Category: Christology

Does God Give us a Theology Exam?

pass exam

Sometimes I hear someone skeptical about Christianity asking: “What is the minimum you have to believe to be a Christian?”

I have a problem with that question. It assumes that becoming a Christian is simply assenting to a list of propositional truths or facts or dogmas. But this is a misunderstanding of what it means to believe.

Why? Because in the Bible “to believe” has a much deeper, wider meaning than just saying that a list of facts is true. To start, let’s look at what Jesus said to Martha about faith. The regular NIV translation says:

 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; (John 11:25)

That translation gets part of the meaning. But the Amplified Bible expresses the full meaning of the original Greek word:
Whoever believes in (adheres to, trusts in, relies on) Me [as Savior] will live even if he dies

So, an effective way to rephrase the skeptic’s question is: Who do you need to trust to be a Christian? And the simple short answer is Jesus.

But then the next question is: Who is this Jesus that I trust?

John’s gospel is especially helpful here:
 but these have been written so that you may believe [with a deep, abiding trust] that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed), the Son of God; and that by believing [and trusting in and relying on Him] you may have life in His name. (John 20:31AMP)

John’s whole Gospel explains why Jesus is worthy of deep, abiding trust. It explains who Jesus was, describes the miraculous things he did, expounds his commands to love, and shows how he gives eternal life to those who repent of their sins and trust him.

Taking all of this to heart, try to imagine what it would be like if you died and met God — would he give you a theology exam, asking “Which facts and propositions did you believe?”

Or would he say, “Did you live your life by fully relying on my Son Jesus?”

Water in the Desert

small bub spring

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
   and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
   and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
   and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
   the thirsty ground bubbling springs
 (Isaiah 35 :5-7a)

Do you ever feel a certain unease even when things are going well? Somehow there is something missing, just knowing life should be more than this.

In today’s passage, Isaiah wrote to his fellow Israelites who were being exiled, but who would later be allowed to return to their homeland. His powerful poetry shows marvelous things that God has done, is doing, and will do.

Not only did Isaiah speak to his Jewish compatriots, but as prophet he gave a preview of what Jesus would do at the cross and will do when he returns.

Yes, a major part of Isaiah’s promise has already been fulfilled …  but much remains to be completed. We call this the already and the not yet. Understanding the difference between these helps keep us from two misunderstandings of how God is working today.

Misunderstanding # 1. We overestimate how much of our problems and ills God will heal now…….and get disheartened because he has not lived up to all our expectations. We expect our best life now, so we get embittered when we lose a job or have declining health or family feuds. We focus on what has not gotten fixed and are discouraged because God seems so slow at answering our prayers.

Misunderstanding # 2 Is underestimating how much the Lord wants to do now. We get so discouraged by what happened in #1 that we neglect how God is on the move now and does care for us. We forget that God says: “Fear not, I am with you.”

Even though there is no guarantee that all our burning sand will be cooled in this lifetime, it is guaranteed that God transforms how we react to the heat we face in this life. Our tongue does start to shout for joy.

And we warmly anticipate that one day our Lord Jesus will return and the rest of the “not yet” will become “now”.

 

Surprising Flowers

Processed with MOLDIV

I expect to see daffodils in people’s gardens in early spring. They are welcoming signs of the change of seasons.

But this spring I saw something unexpected while walking in the woods across our street.

Wild daffodils in the middle of the woods.  

My surprise flower encounter led me to reflect on what is expected and unexpected in how God works in our lives.

When we watch how God works does it look like a garden that is well ordered, predictable, manicured, and under control?   Can there be surprises or unpredictability in the kingdom of God? Let’s check in with Paul:

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:25)

Personal testimony: My own life was struck by the Lord’s unpredictability. Back when I was a teenager and knew everything, I decided that Christianity was just a bunch of myths and fairy tales; I was too intelligent to believe such nonsense. But in my 20’s I was stunned to be knocked upside the head to see that Christ’s story is true.

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.   (1 Cor 1:21)

I heard this foolishness and suddenly it started to make sense to me.

Of course, Paul is being ironic in his use of the word “foolishness”. It’s only foolish from the perspective of modern rational logical scientific enlightened thinking.   But from God’s perspective becoming a Christian is the wisest thing that could possibly happen. Even though we can’t prove Christian faith beyond the shadow of a doubt, it is not unreasonable… Indeed, what stunned me was that there is evidence 1 that an individual who claimed to be God was executed, came back to life and was seen by many.

Dear readers, you are in one of two camps. You may already believe Jesus’ gospel is true and life-changing. Or you may be a skeptic as I was. Every day God challenges skeptical people…maybe you are being wooed today.

I refused to believe until Jesus showed me he is truth and love and said, “Come on in.” What about you?

1.  Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell

Unexpected Medal

silver medal shrunk

I ran a 5K race one morning near St. Clare’s Hospital in Denville last month. I like the age group competition in these races.  My days of being at the front of the pack are long in the past, so it’s fun to have rivalries with those who are my own (advanced) age.

After the race, I was disappointed.  I ran 2 ½ minutes slower than last year; last year I got no medal; so, I knew I had no chance to get a medal this year. I left before the winners were announced.

That afternoon, I looked up the results online. To my shock, I got the silver medal in my age group! (A friend who did stay for the awards later gave me my medal which you see in the picture.)

What an ironic outcome: my training was much weaker this year; yet I got a medal despite all that. So, the medal was quite a surprise and an unexpected gift.

Doesn’t that sound like grace? We get an unexpected free gift, as opposed to something we work so hard for and think we can earn!

Romans 6:23 ESV describes the best free gift.  For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And another of my favorite grace verses is:                                                                                                                       For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

At the race, I certainly could not boast about how hard and well trained my effort was. Or how I kicked the butt of some tough competitors in my age group. (Nope, a couple of them did not even enter the race that day.) So, the medal was an unexpected gift.

I can’t take credit for anything good I have ever done that could possibly get me into a favorable place with Jesus. Salvation through Jesus is a far better unexpected gift!

 

Jesus Is Enough

jesus is enough

Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord. (Leviticus 18:5)

This Leviticus verse is a typical Old Testament command.  Very direct. But doable? Unfortunately, throughout the Old Testament, people’s obedience was too poor to be able to live up to this directive. They would try and fail. Try and fail. Over and over.

But there is one great Old Testament character, Abraham, who shows us a different and better way :

 So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:6,9)

This truth started with Abraham 4,000 years ago. Then 2,000 years later, Paul showed how we can get that same credit. We get it through faith in Jesus Christ—if I believe God through Christ, that gives me a turbocharged deposit of righteousness credited to my own account.

That free deposit is the exact opposite of the default mode that I work in: a voice inside me asks whether I am doing “enough” good deeds. How easy it is to drift into the bogus view that being a Christian means that we must do more and more and more and more—- rather than having simple faith. When I get caught up in the “more and more” mentality, sometimes it is so exhausting that I am tempted to say, “Why bother?”

Paul knew how impossible it is to keep the commands on our own. We must die to our futile attempts at law keeping.

 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God (Galatians 2:19)

If “do more and more and more” Christianity is my law, I must die to that law so that Christ may live in me.

Then, I can discern what it means to live by faith in exactly the body, time, and environment that I have been placed into. I can then walk in the freedom of being set free to do good things because of the faith Christ has given to me and the power of Christ working in me.

What a delightful difference – – – instead of struggling to do “enough” good deeds as a slave to the law, I can now cheerfully do just the good that Christ tells me to.

Living by grace instead of law is a wonderful way to live! Today, dwell on this beautiful paradox: we are simultaneously personally bankrupt and fully empowered to have an abundant life through Christ.

I wouldn’t build a golden calf..or would I?

the-golden-calf-idol

“You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. (Nehemiah 9:13)

What does it mean to keep the commands? Should we even care?

As New Testament Christians, since we are in an age of grace in Jesus, it is easy to look at the Old Testament and say oh, it’s just a bunch of legalistic rules and regulations. I don’t have to worry about obeying.

But in today’s passage Nehemiah is giving his people a reminder of something that happened for them many centuries earlier. He reflects on who God is, and what God did, back in the times described in the book of Exodus. Obedience is connected to what God is really like: God is just, God is right, and God is good. Obedience gives us a taste of all three of these wonderful qualities of God.

But Nehemiah understands quite well that we do not automatically obey.

 “But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and they did not obey your commands. (Nehemiah 9:16)

They deserved to be left alone by God. But, amazingly, we hear,

…… But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them, even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, ‘This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt,’ or when they committed awful blasphemies. Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness (Nehemiah 9:17b-19,emphasis mine)

But, what if we rebel and make an image of a golden calf and worship it?  As modern 21st century people we say “Who, me?  I wouldn’t make a calf. I’m not like those primitive people.”

But think about this: Jesus says, “He who loves me…keeps my commands.” Doesn’t the calf stand for anything we treasure more than keeping Christ’s commands? Aren’t we worshiping that thing more than Christ?

Nehemiah gives us a wonderful preview of God’s forgiveness for us in Christ.  Because of God’s great compassion he does not abandon us in the wilderness even when we make an idol; instead he sent Christ to rescue us.

Through Christ giving us the Spirit, we can reflect God’s justice, righteousness, goodness—-and love. And because God’s love outweighs his anger, Christ always keeps the door of repentance open.

Father, we thank you that you do provide rescue for us in the person of Jesus, that because of your great compassion you do not abandon us.

You’ve Saved the Best Till Now

And the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” (John 2:9-10)

You have just enjoyed a pleasant meal out at a restaurant. You think you are all done and ready for your check when the server appears with an exquisite, fancy, tasty dessert. She announces “Courtesy of the chef. This dessert is on the house”.

Your surprise and delight with the dessert is only a tiny taste of what Jesus wants to do.

In the John 2 narrative the water jugs represent tradition, the law, the old way of doing things. The jugs were part of the purification rituals under the old Jewish law.  But by obeying Jesus the servants were putting these traditional objects into a new use.

The miracle: Jesus has turned the water into wine.

The significance: The wine represents the new covenant in Jesus Christ.

Think again of what you have counted on for fulfillment that left you empty. Keep in mind that Jesus may or may not change the circumstances around the emptiness but he WILL give a new way of experiencing them.  Christ, being the new wine, gives a replacement that goes beyond anything we can try on our own. Dwell on what the Psalmist says in 34:8 “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”

What is the area of your life where you want to taste and see that the Lord is good? Where do you need a supernatural attitude adjustment?

Give thanks that Jesus gives the new wine and ask Him to transform that area of your life.