Archive for the ‘Bible & Theology’ Category

Like That Only Better

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

I’m a big fan of C. S. Lewis. There’s nothing of his that I’ve read that I didn’t enjoy. My six year old daughter is developing a love for him as well. About six months ago I started reading her The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. She was absolutely enchanted with the story. Since I’ve been reading her a chapter of Chronicles of Narnia almost every night before bed.

As you may or may not know, Lewis wrote the Narnia stories as an allegory for the Christian faith. The other night my daughter and I were reading a chapter from The Silver Chair (Narnia). At a key moment in the book the lead characters, Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole (from our world), Puddleglum the Narnian Marsh-Wiggle, and Prince Rilian of Narnia have been captured by an evil witch in underworld. They’ve been enchanted by her music. The witch is trying to convince them that the land on the surface, where they’re from, is only a dream.

In their enchanted stupor the try to convince her of the truth of the overworld. They try to describe the sun to her. In so doing they use a lamp as an illustration. It’s like the lamp, only better. Then they try to describe the great Aslan to her. He’s like a cat, only better.

Often, I feel like Eustace, Jill, Puddleglum, and Rilian when I try to explain to people about my life with Jesus. It’s like ordinary life, only better. But like the witch, why should someone believe me if the only way I can describe following Jesus is by saying it’s like that only better. Who can blame people for reacting like the witch and saying what a lovely dream that must have been.

Ultimately, Eustace, Jill, Puddleglum, and Rilian would rather hold on to their dream than submit to the dull “reality” of the witch. Once they’ve committed to this they are able to defeat the witch and are vindicated when they return to the surface.

It reminds me of Pascal’s wager. Pascal, the French philosopher, mathematician, and Christ-follower, argued that following Christ is a simple choice. In Pensees he argued that it only makes logical sense to follow Jesus whether it’s true or not. He said if you follow Jesus, you have the potential to gain everything but no matter what you lose nothing. If you don’t follow Jesus, you have the potential to lose everything but no matter what you gain nothing. How about you? How would you respond to Pascal’s wager?

I want to see the wonders of God’s great love.

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

During my regular quiet time today I read the first half of Psalm 17. In this prayer David comes to the Lord and asks to see the “wonders of his great love” (Psalm 17:7a NIV). Isn’t that what we all want? Don’t all of us that believe there is a God want to see the “wonders of his great love?” I know I do. That’s why I moved my family to Ann Arbor to launch Agape Ann Arbor. I want to see God’s love manifested in this city. I want to see my friends, and neighbors experience God’s love. I want to have a deeper, fuller experience of God’s love. I want to experience God like Jesus did when he was here.

If we all want to see the wonders of God’s great love, why don’t we here more stories of people seeing it? Is God hiding it from us? Is life some cosmic game of hot and cold with the prize an experience of God’s love?

No. God’s not hiding his love. I think we’re just looking for it in the wrong places and the wrong way. I think a clue to seeing the wonders of God’s great love can be found in Matthew 9:35-38:

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Jesus experienced the wonders of the Father’s great love because he loved the same things the Father loved. When’s the last time you looked at the people walking down the streets of your town and felt compassion for the ones who don’t know Jesus? When’s the last time you tried to show someone the Jesus’ love them? If we want to see the wonders of God’s great love, we will see it when we express it to those he loves around us. As we express God’s love to the people he loves we will experience the wonder’s of his great love.

What’s one thing you can do today to express God’s love to someone you live near or work with?

Defining Discipleship

Saturday, October 9th, 2010

What is discipleship?

This is the question that I’ve been wrestling with for the last two months. As chaplain at Southfield Christian school, I’ve had to look at this through new eyes. In general, we all tend to define discipleship as “growing in Christ-likeness” or other similar language. In the church world, this is usually equated with a Christian Education or Small Group program. The presupposition is that these venues will create environments through which the Holy Spirit will work to transform our lives or teach us how to be more open and submissive to what the Holy Spirit is doing in us.

There are two problems with this approach. One, it leaves the definition of discipleship so vague that virtually anything could be defined as success. Two, it focuses on academics and observable behavior rather than an internal transformation of values and attitude.

Sitting in a Christian School looking to disciple students, I’ve seen these problems first-hand. Without a clear definition of what “growing in Christ-likeness” looks like there is no way to effectively evaluate the discipleship efforts of the organization. Furthermore, students that spend their entire school-day in an environment that focuses on academics and observable behavior, in the aggregate, don’t look any different than any other group of church-going students. This leads me to one of two conclusions. Either our general approach in the United States to discipling young people is incredibly effective and getting repeatable sustainable results or it is completely ineffective and getting repeatable sustainable results.

Unfortunately, based on my observation of American teenagers’ attitudes, values, and propensity to dismiss or justify sin issues, I’m inclined to believe the latter. The first step to improving the situation is redefining discipleship. We’re still working on a definition that communicates clearly and provides a way to evaluate the systems and programs we implement, but here is the concept around which that definition will develop at Southfield Christian School. Discipleship is leading another to grow in their love for God and others.

What do you think? Is this definition helpful to you? Do you think that this definition is a good foundation for building effective discipleship ministries?

The American Heresy

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

In the comments on my last post I had a spirited conversation with a friend from high school regarding the existence of hell. To summarize my understanding of his argument, he believes that hell is not a real place because hell is evil and God being all good cannot create evil. The references to hell in Scripture, therefore, are metaphors. This is one of the many variations of this idea the United States today. I’d like to take a moment here to share my thoughts on the matter.

First, I believe hell is a literal place where people who do not receive God’s forgiveness for their sin through Jesus in their earthly lives will spend eternity. Hell is a place where those who have not received salvation in Christ receive eternal punishment for their sin (Matthew 25:30, 41; Revelation 14:9-11; 19:3).

This is not inconsistent with God’s goodness. In fact, quite the opposite is true. If God were not to punish sin then he would not be wholly good because he would allow evil to exist without consequence. In this sense, hell is no more evil than prison.

What about the length of punishment? Is eternal punishment really justified for temporal sin? Ultimately, I don’t think we can answer that, because we are incapable of ascertaining the true extent of sin. We do not know the damage that sin does beyond the obvious things that we see and feel. Yet we know that sin is wrong even when there are no apparent damages to the people around us (for instance sex between to single consenting adults is sin although there are no apparent negative effects). We cannot judge whether eternal punishment is fair or not, only God knows.

While this is not comfortable for me, I trust God. I know that God is good. I know that he will do what is right. So, I trust him to do the holy, righteous, loving, good thing. Even when I don’t understand it. I must hold myself to God’s standard and not attempt to hold him to mine. He’s God. I’m not.

There’s a lot more that could be said here but this is enough for one post. What do you think?

Own Your Own Sin

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

In my last post I asked if God was responsible for sin? I argued that God is, as least secondarily, responsible for the existence of sin because although he had the power to prevent it he chose not to.

I offered the analogy of someone aware that a bank robbery was about to occur and did not call the police. That individual is secondarily responsible for the robbery because they had the power to prevent it, and chose not to. Does this remove culpability from the one committing the robbery? Does this excuse his action? Absolutely not!

Let’s say that you knew that I was going to rob a bank and did nothing to stop me. You would not be directly responsible for the fact that I robbed the bank. I still had the choice not to rob the bank. I am responsible for the choices I make.

Applying this to our conversation, we can see that, although God may be indirectly responsible for sin, each individual is directly responsible for every sin that they commit. God is therefore just in judging sin.
In response to some of the comments from Tuesday’s post this is why we cannot justify our sin be putting it back on God. By God’s design we are free moral agents. Although God allows for the potentiality of sin we are still responsible for the free choices that we make. We must own our own sin.

Is God Responsible for Sin?

Monday, June 14th, 2010

I love having conversations with people who disagree with me. It forces me to think. It forces me to understand why I think or believe the way I do. A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with a Pentecostal friend of mine. We were discussing how sin entered the world. My friend believes that sin entered the world through the agency of free moral agents and there was nothing that God could do to stop it. The way I understand what he was saying, sending Jesus was God’s reaction to sin and his way of fixing something that went horribly wrong.

Let’s take a closer look at the argument. First, we both agree that sin is in the world. Second, we both agree that sin is offensive to God. The question then is, how did something offensive to God enter the world. I see two possibilities. (1) God was unable to prevent sin from entering the world because of either a lack of knowledge or a lack of power. (2) God was able to prevent sin from entering the world but chose not to prevent it.

The problem with option 1 is that it denies God’s omniscience, omnipotence, or both. The problem with 2 is that it makes God, at least secondarily, responsible for sin entering the world by allowing sin to enter the world. Now, I know some of you are going to balk at the second problem but pause and think about it for a moment. If my dog bites my neighbor, who is responsible? Me. If I know that my neighbor is going to rob a bank and I don’t call the police, am I responsible. In a secondary sense I am and the law hold me responsible. If God had the knowledge that sin would enter the world and the power to stop it and he chose not to he is, at least secondarily, responsible for sin entering the world.

So either God could not prevent sin or God is partially responsible for sin. For my friend, he is more comfortable with saying that God could not stop sin than saying that God is partially responsible for sin. I can’t accept that. I can’t sleep at night thinking that there is something outside of God’s ability to control. Outside of God’s sovereignty. How can I trust that God will fulfill all his promises if he sin was able to enter the world against God’s will. To me this makes sin in a sense more powerful than God. That not only gives me fits philosophically but it is not biblical. Therefore, I accept that God is secondarily responsible for sin entering the world because he could have stopped it. But, I trust that since God is all good and all loving his choice to allow sin is the good loving choice. I don’t understand it. But God has always been faithful and good to me so I trust him in spite of my lack of understanding.

Now, I know that someone reading this post is going to argue that I am making God responsible for the fact that they sin. Well, that’s not what I believe but this post has already gotten too long so come back Thursday and I’ll explain what I believe about that. Please leave you comments below. Like I said, I like to talk to people who disagree with me. That’s how we all learn and grow. It’s how we love God with all our minds.

Eternal Life (Part 6)

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Last week we launched our investigation of eternal life in the Gospel of John. The concept is first introduced in chapter three where Jesus has a nighttime conversation with the Jewish Rabbi Nicodemus. We’re going to look at another passage from that conversation. Eternal life appears again in verse 36 of the same chapter, “The one who believes in the Son has eternal life. The one who rejects the Son will not see life, but God’s wrath remains on him.”

Verse 36 reaffirms that individuals through faith in God’s Son gain eternal life. Yet there is more that we learn here. We learn something of the content of eternal life. Eternal life is a state of being where the individual has God’s wrath removed from them.

Eternal Life (Part 5)

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

It’s time to move on to the Gospel of John. John refers to eternal life more than any other biblical author. John seems to have a significantly different definition for eternal life than the one we have seen so far. Before we dive into the first reference to eternal life in the Gospel of John let’s recap what Daniel and the Synoptic Gospels said.

Up to this point we have seen that eternal life is an eschatological (end times) gift given to the righteous (whoever they are). All those who are “saved” receive it (they must be the righteous ones). Eternal life is closely related to life in the Kingdom of God and is different in some way from normal life that humans experience.

Now, the first time eternal life is mentioned in the Gospel of John is in chapter 3. If you’re keeping track at home this is the conversation that Jesus has at night with one of the religious leaders in Jerusalem, Nicodemus. In John 3 verses 15 and 16, twice Jesus says that those who believe in the Son of Man will receive eternal life. In context he is talking about why he came. Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be “lifted up” (a direct allusion to his crucifixion) and that in being lifted up he is providing a way for those who believe in him to have eternal life rather than perish.

So, in his introduction to the concept of eternal life, John says that Jesus must be lifted up (die on the cross) so that people can receive eternal life. Those that believe in him will receive it. And, it is the opposite of perishing.

What does this mean to you and do you think it differs from what we read in earlier passages?

Eternal Life (Part 4)

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

The next occurrence of eternal life we will discuss is Luke 10:25 (parallels are Matthew 22:34-40 and Mark 12:28-34). The two occurrences in Mark were discussed with their parallel in Matthew in Part 2.

In Luke’s version an expert in the Law asks Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (NET). This is very similar to the story of the Rich Young Ruler (see Part 2). They both presume that there is something they can do to earn eternal life. Jesus asks, “What is written in the law? How do you understand it?” (Luke 10:26 NET).

“The expert answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live’” (Luke 10:27-28).

It’s too bad the story doesn’t end there because in the next verse the man attempts to “justify” himself by asking Jesus to identify his neighbor for him. He obviously didn’t understand the true depth of the answer that he gave Jesus. Jesus goes on to tell the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan.

You see the problem with the expert’s question was that he presumed the people who weren’t his neighbor outnumbered the people who were. He thought that neighbors were a select few and easy to identify. The “good” Jews that looked like him… acted like him… believed like him. He was totally wrong. Jesus teaches us that our neighbor is anyone with whom we come in contact. It’s not just the people that look and act like us and attend our church that are our neighbors. It’s not just the people that live in our neighborhood that are our neighbors. The homeless man asking for change for the bus is our neighbor. The Muslim families heading to the local mosque are our neighbors. The couple advocating for gay marriage are our neighbors. To experience eternal life, Jesus says that we must love them as we love ourselves. We love them because we love the Lord our God with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our strength and all our minds. And he loves out neighbors more than we ever could.

What are you going to do to love your neighbor this week?

Eternal Life (Part 3)

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

In our study of eternal life, the next occurrence of the phrase is Matthew 25:46. This is one of my favorite passages in Scripture; mainly because it kicks my butt every time I read it.

Many of you are probably familiar with the story. It’s the story of the sheep and the goats. For our purposes, the important part is the very last sentence. It says that those that did not care for Jesus by caring for those in need are sent to eternal punishment while the righteous enter into eternal life. In this story the righteous are those that cared for Jesus by caring for those in need. While I’d love to talk more about the sheep and the goats, that’s not the focus of this series. Here we are focusing on eternal life. What we see here confirms some of our earlier findings. Eternal life is an eschatological (last things) gift for the righteous.

What does this mean for you in your everyday life?