July 23, 2014

A Matter of Worth and What Really Matters

What does it take to truly make one’s self humble? What does it take to make one’s self small? What does it take to truly die to self? I suggest many do not know, myself included. We know Jesus did it and we even intellectually assent to this fact, but can we in our sinful selves do the same? Do we know how to take an insult and not even feel the need to respond to it let alone get angry about it? Do we know how to understand our lack of meekness enough to realize that if someone does insult or demean us, that there is enough humility to not even take offense to the slight? Do we think too highly of ourselves that we believe the attacks or slights are not deserved or warranted? Do we value ourselves instead of others too much? I posit we all do to some extent. Some folks value themselves way too much. I suggest that I do and for this I repent almost daily and regret my sinful nature.

I perceive many of us have too much pride and too much sense of self-importance to allow a slight to slide and ignore it. It is in our very sinful nature to not be able to overlook a personal insult. It doesn’t matter if it comes from our parents, spouses, children, friends or even strangers. As a matter of fact, the slights sting more when they come from those we know because they know us better.

We think way too highly of ourselves. God gives us our value and God will defend our value in the eternal scale of things, we need not defend ourselves. God is also capable of defending Himself. He doesn’t necessarily need our help. Do we really need to perceive everything as a slight or transgression against us? I think not.

“Forgive us our trespasses,” comes first in the Lord’s Prayer. We then ask that others might not, “transgress against us.” The Lord praying this prayer in this order seems to be telling us to look inward for the change first before looking outward for the change when dealing with transgressions. Perhaps they were not even intended as slights. In other cases, slights directed our way could’ve possibly been solicited by our very own actions or transgression towards others as a retaliation. If we wish to reconcile relationships and overcome interpersonal strife or adversarial relationships it nearly always needs to begin with ourselves. 

The "you" really starts with me. The Lord knows (and now you do too) that this is the core of my biggest spiritual battle. I fail most profoundly here. It is here that I fully engage Romans 7 and it eviscerates me. The enemy in this instance is not Satan. The enemy here lies solely within. I am my own worst enemy. This is where the word of God pierces my heart most acutely.

I struggle horribly with this. I seem to have an inflated self-worth and in this way I am dangerously and sinfully idolatrous. I am idolatrous exactly because I often want revenge before I wish to forgive. Because I often feel the sting of an insult or a criticism before realizing I probably deserve it as a sinner. I really don’t deserve esteem from others…I make myself a god (little “g”). How? I assume my feelings which have been tainted by the fall and trigger my emotions (usually anger) are more important than obeying God. How am I not obeying? My first inclination is to not forgive...it is to return fire. This is clearly disobedience, it is clearly sin.

I am not getting meek. I am not getting humble. I am not getting myself small enough. I am not making any attempt to serve and be a servant. Invariably, feel I deserve respect I am not getting and by getting angry about it and fighting back to try and get it I am attempting forcefully to get it. At times I am vehemently set on righting a perceived wrong. I don't just want respect (that I don't really deserve), I demand it. It is this very fact that tells me (and others) that I absolutely do not deserve it!

I will often stand there and say, “That person had no right to slight me that way!” Please understand I never once said that someone hammering me, beating up on me or wronging me was right or acceptable. In terms of right and wrong and justice, it probably is wrong. This may be true but for my walk with Christ and my salvation, my concern should not be with getting even or righting the wrong. That is not the issue. Justice and vengeance when required or needed is the Lord’s not mine.

The issue is this: Am I doing things to become more like Christ? Usually the answer for me is no. Did Jesus retaliate when He was wronged on His way to the Cross? No.

Luke 23:34 ~ “And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”And they cast lots to divide his garments.”

Scripture is replete with examples that follow Jesus' lead here. To name but a few...

Leviticus 19:18 ~ “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

Proverbs 20:22 ~ “Do not say, “I will repay evil”; wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you"

Matthew 5:38-42 ~ “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

Romans 12:19 ~ “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Romans 12:21 ~ “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Once folks realize this, a paradigm shift is certain to happen in many people’s lives. I pray it is beginning to shift in mine as I have recently stumbled over this. It was lying in front of me the whole time. I never really thought about what it meant to be truly meek, truly humble and what it looked like to “get small” in my life. I struggle to this very moment with this issue.

It is a heart condition, not an intellectual understanding or attitude. It is an act of grace from God that allows me to have grace towards others when I am under sin and under satanic oppression. The very nature of becoming a true servant (which the Bible reinforces) drives me to get under others to lift them up. This is true of even a leader. It is especially true of a leader because it is a leader that needs to provide others with what they need to lead also. True leaders serve and are servant leaders…like Jesus. 

Yep, you got it! It's just like the old Police song from Sting, "I will turn your face to alabaster, when you find your  Servant is your Master." Understanding the true nature of a servant will change me like being turned to stone when it finally sinks in. The very nature of a servant is to get under others to lift them up and empower them. This obviously requires that a servant decrease their stature and status and humble themselves to make that happen. There is no other way allotted in God's Kingdom. To be able to help people in the trenches to get out of their trenches or help them fight in the trench, I need to get into the trenches with them. This requires dirty hands and worn-out shoe soles. It requires a heart change. Am I lifting up brothers and sisters or smashing them down like a subordinate with my actions and words? I have done too much smashing and not enough lifting up and often continue to do so in my sinful nature.

We really need to ask ourselves, “Is it worth starting a fight over?” It is the old adage come to light: "You need to pick and choose your battles". Nearly all of the battles I feel I need to wage to defend my “honor”, maintain “status” or preserve my “respect” are merely geared towards what happens in the “here and now”. How I respond tells me and all those observing exactly what kind of Chrisrian I really am. Am I the real deal or am I just a hypocritical idiot? Sadly, I fall towards the latter more than the former. I fall into the Devil's trap constantly

The truth is clear...honor, status and respect from humans only really matter in this world. A world filled with humans that are doing what? They are passing away. Some of these attributes which the world holds in such high regard only really matter in my world which is limited to the inside of my own skull (i.e.: your ego). In reality I am trying to defend a house of cards on eroding beachhead on a windy day. Why not worry about the stuff that really matters and will last eternally? I am not as important as I believe I am. My importance and worth is given to me by Jesus Christ. Let Him defend me if need be. As for my actions, I just need to obey Him. 

Furthermore, to lay ourselves down to the attack of our enemy and not fight back effectively disarms our opponents like a sheep remaining silent as it is led to the slaughter. How? It invalidates the truth of their accusations by our neutrality in our own self-defense. It puts the onus of proof to prove that truth on the accuser. If it is a lie, they will be able to produce no truth to validate their point. Nearly all of us struggle with this because we have been taught since we are old enough to learn that we have "rights". Slaves do not have " rights". We either submit to one of two masters. We either submit to sin which tells us we have rights (which we dont), or we submit to Christ and forfeit them in an efort to follow Him to do His will! What's His will? To forgive other's their trespasses! In the end, God becomes our vindicator because He sees all, and knows all and will eventually judge all in perfect justice.

July 21, 2014

Unanswered Questions II: Your God Is No Match For Me

This is another installment in a series centering on specific questions raised in the Bible that are not given specific or explicit answers. They are not answered because they are rhetorical questions or they were not really intended to be answered. It is ironic that many do get answered albeit indirectly. In and of themselves they seem as if the answers should be obvious but the fact that they would need to be asked of someone says volumes about the people posing the question. This second post in the series shows us the arrogance and pretentiousness of Sennacherib and his men like Rabshakeh and the reaction of Lord’s reluctant servant Hezekiah. 

2 Kings 18:35-36 ~ “Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’” But the people were silent and answered him not a word, for the king's command was, “Do not answer him.”

Archaeological inscriptions concerning Sennacherib claim that he conquered 46 strong-cities of Hezekiah including  many non-descript villages. In preparation for his siege of Jerusalem the Assyrian king set up his headquarters at Lachish. Hezekiah fearing the worst and not trusting in God joined an alliance with Phoenicia, Philistia, and Egypt to resist Assyria. He eventually admits directly to Sennacherib that this was a mistake. Hezekiah offers to pay ransom to Sennacherib to avoid a siege. Sennacherib demands so much treasure that Hezekiah must strip the palace and temple that the king had overlaid to glorify Yahweh. This is like a smack in God’s face twice. First he does not trust in God to defend him, then he robs from God to pay a mere human king.

Sennacherib accepted the ransom but continued to his goal of taking Jerusalem. Rabshakeh who was commander of the Assyrian army meets with three of Hezekiah officials to negotiate outside of Jerusalem. Rabshakeh assumes that Hezekiah even attempting to negotiate was trusting in his Egyptian alliance. Rabshakeh assumes that Hezekiah’s/Judah's God was no better than those of the other nations. He arrogantly asserts that even if the Assyrians provided 2,000 horses for Hezekiah, perhaps what Egypt might have contributed, Judah could not win.

However the Assyrians wanted all the people to know that surrender would be better than resistance. To resist would be catastrophic for Judah. The commander's allusion to the powerlessness Samaria god’s above would be especially menacing since many in Israel had worshipped Yahweh albeit in syncretism.

So what we have is the writer recording this lengthy exchange in Kings because it shows the central issues Judah faced and the central issue Christians today are faced with when challenged by the world to choose between what man says is proper like abortion, evolution and homosexuality and what the Bible or God says is proper like no abortion, creationism and sexual morality in marriage.

Should man trust in God/Yahweh or in man or manmade alliances based in humanism? At the heart is Satan or the world system challenging God's authority and this is always a losing proposition. God is sovereign and omnipotent. God always reigns and therefore wins in these situations.

Hezekiah sensing the extraordinary arrogance and affront to God knows a response will only further provoke Rabshakeh’s bravado. He opts to remain silent and tells his people to be silent also. Here we see a deliberate provoking and the best response to a provocation is silence. King Hezekiah knew this and made it so. Not only is Rabshakeh provoking King Hezekiah here, he is also mocking and provoking God.

God will not be mocked and justice will eventually be served. We see this today in the open rebellion of secular man against God and atheists proclaiming God does not exist. It is pure foolishness since only the foolish man declares there is no God. People in this day and age assume that God’s silence is either His inability to act, apathy towards sin or the possibility of His non-existence. They will be sadly and sorely mistaken when His wrath and judgment come on them.

As we know from the Bible, Hezekiah repented and Micah boldly predicted Jerusalem’s miraculous survival by divine means. We see in 2 Kings 19:35 that: “…it came to pass that night, that the angel of the LORD went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.” The siege army is struck with a plague of an unknown sort and origin and appear to have been decimated. The Lord was true to His word delivered by Isaiah:

“Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the LORD. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David." 2 Kings 19:32-34

Hezekiah’s response in this situation is critical and should be noted by all Christians. When confronted with insurmountable circumstances from the human viewpoint…he prays, laments/mourns and humbles himself before God asking for God’s guidance and help…and God responds in a dramatic manner. Although there are no guarantees that God will act on our behalf in a dramatic manner, this story should at least encourage us to at least do the same as Hezekiah. What is certain is that not humbling ourselves and repenting before God will not have a positive effect. We need only look at the Assyrians.  It behooves us to be like Christ and humble ourselves to the will of God.

What happens next is clearly the work of God.

2 Kings 19:35-37 ~ “And that night the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went home and lived at Nineveh. And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword and escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place.

So the answer to Sennacherib's rhetorical question is this: God will not be mocked. Sennacherib and his men's arrogance cost them dearly. Sennacherib like many before him and many after would then fade into the dust of antiquity. He would leave little more than a footnote in history in the form of a few relief cuts and an archaeological artifact known as the Sennacherib/Taylor Prism. It contained the annals of Sennacherib that are a supposed account of his military exploits against Judah. Accounts on a dusty old stone that were little more than embellishments and lies as opposed to the truth of Scripture. As for Rabshakeh, well, he is only mentioned in Scripture. Otherwise...no one would've ever known he existed.

July 19, 2014

Post Rock I: Decoder Ring-They Blind The Stars, And The Wild Team

I usually post on theological or biblical items but occasionally decide to post on other items of interest (because it's my blog). Anyone that knows me knows that I have taken a shining to music called Post Rock and Ambient recently. I guess back in the 1970's and 1980’s it was called Space Rock. I consider it a poor man’s Avant-Garde or poor man’s Experimental Rock. Some of this Post Rock and Ambient easily shifts over or morphs into what can be considered modern classical or music that is often used in soundtracks of movies or theme music for software like gaming and other applications. Either way, I like both permutations.

The music puts me in a reflective mood and allows me to use my limited worship time through study to its best use. I consider some of this music a blessing to me. As a reference point to the uninitiated, I will state that if there are patriarchs of the genre they are Brian Eno and Steve Roach. More recently the most popular purveyors of this music have been Sigor Ros. I suppose on the outer fringe you could throw in Vangelis too. Direct from Wikipedia…
Post-rock is a sub-genre of rock music characterized by the influence and use of instruments commonly associated with rock, but using rhythms and "guitars as facilitators of timbre and textures" not traditionally found in rock. Post-rock bands are often without vocals.
Some of this stuff I like so much that I have decided to post my favorites up to the blog. Since most of my writing time is dedicated to theological/biblical posts I will only post the album cover with a rating on a scale of 1 to 100. Obviously most will be high ratings as I won’t recommend junk and waste blog space to promote garbage. Occasionally I might comment but like the music, I will limit vocals and let the instrumentation speak for itself. Where available I will link to a sample of the music or an example of what makes it appealing to me.
First up is Beat the Twilight from Decoder Ring’s album They Blind the Stars & the Wild Team. The above video is visually dizzying but the atmosphere created by the music captures what I like about the band. [Rating 100 of 100]

July 18, 2014

Chatterboxes & Windbags: Blah, Blah, Blah...

There is something really annoying about incessant talkers or people who never seem to exhaust their supply of words. Please note I did not say people with a lot of good ideas. That's different. I am talking about those that talk for the sake of talking. The ones that can speak forever but end up saying nothing. The people that are aggressively articulate but have nothing intelligent to say. Even the Bible hints at the irksome nature of these types of people.

Proverbs 17:28 ~ “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”

Proverbs 18:2 ~ “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion."

Proverbs 29:20 ~ “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”

The Bible also tells us that these types of people are foolish and it tells us many other things too if we look closely enough at some of the words about people that vomit out too many words.

Acts 17:18 ~ “Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.
1 Timothy 6:20 “Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge…”

2 Timothy 2:16 “But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness…”

Okay people, time for a Greek lesson. All three of these verses use the word babble. The word in Greek for babble was either σπερμολόγος/spermologos as in the case of Acts 17:18 or κενοφωνίας/kenophonias in the case of 1 & 2 Timothy. The word spermologos was a compound Greek noun that is made up of the word “sperma” meaning “seed” and “logos” meaning “word”. Together it translates to “seed word”. It was often used to describe birds like crows or other scavengers that would scrounge individual scraps or seeds dropped by passersby. It was a word often given to people who hanged out on the streets (vagrants and troublemakers) that would pick up the scraps that fell from loads like a parasite that lived at the expense of others.

It ended up morphing into a description for people that would pick and choose secondhand information (gossip) and plagiarized that information making it their own. That information was then usually misappropriated when these spermalogos would inappropriately use the “cherry picked” information to come off as experts in the Greek rhetorical culture. This is the reason Paul was looked at with contempt by the Epicureans and Stoics in Acts 17. They legitimately thought he was a spermologos. These spermologos sounded like they were experts but in reality were merely regurgitating things they have heard or parroting isolated thoughts. They were all talk and no substance. Isn't this exactly what we see in many churches today? 

Babblers. All gossip, no Gospel. All scuttlebutt, no Scripture.

The word kenophonias was also a compound Greek noun that is made up of the word “kenos” meaning “empty” and “phonia” meaning sound. In other words people that made “empty sound”.

So when Luke and Paul use these words in Scripture they are used to refer to people making empty sounds or using misappropriated secondhand gossip. What is further interesting is that when the word babble is used in English it is onomatopoetic. In other words, by saying the word, it sounds like the exact thing it describes. In other words babbling essentially sounds like “Blah, blah, blah, blah.” 

Like I said, empty words.

Paul (therefore the Bible) is warning us that people who speak meaningless gibberish (another onomatopoetic) and gossip are deadly to the faith. Why? Because as Paul tells us, they spread false knowledge. Falsity and deceit is demonic. Truth is of God. We too should avoid empty yammering and grumbling. 
Proverbs 16:28 ~ “A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.”
Proverbs 17:4 ~ “An evildoer listens to wicked lips, and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue.”
Proverbs 20:19 ~ “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler.”

Instead of becoming perpetrators, we are to stand vigilant to these things and recognize them when we are confronted with them. In this way we avoid having our faith and knowledge corrupted by senseless “seed pickers”. Just like squawking crows or cackling hens when you throw seed or corn to them. All kinds of racket but no substance. A bunch of noise that just causes chaos and disunity.

July 16, 2014

In Their Own Words X: There's A “Deeper” Explanation

[An ongoing series about the profoundly ironic theological / philosophical quotes that scientists or those in academia make.]

Allan Sandage was the successor of Edwin Hubble's at the Mt. Wilson and Mt. Palomar Observatory in California. Edwin Hubble was the astronomer who played a major role in establishing the field of study called extra-galactic astronomy. He is also known for theorizing and observing the expanding universe theory that leads back to the Big Bang. The Big Bang theory of course aligns with Biblical narrative. 

He is also the namesake of the Hubble Telescope that has produced some of the most beautiful pictures of deep space that we have ever seen. Sandage having followed in Hubble’s footsteps is famous for determining the first reasonably accurate value for the Hubble constant (expanding universe) and therefore the age of the known universe. Sandage following similar lines of reasoning postulated the following.
"I find it quite improbable that such order came out of chaos. There has to be some organizing principle. God, to me, is the explanation of the miracle of existence, why there is something instead of nothing. If God did not exist, science would have to invent Him to explain what it is discovering at its core." ~Allan Sandage [New York Times, 12 March, 1991, p. B9]

These types of statements were not new to Sandage when he made them in 1991 either. He had made similar comments years earlier such as the following.
“The world is too complicated in all its parts and interconnections to be due to chance alone. I am convinced that the existence of life with all its order in each of its organisms is simply too well put together. Each part of a living thing depends on all its other parts to function. How does each part know? How is each part specified at conception? The more one learns about biochemistry the more unbelievable it becomes unless there is some type of organizing principle - an architect ~ Allan Sandage [Truth, Vol. 1, Dallas: Texas, Truth Incorporated, 1985, p. 54].

I guess, having the observational tools that he had at his disposal had a dramatic effect on Sandage's thinking. He would become a Christian later in life. I am guessing God’s eternal power and divine nature were clearly perceived by Sandage in the things that weraade in the universe. Having seen them in such diversity and beauty through his telescopes, there was no longer any way for him to deny the obvious.

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Moving on we have Paul Davies who is an English physicist. His field of study has involved him in inquiries concerning theoretical physics, cosmology, and astrobiology. His research has been mainly in the area of quantum field theory in curved space-time. Although he has not explicitly stated that he is a theist, evidence from his statements and quotes in books could build a strong case for thinking that he does in fact believe in an amazing creating God. Such as the following.
“I belong to a group of scientists who do not subscribe to a conventional religion but nevertheless deny that the universe is a purposeless accident. Through my scientific work I have come to believe more and more strongly that the physical universe is put together with an ingenuity so astonishing that I cannot accept it merely as a brute fact.  There must, it seems to me, be a deeper level of explanation. Whether one wishes to call that deeper level ‘God’ is a matter of taste and definition.” ~ Paul Davies [The Cosmic Blueprint: New Discoveries in Nature's Creative Ability to Order the Universe. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988. p.203]

“There is for me powerful evidence that there is something going on behind it all.... It seems as though somebody has fine-tuned nature’s numbers to make the Universe.... The impression of design is overwhelming” ~ Paul Davies [The Cosmic Blueprint: New Discoveries in Nature's Creative Ability to Order the Universe. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988. p.203]

Davies’ comments are as deliberate in their wordage as they are interesting. He doesn’t deny God outright but neither does he adhere to a religion either. This could just mean he doesn’t believe in organized religion like the Roman Catholic Church (theoretically, neither do I). I am guessing he was either agnostic when he made the first statement or he was being theologically disingenuous about what he really believed. It is clear that he did not buy into the sheer numbers game of probability that says the Creation was just a cosmic accident. 

Actually, he says he believed in something “deeper”. By this statement he begins to leave behind the empirical and flirt with a theological source. The term "deeper" here has to mean metaphysical or outside the physically provable or empirical. He has already made a scientific statement that said through his scientific work he could not account for the ingenuity of the physical universe. Ingenuity implies an act of creation. Ingenuity implies new ways in an ongoing process to meet or solve problems. As a matter of fact, by definition etymologically, ingenuity comes from the word ingenium which just happens to be the root Latin word for engineering. Because he believed something deeper was involved and he was willing to endeavor into the non-physical to find it...he was taking a leap of faith. In other words, Davies believed there had to have been a super-intelligence driving the things he saw in the physical universe.

If one takes Davies’ comments at face value from his 1992 book The Mind of God it is probable that Davies theological comments are laced with doublespeak in a whimsical manner. In the aforementioned book Davies briefly explores the nature of reason, belief, and metaphysics. He also examines the origin of the universe and even a few arguments for the existence of God. In so doing he includes the possibility that the universe shows evidence of intelligent design.

So what we have in Allan Sandage and Paul Davies are two men who studied the the physical universe and the natural world scientifically and ended up in the realm of the supernatural to explain their findings. They came to similar conclusions a generation apart. In their opinion, the complexity and intricacy of the physical universe could not be a statistical accident. Furthermore, they believed the obviousness of design was implicit in the visible universe also. Paul Davies said it best in the conclusion to his book The Mind of God.
"…the existence of mind in some organism on some planet in the universe [referring to Earth] is surely a fact of fundamental significance. Through conscious beings the universe has generated self-awareness. This can be no trivial detail, no minor byproduct of mindless, purposeless forces. We are truly meant to be here."

Other than the fact that Paul attributes the generation of self-awareness to the universe, he pretty much nails the fact that these are not purposeless forces. They are deliberate and meaningful. They are rooted in intelligence. They are rooted in design.

Therefore the big answers are foundational to existence and they are profound...and according to Davies...they are not of naturalistic origin or based in the physical universe.

July 14, 2014

Humanity in Jesus and Jesus in Humanity, Part Two

Waiting In The Garden (1895)
Valdemar Heinrich Nicolaus Irminger
Jesus’ perfect obedience was at the cost and was the cause of much further suffering. In other words, Jesus knew that obedience to the Father would incur substantial and continued suffering. By perfect obedience to the Father, Jesus was knowingly and willingly submitting Himself to an ongoing onslaught of increased suffering and punishment in His human life. A life that would culminate in the Crucifixion.

Matthew 16:21 ~ “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

What does this say to believers that would follow in Jesus’ footsteps as His disciples?

Matthew 5:11 ~ “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”

John 15:19-21 “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you…. If they persecuted Me they will persecute you… for they do not know the One who sent Me.” 

Instead of being revered as a King, Jesus is reviled and hated…even by His own people. He is rejected. For Jesus to remain obedient in this situation assured suffering…and He certainly knew it because he told the disciples it would happen (Matthew 16:21). Regardless of the pain He was certain to suffer, Jesus walked right towards His persecution, affliction and inevitable crucifixion. Why? Because it was the will of God the Father.

The Suffering and pain would only be intensified as His Crucifixion approached and that is where this idea of learning obedience through suffering really begins to take on significant importance and meaning. A Christian’s obedience usually has to be understood in the context of suffering or persecution. Like Christ we need to understand that ultimately, continued obedience will more than likely lead to more pain and suffering or vice versa, suffering and pain will be a good indicator of a true believers obedience.

Like us, all of Jesus’ previous incidences of suffering and obedience were incremental increases of faith in the Father’s provision. Like us, these incidents built one upon another and prepared Jesus for the greatest act of obedience: The Cross and the facing of death. It is the same with us. Our greatest suffering and greatest need of faith is when we die and face the impenetrable barrier of death. Jesus did just this and came out the other side for us to see. In a way, He has given us rest and assurance of life after death, eternal life by His Resurrection. Jesus’ greatest act of obedience was submitting to a sacrificial death for others even before they would understand or appreciate it.

The increasingly difficult tasks of obedience that were sure to bring discomfort or pain for Jesus were specifically set in front of Jesus by God. If we too take up our crosses daily, we to should expect the same.

This interpretation seems justified based on the context and the Greek. What does verse 7 say about the context of Jesus’ suffering and obedience? It says Jesus, “…offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” It further says Jesus was heard by the Father. It was these things that he learned in a progressive fashion. This implies Jesus was indeed in pain and it was beyond His emotional capabilities at the given time to overcome them…so He called on His father through the Spirit to aid Him. We, in our times of trial (even death) are to do the very same thing. All these things indicated an increasing effort on Jesus’ behalf to spiritually fight and gain things through prayer and supplication as a human being. Just was we should. Loud cries and supplication do not sound like the hallmark of an easy Christian life, do they? So we are called to emulate Jesus and even Jesus has told us…

John 15:20 ~ “Remember what I told you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.

There was nothing automatic about Jesus’ life. Planned, yes, automatic because He was God? No way. In human nature it is clear Jesus struggled…just as we do today and will tomorrow. It isn’t as though Jesus did this once and was done either...totally satisfied with what the Father did for Him one time, the first time. No, the language was clear in Hebrews, it said he was offering up prayers (plural)…in the days of His flesh which means all of them or an ongoing continuous set of actions that were completed by the time of His death. Just like we should be doing. 

Never is this fact more evident than in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus prayed on three separate occasions the night of the arrest. It is clear His human nature is extraordinarily troubled. Even in his hesitation to go to the Cross it is the desire to do the Father’s will that overrules in this situation. So He prays that God will aid Him to persevere onward. In His humanity Jesus clearly had a great desire to avoid the pain of Crucifixion and separation from the Father but He had an even greater desire to obey the Father and do His will. 

So should we.

This is a constant battle for us too. We need to turn towards God as evidenced by Jesus’ behavior. Jesus unequivocally knew the truth. In the end, the only place to go is to God. When we all eventually have that moment of crisis it invariably must be God to whom we turn. At the moment of death where else is there to turn?

If we don’t interpret this passage this way, we sell Jesus’ humanity short and require too much of His divinity that He didn’t really use when in the flesh. He relied on the Spirit and the will of the Father. His obedience came at a human cost and sometimes it was torturous. So might ours be. In this way we can see that Jesus’ entire ministry and His entire life were preparatory for His death and Resurrection, just as the entire Old Testament was too. Increasingly difficult demands on His life until the end.

So when it says that Jesus was made perfect it does not mean that He wasn’t already. It means that the will of the Father had been obeyed perfectly just as it had been planned in eternity past. It was a process that was set in motion long before and had finally reached perfection or culmination. God’s plan of Salvation had reached its desired end by having Jesus meet His earthly end according to Scripture. It was finished.

The Resurrection was the other side of the grave and the beginning of the New Life and the New Covenant initiated by the culmination of the old. The old having been fulfilled through Jesus’ perfect active and passive obedience. The Kingdom had come at least in part and would only come in full when we all those predestined reached glory like Him.

So what can we believers take away from this?

In our lives nothing is insignificant. There are no little sins. We are either obedient or disobedient. Everything we do is either a chance to improve our character or destroy it. Every trial or endurance is a chance to increase our faith or lose it. We should never take our pleasures lightly nor our suffering. Many pleasures are often there to tempt us. The suffering and pain is nearly always there to build us up, not break us down. In building us, it prepares us for greater challenges of faith awaiting us down the road. If it happened to the Master, it most certainly will happen to His servants.

Luke 12:47-48 ~ “And that slave who knew his master's will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.

Acts 5:41 ~ “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name.

James 1:2-4 “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 

July 12, 2014

Humanity in Jesus and Jesus in Humanity, Part One

Okay. I've ventured into somewhat familiar territory for this post but when I got back out I was changed. It was like journeying into the wilderness only to return forever transformed. Sometimes, when I make these treks into Scripture suspecting there are nuances I hadn't seen before, not only do I find them, they change how I think about the passage. Sometimes they make me think different about an entire portion or principle of Scripture. Rarely do they cause a shift in my thinking about meta-narrative or major underlying premises. What I am about to write about is one of those reality-shattering game-changers that permanently alter my perceptions. This one centers on the most important topic of all in the Bible. Jesus Christ and His human nature and divinity nature in one person. Nothing I state here is heretical. It only enforces existing orthodoxy. It is a closer examination of how Jesus did things as I attempt to better emulate Him as a disciple.

I suspect this post is going to floor some people, even those long to the faith and staunch in their position on Christ and their own Christian walk. It might rattle some dug-in or entrenched in their interpretation of the passage. I invite the challenge to attempt to at least paint a familiar picture from a new angle. It is the story of Christ’s growing in stature, obedience and faith and our parallel growth that is similar to His. I admit this might cause outright rejection in some with a myopic interpretive view. Perhaps for some it might cause a paradigm shift in understanding similar to mine.

The passage is Hebrews 5:5-10, specifically I narrowed in on verse 7-9.

When Jesus walked the earth Hebrews 5 tells us that He:

 “…offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” Hebrews 5:7-9

Many people including myself have believed that because Jesus was God, His spiritual life was fixed or unchanging. He was fully human but also fully divine and the Son of God. So, he knew all and lived a sinless life. Easy-peasy, right? There was really no growth because Jesus was holy and one with the Father. Because His relation with the father had been dynamically static for eternity past, no growth was possible, was it? I suppose at one level this is true. He never sinned and stayed within the will of the Father. But there is something more in the Hebrews passage and it is bolstered by other pieces of Scripture. Please let me explain myself before you scream, “Heretic!”

There is an obvious element to Jesus’ life and ministry that clearly was not spiritually static and the Bible says as much. But what does it really say about the human Jesus and what does it really mean?

The Son of God learned obedience through what He suffered. What does this really mean?

Was Jesus' life spiritually static as a human? Hardly. The truth is that Jesus’ life had to have been the most dynamic and lively of all spiritual lives possible. Why? It's exactly because He lived a life of unbroken obedience and submission to the Father’s will! That’s why! Because of His obedience, God’s spiritual actions through the Holy Spirit were constant in Jesus’ life. This therefore means that Jesus’ life was anything but static in terms of spiritual growth as an incarnate human. It is exactly because Jesus obeyed the Father perfectly even in times of suffering and affliction (passively), that this obedience resulted in the most profound growth in any spiritual life. Perfect obedience equates to perfect spiritual growth. Hence He was made perfect. This perfection is what leads Jesus to Resurrection. Part of this was done to act as a model for us even in our suffering.

If we look closely at the Greek in Hebrews 5:8-9 the text begins to unfold with meaning not first seen in the English. It specifically says that Jesus was able to save because He, “learned obedience through what he suffered,” and that, “being made perfect”. The words “being made perfect” are better understood to mean that he matured or was made complete along with the common understanding of perfect. Here is the hitch for many that will read this. We need to also reconcile the fact that God was fully human AND fully divine which means he was already perfect and should’ve been incapable of learning anything because He already should have known it. Learning implies an ongoing and increasing process.

So, does this passage in Hebrews mean what it says? In a word: Yes.

When we look at this passage we must also look at the verse previous. It says: “In the days of His flesh.” This means that it is obedience that was experienced specifically during His human incarnation. Why does this matter? In the days of His flesh He offered prayers and was heard because of His reverence. It is something that couldn’t have been true of just His divine eternal nature. Jesus as human offered prayer with supplication and tears and learned obedience through His suffering. In his divine nature in the presence of His Father this wouldn’t have been necessary as He was in perfect three-way fellowship with the Father and the Spirit.

If Jesus already had infinite power and knowledge in His divine state in fellowship with the Father, then why the need for prayer and requests? Jesus was obviously requesting assistance and help here. Why the dependency on the Father when He was incarnate? Again, we need to visit verse 7. Again we see the author of Hebrews is dealing with Jesus’ human experience. Jesus being a human was susceptible to all the temptations and suffering of mere mortal men. Therefore His emotions and pain would’ve been human. He was dependent on the Father for knowledge and protection just as we are. He too would’ve needed to look to the Father for similar things as we would. In His humanity He was weaker, He was vulnerable…like us. In His humanity…He too could weep, struggle...die.

A simple precursory glance at this passage would lead one to believe that Christ learned obedience here or learned some things that were unexpected. It implies Jesus might have been caught off-guard. It also implies that Jesus didn’t obey or could have obeyed the Father before the incarnation. All these assumptions point to a Son that seem to be less than the Father, not equal. As a matter of fact this statement makes it sound as if obedience was something out of the ordinary for Jesus. So what is going on here? Let’s go visit John 5:38 and 8:42.

John 5:38 ~ “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.”

John 8:42 ~ “…for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.”

So how did Jesus come? It is brutally clear here that Jesus came in obedience to God the Father. Ephesians 1 tells us exactly why and it also tells us that this fact had been predetermined.

Ephesians 1:3-10 ~ “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

The son was not forced by the Father, Jesus came gladly of His own choice.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”” Mark 10:45 

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:5-8

Jesus chose to come. Jesus chose to submit to the Father. In submitting to the will of His Father he allowed Himself to be subject to the hands of cruel men and be crucified on a cross. 

Additionally, the Hebrews passage is not telling us Jesus learned obedience per se. It says He learned obedience through what He suffered. This isn’t the first obedience folks. It is the first obedience within suffering and affliction. Jesus had taken on the attribute of humanity at this point in His existence and it is at this point he suffers in human form so that He could truly relate to us and what it means to be human. 

All obedience to this point had been in perfection in divine form. This obedience is something much different. It is human obedience. Furthermore, the obedience and suffering in this passage is in the context of a progression. The world “learned” and “suffered” in the Greek is second aorist active which means it was an ongoing process in His human life. Obedience therefore is progressive and if the obedience came progressive at the price or cost of suffering…this implications of this are absolutely enormous.

I will go into in the enormity of these implications next. They will be explored in the next post.

July 10, 2014

In Their Own Words IX: What Breathes Life Into The Universe?

[An ongoing series about the profoundly ironic theological / philosophical quotes that scientists or those in academia make.]

I've never made it a secret that sometimes atheists amuse me with the inadvertent and unintentional accuracy of their statements. The following is no exception.
“Although science may solve the problem of how the universe began, it cannot answer the question: Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing? What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?” ~ Stephen Hawking

I literally have to laugh out loud at this statement from Hawking. He literally sticks his foot right into in his unbiblical mouth. I have to assume that he doesn’t have any idea of how close his statement is to Biblical truth. If he did, I'm guessing he would’ve never framed his statement this way since he is so devoutly atheistic. In this statement Hawking ironically plays right into a Christian worldview. This one was too rich to pass up.

First, he admits that the universe had a beginning. Therefore it had to have had a cause. This is the quintessential Cosmological Argument for existence of God. He then segues directly into biblical concepts that are unavoidable. 

"Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing? What is it that breathes fire into...?" 

It is funny that Hawking uses the analogy of breath in his rhetorical question.
Psalm 33:6 ~ “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. 

Colossians 1:15-17 ~ “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” 

2 Timothy 3:16 ~ All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…”

As I said in a previous post, I will have a constant string of Richard Dawkins comments to add to this series. Here's another for you to ponder. Some of Richard's are so funny that not stating them would be a waste of the humor that they contain. Because this statement sort of plays into the last one from Hawking I will add it as a sardonic twist.
“My mind is open to the most wonderful range of future possibilities, which I cannot even dream about, nor can you, nor can anybody else. When we were talking about the origins of the universe and the physical constants, I provided what I thought were cogent arguments against a supernatural intelligent designer. But it does seem to me to be a worthy idea. Refutable--but nevertheless grand and big enough to be worthy of respect. If there is a God, it's going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed.” ~Richard Dawkins  

Dawkins, while speaking about the origins and nature of the universe makes a theological statement that is quixotically accurate and biblically exact. He says in reference to God that He is, “…going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed”.

He would be absolutely correct and any theologian that believes Scripture is inerrant would admit the exact same thing. Although God has revealed many aspects of Himself and can be accurately communicated, there are many attributes of God that cannot be accurately communicated and theology calls them the Incommunicable Attributes of God. Things like His holiness, infinite nature, immutability, timelessness, etc. Scriptural truth for these attributes are everywhere in the Bible.
Isaiah 6:3 ~ “And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glorthan

Hebrews 13:8 ~ “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

Dawkins is way more theologically accurate than most would believe with that statement. What is intellectually startling is that Dawkins essentially admits to not being an atheist here when he entertains the thought that, “If there was a God,” that prefaces his theological statement with.

Addendum: Since anyone that can read this post can also use the Google search engine, it will not be hard to find the following fact on the Internet. It turns out that Dawkins, in a debate with Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury in February 2014 has indeed admitted that he is not an atheist but rather an agnostic now. I suspect that some of his atheist colleagues will now attempt to distance themselves from Dawkins for having made this statement just as many did when Anthony Flew converted to Deism.

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