Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Posts tagged ‘Christian Faith’

The Tick Tock of Eternity

It’s easy to forget how drastically the invention of the clock changed the course of human history.  Before the advent of the clock, human beings simply worked all day and looked forward to the eventual arrival of night.  We endured time and tracked the passing of the day with shadows.  But after the hands of the clock began to sweep across the face of history, we began to measure time.  Today many Americans aspire to “fifteen minutes of fame,” and most of us suffer from a three minute attention span.  Some sporting events are timed in thousandths of a second!  We live in a hectic, clock-driven world.

We’re told that time is more valuable to Americans than money:  Americans will spend money to save time.  We know what money is because you or I can hold a $100 bill in our hands.  But what is time?  Time, oxygen and electricity are all invisible.  But I can flip a switch and stop the flow of electricity.  And I can create a vacuum by sucking all the oxygen out of a room.  But time is very different from other resources.  You can’t hold it in your hand, or stop it, or remove it from a room.  It cannot be stored in a cell like energy or detected in the air like radiation.  Time is not a thing.

In fact, time is actually a measure based on the rotation of the Earth and its revolutions around the sun.  An hour is 1/24 of a rotation of our planet, and a month is only 1/12 of one full revolution of the Earth around the sun.  Human beings began to make progress when we discovered how to synchronize our lives with something bigger and more stable than a human life on the Planet Earth.  By adjusting our lives according to the larger standards of the solar system, we imported new order and unity into our lives as inviduals and communities.

So what does this have to do with faith and theology? Well, one of the first things we all learn about God is also one of the qualities that make it so difficult to understand our heavenly father.  The Bible clearly and consistently teaches that he is eternal.  Genesis opens the Bible with the universe being set in place by a God already in existence.  A few chapters later, Abram plants a grove  in Beersheba and “begins to call on the name of the Lord, the everlasting God.”  Moses assures us in Deuteronomy 33:27, “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”  Psalm 106 describes him as “everlasting unto everlasting.” In  1 Timothy 6:16, Paul refers to Jesus Christ, “Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.”

God is not clock-driven because Eternity is timeless and limitless. He is above time because he created the Earth and the sun, set them in their places, and rules over them.  He is not influenced by their movements.  Rather, the revolutions and rotations of all the bodies in all the galaxies are ordained by him; choreographed to the rhythm of his principles.

He is not influenced by the latest fads or trendy attitudes which are, by nature, the products of a moment in time.  One generation is offended by the idea of resurrection.  A thousand years later, the arbiters of fashion are disgusted by the authority of moral absolutes or the inequity of elevating heterosexual love.  Yet the Earth spins on its axis and another revolution around the sun is completed, and the arbiters and antagonists fade into history.  The eternal God continues to rule and his Truth remains completely intact.

C.S. Lewis once pointed out that we should never confuse divine truth with our opinions.  The fact is, our opinions will not always mesh neatly with every eternal edict and ideal of the Almighty God.  Part of living faith is the struggle that comes in conforming my earthbound heart to the unchanging and undying Word of God.  But in the contest to allow God’s mastery of my stubborn will, I once again discover how to sync my life with something vastly larger and infinitely more stable than my impulses and desires.  And as I adjust my movements to the larger standards of the Creator of the Cosmos, I import new order and meaning into my life and my community.  His eternal splendor is my hope of glory.

Lift up the cross!


Making Love

“After the wedding celebration was over, they departed for their honeymoon where they consummated their marriage.”  When was the last time you heard that quaint old expression?  The idea of consummating a marriage is just one more ancient rite of passage abandoned and forgotten in our postmodern obsession with Here and Now.  The fear, indeed the expectation in many quarters, is that most young people have hooked up long before reaching the marriage bed.  The only thing left undone is changing the young woman’s name.  At least two popular motion pictures have recently explored the fashion of “friends with benefits,” young men and women who don’t aspire to a romantic relationship but simply find it convenient to use each other for sex.  What was once the “consummation” or completion of a maturing relationship between a man and a woman has now been reduced to sharing some snack food slightly more significant than popcorn.

The ideal of reserving sexual intimacy for marriage, once considered virtuous in mainstream America,  has always been rooted in the Christian Faith.  As far back as Adam and Eve, the higher aspiration of sexual intercourse was in “knowing.”  The Hebrew text literally explains that Adam knew his wife and she became pregnant, and gave birth to Cain.  This explains our use of the Latin word, consummare, which means to sum up or finish.  After a man and woman grow to know each other personally, intellectually, and emotionally, they commit to one life together and know each other sexually, each revealing an aspect of self shared with no other human being.

In Isaiah 62:4-5, the prophet promises Jerusalem, “Your new name will be ‘The Bride of God,’ for the Lord delights in you and will claim you as his bride…Then God will rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride.”  Imagine a young man caught up in the rapture of his first night with his new bride.  Notice that the city of Jerusalem foreshadows the role of the Church, later identified by Christ as his bride.  Revelation 21 characterizes the future climax of all human history as the wedding celebration of Christ and his glorious bride, the Church.  The consummation of that holy and treasured relationship awaits in Eternity.   And with the consummation of the marriage between the Bridegroom and the Bride, everything begins anew; without pain, without tears, without limits.

Prophetically, five decades of sexual liberation have not ushered in that promised New Age where joy is greater, experience is deeper, and human beings are more sacred.  Rather, people have become objects for the use of others, and the experience is so shallow that erotic toys, flavored gels, whips and chains, and sex in unusual settings or with multiple partners have all become necessary to enhance a rapidly fading experience.  Meanwhile, diamonds are valued because they are so costly to acquire.  Movie theater popcorn is appealing because we can’t have it every day.  But in 21st Century America, sex is as casual as sneezing and as common as biology.

You’ve no doubt heard the old adage that God can create a mushroom in five days, but he requires 50 years to produce an oak tree.  Instant gratification is very 21st Century American, but patient expectation is eternal.  Getting into someone’s pants is the highest ambition of our Hook Up culture, but knowing another person mind, body and soul is the ultimate measure of intimacy in the Kingdom of God.  That faith-infused variety of intercourse is so much more elevated and more noble than our present day cultural mosh pit for couples that the word “relationship” instantly falls short as inadequate and archaic.  Divine love is so pure and unselfish that the lover can sacrifice himself for the one he loves, having never yet experienced consummation. Love that can wait for the ultimate expression to follow in the world to come is the most tireless and powerful love of all.

For centuries, we in the Church attempted to model our human marriages on the divine model.  We have emphasized knowing and growing in intellectual intimacy.  We have held character in high esteem- growing my own and cultivating the character of my loved one.  We have spoken and written fondly of our expectation, looking forward to the time of consummation when the timing of God is working with us.  Suddenly and without warning, we seem willing to toss everything timeless and eternal under the bus in order to leap aboard the graffiti-covered subway to relevance.

What the Beatles once sang is still true: All You Need is Love.  Tragically, most Americans never find what they need because they have settled for something more common and less delightful.  It can’t keep a marriage or a soul alive for long.

Lift up the Cross!

The Tree of Life

“Someday we’ll fall down and weep.  And we’ll understand it all- all things.”  That’s the promise of director Terrence Malick’s new film, The Tree of Life.  When the movie opened at the Cannes Film Festival recently, it created quite a stir.  Some audience members booed and walked out, while others stayed and cheered.  Well-known critics blasted it as boring and pretentious, while others found it mesmerizing and triumphant.  Cannes gave it their highest award.

Inspired by passages from the Book of Job, the film revolves around one small town family, the mysteries of their life and their search for answers.  Although this production seems  heavy with spiritual overtones and allusions to faith,  viewers hoping for a consistent Christian worldview will come away disappointed.  Nevertheless, one line from the trailer could be torn straight from the Gospel.  “There are two ways through life: the way of Nature and the way of Grace.  You have to choose which one you’ll follow.”

Having said that, theatrical films like this never instruct us how to actually choose that way of Grace or discover the Tree of Life.  Cinematically speaking, it’s all about struggling and enduring until everything is revealed. In the meantime, while you’re waiting on Heaven, you might as well raise a little Hell!  Right?

When you’re ready to find the Tree of Life, go to the source, the Bible.  The  very first book opens with an image of that mysterious tree standing majestically in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3.  After the Fall, it fades from view as Adam and Eve are evicted from Eden lest they eat from the Tree and live forever in their corrupted condition.  The Tree of Life turns up again only at the very end of the Bible.  Revelation 22 describes it standing alongside the River of Life, bearing 12 kinds of fruit year round.  In fact, if you read the chapter carefully, it seems the tree has multiplied and produced an orchard of life.

In contrast to Hollywood whose primary goal to to generate profits, the Bible was written to offer us a road map to Life, fruitfulness, and Eternity.  The New Testament is not vague or ambiguous about this:

  • John 6:27 Jesus counsels his listeners (and readers:) “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.”
  • John 6:40 “And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.”
  • Galatians 6:8 “For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”
  •  Titus 3:7 “That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

The Way of Grace eludes the masses of humanity who hunger for self-esteem, peer approval, and fifteen minutes of fame.  The Tree of Life will only be found by those who are willing to risk something, deny themselves, and search for Truth with all their hearts.   Even when Jesus Christ was physically present on the Earth, not even his most astonishing miracles could hold the attention of the Religious Elite whose only ambition was wealth and prestige.  Grace held no attraction to the climbers who wanted to maintain the Status Quo at least long enough to cash in on their connections.  But desperate people could see an Exit sign flashing in the darkness every time Christ healed another leper or raised another dead body to life again.

To the eyes of the jaded and overly ambitious, American culture is a brand new luxury liner.  They can’t wait to make their way to the next deck, to see what splendors might be waiting there.  But human beings who’ve been broken, or rejected, or shattered see clearly through the fog.  They recognize a sinking ship and realize their only hope will be found in swimming away.  But where do you go in the dark, frigid sea of life once you’ve left behind that vessel you once trusted?

It is at moments like this that the voice of Christ breaks through the background noise: “Come to me all of you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  This is where we find the strength to swim away from the crowded ship sailing toward destruction, and swim toward the nearly empty life boats drifting gently in the direction of Grace.  You sometimes miss the reassurance of all those hustling, bustling crowds, but  silence, too, can be comforting.  Only the sight of the Gates up ahead keeps you moving.

Between those book-end appearances of the Tree of Life at the beginning of Genesis and the end of Revelation, we set our sights on a different tree.  It stands high on a hill that is shaped like a skull.  There’s a man dying there who doesn’t deserve to die.  There’s a tomb nearby that won’t be occupied for long.  There’s a group of frightened men who don’t deserve to be called the Church.  And there is a purchase that can only be made when the man on the cross has died, and when the tomb has been vacated, and when the terrified disciples have faced their fears and taken the Good News to the waiting world.

Revelation 2:7  “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.”

“There are two ways through life: the way of Nature and the way of Grace.  You have to choose which one you’ll follow.”

Lift up the Cross!

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