Biblical Exhortation and Imaginary Internet Points

If you read blogs then there’s a chance you’re familiar with the website Reddit.  If so, then you probably know exactly where this post is going.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with Reddit I’ll give you a brief introduction.  Reddit is an unimaginably successful internet forum where users can submit links and/or text posts for discussion among other Redditors.  The website is broken down into thousands of micro sites called “subreddits”.  Anyone can create a subreddit about anything and anyone can post and comment and receive imaginary internet points called “karma” or “upvotes” and “downvotes”.  The voting system is what determines ranking on each subreddit and the stuff that gets downvoted a lot sinks to the bottom while content deemed worthy of upvotes rises to the top.

I frequently visit the Astronomy and Astrophotography subreddits, along with the pages of the various sports teams I follow.  The directory is simple, to visit your desired subreddit you simply type in http://www.reddit.com/r/(whatever you want).  The abbreviated URL can be written shorthand as /r/astronomy or /r/astrophotography or /r/orioles.

Reddit is so popular because it functions as both a news aggregator and public forum where people of similar interests can talk about common interests.  It can be incredible useful for people of various hobbies like astrophotography, fantasy football, or people addicted to Breaking Bad.  Then there’s the downside.  As Obi-Wan Kenobi  warned Luke that in Mos Eisely you’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy, so to it is with Reddit.  A large portion of Redditors are Generation Y and X’ers who grew up on the internet and find it incredibly easy to rip someone to shreds with their keyboard; something they would never do in a face-to-face discussion or argument.  It is so much easier to insult someone or bully someone when you put a computer screen in between them and remove all the interpersonal interaction.

For all it’s ups and downs I’ve come to appreciate Reddit for what it is, a human hub of information and learning.  For good or bad it exists as it does.  I try not to contribute to the negativity and slander that inevitably happens.  One subreddit in particular that displays the best of both worlds is /r/Christianity.  There are a vast array of different people on /r/Christianity ranging from atheists to conservative Calvinists and everywhere in between.  People of different faiths such as Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, and Buddhism regularly participate in discussions as well.  While you’d like to think that /r/Christianity would be a shining light in the sometimes darkness of Reddit, you’d really be surprised.  Some of the most vicious debates and arguments take place on /r/Christianity.  Whether it’s atheists vs. Christians, or conservatives vs. liberals, or Calvinists vs. Arminians, it can sometimes be all out war to be the winner of a debate.

While there are many worldviews represented on /r/Christianity, by far the loudest voice is that of the more liberal Christians.  I don’t mean politically or socially liberal, but theologically liberal (although one does typically lend itself to the others).  I’m talking theologically liberal as in:  “I don’t have to go to church, I love Jesus and that’s all that matters”, or, “You can’t judge me, only God knows what’s in my heart”, or, “Jesus’ resurrection was a metaphor for my personal victory over Satan.”  That kind of nonsense.  I’m not even sure if I’d call that theologically liberal, maybe uneducated or self-righteous, or prideful would be a more accurate description.  Either way, the point is that when Scripture is used to support a certain topic that one of these people finds controversial or incorrect they become defensive and you get downvoted.

It is a trend that I’ve noticed for a while and often is brought up on the subreddit, that people who quote Scripture to make a point and take a stand on an issue often get downvoted.  They cry apostasy for the use of Scripture being downvoted and all hell breaks loose.  One such post I made today based on Titus 2:11-14 is a perfect example of what I’m talking about.

In my monthly “Man Night” meeting at my house we talked about the spiritual gifts and we talked about what Paul meant in Romans 12 about the gift of exhortation.  We decided that exhortation is using Scripture to strongly encourage or urge one do to something.  I could use Scripture to exhort you to find a job based on 1 Timothy 5:8, or I could exhort you to remain faithful in persecution from 1 Peter 4.  I was reading Titus 2 in my devotions this morning and I thought to share it on /r/Christianity.  I shared the verse and some of my own personal exhortation about renouncing ungodliness in our lives and what do you know?  The post currently has more downvotes than upvotes!

Now don’t confuse what I’m trying to say.  I’m not whining because my post is receiving imaginary negative internet points.  I’m observing a trend among Christians today to not react well to being told you need to do something…or else.  It’s a trend that deeply worries me because it reflects on the overall health of religion in the current times.  It shows that some Christians (or people who call themselves Christians) are living contrary to how the Bible says they ought to live.  I understand that it is not always easy being told you’re doing something wrong; it can be a slap in the face.

The author of Hebrews writes some of the most challenging and frightening words in the New Testament.  In chapter six he writes “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit,and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.” (6:4-6) and again in chapter 10, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.” (10:26-27).  Finally, in chapter twelve he rounds off his argument about holiness when he says, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (12:14).  The message is clear:  if you continue in sin after receiving the knowledge of the gospel you’re in danger of not seeing God.  Your works betray your lip service and you’re heart will be revealed when Jesus says to you “Depart from me you worker of lawlessness, I never knew you.”

The warning is in Titus 2:11 also.  Paul writes “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.”  God is training us to renounce ungodliness, or sin, in our lives and to live in righteousness.  From understanding the verses in Hebrews, you can safely assume that if you’re not putting to death sin in your life you need to seriously examine your faith because you might be deceiving yourself.  Be on your guard against complacency because it is the devil’s oldest trick.  That liar named Satan wants nothing more than to have you in a state of complacency about your sin because if he can convince you that sinning if fine he has control over your heart and you are his slave.  But Christ has shed His blood and died to set us free from slavery to sin.  The grace of God is training us to renounce our sin and to live self-controlled and upright lives as we’re shaped into the image of Jesus.  Jesus has bought us with His own blood so that we would be His people.  God’s will for us in this life is our santification (1 Thes. 4:3).  If we are not actively pursing sanctification and renouncing ungodliness in our lives then we have no assurance that we belong to Jesus.  Make your calling and election sure by putting to death what is immoral in you (2 Peter 1:10).  Abstain from sexual immorality (1 Thes. 4:3).  Do all these things and more because the blood of Jesus has He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son (Col. 1:13) so that we may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9).

The Bible has some hard things to say to us because the stakes are so high.  Peter and Paul write some pretty harsh things in their letters, not because they get a power trip or they have a thing for hurting people’s feelings.  No, they’re not afraid to be blunt and straightforward with people who are living contrary to their faith because they love people and they want to see them in fellowship with God.  Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions and say the hard things to people who are living in sin but profess to know God, their eternal destiny is at stake.  Likewise, don’t shy away from being blunt with non-believers if the situation warrants it.  Remember, if they reject you they’re really not rejecting you, they’re rejecting God and they’ll be held responsible for that one day.  Sometimes we need to use Scripture to exhort people to re-examine their lives, don’t shy away because you might get burnt or rejected.  Stay strong and let your speech be seasoned with salt.

 

Hosanna to the Son of David

With Palm Sunday nearly upon us I decided to put my Bible reading plan on hold until after Easter in order to read the parts of the gospels that talk about Holy Week.  I began today in Matthew 21 reading about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  This passage of Scripture is always poignant to me because I believe it portrays the human condition extremely well.  It displays to us the depth of our depravity and how all-encompassing our spiritual death is.

Matthew 21 begins telling us that Jesus is about to arrive at Jerusalem and has stopped in the town of Bethpage and the Mount of Olives which is about a day’s journey from the holy city.  There Jesus tells a couple of His disciples to go ahead to the village and retrieve a donkey and its colt and bring them back to Him.  Jesus has a specific prophecy He intends to fulfill by using these beasts.  There was a prophecy made about the coming King of Zion, which is God’s kingdom, that he would come to the city in humility, not in glory or fanfare.

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)

When Jesus finally enters Jerusalem riding on the colt it is unclear whether the people who saw Him would have recalled this prophecy, but from the words they use to extol Jesus I have to think that they were familiar with Zechariah’s prophecy.  They use the phrase that we all know, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”  The people of Jerusalem recognize that this man is Jesus of Nazareth and that He is the Son of David.  God had given them the eyes to see this about Jesus.  Many people before this moment had not seen Jesus for who He was.  Only a few people outside of the disciples recognized Jesus as the Son of God.  Son of David was a title given by Jewish prophecy to the messiah who would come and restore Israel to peace and usher in a glorious age of prosperity and worship to God.  It took special revelation by the Holy Spirit to see this about Jesus as we know from Peter’s confession in Matthew 16:17 when he confesses Jesus as the Christ and Jesus tells him that God had revealed this to him.

When the crowd recognized who Jesus was they began to spread their cloaks and palm branches on the road before Him and they declared His identity as the Messiah.  But the most interesting part of this passage is the interjection ‘hosanna’ to declare His praise.  The word ‘hosanna’ is interesting because of its meaning in Greek.  The word means literally ‘to be propitious’.  Propitious means to be favorably disposed or a good omen.  The inhabitants of Jerusalem knew that Jesus’ coming to them was a good sign and it meant that wonderful things were to happen.  In Hebrew ‘hosanna’ is a verb translated as ‘to be saved or delivered; liberated; or victorious.’  The people recognized all these positive things about Jesus that they knew from the various prophecies about the messiah.

It seems, at least for now, that the Jews know who Jesus is and what they think He is coming to do.  But of course they were under the impression that the Messiah would come to free them from their Roman occupiers, hence the liberation and victory language used by the word ‘hosanna’.  It seems nobody is ever truly aware of Jesus’ actual mission until after He’s been crucified and risen.  The people, nonetheless, are exuberant with expectation and I imagine it would have been an absolute craze within the city once news of Jesus’ arrival spread.

The part I think is worthy of focus is the fact that just five days later these same people are standing in Pontius Pilate’s courtyard screaming “Crucify him!”  How did this dramatic reversal happen?  How did the entire city turn on Him in a matter of days?  I believe it was because once they got to see Jesus and how He wasn’t living up to their expectation as the butt-kicker of Rome they began to resent Jesus.  Their spiritual blindness had hidden Jesus’ true purpose from them.  They could only see their selfish nationalistic image of their Messiah who would come to serve their own interests as a nation rather than die for their sins.  God’s plan is always much more glorious and important than our own.  We are limited in our vision and knowledge but God sees and knows all.  This was God’s plan from before the foundation of the world, to send His Son to be the ransom for sinners.

That these people who shouted Jesus’ praise at the gate then demanded Him to be crucified reflects something found in all people.  We are radically depraved in our understanding of God.  The spiritual death that was brought upon the human race because of Adam’s sin is all-encompassing.  We think of ourselves before others and we certainly put ourselves before God.  We are darkened in our understanding and cannot see the things of God.  Sin prevents us from seeing, knowing, and worshiping God.  We are spiritually dead as Paul says in Ephesians 2.  The irony of the situation in Jerusalem is that in their spiritual deadness they missed the point of Jesus’ death, but only His death is what can give them new life to see who Jesus really is.

In this Easter season I hope you would study the Scriptures and ask yourself the questions raised by it.  Questions like “Who do you say that I am?” and “What does Jesus’ death mean for me today?”  Are you living unaware of Jesus’ death on the cross?  Are you unaware that His death secured the forgiveness of your sins so that if you believe in Him you will be called a child of God?  Perhaps you need to be freshly amazed at Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross?  Pray like the disciples did to increase your faith that you would have eyes to see and ears to hear so that you may receive life.  If you need to have your vision renewed camp out in Scripture and make the words your diet.  May the Holy Spirit cause you to shout “Hosanna!” and be freshly amazed by the cross and what it accomplished.

Who Do You Say That I Am?

The question of questions.  Matthew 16 is one of the most interesting and discussion-worthy chapters in all of the gospel accounts.  The chapter includes a confrontation with the Pharisees and Sadducees that causes Jesus to spank them with the Old Testament and give them the divine cold shoulder and turns around to his disciples and tells them to beware of these wackos because they infect your soul.  Jesus asks this ultimate question to His disciples in the region of Caesarea Philippi after first asking who the nation of Israel thinks He is.  This simple question is perhaps the most poignant and most important question Jesus ever asks and is most certainly deserving of a hard-thought answer.

Let’s examine it in the text.  Beginning in Matthew 16:13.

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
(emphasis my own)

The Son of Man is Jesus’ favorite name to refer to Himself by and does so more in Matthew than any other gospel.  The name is quoted from Daniel 7:13 where Daniel sees a vision of God’s future reign in the kingdom of heaven.  Someone who is “like a son of man” comes and receives the throne and everything is placed under his dominion.  Jesus’ use of this title is confirmation that Daniel’s prophecy was foretelling a Messiah born as a man who will rule God’s kingdom.  When asked who the people say Jesus is the disciples give pretty much your full gamut of likely candidates.  John the Baptist is a strange answer considering that he was killed by Herod just a couple chapters ago and both were alive at the same time.  But then they say Elijah.  Elijah is an interesting choice because of all the people who have ever lived on Earth, Elijah is one of only two who have never died.  Elijah was a mighty prophet of God who was taken up into heaven by a chariot of fire.  For your curiosity, the other person was Enoch, back in Genesis 5:24.  All it says was that God took Enoch.

The next answer is kind of funny because I can imagine Jesus’ response to the first two answers being kind of like “Hmm, good guess, but no.”  The disciples wouldn’t have wanted to fail this test so they say “Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  This reminds me of the scene from the Hobbit where Bilbo and Gollum are playing the riddle game and Bilbo asks, “What have I got in my pocket?”  Frustrated, Gollum demands he get three answers.  His first answer is handses.  Wrong.  Second guess:  “Knife”  Wrong.  Final guess:  “String, or nothing!”  Both wrong.  Gollum turns to desperation with his final guess to avoid losing the game.  This sounds like what the disciples tried to do by saying “Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”  That’s pretty much a blanket answer.  Little did they know, but Jesus’ real test was in His next question.

Jesus asks in verse 15, “Who do you say that I am?”  We all know Peter’s answer but let’s examine that answer in some detail.  Peter speaks up first as he is known to do.  “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” replies Peter.  Jesus responds by blessing Peter telling him that flesh and blood did not reveal this to him, but Jesus’ Father who is in heaven then says some lovely things about Peter and the church.  But let’s camp our here for a while.  What did Peter mean when he said that Jesus is the Christ?

The word “Christ” means “anointed” in Greek.  The words Christ and Messiah are used interchangeably in the New Testament.  The Jews of ancient Palestine were waiting for a messiah to come and usher in a new age of peace for God’s people.  At the time they were being ruled by the Romans and although their religion was not affected by Roman occupation they viewed the Caesar as a false king who didn’t deserve veneration because only God was their king (even though they had a monarch, Herod Antipas).  The Jews were also required to pay taxes to Caesar as tribute which was added onto their tithe to the temple for the priests.  They had a vision of a messiah who would come and free Israel from the rule of Rome and restore their nation to its former glory.  They envisioned a political leader.  It is unclear whether this is the version of the Christ that Peter was referring to in this verse but whatever was going through Peter’s head was clearly revelatory in nature since Jesus tells him that God revealed this knowledge to him.

From Jesus’ response to Peter’s proclamation we do understand that the confession of Jesus as the Christ is something that must be given to us by God.  We cannot see Jesus for who He really is apart from the revelation and gift of faith from God.  This is similar to what we see throughout the gospels when Jesus speaks in parables.  Jesus says in Matthew 13:13, “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”  Only those to whom God has granted understanding and sight to can understand the meaning of Jesus’ parables.  Those who are Jesus’ sheep hear His voice (John 10:27) so we can conversely conclude that those who aren’t Jesus’ sheep don’t hear His voice.

What blows my mind is that Jesus called Peter blessed for confessing Jesus as the Christ!  Jesus says “Blessed are you Simon bar Jonah!  Flesh and blood have not revealed this to you but my Father in heaven.”  So we can see here that this confession is a gift from God and not possible on our own but that God rewards us for making this confession that He gifted us with!  That’s like a teacher giving a test and posting the correct answers on the chalkboard and still giving everybody an A+.  That just blows my mind when I consider the goodness of God.  But why is this question so important?

Jesus is by far the most polarizing person in all of human history.  Jesus Himself claimed to be God many times in the gospels.  The people who say otherwise simply don’t know what they’re talking about and/or take verses out of context (or hyper-contextualize them to the point of error).  Such a claim to divinity demands some kind of response.  Mark Hopkins in  his book Lectures on the Evidences of Christianity says “Christ either deceived mankind by conscious fraud, or He was Himself deluded and self-deceived, or He was Divine. There is no getting out of this trilemma. It is inexorable.”  Furthermore, C.S. Lewis also says:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. … Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.

We see from Jesus’ response to Peter that Peter’s confession was the correct one and He truly God in the flesh.  If this is indeed true then this has some pretty weighty implications in the lives of every human being.

John 5:22 says that the Father has given all judgment to the Son.  Jesus says in Matthew 28, “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  As God, Jesus has authority over all people and all of God’s creation.  We see in Colossians 1:15-20 that Jesus is the sustainer and upholding of all the universe and the God who died to make peace for us.

If Jesus is God then every single human being is held accountable to Him for our lives.  To Jesus is given the authority to judge all of our thoughts, words, and deeds on the final day (Jn. 5:22) and He will determine the fate of your soul. As Jesus says in Matthew 10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  Jesus is talking about Himself here.  The eternal fate of your soul is in His hands.  To those who receive the gospel in faith and believe Jesus died for your sins, eternal life.  To those who reject the gospel in pride and selfishness, eternal punishment for your sins.  Jesus is the gospel and the gospel is Jesus, they are inseparable.  Jesus died on the cross for the sins of all those who will believe.  All that is necessary to have your sins forgiven is to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died for your sins and that God raised Him up on the third day.  To reject Christ is to condemn your soul for all eternity.

There are many ways people like to think of Jesus.

Jesus is not just a good moral teacher who tells neat stories with advice for living like an ancient Oprah.

Jesus is not a therapist who helps you deal with your problems and your messy relationships.

Jesus is not some new age hippie who is into general spirituality with no conviction or truth.

Jesus is not an open-minded teacher who loves everybody, except for people who aren’t open-minded.

Jesus is not just a martyr who died so everyone could feel sorry for him.

Jesus is not the poster boy for the Aryan Nation with blonde hair, blue eyes, and a fair complexion.

Jesus is not some yuppie who encourages us to reach for the moon because even if you miss you land among the stars.

Jesus is God.  He is the savior of mankind.  As Colossians 1:15-20 puts it:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Even today the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:15 reach across time and space and demand our thoughts and attention.  “Who do you say that I am?”  This is a very personal and intimate question.  The way we answer it will determine the fate of our soul.

 

Pale Blue Dot

Perspective is a powerful thing.  As is the case with much in life, we get familiar with the things we do from our homes to our jobs, our possessions, and our families.  These things, and many others, become routine to us, so much so that we fail to comprehend how important they are to us.  When we lose perspective we begin to take things for granted and we stop seeing our jobs and homes, and family as blessings and we become ungrateful.  We could all benefit from a change of perspective on a regular basis to keep us aware of the things in life that matter most.  For the Christian an ungrateful heart can be our greatest enemy and our greatest hindrance from experiencing the full depth of the love of God for us.  What I want to hopefully readjust your perspective on today is perhaps the most elementary and critical blessing of all, one that is common to all humankind.  The place we call home, planet Earth.

Those familiar with the Apollo missions of the 1960′s and ’70s will remember the famous “Earthrise” picture taken by astronaut William Anders during the Apollo 8 mission in 1968.  It is widely considered the most influential environmental photo every taken.  The picture was taken on Apollo 8′s fourth lap around the moon on Christmas Eve 1968 as the Earth rose above the lunar horizon.  After the taking of the Earthrise photo astronauts Bill Anders, Frank Borman, and Jim Lovell took turns reading Genesis 1 over the communications radio.  Many viewed the Earthrise photo as a game-changer in how people saw the Earth.  No longer was the Earth a massive planet where nations waged wars against each other or where racial hatred plagued our hearts, but instead people began to view Earth as a small and fragile world.  Despite our differences, all humans live together on this small ball of rock floating in the darkness of space.  We were all made a little bit closer and our differences seemed less important.  Perspective has a way of doing that to us.  What we once thought was normal and insignificant immediately becomes precious and important.

Earthrise photo taken by Apollo 8  Credit:  NASA/William Anders

Earthrise photo taken by Apollo 8 Credit: NASA/William Anders

More recently in 2006 the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn took one of the most remarkable photographs of space ever seen.  When Cassini passed behind Saturn and Saturn was in between the spacecraft and the sun the planet was blacked out but its marvelous rings were bathed in sunlight and shone brilliantly.  That’s hardly what makes the photo remarkable though.  On the left hand side of the rings, in between the thin G ring and the main ring group you can see a pale blue dot barely discernible.  This dot is not a meteor, an asteroid, or even a moon.  It is the planet Earth shining 1 billion miles away.  Our fragile island home was illuminated by the light reflecting off of Saturn’s rings!  For me this is the ultimate picture of perspective within the solar system.  To be reminded of our place in the solar system and that we are but a minuscule part of that solar system is extremely poignant.  I’ve always been a fan of space and the overwhelming vastness of the universe has never been lost on me.  This picture however, changed the way I view the Earth as a planet.

Pale Blue Dot from Cassini  Credit:  NASA/JPL/ESA

Pale Blue Dot from Cassini Credit: NASA/JPL/ESA

We always see in the Bible that God is the creator of everything in the universe from galaxies to tiny microscopic bacteria.  When viewed on the scale of the unimaginably large and unimaginably small God’s power and glory are revealed like nothing else.  That God would create such a staggeringly huge universe and focus His attention on us living on a small rock orbiting an average sized star about halfway out in a typical galaxy is mind-boggling!  The significance of Earth is also magnified when you consider how important humans are to God in the story of the Bible.  God determined before time that He would give a redeemed humanity to Jesus as a gift of love.  Humanity is basically a gift from God to His Son Jesus to show how much God loves Jesus.  Earth is the stage on which the human drama unfolds and all of God’s actions in history are meant to advance to the cross where Jesus offers Himself as the sacrifice for the sins of mankind.  Further than that, the Bible tells us that all of creation longs for the day when it will be restored to perfection and when God will glorify Jesus and His redeemed people in heaven.

God chose to place humans on the Earth and for the job of hosting the epic story of the  redemption of mankind and the glorification of Jesus, God equipped Earth like no other planet we know of.  Since the turn of the century astronomers have discovered literally thousands of planets in our own galaxy.  Most of them are gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn with no hope of hosting life.  A small group of the newly discovered planets are rocky planets like Earth but are either too far away or too close to their host star to support life.  There is what astronomers call “the Goldilocks zone”, being just the right distance from the parent star to be neither too hot nor too cold for life to emerge.  Earth exists happily within the sun’s Goldilocks zone where water can exist as a solid, liquid, and gas.  This is the crucial element in how life arose on Earth.  Without liquid water life on Earth would not have been possible.  So far, there have been a limited number of Earth-like planets discovered in the Goldilocks zone and there have been zero confirmations of possible liquid water on the surface.

From what we know so far, Earth is unique in the galaxy.  Will we ever find another planet that truly is like Earth in its life supporting capabilities?  Only time will tell.  Even if we eventually do, nobody will argue that Earth is a rare gem among a galaxy full of uninhabitable planets.  When seen from the vantage point of space, Earth is a diamond against a black cloth.  The blackness of space makes the Earth shine as brilliant as the most carefully cut diamond but far exceeds the value of any precious gem found on its surface.  For something as precious and invaluable as the Earth, we must take care in how we steward it.

In Genesis God gave Adam the task of subduing the Earth and He gave Adam dominion over all the animals and all that grew on the surface.  With that great power comes great responsibility.  We are not only meant to subdue the Earth, but to care for it like Adam and Eve cared for the Garden of Eden.  God made the Earth beautiful so that it would show of His glory.  We must take care that we protect the beauty of the Earth to preserve the image of God’s glory it represents.  We have done a pretty terrible job of being good stewards of the Earth over the past 200 years.  Largely in ignorance we polluted the waters and air with chemicals, deforested millions of acres of jungle and rain forest, and hunted many species to extinction.  Our focus on human progress has come at the expense of God’s beautiful creation.  We have even managed to ruin the night sky by over-using artificial lighting to light the night.  The heavens which God says proclaim His handiwork are no longer visible to 2/3 of all humans because of light pollution.  The effects of human ignorance that lead to pollution are lamentable but not wholly permanent.  The Earth, much like a living creature is able to stabilize itself and heal from injury.  With a proper understanding and respect for the Earth we can begin to live again in harmony with the Earth.  As people who know God and have a relationship with Him, we should seek to be excellent stewards of the greatest resource God has given us.  We are called to be stewards of our resources in the Bible.  The Earth is by far the most valuable resource we have been given as without it our lives would not be possible.

Good stewardship of the Earth is another way for Christians to glorify God, the same way good stewardship of money brings glory to God.  We honor God when we use our resources with respect and the understanding that they are not ours, but God’s.  When you borrow a friend’s possessions whether they be clothes, vehicles, or money you treat them with respect because you acknowledge that your friend holds them in high regard and that they trust you with what you’ve borrowed.  We need to acknowledge that the Earth belongs to God and we live here because of God’s love for us and His good grace.  Our treatment of the Earth should reflect such love and grace.  Despite the harm we’ve done to the Earth there is hope for a better future if we seek to find sustainable ways to live.  There is no need to forsake technology or the comforts of modern living but there is a pressing need to figure out how to live our lives in a way that both honors God and the fragile island home He’s given us to live on.  Technology and intelligence are a mighty gift from God so we should focus on how to use each to better steward the Earth and its resources.

Forgetting how precious and valuable the Earth is is a dangerous thing.  Losing sight of the vastness of the universe and the wonderful creation of God can create an improper sense of importance, even an arrogance that we are greater than we really are.  When it comes down to it, we are just a bunch of hopeless sinners living on a pale blue dot floating in insignificance among an innumerable amount of planets in the universe.  That’s not the full picture of humanity though.  God has chosen to create us in His image and likeness that we should reflect His glory and proclaim His greatness.  One of the simplest ways to accomplish this purpose is to better understand the uniqueness and value of the Earth, our gem of a planet.  By making much of and enjoying Earth we bring glory to our Creator who is blessed forever.

Post-Election Thoughts

Here we are one week removed from the 2012 Presidential Election and not a whole lot has changed.  President Obama was re-elected, Democrats retained control of the U.S. Senate, and Republicans still have a majority in the House of Representatives.  Why then, has it seemed like the general consensus in the Christian world is that the country is now far worse off than it was one week ago?  This is something that I personally have been wrestling with since the results came in.  God has revealed sin in my heart that was unearthed by my reaction to the election results.

Being in my mid-twenties, 2012 was the fourth election I’ve taken part in going back to the 2006 gubernatorial election in Maryland.  Being a Republican in Maryland is a tough life.  Most of the counties vote Republican with the exception of the cities.  But, as is the case for most of America now, that’s where all the population is so the state has been heavily Democrat for many years.  Not a single candidate I’ve voted for, for state or federal office, has been elected.  My response has largely been hypocritical.  I will be the first to tell you that God has a plan to put in office him whom He has chosen and that this plan is perfect and just because it is God who is executing it.  However, I will also be the one bemoaning about how whoever was elected is going to ruin our society.  This was especially true in 2008 and 2012.  

I’m not a huge fan of President Obama and his policies foreign and domestic but that is neither here nor there.  The issue at hand is far worse than the President’s preferred method of governing the people.  The issue I deem most serious now is my response to the election.  God was kind enough to convict me of a lack of faith and trust in His plan almost immediately after the election.  After having a lengthy phone conversation with a friend about how Obama is ruining our country I was hit with the severity of my sin.  I was proclaiming God’s sovereign control over all things including elections then turning around and calling Him a liar by grumbling and complaining about how God is running things!

That is not what trust and faith looks like at all!  Proverbs 21:1 says The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD, He directs it where He will.”  Isaiah 46:10 says “My counsel shall stand and I shall accomplish all my purpose.”  And finally Proverbs 16:33, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.”  We cannot escape God’s sovereign control over all aspects of life, from great to small.  There are many examples of how serious a sin not trusting God’s plan is.  We see one such example in Numbers 21:4-6 where Israel is being led through the wilderness by God towards the land of Canaan. 

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom.  And the people became impatient on the way.  And they spoke out against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?  For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.

As we see in those verses God punished Israel’s complaining and lack of trust with death.  Israel had spoken out against God and His messenger Moses about the way things were being done.  They probably thought that going around the land of Edom was a bad idea and a waste of time for they had only the bread from heaven to eat.  They longed for better food, more water, and they wanted to be in the Promised Land already.  Their exodus from Egypt had so far not gone the way they thought it would.  Each person in the camp probably had their own expectations and ideas about how the journey to Canaan would be and for pretty much everyone it seems God’s plan was a huge disappointment.  

I can see a bunch of parallels between this story and my reaction to the Presidential election.  I had my own vision of the country if the people I voted for were elected.  I was clinging so tightly to that vision as the only hope for America to be saved from the path of certain decay it is on.  But the election didn’t go according to my plan and didn’t live up to my expectations which I had raised to a level where it was functioning as my savior.  Not only is that mistrusting God, it is also idolatry.  I had made an idol of hope out of the Republican ticket and feared that loosing the election would prove disastrous for the country.  This was such a serious sin for Israel that God sent fiery serpents to bite and kill those who protested!  Thankfully for me, I’ve been purchased by the blood of Christ and my sins were cast on Jesus who bore the punishment for me, or else I’d be no better off than the Israelites in the wilderness.

God wants us to trust in Him completely because He is in control and He is working His good and just plan to accomplish His redemptive purposes.  God’s ways are past finding out says Paul in Romans 11:33.  However, we can take comfort in truths like Romans 8:28 that say “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  The ultimate end of everything that God works is for His glory and our good because the two are bound up in one another since our purpose as image bearers is to glorify God.  We are far from glorifying God when we grumble and complain about political elections.  God wants our trust because He is a sovereign God who won’t ever let us out of His hand.  

That being said, we are still citizens of this nation while we’re here on the Earth and we are called to be witnesses for God to our neighbors.  We should always be standing up for God-honoring causes such as the care of orphans and widows, the poor, the downtrodden, and the weak.  Our political beliefs should be influenced by our biblical worldview.  As long as we have the God-given freedom to vote and choose our leaders we should exercise it with thanksgiving, but we should refrain from complaining because we know that nothing can take away the hope that we have in Christ Jesus.  Were Saint Paul alive today I’m sure he would be able to apply Romans 8:38, “For I am sure that neither an election, nor evil politicians, nor laws passed, nor taxes imposed, nor anything can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

Pure in Heart

The following is an excerpt from Logos Bible software’s commentary on Matthew 5:8.

Blessed are the pure in heart:  for they shall see God—Here, too, we are on Old Testament ground.  There the difference between outward and inward purity, and the acceptableness of the latter only in the sight of God, are everywhere taught.  Nor is the “vision of God” strange to the Old Testament; and though it was an understood thing that this was not possible in the present life (Ex. 33:20; and compare Job 19:26, 27, IS 6:5), yet spiritually it was know and felt to be the privilege of the saints even here (Ge. 5:24; 6:9; 17:1; 48:15; Ps 27:4; 36:9; 63:2; Is 38:3, 11 & etc).  But oh, with what grand simplicity, brevity, and power is this great fundamental truth here expressed!  And in what striking contrast would such teaching appear to that which was then current, in which exclusive attention was paid to ceremonial purification and external morality!  This heart purity begins in a “heart sprinkled from an evil conscience,” or a “conscience purged from dead works” (Heb 10:22; 9:14; and see Ac 15:9); and this also is taught in the Old Testament (Ps 32:1, 2; compare Ro 4:5-8; Is 6:5-8).  The conscience thus purged—the heart thus sprinkled—there is light within wherewith to see God.  “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth; but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with the other”—He with us and we with Him—”and the blood of Jesus  Christ  His  Son cleanseth us”—us who have this fellowship, and who,without such continual cleansing, would soon lose it again—”from all sin” (1 Jn 1:6,7).  “Whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him, neither known Him” (1 Jn 3:6); “He that doeth evil hath not seen God” (3 Jn 1:11).  The inward vision thus clarified, and the whole inner man in sympathy with God, each looks upon the other with complacency and joy, and we are “changed into the same image from glory to glory.”  But the full and beatific vision of God is reserved for that time to which the Psalmist stretches his views—”As for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness:  I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness” (Ps 17:15).  Then shall His servants serve Him:  and they shall see His face; and His name shall be in their foreheads (Rev 22:3, 4).  They shall see Him as He is (1 Jn 3:2).  But, says the apostle, expressing the converse of this beatitude—”Follow  holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb 12:14).

Visit to St. Andrew’s

This past weekend I had the privilege of flying down to Sanford, Florida to attend the wedding of my good friend and fellow blogger Dan and his new wife Karisa.  The two met at the NEXT conference in Orlando and then the Ligonier Ministries National Conference.  Karisa is a member of St. Andrew’s church in Sanford which is the home church of R.C. Sproul, who is undoubtedly one of the greatest theologians of our time, and Ligonier Ministries.  The wedding was lovely and was held at St. Andrews with Dr. Sproul presiding over the ceremony.  For me, this was the first time seeing Dr. Sproul in person and it was a great pleasure!  Over the years I have benefited greatly from Dr. Sproul’s ministry and teaching, whether it be hearing sermons online, listening to his podcast “Renewing Your Mind”, or reading the monthly magazine “Tabletalk” his contribution to Christianity and my personal walk has been immeasurable.  So it was undoubtedly a great privilege to sit under him at the wedding and at church the next morning.

St. Andrew’s is quite a large church, a modern version of an old cathedral.  The exterior is a beautiful white with stained-glass windows and huge wooden doors and beautiful architecture.  The interior is a huge sanctuary with beautiful vaulted ceilings and ornate columns.  In standard Presbyterian style the pulpit is raised in the middle of the “altar” area where Dr. Sproul expounds on God’s Word with authority.  With the combination of the architecture and the traditional worship style it’s really like a trip back in time to the Protestant Reformation when you attend the services there.

St. Andrew’s is a Presbyterian church that holds closely and dearly to the ideals and theology of the Reformation.  The congregation proudly affirms the five solas of the Reformation; Sola Scripture; Scripture alone, Sola Fide; faith alone, Sola Gratia grace alone, Solus Christus; in Christ alone, and Sola Deo Gloria; glory to God alone.  Dr. Sproul and the other ministers hold a profoundly high view of the holiness of God and promote a reverence and awe of God that has been largely forgotten in our day.  It was quite a joy to see a congregation that follows a traditional worship style, including corporate prayer and confession, singing of hymns, and of course the organ, be so spiritually alive!  In my past experiences with churches like this you can barely detect the Holy Spirit among the congregation because a vast majority of the congregation is spiritually dead and are not true followers of Jesus.  This congregation was alive!  They sung the hymns with fervor and joy, and the way Dr. Sproul preaches they hang on his every word.  Of course Dr. Sproul has a great amount of gravitas when he address the congregation.  His authority as a preacher is so much greater in person than when listened to on the computer!  He has a passion for Scripture and his greatest desire is to see his congregation grow in holiness by the preaching of God’s Word.

Overall, I was very encouraged by my visit to St. Andrew’s and left feeling joyful in the Lord and the work He is doing through the ministry of Dr. Sproul and Ligonier Ministries.  I can only hope that God would give me a chance to visit there again.

For more info on St. Andrew’s and Ligonier Ministries check out their website.