Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Soul-Poisoning Naturalism or a Soul-Sustaining Sacramental Worldview

Luke 8:22-25 (ESV)

22 One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, 23 and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. 24 And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”

Atheistic materialism (or material naturalism) is the idea that only matter exists. This view holds absolute sway in the sciences today. Our secular culture imbibes this soul-poisoning worldview and sees nature as independent from God. Even Christians in our culture have a hard time seeing the truth that the Lord is not only our Creator, but also the Sustainer of all things.

In our passage, Jesus shows that he is the Lord who commands nature. This is not difficult for him, for as the Lord, he sustains all things and all things derive their being and beauty from him. The New Testament even teaches that our Lord is mysteriously in all things, for as Colossians says of him, "in him [Jesus] all things hold together." John 1:4 says something similar, when it says, "In him was life, and the life was the light of men." While we certainly need to be cautious of pantheism, for the creature is never to be confused with the Creator, nevertheless, there is a sense in which the Lord participates in all things. The world is sacramental in a twofold sense, in terms of both representation and participation.

Jesus is also sacramentally present in the Old Testament (OT), in terms of representation and participation (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 10:1-5, which sees Jesus as both prefigured and present in the OT). Allusions to the OT are found in practically every passage of the Gospels. Through metalepsis, the idea that the Gospel writers understood the larger context of the text from which they drew their allusions, we see Jesus and his presence in the Old Testament, giving us a deeper understanding of who Jesus is, and who he is for us.

Our passage is filled with many allusions from the Psalms that refer to the Lord's command of the wind and waves. In a number of these the theme of the Lord as a refuge is also found (e.g., Psalm 32:6-7; 46:1-3; 124:1-5). The closest parallel is probably Psalm 107:23-32. Here is part of that passage:
For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits' end. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven.
Jesus promises to bring his disciples to "the other side" --- to the world beyond this one. He will bring us to our "desired haven." But even here in the midst of the journey, Jesus is that haven and refuge, who is present with us even in this troubled world, symbolized by the sea. By faith we see him and trust him as we travel with him and to him on the other side.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Fear of the Lord and His Presence or Absence

I went to a church service last night that made me wonder if professing Christians have lost the fear of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The Lord's glorious presence, his glory, majesty and beauty, can have different effects on us depending on our spiritual condition.  To those who are not walking with the Lord, his presence terrifies.  To those who are walking with him, his presence evokes wonder and awe, but also joy. 

The service I was at last night seemed to be missing his holy presence or at least most of the "worshipers" seemed removed from both terror on the one hand, and awe, wonder and delight, on the other. 

Psalm 97:1-7 speaks of the resurrected Lord's holy presence that ought to evoke terror to some and a reverent joy to others:

The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice;
    let the many coastlands be glad!

2 Clouds and thick darkness are all around him;
    righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
3 Fire goes before him
    and burns up his adversaries all around.
4 His lightnings light up the world;
    the earth sees and trembles.
5 The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
    before the Lord of all the earth.

6 The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
    and all the peoples see his glory.
7 All worshipers of images are put to shame,
    who make their boast in worthless idols;
    worship him, all you gods!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Should We Forgive Ourselves Or Should We Receive His Forgiveness?

Given the fact that Christmas is only a couple days away and that Jesus sanctified the womb, I thought this testimony from Mary Poplin, from her book, "Is Reality Secular?" might be helpful to some:

"When I began to follow Christ, I grew deeply remorseful over my two abortions.  It was undeniable to me that I chose this solely to make my life more carefree.  I am certain problems remain in my body, soul and spirit that directly relate to those decisions.  Historian Elizabeth Fox-Genovese wrote about the cultural mindsets that have led to an explosion in abortions worldwide.

'How have the advocates of abortion convinced vast numbers of people . . . that women's prospects for happiness and self-realization depend upon unrestricted access to abortion?  The simple answer lies in their success in convincing people that full personhood for women depends upon becoming truly equal to men---which effectively means securing freedom from their bodies and, especially, from children.  The more complicated answer arises from the assumptions of our culture as a whole, especially its escalating sexual permissiveness, its loss of spiritual direction, its pathological fear of human mortality and the related cult of youth, its dedication to instant gratification and disdain for sacrifice, and perhaps most portentously, its abandonment of children.'

"For several years after my conversion to Christianity, I repented over and over for my abortions, unsure whether this most merciful and brilliant God I was just learning to trust could really forgive me for what I now believed was a grievous sin.  When I arrived at Mother Teresa's, I was assigned to work with sick and handicapped infants; there are no coincidences in Judeo-Christian understandings.  After my return from Calcutta I was at a monastery where we were invited to write on a small index card the names of people we were promising to forgive on one side and the things for which we wanted to be forgiven on the other.  We would burn the cards on an altar outdoors during evening prayers.

"At the head of my list were my two abortions, on the other side of the card was a list of people I was committing to forgive.  I put the list in my pocket and began to walk along the river that runs through the monastery's land.  All at once I heard a male voice in my spirit clearly say, 'Who are "you" not to forgive someone "I" have forgiven?'  I stopped, stunned and confused by the question that had appeared in my spirit.  Not understanding, I walked further, and the same question came again.  I examined my list for missing persons and started forward when the voice recurred yet a third time.  Then I stopped, knelt in the grass, looked up at the sky and said aloud, 'Lord, I don't know what you are talking about.'  Into my spirit the Lord spoke one more time, '"I" forgave you the first time you asked me, and I do not want you to ask me again.'''

"Many people had suggested I just needed to confess and forgive myself, but that is not what the Lord was saying to me.  He was telling me 'Who do you think "you" are?  "You" do not have the authority to forgive yourself.  "I" have forgiven you; it is only "I" who can forgive you, and "I: have already done so.'  I did not need to continue rationalizing that abortion was not all that bad, or was legal, or that many people did it.  Nor did I need to remain guilty and try to work off some sort of self-designed penance.  I was forgiven and thus free; my staying bound was my choice, and it was limiting my life.  My many attempts to forgive myself were never really finished;  I always went back and tried again.  Things that are not true never completely work.

"For a year I searched the Scriptures testing the revelation and discovered there is not a single Judeo-Christian Scripture that suggests we can or should forgive ourselves.  Not one person in the Bible does this or is told to do it.  Working to forgive myself was an act of pride, a rejection of the free gift of grace already purchased by Christ, who had taken on the sins of the world that only a perfect life could bear.

"One of the first times I told this story in public, a young woman came up to me crying and said, 'Yes, but I had an abortion after I was a Christian.'  But David was forgiven for sleeping with Bathsheba and killing her husband Uriah long after he knew God.  Most of us unnecessarily carry our sin with us like a permanent companion or karma, something we anesthetize with our human reason.  But David simply cried out to God,

'Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin!' (Psalm 51:1-2)"

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Danger of Becoming too Positive

The influence of positive thinking is having a deleterious and negative effect on the mindset of many professing Christians.  I fear some believers have become so positive that they barely hear God's Word, which recognizes that we live in a fallen world dominated by sin and death.  If our advice, our teaching, and our "encouragement" does not deal with the reality of the fact that "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23), our positivity and our "encouragement" may send us to the hell, we are all too positive to recognize or talk about!

An Invitation to Talk

"At the very start of the book [Isaiah], it is though Isaiah is saying to us, 'When did you last talk to God about your sin, about God's threat to punish it unless it is atoned for  by Jesus Christ, or about heaven and hell?  If you go on ignoring the problem for ever, you may find it is too late to talk!'

"God's invitation to talk is accompanied by a word of grace.  In unforgettable terms he uses the violent picture of a murder:

Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool.

"'Scarlet' and 'crimson' are the color of blood on a murderer's hands.  You may recall how Lady Macbeth's conscience at the murder of Duncan caused her to sleepwalk at night.  Wringing her hands in a gesture of washing, she lamented: 'Will all the perfumes of Arabia not cleanse this hand of mine?' Death is an appropriate metaphor; it is the wages of sin (Romans 6:23).  

--Derek Thomas from his commentary on Isaiah

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Independence or Dependence? Strength or Weakness?

Psalm 86:1 (ESV)
A Prayer of David.

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.

Psalm 40 (ESV)
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

17 As for me, I am poor and needy,
but the Lord takes thought for me.

I am struck by the fact that David, a fabulously wealthy and powerful king sees himself as "poor and needy." Even more surprising, this is how Jesus, who was Lord from conception and birth, describes himself, for Psalm 40 is put on our Lord's lips in the New Testament, since David foreshadowed Christ.

We live in a culture that values strength and power. We prize independence and despise weakness and dependence. But just maybe the Word of God is telling us that this view of man as strong and independent is a faulty view that does not take into account our Creator, Sustainer, and Savior. Just maybe the truth is that all of us, no matter our age, are completely dependent on God for life, both physical and spiritual, for in him alone is life. Just maybe we are completely dependent on him for knowledge and wisdom, for he is the omniscient One and source of all wisdom.  Just maybe we are completely dependent on him for satisfaction, for he made us for himself, and seeking other "gods" can never succeed, including the lie that we are, or should seek to be, strong and independent!

The truth is not a maybe for we depend on the Lord who is the great "I AM."  From the One who alone is independent and self-existent comes our next breath, physically and spiritually, and when we learn that truth we will be in tune with the reality of his presence in his world.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Seeing Christ in the Proverbs: 13:7-8

Proverbs 13:7-8

7 One pretends to be rich, yet has nothing;
another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.
8 The ransom of a man's life is his wealth,
but a poor man hears no threat.

These two proverbs are observational, but point to a Christological reality beyond the observations they make. Their observations ought to lift our minds from earth to heaven.

Verse 7 describes the kind of thing we sometimes read about in the newspapers. A seemingly poor widow dies, and it is found that she was worth millions of dollars. Or the reverse, a man is seemingly rich, enjoying an extravagantly wealthy lifestyle, but all for the purpose of conning rich people out of their money. The proverb points to the fact that things are not always as they seem.

There was no pretending with Jesus, but the poverty of his incarnation belied his great wealth. Though he describes himself through David as poor and needy, and through Matthew as gentle and humble in heart, he was at the same time the eternal Son of God, who possessed all authority over heaven and earth. Jesus became poor for our sake, so that in him we might become rich. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9).

In Christ, we too are poor in spirit. Like little infants, we recognize our spiritual need that only the heavenly Father can meet. But despite our spiritual poverty, joined to Christ we are rich. We have spiritual wealth unavailable to those outside of Christ, things like forgiveness, adoption and eternal life. All of this is in contrast to those who have material wealth, but lack the true wealth of spiritual riches in Christ.

Ultimately, true wealth is found only in Christ, and this point is driven home in verse 8. While the rich are able to find the funds to answer a ransom demand, the poor are free from the threat of such a demand, since no kidnapper would choose to kidnap a son or daughter from a poor family.  Lifted to a spiritual level, this proverb shows the value of knowing Christ, for he alone can pay to God the price to deliver us from hell and damnation. He alone died to pay the debt/ransom we could not pay ourselves. Jesus says of himself in Mark 10:45, "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Even the rich do not have the wealth to get themselves out of hell! Money and riches are worthless to pay the price of our sin. Only Jesus has the spiritual wealth to free us from God's judgment. He paid this price through his death on the cross for those who come to him by faith. Thus, the poor in Christ are free from the threat of hell, and have greater wealth than the rich of this world, who will not be able to avoid hell though they are rich.

Things are not always as they seem. If you think you are rich, but do not know Christ, then you are truly poor and headed for hell. But if you know Christ, then you are truly rich, because Jesus died and rose to lift you to the riches of heavenly fellowship, which can be enjoyed now and throughout eternity.
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Monday, December 1, 2014

Materialism, A Sacramental Worldview, and the Longing for God

I think a big reason we don't long for the Lord and seek him is that our secular culture has catechized us to see nature and the physical world as having nothing to do with God. We are materialists and we cannot see that created things point to the Lord and his beauty. Materialism causes our souls to wither.

But once we discover the world is sacramental and points to the Lord's beauty and glory, then a longing for Him begins to stir in our hearts. As we see him, desire him, and come to know God in Christ, then our souls begin to flourish. The Winter of materialism melts away and the Spring of a sacramental view of the world arrives.

The Door to a New World of Meaning and Beauty

Proverbs 13:4 (ESV)

4 The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing,
while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.

The parallelism of the Hebrew poetry contrasts "the sluggard" and "the diligent;" "gets nothing" and "is richly supplied." But missing is the parallel to the word "craves." What is implied by this missing element?

Obviously the soul of the diligent desires, since it is richly supplied. So the question is, what does the soul of the diligent desire that results in it being richly supplied, rather than receiving nothing?

One key to answering this question is the "divine passive," we have in each sentence. God is the one who richly supplies the soul in the one case, and gives nothing in the other. What we can conclude, then, is that the soul of the diligent desires something different than the soul of the sluggard. What this proverb points to is that the ultimate desire of the righteous/diligent soul is for the Lord himself, and the Lord will come to those who diligently seek and desire him.

The righteous/diligent soul uses the creature sacramentally and finds fellowship and delight in the triune God by the right use of created things, including other people. The only way to truly understand what is taught here is to understand what the psalmist means in Psalm 73:25: "Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you."

We live in a universe where all created reality points to and participates in Jesus Christ. Therefore, all created reality is sacramental. Just as we eat the bread and drink the wine (earthly elements), and through them see Jesus, and have fellowship with Him, so we are to do the same with every good gift of the Father. All things derive their being, meaning and beauty from Christ, and are means of grace to those who believe and seek the Lord in all things.

The world is sacramental and wherever we look we are summoned to fellowship with God through his Son! Ask, seek, and knock and a new world will be opened up to you!

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