Here is where faith begins. “I believe in God the Father almighty, creator…” You are not an accident. You are not merely the best mutation in the neighborhood. You are not merely a species who is really good at avoiding getting eaten by another species. You can seek design and purpose in your life because you were created according to a design. And a “very good” one at that. Continue Reading…
What do you really see when you look in the mirror? You probably notice the lines that were not there a year ago. The scar just beneath your chin from when you went head-first over your bicycle when you were a kid and they stitched you up with little thought to “cosmetic” effect. Your eye is drawn to your retreating hairline or your sagging skin. Your eyes have seen the pleasing and the ugly. You may even look at your face in the mirror and wonder, as we all do, is that really who I am? Not because of the flaws, but because you know that your soul is too big to be circumscribed in a face.
“By him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:16-17).
This passage is speaking about Christ, making the point that the Son of God was present and involved when the universe was willed into existence. “All things.” Every physical reality and every spiritual reality exists because God created it.
In a mighty song at the beginning of the book of Revelation, four “living creatures” bearing the looks of a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle-covered with eyes, fitted with wings, moving about a throne before a sea of glass, focusing day and night on proclaiming the holiness of God-these four creatures representing the whole of creation, sing these words:
“Universe” means “the whole thing.” It is shorthand for every world, every speck of cosmic dust, every rock, every four-legged creature, every human being, every gamma ray and photon that exist anywhere. Put it all together and you have “universe.”
It was God who put it all together. He “fashioned” it. He conceived it and then willed it into being. “Let there be light,” he said, “and there was light.” We all know the opening words of the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The Hebrew word for “create” does not mean merely the rearrangement of matter. It is not the idea of a potter shaping clay or a woodworker building a cabinet. No construction worker ever said, “Let there be wood.” To create, in the most fundamental sense, means to bring into existence.
Time and again people responded to Jesus’ words with speechless astonishment. Perhaps as they listened to Jesus’ teaching, they occasionally found themselves turning a corner and stunned by a vista of reality that was bigger and grander than they had imagined.
Not everyone who heard Jesus became believers because we all have personal agendas that can hold us in disbelief. But everyone who did hear had to grapple with the power of what he said, and they had to decide what to do with the authoritative voice with which he spoke–an authority that did not come from a booming microphone or spotlights or banners, but from the ring of truth in the words themselves, backed up by every action he performed.
One of the boldest things any human being can do is to stand in front of someone else and say, “This is what I believe.” We listen, whether we are inclined to believe the same thing or not. It is bolder still to act on what we believe. Continue Reading…
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” – John 6:28-29
Faith is a calling. It is backed up by a universe of tangible facts about the goodness and greatness of God. Yet faith is still an extension of trust outward so that we are certain of what we do not see.
In future weeks Everything New will include practical advice on how we can be positive spiritual influences in the lives of the people around us or the organizations we are part of. At work and in life. There is an exciting new movement today of believers wanting to be used by God to “make everything new” in the lives of others.
For this week, we’ll begin with a 2-minute quiz/survey that will tell you something about yourself. Comments about it coming next time.
On and off over the years I’ve had the pleasure of teaching students in Bible and doctrine classes, and those classes tend to take on different personalities. I remember one class that was dominated by lively, energetic believers who were always pushing me ahead, always asking the questions that were just a step or two beyond my preparation. They were smart enough to know when I tried passing off an answer as more simple than it was.
We all know we live in a world that is wrong in so many ways. How can we influence things in order to make things right? Here is the inspiring story of a young man in a position of influence who did the unthinkable, William Wilberforce.
In the past year many thousands of people have been captivated by the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as told in the new biography by Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. He stood up to the power of Hitler, he spoke prophetically to the church of his day, he focussed on Christ.
To be human is to believe, holding in your consciousness a whole galaxy of realities that include the visible and the invisible. Not to believe, or being unwilling to believe, or thinking that believing is far too much to ask, is to tear out the heart of who we were made to be. It is to limit life to a kind of closet where facts are sorted on hangers and racks, instead of living that life in wide-open spaces that connect to unseen reality.
Some people think that one of the great debates in life is whether you are going to live your life by reason or by faith.
Here is one definition of faith: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).
Faith is not a catalog of things we know because we accumulate knowledge of them through our eyes or ears or touch, but it is the knowledge of things that can slip past the eyes, that are sometimes mere whispers in the ear or a brush along the shoulder. When the disciple Thomas went down on his knees upon seeing Jesus raised from the dead, voicing the absolute statement of trust, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus replied, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe” (John 20:29). So, on the one hand, there is the evidence of things that “we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched,” as the disciple John put it regarding his experience with Jesus. Then there is faith that reaches across a distance and stands on truth. “Blessed” are those who believe in the God who is beyond our eyes, but whose works flood our vision everyday.
When faith happened in my life it was like the irrepressible onset of dawn.
I love watching the sunrise on the horizon of Lake Michigan, and it always reminds me of the dawning of the new life of faith. The black-painted sky gradually thins and stars lose their sparkle against the graying morning. On the horizon, where the sun hides low, the darkness melts before the advancing, red-tinged light. A fire is coming. And then it shoots out across the landscape–just a small ray–but the darkness has no chance against it. Then the brilliant arc advances. By the time the full orb rides on the horizon, its heat is already drying the night air and warming my face.
Over the years, I have been interested in lighthouses, probably because Door County, Wisconsin, where I grew up, has many lighthouses around its 200-mile shoreline. There are treacherous shoals around this peninsula, and in the days of wooden ships, hundreds were lost. A great, great uncle of mine lost his ship on one of the shoals, and I’ve gone scuba-diving on many of the wrecks.
My great-grandfather was the lighthouse keeper at Cana Island lighthouse, where treacherous autumn Lake Michigan storms beat against it. Continue Reading…
Cross and tomb go together in the Christian gospel: both were occupied for a short span, both abandoned, both defeated.
The apostle Paul, who knew what it was to suffer for choosing to be associated with Jesus, said, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Phil. 3:10). Paul wrote this at a time when he was in prison and anticipated that he would have his final trial and execution at any time. What helped him hold things together, and hold the meaning of it all together, is that when we are torn to pieces by enemies, we are known and can know the Lord who is also crushed by his enemies. But on the other side of the apparent defeat is the victory of resurrection.
Any of us can choose whether to hope that we have enough gold in the tomb to make ourselves comfortable in the coffin, or whether we have the vivifying Spirit of Christ filling the decayed parts of our lives now, and carrying us along with the promise of eternal life.
Howard Carter and a few workmen made their way down an ancient 30-foot passageway cut into the rock in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. For over 3,000 years, no human had stepped down that corridor. At the end, Carter began cutting a hole in the door until he peered inside and saw “wonderful things.”
In his book, The Cruciality of the Cross, P. T. Forsyth wrote, “Christ is to us just what his cross is. All that Christ was in heaven or on earth was put into what he did there…Christ, I repeat, is to us just what his cross is. You do not understand Christ til you understand his cross.”
I was walking through the tiled corridor of the history building at the University of Wisconsin, having just finished teaching a class, my mind focused on pressing ahead to the cafeteria for a bite to eat. But my way was blocked by a cluster of twenty or so students who stood motionless and quiet, staring up at a TV monitor mounted high on a wall in the lobby, listening to the news anchor’s low and slow voice, which echoed among the tile and stone. I too could only stop and look up.
Jesus in English, Yeshua in Hebrew, is a name that means “salvation.” As Joseph heard from an angel in a dream regarding Mary, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
There are two sides of salvation: the objective and the subjective. The first is the fact of salvation. By Jesus’ coming, and by his sacrificial death and resurrection to new life, an unalterable act of salvation has occurred. The Bible has a whole vocabulary to explain it: redemption, reconciliation, justification, adoption.
Ask yourself, just for a moment, what you really believe is going to happen as history unfolds in ever-greater extremes.
Charles Dickens’ famous opening passage from A Tale of Two Cities begins this way: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”
In the cross and in the resurrection, God wins. God has won the war, though the battles continue. He has sent his grace, his unstoppable intent to pour out mercy and kindness, to the human race like food flowing into famine and water into parched mouths. Continue Reading…
Surely she would escape from her kidnappers if she had the slightest chance, everyone assumed. If there was any opportunity for her to call out to someone for help, or pass a note that said, “I’m Elizabeth Smart, help me,” she would. And so, for the nine months of her captivity since she was snatched from her bedroom in the middle of the night, most people assumed the worst-she must be dead.
During the brief earthly ministry of Jesus, his disciples gained an accumulating picture of who Jesus of Nazareth really was. Plenty of evidence pointed to the fact that he was not just from Nazareth. He came from God’s place and with a divine mission, and it was getting more astounding all the time.
The statements Jesus made amounted to claims of deity. “I and the Father are one.” “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” “All that belongs to the Father is mine.” His opponents began considering murder because “not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” Continue Reading…
This is what Christians since the earliest days have said about the person of Christ: First, he is clearly one person, not some dualistic oddity. But in that one person there are definitely two full and distinct natures. Jesus was truly human–not just a body with divinity replacing human nature. And he was truly divine–not just a prophet or even a super-prophet who was invested with an extraordinary measure of divine power.
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched-this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared to us…. We write this to make our joy complete” (1 John 1).
The Incarnation was not a divine visitation in the mere form of a human being. Jesus was no holograph of divinity. Some ancient self-described sophisticates called the Gnostics, who wanted to make Christianity more spiritual than it already was, said that the Savior only appeared human and to possess real flesh. He was a super-spiritual being who came to impart cryptic saving knowledge. If you could understand this coded truth and grasp the lingo, then you would be enlightened, and thus saved by the knowledge. They even said that the Savior went nowhere near the cross. He switched identities with Simon of Cyrene, the man who was forced to carry Jesus’ cross, and then stood at a distance, laughing at the foolish Romans who thought they had nailed the man who claimed to be Messiah to the cross.
In the 11th century, a wise Christian by the name of Anselm wrote a small book called Cur Deus Homo, Why God Became Man, and in it he offered a straightforward interpretation of salvation. Anselm said that only man should solve the problem of sin—but only God could. Who ought to suffer the consequences for the mistakes and crimes of human beings? Human beings, of course. But the problem is, we cannot really pay for our own sins. We were designed as creatures of perfect goodness and nobility. So every failing, every negligence, every assault against another person puts us deeper and deeper into a moral deficit. No one can make up for all that.
If you are looking for a set of values that will give dignity to your life, that will connect you with the life of God, and that will work at a practical level, you need not look any further than these: reverence and respect.
Reverence is what is supposed to happen in our hearts when we are exposed to the power and majesty of God. Reverence (Latin, reverentia) means awe. Wonder. Esteem. Even fear. Reverence is the prophet saying “Woe to me… I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). It is the newly-called disciple of Jesus saying “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). It is the submissive apostle saying: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33).
The purpose of worship is for us to be awe-filled (different from aw-ful!) to the point that we are driven to submission to God. The main word for worship in the Greek New Testament means “to bend the knee.” So every act of worship: praise, prayer, offering, the reading and exposition of Scripture, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, are all most effective when they lead to awe. And that awe is not confined to a church building. We can, and must, stay bowed before God in the workplace, at school, in our families. Even a professional football quarterback may go down on one knee when he feels grateful to God for being able to his job well–even though the brief act of submission will bring derision and ridicule down on him. People just don’t get it. In our culture we like it when our leaders strut and brag. Reverence makes people uncomfortable.
He shouldn’t have gone out in the ice storm on that cold day in 1841 even for his own inauguration as President of the United States, and certainly not without hat or coat. And he shouldn’t have given a ponderous 8,495-word inaugural address that took almost two hours to deliver. But sixty-eight-year-old Henry Harrison did, developed pneumonia, and died a month later, holding the term of that office for the shortest span in history. He accomplished nothing of what he aspired to in his address.
After Blaise Pascal, the famous French mathematician and philosopher, died in 1662, they found a piece of paper in the lining of his coat. So important were these words to him (which he had written eight years earlier) that he kept them close to his body day after day. The scrap, which contained his central convictions, read: Dieu d’Abraham, Dieu d’Isaac, Dieu de Jacob, non des philosophes et savants. (God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and the learned.) And then these words follow: Certitude. Certitude. Sentiment. Joie. Paix. (Certainty. Certainty. Feeling. Joy. Peace.)
What is a person? You are a person; a stone isn’t. You have self-awareness; a tree doesn’t. You can be moral; electricity is amoral. You are alive; a corpse is not. “Person” usually refers to a living human being, although from a Christian point of view “person” also refers to God, and we assume that we are persons with personalities because it was a personal God who created us.
Once we did a survey in our church and one of the questions was: “Do you often feel lonely and unnoticed?” A full 75% of the respondents said no, which made me glad for those who had connected with other people. But my heart went out to the 25% who said yes. Loneliness is an awful place to live. Continue Reading…
If God were great but not good, he would manipulate, deceive, and just plain lie. But because he is good, he is true and he is truthful. When we say that God is true, it is so much more than saying he is accurate (like a bank statement being true or a newspaper report being precise).
Truth as a personal attribute means faithfulness. It means being consistent within oneself, and in harmony with reality. When any of the biblical authors talked about “the true God” they were saying, the Creator of heaven and earth is steady and faithful. He does not change the rules of life. All things hold together as they are “trued” to him who is true. He will always reflect reality to us, and so his words of comfort are not mere sentimental rhetoric, and his words of confrontation are not a sour disposition expressed. There is no one more true than God.
The Scottish theologian P. T. Forsyth believed that there are really two overarching attributes of God: holiness and love. Put the pieces together (because God is a whole and complete reality), and you can speak of the “holy love” of God. His holiness is our assurance that he is different from the defilements of this world, and indeed, different from us, which contradicts any religious notion that God or the gods are just amplified versions of human nature.
[This post is in a weekly devotional series called Everything New.]
In many doorways of the Roman Empire there was a depiction of a god with two faces pointing in opposite directions. Janus was the god of transitions. He looked ahead and he looked behind–to the past and the future. He was a kind of doorkeeper, a minder of the gate. And so our calendar’s first month, January, is named after him. On January 1 of the new year we look behind, and we look ahead.
So what’s on the other side of the doorway you’re stepping through?
[This post is in a weekly devotional series called Everything New. Sign up here if you're interested.]
God is right in everything he is and does. His goodness, in other words, is the shape of the way he relates to others. There is nothing God has ever done that is not right and nothing he will ever do that is not right.
Justice is God’s rightness—his righteousness—applied in matters of judgment. In the final judgment, God will do what is right; and in the everyday flow of decisions, deliberations, and minor judgments, God’s opinion is unfailingly right, and thus good. Probably none of us fully realize just how much we need the judgment of God. Life presents us with puzzles. The pieces lie before us—all the complex factors going into a major decision, or the confusing signals we get from the people in our lives. We need to make good judgments, ones that account for all the pieces, and that pull the pieces together. Continue Reading…