Christianity 201

June 2, 2018

God As a Thriving Artist

We’re returning today to another excerpt from the 2010 Zondervan book, A Certain Risk: Living Your Faith at the Edge, by Paul Richardson. Paul is the son of missionary Don Richardson. To learn more, check out a story we did at Thinking Out Loud on Mustard Seed International.


God reveals that he is surprisingly nuanced. Story by story, the One who said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness,” beckons us into his depth. Reading through the Bible is a bit like finding out that a Herculean offensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers writes poetry and bakes rhubarb pie. Just like any individual person, God has personality traits. He relates to others through his heart. He loves, he feels sadness, anger, jealousy and, despite our well-planned, perfectly logical predictions of what he should  be, he even feels regret. God experiences the full possibilities of passion and creates us to know his passionate heart. God cries out in celebration. He listens and he talks.

We are intrigued by statements such as “God said to the woman,” “The LORD said to Cain,” “God said to Noah,” “God said to Abraham,” and “God said to Jacob.” God sits down with Abraham in his tent, and he chats with Moses as you and I would speak to our closest friends. He whispers to a child named Samuel in his room. He spends time with a boy named David in the shade of a tree and breathes music through his harp.

As Elohim reveals his many other names, he delicately invades our understanding. For those who care to know him, Elohim becomes El Echad, the One. He is El Hanne’eman, the Faithful One. He is El Emet, the Truth; El Shaddai, the All Sufficient; El Gibbor, the Champion and Warrior. He is El Roi, the God who sees me; El Chaiyai, the God of my life; El Sali, the God of my strength; El Rachum, the God of compassion. By the time we reach Isaiah, Elohim is no longer far away. He is Immanuel, God with us. From beginning to end, God becomes less distant and more alive. In the matrix of human faith, God reveals himself to the mundane, moving from mystery to increased clarity. God not only approaches in proximity. He approaches in time, advancing from the distant past into this very moment. The God who spoke to Noah, Abraham and Moses becomes my God now.

Throughout his story, Elohim reveals a stunning and invigorating motif. He is a thriving Artist, present in real time, pervasively engaged and continuously interacting with his creation. The psalmist wrote,

“When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.” (Psalm 104:30)

All through the Scriptures, God reveals himself as a craftsman, a carpenter, a composer, a designer, a gardener, a potter and an author. These creative terms don’t refer only to his activities during the original six days of creation, but to his ongoing work in history. Jesus said,

“My Father is always at his work to this very day.”  (John 5:17)

God is the Creator — “the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) The Potter’s hands are still covered with clay. The touch of the Potter’s hands is sometimes painful, but the finished vessel is a beautiful work of art.

Consider God’s creative response to a stretch of desolate wasteland. He shouts exultantly through Isaiah (Isaiah 41;18-20),

I will make rivers flow on barren heights,
and springs within the valleys.
I will turn the desert into pools of water,
and the parched ground into springs.
I will put in the desert
the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive.
I will set pines in the wasteland,
the fir and the cypress together,
so that people may see and know,
may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
that the Holy One of Israel has created it.

December 22, 2017

The Four Mysteries of the New Testament

This a rare encore presentation here at C201. This original devotional first appeared here in December, 2013.


Psalm 139:14

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

There are some things that are just neatly tied up with a bow. Unlike a sitcom where all the subplots are resolved in 30 minutes, the realm of trust, faith, and belief is a realm of mystery.

The NIV translates Greek into English as “mystery” four times in the New Testament. The first has to do with the relationship between Gentiles who become followers of Christ (spiritual Israel) to those who originally carried God’s promise (ethnic Israel or national Israel). Not surprisingly, the passage is in Romans:

11.24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!

25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, 26 and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written:

“The deliverer will come from Zion;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.

The transfer of God’s favor to such a broader, wider number that occurs with the coming of The Messiah (and the subsequent revelation to Peter that Gentiles are to be part of the Messianic promise) is really much of the major theme of Romans, and while it is relatively easy to be a partaker of such grace, it is relatively challenging to begin to understand it in the context of God’s master plan. “‘Tis mystery all.”

The second instance, also in Romans occurs in the book’s closing chapter and reiterates this aspect of its theme:

16.25 Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

The third instance occurs in I Cor. 2 and also refers to a widening or a broadening of God’s disclosure to His people through the Holy Spirit:

2.6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Some brief comments from Matthew Henry are helpful in this passage:

  • Though what we preach is foolishness to the world, it is wisdom to them. They are made wise by it, and can discern wisdom in it.
  • [T]he wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom of God—what he had a long time kept to himself, and concealed from the world, and the depth of which, now it is revealed, none but himself can fathom. It is the mystery which hath been hid from ages and generations, though now made manifest to the saints (Col. 1:26), hid in a manner entirely from the heathen world, and made mysterious to the Jews, by being wrapped up in dark types and distant prophecies, but revealed and made known to us by the Spirit of God.
  • [H]e had determined long ago to reveal and make it known, from many ages past, from the beginning, nay, from eternity; and that to our glory, the glory of us, either us apostles or us Christians. It was a great honor put upon the apostles, to be entrusted with the revelation of this wisdom. It was a great and honorable privilege for Christians to have this glorious wisdom discovered in the gospel…

The fourth and final use of the word in the NIV is in relationship to days to come, what some call the afterlife as found in I Cor. 15:

15.50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.


Related Song: You are Mystical (audio only in 50px window; click arrow button in center to play)

August 7, 2015

What About Those Who Have Never Heard?

I have always been attracted to articles that deal with the eternal destiny of the un-evangelized, not because I expect to resolve this issue, but because it challenges me to think. Writers don’t necessarily agree on this topic, and I believe that’s part of living in a world where we “see through a glass darkly.” (1 Cor. 13:12)  This article appeared at the blog Wintery Knight, which in addition to a lot of political discussion, contains a number of thought-provoking articles like this one. Click the link below to read at source.

What will God do with people who have never heard about Jesus?

One of the most difficult questions for Christians to answer, especially when posed by adherents of other religions, is the question of what happens to those who have never heard of Jesus? In this post, I will explain how progress in the field of philosophy of religion has given us a possible (and Biblical) solution to this thorny question.

First, Christianity teaches that humans are in a natural state of rebellion against God. We don’t want to know about him, and we don’t want him to have any say in what we are doing. We just want to appropriate all the gifts he’s given us, do whatever we want with them, and then have eternal bliss after we die. We want to do whatever we want and then be forgiven, later.

Along comes Jesus, who, through his sinless life and his death on the cross, heals that rift of rebellion between an all-good God and rebellious man. Now we have a real understanding of the fact that God is real, that he has power over death, and that he has very specific ideas on what we should be doing. If we accept Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and follow his teachings, we can avoid the penalty of our rebellion.

The only problem is that in order to appropriate that free gift of reconciliation, people need to actually know about Jesus. And there are some people in the world who have not even heard of him. Is it fair that these other people will be eternally separated from God, just because they happened to be born in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Enter famous Christian apologist William Lane Craig to save the day. His solution is that God orders the world in such a way that anyone who would freely choose to acknowledge Jesus and appropriate his teachings in their decision-making will be given eternal life. God knows in advance who would respond, and chooses their time and place of birth, and he supplies them with the amount of evidence they need.

And this agrees with what the Bible teaches. The apostle Paul says this in his apologetic on Mars Hill in Acts 17:22-31:

22 So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects.
23 “For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘ N D ‘ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands;
25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;
26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,
27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;

28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’
29 “Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.
30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent,
31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

This passage is not difficult to understand, although some may find it difficult to accept. According to the Bible, God puts us in the best possible place for us to respond to him, and if we don’t, we are responsible. We decide how to respond to God’s efforts to make himself known to us. We would never find him ourselves, but he takes the initiative to reveal himself, without being coercive. It falls to us to investigate and find the clues, and re-prioritize our lives according to what we find.

In this research paper, Craig explains in detail how God foreknows how people will choose in every set of circumstances, and how God uses that knowledge to get everyone where they need to be without violating their free will. God wants the best for everybody, and has ordered to whole universe in order to give each of us our best opportunity for eternal life.

Here is a summary of the what is in his paper:

The conviction of the New Testament writers was that there is no salvation apart from Jesus. This orthodox doctrine is widely rejected today because God’s condemnation of persons in other world religions seems incompatible with various attributes of God.

Analysis reveals the real problem to involve certain counterfactuals of freedom, e.g., why did not God create a world in which all people would freely believe in Christ and be saved? Such questions presuppose that God possesses middle knowledge. But it can be shown that no inconsistency exists between God’s having middle knowledge and certain persons’ being damned; on the contrary, it can be positively shown that these two notions are compatible.

Go read this paper and equip yourself to answer this common question!

December 21, 2013

Some Questions are Not Resolved

 

Psalm 139:14

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

There are some things that are just neatly tied up with a bow. Unlike a sitcom where all the subplots are resolved in 30 minutes, the realm of trust, faith, and belief is a realm of mystery.

The NIV translates Greek into English as “mystery” four times in the New Testament. The first has to do with the relationship between Gentiles who become followers of Christ (spiritual Israel) to those who originally carried God’s promise (ethnic Israel or national Israel). Not surprisingly, the passage is in Romans:

11.24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!

25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, 26 and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written:

“The deliverer will come from Zion;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.

The transfer of God’s favor to such a broader, wider number that occurs with the coming of The Messiah (and the subsequent revelation to Peter that Gentiles are to be part of the Messianic promise) is really much of the major theme of Romans, and while it is relatively easy to be a partaker of such grace, it is relatively challenging to begin to understand it in the context of God’s master plan. “‘Tis mystery all.”

The second instance, also in Romans occurs in the book’s closing chapter and reiterates this aspect of its theme:

16.25 Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

The third instance occurs in I Cor. 2 and also refers to a widening or a broadening of God’s disclosure to His people through the Holy Spirit:

2.6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Some brief comments from Matthew Henry are helpful in this passage:

  • Though what we preach is foolishness to the world, it is wisdom to them. They are made wise by it, and can discern wisdom in it.
  • [T]he wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom of God—what he had a long time kept to himself, and concealed from the world, and the depth of which, now it is revealed, none but himself can fathom. It is the mystery which hath been hid from ages and generations, though now made manifest to the saints (Col. 1:26), hid in a manner entirely from the heathen world, and made mysterious to the Jews, by being wrapped up in dark types and distant prophecies, but revealed and made known to us by the Spirit of God.
  • [H]e had determined long ago to reveal and make it known, from many ages past, from the beginning, nay, from eternity; and that to our glory, the glory of us, either us apostles or us Christians. It was a great honor put upon the apostles, to be entrusted with the revelation of this wisdom. It was a great and honorable privilege for Christians to have this glorious wisdom discovered in the gospel…

The fourth and final use of the word in the NIV is in relationship to days to come, what some call the afterlife as found in I Cor. 15:

15.50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

November 17, 2012

Did God Reveal it To You, Or In You?

The beauty of scripture is that no small detail has been omitted and nothing has been included by accident. This discovery was taken from the blog of Baptist pastor Brad Whitt where it appeared under the title, The Location of Revelation.

“…to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles…” Galatians 1:16

Paul is describing for us the process of his personal salvation – the light of His Lord that he saw from heaven on the road to Damascus. In doing so he gives us a very unique insight regarding the location of that revelation. He tells us that it pleased God “to reveal His son in me.”

Why did he say “in me”? Why didn’t he say “to me”? Wasn’t the light that blinded him and arrested him on that dusty Damascus road an outer vision? Didn’t it stop him in his tracks with a brilliance that was brighter than any noonday sun? Didn’t it block the way to his old nature and cause his life to halt in the middle of its journey? Absolutely. Surely then, this was a vision of his Lord that was presented as a picture to his eye. Not at all. Because you see, no picture can only be a picture to the eye. A thing can only be revealed to me if it has first been revealed in me.

Are the beautiful mountains I am so blessed to see simply a picture that is presented only to my outward vision? Again, no. You see, there could in reality be no beauty without if there was not first revealed a sense of beauty within. Is the music that I hear only revealed to my ear? No, or I would always be deaf to its beauty. There would be no harmony without if there was not first a sense of harmony within. Such is it with the one described as “the fairest of ten thousand.’

I must confess. Many times I have secretly envied those who were permitted to look upon the bodily form, the physical person of Jesus. I have found myself jealous of those who were able to see the smile on His face, to hear the encouragement and comfort in His voice. Yet, wasn’t it those very ones of whom it was said, “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you.” So, in reality it was not the eye who saw the smile or the ear which heard the comfort. It was the heart, the life, the soul. It was the responsive spirit that was bearing witness with His Spirit. The open heart that ran out to meet its completion and found in Him the fulfillment of its salvation because it found in Him all that it ever desired.

That’s why God had to reveal His son in me. You see, I needed more than an audible voice, for I might mistake it for another. I needed more than to simply see handwriting in the clouds, because I might have been like a child who can’t read looking at letters in a book. I needed Him to reveal Himself in me.

You see, not even the most accurate description of a sunset could declare its splendor to one born blind, and likewise no description of Jesus could properly present His glory to a loveless soul. That’s why the Spirit of love must breathe into the heart the new sensation of loving, the new experience of being loved. He must unseal the soul’s eye, unclog the spiritual ear, so that the harmonies and symmetries of His creation might be revealed. It is only in His light that we will firstly and fully see light. Only when we are rooted and grounded in love will we be able to understand His love. That love, though revealed and familiar to all those who belong to Him, is still beyond our finite comprehension.

So, Paul says to you, “You will see the King in all of His glory and beauty when His glory and beauty is revealed in you.”

 

~Brad Whitt

Image source