The Gospel of Frank? This is not one of those little-known Gnostic Gospels. It was not found buried in a tomb, or translated from some monolith in Jerusalem. There will be no conspiracies about how Jesus was actually born in Alaska, or that his disciples were alcoholics. The Gospel of Frank is a forum where people are encouraged to talk openly and honestly about the Christian faith. Be Frank. That's the plan. I promise I won't be offended by your questions or comments. Please don't be offended by mine. I may sound facetious or sarcastic at times, but my intention is to generate thoughts and challenge ideas. Sometimes I'm just trying to be funny. Why not take our faith to an intellectual target range and pelt it with every weapon we have? If it’s still standing at the end, we definitely have something worth defending. If it falls or ends up full of holes and dents, we should re-examine it. Ultimately, I want to share some of the eye-opening, jaw-dropping, life-changing things that I believe the Holy Spirit has shown me. I want to challenge Christians to think clearly about their faith so they can speak with their friends and co-workers in a way that is clear and comprehensive. I want Christians to feel confident in what they believe and know exactly how to move forward. I will keep this Welcome blog on top, but the rest are listed from newest to oldest. If you are new to the site and want to follow the progression of thought, just scroll to the bottom and work your way up. Be sure to leave to comments and participate in the polls. We want to hear from you. Let's watch Faith and Frank get married.
It seems honorable and scriptural and logical and natural to attribute all things to the sovereign will of God. How can any created thing exert authority over its creator? How can anything in this world happen beyond His knowledge or allowance or impetus? And if we have any doubt of that, there are plenty of verses to support these assertions. However, at the same time that we affirm God's rightful place on His throne, we often act and feel otherwise, as if, despite his omnipotence and omnipresence, He could use some human or angelic help from time to time. We hold prayer vigils, as if the quantity or fervency of our prayers can change God's mind or twist His arm. Does the arm of God need twisting? Does God need to be informed? We talk of a spiritual battle, but how can there be a battle if everything happens according to plan? If nothing happens beyond God's will, Satan and his demons are servants of that will, as are our sinful actions. All things, seemingly good or evil, work together for God's ultimate purpose. But if that is true, should we feel sorry for our sins? Should we ask forgiveness, as if our actions could be independent and contrary to His will? And if our actions are truly free, how can God be truly sovereign? Take it one step further. If we are free to sin, then my neighbor is also free to sin, which means he can come over to my house and murder my children in their beds, and maybe God won't stop him. Does God intervene in the free actions of men? Does he have a sliding scale for when He intervenes and when He doesn't? Would He allow me to lie and steal, but not murder? That's a lot of questions and conjecture. This is an issue over which the church has splintered, an issue that informs our perceptions of the character and power of God. Therefore it is an important issue, which is why we have these conversations. Let me offer a few thoughts and I will be eager to hear yours. The use of sovereignty is up to the sovereign. God has demonstrated that He can do what He wants when He wants and how He wants. He has ultimate authority over His creation. His sovereignty, however, is bound by His character. A selfish sovereign may create lesser beings to live for nothing but to ingratiate his ego. He would create servants to do his bidding, He would create an enemy with no hope of victory, and He would demand worship and confessions from fragile, error-prone beings. A selfish sovereign would control everything, allowing no true freedom to his subjects for fear of sharing glory. It would be like a man who wanted to be a successful filmmaker, so he built an army of robots to watch his film, applaud, and give rave reviews. He also programed some negative critics whom he could scold and dismantle later. Win. Win. An apathetic sovereign might create something, then become distracted and leave the creation to itself. We could have a sovereign God and also have evolution. A loving sovereign would create free creatures, both spiritual and physical, in order to have genuine relationships with them. That would allow for true rebellion, but also for true redemption. Of course this God can intervene if absolutely necessary (harden hearts, bend wills, send prophets), but generally allow men and spirits to make their own choices and deal with the consequences. There are drawbacks to such a system---senseless deaths, abuse, insanity, corrupt governments, unspeakable atrocities---but also great advantages. Is freedom worth the price we pay? Or is freedom an illusion?
There was a time when I was obsessed with learning how to walk by the Spirit. If I felt a compulsion or heard a voice in my head, I would analyze it, trying to determine if it was God, a lack of sleep, guilt, or something genetic at work. I didn't trust myself. And I didn't trust anyone else. This was my personal challenge: If the Holy Spirit was removed from my life, how much of it would have to change. Without Him, I could still read my Bible. I could still pray. I could still have fellowship with believers. I could still listen to pastors and teachers. I could still serve my community. I realized that there was very little, if anything, in my Christianity that required an indwelling Holy Spirit. Apparently, the deposit Jesus left that would "lead me into all truth" was fairly inconsequential. As I continued to explore my need for God's Spirit, I came across certain barriers in my quest for "absolute truth," only one of which I will mention here. Perhaps you can think of others. I call it "God Talk." I saw it a lot in college: "I was so tired last night, but I knew I had to finish my paper, so I prayed and just kept typing and the Lord got me through it." But what about the millions of other students that accomplished the same thing with a lot of coffee and face slapping? Parents? "I needed sleep, but the kids were sniffing and calling for me all night so I gave them a little Benadryl and, thank God, they slept through the night." But John . . . we are encouraged to "acknowledge Him in all our ways," right? We should be giving glory to Him for everything that happens in our lives, for better or for worse. But what if it isn't Him? I guess we could argue that everything is from Him because we are His children and He loves us, and He will never leave us. If we hold that perspective, we will probably find ourselves saying things like "God is trying to teach me patience" when we are feeling impatient, or "God is good," once we've had our morning coffee, or "God is testing me" when things are not going well. Sometimes that might be true. Other times not. Does it matter to you? The Greeks attributed every natural event to the activity of their gods. But those gods were not real. Our God is. How often do we treat God like one of these Greek gods? Does it give us a sense of security to attribute everything in our lives to Him? Or should we? What if God is not responsible for keeping you awake while you write your paper? What if God did not put your children to sleep because he knew you needed it? What if God did not open up that parking spot at the last second because he knew you were in a time crunch? Maybe it just opened up like it did for that Buddhist in the car in front of you, or that Agnostic in the red Jeep. How do you feel about "God Talk"?
I worked at a Presbyterian church for seven years. About halfway through my time there, the pastor took me to dinner and explained that the elder board was bothered by the fact that my wife and I had never shown an interest in becoming members. Becoming a member of a church never sat well with me, though I was never forced to voice my misgivings until faced with the direct question from my pastor. I answered something like this: "I am already a member of Christ's body, which means that I am already committed to this church and every other church that believes and calls Him Lord. What benefit would it be to go to classes and take vows of commitment to a specific faction of that body? This is not like marriage. I may be called to move to another church. I may not agree to all of the Presbyterian creeds, and even if I did, what if, in time, I came to believe something different than I vowed to believe? Would I have to retract my vows?" When I asked him why membership was so important, his answer was something like this: "It makes the commitment more palpable to the congregation. They feel more devoted to the ministry and mission of the church. They are more willing to serve. They are more willing to tithe regularly. It is not as easy for them to just leave." I understood his point, but in the back of my mind I was thinking that church membership is not like baptism or communion---scriptural mandates---but something that gives the leadership an idea of who they can depend on for tithing and service. It helps to give an individual church stability. That all seems good from a practical standpoint, but what about from a spiritual standpoint? Do we see the church as a spiritual organism, a body of millions connected to a single head (Christ) through a central nervous system (the Holy Spirit). Or are we divided into self-sustaining service organizations of like-mindedness (churches of various denominations)? Or both? How do you feel about this?
Questions are in vogue. They make us feel humble and submissive. We are seeking, asking, knocking. We are on our knees. But answers can make us seem arrogant. They have the potential to splinter us into even more denominations. And what if we're wrong . . . ? How can a man ever comprehend God? If we could somehow wrap our mind around him, wouldn't that belittle him? I would much rather just sit in the wonder of him, saturating in the mystery, absorbing each subtle thrill of curiosity and awe. Isn't that what worship is? But God created humans with spirits specifically that we might know him. Imagine me connecting with my wife the way we tend to connect with God: "Laurie, you are a woman. I could never comprehend you (there is some truth to that). Just let me catch a glimpse of your beauty. Just let me feel your presence next to me on the couch. I don't expect you to speak to me, you have already written letters to me in the past. But if you do, I will write your words in a diary and treasure them. Your body is made up of so many complex systems---internal organs, muscles, tendons, and molecules---I could never understand you fully. I just want to bask here in your glory. I just want to imagine the day I'll really be able to know you . . ." Now I realize that Laurie and I are both humans, and God and man are different, but I believe that God created man that he might have fellowship with him just as fully as Jesus had fellowship with his disciples. Yes, it means that we have to learn how to connect with him in more subtle ways than speech and facial expressions. But those means are fully available to everyone who has been made alive in Christ. I don't have to understand God's omnipresence to know that he is with me. I don't have to understand God's omnipotence to rest safely in him. I don't have to understand God's love to embrace it. Should my children keep me at an "honorable" arms-length because they don't know how to drive a car or pay the mortgage? Should I keep Laurie at an "honorable" arms-length because we have different anatomies? If God gave his people a Holy Spirit to "guide them into all truth," why do we keep God at an "honorable" arms-length and generally resort to knowing him through Bible study, our pastors, and our brains? Obviously, I am generalizing here, which is dangerous. There are many Christians that have vibrant relationships with God. But I'm thinking about the general trends of our Church today. The fact that we have so many questions and so few answers is a sad testament to our times. It is like a body that was so enamored with the mystery of the brain that it rejected the nervous system, preferring the humility of paralysis to the arrogance of life and function. Do you agree? Disagree? What do you see happening in the church?
It seemed fitting to resurrect Frank with the topic of resurrection. Unfortunately, after Frank finished a hellish few months of work, he took Spring Break too seriously to come out with a post on or around Easter Sunday. He apologizes. But after being dead for so long . . . well, you wouldn't understand. Christians get so excited on Resurrection Sunday. Jesus leaves the tomb alive and well, having conquered sin and death. The salvation work is finished. The pastor of my church (and I suspect many others) went into a lot of detail about how the resurrection must be historical fact, how Jesus is alive and well today, but . . . will you excuse me a moment as I stick on my cynic hat? If my Christian grandmother dies, I wouldn't say that Death has had its way with her. I wouldn't consider her really dead just because she didn't crawl back out of the coffin and ascend bodily into heaven. People actually celebrate at Christian funerals, assured that their loved ones are safe and sound, alive in heaven. So Jesus comes back bodily from the grave, walks around for a few weeks, then goes straight to the place he would have gone anyway. Where is the victory there? It seems more like a delay, a farewell tour, a victory lap . . . but not necessary for salvation. I grew up believing that it was the death of Jesus that made salvation possible. There were scriptures that led me to believe that sin was plastered in or on Jesus (as if it was some sort of black goo) while he was on the cross, forcing God to turn his face (as if he doesn't look on sinful people every day). Then, when the Romans crucified Jesus, sin was crucified with him. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. Romans 7:16-17 He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. I Peter 2:24 But what is sin? Missing the mark, right? How can you kill "missing the mark"? Shoot it? Stab it?If sin is not physical or material, how can it be killed? Secondly, how could it dwell within a body? Another thing: Paul seems to think that the salvation work is incomplete without the resurrection, which means the work was not completed on the cross. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. I Cor 15:16-17 Since the death and resurrection is central to our life and hope, shouldn't we understand it completely? I grilled the Christians in my 10th Grade Bible class on this, and not one of them could logically explain how the death and resurrection of Jesus saved anyone. Can any of you answer these questions? (remember, I still have my cynic hat on) 1) If Jesus was forgiving sins before the cross (he claimed that authority) then why couldn't he have just forgiven everyone without going to the cross? Was his authority limited? 2) If Jesus conquered sin and death, why do we still sin and die? 3) Why was the resurrection necessary for the salvation of sins? 4) Why was a physical resurrection necessary?
The Bible cannot always be taken literally. While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat. This is My body." Matt 26:26 Weird. But . . . I guess it must be. I mean, Jesus doesn't lie, right? Apparently cannibalism is one of the great sacraments of Christianity. . . . all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them, and the rock was Christ. I Cor 10:3-4 So when the devil wanted to turn rocks into break, he was talking to the right guy. Since Jesus was a rock and his body is bread, it makes sense. This also explains why Jesus took so long to come save the Jews. He was a rock. How often did literal thinking confuse the people around Jesus? Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?" And Jesus said to them, "Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees." They began to discuss this among themselves, saying, "He said that because we did not bring any bread." Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?" These seem like ridiculous scenarios. How could these people be so dense? But at the same time, how can we be sure that we're not making the same mistake? Most of us imagine hell as a place of utter darkness with a lake of fire in the center. Wait? Fire and darkness? Somehow our minds accept the contradiction. After all, the Bible is God's Word. Hey, maybe the flames are invisible. Or maybe there is meaning in darkness and fire, meaning than can help our physical minds to somehow grasp a spiritual place. Like a blind man getting a sense of blue by holding a piece of ice. Same applies to heaven. Lions and lambs? Streets of gold? No symbolic language there. What about prophecy? How many Jews rejected Jesus based on their literal interpretation of prophecy? Jesus did not ascend to the throne of David, therefore he was not the Messiah. What about the Parable of the Talents? For some reason all parables are understood to be physical things describing spiritual things--seeds, leaven, pearl, treasure--but in this particular case, Jesus is actually talking about money, right? In this one case. Right? Or, wait! He means our . . . talents. Christians, what is the great and valuable gift that God has given to us through Christ? Money? The ability to play piano? This may seem valuable to me, but I'm not the one telling the parable. What is valuable to Christ is the very thing he came to give--LIFE. The Holy Spirit. And that Spirit is to bear fruit, not just sit dormant in our spirits until Christ returns. Why do we twist these parables into pocket-sized, practical life lessons? The people had Solomon for that. Jesus didn't work at OSH. Bottom line: God sees the world from a Creator's perspective. Often he speaks in symbols, types, and shadows to explain things that would be difficult for physical creatures to understand. If we don't want to sound like the Pharisees, the Disciples, or Nicodemus we need to begin to understand that perspective.
This next subject matter runs the risk of attracting spiderwebs and dust to this blog, but I'm willing to take the risk. I have learned that in Christian circles the most action comes from taking prayer requests. A close second, though more dangerous, is to bring up something controversial, like predestination, homosexuality, or speaking in tongues, though it's important to steer away from any solid answers. Third, talk about something obscure like the Nephilim or the mysterious undeaths of Enoch, Elijah, and Moses. That always helps to keep the eyelids from sagging. Why are we so easily bored? Maybe it's because everything seems to gravitate around something we've already heard a billion times. We know that Jesus died for our sins, we're on our way to heaven, we're doing our daily devotions, avoiding sin as much as possible, and now we just want a little support. Since we have to meet every week, it also might be fun to find interesting or controversial tidbits from the Bible to keep us talking, though we're not always sure what good it will do on a practical level. Back to prayer requests. The subject I want to bring up doesn't often come from the pulpit, but to ignore it would be to ignore the very thing that, for me, has shed a great deal of light on the Scriptures and has erased any doubts I have of the existence, character, and work of God. In fact, when the Holy Spirit began to teach me, this is where He started. The concept was presented to me while I was at Bible school back in '98. Every student was required to read through the Old Testament, so I cheerfully read through books like Genesis and Exodus, and dutifully pushed through books like Leviticus and I Chronicles. As I was chewing through the log of mid Ezekiel, I came across a passage that stuck in my brain like a splinter. In chapter 40, the prophet has a vision of an angelic man who takes him through the temple with a measuring rod and proceeds to measure every single item in great detail. Every single item. After several chapters of mind-numbing geometry, the man said something that struck me as odd: "As for you, son of man, describe the temple to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and let them measure the plan. If they are ashamed of all that they have done, make known to them the design of the house, its structure, its exits, its entrances, all its designs, all its statutes, and all its laws and write it in their sight, so that they may observe its whole design and all its statutes and do them." If they are ashamed of their sin, tell them . . . about a building? Be sure to mention that the width of the entrance gate is ten cubits and the length is thirteen cubits. Also, don’t forget, the porch of the gate is eight cubits and the side pillars are two. How could these numbers do anything for the sin of the Jews? I thought about this for a long time before coming to an interesting conclusion. Before I could understand the meaning of a created object, I had to understand the perspective and intention of the creator. In other words, God designed the temple with more than practical uses in mind. There is also symbolic meaning, and the symbols should be enough to expose our sin and show us how to deal with it. A look at Hebrews 8:4-5 only reinforces this concept: Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law, who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle, for, "See," He says, "that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain." Copy and shadow of heavenly things? The pattern of this physical object is important. And as we see in John 2:19, Jesus was staring at this building when he said, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (speaking of his own body). In a sense, he was the building. The temple is full of symbols of Christ, from the sacrificial system in the outer court; to the bread, incense, and golden candlestick in the inner court; to the red, blue, and purple veil, and the Ark of the Covenant behind it. The temple is the ultimate sin exposing/sin expelling machine. But the building is only a big, complicated advertisement for the TRUE sin exposing/sin expelling machine--the person of Jesus Christ. Interesting how Jesus called the temple his Father's house. Isn't that what his body was? No wonder he threw those money changers out of there. But this was just the beginning of a concept that would unravel so much of my own superstition and bring so much clarity in the years to follow.
Can I be frank? I absolutely hate election season. Hate it. Hate it.
Sin is not the presence of something evil, but the absence of something good. PROGRESSION OF DEATH: God breathes His life into man . . . "and he became a living soul" Man prefers a human conscience to a Holy Spirit . . . the knowledge of good and evil God removes his Spirit . . . "on the day you eat of it, you will die" Men respond with defensiveness . . . "the woman that you gave me" God tells Cain that he must master his sinfulness . . . Cain is alone Cain becomes jealous of his brother. Jealousy becomes murder. So spiritual death (the absence of God) leads to fear, insecurity, and defensiveness. These fears and insecurities lead to all other sins (name one not related to a fear or insecurity). These sins can lead to all kinds of physical, emotional, and/or psychological dysfunction, even death. Then Jesus comes to puts God back in man ("I have come to give life, and that more abundantly"), and the Holy Spirit begins to restore the pre-Fall man ("from glory to glory into His image"). Do you agree?
What would Jesus do? Whatever his Father told him to do. We often imagine Jesus as a wise and spiritual man, preaching creative sermons, condemning the hypocritical Pharisees, and helping practically everyone in his path. That is the story presented in the Gospels. In John 14, however, Jesus opens a window to his soul, showing us what was happening behind the scenes. Jesus: Disk 2, Special Features. There, we see a different man, a weaker man, one that never acted on his own initiative. Jesus even claimed that his very words were dictated by his Father. In a sense, Jesus was the weakest man that ever lived. Which made him the strongest. We can't relate to this sort of man. From the day we're born, we're encouraged to stand on our own two feet, learn to make decisions for ourselves, be responsible. In fact, for people with just one spirit, this is true wisdom. But when the Holy Spirit moves in and starts to put his feet on the furniture, we are forced to go through a major adjustment period. Jesus never had this adjustment period. He was born, in a sense, roommates with the Holy Spirit. He was a man, but he was spiritually alive. Two spirits, one body. Even at age twelve, he recognized his true Father, and demonstrated a desire to be in the temple engrossed in the family business. From birth, he was groomed for obedience, and he followed that path directly to his death. He lived for his Father by living in his Father by the Holy Spirit. He functioned like no man we have ever seen. When we try to emulate him, we often try to mimic his actions, or even to muster up the same emotions and intentions, but at the base of his motivation was a love for his Father which translated into strict obedience. For us, born independent, we must grow in this life before we can even begin to relate. Can you imagine growing to the point where you can claim that not only your actions but your very words were initiated by God?
What kind of person does not even speak on his own initiative? That sounds like slavery to me. Look at these 1:1's Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus . . . James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ . . . Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ . . . Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James . . . But this is not exclusive to the apostles. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant . . . Philippians 2:5-7 So, yes, we are meant to be servants of God. But a bond-servant is not exactly a slave. In fact, the difference is very important. Bond-servants were unique to Jewish culture, instituted by God to illustrate the concept of spiritual submission and obedience, but with a valid and potent motivation: If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment . . . But if the slave plainly says, 'I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out as a free man,' then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently. Exodus 21:2, 5-6 First of all: Ouch Second of all: This is not slavery under compulsion; this is service out of love. VERY different, and much more interesting. I am also intrigued by the fact that this slave is leaving blood on the doorpost, much like the Passover lamb. The awl is going through the man's ear, the place where he is to receive orders. The life of a bond-servant is to listen and obey. But why? "I will not speak much more with you, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me; but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me." John 14:30-31 "Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full." John 15:9-11 Love? Joy? Isn't that what everyone wants? Apparently, the very thing we hate--slavery--is the very secret to what we so desperately want.
When it comes to people, the "You in Me, I in You" riddle only makes sense when a physical person and a spiritual person are joined together. Let's say I have this special ability to move things with my mind, and I have used that power for the government for years and years. Now I'm old, about to die, and I'm about to leave the government with a hole that no one else can fill. Rather than just dying, I pass my spirit into my children, giving the government a handful of mental movers as long as my children learn how to connect to my spirit and learn the subtle nature of the connection. They would have to learn how to let me move things through them. It would be an interesting relationship, one that would require a lot of patience, listening, and submission. But in the end, it would be best for everyone. Simply put: I would be in my children, giving them my life and power. And my children would be an extension of me--my hands and feet, my branches. Now if my power came from a relationship with something else, like an alien spirit, then I would remain in connection with that spirit, but still give my spirit to my children, making a chain, like gears. The alien speaks to me, I speak to my children, things start moving, the government smiles. This is how the Godhead works, and it explains their unity. Look at these verses: Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. John 14:10 But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you. John 16:13-15 Hold on a second? Neither of them speak on their own initiative? So if the Holy Spirit speaks, he is just saying what Jesus told him to say, and if Jesus is speaking, he is only saying what the Father told him to say? So if I hear from the Holy Spirit, ultimately I have just heard from the Father. It is a system called Glorification. In other words, the nature of the Godhead is to let the OTHER person be seen and heard. No wonder Jesus said, "Pray to the Father." The Father is the head of the chain. So how can we practically apply this ourselves? Where do we fit in the chain?
He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? John 14:10 Jesus asks the question as if the riddle should make everyone sort of smile sheepishly, nod their heads, and sort of elbow each other in the ribs. But . . . can you explain it? Why didn't this riddle get into the discussion when people were trying to solve the whole, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" issue? The Roman bishops used a Latin word homoousion, meaning “same substance,” to describe the relationship between the Father and Son. Both are God, and God is one. But why create a solution that seems even more difficult to understand than the solution Jesus presents here in John 14? Some may not think this riddle is important, but Jesus uses it again, the second time he includes his disciples. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. John 14:20 The third time, he includes US: I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us. John 17:20-21 So let's start with the most simple of the three riddles: Jesus and his Father. How can they both inhabit one another at the same time? It seems to defy the laws of science. But Jesus, as he often does, provides his disciples with a parable to understand it. The parable is very familiar and can be found in the very next chapter--the vine and the branches. Let's break it apart: Jesus is the branch. The Father is the vine. How is the branch in the vine? That's easy, we can see how that works. The branch is growing right out of it. It is an extension of the vine's life, an extension that produces green leaves for healing, and fruit to offer sustenance and strength to others. The life of the vine finds expression through the branch. But remove the branch, and the branch is dead, good for nothing but to be bundled up and burned. How is the vine in the branch? In this case, it is not the physical vine that is in the branch, but the life of the vine. The vine takes the water and nutrients from the soil, and gives it to the branch, allowing the branch to live and grow and bear fruit. We're talking about the indwelling Spirit of God. This is also true of an arm and a body. The arm allows the body to express itself and to accomplish things. But the life of the body gives the arm everything it needs to live and grow. By being an active member of the body, it is connected to the brain through the nervous system, and receives the blood it needs from the heart. In the same way Jesus received life from his Father, and functioned in response to that life. But if the vine and the branch are the exact same thing---homoousion . . . Now I'm confused. There is much more to be said about this subject, but for now I want to challenge you to take the vine and branches illustration and apply it to the other two mysteries (John 14:20 & John 17:20-21). Can you explain them?
Jesus never claimed to be the same person as His Father. Not once. He only claimed to be ONE with his Father, so much so, he could say, "When you see me, you see the Father." It seems that the only way the Council of 300+ bishops at Nicaea could explain the seemingly dual nature of Jesus was to assert that Jesus and His Father were exactly the same person. But since Jesus never makes that claim, we should be hesitant to blindly accept the claims of these men who were making decisions over 300 years after the events. This may sound like heresy, but my challenge is to the bishops, not to Jesus himself. If Jesus claimed unity with his Father, that's what he had. He didn't claim to be of one substance with his Father, which is what the Nicaean and Athanasian Creeds so boldly declare. This was their best solution. But we don't need to jury-rig this one. The answers are presented in John chapters fourteen through sixteen, the passage where Jesus gives final instructions to his disciples. It is in this passage that Jesus explains his unity with his Father, then invites them to share in the same kind of unity with him after his ascension. Wait a second. Join the Trinity? We can't even understand it, much less join it. "I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one." John 17:20-22 How can we possibly be one "as they are one," if we could never understand their unity? The mystery, as Jesus presents it in John 14, is answered in a riddle: Philip said to Him, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us." Jesus said to him, "Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works." Clearly the Bishops at Nicaea were not science fiction fans. They would have loved that solution. What about you? Can you explain the riddle (in bold above)? If you know the answer, be thou silent...
"If, in this city, you ask anyone for change, he will discuss with you whether God the Son is begotten or unbegotten. if you ask about the quality of bread, you will receive the answer that 'God the Father is greater. God the Son is less.' If you suggest that a bath is desirable, you will be told that 'There was nothing before God the Son was created.'" -- Bishop of Constantinople, 4th Century AD. This is what happens when you announce that to be Roman is to be Christian. You end up with a lot of confused people. The nature of Jesus is hard enough for us good, Bible-reading, modern-day Christians to understand. In 325, to stave off heresy and put an end to the debate, a Council of about 300 bishops got together at the order of Emperor Constantine in a place called Nicaea. There, they developed a Creed that included the following statement: We believe in One Lord, Jesus Christ the only son of god. God from god, light from light, true god from true god. Begotten, not made, of one being with the Father. The Holy Spirit didn't officially join the Trinity until around 500 AD with the Athanasian Creed, though the inclusion was assumed and inevitable. From that day to this, the nature of Jesus is easily explained. Here, let me try. We'll have a Question and Answer time. Q: If Jesus was truly God, why did he say things like, "Why do you call me good, only God is good?" or ""But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone." Who was he praying to all the time? Himself? A: That was Jesus in his humanity. Q: If Jesus was truly man, how could he walk on water, feed 5000 men with a little boy's lunch, or command fish to jump into fishing nets? A: Don't you know that Jesus is 100% man and 100% God? Jesus was being in God in those instances. See, it's simple. Depending on the circumstance, you can just attribute the appropriate aspect of God's nature. That clears everything right up. Does anyone else feel like our brains are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole by just calling the square peg round? If we are to believe the Bible, we must accept that Jesus walked at times as a God and at other times as a man. But how is this possible? Can he split his nature like that? Does the doctrine of the Trinity really give satisfying answers to ALL the questions that the scriptures present? Was Jesus forsaking himself on the cross. Was he begging himself to take the "cup" from him in the Garden of Gethsemane? Judging by the fact that no one responded to the poll question: "Did Jesus know if the world was round?" I can see that this issue is not as clear cut as we pretend it is. How do you personally grapple with it?
If you want to understand why a thing was made, it is important to study how it was made. A watch is built with a second, minute, and hour hand to keep track of time. A piano is built with keys, strings, hammers, and a soundboard to make music. You can usually see the purpose of an object by the aspects of its design. So how and why were we made? Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1:26-28 In short, God made man in his image and likeness, capable of exerting God-like dominion on the earth. So before we move on to purpose, let's analyze these qualities. IMAGE: To call ourselves sinners and then claim to bear the image of God seems like a heretical contradiction. "But Frank," says the concerned reader, "it's right there in black and white. We are in created in God's image." When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth. Genesis 5:3 The first man (Adam) is from the earth, earthy; the second man (Christ) is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly. I Corinthians 15:47-49 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. II Corinthians 3:18 Scripture seems to say that image was lost at the Fall, and is to be rediscovered in Christ. DOMINION: Can you "rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky" as Genesis suggests? If you want to call a birdcage and a fishbowl your own personal kingdom, then I guess you can claim dominion. But caging something is not the same as ruling over it. Have you ever seen a man that fits this description? Do we need to redefine the words "image" and "dominion" in order to make Genesis fit the contradictory evidence all around us? Has a man ever claimed to look just like God? Has a man ever showed such dominion on the earth so as to command fish into fishing nets? Have you ever considered that Jesus was not here to act as God, but as MAN? A true man. And, by acting as man, he showed us God.
Why would God bother making something that he knew would be rebellious, depraved, and ultimately cost him a trip to the cross? Sounds like a bigger hassle than David Hasselhoff, and it doesn't get much bigger than that! So why make man at all? Maybe he was just bored with "formless and void." Maybe God had too much headache medication and wanted a reason to use it. Maybe he wanted to create a bunch of finite creatures and watch what happened when he put billions of seductive, powerful, self-seeking angels on earth with them. Then, after the humans mess everything up, he could govern them with a bunch of impossible laws and watch them squirm. Wow, Frank is in top form today! Go Frank! But wait . . . is that a thunder cloud? This is not a new question. Sincere believers ask "why" as much as non-believers. I have heard many different answers: God was lonely (despite all the angels and cherubim and so on). It pleased him to do so (he said "it was good"). We will never understand with our puny brains. He needed an outlet for his mercy and wrath. In 1647, the Reformers, while working to create a catechism for purity and unity of doctrine, made this their number one question. Q: What is the Chief End of Man? A: To glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Do you agree? Or is there a better answer?
I saw this bumper sticker last week: Next time you think you're perfect, try walking on water! First of all: Oooooooooooooooooooooh. Nailed me! Second of all: WHAT? What does "perfect" even mean? In Christian circles we talk about "perfect" quite a bit. We say that, if Adam and Eve didn't eat that darn apple, we would still be perfect. But here's a question, if Adam and Eve were so perfect, why did they eat the darn apple? In Matthew 5:48, Jesus challenges the Jews to "be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." How could Jesus ask for us to be perfect? Didn't he know that "nobody's perfect"? Didn't He know that we, having been born in sin, can never be perfect. At least in this life. Only pre-fall Adam and Eve, and God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are perfect. The rest of us have to deal with things like boogers, poop, sinking in water, and saying "um" all the time. It's part of the curse. A Bible Gateway search of the word "perfect" in the NASV reveals enough instances and context to provide a reasonable definition. It basically means complete, whole, mature, lacking nothing and unblemished. That would make sense with Matthew 5:48 which is just another way of confirming "Be holy, for I am holy," from Leviticus 11:44. Whole. Holy. Perfect. So perfection does not having anything to do with special powers. It doesn't have anything to do with boogers, or stuttering, or tripping. I'm sure Jesus sneezed once or twice. It has everything to do with wholeness, and it is relative to the creature or object being described. Things are imperfect when they are missing something. A functional pen with no pen cap is imperfect, but when the cap is returned, it is perfect again. Complete. God can be nothing but perfect. He doesn't change. His people should function as they were created to function. But that doesn't mean that our wholeness will match his wholeness. We are two different species. So what does perfection look like for a human?
What could possibly be wrong with the knowledge of good and evil?
On May 21, 2008, a Tennessee newspaper reported the following: Steven Curtis Chapman’s youngest child died Wednesday evening after being struck by a car driven by her teenage brother in the driveway of the family’s Williamson County home. Steven Curtis Chapman? The Christian singer? The minister? His daughter was adopted. How many reasons would God need to prevent something like this from happening? But it wasn't just that it happened, but the way it happened. Another family member? On their own driveway? This is a terrible, heart-wrenching tragedy, and only one example of the kinds of things things that are happening all over the world at this very moment. How do we cope with such disturbing truths? Child rape? Abuse, mental and physical, leading to murder or suicide? Neglect that leads to insanity, starvation, or total debilitation? Should I go on? A couple of years ago, I was watching television in Spain. Apparently they don't have the same censorship that we have in America. I was watching a riot in South Africa where women were being raped and murdered in front of the camera. I saw children being thrown into trucks. Those that resisted had their bones snapped in half or were shot. I saw it happen. And I was horrified. And I cried. And I knew that it was NOT God's intention. This was different than God using his people to judge nations due for judgment. This was clearly the free actions of evil men. In my experience, this is the one issue that turns people away from Christianity more than any other. There is a serious, seemingly-unavoidable problem here, a problem that many Christians try to sidestep, but awkwardly. Simply put: God is love, God is sovereign, and the world is a horrific place. When people try to say something like, "God has a plan, we just can't understand it this side of heaven," I want to pry their eyes open with toothpicks. But these over-simplified solutions may be the only way for some people to feel secure in their lives. I run an after-school Fine Arts program at a Christian school. One day I had a conversation with a Calvinist violin teacher about sovereignty and freedom. I asked him if someone broke into his house and raped his children while he was away, who he would blame? Himself? The rapist? The devil? God? He told me that, ultimately, it all came down to God allowing the event to happen for some unknown, but good purpose. I mean, God works all things together for GOOD, right? Besides, if God isn't controlling every moment of every day, how can any of us get in our cars and feel secure driving down the freeway? I didn't ask if he wore his seat belt, used the foot pedals, or put his hands on the steering wheel. The following Saturday there was a report in the Daily Times that this same man had been convicted of sexually abusing his two adopted children who were living up in Northern California with his ex-wife. Apparently he was using the money he earned in my Academy to visit them. I wonder if he still believes that, at some level, God wanted him to do those things. I am convinced that God does not want my three-year-old daughter to be raped any more than I do. And if it happens, I will mourn. I will not shake my fist at God. I will not call Him weak. And I will not demand an explanation. Some of us might beg to differ, believing that the world is a wonderful place with miracles and blessings around every corner. I wish those people would step outside and open their eyes for a few minutes. Maybe, if they're lucky, someone with do something minor, like steal their car, beat them up, or lie to them, giving them a small wake-up call to the terrors that many people experience on a daily basis. So what is the answer? First of all, our definitions of good and bad are not necessarily shared by God. Yes, Jesus healed people, but think about all of the people he didn't heal. He walked to the Pool of Bethesda, healed one man, and left. What about all of the other sick people watching? Jesus didn't bring every dead person back to life. He didn't cast out every demon. He didn't go about trying to make sure people didn't suffer in their personal lives. He was primarily concerned with the spiritual condition of those around him, to the point of disregarding comfort entirely. Jesus assured his disciples that they would suffer while in the world. Why? Because they were strangers and aliens, citizens of a different kingdom. He tells them to take comfort in their suffering because they would be in the company of the prophets who were abused and killed for their service to God. They were, as Jesus puts it, "lights in the darkness." Therefore, comfort and happiness, though a high value to men and women of the world, is not necessarily a "blessing" as far as God is concerned. When we read, "God works all things together for the good of those who love Him," we need to ask ourselves, what is God's definition of good? 2) In John 8, Jesus tells the Jews that, because they lie and murder, they are children of their father, the devil. Men are meant to "glorify" (or display) the character and qualities of their spiritual fathers. That's how we're designed. That's why, when we grow in Christ, we begin to manifest his nature and power more and more. We become "children of God" and are changed from the qualities of our previous father, the devil, to our new father, God. We are called to stop lying to one another, stop cheating, stop manipulating, stop sinning. Why? Because we have a new father, and our purpose is to "glorify" our new father. If the world is advertising anything, it is that the children of the devil are still running things. In scripture, this is called the kingdom of darkness, or simply "the world." When we join the kingdom of God, we become the light. Our job is to "go into all the world and make disciples," or in other words, spread the light. Hebrews 2 has a prophecy about Jesus. Here are the final words, going into the author's commentary: "...You have made Him for a little while lower than the angels. You have crowned Him with glory and honor. You have appointed Him over the works of your hands. You have put all things in subjection under His feet." (then the author continues) For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him. Not yet? Basically the author of Hebrews is saying that, ultimately, all things will be subject to Christ. But not yet. We are still living in the "not yet" period, which means a lot of the garbage that happens in the world is because of the "ruler of the world" who is trying to get all that he can before the end. The kingdom is the antidote. But the world will not be cured until Christ is Lord of ALL, which is coming when the "ruler of this world" is judged along with his demons and "children." And if we are living in the world of our enemy, we should expect trouble. Sometimes God intervenes in our suffering, but not always the way we want or when we want. We must believe that He is ultimately more concerned with our spiritual development than physical. And also, that he will allow his people to suffer and die, which, in God's economy, is considered an honor, one that His Son embraced fully for the salvation of the world.
God can do what he wants. That's a truth that scripture, logic, and personal experience cannot deny. When God wants to do something, who can stop him? Sometimes we assume that, because God can do what he wants, he would do what we would do in his place. We assume that, as Sovereign Ruler, he would, to some degree, control the minds, wills, and actions of his creation to fulfill his ultimate purpose. As I motioned in previous posts, there are verses and historical events that show he has done this in significant moments. But there are others that show his preference for a free and willing heart. "Come now, and let us reason together,"Says the Lord," Though your sins are as scarlet,They will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool. Isaiah 1:18 "How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me? I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel, which they are making against Me. Say to them, 'As I live,' says the Lord, 'just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will surely do to you.'" Numbers 14:27-28 Then the Lord said to me in the days of Josiah the king, "Have you seen what faithless Israel did? She went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and she was a harlot there. I thought, 'After she has done all these things she will return to Me'; but she did not return..." Jeremiah 3:6-7 Did God really think Israel would return? He must have known otherwise. And if he did, why didn't he do something about it? In Deuteronomy chapter 30, God challenges Israel with a choice: "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them." But in chapter 31 we gain further insight into God's perspective: The Lord said to Moses, "Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers; and this people will arise and play the harlot with the strange gods of the land, into the midst of which they are going, and will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them. Then My anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide My face from them, and they will be consumed, and many evils and troubles will come upon them; so that they will say in that day, 'Is it not because our God is not among us that these evils have come upon us?' But I will surely hide My face in that day because of all the evil which they will do, for they will turn to other gods. Now therefore, write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the sons of Israel; put it on their lips, so that this song may be a witness for Me against the sons of Israel." God knew what the people would do, how he would feel about it, and what he would do in response, but he didn't do a thing to change it. He even taught Moses a song so that people will remember the warning he gave them years before the rebellion would occur. This tells me a few important things about God's sovereignty: 1) God is not willing to manipulate rebellious hearts. In fact, I can find no instance in scripture where God softens a heart. We see him calling people, we see grace and mercy shown to the repentant, but not the involuntary softening of a rebellious heart. 2) God wants the rebellious to turn of their own volition, but eventually, if they do not turn, even after being warned, they will incur his wrath and judgment. 3) God is patient despite his foreknowledge. God can see the future, but chooses not to manipulate it unless he deems it absolutely necessary. Why? Because when he made men, it was for fellowship, not a cosmic chess game. Relationships are free. I don't want a robot for a wife, I want a woman who wants to be with me, who wants to share life with me. That's the fun of it. There is beauty and adventure in that. Humans are obsessed with relationships. And we want them unmanipulated. No wonder genies don't do "love wishes" and witches stay away from "love potions." We all know that it's supposed to be free. It's instinctive. Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not seek it's own. Bears all things. Hopes all things. Endures all things . . .
The chain of command ends with God. We don't need the Bible to understand that. A creator is greater than his creation. Unless, of course, we're talking about Dr. Frankenstein, in which case this logic is out the window. The analogy often used is this: It's your room, but it's God's house. I suppose that would work, to some degree, but it appears that God has given man more freedom than that. Here are some Biblical examples: God delivers Israel from Pharaoh to take them to the Promised Land, but when the people worship a golden calf in Moses's absence (leading to the death of many and even the contemplation of a hitting a national reset button) and then refuse to enter Canaan for fear of giants, God lets all of them die except for two men of faith. Yes, their children crossed the Jordan, but it would take more faith to believe that this was God's intention when they crossed the Red Sea. Why didn't he just change their hearts? Give them more faith? Did he not want them to cross, in which case he would make himself a liar and a manipulator? Even Paul didn't believe that. He blamed the people: For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, "As I swore in my wrath, they shall not enter my rest." . . . Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, He again fixes a certain day, "Today," saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, "Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts." Hebrews 4:2-4, 6 In two cases, we do see God doing the hardening: with Pharaoh and with the first century Jews. In both cases, God was starting a new nation, one physical and one spiritual, in which the hardening was required. That is his prerogative. But that doesn't mean he always hardens and softens hearts. The verse I just quoted suggests that "hardening" is up to the person hearing from God. It is an issue of rebellion or obedience. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!" Luke 13:34 It seems that human rebellion can keep God's will at arms length. However, there are examples of when God takes action despite our rebellion. Like when he needed a prophet during an especially rebellious period in Israel's history. He says that he had prepared Jeremiah for his role before Jeremiah was even born. The same was true of John the Baptist. And Jesus. But don't jump to conclusions. This does not mean that God prepares every man and woman for a specific task before they are born. These were special people for special times. We don't have the right to insert ourselves into the Biblical text, or even insert our hopes or assumptions. We also see God grafting Israel out of the vine and grafting the Gentiles in. Paul says in Romans 11 that it was because of obedience and disobedience, which meant that God's actions were based on the free decisions of men. But does that mean we control God? No. Never has a created being forced God's hand. However, there have been negotiations, like with Abraham. There have been moments of special grace, like with Hezekiah. There have been moments that seemed cruel, like the death of Uzza. In all these cases, we must accept that God deals with nations according to their culture and era, with people according to their personality and faith, and with the history of the world according to his wisdom. God is sovereign, yes. But he is also relevant, pertinent, and needs nothing. When he intervenes, he intervenes. But in the meantime, he calls, he woos, he encourages. These are the actions of a person who wants a relationship, not like the devil who manipulates and possesses his people. How often do we perceive God's sovereignty in this cruel and selfish way?
Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, "All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me." Matthew 4:8-9 Jesus answered and said, "This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes. Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.” John 12: 30 – 31 "I will not speak much more with you, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me.” John 14:30 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. II Corinthians 4:3-4 "Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” John 8:43-44 Wait? Why don't we talk abut this? Jesus calls the devil the "ruler of the world"? Paul calls the devil the "god of this world"? Seriously? I'm sure the Jews didn't consider themselves the children of the devil. How could they? They were circumcised. They worshipped at the temple. They were born into God's nation, inheritors of the promises. How . . . ? Wait . . . If the devil is the ruler of the world, then I guess the world would be a pretty bad place to live. People would be characterized by their god and father. They would be selfish, liars, manipulators, murderers. People would live for themselves. They would be obsessed with pleasure and gain. They would be inconsiderate. Deceptive. They would masquerade as "angels of light" to get what they want. They would be rebellious. Am I not giving the world it's just description? What about your own soul? Do you have any of these tendencies? I know I do. When Laurie and I were attending Bible school, Major Ian Thomas taught an interesting lesson. He asked us to imagine an alien world that recently discovered that the almighty Creator of the universe made a creature in his very image and likeness on the earth. These aliens would be eager to visit this blessed planet to see these unique and wonderful creatures that demonstrate the very nature of their Creator God. Imagine their disappointment when they discover that God is a lying, manipulative, selfish, greedy overlord. So if this concept is as true as the evidence suggests, what does this say about the sovereignty of God? How could he allow this to happen? Is God unjust? Uninterested? Unloving? More to come . . . . but please weigh in.
To begin a discussion on freedom and sovereignty, we should be clear about what sovereignty is. I think we have a general assumption in the church that, because God made everything, he is ultimately responsible for everything he made. He has a plan for it. He controls it. Psalms 103:19 seems to support this assertion. The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his sovereignty rules over all. However, sovereignty is also attributed to the city of Damascus in Isaiah, and King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel. In John 14, Jesus calls Satan the "ruler of this world." Really? How can any other power be ascribed such authority if, ultimately, God is ruler of all? There can be no doubt that God created free systems. Before men were even created, there was a rebellion in heaven and a third of the angels chose to leave the authority of God for the authority of Lucifer. One could say that God intended such a thing from the beginning--a Willy Wonka and Slugworth scenario--but perhaps the truth is just as simple as it is presented. They didn't want to be under God's thumb. Have you ever felt that way? Anyone? Anyone? Then God creates man, another type of free creature. Before long, man has rebelled, and God is setting new parameters for their relationship. In Romans 1, Paul talks about God turning man over to his own depravity, as if to say, "Fine. If you think you can do it better, go ahead." But does that mean God is no longer responsible for these people? Are they truly free of him? In all of the free systems of creation, there are rulers and authorities. From fish to angels, there is a struggle for power and authority. These "ranks" are clearly seen in creation (just watch the Dog Whisperer) and written about in scripture. Life is dominated and defined by these struggles. Living in a Democracy, we participate in this struggle every day. Who is in charge? What authority do they have? How can we have more personal freedom, more rights? Should we rebel? Should we impeach? Jesus talks about this struggle in his parable of the strong man's goods. He says, "If you want to plunder the strong man's possessions, you must first bind the strong man." In other words, you must be stronger. In the spiritual realm, this has nothing to do with steroids and everything to do with authority. When God created man and told him to fill the earth and subdue it, there was some authority given there. The fact that a Spirit of Truth is given to counteract the Father of Lies proves, to some degree, that our freedom remains. Spiritual powers are asking us to trust them, to relinquish our freedom and place it in their control. Apparently, this is our choice. If we surrender our freedoms to God, we live. If not, we die. Spiritually speaking. But above all created beings is one uncreated being. The strongest of the strong men. The ultimate authority. God didn't ask permission to send his son into the devil's world (both Jesus and Paul claimed this), but the devil had to ask permission to "sift Peter like wheat." There is no Biblical evidence that the devil has to ask permission to deal with people that belong to him. Only those that belong to God. Here is my opinion. Feel free to weigh in. God's sovereignty means that no one can tell him what to do. He is the only being that has no authority over him. The ONLY being. That means that if he wants to do something he can go ahead and do it. If God wants to create the world and let it spin alone in the universe, that is his prerogative--and he would still be considered sovereign! Sovereignty means that God can do whatever he wants. Rather than assuming that God is controlling everything, it is better to ask: What does God WANT to do? And don't assume the answer. Food for thought: Why would Jesus pray, "Thy will be done on earth as is it in heaven"? Wouldn't God's sovereignty assume that God's will is being done on earth the same as in heaven?
I had to treat my soul like a child. I had to pin it down and demand that it stay put until the Holy Spirit told it to move. I had no idea how stubborn and independent I could be. I was raised with a common belief: God loves me. God has a plan for my life. God is sovereign. He chose me. He saved me. Someday I will live with him in heaven. This perspective was very comforting, but it was also crippling. Imagine if I raised my son to think that, because I gave birth to him and love him and have the power to help him, he could do anything he wants for the rest of his life and it won't change anything. In fact, I'll forgive everything he does, fix it, and make sure he gets a beautiful wife and well-paying job even if he never so much as lifts his butt from the couch cushions. How good of a parent would I be? How good of a person would he be? To say that God is in control and everything happens for a reason, is to close your eyes to the events of the world and even to scripture. But to say that God is not in control questions his sovereignty and power. And especially his love. There seems to be an unavoidable problem there. Since this question is such a big one for Christians and skeptics alike, we should take some time on it. This post will focus simply on the change of my perspective before I pinned my soul to the ground, and after. When God spoke to me, and confirmed his word, it showed me that I had been making "faith" choices without him for most of my life. I just prayed, then acted without hearing back from him. I guess I was like someone leaving a message on a cell phone, assuming that the other person would agree and support whatever decision I made just because I cared enough to call. I also realized that I had been living by a sliding scale. I believe in God's sovereign will, but when I sinned, it was clearly not His will. I felt bad. I apologized. I felt that I had offended God. But how could God be offended or even bothered if he knew what I would do before I did it, and it was all a part of his grand scheme? In fact, I should be thanking him for my sin because, in the end, "all things work together for good." Right? Also, my perspective would change based on the severity of an event. If I tripped on a curb, I was clumsy. But if I tripped on a curb and cracked a tooth, costing me $500 at the dentist, God was testing me financially. If I tripped on a curb and incurred brain damage, God obviously had a mysterious and wonderful plan and I would have to wait and pray, pretending not to be afraid, wondering what it was. Based on the severity of my fall, the event would shift from an accident to a plan. There is one story in the Bible that helped shed some light on this issue for me. In Numbers 22, Israel is approaching Moab on their way to Canaan. Balak, the king, is terrified of Israel, having heard of what happened in Egypt and the destruction of other nations. He calls on Balaam, a man known for his divination powers, to curse Israel. Balaam accepts the offer, but God is angry and sends an angel to block his way. Balaam has an interesting conversation with his donkey, after which the angel is revealed to him. Balaam agrees not to go. However, God allows him to continue, but does not allow him to curse Israel. Only to bless them. For the next couple of chapters, we can read the blessings of Balaam and the angry rants of Balak. However, the blessings don't seem to matter because in the chapter that immediately follows, Israel is sleeping around with the people of Moab and worshipping their gods. Nice. Josephus, when writing the Jewish history for his Greek captors, expands this account, making the transition a little more natural. In his version, Balaam tells Balak that God will not abandon his people, but they could abandon their God. He advises the king to send in their most beautiful women and seduce the Israelites. God doesn't send an angel to block the women. Israel is seduced. Ultimately, it is these same people that were so unfaithful that they never would enter the Promise Land, even though God brought them out of Egypt to do so. This sounds like what the devil is trying to do. Seduction and lies. Apparently we are free to act on temptation, and in doing so, we just might end up like Israel, dead in a desert on the wrong side of the Jordan. Consider some of your own views of sovereignty and freedom. Do you vote? If so, do you think it changes the outcome? Do you feel free? Do you feel guilty when you sin? Are those sinful moments free from God's sovereignty? If so, can other moments also be free? How do you feel about this issue?
I came to a mental crossroads in my spiritual life in my junior year of college. I got to the point where I was exhausted by "God-speak." I was tired of “giving God the glory” for things that I was probably just doing myself. Would I have to go through the rest of my life hoping that God would keep “opening and closing doors” for me? I wanted to hear from God. I wanted to know what He was doing. I was ready to abandon all guesswork entirely. My opportunity came. I needed a job, and the best job I could find while attending school was as a church accompanist—decent pay, limited hours. I auditioned at a large church and was offered the position, but I needed to start right away and I would have to continue through the summer. If I took the job, I couldn’t go on the summer ministry tour I was planning, and I would have to find housing in the area. I told the choir director that I would pray about it and give her a decision on Sunday. That was Wednesday. While I was driving home from the audition, I thought about what I said. Would I really be able to know what God wanted me to do? I remember feeling very strongly about finding out for sure this time. Did He want me to stay back from a ministry tour just to make money, or would He provide a more flexible job? Before I got home I had made a decision. I would ceremoniously fry myself a cheeseburger and then not eat again until I was sure that God had given me an answer. I went home, ate the burger, and prayed like a maniac. The next day, I was talking to a friend who said that if I wanted to stay in Los Angeles for the summer, I could stay in his apartment and share the rent. If I went on tour, we could lead the ministry team together. It didn’t give me an answer, but it did open up a place to stay. I refused to open my Bible during this time, afraid that I would read into the verses. I felt bad, like I was trying to twist God’s arm, but I knew that I had to persevere. I was so tired of not being sure. By Friday night, “hungry” was an understatement. I remember going to a restaurant with my friends but not planning to eat. Smart. While I was sitting there, watching everyone else eat, I looked over at the friend who had offered to share the summer with me. I can’t explain why, but at that moment, I knew that I should take the accompanist job and stay in Los Angeles. It was a feeling. I didn’t really want a feeling. I wanted a burning bush outside the music building. Later that night, I ate. I didn’t get sick. I didn’t feel guilty. But I have to admit, I didn’t feel confident either. On Sunday, I told the director that I would take the job. “When did you decide?” she asked. “Friday night.” “What time?” I thought back. “Around 6:00.” She looked startled. “That’s interesting. Because at 6:00, Friday night, something told me to stop worrying about the choir job. It was such a strong sensation that I looked at my watch.” So God wanted me to make money and not go on the ministry tour? Funny thing: I got married that summer, but at the time, I wasn't even dating Laurie. How could I have known? I needed to stay home. That first experience in college forever altered my approach to faith. I was finally confident that God could speak to me and confirm His word. I also knew that living by faith was something that I had to pursue. No more open and closed doors. No more superstitious God-speak. No magic Bible verses. No pointless prayers or Christianese. For once, it was real.
Do I trust the Scriptures? Absolutely. This may seem to contradict my previous posts, but I have confidence that God has preserved the testimonies of these prophets and spiritual men to guide his church, and to keep us from personal and corporate heresy. However, I don't trust my brain farther than I can throw it. As mentioned in the previous post, we interpret everything we read through our mental filters. These filters tend to make conclusions based on personality, experience, personal study, mentors, and many other things. Once we've made conclusions, we tend to place our entire faith in them, baring our teeth at any doctrine or theologian that would dare to challenge them. It is foolhardy to think that we, physical beings, could become experts in spiritual things with simple reasoning--even with the Scriptures as a guide. However, it would be even more foolish to throw out the Scriptures and rely entirely on feelings or personal experiences. If there are truly spiritual forces at work to deceive us, especially in the church itself, shouldn't we do the best we can to let go of our faulty securities and learn to depend on the Holy Spirit for truth. Paul cautioned the early churches to walk by the Spirit rather than living by the Law. God would not contradict His own law, so there is no danger in abandoning one for the other. Also, he encouraged people to walk by the Spirit to avoid sin. God doesn't sin, so people walking by the Spirit will not sin. True security. I believe that this concept, though intriguing to many Christians, has been abandoned for the more "secure" approach of using the scriptures as the end-all and having seminary-approved interpreters tell us what it means. We still want a king. We need the truth in our face. We need it in our hands, in black and white. It's like we're standing on the ground, but we won't let go of the tree because we can't see our feet. We know the Old Testament Scriptures were important to the New Testament believers. They quoted it constantly, confirming the world changing events surrounding the birth, life, death, resurrection, and continuing spiritual ministry of Jesus. The Old Testament gave the apostles confidence in their faith, along with the signs and wonders they were experiencing. Jesus, as a youth, was recognized as having an incredible understanding of Scripture. He used it while being tempted by the devil, he used it while being challenged by the Pharisees, and he even quoted it on the cross. It cannot be disregarded. The Pharisees were masters of Scripture as well, but Jesus rebuked them, calling them blind men. How could the Pharisees, who memorized the Scriptures, still be considered blind? It is interesting that they knew all of the prophecies, and ended up fulfilling them without even knowing it. Perhaps their interpretations of the Messianic prophecy would be a lot like how we try to predict the events of Revelations. Having read the Left Behind series and seen the Thief in the Night series, we're waiting for some things to happen that just may never come. We know that the devil is bent on twisting the scriptures to lead God's people astray. We need to learn the voice of God, not Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, John Lennon, or John Barnts. We see a perfect example of this in John 1:19-34: This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed, "I am not the Christ." They asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" And he said, "I am not " "Are you the Prophet?" And he answered, "No." Then they said to him, "Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?" He said, "I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'make straight the way of the Lord,' as Isaiah the prophet said." Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, and said to him, "Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?" John answered them saying, "I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know. "It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie." These things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing. The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! "This is He on behalf of whom I said, 'After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.' I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water." John testified saying, "I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, 'He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.' I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God." Speculation versus Revelation.