Category Archives: Worldview

“What do you believe about…Christianity and Science?”

Several times a year I’m asked the question: “What do you believe about Christianity and Science?”  Sometimes the question is posed directly over a coffee.  Other times it expresses itself through a concerned mother seeking faith-forming, but scientifically robust literature for her children.  Recently, the question was nested within a conversation with someone who had been grappling with questions of origin and meaning that had arisen from their undergraduate studies.

“What do you believe about Christianity and science?” is an enormous question that extends out into thousands of branching considerations and a seemingly endless subset of questions.  To address these in one fell swoop is neither possible nor pragmatic.  Instead, I thought I would highlight a resource that has helped me sharpen my thinking around this question and cultivate an integrated perspective between my biblical convictions and the scientific data.

That resource is BioLogos.

BioLogos seeks to help “the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith as we present an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation.” 

BioLogos’ five core commitments:

  1. We embrace the historical Christian faith, upholding the authority and inspiration of the Bible.
  2. We affirm evolutionary creation, recognizing God as Creator of all life over billions of years.
  3. We seek truth, ever learning as we study the natural world and the Bible.
  4. We strive for humility and gracious dialogue with those who hold other views.
  5. We aim for excellence in all areas, from science to education to business practices.

In an often polarized environment where biblical faith is presumed to be antithetical to reason (and vice-versa), I’m extremely grateful for BioLogos.  Their team is doing some heavy lifting; thoughtfully challenging the dismissive caricatures that each side of this “debate” has often resort to in the quest for legitimacy.  Refusing to play within the confines of the “warfare” model of faith vs. science, BioLogos’ contributors are crafting an intellectual framework that upholds both biblical and scientific integrity.  They are reasonably, faithfully, and joyfully pointing us towards the full riches of complete understanding as they celebrate Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3).

Whether you’re wading into these waters for the first time, or swimming in the deep end of this ongoing discussion, I’d highly recommend BioLogos’ five article series on Christianity and Science found here: http://biologos.org/common-questions/christianity-and-science

The question, “What do you believe about Christianity and Science?”  is one that deserves the best from our intellectual capacities.  We do not honor God by skirting this issue due to laziness or dismissing it away while professing the virtues of holding to a “simple faith.”  We are called to love God with all of our minds (Matt. 22:37; Prov. 18:15), and in response to that calling we endeavor to bring our best thinking to bear on these questions, seeking to articulate a worldview that is faithful to the witness of both Scripture and science.  I hope BioLogos becomes a helpful resource to you on that journey.

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Who Defines Your Spirituality?

Spirituality is a buzzword that has settled comfortably within the cultural ether.  Many (most?) are comfortable using it, because the word has become highly customizable.  Once tethered to some formal religious tradition or ideology, “spirituality” (and what it means to be “spiritual”) has  morphed into an incredibly broad, and thoroughly personal concept.

Who defines your spirituality?  That is, whom do you empower to frame your understanding of one of the most important ideas within your life?  Our highest values and priorities are often connected to our ideas around what it means to live an authentic and vibrant spiritual life, and therefore it’s important to consider who we’ve given the keys to that kingdom over to.

A celebrity?  A spiritual guru?  Ourselves?

I believe that Jesus—because of who he is—should be the one defining what an authentic and healthy spirituality looks like.  And he does, but in a refreshing and challenging way.  One of the things that I’ve come to value about Jesus’ definition of spirituality is how much sharper it is when compared to contemporary definitions.  For Jesus, genuine spirituality is framed by the concept of discipleship; the process of learning how to align one’s life to what God values and prioritizes.

Jesus defined discipleship in its most basic form when he responded to a question posed by a religious scholar of the day:

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)

Jesus framed spirituality around two foundational principles: loving God thoroughly and intensely, and loving our neighbours as ourselves.  There are a few things I appreciate about this definition:

1. We are not the centre.  Most modern definitions of spirituality place us at the centre.  The self is understood to be the supreme source of truth, hope, and power.  There is a kernel of truth here.  Yes, human beings hold tremendous capacities due to the fact that they are image-bearers of God.  However, to localize the source of truth and hope within ourselves is, for Jesus, a magnificent error.   God and his kingdom are central to Jesus’ definition of spirituality.

2. One’spirituality has to find its place within a larger story.  By invoking the Shema (“Hear, O Israel…”), Jesus is implicitly teaching that spirituality that is healthy and hopeful must be grounded in a larger story.  The Bible reveals the larger story of Creation, Fall, Redemption to be the one that provides us with the cosmic narrative within which our individual expressions of spirituality can be located and established in meaning beyond, “this seems right/helpful to me.”

3. Scripture is our Foundation and Guide.  When asked, Jesus doesn’t turn the question around and ask the religious leader to search his own heart.  Instead, Jesus drives him back into Scripture.  It’s incredibly tempting to listen to spiritual gurus who would encourage us to look within and trust ourselves in the formation of a fulfilling and meaningful spirituality.  Jesus does the exact opposite.  He places our focus on the revealed Word of God, and challenges us to draw out its implications within our lives as individuals and communities.

4. There is/not a “one size fits all” spirituality that leads to life and wholeness.  To modern ears the idea that there could be one–and only one–valid expression of spirituality seems beyond ridiculous.  Could anything be more myopic and even irrational?

But Jesus consistently answers these questions the same way in the gospels, turning people’s attention back to this Great Commandment.  Why?  If it’s just one choice among many, why not switch it up once in a while and highlight some alternatives? But Jesus never does.  Whenever he’s asked what the priorities of one’s spirituality should be, his answer is always the same: Love God and love people.

Which seems incredibly restrictive and exclusive.  Until you realize just how vague that centre is.  Love God and people.  Ok, but how?  That is for us to experiment with and discover.  There are clearly boundaries to that exploration in the Bible (i.e. no need to experiment with whether loving your neighbour might include adultery), but Jesus’ definition of spirituality is (almost) alarmingly vague.  There is a dynamic and inexhaustible breadth and depth to one’s ability to express these two priorities.  These aren’t rules that you can easily check-off and complete.  They are principles and priorities that require continued practice, imagination, right intention, and humility before God and others.

The older I get the more I see the genius behind Jesus’ definition of–dare I say it–true spirituality.  It is accessible to everyone, and yet it rescues us from the self-centred (and therefore self-serving) definitions of spirituality that call out to us.

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Can a Five-Year-Old Become a Christian?

Last week I led my  five-year-old through a prayer to become a Christian.

The prayer was simple.  I explained to him that it was an “ABC” prayer.

  • Admit that he is a sinner who needs God’s forgiveness and grace.
  • Believe (trust) that Jesus died for his sins, and was raised from the dead to overcome sin’s power.
  • Commit to live for Jesus, serve his kingdom, and grow as a Christian every day.

This moment of prayer/decision hadn’t arisen from out of the blue.  For several months Brayden had been asking questions about Jesus/God/faith/Bible, and what it means to be a Christian.  Our talks usually occurred in his bed at night while we reflected on our day.

A few Fridays ago, among talk about Star Wars and Christmas, Brayden asked me if he was a Christian.

I told him that he was not.

“But you and mommy are Christians,” he replied, puzzled.

I explained that no one is automatically a Christian, because a Christian is someone who has personally decided to devote their life to Jesus.

He seemed confused.

“But I go to church” he said.

“Yes, you do, but you can go to church and not be devoted to Jesus.  Becoming a Christian only happens when we make Jesus our King and decide to live for him instead of ourselves.”

“I want to become a Christian.  When can I become a Christian?”

That was/is a good question!  Personally and pastorally, I hold the conviction that becoming a Christian is a serious, life-altering decision.  Like marriage, it should not be entered into “lightly or hastily.”  That’s why, regardless of what age one is considering embracing Christ as King and Saviour, I think it’s appropriate to provide some resistance so that we prevent people from making a rash or impulsive decision.  Jesus said “follow me” (Matthew 4:19), but we should do what we can to help people think through what that commitment will mean for them, both now and into the future.  As Brayden’s father, I felt it was important for him to wrestle for a while with the potential consequences of becoming a Christian before saying the prayer that could change his life forever.  That’s why, for several months I’d consistently pushed the decision (but not the conversation!) off to an undetermined point in the future.

It wasn’t just for Brayden’s sake that I was providing some push-back to his request: had a lot of questions that I felt needed to be answered before I could be confident that his decision to embrace Christ was legitimate:

  • Why did Brayden want to become a Christian?
  • Did Brayden know “enough” about what his commitment to Christ would cost him?
  • Did his age invariably mean that the decision was born out of complete naiveté?  He’s watched his older sisters talk about their Christian faith and grow in it; is it just “monkey see; monkey do” mimicry?
  • Is there any depth to his motivation?  Does he show a desire for discipleship?  When his definition of discipleship is “making good decisions,” does that show a sufficient or insufficient understanding of the foundation of a Christian worldview?
  • How much theology does he need to know before he’s ready to make a commitment of this nature?  If he can (barely) articulate the Gospel (Manger, Cross, Crown), can he legitimately embrace it?

These were some of the questions I was mulling over during the months I was pushing Brayden to think about becoming a Christian until a later time, when I could better determine if he was ready.

But a few weeks ago, Brayden wouldn’t let it go.  I went into my usual, “that’s great, let’s keep talking about it…” mode, but he kept pressing me.

“Why can’t I become a Christian now?”

A Scripture that God had used to rebuke me in the past came to mind once again:

“Who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” Acts 11:17

Indeed.

Brayden had shown a persistent desire to become a Christian for almost half a year.  We had talked about Jesus, God, the Bible, salvation, love, grace, and sin, all while snuggling in the warm blue glow of the nightlight beside his bed.  For months I had put a (necessary) speed bump in front of him, wanting to make sure any conversion would be from the heart, and not mere mimicry.

And here he was, resolute in the conviction that he was ready to give his life to Jesus.

Was I going to stand in God’s way?

Nope.  In that exchange what became very clear was that my little boy genuinely desired to give his life to Jesus.

Did he know “enough”?  Well, he knew the gospel.  That’s enough, isn’t it?

Did he understand what he was getting into?  Did I when I said my own unpolished and imperfect prayer at age 14?

Were his motivations and intentions pure?  Can I point to even one decision I’ve made that has been made with pure and right motives—even my decision to embrace Christ?

When God’s grace-filled invitation to new life intersects with a person’s humble and heartfelt response, we may find ourselves harboring lots of questions regarding what is “actually” happening.  That’s ok.  We’re entitled to our questions.  Those questions and hesitations are important and often valid and should be identified and addressed.

But, we must be careful to never allow our questions and hesitations to stand in God’s way.  None of us (however well intended) have the right to delay another’s response to the gospel until we’ve figured things out and are sure they “get it.”

Besides, you can never really “get” grace anyways.  That’s kind of why it’s grace.  It can’t be grasped.  It can only be received.

That night, Brayden didn’t fully understand God’s grace, but he “got” it.  Or more precisely, God’s grace “got” him.  He may not have grasped it in its totality, but it grasped him.

Can a five year old become a Christian?  Yes, a five year old can.

And that night, my five year old did. By God’s grace and for His glory.

 

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“Does the Work I Do Matter?”

Labour day is the perfect time to be reminded that our work–be it accounting, construction, writing, housekeeping, farming, customer service, banking–can have eternal significance.

In his book Every Good Endeavor, pastor Timothy Keller makes the following claim:

“Everyone will be forgotten, nothing we do will make any difference, and all good endeavours, even the best, will come to naught…unless there is God. If the God of the Bible exists, and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavour, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever.”

When I first became a Christian, my understanding of the gospel was little more than,  “Jesus died so you could be forgiven and go to heaven.”  Inside of that definition there’s hardly a compelling vision for our work beyond perhaps a (re)commit to basic ethics such as “don’t steal.”  But when we allow the full gospel to inform our understanding of life here and now; a gospel that holds together the key truths that God came to rescue us (incarnation), through a sacrificial death (atonement) and by his resurrection offers to empower us into a new kind of life, our everyday lives become massively interesting and unimaginably purposeful.   We’ve been ask to join God’s mission to bring his redeeming, restoring love to bear on every sphere of life.  This will mean seeing our jobs as arenas of influence through which we have the privilege to creatively, thoughtfully, prayerfully, purposefully seek to honor God and bless our neighbours through our work.

When the gospel transforms our understanding of work,  we are no longer held hostage by the two great temptations we face regarding our approach to work.

1. Work as the foundation of identity and meaning. Many people in the modern world look to their jobs for supreme self-worth and significance.  Work, functionally speaking, is their god; an idol that promises salvation from insignificance (as long as we can keep producing and achieving).

But the gospel gives us an entirely new foundation for our self-worth and significance. We are treasured by God,  and immensely valuable to Him.  Our worth and significance is revealed most strikingly at the cross: God self-sacrifices himself on our behalf in order to save us from the power and penalty of sin.  This good news allows us to put our work into a larger perspective, one that liberates us from the need to wed our identity and value to what we do and how successfully we do it.  Inside of God’s redeeming love, work can become a noble good without becoming a destructive idol.

2. Work as burdensome, pointless drudgery.  For as many people who idolize their work, just as many fall into the opposite temptation: to see work simply a (burdensome) means to an (self-serving) end.  This view sees work as something that must simply be endured.  Our jobs are necessary evils, and the goal becomes to work as little as possible in order to get on with the life we want.  Of course, for many people this means simply doing work in order to access more money in order to fulfill self-serving ends (more recreation, more stuff, etc.).

But the gospel compels us into a vision for our work that explodes the “working for the weekend” paradigm.   In the resurrection God has revealed his intention to “reconcile to himself all things” (Colossians 1:20).  Christianity boldly declares that part of the mission of the church is to equip people to go into their workplaces confident that God will use their efforts within his broader conspiracy to overthrow the world’s brokenness with his restorative grace and goodness.  Yes, every job remains difficult at times.  But no job is insufferably purposeless and burdensome when we go into it knowing God has placed us there in order to express love, grace, care, integrity, and excellence.

Labour Day marks a time of transition.  Some of us are preparing to head back to school tomorrow.  Many of us are preparing to go back to work (at least in earnest after a summer lull).  As we move back into our workplaces, what posture will characterize our efforts?

Anxious striving?  Apathy and resignation?

Another way is possible.  But only through the hope and power found in Christianity.

 

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Jesus is the True and Greater Shambhala

Note: This brief reflection first appeared in the August 12th edition of the Nelson Star.

It has come and gone.  Shambhala, a music festival that drew thousands of revelers to our neck of the woods has been dismantled for another year.  In its wake, our city experienced an influx of post-Shambhala pilgrims recuperating from four days of sensory overload.

Shambhala is a Sanskrit term meaning “place of peace/tranquility/happiness.”  In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Shambhala is a mystical kingdom hidden within the Himalayas, accessible only to those with sufficiently good karma.  Many fusions of New Age and Buddhist spirituality also view Shambhala as a spiritual reality that can be taken hold of through a combination of proper meditation, mindfulness, and right living.

The Shambhala festival’s popularity reveals a longing every human has for “bliss”; a state of harmony, inner coherence, and joy.  In naming this music festival Shambhala, a not-so-subtle invitation was voiced by the festival’s founders: we are providing a place of peace, happiness, and bliss.  What we observe in the yearly pilgrimage to Shambhala is the quest to secure peace and life in a world of violence and death.

And yet each year that sought after peace and security slips through the fingers of every attendee.  The weekend is euphoric, but it is also fleeting.  Life eventually returns to normalcy.  As it does, I wonder how many of those who clamoured to gain access to the festival are haunted by the question of whether or not they are chasing shadows?

In the Bible Jesus is titled “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).  The gospels (the historical records of Jesus’ life and ministry) present Jesus as a kind of embodied Shambhala.  In Jesus peace, tranquility, and happiness (“blessedness”) is offered and found.  Jesus said, “’Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest’” (Matthew 11:28).  Jesus offers peace and life in a world of violence and death.

To further that good news, in Jesus the “peace that surpasses understanding” (Philippians 4:7) is available–not just to those with sufficiently good karma–but even to sinners; spiritual “losers” who don’t have any self-righteousness to stand on.

And the peace Jesus gives isn’t fleeting.  It is established in the heart now and continues forever.  Jesus is the true and greater Shambhala.  There’s no need to chase shadows and substitutes.

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Does God Favor a Gender?

This past Tuesday was International Women’s Day, a day designed to “celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women.”

Within evangelical Christianity the role of women within the church, home, and society continues to be a hotly debated issue.  The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood argues for a Complementarian approach to gender roles, while Christians for Biblical Equality argues for an Egalitarian approach.

Within this discussion/debate, I land firmly within the egalitarian camp.  I believe it to be the most biblically coherent and defensible position, and at the end of the day that is my bottom-line.  There are quality arguments that are made from the other side, and while I’ve sought to really understand where complimentarians are coming from–theologically, biblically, philosophically, socially, etc.–I have found the arguments for the complimentarian position to be lacking.

I’ve spent a lot of time digging into this issue, because our theology regarding human image-bearers, both male and female, is extremely important.  Our core convictions in this area have enormous implications for countless dimensions of our lives.  That’s why I believe it is the responsibility of every Christian to thoughtfully and thoroughly engage the Bible and excellent scholarly research on this issue.

I’ve already linked to the two main organizations that represent each position, but here are some extra links that I’ve come across in the last few weeks that I’ve wanted to pass along:

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Preparing for Mid-Winter: “Covenant Principles”

Next week I will be attending the Evangelical Covenant Church’s mid-winter conference in Chicago.  Part of my conference experience includes taking a course in the history of the Covenant church.  Our class has been assigned a number of pre-course readings and we were also required to give a brief presentation on one of the readings.

I’ve chosen to present on the essay “Covenant Principles” by Theodore T. Anderson.  Written as part of a fiftieth anniversary volume entitled Covenant Memories, 1885-1935, the essay explores the principles upon which the entire Covenant movement is founded.  I know the history and foundations of movements tend to be dry reading, but Covenant Principles is anything but.  It’s short, punch, and powerfully prophetic.  You could publish it today and it would serve as a clarion call to Christians young and old to reassess their guiding principles as disciples of Jesus.

Anderson is engaging and his theological vision is rich with insight.  His aim is to succinctly “define the Covenant biblically, theologically, and ecclesiologically.”*

He begins by stating the two truths that must be held in creative tension for all movements to establish themselves, sustain themselves, and bear ongoing fruit for the kingdom of God:

  • “Living movements are not static, but adapt themselves to new conditions.”

  • Convictions are indispensable for the survival and growth of any movement. Without them we are colorless and powerless. They are not like the shell of the turtle, which bars him from contact with others, but rather resemble the bones of the human body, which, though not directly visible, give form and strength to the entire being.”

Anderson then outlines the five Covenant principles which would serve as the bedrock for the (then) future of the Covenant church:

  1. The supremacy of the Bible

“The question constantly raised in pioneer days was, What do the Scriptures say? There may have been a tinge of ridicule in the epithet läsare, or “reader,” sometimes translated “readerists,” but the title was abundantly deserved. To our trailblazers, the Bible was the Supreme Court from which there could be no appeal. It is not by chance that the constitutions of our churches almost invariably begin with a statement that the Bible is recognized as the only adequate standard for faith and conduct, for individual Christians and for groups of believers.”

  1. The necessity of spiritual life

“Spiritual life demands more than intellectual assent to the claims of Christ. An academic orthodoxy unrelated to life is a perilous thing. To know the truth and fail to obey it is fatal both morally and spiritually. It is scarcely accurate, however, to say that it is life and not doctrine that characterizes the believer. The two are not mutually exclusive. Doctrine may exist without spiritual life, but not spiritual life without doctrine. Our faith is not a leap in the dark, but is built on incontrovertible facts. That Christ died is history. That he died for our sins is doctrine.”

“A personal and vital relationship to Christ as the Savior is the clamant need. This means to know and love and trust and obey him. That is the heart of the Christian life. It is a sunny reality that puts a new halo on every activity. The Bible describes it as a new birth, a new creation, a resurrection from the dead. It is a partaking of the divine nature.”

“Believing in a clear line of demarcation between life and death, we also believe in winning men to this life in Christ. Evangelism is our birthright. The very nature of the Christian life demands sharing it with others. The effort we make, in word and deed, to present Christ to other people is a fairly accurate index of how much he means to us. A Christ-centered message alone meets the need of the human heart. Gladstone was right when he stated that the greatest service any human being can render to another is to win him for the Lord. We have lost our vision if that ambition is dimmed.”

  1. Belief in the unity of all true Christians

“A spiritual home for all believers is the ideal of the Christian Church. In the apostolic days, the book of Acts tells us, those were added to the Church who were saved. The Bible does not recognize a divided church. Dissensions and cliques are foreign to its spirit. The letters of Paul abound in references to “all the brethren,” “all the saints.” On the basis of the Scriptures, we believe that the Church should accept all whom Christ has accepted. If we are to be together in heaven, we should be together here.”

“This means admitting into the Church all who are recognized as believers and barring from active church membership all others. Minor differences regarding issues on which true Christians disagree must not divide us. Unity and uniformity are not synonymous. The right of private interpretation is recognized. We know in part and prophesy in part. No claim to omniscience in drawing this line of demarcation is offered. Even the first Christian Church had an Ananias and a Sapphira. We do believe, however, that a spiritual experience is unfailingly manifested in a personal profession of faith and a consistent Christian life. When Christ on a visit to Tyre and Sidon entered into a house, the gospel narrative tells us, he could not be hid. Neither can the believer, who is a partaker of his nature, be concealed. “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

  1. The independence of the local church

“We are congregational in organization. There is no centralized authority exercised over the churches.”

“In all fairness, it must be admitted that the autonomy of the local church entails problems that sometimes become acute. Occasionally there are crises in a church that could be relieved by definite aid from some higher authority. Serious dissensions and injustices could possibly be obviated at times if our organization were not so loose. The tragedy of having churches without pastors and pastors without churches, often resulting in irreparable loss to both, could possibly be avoided. But we believe that the merits of the congregational system outweigh the handicaps. The advantages accruing to a firmer organization can be secured in ways that do not conflict with scriptural precedents. The perils involved in an ecclesiastical bureaucracy are greater than any practical advantages inherent in it.”

  1. The urgency of the missionary task

“Mission Friends, or friends of missions, was the name applied to our fathers from the earliest days, and it was no misnomer. No narrow vision or limited perspective controlled them. They recalled that Christ declared that he was the light, not of Palestine or Sweden or America only, but of the world. That the gospel of the grace of God is a universal message was a reality to them.”

“The missionary enterprise is not optional, to be accepted or rejected at will by the believers. It is a mandate from the Lord. Our own spiritual life demands this expression, as does the hopeless condition of a Christless world. A church without a missionary vision is a dying church. An individual Christian devoid of missionary zeal is living a dwindling spiritual life.”

“He who has forgotten or evaded his God-given obligations to his fellowmen is living on a diminishing spiritual capital. His inner life inevitably becomes stunted and impoverished.”

“Fighting the good fight of faith is not merely defensive, but preeminently offensive. This was the conviction of our fathers. They were neither near-sighted nor far-sighted. They saw the whitening fields both at home and abroad. Alaska, which some denominations term “home missions” because it belongs to the United States, became our first foreign missionary field. China, with its uncounted millions and latent influence in the Far East and the world, soon claimed our hearts. In the midst of our jubilee year, despite financial distress in all our churches, we are advancing into the continent of Africa. By the grace of God and the support of his people, we are advancing and not retrenching.”

 

*All quotes taken from the essay “Covenant Principles” found in the book Covenant Roots: Sources and Affirmations.

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Bible Overview Series: Genesis

Genesis2

Genesis by Joseph Novak

Genesis: Under numberless stars an old man stands amazed; his wife cries out in the pain of childbirth, laughing.
(Ben Myers #CanonFodder Summary)

Book Summary Videos via The Bible Project:

Overview of Genesis by Jeffrey Kranz

The book of Genesis answers the question, “Where did all this come from?” Genesis is the first book of the Bible, and the first of the Penteteuch (the five books of Moses). Genesis is the story of how Israel began as a nation, but the author tells this story as a series of beginnings—starting with the creation of the universe (Gn 1:1) and narrowing down to one family: Israel’s.

Genesis opens with God creating the heavens and the earth, the stars, the plants, the animals, and humans: Adam and Eve. God places Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, but they rebel against God, introducing a curse of sin and death to the world.

Adam and Eve have children (including Cain and Abel), and those children have children. Eventually the human race becomes so violent that God sends a great flood to destroy the world, but He spares the only righteous man, Noah. Noah builds his famous ark to escape the floodwaters with his family (and many animals). After the waters recede, God promises to never again destroy the earth with a flood.

Hundreds of years later, God calls Noah’s descendant, Abram, to leave his family and journey to the land of Canaan. God promises to bless Abram with many descendants, and to bless all the nations of the world through him. Abram believes God’s promise, even though he is old and childless. God considers him to be righteous, and changes his name from Abram to Abraham. Later, Abraham has a son, Isaac.

Isaac dwells in the land of Canaan and has twin sons: Jacob and Esau.

Jacob grows up, tricks Esau into giving away his blessing, and then leaves town to live with his uncle Laban. He marries, has children, and lives with Laban for 20 years before God calls him back to Canaan. As Jacob returns to the land of Abraham and Isaac, his name is changed to Israel (35:9–12).

Israel has 12 sons, and young Joseph is his favorite. Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery, and he becomes a prisoner in Egypt. His God-given ability to interpret dreams becomes valuable to the Pharaoh, however, and so Joseph is released from prison and made second in command of all Egypt. Joseph warns Pharaoh that a terrible famine is coming, and stockpiles food for the coming years.

Joseph’s predictions are correct: the famine reaches Canaan, and his brothers come to Egypt to buy food. The brothers reconcile, and Joseph provides for all the children of Israel to move to Egypt until the famine is over. The book of Genesis ends with the death of Joseph, whose last prediction is that God will bring the children of Israel back to the promised land. God begins fulfilling this in the next movement of the story: the book of Exodus.

Theme verse in Genesis

“I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you.” —God to Abraham, Gn 17:7

Genesis’ role in the Bible

The stories in Genesis set the backdrop for vital theological principles in the rest of the Bible. In Genesis, we see how sin began, how God judges sin, and the beginnings of His work to redeem mankind.

Genesis also introduces Abraham, the ancestor of Israel through whom the whole world will be blessed. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are the three chief patriarchs of the nation Israel (which gets its name from Jacob). Jacob’s sons and grandsons have their own families, which eventually become the 12 tribes of Israel.

Abraham believes God’s promises to him, and Abraham’s faith is reckoned to be righteousness (Gn 15:6)—that is, it satisfies God. The concept of righteousness by faith is repeated in the New Testament (Ro 10:10), and Paul states that all who share Abraham’s faith are the spiritual children on Abraham (Ga 3:6–9).

Genesis also sets forth several biblical themes that weave across the rest of the Bible:

  • God’s authority. God is the maker of all things, and He is sovereign over nature and humanity. We see His creative work in the first two chapters of Genesis, but we also see His sovereignty in choosing Abraham, blessing the Hebrews, and protecting Egypt from famine.
  • Man’s rebellion. Adam and Eve disobeyed God in Eden, but that’s only the beginning. Cain presents an unacceptable sacrifice, the world becomes violent in the days of Noah, people construct the tower of Babel, and so on and so forth.
  • God’s judgment. God evicts Adam and Eve, He sends a flood to destroy the earth, and He rains fire on Sodom and Gomorrah (Gn 19). God is holy, and sin must be punished.
  • God’s preservation of life. God promises a descendant to Eve (Gn 3:15), He saves Noah’s family in an ark, He delivers Jacob from Esau’s wrath, and He allows Egypt to survive a harsh famine through Joseph’s wisdom.
  • Blood sacrifice. God skins animals to cover Adam and Eve after they sin (Gn 3:21), and He provides a ram for Abraham to take Isaac’s place (Gn 22). The blood sacrifice motif becomes far more prominent in the book of Leviticus.

It’s a grand book with many of the Bible’s most well-known stories, but it’s only the beginning.

Quick outline of Genesis

  1. The beginnings of all mankind (Gn 1:1–11:32)
  2. The beginnings of Israel (Gn 12–50)

Key terms in the book of Genesis

  • Covenant, promise, swear
  • Blessing
  • These are the records of . . .
  • Descendants
  • Land (especially the land of Canaan)
  • Sin, evil, wickedness

Key characters in the book of Genesis

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Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus?

One of my least favourite worship songs is Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. 

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face,
and the things of earth,
will grow strangely dim,
in the light of his glory and grace.

I understand what the song is trying to communicate: when we turn our eyes upon Jesus, what matters comes into focus, and what doesn’t fades into the background.  This is a popular sentiment found within much of the Christian sub-culture: the things of heaven matter, but the things of earth don’t.

That idea, however, is thoroughly dualistic and needs to be rejected, because it betrays a very fundamental Scriptural emphasis:

Becoming a Christian, and the process of learning what it means to “turn your eyes upon Jesus,” actually intensifies and sharpens our perspective of the things of heaven AND the things of earth. 

Like an Instagram filter, the gospel causes us to see everything differently–especially the “things of earth.”  We see…

Our lives differently,
Our jobs differently,
Our finances differently,
Our suffering differently,
Our relationships differently,
Our bodies differently,
Our responsibilities differently,
Our free time differently.

The beauty within this world becomes more acute.  But so does the world’s brokenness.   We see God breaking into the “now” in ways that we were blind to before, but we see overwhelming evidence of the “not yet”—both perspectives launching us into our mission to drive the gospel deeper into our hearts and scatter it into our neighbourhoods and communities.

When it comes to the things of heaven and the things of earth, Christians do not need to choose.  The answer, in Christ, is “yes!”

May I suggest this alteration?

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face,
and the things of earth,
will grow clearer still,
in the light of his glory and grace.”

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The 10 Commandments of Work

If you haven’t yet heard of the exceptional Theology of Work project, it’s time you were introduced.

www.TheologyofWork.org produces materials that focus on “how the Christian life applies to ordinary work.” The aim of this project is so important.  I strongly believe the church needs to reclaim a grand vision of vocation that applies to all forms of work.  I believe Christians need to (re)discover how the “ordinary” (i.e. non-pastoral) work most Christians find themselves doing is critical to God’s redemptive story, and how their faith connects to those “ordinary” workplaces.

Recently, @TheoWorkProject posted some great reflections on how each of the Ten Commandments apply to the workplace.  You could probably read through them all in one sitting, but using them as a ten-day devotional may be a better idea.

The 10 Commandments of Work

 

 

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