Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sermon on the Mount-2

In introducing John the Baptist as the promised forerunner of the Messiah, Matthew continues to establish Jesus’ credentials as King. It’s clear that throughout the OT the Kingdom uniquely belongs to “Israel”. From the time of the “birthing” of Abraham’s “seed” as God’s “son” in the great redemption from Egypt (“Tell Pharaoh to let My son go”), God has been using “Israel” to teach the people of the earth (including the ethnic people of Israel) about the King and the Kingdom. Matthew understands that the nation itself was prophetic (see the Abrahamic Covenant and its fulfillment in Christ) and spoke of the true “Israel” to come. The Kingdom uniquely belonged to Israel, as God’s “son”; but it also belonged to all who would join themselves to Israel through circumcision. The universalism of the Kingdom is shown in that all who participated in “Israel” by circumcision were considered to be the people of God. Matthew uses the ministry of John (including his baptism of Jesus), the Temptation episode, and Jesus’ calling of His disciples to help him communicate to his readers that Jesus really is the King because He is the One to whom the Kingdom belongs. Jesus is the true “Seed” of Abraham and the true “Israel”, the true “Son” of God to whom the Kingdom belongs. And Matthew stresses all of this before recording Jesus’ words in The Sermon so that his readers would know that it's only by participation in Him that a person enters the Kingdom of God (Heaven).

John’s message of repentance (to be echoed by Jesus Himself) was directed to the self-righteousness of the people who thought that they were “children” of God by virtue of their ethnicity as “sons of Abraham”. John rebukes them by stating that God could raise up sons for Himself from the very stones that they were walking on! Ethnicity was of no advantage when it comes to entering the Kingdom of Heaven. But because the Jews didn’t understand the nature of the Kingdom that was promised in the OT, they were in danger of missing it by believing that it was theirs simply because they were biological descendants of Abraham. They were relying on their heritage, not on the One that their heritage spoke of. If they had realized that even the nation of Israel itself was prophetic, then they would have recognized the true Israel when He arrived. This is why John’s and Jesus’ rebuke was so strong. This is why Jesus’ condemnation of them was so severe. The people didn’t understand their own history, let alone their own Scripture which both painted the portrait of this King to come.

We’ve already seen that Matthew presents Jesus as the Son of David and the Son of Abraham, in his recounting of the genealogy; and also as the “true” Son of God, “Immanuel” (God with us!) in the flesh, in his recounting of the birth episode (all in Part-1). Related to the birth of Christ, Matthew recounts the episode of the visit of the Wise Men so that his readers would see that, as David’s royal covenant Son and in fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant, Jesus was the Shiloh of their father Jacob’s prophetic blessing. The Kingdom will come to the One to whom it belongs. Matthew is inundating his readers with prophetic material covering the full scope of their Scripture, all designed to lead them to the understanding that Jesus is their King.

When Matthew records the episode of John the Baptist’s baptizing of the King, he does so not to simply identify Jesus with Israel, but primarily to show them that Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel itself. As I stated above, “Israel”, as with all the Scripture, was prophetic; and as with all the Scripture, Israel also finds its own fulfillment in Christ. This is how Jesus can say that all the Law, the Prophets and the Writings spoke of Him. And this is how He can say in the context of The Sermon, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.”

As hinted at in Part-1, Matthew presents Jesus as the “true” Israel, as the fulfillment of Israel itself, through the use of recapitulation; Jesus takes upon Himself the "life" of Israel. We can understand that Israel was prophetic when we look at the Abrahamic Covenant. God’s promise to Abraham was that in his seed, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. God had promised to Abraham a royal lineage that would rule over God’s Kingdom. Abraham’s “seed” would be both a King(s) and a Kingdom; and through this Kingdom, God would bless the nations of the earth. Abraham’s seed was to be a light to the nations around them, telling of the glory of God and proclaiming His majesty over all the earth. Abraham’s seed was to bring the light of the knowledge of God to the world, and in this way the people would come to know God through the “seed”. This is basic OT theology, and the NT writers understood it perfectly.

Israel the nation “failed” to be God’s covenant “son” because the true seed of Abraham is Christ, the true Son of God. Paul not only understands Jesus as the “seed” spoken of in the Abrahamic covenant, but he also calls all who have come to Him by faith the “true” circumcision and the “true” sons of Abraham and, therefore, heirs of the promise! Everything about Israel was prophetic and can be seen most clearly, perhaps, in the priesthood. I won’t go into that at the moment because (hopefully) all of us who claim to know Christ already understand the prophetic nature of the priesthood.

The point is, Matthew (as with all the NT writers) understands the prophetic role of “Israel” and recognizes that the true Israel has come in the Person of Jesus Christ. And with His baptism, as with His flight in and out of Egypt, and in the “testing” of our Lord immediately following His baptism, Matthew presents Jesus as the true Israel, the true Seed of Abraham in whom all the world would be blessed. To enter the Kingdom of Heaven, a person really does need to join himself to “Israel”—the true Israel, Jesus Christ the Son of God.

Well…I didn’t quite get to the specifics of the baptism of our Lord with this post. In the next installment I’ll briefly discuss our Lord’s flight into and out of Egypt, His baptism and His testing in the wilderness. In all three of these episodes, Matthew shows us that Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel by “presenting features of His life as a recapitulation of Israel’s national life as the ‘son of God’” (Christopher Culver, Notes on Matthew).

Monday, July 28, 2008

Shalom and Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder and Shalom (technical difficulties with the player--sorry)

I’m big fan of Stevie’s early music (especially), but I also still appreciate much of his post-seventies material. He is a great songwriter and has a lot of “spiritual” music in his catalogue. He speaks forcefully about issues of life and love; and he seems like he genuinely believes in the essential “goodness” of Man and the Creation in which we live. He has a knack for being able to communicate the harsh realities of life in a way that is convicting without being self-righteous. He’s one of the truly great song writers of all-time. Of course, he can also simply write a terrific hook and create a great sappy love song, e.g. “You are the Sunshine of My Life”.

One of my favorite songs of his just recently rolled around on my music player: Saturn. I don’t know how many of you have ever heard this song before, but in my fascination with the Biblical concept of Shalom, I found myself drawn to this song lyrically as well as musically. Now I don’t know if Stevie ever claimed to be a Christian and I don’t necessarily believe that he had anything but “peace” (as we know it in our natural expression as a cessation of conflict) in mind when he wrote this song. But I believe that the “idea” of Shalom is resident within all human beings as part of the make-up of our humanity.

When God created Man, He created him as His image-bearer. That is, Adam was created in such a way that he communicated God to the created order by his very being, by who he was. If other sentient beings were to have known Adam before The Fall, they would have “seen” or known God because in his “image-bearing”, Adam effectively (though not perfectly, as underscored by The Fall) represented God to others. And of course, pre-Fall both Adam and Eve communicated God both to each other and to His creation. This is how Jesus could say to Phillip, “…if you have seen Me, then you have seen the Father”; not because Jesus was God incarnate (though He most certainly was), but because Jesus, as the second Adam, was the only “true” Man; Jesus was the first authentic human being. Even Adam, though created “good”, was still incomplete; he was still lacking perfection and needed to be joined to Christ to find his “true” humanity. No person is “complete” or fully human as God intended apart from Christ. And in His humanity, Jesus bore the image of God such that when people saw Him in His humanity (not necessarily in His miraculous works as God), people were seeing the Father. This was/is our calling as human beings, as God’s “image-bearers”.

We’re still God’s “image-bearers” (our created nature doesn’t “go away”), but in our “falleness” we don’t reflect God anymore, but ourselves. When people see us (or themselves), they don’t see God—they see a man! This is one of the consequences of The Fall. Instead of our “eyes being opened”, as the serpent suggested, Man became “blind” and no longer understands that his/her “meaning” and purpose in life is in communion with God. We no longer “testify” of God in our being because we now only see the world and all things in it (and even God Himself) in relation to us. We are the measure of all things and we view everything else in relation to how it affects us. When we look at each other, we only see Man, not God.

In Christ, however, those who are joined to Him are being transformed into His likeness so that by the indwelling Spirit we are progressively becoming proper “image-bearers” once again. In the true “Man” we are becoming truly “human” once again; we are becoming authentically human! And because of the work of the Spirit, we are able to see reality as it really is. We’ve had our eyes re-opened, so-to-speak, and understand that our meaning and purpose, yes…and our very LIFE is determined by God and our relationship with Him in Christ. We are able now to recognize not only the plight of humanity, but also the distress of the created order. We see things as they really are and therefore recognize Shalom for what it really is!

Anyway, I say all of that to say that Man, in his created nature as “image-bearer”, still understands the idea of Shalom. We understand that things aren’t “the way they are supposed to be”. We fight wars, but deep down we know that war is not ideal. Deep down we wish that the people of the world could just get along and live in “peace” with one another. We wish the earth would freely bring forth it’s abundance for all to share. We sometimes even try to protect people and the earth itself from being “wronged” in some way. We wish that everyone had what they needed—as long as they don’t take what’s mine! And that’s the problem: in our “falleness”, our idea of Shalom is slanted towards ourselves—always! We know what’s “right”, but we define this only in relation to ourselves. In our estrangement from God, ourselves, one another and the created order, our idea of Shalom is always slanted in our own direction, towards our own self-serving needs. Since we are not authentically human apart from being “in Christ”, we never give the proper dignity to our fellow Man or to the earth of which we’re a part. The idea of Shalom is present in all of us, though it takes the mind of Christ to understand and implement it properly.

I don’t necessarily think Stevie was thinking about Biblical Shalom when he wrote this song, but he certainly senses that the world “is not the way it’s supposed to be”. His “shalom” is found on Saturn. Is this his euphemism for “Heaven”? I don’t know. But his words ring true as he assesses society. He wishes for things to be right, but he sees that our only resource seems to be war. Obviously he is a product of his time and is probably speaking of a particular moment in history; and he’s focused on the machinations of government and religion and their complicity in sponsoring wars. But he rightly criticizes us for being so quick to use force to “make right” (to make shalom?). This song is a criticism first and foremost of war in general, though his imagery of “gun toting, Bible believing” proponents of war naturally makes us instantly think of America (for right or be the judge).

When I hear this song, I think (with the mind of the "New Creation") of a man singing about the helplessness of a fallen race of people (Man) who have forgotten who they were made to be. The human race hides from God behind many faces, including religion and wars, because we don’t want to give up our freedom to choose for ourselves what is “right”. The problem is that Man’s choices are always going to be wrong because they will always be self-serving. Man is blind to the dignity of his neighbor and the world in which he lives. Man will always do what ever it takes to implement her own idea of Shalom—and that idea will always be centered in her! Apart from Christ, Man really doesn’t (and can’t) love his neighbor as himself and can’t begin to implement the principle of Shalom. The answer for Man is Jesus Christ.

Of course, maybe I’m just blowing smoke. Maybe I’m using everything I just said simply as an excuse to put this song (and others) up here; or maybe I’m using the song as an excuse to rant about “authentic humanity” and Shalom. Either way, if I ever write two pages worth of justification for having the likes of “Highway to Hell” or “Cat Scratch Fever”, etc. on my blog playlist, even though I might happen to like these songs :-), then somebody needs to talk to me…please!

But “Saturn” does have some pretty righteous bass grooves goin’ on (along with some of the Bonus Stevie I’ve uploaded for your enjoyment!)--and that makes it worth playing right there...doesn't it?


Packing my bags…going away
To a Place where the air is clean
On Saturn—there’s no sense to sit and watch people die
We don’t fight our wars the way you do
We put back all the things we use
On Saturn—there’s no sense to keep on doing such crimes

There’s no principles in what you say
No direction in the things you do
For your world is soon to come to a close
Through the ages all great men have taught
Truth and happiness just can’t be bought or sold
Tell me why are you people so cold

I’m…going back to Saturn where the rings all glow
Rainbow, moonbeams and orange snow
On Saturn—people live to be two hundred and five
Going back to Saturn where the people smile
Don’t need cars 'cause we’ve learned to fly
On Saturn—just to live to us is our natural high

We have come here many times before
To find your strategy to peace is war
Killing helpless men, women and children
That don’t even know what they’re dying for

We can’t trust you when you take a stand
With a gun and Bible in your hand
And the cold expression on your face
Saying give us what we want or we’ll destroy

I’m…going back to Saturn where the rings all glow
Rainbow, moonbeams and orange snow
On Saturn—people live to be two hundred and five
Going back to Saturn where the people smile
Don’t need cars 'cause we’ve learned to fly
On Saturn—just to live to us is our natural high

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Sermon on the Mount-1

Well, I just started with my Sacred Space series and I’ve already decided to interrupt it. Oh well, what can I say…I have a lot on my mind. While I’ve been working through my thoughts on Sacred Space, I’ve been pushed in another direction—the Sermon on the Mount. We’ve begun studying the Sermon on the Mount (hereafter, The Sermon) in our church and as we begin to work our way through this passage it has become apparent that many people miss the point that Jesus is making. People seem to think that Jesus is giving us and ethical program to follow or that he’s telling us what His conspicuously “Jewish” millennial kingdom on Earth will look like after some supposed “rapture” and “great tribulation” period. I’m sure there are other ideas that vary somewhat, but The Sermon is usually categorized as a teaching for the Jews concerning their Kingdom at some future point in time (as opposed to the Kingdom that Christians are a part of now), or it’s an ethical imperative that Jesus is giving to those who believe in Him so that they can obey it and thereby be pleasing to God—or a combination of both! But was that Jesus’ point?

Matthew takes great pains in the chapters leading up to The Sermon to show his (mostly) Jewish readers at the time that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, the King that they had been looking for. The prophets had spoken clearly that God’s plan of redemption called for the coming of the Son o David to reign as King on the throne of God in fulfillment of His promise to David in the Davidic Covenant. The coming of this King is also the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant, where God promised Abraham a Seed (typologically fulfilled in physical, national “Israel”) in which all the nations of the earth would be blessed. This “seed” (which is also the fulfillment of the promise in the Garden that a Seed would be born of the woman who would crush the serpents head and reverse the curse) was to be the point of the revelation of God and His redemption to all the people of Earth. The earthly, physical (national) “kingdom” of Israel failed to be God’s Covenant Son, they were not Abraham’s “true” seed (as expected, since “Israel” was only typological); but in its failure, it prophesied of the True Seed to come—the King and His Kingdom. As we read in Galatians (and really, all throughout the NT), Christ is the True Seed of Abraham and the recipient of the promise. He is the Servant and the true “Israel” of which the prophets spoke (especially Isaiah). And all those who have been joined to Christ by faith, all those who are in Christ share in His inheritance as the True children of Abraham—and thus, only in Christ are the Davidic and Abrahamic Covenants fulfilled. We who belong to Christ are the partakers of the promise!

Matthew begins his declaration of Jesus as King by recounting the genealogy of Jesus in three sets of “fourteen” generations. These “generational” markers are designed to show a “macro” view of the movement of redemptive history that culminates in his own generation with the birth of Christ. Matthew’s genealogy reminds his readers of the promise of a King (in Abraham), the emergence of the (typological) king (in David), and the destruction of the king and kingdom (in the deportation), which he then uses to link to Christ. These generational markers, “from” and “to”, have a forward momentum that Matthew uses to take his readers “from” promise “to” fulfillment.

Matthew begins with Abraham to recount for his readers God’s promise of a King and Kingdom. He then establishes the typological fulfillment of that promise in David; but he reminds his readers that the Davidic kingdom wasn’t ultimate by immediately linking David “generationally” with the Babylonian captivity. His readers knew their history, they knew their Scripture. His readers were aware that God cursed David’s line, but that He also re-iterated His promise to Abraham in His promise to David, that He would establish David’s kingdom forever. The Davidic Covenant is the means by which God will ultimately fulfill His promise to Abraham. So in linking David with the Captivity, Matthew focuses his readers again on the promise of God. And by linking the Babylonian captivity with Christ in the last “generational” marker, Matthew suggests that this promise of God is finally and fully fulfilled in the Person of Christ.

At the very beginning of his gospel, Matthews takes his readers back through their Scripture to the promise of a King and His Kingdom, and suggests that this promise in now being fulfilled with the coming of Christ. He then continues his presentation of Jesus as the promised King by recounting His birth and the events surrounding this occasion. Matthew continually stresses the fact that the Scripture is being fulfilled. In Christ’s birth, in the story of the Wise Men, in the story of His flight into (and out of) Egypt, in the effort of Herod to kill Him, and even in His residence at Nazareth; in all of these episodes, Matthew is making his case that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Scripture, that Jesus is the “true” Israel, that this Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah and their King.

Even before he brings John the Baptist into the equation, Matthew is determined to present Jesus as the King. And with the entrance of John onto the scene, the people should have been fully aware that the Messiah has arrived. The people knew that immediately before the revealing of the Messiah, His “forerunner” would come to “make ready the way of the Lord, (to) make His paths straight”. The ministry of this “forerunner” was singularly-focused—to announce the coming of the King. What was John’s message? “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

John is announcing the arrival of the King and His Kingdom by calling the people to repent. Remember, the people have been looking for their Messiah/King for generations. They have not lost this hope. They believe their Scripture. They know that God has promised to set His King on the throne of David and to establish His Kingdom forever. The prophets stressed over and over again that God would fulfill His word and restore the Kingdom. The people rightly hoped in and looked for the coming of their King and His establishment of the Kingdom.

The prophets even spoke of this restoration in the language of Cosmic Renewal; that the entire Creation would participate in this Redemption and Renewal when the Servant / Messiah / King comes and sets up His Kingdom. They didn’t necessarily foresee an “age” in which this Kingdom would be “being built” in a “spiritual” manifestation before it consummates in a Universal and Cosmic renewal; but they did “comfort” the people with a message of hope. God was faithful and He would keep His word. He would send the Servant / Messiah / King as the true “Israel” and establish His Kingdom.

Matthew presents John as the forerunner who prepares the way for the coming of the Lord. John’s message of repentance was for the purpose of causing the people to re-think their understanding of the Kingdom. They rightly hoped for the coming of the King and His Kingdom, but they were looking for an earthly “savior” who would re-establish the earthly kingdom of Israel (does this remind you of anyone?) so that they would no longer be oppressed by the nations around them. The people were looking for a deliverer to remove the yoke of Rome and to establish Israel with the glory it once had under David / Solomon. They didn’t properly understand the nature of the Kingdom that their Scripture spoke of and promised. This is why John (and then Jesus) found such fault with them: they rightly believed their Scripture that God has promised the Kingdom; but they misunderstood what this Kingdom would be like. They rightly hoped in the coming of the Messiah, but didn’t understand their Scripture and therefore didn’t recognize Him when He came. John, and Jesus after him, called for the people to repent, to re-think their Scripture and its promise of the Kingdom otherwise they were going to miss it!

Throughout the first four chapters, Matthew is establishing the fact that Jesus is the long-awaited King. I’ll begin the next post with the Baptism of Jesus and we’ll see how here and in the Temptation (and even previously with Jesus’ flight to Egypt) Matthew is showing how that Jesus is not only the promised King, but that He is also the true “Israel”. Matthew understands the Scripture. He understands that all the Scripture is prophetic and testifies of Christ. He understands that even the nation of Israel itself was prophetic, that it was typological and spoke of a true “Israel” to come. Matthew shows us how Jesus fulfills “Israel” in His recapitulation of Israel. The point he is making is that their hope for the Kingdom is found only in the One who is the embodiment of “Israel”. Their own hope of being the people of God is fulfilled only in the One who is the true Israel of God, the true Son of God.

We’ll explore this important understanding next time. Right now, it’s important to see that Matthew spends four chapters stating his case before he records Jesus’ words in The Sermon. And he does this so that The Sermon would be understood by his readers. The Sermon is Jesus’ Gospel of the Kingdom. The Sermon is designed to lead the people to repentance. Jesus’ message, like that of John, was, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”, and The Sermon was Jesus’ repentance call.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Back to Shalom and Sacred Space

In the next series of posts, I plan on tracking the Biblical concepts of Sacred Space and Shalom. There will be a few interruptions, of course, since Googly has so much to say about just about everything under the Sun (much to Mrs. Googly Moogly’s delight—not!). Plus, I plan on uploading some more music every now and then that may (or may not) speak to the idea of Shalom. Sometimes I like to just give people an opportunity to hear something that they may never have had the chance to hear before. Honestly…how many of you have ever heard “Alaska” by Cactus, or “Put Your Hand…” by Donny Hathaway before? OK…how many of you wish you had never opened the player to hear it for the first time? And of course, I’m still playing around with the video widgets! So…sidetracks we may take…but Shalom is, as always, the goal!

Anyway, with a few interruptions in the plan, I’ll be attempting to give a general overview of how the Bible speaks to the issues of Sacred Space and Shalom. We know from the testimony of the entire Scripture that the grand plan of God is the “summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth.” (Eph. 2:10) This is what we’ve called the Recovery of Sacred Space in Christ. By Sacred Space I mean God’s habitation or dwelling place, which is, generally speaking, the Entire Created Order; but more specifically I’m referring to Sacred Space as the “place” of meeting between God and His Creation. The entire Cosmos is Sacred Space, of course, because God is Holy and He cannot be removed from His Creation—He created everything and even now upholds everything by the Word of His power. From the perspective of Creation, though, we can speak of Sacred Space as the “place” of intimacy between God and the Created Order—where God meets His Creation through Man, His Image-Bearer.

My goal is to track the Biblical storyline from Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation using the theme of Sacred Space (and all that S.S. entails) as the all-encompassing idea that unifies the Scripture—all of it—as an organic whole. While there are many minor themes and strands of ideas woven throughout the Scripture, I believe that the concept of Sacred Space, understood in Biblical terms as the Kingdom of God, is the singular focus of the Bible. The Bible, Old Testament and New Testament, is the record of God working out His purpose in redemptive history; and His purpose, as already stated, is the “summing up of all things in Christ”.

The Old Testament is the record of the promise of the Recovery of Sacred Space, and the New Testament is the record of the fulfillment of this promise in Jesus the Christ. We’ll be looking at this promise-fulfillment motif as we follow God’s plan of redemption from the beginning promise of a Seed of the Woman through to this Seed’s arrival in the Person of Jesus Christ. From beginning, the portrait of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ is painted; and when He arrives, He fulfills all the Scripture in Himself. His work on the cross was not simply for the redemption of (some) men, but for the redemption of the entire Cosmos.

The Recovery of Sacred Space in Christ is the story of the Bible—it’s the Gospel! And all the doctrines of the Bible must be seen as attributing to this singular goal and purpose of God in order to be understood correctly. My purpose in this series is to help my own understanding of the plan and purpose of God as well as any who take this journey with me. While we can never plumb the depths of the Gospel, we who love our Lord will want to continue to learn the fullness of who He is and what it is that He has accomplished.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Larry Norman--the Best!

I'm not sure how many of you know or have even heard of Larry Norman. He's considered the "father" of contemporary Christian Music; but don't think for a minute that he's responsible for all the prosaic pablum that you find in most of this genre's music today. I'm not saying that Larry was the second coming of Isaac Watts or the Wesley brothers, but he had more Luther in his song writing than you'd find in 99% of the trite and insipid nonsense that passes for Christian music nowadays.

I'll have to admit that there are some contemporary artists that come to mind that have somewhat carried the torch: DC Talk, Rich Mullins, Phil Keaggy, Waterdeep, Ken Tamplin and Sixpence None the Richer come to mind, as well as the hard rock band REZ (excellent band and very relevent) and maybe a handful of others that I can't think of right now that you'll also never hear on Christian radio. These artist wrote great songs--musically and lyrically!

Larry died back in February of this year and his legacy lives on whether this generation realizes it or not. He was able to write very interesting (popular) music that transcended "Christian" ideas. He was able to be critically acclaimed in the secular music industry while at the same time challenging the Church to be the Church! He was able to write powerful and emotional music and lyrics but also had a great sense of humor and irony. He didn't take himself too seriously, as you can tell from some of the material I uploaded; but at the same time he took his Christian responsibility very seriously, as is evident in his worlwide ministry to the poor and outcast of the world as well as to the Christian community at large through his music and writings. He wrote from personal experiences as well as prophetically--challenging Christians from Scriptural Authority. He wrote songs to challenge and songs to simply enjoy; but all of his music ministered to the soul. Simply put, the man was Brother, teacher, minister and evangelist; qualities that should make up all of God's people as we share with Larry in being a light of the Gospel to the world! I may not have agreed with every position of his theologically, but I agreed with his heart--he loved the Lord and His people and the world that Jesus died for.

I have uploaded just a very small sampling of Larry's music that I own. I do so in the hope that others will appreciate the man and his music. I never met him personally, but I look forward to the day when I can see him face to face and thank him for his ministry to me.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Taking a Walk Part-2

Picking up where we left off last time

“Creation” implies a sense of value; that what is not only has a beginning but also a purpose. And where there is purpose, there’s meaning. I know that we can arbitrarily and even “scientifically” attribute value to anything we want. We value what helps us or what brings us enjoyment. Environmentalists (not a bad word, really) attribute varying degree of value to various aspects of Creation. They are aware of the issues of integration within the Created Order, but since most of them view this world in Darwinian and Naturalistic terms, they have no proper understanding of Creation (what they term "nature") and therefore have no right to determine value within it. Nature just is…and in good, consistent Darwinian logic, nature will always purge and cleanse itself—maybe even by (natural) Man’s own hands. If human beings, or the spotted owl or the Amazon Rain Forests go by the wayside in some distant (or not too distant) future, so be it. Mars is every bit as “natural” as is the earth in which we live. But Earth, Mars and the entire Cosmos is most definitely not the product of “nature”, but Creation; and Creation has inherent, intrinsic value because of its (Personal) Creator who made it. And He made it good. There's the value.

Only the "environmentalist” (which should be a euphemism for every Biblical Christian) that attributes God’s value to Creation can properly evaluate the problems and offer righteous and significant solutions (for every aspect of creation, including human beings). Only with the proper understanding of the meaning and purpose of Creation can we, as human beings, exist in harmony within the Created Order; and that’s because we are a part of this Creation (remember, we were formed from the dust of the ground). When God said (saw) of His Creation, “It is good”, He said it multiple times before Man was introduced; but then upon the creation of Man and God’s commissioning of Man to fill and care for (subdue) and manage (rule) the earth, God said, “…it is very good”. The goodness of Creation was made very good by the prospect of a righteous, Godly managing of Creation by Man—God’s supreme “creation” who was formed in His own Image.

As Image-Bearers, Man was responsible to exercise his intimate communion with God by expressing his relationship with God through his relationship to Creation. What I mean is this: As a personal Being, God created the universe and all that it contains for the purpose of relationship. He accomplishes this first and foremost through Man who bears His Image. Man enjoyed intimate communion with God as Father and was commissioned by his Father to “multiply, fill, subdue and rule” over the earth and all that it contains. In other words, as those ruling over God’s Kingdom (Creation) in subjection to Him as vice-regents, so-to-speak, Man was given a “…limited authority, privilege and responsibility to care for His creation, to carefully manage it” (Van Dyke, “Redeeming Creation”). Since Creation was "valued" by God as good, we know that every “relationship” within the Created Order was good because every part of Creation functioned properly in relation to itself and everything else. No single aspect of Creation was meant to exist by itself or for itself—including Man!

God has determined that there be a necessary interrelatedness or interdependence (relationship) within the Created Order that must be maintained for the “universal flourishing” of Creation. Steven Bouma-Prediger analyzes this creational-interrelatedness by describing seven of the “laws” that shows us how this world works (and why maintaining the “relationships” within the Created Order are so important). I’ll briefly mention the five of these that speak directly to the issue of interrelatedness. Taking his cue from Muir, Miller and especially Hardin, Prediger states these “laws” as:

1. The Law of Interrelatedness (the first law of ecology)—everything is connected to everything else.
2. The Law of Multiple Effects—we can never do only one thing. Our actions always have consequences.
3. The Law of the Conservation of Matter—there is no “away”. As I mentioned in part 1 of this
post, matter is conserved, it never gets “thrown away”.
4. The Law of the Conservation of Energy (the first law of thermodynamics)—similar to previous law, energy is conserved (it only changes form), though it can and does degrade in usefulness. This is the second law of thermodynamics: in the conversion of energy from one form to another, it becomes less useful; entropy increases.
5. The Law of Limits—the world is finite. There is only so much “natural” resources, which make points 3 & 4 especially important in how we live in this world.

These are "laws" that are obvious to the Christian and non-Christian alike, of course. Christianity doesn't own the corner of truth on how Creation "works". The point is that if we are to properly tend this "Garden-City" that is Creation, if we are to care for it and manage it properly, we need to see Creation as God sees it; we need to value it as God values it. And God values the work of His hands because in it He is glorified; as His Creation functions properly in relation to itself (meaning everything in the Created Order existing in true conformity to itself and its created function so that it relates with integrity, in truth with every other created thing), as this happens, the “goodness” of Creation is displayed and it praises its Creator!

"The Heavens (Created Order) are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals His knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth (for us to hear), their words to the ends of the world (for us to know)." (Psalm 19:1-4a)

Cornelius Plantinga understands this God-ordained, Creational interrelatedness as it exists in truth as the operation of Shalom:

The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs ar satisfied and natural gifts
fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be. (Plantinga, "Engaging God's World")

Plantinga goes on to show us how the Bible speaks of the reversal of the curse in terms of the "natural" relationships within the Created Order becoming "whole" again. Because of the Fall, all of Creation, not just Man, is subject to the curse; relationships have been broken and the world (including Man) struggles to function in its cursed state according to "the way it's supposed to be". Paul tells us that the rest of Creation groans with anxious longing for its own redemption at the revealing of the Sons of God at Christ’s return. The Bible tells us that there will be a restoration of Shalom over the entire Created Order. Tracking the prophets, Plantinga says:

These prophets kept dreaming of a time when God would put things right again. They dreamed of anew age in which human crookedness would be straightened out, rough places made plain. The foolish would be made wise and the wise, humble. They dreamed of a time when the deserts would flower, the mountains would run with wine, weeping would cease and people could go to sleep without weapons on their laps. People would work in peace and work to fruitful effect. Lambs could lie down with lions. All nature would be fruitful, benign, and filled with wonder upon wonder; all humans would be knit together in brotherhood and sisterhood; and all nature and all humans would look to God, walk with God, lean toward God and delight in God. (Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. "Not the Way it's Supposed to Be")

As God’s Image-Bearers, commissioned with managing His Garden-City (Earth), we are responsible to God’s Creation: we’re responsible to live in the proper relation to it, in integrity and truth to promote “universal flourishing”. We do this by treating it (including each other since we are a part of Creation!) with the dignity and value that God has given it. Only with this understanding can we rightly understand the magnitude of our influence in the world: how we use (or abuse) this earth and all its creatures and all its “natural” resources. Again, quoting Plantinga (everyone should really read his material!):

In the Kingdom of God, to have dominion is to care for the well-being of others. To have dominion is to act like the mediator of Creation. This means that a human steward of God's good Creation will never exploit or pillage; instead, she will give Creation room to be itself. She will respect it, care for it, empower it. Her goal is to live in healthy interdependence with it. The person who practices good animal husbandry, forest management, and water conservation shows respect for God by showing respect for what God has made. (Plantinga, "Engaging God's Word").

The “naturalist” has no right to value this earth because he has no conception of its value—nature just is! Only the (Biblical) Christian understands the purpose and meaning of the Created Order and therefore, only she can truly appreciate the world and the importance of how we live in it.

Christians should be on the front lines of the battle to preserve and protect God’s “good” Creation. This shouldn’t even be an issue. The Fall doesn’t change our mandate…it only makes it more imperative that we know who we are in Christ and to live accordingly; not by a list of rules of “do this” and “don’t do that”, but according to the truth of our New Creation as it is in Christ. As those who belong to the New Creation, we’re empowered by the Spirit to live out the reality of this New Creation; which means we live in truth and integrity towards God’s Creation—all of it! We know its value…let’s live like we actually do value it! If we don’t, we don’t honor our God and Father who created it!

Now what does all of this have to do mine and Mrs. Googly Moogly’s walk? Other than being initially just being startled, seeing the fox walking down the street reminded me that we can still live in this world, in our cities and with our businesses and culture, in a way that not only doesn’t harm Creation, but can contribute to the “universal flourishing” of Creation. We may have to wait until the New Heavens and New Earth for the consummation of Shalom (in the “summing up of all things in Christ”), but we who are in Christ have the obligation as those who are the “first-fruits” of the restoration of Shalom to live out and promote “shalom” in the this world now. We do this by living out our relationships in and toward this world “…the Way it's Supposed to Be”, in conformity to how God created His world to operate. Living this way not only glorifies our Creator Father by agreeing with Him that it (Creation) is good, but it’s also our most persuasive apologetic for the “hope that lies within us”.

Do we want to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ? Then let’s live our lives toward God and His Creation in Truth. If we do this, people will see that the Creation speaks in agreement with the Scripture:

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth,and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from one end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them
is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” (Psalm 19:1-11)

“The Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness. The Lord is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works. All Thy works shall give thanks to Thee, O Lord, and Thy godly ones shall bless Thee. They shall speak of the glory of Thy kingdom and talk of Thy power; to make known to the sons of men Thy mighty acts, and the glory of the majesty of Thy kingdom. Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and Thy dominion endures throughout all generations.” (Psalm 145:8-13)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Taking a walk

I went for a walk this morning with Mrs. Googly Moogly. It wasn’t a casual walk as such…it was more like an exercise walk. Even so, because our walk takes us through the open space behind our neighborhood, we’re able to enjoy some of God’s Creation while “working” on the upkeep of His “temples”. But even before we left our porch in the front of our house to work our way down the sidewalk and to the path that leads to the open space behind us, we were greeted by thoughts of Creation as a fox eyed us from our front yard. He was simply looking for food, maybe a rabbit or a mole or any other rodent that enjoys vandalizing our beautiful lawns and plants. We hesitated at the sight of him. He was rather small and scrawny looking, like he hadn’t eaten in while; but we watched him as he watched us, and we slowly pirouetted around each other so we could all get back to the business at hand.

He actually started following us a little ways down the sidewalk, as if he were trying to decide if it was worth it to try to take a chunk of meat out our calves. He would trot along beside us and a little behind us, ducking behind a bush here, a car there, never really taking his eyes off of us. We weren’t really scared or anything. I mean…come on…I use the BowFlex practically every day! Between the two of us, we could take him! He may have been able to get a snack off us (a little off the forearm, a little calve, a little gluteus maximus), but he’d be the worse for ware because of it, believe you me! It was just a little strange to see him there, not in “nature”.

“Nature”: What does that even mean? By listening to some people talk, it seems to mean everything that is not human; as if human beings are “aliens” to this world. But even by Darwinian standards, that kind of thinking won’t fly. Whether we came from some chemical reactions in pond scum, or a freak genetic mutation in a species of Apes, according to Darwin we most definitely are a (natural) product of this world. Maybe we mean everything that exists that is not made by human hands? Well, if that’s the case, then we could say that a “beaver damn” is unnatural because it was made by beavers’…I don’t know, hands...feet...claws? Or that an anthill is unnatural because it was made by ants’…well…whatever parts of their body they use. Unless we think humans beings have ever made anything ex nihilo, we can’t say that what is made by human hands is unnatural anymore than we can say that about any creature and what they make. The only things that can be made (by anything that is not God) are made from existing material. We can change the form of “matter” (nature), but we cannot create it or destroy it—this is grade school stuff. Well…it was grade school stuff “back in the day”, now it might not even be High School stuff!

So, this thing we call “nature” must be everything that exists in this universe, right? If “matter” cannot be created out of nothing, and it can only be changed or manipulated into different forms and chemical consistency, then “nature” is simply the changing scenery of the environment around us—the Universe and everything in it. The “natural world” is what it is…all the time! Now I’m not saying this to excuse us as human beings from our lack of care for our environment, we should be good stewards or managers of the world in which we live; but, my point is that unless we have a proper understanding of this thing so commonly referred to as “nature”, we have no real basis or foundation for a true and proper understanding of the integration of all things within this Cosmos. Nature just is…there’s no ought to be found in “nature”.

“Creation”, however, is another story. And since I don’t want to be long-winded—hey...waddya mean it’s too late! If you think I’m bad, just ask our pastor a question…about anything! You’ll get a full redemptive-historical overview just to provide the context for his answer! Well, he’s not quite that bad; but you’d better check your watch to make sure you have time for the answer before you even think about asking him a question. Anyway, since I don’t want to be long-winded, I’ll finish this post later. And to give you hint of where I’m going with this, somewhere down the line Shalom will be mentioned—Surprise! Surprise!

Mahler Mayhem

I’ve been listening to Mahler lately in anticipation of going to the Colorado Symphony Orchestra this fall. They’re performing some symphonies and some songs and I’ve always wanted to see a Mahler performed live. We’ve had a “MahlerFest” out in these parts on a semi-regular basis since around ‘88, put on by a mostly-volunteer orchestra conducted by Robert Olson and made up of players from all over Colorado, the Nation and sometimes from other parts the world. I’ve always wanted to go this weeklong event, but for some reason or other have never been able to go. Mahler never skimped on his instrumentation, sometimes employing a mind-blowing 80 instruments and even a choir. Mahler would sometimes have huge orchestras and he would use the massive sound generated by it to great effect. If you think the bass in some of the rap songs pulses through your body, listen to some Mahler (and Bruckner, too) turned up loud. I think they realized how stoic and stiff the classical audience could be at times and decided to hit them with an explosion of sound that would cause their bodies to shake and hair to stand on end whether they liked it or not! (And how could you not like it!)

Anyway, as I listen to Mahler I think about what he would be writing today. I can just imagine if he went “electric”…. I mean, he was already writing heavy and progressive music that could knock down walls. If he were around now and using modern electric instruments (drums and guitars…guitars…guitars…and maybe a keyboard thrown in for good measure), I can just imagine him writing “face crushing” Metal; you know…the stuff that would make your eyes melt! If people thought Judas Priest, Iron Maiden or Black Sabbath were heavy, or even Metallica, they would be incinerated by the power of a modern day Mahler.

Oh…to dream…!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Independence Day & the Kingdom of God

Well, the 4th of July has come and gone again for another year. I usually don't make a fuss over our Independence Day celebrations; I is what it is. News and Talk shows (especially FOX News) bombard us with "history" and pseudo-patriotism (I put "history" in quotes because it has been rewritten so often that we're really only getting the version that a particular station is subscribing to), the neighborhoods have a block party for no real reason except to get drunk and wear the flag (sometimes literally!), and then we all get together to watch (and be a part of) a fireworks display while singing "God Bless America", as if we, as a nation, even care anymore about God or His blessings. We live 364 days a year in relative ambivalence about anything outside of our own petty, self-centered ambitions (if it doesn't affect me personally in some way, leave me alone), and then we come together for one day to celebrate the goodness of God and the Birth of our nation as a land of Freedom and Liberty. "I'm Proud to be an American..."--Hogwash!

At best, our celebrations are only exercises in "Nationalism"; at worst they're simply excuses to party. God's name may even be invoked a few times in public, as though He should really be considered praiseworthy. Heck...I sometimes even hear His name mentioned in churches during a 4th of July sermon; although it's usually not in proclamation of the Gospel, but rather just to show that our "Founding Fathers" really believed in Him. How many of our Independence Day celebrations actually honor God and Country? What does that even mean? Is "Nationalism" the best that we can do? Even as Christians?

We celebrated the 4th at church on Sunday with a message about the Kingdom of God. We didn't set out to prepare a service specifically for the 4th of July, though if we had it would have probably sounded a lot like what we did anyway. The problem with churches preparing a specific service for the Independence Day celebration is that they usually degenerate into sermons on proving that our "Founding Fathers" were all Christians, or decrying the "secularization" of our nation, or a call for patriotism and the denunciation of certain elements in our government, etc. Similar to Veterans Day, our churches get so caught up in "honoring" our Nation and the men and women who serve in the military that they lose sight of the Gospel; the Gospel perspective that should be driving our churches is too often replaced by a National perspective that misses the Global aspect of the Kingdom of God.

When we lose sight of the Kingdom of God in all its Universal Glory, we fail to properly celebrate and honor God for His goodness to us as a Nation. There's nothing wrong with being proud to be an American; we have certainly been blessed by God and we have the right and even the obligation to praise and honor Him for it. It is also good and right to honor all those who have sacrificed in order for us to celebrate our Freedom and Liberty. But when we do so without the proper perspective of who we are as Children of God, as those who belong to the Kingdom of God, then we really dishonor God and the sacrifice of those who've given their lives; we elevate our "unity" with the citizens of a particular Nation (U.S.A.) over our unity with God and His Kingdom which is comprised of all those who belong to Christ from every Tribe, Tongue and Nation under God.

We must view ourselves first, or primarily as citizens of God's Kingdom before we can ever hope to honor God and His blessings to us as citizens of this earthly kingdom. How is it possible to honor God if we reduce our celebration to America...if we are so narrowly focused on us as a nation that we fail to empathize with our Brothers and Sisters across the Globe? Sure, we're celebrating our Independence, "America's" Independence, not Ethiopia's or Russia's or...whoever; but God's blessing on us is not restricted to if we're the only ones to benefit from His goodness to us. Unless we can see ourselves in the suffering of our Brothers and Sisters who are living under ungodly and even satanic regimes, how can we be honoring God in our celebration? Did God bless us only for our good? What is our calling as a (supposedly) "Christian" Nation?

Only Christians can truly honor God (or anything else, for that matter) because only the person that has had her relationship restored to God in Christ knows God and understands God's creation properly. Only the Biblical Christian sees Creation and all of its interdependent relationships as God does; as God has ordained from the beginning. Only in Christ does a person truly acknowledge the "goodness" of the Created Order (as God created it) and the inherent dignity of Man as God's Image-Bearer. Only those who have been joined to Christ and are now Children of God, citizens of the Spiritual & Universal Kingdom of God have the proper perspective toward His creation and have the "heart" to truly worship God and honor His works. Only the Christian can celebrate Independence Day properly because only the Christian properly understands and values God and His blessings!

Having said that (and if you don't believe the Bible--both Testaments!), only as we celebrate in light of our true citizenship in the universal Kingdom of God, remembering that our true Brothers and Sisters come from every Tongue, Tribe and Nation under God; only in this way do we truly honor our National heritage while at the same time honoring our "Christian" heritage as those who share the Spirit with all who belong to Him. We live in a great Country, a Country extremely blessed by God; and a country that we should be proud to be earthly citizens of. But, as Christians, we long for the "better" Country; the Country that our Father Abraham and the Patriarchs longed for even as they were traveling through their own land, the "country" that God had given them! They "owned" the "promised land" as their own Country, and they even settled there and built altars there--but they didn't claim it as their "home". They looked for the better Country; the Country that God had prepared for them and for all who have the faith of Abraham. We too long for that better Country; the Country that we're even citizens of right now!--the country that is the New Jerusalem, the Kingdom of God! And this is the Country that Jesus inaugurated at His first coming (a Country that all true believers are citizens of--now!) and will consummate in fullness at His second coming.

When we celebrate our own National heritage in the light of who we are as citizens of God's Global Kingdom, then we rightly understand who we are as citizens of this earthly kingdom; and what's expected of us. Remember, even as we share a unity of citizenship with all those who belong to the U.S.A., we also, and more importantly, share the unity of the Spirit with people from every Tongue, Tribe and Nation and that together--with them--we are the "...Chosen Race, the Royal Priesthood, the Holy Nation, and the People for God's own Possession", for the purpose of "...Proclaiming the excellencies of Him who has called us out of darkness and into His Marvelous Light"! We honor God by sharing in the Gospel with all our Brothers and Sisters throughout the world and sharing the Gospel with the rest of the world that doesn't know Him. If our celebration of our Independence Day doesn't take this into account, then we dishonor God and Country! I pity our churches that elevate Patriotism over Gospel--God will judge!