Monday, December 20, 2010

The Glory of God in Redemption


            The glory of God is a theme that runs throughout the Bible.  In the beginning, God created man to rule creation and reflect God’s glory to creation.  In glory, man would share life and communion with God.  That glory however was shattered when man sinned.  In the next few paragraphs, we will look at how that glory was shattered and what God has and is doing to restore that Glory.

The creation of glory reflected - creation

“Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Ge 1:26-27 NivUS) “Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”  (Isa 43:7 NivUS) At creation, man was the very image of God.  Does this mean that God looks like a man?  Not necessarily, what it means is that man shares qualities with God.  God is a triune being, so is man.  God is creative, so is man.  God has emotions - man does also.  God is an intelligent being, so is man.  God has a free will to choose what he will do, so does man.  Man reflects the God that created him.  However, man is not omniscient, omnipotent, eternal, omnipresent, or self-existent like God.  That is why one of the best illustrations for man being in the image of God is that of a mirror.  What we see in a mirror is not the individual, but a reflection of that individual.  So also man, what we see in man in the creation was not God, but a reflection of God.  This was God’s original intent.  Man was to be a reflection of God.  A creature so much like himself that he could be close friends with man and man could enjoy God’s company.
Being in the image of God, we would also reflect God’s Glory.  Just as we would share life in God, we would share God’s glory throughout creation as God’s highest creation.  We would be God’s primary representative in creation.  As God’s highest creation, reflecting his glory, and carrying God’s authority, man was in charge of all creation.  “God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”  Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.  And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground —  everything that has the breath of life in it —  I give every green plant for food.”  And it was so.” (Ge 1:28-30 NivUS).

The destruction of glory reflected - fall

However, something happened.  Sin entered into man.  After eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, in disobedience of God, God banished man from the garden.  ““And the LORD God said, "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.  He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”  Therefore, the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.  After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.””  (Ge 3:22-24 NivUS).  The image was now shattered as a mirror is shattered.  A reflection is left, “but is now horribly distorted.  With the image now distorted almost beyond recognition man now  falls short of the glory of God, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”, (Ro 3:23 NivUS).  Man is now hopelessly lost in sin.  Everything in man is corrupted.  Nothing remains that is good.  “They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.”  (Ro 1:29 NivUS)  Man can do nothing to restore the image and the glory.  Even the best of his attempts to remake the image is worthless. “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”  (Isa 64:6 NivUS)  Man’s only hope is God, the very one who made man.

The restoration of glory reflected – redemption

            Not be thwarted God’s does not surrender his original purpose to reflect his glory.  What God intended to happen will happen.  God was not surprised.  God had determined that restoration of man to the image and glory before creation itself.  “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.  In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will —  to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Eph 1:4-7 NivUS).
At the proper time in human history, God himself in all his glory entered creation to redeem man.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  (John 1:1 NivUS).  “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  (John 1:14).  Jesus himself said, “he that hath seen me hath seen the Father;” (John 14:9 NivUS).  Entering into the world and showing his glory was not enough.  The reality of sin remains.  “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Ro 6:23 NivUS).  Being God Jesus was the only one who could fix the sin problem. So “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!”  (Ro 5:8-9 NivUS).  Forgiveness became certain with the resurrection “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”  (Ro 4:25 NivUS)
            Now that the penalty of sin was taken care of man could be restored to his original glory.  God made man with a free will however.  God will not violate that will.  So man must choose the redemption that is in Christ. Those who choose to place their faith in Christ have the hope of glory in them.  “To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”  (Col 1:27 NivUS).
The development of glory reflected – sanctification

            With sin forgiven and Christ having become the hope of restored glory, a process has begun.  Until man is released from his mortal body man will have to deal with the sin nature that still inhabits the fallen and corrupt body. Thus begins the process of sanctification. “But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.  He called you to this through our gospel that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (2Th 2:13-14 NivUS)
            Sanctification is both event and process.  The passage above in Second Thessalonians speaks of the event of setting apart for Christ.  First Thessalonians speaks of the process, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable,” (1Th 4:3-4 NivUS).  As disciples, we need to participate in the process of sanctification.  We need to discipline ourselves to godliness and holiness.  In discipline the sin nature is brought under control and as the Spirit lives through us the mirror is gradually put back together. In this process we begin to increasingly reflect God and his glory.

The consummation of glory Shared– heaven

            The process does have an end.  Since sin brings death, everyone will stand before God some day.  For those who are in Christ this means they freedom from the sinful body and restored to the original creation glory that God has always intended.  Paul put it this way in first Corinthians “For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.  When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."”  (1Co 15:53-54 NivUS) Paul also said in Ephesians 1:18 “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.”  When we stand in heaven redeemed by the blood of Christ we will once again reflect the marvelous glory of Christ.  Peter put it this way “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”  (1Pe 5:4 NIVUS)  Ultimately, joining everything to Christ for as John wrote in Revelation 4:11 "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being."  The whole of creation finds restoration as Christ concludes time, banishes sin, and restores everything.


            In the beginning, God created man to share in and reflect the Glory of God.  Sin however entered into the world and the reflected glory was shattered in fallen man.  God however in anticipation had already planned for Christ to enter the world and bring the express image of God to sacrifice himself for all humanity.  In his sacrifice, man through faith can be reconciled to God and the reflection restored.  That restoration begins with the conversion of an individual and continues until that individual stands before God fully restored to what God always intended.  The restoration of all of creation happens when at the consummation of time, with sin banished; the redeemed of all ages live in restoration with their creator.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Day of Little Note

The prophet Zechariah said “For who hath despised the day of small things?”  In November of 1863 President Abraham Lincoln traveled to a small town in southern Pennsylvania named Gettysburg.  His purpose was a small thing, to make a speech at the dedication of the Gettysburg national Cemetery. Edward Everett gave a large speech speaking for two hours during the dedication.  Lincoln gave a small speech speaking for two minutes.  The world today remembers nothing of what Everett said, but all recall the great words of Lincoln. Even Everett wrote to Lincoln the next day: “I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.”[1]
In July of 1996 I had the privilege to visit Gettysburg. I will never forget standing at the top of Cemetery Ridge.  As I stood there I could picture the lines of Union artillery pointing down the hill.  I could almost smell the smoke and hear the roar of their firing at George Pickets almost 15,000 confederate troops, who were advancing up the hill.  At the end of the day the Confederates were in retreat after three days of battle having lost 25,000 men. 10,000 had fallen that very afternoon.
The world did not notice the events of that day.  But it was a day that changed the course of the American Civil War.  The war transformed our nation by riding us of the scourge of slavery and cementing a national union that even today is the envy of the world.
In his address Lincoln said “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”  The same could be said of a day almost two thousand years ago when a little known Jewish Rabbi was executed by the occupying Roman authorities.  The world did not note that day.  But that day changed history.
The world took no notice of Jesus’ life.  Jesus came from a common working family.  The people from his hometown of Nazareth commented “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary,…?”[2] Jesus began as a humble carpenter in a small town in an out of the way part of the world.  He was a common working man who had become a preacher. Nothing in the life of Jesus would cause the world to take note.
At the age of thirty Jesus became an ordinary Jewish Rabbi.  A rabbi was a teacher. Today He would be an itinerant revival preacher like Billy Graham, Billy Sunday, and Dwight Moody. There was nothing out of the ordinary in Jesus’ ministry, aside from his miracles, that would have set him apart. Even Jesus own disciples saw nothing more when Jesus first began his ministry. Scripture records that “Jesus saw them following and asked, "What do you want?" They said, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?"”[3]. Jesus did not have any wealth or financial empire. Jesus even said of himself “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head”[4]. 
Living in a small corner of the Roman Empire Jesus life and work went almost totally unnoticed around the world.  Judaism was a very small religion that was considered odd by most people, and generally despised by the Romans.
Palestine was a small province of the great Roman Empire. The Roman Empire stretched from Great Britain to Persia, from Norway to Egypt. There were many places that had greater importance to Rome than Palestine.  Palestine had no great natural resources. Neither did they have great wealth, fine educational institutions, remarkable architecture, nor anything else that the world would see as great and valuable. More than 400 years before Jesus the enemies of the Jewish people had noted “that this city is a rebellious city, and hurtful unto kings and provinces.”[5]
Nazareth, the town that Jesus was from, was known as a town with little going for it.  Nathaniel, one of Jesus own disciples, commented, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?”[6]  As a simple preacher Jesus received no attention from the scholarly establishment of his day.  Jesus wrote no books, and made no great scientific discoveries. There was nothing in the teachings of Jesus that caused the great teachers of Judaism much less the Roman world to take note of Jesus. In fact the enemies of his disciples noted “that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.“[7]
It can truly be said that Jesus was a man of little note in His day. There was nothing in His life that caused the world to take serious consideration of Jesus of Nazareth. Yet his life, death and resurrection have transformed the world. The great Easter event that we celebrate each spring, Jesus crucifixion and resurrection, was at that time an event of little note.  During Passover, a Jewish holiday that the world cared little about, the Romans carried on their business as usual. When Jesus was brought before Pilate, Jesus was sentenced to death simply as a way of placating some troublesome people. Pilate even said in John 19:6 “Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him.”[8] To Pilate Jesus’ execution was only one of thousands.
The day that Jesus died there were two common criminals that died with him.  Jesus didn’t even rate a special execution.  The Jewish leadership was glad to be rid of Jesus and to the Romans it was just another day’s work.  The Romans routinely crucified criminals, slaves and rebellion leaders, sometimes thousands at a time.  The death of Jesus was worthy only of note in official records.  The only reason a guard was posted at his grave was at the insistence of the Jewish leaders. Jesus body would have even just been tossed into the trash had it not been for the kindness of Joseph and Nicodemus.  Moreover, even according to today’s standards, Jesus trial and death received little or no publicity.
There were no reporters or news crews at Calvary.  There were no live satellite feeds, no capital punishment protesters, not even a single talk show was devoted to the event.  No one except his friends and family took note of this execution.  There were no reports spread across the empire that Jesus had died.  No kings or emperors were notified.
Even Jesus closest friends had fled.  Only John and Jesus mother, Mary, and Mary Magdalene dared to follow Jesus to Calvary, to watch nails being driven into the hands and feet of Jesus, and to watch Jesus life ebb away over six hours time.  Few took note, or even really cared.  Most saw it as just another day in the Roman Empire.  It was another day of cruelty, another day to beware.  The Jewish leadership was glad to be rid a trouble maker.  Jesus was a threat to be removed, and the less said and remembered the better.
Jesus existence was barely noted in secular history.  There are records in secular history of the life and death of Jesus, but their numbers are few.  History records much of Julius Caesar, Caesar Augustus, Nero and other Roman Emperors.  We know of Cleopatra, Mark Antony, and Alexander the Great.  We even know of Genghis Khan and Egyptian Pharaohs.  But little is said of Jesus of Nazareth.  The world little noted the events in Jerusalem that day. The world has in fact little remembered.  Today many people seem bent on wiping from society and culture the mention of Jesus name, and the events of his life and death. Even many of the followers of Jesus today take little note on Good Friday and Easter of those events so long ago.  They instead choose parties, Easter eggs, and vacations instead of worship, remembering Jesus sacrifice and miraculous resurrection.
However Just like Gettysburg the results of the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus have far outreached the meager notice the world paid to the events.  Just like Gettysburg we cannot ignore what was done during those three days two thousand years ago. The life and death of Christ are today seen as a pivotal time of human history.  The measurement of time is centered in the life of Christ; A. D. means Anno Domini or the year of our Lord and until revision B. C. stood for Before Christ.
It was the quiet revolution of people transformed by the power of the raised Christ that brought down the corrupt Roman Empire.  The last two thousand years of western history have been centered on the Christian Faith.  The Eastern world has not been left untouched by the Christian Faith.  Ethiopia has had a Christian presence since the first century and was home to the powerful Christian kingdom of Aksum in the first centuries AD and became a Christian empire in the 15th century.  Both India and China have records of Christian Communities throughout the last two thousand years.  Today only Judaism and Islam rival Christianity in the world.
Christ has become a pivotal person in human history and Christianity has transformed every society it has touched.  When history is examined, it is clear that modern day democracy takes roots and flourishes in nations which are predominately Christian.  Nations that espouse other religions struggle constantly to maintain any personal liberty.
It is Christianity that has promoted the equality of women.  Only in Christian societies do women ever find equal opportunity or general respect.  In the State of Saudi Arabia, a nation that is reported to be a progressive Islamic nation, women are not allowed to drive, are essentially owned by their husbands or fathers, and may be only one of many wives of their husbands.  Under the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan, women were not allowed to receive education or to show more than their eyes in public.  Iran is not much better.
True followers of Christ have fought for the liberation of people from slavery. It was Christian concern and commitment that eventually brought an end to Slavery in the United States and around the world.  People following the teachings of Christ have brought economic hope to the masses of people, by creating fairness and justice.  Christian societies protect the lives and futures of children as no others do.  Christianity brings hope in the midst of despair.
This change upon societies does not occur because of war, or revolution, or law.  This change occurs because every person who meets the resurrected Christ is transformed.  The Apostle Paul said “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new.”[9]  This is possible because to be in Christ is to be born again. Jesus said “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”[10]  and “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”[11]  This has been proven in the lives of countless people throughout the centuries.
Chuck Colsen who upon finding Christ left a life of power and influence that ended in prison and found a life of meaning working with the imprisoned of America.  Billy Graham was a simple North Carolina farm boy who through Christ has become the prophet and confidant of world leaders throughout the latter 20th century.  It was a young shoe cobbler named William Carey who under the leadership of Christ opened India to the hope of Christ.  The life of each believer can testify to the life changing power of the risen Christ. As lives have changed so have families, and communities.
The world little noted the man Jesus of Nazareth.  The world little noted his life, his death and his resurrection, the world today still tries to ignore the raised Christ.  But it is undeniable that Christ has changed the world one person at a time. He was seen as a small person, in a small place 2000 years ago.  Take Zachariah’s advice, don’t despise the small things. Has he changed you? If not will you allow him to change you today?  If you have pulled back from Christ and find yourself at a distance from the one who died for you, I want to invite you to renew your commitment to Christ.

[1] [1]"Gettysburg Address," Microsoft® Encarta® 98 Encyclopedia. © 1993-1997 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
[2] Mark 6:3
[3] John 1:38
[4] Luke 9:58
[5] Ezra 4:15
[6] John 1:46
[7] Acts 4:13
[8] John 19:6
[9] 1 Cor 5:17
[10] John 3:3
[11] John 10:10

Thursday, December 02, 2010

An Essay on the Scriptures

Not long ago I wrote about core values, those values that are held dearest and would never be surrendered (see the essay of September 18, 2010). This essay begins a series of essays on those core values I hold.  One value is, “the power and integrity of Scripture, the Holy Bible is the inspired word of God and will do as it has promised.  The passages in Hebrews 4:12[1] and 2Timothy 3:16[2], set out the fundamental truth about the Scriptures. Scripture can be trusted and is the word of God.  The Scriptures were breathed by God and will be used by the Holy Spirit to change lives.  The purpose of this essay is not to be a Bible lesson in inspiration, but rather some thoughts on obedience to the Scriptures.

            To begin let us see the following passage of Scripture.

“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it — he will be blessed in what he does. If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (Jas 1:19-27 NivUS)

The most important line is “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”  This raises three important questions.  Do we listen to the word?  Do we practice self-deception?  Are we doing what the Scriptures say?

            Do we listen to the Word?  Depending upon what faith background you come from you may or may not have passages of Scripture read regularly in worship service.  Churches that follow liturgical patterns of worship have long incorporated multiple passages of Scripture being read as a regular part of the service.  Non-liturgical churches traditionally have not.  Perhaps you have been in the regular habit of reading the Bible during times of personal worship.  However in 2000 a Gallup poll reported that only 37% of Americans read a Bible at least once a week.[3]  This means 63% of Americans don’t even read the Bible once a week.  Is it any wonder that Americans, even church going Americans are largely ignorant of what is contained in the Scriptures.  How much do you read the Bible?  How much do listen to the Scriptures either in Church or via CD?  There is no way anyone can be obedient to God if you don’t even know what God has to say. 

How much time we spend in the Scriptures also says much about what we believe about God and ourselves.  An illustration I heard many years ago during a sermon speaks to this point.  During a church service that had lasted a little longer than planned one Sunday the pastor announces to the congregation as he begins his sermon “due to the lateness of the hour I will dispense with the reading of my text and proceed directly into my sermon this morning.”  After the service one dear sainted lady remarks to the pastor as she is shaking his hand at the door, “pastor I do believe you would have been better to dispense with the sermon and read the text”.  OUCH what an indictment!  As a minister I appreciate the preached word, but what I have to say, matters little.  What God has to say is always what counts.  A church that proclaims they believe the Bible should take stock and ask how much attention they really give the Bible. 

Do we listen to the Word?  How many times have we watched a scene on TV that went something like this:
Wife: Honey what do you want for dinner?
Husband: (with his face buried in a newspaper) anything dear
Wife: (knowing her husband isn’t listening) How about some hog jowls and skunk guts then?
Husband: (still reading the paper) ok dear
Wife: I bought us a new Cadillac today?
Husband: that’s nice
Wife: and I’m having an affair with the plumber.
Husband: that’s nice dear?
Wife: Smacks the husband’s head.

Could this be you and God?  God is speaking and you are so busy with other things that you really have no idea what God is saying until He smacks you.

This is why the second question is so important.  Are we practicing self-deception?  We go through our daily lives calling ourselves good Christian’s, getting angry at people that make light of God and Scripture, and practicing all sorts of sins on a regular basis, but are we really so good?  We take whatever current gossip is for truth, but meanwhile really don’t have the faintest idea of the truth really is.  Jesus said “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."[4]  In order to know the truth we must hear and read the truth.  What are the patterns of your life?  James gives the sense of what it means about to hear and obey the Scriptures.  Do we speak kindly to each other?, do we speak with respect to others?, do we spread unproven gossip around?  How do we treat those less fortunate?, do we provide for the needs of others?, do we show compassion?, do we become judgmental about others?  Good questions are they not.  There are certainly many other similar questions that could be asked. 

I will let you answer the third question. Are you doing what the Scripture says? Take some time to read and reread the passage in James quoted above?  As you do take some time to seriously ask God if you have been turning away from the mirror and deceiving yourself.  Yes lets all do this?

[1] “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Heb 4:12 NIVUS
[2] All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness2 Timothy 3:16 NIVUS
[4] John 8:32 NIVUS

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Something Our Current Poltical Leadership should Consider

I am currently reading a Biography of Herbert Hoover by Eugene Lyons.  I ran across something on page 83 of that book that startled me. I went to the web and confirmed it's truth.  As you read the paragraph below, ask yourself the question I thought about.  What would happen if all our political leaders were to follow this example?

"From that day forward Hoover never accepted for his private use a dollar in payment for any of his manifold public services.  He paid his own travel and out-of-pocket expenses.  His salaries as Secretary of Commerce, and then as President, went into a special fund for disbursement in full for charitable causes, to raise wages of aides who needed it, or to pay for expert personnel not provided by official budgets.  Money that came to him for writing or speaking went likewise to private charity and public causes."  Then in the next paragraph Lyons speaks of his associates on the committee for Belgian Relief  "...they lived by his Quaker dictum that public service is a God-given privilege, not a business."

I wonder "what if?"