Believing in The God of Creation

The day got away from me, and I jettisoned several attempts to write a new post for my blog. Since that wasn’t going to happen, I thought I’d “repost” something that I wrote about 9 years ago.  We’re staring out evening youth ministry tonight (thus my failed attempts at blogging), and our lesson tonight is on Genesis 1, the story of creation.  Here’s my article on the Benefits of Believing in a creator God.

Because the Bible says God created the heavens and the earth…

This is probably the most important reason.  God says it, that settles it.  It is often difficult to balance faith and reason, the weight of scientific evidence and the Word of God, but I must remember that this is the Word of God, and it is the rule of faith and life.  All of my thoughts and actions must be brought into submission to the Word of God.  In the end, all truth is God’s truth, so faith and science must lead us to their author.  For the time being, both my understanding of science and of God’s word are imperfect, so I must default to an inherent trust in the infallible Word of God.

Someone other than me is in control

What a relief to know that I am not at the center of the universe, that I am not the one responsible for causing the stars to shine and the worlds to turn.  Now sometimes I may think that I am, but believing in the God of Creation helps to bring me back to reality.

Francis Chan, in his book, Crazy Love, (chapter 2), puts it this way.  When we are stressed, we are saying that “the things we are involved in are important enough to merit our impatience, our lack of grace toward others, or our tight grip of control…How is it possible that we live as though [this life] is about us?… Frankly, you need to get over yourself.  The point of your life is to point to him.”

The God who created me, cares for me

This week I was reminded of the tornado that struck Wichita and Andover back in 1990.  I see on the news today that the volcano in Iceland continues to spew ash into the air, causing worries of water pollution, more volcano and earthquake activity, and financial crisis in Europe.  There are continued reports of war around the world and violence in our own communities.  If I did not know that the God of all creation called me His child, I would easily lose hope.  But God does know me, and in Jesus Christ, He saves me, He calls me by name, and He seals me with His Spirit that I may be assured of my salvation for eternity.  As Brad Stine says, “my self-esteem comes from the fact that the God of all creation loves me and esteems me.”

I have a purpose in life

I heard Cal Thomas say something along the lines of, “If you believe you came from slime, then to slime you will return.  But if you believe that God created you, you will live your life for Him.”  If God created us, it must have been for a reason (Jer 29:11 “I know the plans I have for you…”).  God has given us a purpose, and this is more than just a sense of calling or vocation.  Our purpose in life, to quote the Westminster Divines, is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  Better yet, to quote scripture, is to be “conformed to the image of his Son (Rom 8:29).  We will find different ways of doing this; but our ultimate song will be “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev. 4:11).

May your faith in the Creator God bring you strength and comfort today. 

SDG


From the Pastor’s Desk – Here are some of the things that have come across my desk this week:

Love Believes All Things: I found this to be a refreshing take on what Paul means when he writes in 1 Corinthians 13 that loves believes all things.  To think the best of others, and to give them the benefit of the doubt, is this not what it means to love and live in the community of Christ?

Why I’m Still an Evangelical: The way the word Evangelical is used today, there are many who would rather not be called by that name. It has taken on political baggage that does it a disservice.  Here the author writes: “An evangelical, by common definition, is a Christian who reads the Bible as if it’s actually true. This doesn’t mean that all evangelicals agree on everything the Bible says, but it does mean that we use it as our foundation of Truth. It’s a way of seeing and understanding the world: A worldview.” This is a helpful correction.

10 Things to Know About Reformed Theology: Like the previous article about Evangelicalism, I think Reformed Theology gets a bad reputation, and representation, sometimes.  Here is a neat little summary of what we mean by Reformed Theology.

Safe on Base

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty…”
(Psalm 91:1)

Today’s message is brought to you by that eternal and ever-present childhood game: Tag.  You remember the game: running furiously to avoid getting “tagged,” until that moment you are “it” and you begin to chase the rest of the crowd.  “No-Tag-Backs!” you’ll hear the children shout, just to make sure they can get away.

Of course there are countless varieties to the classic game:

Freeze Tag – once you’re tagged you are “frozen” in place until another person crawls under your legs.

Blob Tag – one person starts as “it,” but as others are tagged, they join hand-in-hand to create a large “it” blob

Toilet Tag – when you are tagged you must squat down to form the toilet and hold out your hand like a handle.  To get back in the game, someone must flush you and make the flushing sound.

Then you will all remember crying “Base” just before you got tagged.  Now, a good game leader will have established a base, if there is one.  But when kids just get together and start playing,  base” becomes whatever is closest to keep you from getting tagged; a tree, a wall, a rock, it doesn’t matter, just so long as it keeps you “safe.”  Of course then, arguments ensue about the legitimacy of the base, how long one can stay, and how far away “it” has to stay from the base.  Who knew Tag could be so complicated.

Now you be thinking, Pastor Ethan’s lost his mind… and you might be right.  But there’s actually a point to all of this.  When playing tag, having a pre-determined base could come in handy.  It was a safe place, a place to catch your breath.  I always thought, as a kid playing tag, that base was a cop-out.  That was, until I needed one.

Wouldn’t it be nice if in this life, when thing are spiraling out of control, when everything is “tagging” you and you feel like you’re always “it” – wouldn’t it be nice if there were a place to call “base,” a hideaway, a safe place to go?

This is the promise of the Lord’s presence in Psalm 91:1-2.  “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’”

Now, before you all start singing “And he will raise you up on eagle’s wings…” consider for a moment what those verses have taught us about God.

God is a Shelter, a Refuge, a Fortress, He Hides us in the Shadow of his wings.  All of these images tell us that the Lord is a secure defense for those who trust in Him.  Keep in mind, you don’t need a shelter, a refuge, a fortress, a hiding place in times of comfort and ease.  The image of God as savior and keeper are only meaningful for those who need to be saved and kept from harm.

We are never promised that we will not face adversity.  In fact, Jesus said that those who follow Him must expect trials and tribulation (John 15:18-21).  Paul even said that no one who seeks to be righteous will avoid persecution (2 Tim 3:12).  We are not exempt from the storm, but we do have a shelter in the midst of it.

Today, whatever your facing, whatever storms are brewing, whatever “it” is chasing you down; run to Him who is your Shelter, your Refuge, your Fortress, hide yourself in the Shadow of His wings.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Transformed by His Glory

“When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.”
(Exodus 34:29)

Throughout his life, Moses had several encounters with the Lord, and it began to show.  Moses met God in the burning bush that was not consumed, and in that encounter was called to proclaim the release of God’s people from captivity in Egypt.  Through Moses, God’s mighty hand worked signs and wonders before Pharaoh, through the plagues and the parting of the sea.  And most spectacularly, Moses met with God on Mt. Sinai, where he received the 10 Commandments and the instructions for the life of the covenant nation of Israel.  All this time in the presence of God began to have a transforming effect.

Moses hungered for the word of God.  He would often set up a tent away from the camp (unlike the Tabernacle that was to be in the middle of the people), where Moses would pray and intercede for the people before the face of God.  We are told in Ex 33:9 that when Moses went into the tent, the cloud would descend upon the tent and the Lord would speak with Moses.

Moses hungered for the presence of God.  God had told Moses to lead the people up to Canaan, to a land flowing with milk and honey, but added that he would not go up with them, lest he consume them, for they were a stiff-necked people (Ex 33:3).  As he came before the Lord, Moses prayed “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.”  Moses had such an experience in the presence of God that he could not imagine going forward without God.  Life would be unbearable, the obstacles too high to overcome.

Moses was transformed by the glory of God.  When Moses came down from the mountain, his face shone because he had been talking with God.  The people, who had not had such an encounter, couldn’t handle the glory, it was too much for them, so they asked him to put a veil over his face.  But the people could see, they knew, that Moses had been in the very presence of God, and his life would forever be changed.  That is the effect of God’s glory in the life of man.

What’s fascinating is this: Moses, through all his encounters with God, never saw the Lord face to face, for no one could see the face of God and live.  To satisfy Moses’ longing to see the glory of God, God placed him in the cleft of the rock, covered him with his hand until he passed by, then took away his hand so that Moses could see his back (Ex 33:21-23).  Moses was completely transformed by the passing, veiled encounter with God, and everyone took note.

We, however, have seen a greater glory in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” John 14:9.  We all, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18 “with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”  If you know Christ, you know the Father.  If you have walked with Christ, you have walked with the Father.  If Christ dwells in you, the Father dwells in you as well.  If, in times of worship, prayer, meditation upon the Word, you have gazed upon the face of Christ, you have seen the face of God.

Does the world know you’ve had this encounter with the glory of God?  Is there evidence in your life of having been in His presence?

Has His love transformed yours, recreated you, so that you love differently, sacrificially, redemptively, as Christ loved you?

Has His Spirit created in you a hunger for His Word, for His presence, so that, you can say with the Psalmist, “One day in your house is better than a thousand elsewhere.”  Do you long to feast on His Word, ready to hear it more and more, so that one hour in worship, twenty minutes of a sermon, are just the beginning?

Friends, one of the reasons the world isn’t drawn to God is because we have taken God’s name in vain.  No, I don’t mean we’re swearing and blaspheming God’s Holy name.  We take the Lord’s name in vain when we make it meaningless, powerless, empty in the eyes of the world.  The world isn’t drawn to God because we haven’t come down from the mountain showing that we’ve been in His presence, shining with the light of His worth, His glory, His wonder.   Maybe our worship, our devotion, our prayers, have been halfhearted and misguided, so that we haven’t encounterd God at all.  Maybe we have, but we’ve been too afraid to let the world know, so we veil His glory, hiding our lamp under the basket.

Friends, this cannot be.  The Church exists to make known the glory of God, to lift high the cross of Christ in proclaiming salvation from sin, to grow as a body in holiness through the power of God’s Spirit.  Such glory is the hearts true desire.  May we encounter the glory of God as we walk with Christ our Lord, so that the world may see His glory in us.

God doesn’t need your lies

“Like the nervous kid who tries to keep his friends from seeing his drunken father, I have tried to hide God at times.  Who do I think I am?  The truth is, God is perfect and right in all that He does.  I am a fool for thinking otherwise.  He does not need nor want me to “cover” for Him.  There’s nothing to be covered.  Everything about Him and all He does is perfect.”

Francis Chan, Erasing Hell (Colorado Springs, CO; David C. Cook, 2011) pg 133.

True Love

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God,
and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
(1 John 4:7-8 ESV)
 

I had the pleasure of sitting in on a Sunday School class at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Wichita, KS last weekend while visiting my mother.  This was an unusual experience for me, to be in a class and not be teaching it.  It took everything in me not to jump in with something to say, and I humbly confess, I failed.  Still, after my initial “might I add a quick thought,” I was able to tame my tongue and quietly enjoy the class.

There was a question asked during the study, however, that really got my mind turning.  We were studying 1 John 4, one of my favorite passages.  We came to the passage listed above and the question was raised, “is it possible for someone who does not know God to love?”  It was a good question, and I think it set the teacher back for a second.  The response given was something along the lines of: “Well, there are different kinds of love, physical or erotic, philial or brotherly love, and then there is the kind of love that John is talking about, the agape love, self-sacrificing, other seeking love.  No other religion teaches this kind of love.  This kind of love can only come from God.” 

While I agree for the most part with the answer that was given, I think there are some deeper lessons to be learned from John’s teaching on loving as coming from God.

  1. The question that was asked misses the point of John’s letter.  John does not say that those who don’t know God cannot love.  Rather, John is saying those who do not love one another, those who even go so far as to say they hate their brother, in fact do not know God.  If we claim to know God, that is, to know Him as He has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ, then we know that God loves us and would have us love one another.  We cannot have fellowship with God while walking in darkness (1 John 1:5-6), we cannot claim to know him unless we keep His commandments (1 John 2:4-5), we cannot love God unless we love our brother (1 John 4:21).
  2. All love does come from God, and even those who don’t know God in a personal way through Jesus Christ do know, in some way, of God’s love.  While we affirm that God is holy, just, and a whole dictionary of other theological terms regarding the attributes of God, John also teaches us that it is the very nature of God to be loving.  Even God’s wrath and judgment are manifestations of His love for us.  And so, in a general way, all of creation has received the general grace of God’s love.  From the beginning of time, God has been revealing His love for us: God provides the rain and the sun, for the just and the unjust.  To varying degrees we have all known and experienced the love of family and friends who have cared for us through our lives.  We are raised with a love for our nation, a love for our team, a love for our pets.  Nearly every religion teaches love for all peoples (even though the demonstration of that love varies widely in its expression).  Yes, it is possible not to be born of God and still love.  But,
  3. There is a difference between the general love that the world knows and the godly love that is required for our salvation.  Matthew Henry writes that “the love of God is the sum of righteousness.”  To love God wholeheartedly, completely, and perfectly is what it means to be truly righteous before God.  Nothing less is accepted for salvation.  To love God wholeheartedly, completely, and perfectly, however, is impossible for fallen man.  The entirely of the law points to our inability to generate such consistent and unwavering love.  Even when we are loving God the best we can, we fall short of such a high standard.  To love God like this would be impossible were it not for the fact that He first loved us.  God has proven His love for us in that while we were sinners, He gave His son to die for us, to atone for our sins, and to make us alive to His love by the power of the Holy Spirit.  When we receive that love, when we live in the power of that love, when we give that love to one another, then we know that the love of God, yes even God Himself, abides in us.

Let us, then, love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.

A well deserved Hell…

“For the wages of sin is death…”
(Romans 6:23 (ESV)

Rob Bell and Love Wins notwithstanding, there really is a place called Hell, there is a final judgment, and God is righteous in His anger and wrath against sin.  It’s not fun to talk about, but then neither would it be “fun” to ignore the subject altogether only to find yourself already there when it’s too late to do anything about it. 

Unfortunately, God’s judgment has gotten a bad rap by those who stand under it.  We hear God’s righteous decree to be holy, for He is holy (Lev. 19:2), but we know that’s impossible, so the call must be impractical.  We try to live a good life, we do our best anyway, and we look for whatever joy we can find – even if the Bible says it’s a sin.  We tell ourselves, “God really wouldn’t hold this against me, surely He will understand.”  When confronted with the truth of God’s Word, we kick against the goads.  We bristle under correction.  We despise discipline.  “Who died and made you god,” we complain.  In our arrogance, we think we are more compassionate, more just, more forgiving than God himself.  We’d prefer the toothless and tame god of our own creation who is kind and generous to all, giving everyone a hall pass through life.

Living under such a delusion will lead to our destruction.  We worship a holy God who cannot even look upon sin, how then can we presume to stand before Him in our sin?  Psalm 5:4–6, teaches us, “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.  You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.”  Habakkuk 1:13 says, “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong…” 

The fact of the matter is that we must deal with a Holy and Righteous God who has issued His decree on all of humanity.  We are called to live in holiness before Him, but “we have all sinned fallen short of His glory” (Rom 3:23), “none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom 3:10-12).  Under this judgment of God we stand condemned, for the “wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23).  God is just in declaring that sinners are bound for Hell.

The preaching of judgment is not intended to scare you into believing or acting a certain way, but to tell you that you do indeed need a savior.  Luther called it one side of the gospel coin.  Unfortunately for many of us, it is a lesson we need to hear again and again.  We tend to insulate ourselves from the need for help.  I can manage just fine on my own.  I’ve got Jesus is in my life as a “spiritual insurance” policy – just in case things get bad, but hopefully I’ll never have to call upon him.

Friends this is not gospel living, this is not the gospel faith.  The truth of the gospel is this: you are in desperate need of a savior.  Things are bad, they are beyond repair.  Your life is not acceptable to God, in fact, our lives apart from Christ are offensive to God.  We owe to God a perfect life we cannot live, a tremendous debt we cannot pay, an offering we cannot make.  Only when you see your life as forfeit before God do you truly begin to appreciate the miracle of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  God is gracious in calling the redeemed to His side in glory!

It is true that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” but the story does not end there.  Paul goes on to say we are “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24).  It is true that “the wages of sin is death,” but it is equally true that “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23).  To preach the judgment without the gospel would be cruel, but to preach the gospel without the judgment would be meaningless for us today.

We deserve Hell, but our loving God has seen to it that, by faith in Jesus Christ, we can be made fit to live in heaven.  We are covered by his righteousness, made alive by his spirit, redeemed by his blood, purchased with his life, given victory over death and hell by his empty tomb.  This is the free gift of God through faith in Jesus Christ.  There is nothing we could ever do to deserve this gift, to try would keep us from receiving as it was intended, as a gift.  We live by responding in joyful obedience; God equips us and sends us for the work He has prepared for us from before time (Eph 2:10), but these works are always in response.  God, from the beginning of time, has always been the one to act first in grace, we were created to respond and live in the joy and splendor of His grace and glory!

Richard Baxter, the 17th century Puritan preacher, wrote in his work The Saint’s Everlasting Rest, “So let ‘DESERVED’ be written on the door to Hell; but on the door to heaven and life, ‘THE FREE GIFT.’”

I’ll say “Amen” to that.

A Modern American Creed

“Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints…”
(Jude 3 ESV)

While laboring away on my roof this Labor Day weekend, my mind had freedom to wander, and wander it did.  I began to ask myself, “Does anyone today really take their faith seriously?  Do I?”  From there the thought progression evolved into, “If we were really honest about what we believe, what would our credo be?”  The following is the result of such unconstrained meanderings through my mind.

Disclaimer – – Please take what you are about to read with a grain of salt.  This is meant to be humorous hyperbole, an exaggeration of no one particular expression of faith.  That being said, it is intended to expose some of the unbiblical things that we just assume about our faith.  If this lands a little close to home (as it does for me, at times), may it drive you to God’s Word, that you may be established and strengthened in your faith.

A Modern American Creed

I believe in God –

  • That is, I know there is a higher power, someone out there watching me.  I get my ideas about God from what I saw on Highway to Heaven, and Touched by an Angel, though I’d never admit that in public.  I don’t always have to pray or go to church, because I know that God is always there if I need him.
  • I know that God supposedly made everything, but science says that everything started with a big bang and evolution, and since I don’t know which to believe, I think I’ll just not think about it too much – anyone for a rerun of Seventh Heaven?
  • God wants me to be nice, do good stuff, and go to church; but understands when I can’t because it’s opening day for deer season, or when I was at the big game on Saturday and just can’t get up in time for worship. 
  • God gave us instructions for how to live called the 10 Commandments (which by the way I watch every Easter), but since those commandments are impossible to keep we really don’t have to try.  Besides, God is a loving God and would never judge us or hold us accountable for the things we’ve done.  Right?

I believe in Jesus –

  • Jesus lived a really good life.  He was always loving, always forgiving, and would never upset anyone by saying something hard or judgmental. 
  • Jesus wanted us to all get along, to accept each other just as we are, and to keep our noses out of other people’s business.  If you think that Jesus tells you to live one way, that’s fine for you.  But don’t presume Jesus told anyone else to live that way.
  • When Jesus was alive, he talked about how to get to heaven, and never really spoke about what to do with money, sex, or other day-to-day things.  Even when he did, it was all an allegory, a metaphor for spiritual things.  Jesus wants us to be happy, prosperous, successful, and independent.  If I am struggling or suffering in this life, I must be doing something wrong.
  • Jesus called some people to follow him seriously, these were his disciples.  Others got to follow at a distance.  For me, that means that some people can get real serious – go into missions, share their faith with their friends, be a pastor or a leader in their church – but others don’t have to get so committed.

Salvation –

  • I am saved because I am a Christian.  I am a religious person.  I go to church.  I try to help out from time to time.  I can even say the Creed and sing the Hymns on Sunday.  Overall, I am a good person; I might make mistakes, but God loves me anyway.
  • Salvation means I will go to heaven when I die.  It doesn’t really affect me much now, but it’s nice to know I’ll get to see all my family and friends when I get there.

Free Will –

  • God made me with free will, so I get to choose what I will do and what I believe.  I choose to believe in God, and that is why I am a Christian.  I could never believe in a God who would impose his will on others.

The Bible –

  • The Bible is the sacred book of the Christian religion.  People read it to know what God has done in the past.  It is full of stories about people who have followed God and how God has had to fix their problems.
  • The Bible was written by men who wanted to establish their religion.  It has some mistakes in it, and some of the things that were written a long time ago don’t really apply to us today; but overall, it is a pretty good book.

Heaven –

  • Heaven is God’s kingdom, and it is where all good people will go when they die.  When I get to heaven there will be rest from all the hard work I’ve done in this life, and I will see all my friends and family.
  • Those loved ones who have already gone to heaven are angels who watch over me.  They enjoy watching me do well in life, and protect me from bad things that might happen.

Hell –

  • This is the place were bad people go to be punished forever.  Hell is Satan’s kingdom and he lives there with his demons.  It’s always hot there, full of fire and suffering.

The Church –

  • The Church is where I go to worship. 
  • We sit in pews, which thankfully are padded, since the pastor likes to talk for more than 15 minutes. 
  • I have a hard time not napping during the prayers (you try closing your eyes, bowing your head, and doing nothing for more than 3 minutes and see what happens).
  • We sing odd songs, some are really old and use words that I’ve never said outside of church, some try to sound new but are really cheesy. 
  • Usually I don’t get a lot out of church, but every now and then it seems like the pastor’s talking about me (weird, huh).

Friends, I hope this has prompted you to really think about your faith, and what your faith means for your life today.  If you have questions, turn to God’s Word.  Feel free to call or email me, but whatever you do, “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”

SDG