Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Depth of the Psalms

King David
I am currently reading through the Psalms in my Bible reading. What a blessing to have a book in the Bible that reflects a way to communicate with God that appeals to the heart-felt emotions and psychological proclivities that all of humanity of every age can relate with. My favorite thing to contemplate as I read the Psalms is the idea that they are the prayer book of Jesus (in a prophetic and personal sense). We see and hear many of the prayers of David intimated by Jesus in his public life and ministry. We also see him personally fulfilling many of the things stated in the Psalms. I think this is probably my favorite things about the Psalms; they are about Jesus, and reflect an intimacy with God that can really be found nowhere else in all of Scripture.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Reading David in the I Chronicles Genealogies

I have just come to that place in my Bible reading that at points can seem to be laborious, if not engaged with the right perspective. The section I am referring to is I Chronicles 1--11, you know, pretty much pure genealogy. So it requires extra concentration to stay focused while reading through here. A couple things that help provide focus is to ask "why" God felt it so important to include this genealogical section in the Scriptures in the first place? I think the primary answer to that is to realize, as with everything else in Scripture (cf. Jn. 5:39), that the genealogy provides the Messianic/Davidic line; or, Jesus' line. Note:
King David
5. The sons of Perez were Hezron and Hamul. 6. The sons of Zerah were Zimri, Ethan, Heman, Calcol, and Dara--five of them in all. 7. The son of Carmi was Achar, the troubler of Israel, who transgressed in the accursed thing. 8. The son of Ethan was Azariah. 9. Also the sons of Hezron who were born to him were Jerahmeel, Ram, and Chelubai. 10. Ram begot Amminidab, and Amminidab begot Nahshon, leader of the children of Judah; 11. Nahashon begot Salma, and Salma begot Boaz; 12. Boaz begot Obed, and Obed begot Jesse; 13. Jesse begot Eliab his firstborn, Abinidab the second, Shimea the third, 14. Nethanel the fourth, Raddai the fifth. 15. Ozem the sixth, and David the seventh. ~I Chronicles 2:5-15
An interesting note, that David is the "seventh," is that 7 is the number of perfection or completion. Let's also cross reference this genealogy with another one:
18. Now this is the genealogy of Perez: Perez begot Hezron; 19. Hezron begot Ram, and Ram begot Amminadab; 20. Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahashon begot Salmon; 21. Salmon begot Boaz, and Boaz begot Obed; Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David. ~Ruth 4:18-21 
And then one more cross reference:
3. Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez begot Hezron, and Hezron begot Ram. 4. Ram begot Amminadab, Amminadab begot Nahashon, and Nahashon begot Salmon. 5. Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse, 6. and Jesse begot David the king. . . . ~Matthew 1:3-6a
Who said genealogies couldn't be fun to read? For me, this helps as I approach I Chronicles 1--11 in particular; knowing that in fact the primary line being established is that of Jesus' Messianic Davidic line that is the line that brings salvation to the nations, thus making Abraham the Father of many nations. This is good stuff. One other important thing about these genealogies, is to bear in mind that what God has established in salvation history, over centuries of time, through multitudes and multitudes of faceless normal people; is his anointed line, and this line comes through everyday people who end up getting listed in a genealogy in the Bible. That is, pastorally, encouraging to me. This demonstrates how significant each of our lives are, because they are tied to the line of David in Christ.

I hope this brief little reflection on I Chronicles 1--11 helps provide you with some more perspective the next time you are faced with reading through this section of Scripture.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Loving Jesus through loving Scripture

Do you enjoy reading the Bible? I am speaking about just plain old opening up the Bible and spending large amounts of time simply reading it, ingesting it and internalizing it. This is something, only by God's grace, that I have enjoyed, and can't seem to live without, since about 1995 on a consistent basis. I am not talking about fulfilling Q/T duties in the morning or evening. I am talking about going to Scripture because you know that that's the place that you are going to encounter the living God as the Living Word, or Jesus. There is something about Scripture that no other book I have ever read has been able to achieve. I am not really talking about anything mystical, but something concrete and real; meeting and coming to know the eternal Word of God through the Written Word of God. If you stop and think about it, isn't it amazing, the Bible? I mean it was written over a period of 1,500 years on 3 different continents, and over 40 different authors; all of the authors communicating the same message, with the same center of meaning: Jesus! Scripture is nothing less than God's triune speech, speech that is embodied in Jesus, and speech that is burnt onto our flesh-soft hearts for Him!

When I think about Scripture it gives me hope! There are so many people in our world who are trying to walk through it without the sure Word of God as the lamp for their feet. We bump into people all the time who just seem to be bouncing off of one thing or idea to the next. That's what I like about the Bible. It's God's more sure word of prophecy for us. It's His daily provision for us, like pure water for a parched soul in a wandering wilderness. Isn't it exciting when you get to introduce someone to the power of God's Word in Scripture, and the Spirit illuminates their eyes for the first time to realize the significance of Scripture. That in fact Scripture speaks about a personal loving God, who demonstrated His love for them by becoming a man; and by becoming obedient as a man to the point of death on a cross. I love being around people who love the Scriptures. Unfortunately what I've been finding is that it is harder and harder to find folks who just love Scripture because they simply love Jesus.

There are so many people in the Church who want to know God, and thus know Scripture; but what I'm finding is that either: 1) folks don't make time for Scripture, 2) folks do make time for Scripture, but get bogged down with arguing for particular prefabbed readings of Scripture (like pet theological constructs), 3) or folks who simply read Scripture as a duty instead of as a love. These are all struggles for all of us, I would imagine, at one level or the other. What I am trying to evoke with this post is to excite people to commit large swaths of their time (like more than 30 minutes a day, maybe like 45 minutes, or more) to reading major chunks of Scripture (and not all over the place, but through books of the Bible . . . in fact through the Bible). What happens as you do this is that you become familiar with the flow of Scripture, you start seeing the bigger contours of Scripture, and in the end you realize that as you turn each and every page you are pressed straight up against Jesus Himself (cf. John 5:39)!

If you don't read Scripture this way, I want to challenge you to start! Ask Jesus to give you a thirst for His Word, and righteousness; and you know what? He will! He has in me, and continues too. You almost have to develop a sense of jealousy for the Lord. A sense that you will settle for nothing less than Him! An attitude that is never really satisfied with what you know of Him today; an attitude that says, when you go to bed one night, you're going to wake up the next morning and press into Him even further. A drive that won't rest until you find it in Jesus through His Word. Of course, none of this can be mustered up by you; it has to come from Him who loved us first so that we might love Him back (I John 4:19)!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Nobody Knows . . .

But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. 34. It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. 35. Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming --- in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning --- 36. lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. 37. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch! ~Mark 13:32-37

Harold Camping
Then if anyone says to you, Look, here is the Christ! or There! do not believe it. 24. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25. See, I have told you beforehand. 26. Therefore if they say to you, Look, He is in the desert! do not go out; or Look, He is in the inner rooms! do not believe it. 27. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 28. For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together. ~Matthew 24:23-28

Sound familiar?

Monday, May 23, 2011

"Why Do Bad Things Happen to 'Good' People?" Part 3: Conclusion, A Personal Reflection on Cancer

This has been something of a series, building upon a post that I originially wrote in the early days of my cancer last year (for those who don't know I am now, by God's grace, cancer free . . . after months and months of terrible chemo and serious surgery). I initially wanted to write that first post, and the series I never got to until now, for many folks with whom I worked (at Toyota at the time, now I am no longer employed there); they were reading my posts, and I wanted to provide the Gospel message for them through my blog reflections. Instead what happened is that I never finished that series; so I thought I would finish that off here and now.

So far my answer to the above question has been to say that: 1) According to Scripture there really is no good people, and 2) that the only frame someone can really answer this question from is provided from within a "saving" relationship with Jesus Christ, based upon loving trust in who He is -- "Good!"
To close, I thought I would just reflect, for a minute, on what this all has meant for me; especially as viewed through the circumstances of my cancer "battle" last year (I have now been officially cancer free since May 6th, 2010 [my surgery date last year], and officially done with chemo for almost a year this June).

As I noted, I went through some horrific chemo; the worst of it were the side-effects, not nausea, but everything else you could imagine (and what you couldn't). After going through all of that, particularly points where I was dealing with body sores in unspeakable places (and in my mouth which we're a nightmare), I can remember crying out to God, and wondering where He was, and why He was allowing this hell of cancer. I remember moments after I was recovering  from my 7 hour surgery, and thinking that God was tormenting me for no apparent reason (even though, intellectually I knew of Job and of course the cross of Christ). And then I remember finishing up my last two cycles of chemo (8 & 9) --- which by the way, the doctor wanted to do 5 more cycles beyond my 9th --- and just wondering why God was continuing to allow the hell of the treatment of cancer; my feet were racked with neuropathy (nerve damage in my feet and toes from the chemo), and I was fearful that the chemo was going to do irrepairable damage to my body (just a terrible thought). At points, even after the cancer was gone by surgery, but still enduring post-surgery chemo, I just desired for the Lord to take me home because at that point I couldn't handle the trauma of it all anymore (I thought). This is the context where the above question (the title of the post) took on new perspective for me. And you know what? While in the midst of it all, knowing that no one is "good," and knowing that the only way to answer that question (the title of the post) was through a trusting, loving relationship with Jesus who suffered for me; none of that, honestly, really provided much for me (except for an implicit hope, by the Spirit, that I ultimately "knew" that God truly was good and loving). All I could do was to try and wake up every morning, and exist. I didn't have the mental, emotional, or physical strength to do anything else but just try to live and breathe.

So in conclusion, answering the above question isn't something that can be easily answered for those who are in the "midst" of whatever hell they might be enduring. That's why, like in Matthew 7, it is so important to build on the rock; so that when the enemy rushes in like a flood, the Christian will be able to stand, because the Lord is able to make his servant to stand (Rom. 14). And that's it! There are no easy answers. We just trust the LORD, and we stand in the trust that the Son had in our stead as our Mediator between God and man, as the God-Man for us. That's it. We will stand only because He stands. We won't be able to give easy answers . . . we walk by faith, there is no one "Good," but God.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

"Why Do Bad Things Happen To 'Good' People?" Part 2: Walking By Faith

My last post introduced this question that is so commonly asked amongst all of us. I plan on doing three posts, total, on this question -- this being the second. This post is actually going to be short and sweet and to the point. In fact this post will provide an answer that I am sure will prove to be an unsatisfactory answer for most -- me included -- but it is the truth. I hinted at this in my previous post, and in fact this point served as the basis for how it is that we are to approach the above question (the title of the post). The answer to the above question is that (as I highlighted in my first post, that there really aren't any "good people") we walk by faith. 

The medieval way of parsing what "faith" entails was to note three prongs; those are, faith is: knowledge, assent, trust. I think each of these prongs have merit. Biblically faith, I think, entails all three of these. The most prominent, or the one I want to discuss a bit, is trust. It seems today, that trusting God is getting an awful lot of short shrift. Knowledge and Assent play a much more prominent role for today's "faithful;" at least this is how it seems to me. We, today, want to know answers to all of our most pressing questions; the kinds of questions that "we" are dealing with in the 21st century, existential ones. We have a hard time understanding how it is that Christian faith can be "relevant" unless it can provide answers to "our" questions in the terms that "we" deem adequate. So in turn, so often, it seems that our intellectual/existential questions become the tail that wags the dog of so called Christian faith. I can think of one glaring example of this, one that is very recent, and still somewhat dangling within the broader ethos of "Evangelical" Christianity; no doubt, what I am referring to is Rob Bell's problem with the idea that hell is eternal, conscious, torment. While the "Faith" has most prominently held that hell, indeed, is "eternal, conscious, torment;" today, with our cultural ethos in place -- the one shaped (in America) by a society of free-hipster-love (a la the 60's and 70's) -- the notion that love (and God being love) could ever place anyone in a hell that is eternal, conscious, torment cannot jive with our existential sensibilities and understandings of what love actually is. This is just one example, in my mind, that illustrates, quite well, what "faith" looks like if only defined by "knowledge & assent," to the preclusion of "trust."

But, I think "trust" is the foundation of the other two. In fact, I am not really sure this medieval schema is in fact the most faithful way to construe faith. So maybe I've already moved from what I said above about this medieval concept capturing the biblical conception of faith. Because really, "faith" is best epitomized by Jesus' relationship to the Father. Knowledge of God and assent to that knowledge does not seem to be the most prominent thing in God's self-revelation of Himself to humanity through Christ. Instead, what we see is the Son submitting Himself to the Father's will out of love based upon the trust that He has in the Father's purposes. I think this provides the best frame for understanding what "faith" entails; that is, by looking at how that plays out in the inter-relations between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

If this is the case, then the way we answer the question of this post is not primarily one that will seek to assuage our intellectual desires; but instead, this question is set within the life of God himself, within and through the Son's trusting and loving gaze upon the Father by the Holy Spirit. So in other words, the way we answer this question is an issue that is set within the boundaries of salvation and reconciliation itself; instead of the typical starting point, which is to start in the realm of philosophy and apologetics. This issue is only going to be answered by starting with faith from and in Christ by the Holy Spirit. Do you find this satisfying, or relevant?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

"Why Do Bad Things Happen to 'Good' People?"

*The following is a post I wrote on January 7th, 2010 here at my "cancer update" blog. This was going to start a series of post on this topic, and of course was prompted by the fact that I had just recently been diagnosed with a serious and deadly cancer in November 2009 (called Desmoplastic Small Round Cell Tumor - Sarcoma). I was going to try and tackle this question (the question that serves as the title of this post), and unfortunately was only able to finish this first post. So I am going to repost that post here, and then attempt to work out a series of posts that continues to try and answer this plaguing question.

This is a common query, books have been written on it; and philosophies’ based on it, ones that usually are bent on “killing God.” In all reality, though, this question is wrong; the question actually is: ‘why do bad things happen to bad people?’ This is the premise that scripture starts from, Jeremiah 17:9 says:

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desparately wicked; who can know it?”

This is speaking about ‘man’s heart’. So at core, man is fundamentally ‘bad apples’ from the get go; which of course goes against our “natural” belief that we are fundamentally ‘good’ — thus the title of this post. I think we’ve gotten a little beyond ourselves here, though; let’s rewind, and start from the ‘beginning’. Genesis 1:1 says (the first verse of the Bible):

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

If this is our starting point, then questions about ‘good people’ will start to take on a different flavor. Why? Because “in the beginning” ‘this God’ created man and woman in His image:

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image according to Our likenes; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” ~ Genesis 1:26

So originally we were created in the image of God to have a relationship with Him. Everything that we are flows from our relationship to Him. A problem entered in, man decided that He didn’t like “God’s way,” instead He wanted to do it “his way.” God originally gave man the choice to choose God or self; we all live with the consequences of that choice, the choice was “self.” Genesis 3:1-7 says:

1 Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; 3 but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.

It was at this moment that “man’s goodness” was lost; because his goodness was necessarily tied into his/her relationship with the Creator. Once this “order” became disordered; once this relationship became dis-relationship, the notion of man being “good” became a non-starter (not a reality). If all of man’s goodness was dependent on their relationship with their creator, and that was lost, then how does the question “why do bad things happen to Good people?” make any kind of sense?

Returning to Jeremiah, the verse we started out with, this is why it says that man’s heart is “wicked.” It is because we are devoid or emptied of the presence of God in our lives in the relational way that we were originally designed for.

So when people ask “that” question it becomes clear how it is misconstrued from the get go. Underneath that question is really the question: “if there is a loving God, then how could He let the things happen that He does, to apparently ‘good’ people?” Do you see the problem with that kind of thinking? It starts with man, instead of God. It assumes the lie that got us into this mess in the first place. And it takes no responsibility for the evil and wickedness and chaos that we see all around us (and in us). And it fails to recognize that God has actually done something about “our problem;” and further assumes that if we don’t “see” the immediate answer to that problem “NOW,” then He must be aloof and not care.

This post is just an introduction to dealing with “why” we are in the state that we are, now. My next post will unfold how ‘bad things’ have been reversed into ‘good things’ for “redeemed people.” Obviously, I am asking this question in light of my own current health situation (cancer); I am hoping for those who read here, and don’t have a relationship with the Creator, that this will challenge you to really think about these issues in fresh ways. In ways that might open you up to an orientation that you were designed for; for a loving relationship with your Creator. If you ‘start with yourself’, in any of your endeavors (i.e. to “better yourself”), then you necessarily have already ‘mis-started’ since incurved self is the problem to begin with. If you follow a belief system that endorses ascetism, or self-deprivation, or self-denial; again, you’ve started with yourself, in order to deny yourself, and thus mis-started. We need someone outside ourselves, to start over again for us . . . that will be the topic of the next post — stay tuned! I love all who read here, and it wouldn’t be loving for me to not at least mention how much God loves us; this post is an attempt to kick that off, we had to start somewhere, so why not in the “beginning?”