Daddy Gotcha!

Lincoln (age 1) and Daddy

My youngest son, Lincoln, turned two this past week. He is a delightful and expressive little guy. We have a new phrase to describe some of our adventures – “Daddy gotcha.” It started when I was holding him over the sink to wash hands. He was feeling a bit afraid of falling and was protesting and fussing a little. I said, “Lincoln, it is OK. Daddy has gotcha.” We were able to finish washing hands.

Later I was helping him put on his clothes. I said, “Lincoln, lean on Daddy. Daddy has gotcha.” He leaned his full weight on me and we finished getting his pants on.

Just yesterday, I had him up on one of those restroom changing tables at the circus. He wanted to sit up or stand or something seemingly dangerous. I said, “Lincoln, you need to lay down and stay still.” He said, “Daddy gotcha.” That’s when it hit me.

“Daddy gotcha” is his statement of absolute trust in me. He can lean on me, let me hold him precariously, or expect me to catch him before he falls. He has complete faith in Daddy’s love and protection.

Shouldn’t we have an even greater confidence in our heavenly Father? Read these familiar words again, and realize how safe Christians really are:

“Your life should be free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for He Himself has said, I will never leave you or forsake you. Therefore, we may boldly say:
The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?” Hebrews 13:5-6

Daddy gotcha!

2013: Contending for the Faith

Arm Wrestling

What is your focus for 2013? I think God has revealed mine over the last few weeks and crystallized it through the study of the small, often-neglected letter of Jude. I taught Jude in my Sunday morning Bible study just before Christmas. (We finished a 13 week study of 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and Jude.) Here is the part that has stayed with me:

Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Jude 3-4 NASB (emphasis mine)

I work with a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Mormon, a neo-pagan sympathizer, an agnostic, a young Christian, and some nominal Christians — coming from 5 different countries. That is just on my team! You should hear us discuss religion, philosophy, politics, or sports. There is a great diversity of opinions. How should a Christian approach such an opportunity? Sadly, I think many Christians are ill-equipped and frankly afraid to stand out.

But Jude was compelled to write and challenge Christians to “contend” for their faith against false teachers even in the church. What does it mean to contend? Type “contend” in the Google image search, and most of what you will see are pictures of athletic events (including lots of boxing gloves). Sometimes Google gets it right. The Greek word used in Jude 3 (epagonizesthai) was mostly used in reference to sporting contests in the stadium. It is the root of our word “agonize.” As Michael Green states, its use here emphasizes that defense of our faith will be “continuous, costly, and agonizing.” (172)

For what do we contend?

And for what do we contend? “The faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” There is objective truth. There is a historical basis for the facts of Christianity. The apostles (and others) were eyewitnesses of his death and Resurrection. We can’t water down the New Testament as some good ideas or interesting teachings or the life of a good man (Jesus). No! It is a testimony to the life, teachings, death, resurrection, and second coming of Jesus, the God-man. And it is His invitation to us to join Him in everlasting relationship.

Do we have false teachers today? Of course. There are all kinds of lists of false teachers on the internet. My goal isn’t really to create a list of them. However, there are some whose influence must be countered. As Jude says later, their presence in the church is like a “hidden reef” (v 12). They promise much but don’t deliver (“clouds without rain,” “autumn trees without fruit”).

What does contention look like?

For me, I think God is challenging me to use the blog as a platform for contending for the faith. The Bible is under attack. It doesn’t need my defense. It will stand as God’s Word forever, no matter what I say. However, we must contend for this faith revealed through the Scriptures in order to “have mercy on some, who are doubting;  save others, snatching them out of the fire;” (v 22-23) It is for people, whom God loves, that we must contend.

So, when New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman from UNC declares that most of the New Testament is a forgery and becomes an agnostic, it is time to step up and call him a false teacher, a wandering star, who reviles angelic majesties and rejects authority (v8, 13). Choosing the way of Balaam, his destiny is that of Korah if he will not repent (v 11). The New Testament documents are trustworthy and reliable. No matter what he says, scholars haven’t suddenly debunked the Bible. And there is reasonable evidence to back it up (much more on this later, I suspect).

But contention is not just a scholars’ battle with words. Just before Christmas, one of my coworkers asked to borrow a Bible. He is feeling the need to read it and seek greater understanding. I didn’t just let him borrow a Bible; I bought him one! And now we are set to discuss its truths and challenges as the days go on. I will argue for the truth, but I will also reach out to those who need to understand it. It will be costly and agonizing, but it is worth it!

How will you contend for the faith in 2013?

 

Source

Michael Green, 2 Peter and Jude. vol 18 in Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Intervarsity Press, 1987.

Horror Movies and a Little Theology of Fear

fear-god-not-man

Today is Halloween, an observance when much of our society celebrates fear, evil, darkness, and the paranormal/supernatural. While children dress up to rake in candy, many teens and adults search for the next scare. Hollywood obliges this year with these movies and themes: “Silent Hill: Revelation 3D” (demonic world), “Paranormal Activity 4” (demonic possession), “Sinister” (supernatural killer), “VHS” (gore, abandoned house), “#holdyourbreath” (serial killer and possession), and “Smiley” (serial killer). How lovely!

The Theology of Horror

When “The Blair Witch Project” came out (1999), I went to see what all the hype was about. The movie did a great job of creating an overwhelming sense of dread and fear. You never really saw or understood what was happening. All you saw were the fearful reactions of the victims as they eventually succumbed to an unseen evil. It was spooky and effective. It was the first time after a movie that I ever looked around the parking lot carefully before heading toward my car. Once in my car, I stopped to think about why I would be scared. Then it hit me, in the “Blair Witch Project” there was no God. It had lured me into creepy forest away from His light and truth.

This same theological assumption is the basis for fear in most scary movies: “There is no good God that can help you.” Evil is unrestrained, unstoppable (Jason, Michael, Freddy), and unredeemable. The unwitting victims are left alone in an uncaring universe. Most of them die. Look at the tag line from this year’s “Sinister”: “Once you’ve seen him, nothing can save you.” It is the absence of God that creates terror.

Healthy Fear (of God)

The Bible assumes that fear is a natural human reaction to the unknown and even the supernatural. When angels appear in the Bible, their first words to quivering humans are usually, “fear not.” Fearing God is a good thing. He is the judge of all people. His ways are often inscrutable. And His commands are absolute. Sometimes, we get so comfortable with our grandfatherly images of God that we forget He is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). The writer of Hebrews reminds us that it is a bad idea to keep on sinning after knowing the truth: “For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:30-31)

Paralyzed No More

But this kind of reverential fear is far from what horror movies exploit. There the fear is of evil (not the holiness of a righteous God), uncertainty (not a sure judgment), helplessness (not God’s omnipotence), and being alone (not the continual presence of God). Horror movie fear paralyzes. Fear of God motivates us to change our direction back to Him. Proverbs 1:7 says “the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge.”

Still, God does not leave us paralyzed by earthly fears. He restrains evil, and Satan will not win. Jesus casts out the demonic. They have no authority over Him. He guides our future. He is always with us. He loves us more than we deserve or can understand. These are the truths that drive out the paralyzing fear. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” 1 John 4:18

So, let’s walk away from those earthly fears fueled by Hollywood. (After my revelation about the theology of “Blair Witch Project,” I have not seen any more horror movies.) But, let’s recover a healthy fear of our Creator and Judge.

“I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” Jesus in Luke 12:4-5

Navigating the Corn Maze of Life – Psalms Project: Psalm 119

Reece's Corn Maze 2012

Last weekend, I took our ten year old son, Aidan, to Reece’s Corn Maze — at night! This corn maze is an orienteering challenge. It actually consists of two mazes — a smaller, less complicated one and the big one (the man/cross/guitar above was the smaller one; the horse was the larger one). The owners provided the map above with six marked stations. To complete the challenge, you must collect the specially shaped hole punches from each station.

Going at night added to the challenge. There are no lights in the maze. Thankfully, they provided a flashlight for us. With the map and the flashlight, Aidan and I were able to navigate to all of the stations in both mazes in a little less than 2 hours. We did not get lost or make any wrong turns. Aidan did most of the navigating in the smaller maze, but yielded to me once we really got into the larger one. After completing the challenge, I asked Aidan one of my favorite parent questions: “what did we learn about life from that?” Here is what we came up with:

The Map is Indispensable
Without the map, we would have no idea where to start, where we were, where the stations were, or how to get anywhere. The map was essential to completing the challenge. We had to rely on it for every decision and direction. The maze of life also requires a map from its Creator. Psalm 119, the longest chapter of the Bible, repeatedly declares that God’s Word is the map for life:

How blessed are those whose way is blameless,
Who walk in the law of the Lord.
How blessed are those who observe His testimonies,
Who seek Him with all their heart.
They also do no unrighteousness;
They walk in His ways. Psalm 119:1-3

Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes,
And I shall observe it to the end.
Make me walk in the path of Your commandments,
For I delight in it. Psalm 119:33, 35

The Map is Useless Without Light
A few times we turned off the flashlight to get a sense of how dark it was and how lost we could have gotten. Without the light, we couldn’t see the map or any of the possible directions to go. All we could do is stumble about and feel with our hands. Completing the maze would have been an impossible task. Even just getting out would have been very difficult. In life, though, there are so many who try to live without light. They stumble and fall and wonder why. The truth is that life  without God and His Word IS darkness. We need God to light our way. Psalm 119 says it like this:

 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)

But it is not just the printed word that gives us light. Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, is our Light:

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” John 8:12

Beware the Overgrown Path
Some passages we could choose had weeds or fallen stalks that partially blocked the way. Often, we could choose the right way by taking the more obviously worn path. Many had found the right path before us. However, there was one time when we took the less-traveled path because, according to the map, it was the right way. We trusted the map and took the path anyway and got to our next station. So, there was a double lesson here. Sometimes it is wise to follow where others have gone before. Yet, when the map clearly takes you off the worn path, trust the map. Psalm 119 expresses a similar double truth: we are companions of all who fear the Lord; yet we must confidently follow God’s path even when it leads through darkness and traps.

I considered my ways
And turned my feet to Your testimonies.
I hastened and did not delay
To keep Your commandments.
The cords of the wicked have encircled me,
But I have not forgotten Your law.
At midnight I shall rise to give thanks to You
Because of Your righteous ordinances.
I am a companion of all those who fear You,
And of those who keep Your precepts. Psalm 119:59-63

No matter where you find yourself in the corn maze of life today, God can make a way for you. Take hold of His Word (the map), and let Jesus light your way.

More from the Psalms Project:

Finding Rest in the Midst of Crisis – Psalm 3
From Venus to God – Psalm 19

Psalms Project: Psalm 19 – From Venus to God

***BESTPIX*** Venus Transit Across The Sun

 “The black sky was underpinned with long silver streaks that looked like scaffolding and depth on depth behind it were thousands of stars that all seemed to be moving very slowly as if they were about some vast construction work that involved the whole order of the universe and would take all time to complete. No one was paying attention to the sky. Flannery O’Connor in Wise Blood, chapter 3 (emphasis mine)

Yesterday, millions of people around the world were focused on the transit of Venus across the sun (from our point of view). My son, Aidan, a would-be astronomer, wanted to watch it, too. So we turned on NASA TV and watched for awhile. Aidan got bored with just seeing the black dot of Venus against the solar backdrop.  It didn’t move fast. It didn’t explode or shoot off fireworks. It just kept imperceptibly moving. (He loved the solar flare pictures and other parts, though.)

However, I was in awe of the Creator of this universe. I am not alone. King David was often moved to worship as he observed God’s creation by looking up. Psalm 19 is a prime example. (Stop and read it before reading on here.) What is most interesting is that David moves from a poetic description of the stars and the sun to outbursts of praise for God’s laws and commands. How did he make that leap? I think the Venus transit explains it perfectly.

The transit of Venus was no surprise to us. Astronomers knew exactly when it would happen. Why? Because the motions of the universe are consistent and calculable. The laws of gravity, mathematics, and physics predict these astrological alignments. This order, understood by the ancients even before the descriptions of physics, points to a Designer and Sustainer. That is exactly how David reasons:

The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.
Day to day pours forth speech,
And night to night reveals knowledge.

The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
Psalm 19:1-2, 7 (NASB)

David does not stop with praise and wonder, though. In verses 1-6, he uses only the general name for God, El, one time. In verses 7-14, though, he uses the personal, covenant name Lord (Yahweh), seven times. He is getting more personal with Yahweh. In verses 11-14, he submits himself to this Creator and Lawgiver God:

Moreover, by them Your servant is warned;
In keeping them there is great reward.
Psalm 19:11 (NASB)

Finally, he ends with one of his most quoted prayers. His contemplation on the Creator has brought him to a powerful plea:

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Psalm 19:14 (NASB)

European Space Agency, NASA & Peter Anders (Göttingen University Galaxy Evolution Group, Germany)

A thousand years later, the apostle Paul argued similarly that God’s creation reveals God’s attributes. So no one can say they had no knowledge of the one, true God:

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. Romans 1:19-20 ESV

Yet, I wonder how many people watched the transit of Venus and missed the Creator God who designed all of this. Flannery O’Connor alludes to this same ignorance in the great quote above that I “happened” to read today. (Thanks, Jacob Willard, for the Top 100 Novel Challenge that got me into that book!)

The next time you look up into the heavens, stop to think what God is telling you. He is speaking, if you will listen.

(Yes, this post for the Psalms Project is out of order, but I decided this one was timely.)

Catching up with the Psalms Project?
Psalm 1: Planted or Seated?
Psalm 2:  Safe, Not Shackled

Psalms Project: Psalm 2 – Safe, Not Shackled

The Avengers

The much anticipated movie “Avengers” opened this weekend. It tells the story of several superheroes who must band together to stop an evil Norse deity, Loki, and his band of aliens. I haven’t seen the movie, but I suspect that the heroes must learn to work as a team. Then, using all their powers, they thwart Loki, at least until the sequel. Strange as the movie plot sounds, it has some similarities to Psalm 2. (Hang in there and maybe you will understand my warped way of thinking.)

In Psalm 2,  we meet the kings of the earth. These kings are tired of being shackled by God and His Anointed (Hebrew – messiah). So they are planning some kind of rebellion to win their “freedom.” Mortals are taking on God. In this case, we are talking about the one, true God, the Creator of all. So, these kings on earth want to take on the King of the Universe, and they have no super powers to help them. God laughs (an ironic twist to Psalm 1). He and His Anointed rule no matter what anyone else does. He can just speak and destroy the kings and their nations. God has already chosen the Ruler – His Son.

Psalm 2 is classified as a “Messianic Psalm” because of its clear mention of God’s special, anointed One, the Messiah. Here, he is called “My Son” and “My King.” He is given the nations as His inheritance. And He will rule absolutely – as with a rod of iron. The nations are warned to properly honor the Messiah (v12) or face His sudden wrath. This is a proclamation of royal authority, perhaps using the same language as the coronation ceremony of Israel’s kings. Is it any wonder that Jesus’ disciples expected a Warrior Messiah to come and destroy the Romans and establish His kingdom on earth? (Of course, they neglected the teachings of other Messianic Psalms like Psalm 22, but we will get to those later.) While Jesus did not fulfill all of these roles in His first coming, He will upon His return.

The New Testament writers did not shy away from associating Jesus with this ruling Messiah in Psalm 2. In Acts 4, Peter and John are released by the Sanhedrin after they had healed the lame man at the Temple in the name of Jesus. When they return to the believers, they testify that Psalm 2 is being fulfilled: Gentiles and Jews gathered in Jerusalem against the Messiah, Jesus, and killed Him. But His resurrection demonstrated His ultimate authority and rule. In Revelation, John quotes Psalm 2:9 four times to remind us that Jesus is coming to rule.

So, what does this mean for us today? First, it is a corrective to our view of Jesus. If we consider Him only meek and mild, an itinerant preacher of mushy love, we don’t know Him. He is God’s Anointed King. He rules, whether we accept it or not. And if we choose to reject Him, we can expect to be broken like fragile pots.

I think the most important message, though, is that God’s rule is a refuge, not a shackle.  Look at how the whole tone of the Psalm changes in the last line: “How blessed are all who take refuge in Him.” God is not trying to destroy us or keep us from joy and pleasure. No! His way IS the way of life and peace. Boundaries are for our safety, not for binding. Let’s rejoice in our shelter, the Most High God who rules over all.

Read Psalm 1: Planted or Seated?

Drafted!

decatro_draft

OK, I have to admit that I am a huge NFL fan. I watched the whole first round of the annual player selection meeting (or draft) on Thursday night to see who my Pittsburgh Steelers would select. I am not the only one fascinated by this annual ritual. It gets 2 nights of prime time TV on two stations (ESPN and NFL Network). We are fascinated by this choosing of the most gifted football players on earth. I started to think, though, about how the draft illustrates some important truths about our lives as Christians from I Corinthians 12.

We Are Gifted

Players who are drafted are all gifted athletes. My son kept asking me, “is that guy good?” I said (several times), “yes, if they get drafted they are  very good players.” Some will not become great NFL players for a variety of reasons, but they are all gifted.

As Christians we are all gifted, too:  “A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other” I Corinthians 12:7 (NLT). We cannot complain that we are not able to serve God and His body, the church. The Holy Spirit gifts all believers just for this purpose. There are no believers without a spiritual gift. These gifts are not for our glory, but for the express purpose of helping each other. However, we still must choose to use the Spirit’s gifts and not stay on the sidelines.

We Are Valued

In the draft there is so much talk about the value of a player. Player A is a “elite, first rounder.” Player B has “first round talent,” but character issues will knock him down a round or two. The last player selected is lovingly called Mr. Irrelevant. Then all the fans and pundits come out and grade the drafts based on their opinions of player value.

We would never do that in the church, right? We would never place different values on folks because of our view of their giftedness? The Corinthians did. They wanted the showier gifts, like tongues. In fact, the best translation (though not followed by most translators) of I Corinthians 12:31 is “But you are desiring the showier gifts. However, I show you a more excellent way.” (Then Paul launches into chapter 13 about love being that better way.) 12:31 isn’t a command to seek the greater gifts, but an indicative of what they are doing. They want the prestige of the more noticeable gifts.

Paul’s metaphor of the body dispels the notion of greater or lesser value. All gifts (thus, all believers) are needed or the body cannot function properly. It is our duty to use our gift, not complain that we don’t have some other gift. The Spirit includes all believers into the body (v 13), because He loves all of us equally. We have the highest value, given by God. Don’t let anyone put you down; you are His wonderful creation!

We Are Chosen

There is so much excitement and joy when players are chosen by an NFL team. Their families, coaches, and friends are hugging, congratulating everyone, and bouncing with visible joy. Think about how it must feel: one of the most elite teams in the world decided they want you to play for them. And they are going to pay you to do it.  It would be exciting! Why are we less enthusiastic about being chosen by the King of the Universe to serve on His team, for His kingdom? I Corinthians 12:18: “But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.” He gives us our unique talents and then chooses us for special tasks that only we can do (by His power). We are specially desired and selected. We are chosen — like #1 draft picks.

We Are Required to Serve

Once selected, a player cannot just choose another team. Each is required to show up and play for the team that chooses him (or sit out the season) as soon as the contract is worked out and signed. Christians are also required to serve. We have chosen a new master (or been chosen by one — both senses are true). We aren’t playing to win a Super Bowl, but something much greater. Paul explains in Ephesians 4 after listing some of the gifts that our purpose is:

“to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” Eph 4:12b-13 (HCSB)

 So, we can quit once everyone is as fully mature in faith as Christ. Until then, we have a job to do. Let’s rejoice that the King has gifted us, loved us, chosen us, and put us into the game! How are you using His gifts today?

(If you are interested in any of my sports writing, especially about the Pittsburgh Steelers, read here)