April 07, 2015

The Independence of God

I would like to briefly introduce you to a doctrine: the independence of God.  This characteristic of God falls under what theologians typically refer to as His attributes, or perfections. This is a beautiful truth, the eternal independence of God. In simplest terms it is this: God depends on no one to exist, because He and He alone has always been.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.- Genesis 1:1 (ESV)

Here, in the very first line of the Bible, we behold something amazing: In the beginning, God was already there. In the beginning, He created. Which means, before the beginning, He existed. He exists outside of, apart from, independent of that which He has created.

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”  God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” - Exodus 3:13-14

If one is familiar with the Old Testament, you will recognize this scene. God speaks to Moses from a burning bush, and tells him to return to Egypt to lead God’s people, the Israelites, out of slavery in Egypt and into the promised land of Canaan. Moses is terrified at this prospect, and is looking for any way out, so he says (I paraphrase), “who am I going to tell them sent me?” God says, “I am who I am.” God needs no reference point to anyone other than Himself. He is the ultimate reality. All others things receive their existence downstream from His ultimate existence.

We see an interesting new light thrown on this in the New Testament.

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” John 8:58

In the beginning God. I am who I am. Before Abraham was, I am. God is self-existent, predating creation; Jesus makes clear in this passage that as God, He is the one who has always been. Because He and the Father are one (John 10:30), this attribute of independence applies to Christ Himself. It is an attribute of the entire Godhead.

We see this again in Revelation 4:8, where we read the following,

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”

This matters. As the only eternal being, we again see that God is not only one who existed before creation, but also that He is not dependent upon any part of His creation. In Acts 17:24-25, the Apostle Paul says the following,

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.

He is the one who gives it; He does not depend upon you or me. Why did I call this truth beautiful, why would we think this is good news? Brothers, sisters, a God who needed us would be a small God indeed! However, the Scriptures reveal to us a God independent of us, who creates us and cares for us not out of compulsion or need, but out of volition. Out of love.

Note: This is altered from a section of a lesson I wrote for the Absolute Curriculum, which you can view here.

April 06, 2015

Misty Morn'

Misty Minaloosa morn’
fog settled in
Elk bugle, silence torn

The air, quite dense
I think it fells
Like pea soup, yes

Green single-wide
seems to blend
Into greener countryside

Walking down the road
gravel crunching
Silence re-bestowed

So peaceful here beneath
pine trees green
Like stillness bequeathed

A gift for granted taken
too often, true
Till life’s silence shaken

Makes one long for Still
a relaxation true
The thought, heart thrills

April 05, 2015

Cursing others

Over the past year, I spent a large amount of time thinking over the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. Part of this is due to the fact that I simply love this piece of Wisdom Literature. But I'm also making my second pass through teaching it, which forces me beyond simple mulling and pondering, into actual grappling with each passage as I go. Two verses that I find fascinating upon every return are verses 21 and 22 of the seventh chapter:
Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others. (ESV)
 The first sentence seems like a very obvious bit of advice that one might pick up anywhere in the world, perhaps even on Pinterest or Facebook. Don't take everything to heart, or you'll hear your servant cursing you. Don't absorb all that's said, because sometimes people say things that aren't all that swell.

However, our line of reasoning to follow that up would likely be something along the lines of, "they don't know you", "they can't understand you", "they're too narrow-minded", or perhaps, most profoundly, "haters gonna hate".

Solomon takes a different tact. He says, "Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others." Whoa. I see two main implications here. First, don't absorb every careless word, because you know that your own words are often careless. Second, cut others some slack. They haven't committed any offense against you that you haven't done to someone else--maybe even to them! Either way we take this (I think both are legitimate), the point is surprising: he points the finger back at us. It's not, "ignore them, they suck." Rather, it is, "don't take it all to heart; if you do, you're a hypocrite."

Why am I a Christian? An Easter reflection.

Roughly one third of the population of the earth would identify themselves as Christian. What each individual might mean by that varies greatly, but I want to simply take my definition from the Apostle Paul. I believe what he "delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep." 1 Corinthians 15:3-6 (ESV).

Jesus Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the Old Testament Scriptures which predicted this would happen. He was buried, and He rose to life on the third day (also in accordance with the Scriptures). He appeared to witnesses, more than five hundred of them. Through placing our faith in Jesus and the work that He did in dying in our place and rising again, we can receive eternal life (John 3:16) and be reconciled to God (Romans 5:11).

Now, why do I believe this? Of course there are a multitude of answers to that question. I was raised by Christian parents, grew up in the church, and had older Christian men who spent a lot of time pouring into my life, even when I was not listening to much of anything they had to say. God has been very gracious to me in those areas. Theologically, I can see the reality that it was the Holy Spirit breathing new life into me (John 3:3-8) according to the predestination of God the Father (Ephesians 1:4-6) that caused me to be awakened to my need to trust Christ.

But on a conscious, make this decision, level--what compels me to believe what I read in Scripture? Why don't I just think my parents and the church I grew up in are a bunch of religious wackos? It begins simply: The narrative the Bible tells is the most compelling explanation of life and its meaning which I have ever heard. I can't express it in full detail here, but I want to give you a taste of what I mean:

There is a God who created us in His own image (Genesis 1:26-28), loving us perfectly, this explains why we instinctively feel like our lives should matter, and that the lives of others matter as well. We rejected His kind and loving rule over us (Genesis 3), and this is why the world is the train wreck of death, hatred, war, disease, and decay that it is. God promised a redeemer at the time of that first sin, and then repeatedly throughout the Old Testament (Genesis 3:15, 2 Samuel 7, Isaiah 53, etc), providing a basis for the constant human hope that things might change, that they might get better. The coming of Christ to rescue and purchase a people for Himself (Ephesians 5:25-32) proves to be the greatest of all rescue stories, with the vanquished foes of Satan, sin, and death dealt a decisive blow, which will be finally consummated in their eternal destruction when Christ returns one day to usher in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

It all sounds a little too good to be true, doesn't it? I've read Tim Keller in a couple of different places use a phrase to the effect that the Gospel shows us two things: we are far more sinful than we had ever imagined, and far more loved than we ever dared to dream. This is the truth of Christianity. There is no dancing around what any honest observer will note: human beings are truly horrendous. On an individual and collective level, the evil that we are capable of is astounding. Holocaust, KKK, Columbine, ISIS. Yet there is something incredibly unique and amazing about human beings. The kindness to a stranger in need, the ability to design the iPhone, the building of B-2 bombers. That we slogged it out through 7 billion years of evolutionary process to become the cream of the earthly crop is, if I may suggest, a pretty hollow sounding explanation for either of these twin realities. It might explain the evil, but it does nothing to explain why I think evil is evil.

You might say, all well and good: you take your religion, I'll take my facts. But therein lies the most fascinating part of the Christian message: though its compelling nature is often the way it resonates with us on an emotional level, the entire message hangs on its basis in historical fact, and one fact in particular: that Jesus was raised from death. That passage from 1 Corinthians 15 which I quoted at the beginning is the introduction of a fairly extended argument from the Apostle on the topic of resurrection. There were people in the city to which he was writing who did not believe in life after death; who were teaching that Christ Himself was not raised. Paul's response to this is clear:
If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.- 1 Corinthians 15:19 
That is to say, if Jesus isn't raised from the dead, and belief in Him only affects this life, Christians are a joke. The message is a joke. The world ought to pat us on the head for being a bunch of little dunces. But notice what Paul appeals to earlier in chapter 15. Jesus' resurrection was attested to by over 500 witnesses at one time. That doesn't figure in those others who saw Him over the course of 40 days. Paul continues his argument in 1 Corinthians 15:20-21:
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.- 1 Corinthians 15:20-21
Jesus is alive. This is the foundation of Christianity. This is our hope for life eternal. We serve a risen Savior. This is why I am a Christian.

About Me

Follower of Jesus. Husband of one. Father of four. Pastor at Remsen Bible Fellowship (remsenbible.com).