Monday, October 31, 2005

A Small Topic?

Sunday night, Bob joked about me assigning him a small topic - the love of God. A couple of things need to be said. First, in my defense, I laid out the topics and dates, he picked the date. Not my fault Bob! Second, he's absolutely right - God's love is so vast and beyond us the topic is immense, and daunting. Paul speaks of it as being unknowable. Listen to what he says in Ephesians 3...
Ephesians 3:14-19
"For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." ESV

To me, this is incredible. What gets me is this: look at verses 18-19 again. Paul is asking that out of the riches of God's glory, he would give us strength to comprehend his love, the vastness of it. He is asking that God would give us strength to know the love of Christ "that surpasses knowledge". In other words, on my interpretation, we need an experience of God's love - him strengthening us - to know God's love. Apart from his showing us his love in strengthening us know it, his love in Christ would be unknowable.

I needed to hear Bob's message on Sunday night to be reminded of someing that sounds so simple, and yet is one of the most shocking and perplexing things - God loves me. Not with a warm, fuzzy, sentimental love. But with a fierce, faithful, saving, strong love - a love that will not let me go, a love that surrounds me and hems me in, a love that pursued me, a love that died for me, in fact, a love that sent his Son to die for me.

There is a story about a man named Karl Barth that I love. Dr. Barth was one of the most brilliant and complex intellectuals of the twentieth century. He wrote volume after massive volume on the meaning of life and faith. A reporter once asked Dr. Barth if he could summarize what he had said in all those volumes. Dr. Barth thought for a moment and then said: "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so."

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Christ's Authority

Today I was reading through Luke 4 and was struck by the pictures we get of Christ's authority. I was tempted to keep reading, but felt that I needed to stop and think more about this. At the end of Matthew he says "all authority has been given to me". But what does it mean to say that Jesus has authority?

When we talk about authority, there are at least two ways we use the word. For example, Dick Vitale is an authority on college basketball. We know what we mean when we say that. We don't mean that he has the power to enforce anything, but that he is recognized as an expert in this field - he has the final word so to speak. But when we speak of police authority, or the authority of the courts, we mean something entirely different. We aren't referring to their expertise, but to their power to enforce their decisions, the law, etc.

What kind of authority does Jesus have? The answer is both. He is the final word on any and every subject and he has the authority to enforce his and his Father's will.

In Luke 4 we see Jesus teaching (v.14-15; 16-27). Jesus takes a scroll of Isaiah and reads in the synagogue and interprets it to refer to himself and his ministry. He does it with authority - he is the final word on it. In fact, in verse 32 Jesus was teaching again and it says the crowds were astonished because he taught with such authority (He said definitively, this is what it means, this is what you ought to do, instead of this is what Rabbi so and so said and this is how so and so applies this).

But Jesus also shows the other kind of authority. Throughout the chapter he command demons to come out of people - AND THEY DO. He commands a fever to leave Peters mother in law, AND IT DOES. He shows authority over disease and sickenss as well. I think the beginning of the chapter is kinda funny in light of this. Satan comes and tempts Jesus saying he will give him authority over the kingdoms of this world if Jesus would just worship him. Kinda funny cause Jesus already had it, and had authority even over Satan himself.

What does this mean for you and me? Well first, it means I am compelled to believe Jesus. What he says is true, definitive, and authoritative. What Jesus says is good, is good. What he says is harmful to me, what he says will lead to misery or destruction - I better believe it. His word is true. But more than that, if I disobey and disbelieve, I am flaunting my sin in the face of someone who has authority to enforce his will and punish those who resist. My mind goes to Philippians 2 where it says that "every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God" (even the phrase here Lord carries the conotation of authority!). Everyone will recognize and bow to the authority of Christ. Better willingly now than by compulsion later.

Reaching the Nations

This past Sunday Larry Lyman challenged us to finish the job begun by giants like Wycliffe and Tyndale - the job of bringing the word of God to every tribe and language on the planet. The job is huge, but so are the promises of God...

For example, this morning I was reading Psalms 86. Read verses 8-9, "There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours. All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name."

Does that do anything in you. It does to me. First, it a reminder that there is no God like our God. That's been the theme of the whole semester! Secondly, it calls to memory all the great things God has done - things as huge as creation, redemption, the building of a global community of faith, and the what he is doing in my life personally (I am his workmanship, as are you). This should raise in us an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Next, it gives us hope, rock solid confidence, that all the endeavors of Christ's church and all the labors of missionaries throughout the ages have not been in vain - All nations shall come and worship and glorify God's name. The scene, a scene repeated in Revelation 7, gives me hope, energy, fuels my prayers, and excites and stirs something deep in my soul.

I admire and am thankful to God for men like Larry Lyman, and I pray that God would raise up more giants even from among our community of faith.

Monday, October 17, 2005

God gets Bigger

I don't know how often you have moved in your life, but my guess is, not many have moved as often as I have. New York, Illinois, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Florida and now Indiana have all been home to me. I was born and spent the first five years of my life in Rochester, NY. We lived in a couple of different homes, but the only one I really remember had a huge hill out back. Actually, the hill was really only a small bump, but when I was a kid, it seemed huge. I would ride my bigwheel down it and play army on it with my cousins. I remember, it was huge. Then I went back six or seven years ago and it's almost flat! It's funny, as you get older, things seem smaller. Hometowns get smaller. Hills get smaller. The world seems to get smaller. But one thing doesn't - God. If anything, the older I get, the bigger God seems.

This was brought home to me the other night as I was reading CS Lewis' classic Prince Caspian, a part of the Narnia Trilogy. Lucy, a little girl who became a queen in Narnia, has been out of Narnia for sometime. Suddenly, she and her siblings find themselves back in the magical land of Narnia. After a few nights of wandering and wondering, Lucy, the youngest, meets Aslan again (in the books, Aslan is the Christ figure). Lucy runs to Aslan and gives him a huge hug.

"Aslan," said Lucy, "you're bigger."

"That is because you are older, little one," answered he.

"Not because you are?"

"I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger."

I love that exchange. As we grow in Christ, he doesn't get smaller and tamer, but bigger and more untamed. The more we grow, the more we realize he doesn't fit into our systems and the more we realize our finite minds cannot fully comprehend his infinitude. The older we get in Christ, the more mature, the more we see mystery. It is just the opposite of how things normally work. We so quickly loose our sense of awe and wonder, our sense of bigness. But when we are growing in Christ, we realize how far we are from knowing him fully, how many untapped thoughts there are to have still, how many questions unsolved. He seems bigger. I look forward to seeing how big he will be next year. 10 years. 40 years from now!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Is this just Fatalism?

Last night I preached a message on the Sovereignty of God. It is a doctrine that I have fallen in love with over the past six or seven years. It is an anchor in the midst of trial, something solid when everything else is shifty. But, is what I said about the foreordination of all things and the absolute certainty of God's plan being fully and completely accomplished, is that just fatalism?

No I don't believe it is. I think the biblical doctrine of God's sovereign
providence (governance of all things) is as far removed from
fatalism as night and day. Fatalism says, "Whatever is, must be".
Que sera, sera, Whatever will be, will be. There is no reason
things happen, no goal they are working towards.

Providence says that things are happening by design. Providence says "whatever God ordains must be". The difference is massive. Fatalism is driven by blind forces, chance, etc. Providence is driven by the wise, masterful, loving plan of God. Fatalism says that things are just happening - no reason for them to that goal. Spurgeon said, "there is all the difference between fate and Providence that because God has a great and noble goal and is working all things towards the completion there is between a man with good eyes and a blind man".

I do not believe in blind fate, but celebrate the God who is working all things according to a master plan!

Why Pray? Why Evangelize?

I know that when I began to think about the sovereignty of God in the terms that I described on Sunday night, I had to wrestle with a lot of questions (and I still do). I am somewhat afraid that I might have communicated that I had it figured out. I don't. I know that God is sovereign and that in some way we are still free. I did my best to explain how those two things are "compatible", yet I know that in some ways this explanation is unsatisfying. It is for me. The tension is still there, but it is a tension I can (must) live with, because I think the Bible creates the tension.

But beyond the theoretical questions, it raises some practical questions also - questions like "why pray?" or "why bother evangelizing?".

Let me again tell you how I have come to think about these things. First, I pray (though admittedly I need to pray more) because God has told me to (1 Thessalonians 5:17, "pray without ceasing", ESV). To neglect prayer would be disobedience.

Moreover, I have come to think about prayer less as trying to get something done and more about aligning my will to God's and keeping the relationship I enjoy with God vibrant.

Finally, I believe God has ordained the means and the ends. What do I mean? If God has ordained that he will heal my dad, it is possible that he has also ordained that he would heal him in response to my prayers - prayers he has also ordained.

In many respects, the same thing goes for evangelism. Why share the gospel? Because it is our mandate. We were told to do so (Mark 16:15, "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.", ESV)

Also, God has ordained the means and the ends. If my sons are to receive Christ (and I pray they do at a young age), then it is certain they will do so in response to someone explaining/preaching/teaching the good news of Jesus to them (Romans 10:14, "But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?", ESV). If they do, it will be because God has ordained it (Acts 13:48, "and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed", ESV) and because God has ordained that some preach to them. Goals aren't accomplished without means.

Finally, we evangelize because it is our joy to do it. I believe that when we are enthralled with God, we won't be able to help tell people about the joy we have in Christ - it will ooze out of us. It's natural to tell people about the best beach you've been to, the best pizza you've had, the best date you've been on. In fact, part of the joy is telling others about it. To keep it to yourself robs you of a measure of joy. So it is with our relationship with Christ. The more we testify, the more we enjoy, and the more people respond, the more our joy increases as we see Christ being glorified all the more. Pretty cool chain reaction huh!

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Inadequacy of Reason in the Search for God

Women just don't make sense, at least some of the time. For example, my wife Lynn gets angry with me (on a very rare occasion). That's not the part that doesn't make sense - I do plenty of things to make her angry. What doesn't make sense is when she won't tell me why she's angry - even when I ask. Sometimes when I ask what's wrong, I get "if you don't know already, then I'm not going to tell you". Men, look close - this is woman at her most irrational state.

I don't know. If I did, I wouldn't have asked. Her mind and emotional states are so complex, I often have no hope of navigating the raging waters safely! She is, at times, beyond my ability, as a guy, to comprehend.

When I read Romans 11:33-36 I get the same feeling (not the frustration, but the sense of awe and mystery). "Who has known the mind of the Lord" Paul asks. No one. It is unfathomable. He knows himself fully well, and that right there is enough to say that I can't fully know his mind - it comprehends the infinite, I never will be able to do that. It is complex and deep ("Oh the depths!").

This reminds me that reason alone is never enough to bring me to a deep or saving knowledge of God. We need his self-revelation to us. We need a "divine and supernatural light immediately imparted to the soul" (Edwards).

Even then, we must acknowledge that God will always know things that we do not. Spurgeon counseled a young divinity student saying, "We must allow God to know things that we do not".

Paul was writing in Romans 8-11 about the sovereignty of God in the salvation of men and women (predesitination and election) and he concludes this section with a doxology reminding us that God's ways are beyond tracing out. Amen Paul, Amen.

PS. Lest Lynn get angry with me and so I don't have to guess why, lets keep this conversation between us!