“Anxious for nothing…,” Seriously?!

Over the years, I’ve heard many people say either from the pulpit or in conversation that worrying is a sin. The word ‘sin’ in and of itself, simply means missing the mark; as in an archer missing the bullseye with the arrow shot from his bow. Theologically, it can be rendered as intentional behavior that is outside the will of God (that’s my definition, anyway). Worrying, or anxiety, the word used in Philippians 4:6, is defined as “anxious care” (Wuest), or “disquieting perplexing care … and distracting thought in the wants and difficulties of life” (Henry), or to have “anxious or distracting care” (Bullinger).

Any of these definitions work for me, especially the distracting part. In fact, for professional worriers, distracting could also be obsessing.  Descartes is credited with saying, “I think, therefore I am.” Somewhere in the long line of my lineage, some wannabe philosopher changed this a bit to say, “I think, therefore I worry.” Worrying is one of the primary threads sewn throughout the tapestry of my heritage. I’ve successfully taken distracting care into obsessing care; so much so that I’ve nearly suffered from panic attacks involving hyperventilating with a strong sense of paralysis. Maybe you can relate.

Worrying has taken a toll on my health and on my relationships. And now I’m being told that it’s a sin to boot. Now I’m worried about that.

But how do I stop? Well, let’s read Philippians 4:6-7 and then I’ll explain what I’m discovering works for me.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

As McGee points out, this passage starts with anxiety and ends with peace. But notice what’s in the middle—prayer. It’s interesting to note that the mood of the passage is present, active, imperative; this means that it is akin to a command and that it is an ever-present command. It’s not just a command to stop worrying, but it is also an ever-present antidote to the worrying. In other words, anxiety is always crouching and waiting to pounce on us; whether at work, or home or school or with the doctor, anxiety is an ever-present reality in this life of ours. But so is the antidote, prayer.

 

Hands

Yeah, they’re my hands, but you get the point!

When we feel anxious, Scripture encourages us to specifically pray about our anxiety and ask for God’s help with it (this is basically the essence of the word ‘supplication’). And we do so with thanksgiving; we’re thankful that God not only willingly listens to our prayer, He actually invites us to pray about it; He welcomes it into His presence. Think of it as an always open invitation from God to lift our cares, concerns, and worries up to Him.  I often think of placing the anxiety, whatever form it’s in, into His hands; then I pray that God will empower me to leave it there; to leave this anxiety in His hands and thereby lift it off of my shoulders and out of my guts and into His always open hands.

 

But just how is this operationalized; how is this put into action in everyday situations? It’s taken me years to figure this out, and I am not 100% anxiety-free by any stretch of the imagination; but here’s what I’ve been learning lately.

As we just explored, this passage of Scripture is active, present, imperative. Yeah, yeah, techy-speak, but what it means is that I can recite this section of Scripture as a prayer as often as I need to. And that’s what I’ve been doing lately. When the anxiousness begins threatening me again, I lift the anxious thinking and the specific situation with a specific request to God. Rarely does the situation change, but my internal well-being changes. Slowly, and somewhat strangely, I start sensing God’s peace. I can’t really explain it, and perhaps that’s part of why God’s peace “surpasses understanding;” but the sense of peace is very real and has staying power. My thoughts become freer, I’m able to focus on the present more clearly and my heart slows its palpitations. This calmer state then enables the guarding of my heart and mind through Christ Jesus. This means that when I’m not distracted or filled with anxious thoughts, I am more capable through the indwelling Holy Spirit to keep more anxiety out of my thinking. The stronghold of worry in my life is slowly being uprooted as I spend more time in God’s peace through the ongoing prayer of supplication with thanksgiving.

But now back to the sin part. I don’t think my propensity toward worry or anxiety is sinful; what I think is sinful is refusing to acknowledge it as contrary to God’s will for my life and the subsequent refusal to partake of God’s antidote for it, prayer. But as I become more adept at recognizing the anxiety and quicker to lift it up to God in prayer, the less likely my propensity will turn to sin, and the happier and healthier my life will become.

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Church Stew

There’s a misconception about church. Actually, there are several misconceptions; but today I want to deal with just one of them: church as the Great Melting Pot.

The United States was once referred to as a Great Melting pot. The idea became popularized by a 1908 play called The Melting Pot. The idea is one of blending a lot of different cultures into one, unified society; hence, the United States. However, the metaphor is also a referent to a fondue. A fondue is basically a handful of chesses thrown into a pot that is slowly brought to a high temperature to melt the diverse cheeses into one, homogenous goo. Done correctly, the cheese will be supple and silky, perfect for dipping vegetables, meats, breads and other food items to coat them in the unctuous goodness. If done incorrectly, it will seize up into a hard ball of cheesy grossness. But the basic premise is taking diverse elements and converting them into an indistinguishable new element.

Granted, it may be seen as taking separate elements and unifying them, which is not always a bad idea; but it can also be viewed as wiping out the unique aspects of each element in an effort to distill them down into some other pre-subscribed form. In other words, taking a unique aspect and forcing it to become something it is not to fit a specific, pre-conceived mold.

The Assumption

Church is often viewed in this fashion; as a melting pot requiring unique individuals to become something they are not. As McIntosh and McMahan state, “Scripture does not support an ethnic or cultural exclusivism that retreats into an inwardly focused, self-serving existence” (Being the Church in a Multi-Ethnic Community: Why it Matters and How it Works, 2012, p. 179). The erroneous assumption is based on the false premise that typical church leadership wants all the congregants to be like them, whatever the “them” is. As one of the leaders in our church, I pity the person that’s like me because I know better than anyone the rough edges and character flaws the Lord is still working with me on. Yes, I’m still a work in progress even in my mid-fifties!

Scripture shows a different picture, however. Here’s an ultimate expression of church, it is a church engaged in worship. Check this out:

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

—Revelation 7:9-10

Wow! What a thrilling scene. It’s astounding for many reasons. First, all cultures, nations and languages are represented. Second, it appears that all present can understand the different languages. Third, all the different languages apparently bring a melodious harmony fitting for worship around the throne of God. And, fourth, the focus of worship is Jesus.

It’s Stew

That’s not a melting pot, ladies and gentlemen, that is a stew! Think about the best stew you ever ate. A carrot is still a carrot, an onion an onion, and a potato a potato; but they blend together not in a homogenous, indistinguishable goo; but into a flavorful expression of culinary goodness. Each element is easily distinguishable but is also a vital ingredient that, along with the other ingredients, contributes to a whole that surpasses anything each ingredient could do on its own.

So a church is community coming together with all of its faults, foibles and failures. We all bring our brokenness with us. But we also bring all of our uniqueness with us; all of that unique, individual beauty and gifting that God purposed for us even before our conception (see Psalm 139:13-16). God takes all our brokenness and all of our beauty and giftedness to build our communities into a stew where each element is easily distinguishable, but able to be so much more when paired together with others’ brokenness and beauty. Church isn’t perfect, but it also isn’t a homogenous goo of bland nothingness. It is instead a flavorful expression of God’s grace, mercy, patience and love for humanity.

The Great Calm

Following is the commentary I mentioned in my last post. It is my take on Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee. I decided to go ahead and re-post it now because there’s so much rage in our country that we are in desperate need of calmed souls. Here it is:

The Great Calm

A word of comfort to us, that, be the storm of trouble ever so loud, ever so strong, Jesus Christ can lay it with a word’s speaking.

─Matthew Henry

 

great_calmIt’d been a busy day, but now, finally, they were leaving the multitude behind and sailing off in a small cadre of boats. They were heading to the other side of the Sea of Galilee to hopefully get a little quiet time with their Master and perhaps some sound sleep. But not even half way into their journey “a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat so it was already filling.” Jesus was, of all things, asleep on a pillow in the stern of the boat.

This may be a familiar record to some; it’s from The Gospel of Mark, Chapter 4, verses 35-41 (it’s also found in Matthew and Luke). Apparently, even today, it is not unusual for the Sea of Galilee to all the sudden have storms sweep over its surface due to its somewhat funky geography; it is 700 feet below sea level and is surrounded by mountains that reach as high as 4,000 feet above sea level.  When warm air from the lake rises to meet the cold air from the mountains it can sometimes produce sudden windstorms.  Here is just such an occasion. The disciples, in our vernacular, are freaking out, while Jesus, however, is unmoved and blissfully sleeping.

Fight Familiarity

Being too familiar with this record risks becoming jaded to it or blind to the reality of the situation. I’ve had the opportunity to white-water raft several times in my life. We go with a seasoned guide and always wear our life jackets. Still, there are times when hitting the rapids just right blasts a white wall of water right into my face and body. At the same time, I am of course, being soaked by cold water, being jostled by the turbulent river and smacking into my fellow raft mates as we all struggle to stay in the raft. And sometimes I fall out; that can be especially frightening. Most especially when trapped under the raft; but that’s another story for another time.

Through it all, the experience is exhilarating but at some points, terror does overtake the exhilaration, especially as the wall of water interrupts my ability to breathe or blinds my sight. The disciples in the boat were experiencing the same terror, but theirs wasn’t the kind of terror that would quickly dwindle as the rapid fell to their rear; their terror was a continual onslaught of strong winds and waves beating into their boat and into their faces; tearing their sails and tattering their clothes. If a wall of water smacked into one of their faces as he was trying to breathe, he could very well begin choking. If the water hit his eyes hard enough he could be rendered momentarily blind, just long enough to flip over the edge of the boat into the raging sea, most likely to a watery grave. Or he could blindly bump someone else off the boat to their watery demise. This was no summertime raft trip down the Deschutes or Rogue rivers. This was literally life and death.

No wonder they were so fearful; I would be as well, and most likely so would you.

Finally, they awoke Jesus.

Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the winds ceased and there was a great calm (v. 39, emphasis mine).

Great…Calm

There’s more to the record of course, but you’ll just have to read it for yourself. As many times as I’ve read this record, I’ve never stopped to ponder the words: great calm.  The word “great” comes from the Greek where we get our word mega. Mega, obviously means “great”, but a thesaurus will provide such synonyms as “mammoth”, “jumbo”, or “super”. The word “calm” comes from an unfamiliar Greek word that can also mean “tranquility” or “stillness”.

Putting ourselves back into the shoes of the disciples, we will undoubtedly notice the deafening cacophony of howling winds and roiling seas; and quite possibly the screams of terrified men. We’ll also feel the biting spray blowing like tiny darts flung off the tops of curling waves while our clothes whip against our bodies in slapping stings, leaving angry welts.

Piercing through this din is the voice of Jesus; somehow I don’t think his voice was high and squeaky with fear, but was deep and resonating—authority emanating from every fiber of His being. Suddenly what was chaotic cacophony is instantly super tranquil. All that is heard is the heaving chests of breathless men.

The juxtaposition of this record astounds my imagination: chaos to calm, rage to tranquility, terror to peace, all in an instant, and all at the voice of Jesus.

And as an exclamation point to this record, as soon as the boat finally makes land, they are immediately accosted by a violent man that is hopelessly tormented and untamable (see vv. 5:1-5). But when he encounters Jesus, his storms are equally calmed and he finishes the evening “sitting and clothed and in his right mind” (v. 15).

You see the similarities? The man went from raging insanity to being in his right mind; the storm went from chaos to calm. What is it that Jesus can do in the depths of our souls? It reminds of the lyrics from a song I can’t recall the name of that I think is from MercyMe; the line is something like this:

He calmed the raging sea/He can calm the rage in me.

There’s no great formula for entering this calm, or more aptly put, for having this calm enter into us. We simply invite Jesus into our heart as savior and Lord. If you’ve already done that, then lift your burden, your rage, up to the Him in prayer. It need be no more difficult than crying out in sincerity, “Jesus, I’m scared because _________________, please help me!” Or “I’m so angry and hurt because__________________, please calm this anger!” He may touch you with an unmistakable warmth or with chills, but He will touch you and lead you “beside the still waters” (Psalm 23:2).

Again, because He calmed the power of nature’s fury and the power of demonic fury (the man suffering from insanity), then He can certainly calm the storms in our souls as well.

 

Deity of Jesus, Part 4: The Wider Sacrifice

Today is the last installment of my four-part series on exploring the deity of Jesus Christ. J.17-5.jpgIt began four weeks ago, in reaction to the apparent lack of understanding of professing Christians in grasping Jesus as Emanuel, God with us; and the springboard was John 17:5:

And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5, NKJV).[1]

Obviously, this series has not been an exhaustive study, because I think it requires several lifetimes to begin grasping something so monumental. But you must start somewhere and this series is my attempt at ‘somewhere.’

Exchange of Glory

Pastor Jeremy Treat, Ph.D., in a recent article, connected John 17:5 as a “loving Trinitarian exchange of glory” at the cross where “we see the wisdom of the Father, the grace of the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit.”[2] I think this is a significant understanding of the verse because it implies that Jesus, the Creator, the Preexistent One, is allowing Himself to be treated in shameful and unjust fashions knowing that the end will result in glorification of God via the coming resurrection and the outpouring of salvation via the coming new birth in the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ earthly punishment will culminate with death on a cross through the horrible process of scourging followed by the crucifixion. What kind of God would do this? But Jesus endured in part because of His eternal vision of the ultimate result of such a gruesome sacrifice (cf. Php. 2:8 & Heb. 12:2-3); namely the salvation of humanity.

Only for a moment we need to put ourselves into the shoes of Jesus (cf. Mt. 5:14). While we are not being forced to do this, I think John 17:5 invites us to due to its intriguing concept.

The Wider Sacrifice

At some point in Eternity Past Jesus enjoyed a perfect existence in the Eternal Community (see my post from December 11, 2016). Within the Eternal Community, everything was well and beautiful beyond our understanding and expression and there was no threat to disrupting this bliss; except for His own willingness to step away from it and into humanity as the agent of salvation. All that was beautiful, comfortable and perfect was set aside so that Jesus could come and reside among us (cf. Phil. 2:1-5 and Jo. 1:1-18). So while the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross is very tangible to the believer, we now need to stop and consider the sacrifice of Jesus at the moment of conception in Mary’s womb. Is this the point in time when Jesus “changed His situation?” I tend to think so because Jesus’ sacrifice did not begin in the Garden of Gethsemane; it began much earlier. His sacrifice began at the moment He left the Eternal Community, entering into Mary’s womb so that someday, those that call on His Name, may be saved and thereby destined to eternal glory forevermore with Jesus Christ. His great sacrifice began upon exiting the Eternal Community and, I would suggest, did not conclude until He ascended back into glory (cf. Mk. 16:19, Lk. 24:51 and Ac. 1:9). In other words, His entire life was, among many other things, a continued expression of sacrifice; a sacrifice that we cannot fully comprehend but are invited to at least try to comprehend what we can. Such effort on our part can only expand our faith while also perhaps humbling us a little more as well.

What I have hoped to inspire through this exploration is a deepening of our love and appreciation for Jesus Christ and all that He has done for us. Jesus is God and as such, carries all the powers associated with God. He could have easily eradicated the “human problem” through any means of annihilation but chose instead to come into our depraved condition to lead us out of it and into His glorious Kingdom. Only through Jesus Christ can we be eternally saved and only Jesus Christ could have been the agent of this salvation (cf. Jo. 14:6, Ac. 16:29-31 and Ro. 10:9-10).

Finally, I close with the words of McCready:

Knowing the Son of God has entered into our world in Jesus of Nazareth is transformative knowledge. If it is true, we who believe it can never be the same again. Such belief is not merely a matter of our intellect—it must affect our thoughts, words and actions as well. That Christ is the preexistent Son of God is the basis for believing God has loved us and given himself to us and for us without reservation.”[3]

 While a lengthy quote, I could not have summed it up any better. It is a joy to push the intellect deeper into the things of God, but the real gain is a further grasping of all that God has done for us through His Son, Jesus Christ. Such an exercise only deepens my own love for my Lord and Savior and increasing my desire to make Him known to others. I hope it does the same for you as well. May blessings be yours now and into 2017.

[1] New King James Version Study Bible, (Nashville, TN: Tommy Nelson, Inc., 1997), p. 1799.

[2] Jeremy Treat, “The Glory of the Cross,” Christianity Today, October 2013, p. 58.

[3] Douglas McCready, He Came Down From Heaven: The preexistence of Christ and the Christian faith (Dower’s Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2005), p 308.

Deity of Jesus Part 3: Leaving the Eternal Community

Only when the time was right did Jesus come to earth in incarnate form. I return again to McCready where he reminds the reader that of the Godhead—Father, Son, Holy Spirit—“only the Son has changed his situation in such a way that the term preexistence is helpful.”[1] This is an astounding thought that Jesus “changed his situation.” Changing His situation was a sacrifice that is staggering to comprehend.

Expanding Understanding

The lofty and somewhat circular language is purposeful in reminding us that there are some aspects of God that we just can’t explain because they are beyond the scope of our intellect; the created cannot ever fully explain the Creator (cf. Is. 55:8 & Ro. 9:20-21). For instance, how can something exist before existence? What form was the pre-incarnate Christ in? Did His form change once Earth and Man were created (I ask this since there’s a strong possibility that “the angel of the Lord” was the pre-incarnate Christ)? All of these questions are fascinating and worth further exploration if for no other reason but deepening our love for Jesus and what He accomplished on our behalf.

But now I return to the significance of John 17:5 and grasping that Christ was indeed preexistent. Being preexistent means that He was God and He was no less God in His Incarnation. Therefore, Jesus being God in the form of man is Him truly coming into our world from a beyond-our-understanding-existence. Crabb, similarly struggling with trying to grasp the significance of Christ’s departure from His previous existence, once captured what he thought a conversation was like between Father and Son prior to the incarnation:

‘Father, what you ask is painful beyond description to even contemplate. I cannot imagine what the actual experience will be like of not seeing your face. And yet I am delighted with your plan. It will give me the chance to let people see how wonderful you are. The joy of seeing you glorified makes it worth it all. There is no other way?’

‘No.’[2]

The Eternal Community

Imagine the emotional upheaval Jesus went through to comply with the necessity of taking on the form of a Man. He had indescribable joy in what Crabb refers to as the “Eternal Community.”[3] Along with this joy is perfect harmony with the Father and the Holy Spirit; there was nothing disruptive, painful, or evil. That all changed when Jesus entered the world of Man. Here He was treated in shameful and unspeakable ways. Even today no name draws so much elation or hatred as the Name of Jesus Christ.

So often, and rightly, we recognize Jesus for the incredible sacrifice He gave on our behalf while on the earth, mostly focused on the Passion Week. We cite with pomp and ceremony what Jesus endured at the hands of men. Rarely, however, do we ever hear about the sacrifice Jesus made in leaving His ‘Eternal Community’ to enter humanity on our behalf. Not only that, but He entered humanity in the most vulnerable way: an embryo in the womb. I suggest this because we don’t really understand what Jesus sacrificed by leaving His eternal dwelling, so rather than trying to gain a further understanding of that it so we can teach it to others, we avoid it altogether. I don’t say this to be harsh toward anyone, I have spent much time in the pulpit myself, and I would definitely be intimidated by teaching something that is beyond my understanding; I don’t want to look or sound foolish, but even more, I would not want to say anything theologically inaccurate or dishonoring to Jesus. Still, people need to better understand that Jesus’ sacrifice began long before the Passion Week.

[1]Douglas McCready, He Came Down From Heaven: The preexistence of Christ and the Christian faith (Dower’s Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2005), pp. 12-13.

[2] Larry Crabb, Connecting: A radical new vision (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 1997), p. 59.

[3] Ibid., p. 58.

Exploring the Deity of Jesus, Part 2

john-1

As we explored last week in Part 1 of Exploring the Deity of Jesus (actually titled Jesus and the Startling Stat, John 17:5 clearly speaks to the preexistence of Jesus Christ. Preexistence itself is a difficult concept to grasp. Since humans have a finite beginning we grope for some sort of previous knowledge or anchor[1] to hang the concept of preexistence from. The most likely and accessible anchor of previous knowledge is that of deity; only a deity or divine being could preexist. What’s more astounding is thinking of the word “world” in John 17:5 to mean “universe” as Mounts attests in his definition of the Greek word kosmos (see footnote #5 from last week). Jesus existed before the universe, which of course means that He existed before anything else ever did. Thinking deeply about this eventually derails our train of logic. Jesus is not below logic but rather the opposite, He defies logic, He transcends it, we could even say that logic resides in Jesus since all things come from Jesus (cf. John 1:3 and Colossians 1:17).

Such thinking either troubles or excites the mind that previously held Jesus as not being God. It was hugely exciting for me; and it still is, but why?

Still Exciting

As briefly explored above, only one “thing” or “power” could be in existence before anything else, and that is God. Nothing and no one created God; He has always been and always will be.  God is infinite. Lewis states that, “If anything is to exist at all, then the Original Thing must be, not a principle nor a generality, much less an ‘ideal’ or a ‘value,’ but an utterly concrete fact.”[2]

Here is where some struggle while others celebrate accepting God as a “concrete fact.” If we are to accept God as such a fact, then we now have a choice to accept Jesus on the same basis or not. Accepting Jesus on the same basis is to proclaim accepting His deity; or stated another way, accepting that Jesus Christ was indeed God in the flesh as Scripture attests to (cf. Is. 7:14 & Mt. 1:23).

After “discovering” this verse, I went back to the Wierwille book to see how he handled it. I was not surprised to find that he did not explore John 17:5 at all. Finding this verse absent in that work was the final exclamation point I needed to verify that I had indeed fallen for a great deception and that it was now time to finally move into accepting and even embracing the deity of Jesus Christ as a concrete fact.  Since then I have put a lot of energy into doing the best I can to properly teach Jesus to any I have opportunity to speak to, this includes to my children, pulpit messages, and coffee shop conversations.

Several other verses also attest to the preexistence of Jesus Christ. The more familiar prologue of the Fourth Gospel is the one most people refer to:

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:1-4a & 14, NKJV).

 McCready states that this lengthy introduction from the Gospel of John insists that,

 Jesus’ origin and nature are incomprehensible if seen solely in terms of this world. Only when we read it in the light of his pre-incarnate deity does Jesus’ story make sense. … Christ’s preexistence requires that it identify the Word with Jesus, which the prologue does.[3]

 The prologue of John is thick with theological significance. Walvoord comments on the first three verses of John 1 thusly, “If Christ is eternal, it also is obvious that He is the uncaused cause, the self-existent One. As the Creator of all things, He Himself must be uncreated.”[4] Johnson states that,

 The prologue in this case gives explicit expression to the constant assumption behind the deeds and words of Jesus: he acts and speaks as the incarnate expression of God’s speech. As word gives body to thought, so does Jesus give visible expression in the world to the invisible power and presence of God.[5]

 So while the human mind may struggle with the somewhat ethereal concept of preexistence, that is, existence before anything else existed; the same human mind can easily grasp the existence of another human being. The human being is “concrete” in that he is tangible, physical, and visceral; thus, Jesus as the Incarnate God now presents to humanity a tangible example of the “invisible power and presence of God.” Jesus not only embodies or personifies God, He is God.

Another interesting fact that McCready points out is how similar John 1:1 is to Genesis 1:1.[6] I had not thought about this connector before, but I find it profound because in John 1, as indicated above, we see Jesus preexistent and we see Him linked to the Word of God by in fact being the Word that became flesh. Here I’m tempted to dive into more quotes and references, but will instead attempt to coalesce this into my own thinking; after all, this started with my own journey of faith upon realizing my own gross theological error regarding the truth of Jesus Christ.

My Own Words

Only one being can be preexistent and that is God. Scripture clearly establishes that Jesus Himself was preexistent. Therefore, Jesus being preexistent makes Him God. He is God from before the beginning of the world, or of the universe, so He is in fact God and preexistent before time. I say this because I have heard many teachings state that God is either above or outside of time or perhaps both. But the concept of time seems to have been instilled more for Man than for anything else. We see time first expressed in Genesis by way of measuring the lights in the sky (cf. Gen. 1:5). I find this relevant because Jesus existed in some pre-incarnate/preexistent form even before time. The finite human brain cannot comprehend what existed before existence, but one thing we know from Scripture is that whatever it was, Jesus was there. In fact, the opening verses of John 1 indicate that all things were made through Him; so not only was He there but He was also apparently the initiator of it.

While it may sound somewhat confusing and a little circular, the point I’m trying to make is that Jesus was, is, and always will be; He is the same yesterday, today, and forever; He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end (cf. Heb. 13: 8 and Rev. 1:11 & 22:13). He is not a god in time, but the God of time and all that came before it and all that will come after it.

In Part 3 next we’ll look a little more closely at the Incarnate Jesus.

 

[1] David P. Ausubel, The Acquisition and Retention of Knowledge: A cognitive view (Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000), pp. 8 & 101.

[2] C. S. Lewis, Miracles (New York, NY: Macmillian, 1960), p. 87.

[3] Douglas McCready, He Came Down From Heaven: The preexistence of Christ and the Christian faith (Dower’s Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2005), p. 140.

[4]John F. Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord (Chicago, IL: The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1969), p. 28.

[5] Luke Timothy Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament, 3rd ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010), Kindle loc. 8014.

[6] McCready, p. 141.

 

 

 

Jesus and the Startling Stat

According to a survey by LifeWay Research and Ligonier Ministries and referenced in the November 2016 issue of Christianity Today, 71% of professing Christians apparently do not believe in the deity of Jesus Christ. The survey statement responded to is: “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.” Respondents had three possible responses: 1) Agree, 2) Don’t Know, and, 3) Disagree. Seventy-one percent agreed. The article rightly refers to this as one of “our favorite heresies.” God is not a created being and therefore, Jesus as God with us, is God in the flesh (see Matthew 1:23, Isaiah 7:14, Hebrews 1:3) and is not a created being but is instead, ever-existent.

This is a startling statistic; especially when the “un-deification” of Jesus is typically a common ploy of cults. To un-deify Jesus minimizes His entire ministry, including removing Him from the throne of Heaven and thereby from the throne of our own lives. Once this throne is vacated, anything can then move onto that throne. Such things as the cult itself can hop onto the throne as can materialism, greed, self-worship or something of even more depraved nature.

The main question, however, is why so many professing Christians are confused on the deity of Christ? Are church pulpits not teaching it? Or are pulpits filled with pastors that themselves teach against it? Is it rampant biblical illiteracy? It’s more than likely a combination of all of these elements; still, the statistic is sad and startling.

I’m sensitive to this because I ignorantly spent years as part of a cult (The Way International) that vehemently taught against Jesus’ deity. God worked through a lovely young woman to wake me up to my error in believing this heresy, and since then, I have strived to help people better grasp the truth that Jesus is God.

Now that the first day of Advent 2016 is here, my hope is that as we celebrate the birth Christ and eagerly await His return, and that we do so with a little deeper understanding who Jesus is.

Such a deeper understanding began for me with John 17:5.

“And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5, NKJV).[1]

This Scripture is very different than what the cult taught. Compare John 17:5 to what I had read in years past from Wierwille, “I am saying that Jesus Christ is not God, but the Son of God. They are not co-eternal.”[2] Thus was the crossroads of faith confronting me over a decade ago as I realized I had been part of a cult founded by Wierwille. These two quotes placed together evoke a profound sense of tension for the person that truly wants to follow and honor God, is Jesus Christ God or not?

I will assume as a basic tenet that the inerrancy of Scripture is held by both the writer and reader of this post and state that misunderstandings rest with wrong learning or poor personal interpretation. For instance, as in my case, a logical but ignorant person could be easily fooled by the often repeated Scriptural phrase of Jesus being the Son of God. Many can indeed conclude that a son and a father are two separate entities; they may share similar characteristics due to genetic connections and familial socialization[3], but the similarities do not indicate they are the same person. Hence, it is easy to see how a person unfamiliar with all references toward Jesus could confuse Him as being completely separate from God. Such was my case.

However, in the spring of 2002, after exiting the cult, I was fervently praying one Saturday morning for God to help me understand the truth about Jesus. In that same hour I “stumbled” across John 17:5. This verse was transformational for me primarily due to one word: world. The word in the Greek is kosmos and can be defined as “orderly arrangement … the world”[4] or “world, universe, humankind.”[5] That one word nested within the context of the entire chapter indicates that, “the whole verse is about a past-tense experience Jesus actually had.”[6]

The verse is not referring to some mystical foreknowledge, because Jesus would not have been aware of such foreknowledge because that foreknowledge would have rested solely with God and therefore would not be directly accessible via Jesus’ own memory. What’s more, “Jesus’ statement that he enjoyed divine glory before the creation certainly presumes a personal preexistence; it also implies an essential relationship with God, not merely a functional one.”[7] The Expositor’s Bible comments thusly:

The glory which He prayed for now was a conscious, living glory; He did not wish to become extinct or to be absorbed in the Divine being; He meant to continue and did continue in actual, personal, living existence. This was the glory He prayed for, and this therefore must also have been the glory He had before the world was.[8]

Walvoord even states that in John 17:5 “Christ speaks of His memory of the glory of heaven prior to His incarnation as an evidence for His preexistence.”[9] Finally, all this indicates that “Jesus Christ is, at the inmost principle of his being, true God, from whom he came as the eternal, not temporal, Son.”[10]

And, of course, there is much more information validating the deity of Jesus Christ. But that will have to wait until Part 2.

[1] New King James Version Study Bible, (Nashville, TN: Tommy Nelson, Inc., 1997), p. 1799.

[2] Victor Paul Wierwille, Jesus Christ is Not God (New Knoxville, OH: American Christian Press, 1981), p. 5.

[3] Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman, The Social Construction of Reality: A treatise in the sociology of knowledge (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1966), pp. 58-60.

[4] New Strong’s Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, Inc, 1995), p. 51

[5] William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), p. 428.

[6] Craig Kuhn, From Cult to Christ (Maitland, FL: Xulon, 2007), p. 58.

[7] Douglas McCready, He Came Down From Heaven: The preexistence of Christ and the Christian faith (Dower’s Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2005), p. 152.

[8] W. Robertson Nicoll, ed., The Expositor’s Bible, Vol. V., (New York, NY: Wilbur B. Ketchcam, no date), p. 250.

[9] John F. Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord (Chicago, IL: The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1969), p. 26.

[10] Samuel J. Mikolaski, “The Theology of the New Testament,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 1., ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979), p. 464.

Bike Tipping and Humility

Bike cageOne of humanity’s most noble character traits is humility. This same character trait is sorely missing from much of our culture. Even Jesus “humbled Himself” (see Philippians 2:8). But somehow humility seems elusive. I was bluntly reminded of this just yesterday at a stop light.

I commuted to work yesterday on my bike, my brand new shiny hybrid Trek Allant 7.4. Yep, look at me commuting, reducing my carbon footprint and improving my fitness. Ha, I’m not in a metal box spewing emissions; nope, I’m using pedal power. (Forget the fact that I drive 99% of the time!)

 

Timmmmmbeeeerrrrr!

It all started at the last intersection before my building. I’m rolling up to a stale red light at Summer and Union streets. I’m looking at the light hoping it’ll turn green in the next nanosecond. Keep in mind that both of my feet are securely clipped tightly into the cleats on my pedals, and since they are still new, getting my feet out of the cleats quickly is difficult because they’re not broken in yet.

So my forward momentum is all but stopped. Suddenly I find myself desperately trying to uncleat. I’m jerking my right leg in vain efforts to get the cleat to, well, uncleat. Now my bike starts wobbling. But with no forward momentum along with the jerking of my right leg, my brand new shiny bike begins lurching sideways.

Oh yes, that old familiar feeling of losing balance came rushing back as the ground came rushing up. That nanosecond mentioned above was my inglorious tumble onto the curb (ouch!) and grass. And of course it was next to two buildings with a thousand occupants each along with a busy intersection. I’m sure those that saw it all happen thought the same thing as I did, “What an idiot!”

And I’m sure it was humorous. Funny how in mid-tip both of my feet just uncleated and Bike fall.jpgflayed out in different directions; looking somewhat like Charlie Brown when Lucy pulls the football away from him: limbs flailing followed by a big thud. The big thud was my right shoulder on the grass and my right knee on the concrete curb.

 

Okay, just get up and act like nothing happened

On top of all of these clumsy theatrics, I had to be at a meeting in less than ten minutes. And it was a meeting I was facilitating. So I couldn’t just lie there, I had to get up, get back on my bike, get to work and get the meeting started. So that’s what I did. As an old song lyric states, I got back up and brushed myself off and hopped back up on the saddle.

Well, the meeting was a great success and thankfully I didn’t show up bleeding. My bike received no dings and my knee is only slightly swollen today (I did eventually have to ice it.) And, most of all, my fused neck is still fused!

 

Holier than Thou…Not!

Honestly, I don’t perceive myself to be a creature of self-absorption. But I do have periodic run-ins what that little monster known as ego (aka pride). Even as I was supremely embarrassed by my little mishap yesterday, I find it quite humorous. But it also reminds me not to entertain attitudes of grandeur; what is often referred to as being haughty or conceited.

I am a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17-21), that makes me cool in God’s eyes. But this “coolness” is purely because of God’s grace and mercy (Ephesians 2:1-10). Commuting on my bike doesn’t make me cool, neither does my attire or my paycheck. Christ makes me cool. At least to God I’m cool due to faith in Christ (Romans 10:9-10).

So the next time I start thinking I’m all that because I’m commuting, or have a cool bike or trendy new clothes, I’ll remember this bike tipping incident along with the embarrassment and my swollen knee. Hopefully this will help me thwart that little ego monster. But I do hope to remain upright!

The Atonement in Epic Haiku

Recently I had an assignment in my last theology class that was to be a creative project depicting the atonement. Well, I’m not a painter or sculptor, but I do like to write. So I chose to do what I am referring to as an Epic Haiku.

A Little Haiku History

Originally, what we know as haiku today were once known as hokku. These hokku were 17 syllables long in three lines with the following syllable-per line structure: 5-7-5. The hokku was part of a longer work known as a renga, with the hokku serving “as the most significant part of the renga[1] because it established the setting and season for the remaining work. Then the remaining work progressed through a series of what was in the Heian period (794-1185) known as haiku. The haiku of this era was 31-syllables with the per-line syllable structure of 5-7-5-7-7.

Through the centuries, luminaries such as Matsuo Busho (1644-94), Taniguchi Buson (1715-83) and Kobayashi Issa (1762-1826) morphed the literary art form of renga into what is now commonly referred to as haiku but their poems had the hokku structure. In other words, they were producing short poems in what we know in Western culture as the modern day haiku format. However, it was Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) that actually first described haiku as an “independent three-line poem”[2]; the form that was originally referred to as hokku.

All of this to say that I have been writing our current understanding of haiku for years. I appreciate the art form because a properly constructed haiku can pack quit a punch in only seventeen syllables. One of the aspects I enjoy so much about haiku is the third line is usually a bit of a twist from the two preceding lines. For example, Shuoshi Mizuhara’s Solitude:

Closing gate

alone with the stones

on this beautiful night[3]

While the Japanese syllables do not align with our syllables, the point is the reader is thinking this is going to be sad because a gate is closing and the person is alone with stones. Instead, it ends with a person enjoying the solitude of the moment. In my treatment that follows, I tried to capture that third-line sense with an image that sets up the next stanza or leaves the reader concerned for what is coming next. I have also toyed with formatting in an attempt to direct the eye to either sweeping across the page or to plummeting down into the next stanza.

 

“Epic Haiku”

Another reason I like haiku is that, even though they look short and quick to compose, they can actually take a lot of time in working to capture just the right words in the correct syllable structure that properly captures the artist’s intent. But once complete, a well-constructed haiku can be easily memorized for later recall; not unlike memorizing Scripture.

All of this to say that I have taken a typically short Japanese art form and expanded it into a much longer one. My work is several haiku put together; hence, it is an epic haiku. Also, most haiku are about seasons, human emotions or something from an Eastern religion mind-set. I have taken the haiku, expanded it into an epic format, and turned its application to Jesus and His atonement. My prayer and hope is it brings joy and thankfulness to the reader, but I also hope and pray it brings a smile my Father’s face and honor to Jesus Christ.

[1] Tom Lowenstein, Haiku inspirations: Poems and meditations on nature and beauty. London: Duncan Baird Publishers, 2006, p. 8.

[2] Ibid., p. 9.

[3] Quoted from Patricia Donegan, Haiku mind: 108 poems to cultivate awareness & open your heart. Boston: Shambhala, 2010, p. 151.

Atonement

The Journey of the Atonement in Epic Haiku

 

In the beginning

all was well in the Garden.

Walking, talking and tilling.

 

The trees were nice there,

especially Knowledge tree!

We could look – not eat.

 

Temptation and lies

enticing to disobey.

“Come quick, let us…….hide!”

 

Our hearts darkening,

serpent slithers silently.

Emptiness inside.

 

Coolness of evening,

Footsteps on the Garden path,

“Come now, where are you?”

 

 Talking, blame, banished;

  It all ended suddenly.

   Flaming swords, closed gate.

 

Heel to head doom,

humanity wandering.

Redeemer coming.

 

Years and years and years.

Temporary sacrifice;

still distant from God.

 

Justice demanded,

necessary sacrifice.

The once and for all.

 

The Word became flesh;

Son of Man sent from Heaven—

dwelling among us.

 

Sinless, righteous power.

Fully God and Fully man

the deliverer.

 

Healing, releasing,

even nature obeys Him.

But…then scorned and scourged.

 

Crucified for sin,

replacing mankind on the cross;

paying debt in full.

 

Breathing His last breath—

then darkness upon the earth.

Had sin, Satan—won?

 

Third day, morning light.

Stone rolled away, men in white,

“Not here, He’s risen!”

 

Then appearing, “Peace.”

The redeeming Messiah.

Savior of the world!

 

Standing in our place,

completely paying the price—

bridging the chasm.

 

Born from above,

God and man reunited—

And…it is finished!

Who Needs Salvation?

crossing the chasm

We all need salvation. Scripture says so. I explored this a little bit in my Killing Shalom post. In that post I share Scripture that leads people into the new birth through faith in Jesus Christ. What I didn’t explore in a lot of detail was why we need a savior in the first place.

 

Adam and Me

Simply stated, Adam and Eve were the first created human beings. When they willingly sinned, they introduced a sin nature into the fabric of their psyche. This sin nature then became ingrained into their DNA; and by default, it is ingrained into our DNA as well. (See my post on Image for a little more background on this.)

When they intentionally sinned, they tarnished humanity’s desire to seek after God. This tarnishing built into them the desire to seek fulfillment outside of God. It also led them into a type of pride where they fancied they could become like God. This is the same sin the got Lucifer booted out of Heaven.

 

Sin Nature and Depravity

Because of the tarnishing of this aspect of God’s image, we now have hard-wired into the fabric of our being a sin nature; that is, an intentional, ongoing rebellion against God. Humanity is now depraved in the sense that while humanity for the most part is not as wicked as it could be, humanity is still utterly incapable of reversing this stain of sin without an intermediary

This sin nature has been passed down through the generations (see Romans 3:21-26 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22). This is why Radmacher says that “because the human race is ‘in Adam,’ everyone is spiritually dead, and, if this is not corrected, the ultimate result is eternal death” (Salvation, 2000, p. 7).

None of us escape this sin nature and this natural separation from God. The only way to span the chasm between God and man is by faith in Jesus Christ.

 

Mind the Gap—Spanning the Chasm

Thankfully, Jesus spanned this chasm by tearing down the wall of separation between humanity and God. Scripture states that at the death of Jesus, God tore the temple veil from top to bottom (see Matthew 27:51-54, Mark 15:33-39 and Hebrews 10:19-20). It is symbolically significant that the veil is torn from the top down. If I tore the veil, which is really a heavy curtain or a tapestry, I’d tear it from the bottom up; provided I had the strength to tear it all. However, such a tear would be, obviously, man-made and therefore insufficient. Being torn from the top down, however, indicates it is God doing the tearing of the veil. It is God that is opening up access to Himself through the accomplished works of Jesus Christ. We no longer need a priestly intermediary, we now, by faith in Christ, have direct access to God. Jesus is now our High Priest (see Hebrews 4:15).

 

No Prerequisite but One

And entering into a salvation relationship is by simply placing our faith in Him. It has nothing to do with our politics, our lifestyle, our hobbies or interests; it is on the basis of our faith in Christ: do we, or do we not, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ? Romans 10:9-10 is very clear:

That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

Notice how there are no rules, no sprucing ourselves up or other hoops to jump through; God is saying come as we are and enter into His saving grace through faith in Christ. A sincere heart genuinely seeking salvation in Jesus is welcomed with open arms. Once a person receives salvation, they now have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. The Holy Spirit can now transform their lives, becoming more and more like Christ! Godly fruit can now be produced in a person’s life in such a way that God’s light and love now shines to those around them, drawing even  more out of the darkness of sin and into the light of God’s saving grace.

So what are you waitin’ for? C’mon in!