cry of the Psalmist (and whoever is with him worshiping God) is that God makes his heart glad. Think about that. I often pray for things or events to take place in order to make my life easier or happier. But perhaps what I need to learn and begin praying for is that God would make himself so delightful to me that he would make me glad. By trusting in his holy name - that is, his proven character of grace, mercy, patience, love, faithfulness, forgiveness, and justice (Ex. 34:6-7) - we can delight in him.

Lord, the deepest source of joy is often the very thing that I shun: you. You are the God of all, the One who has made the earth and all that is in it. Make us people who trust so fully in your name, who delight purely in your name, that the world around us would notice something is significantly different in us. Thank you for your faithful love and your salvation. Your counsel and plan will remain forever; I want to fulfill your will for my life personally and your kingdom in general. When I am worried about my future may I remember the words of Psalm 33:22 "Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you." Amen.