Apologetics – A Big Story and Bridges

I want to talk about apologetics today. I am a fan of apologetics but I would never suggest it is a strong suit of mine. I am a simple man and have some pretty simple thoughts. That being said I think there are some things we can talk about. Specifically today I want to look at one method called the Big Picture and another called the Bridge Illustration.

The Big Story presentation starts with something that most people can agree, namely the world is a messed-up place. This is helpful because it seems almost regardless of where people stand on their thoughts about the divine they can agree the world is not right. It moves to a modified ontological argument because it argues that man understands that there is something more and that the world should be a better place. The ontological argument in its most basic form says that if we have a concept of a most perfect being or God then that concept had to have come from God because man could not dream up the idea of God on his own. The Big Story also has sprinklings of the anthropological argument as well as intelligent design arguments because it presupposes that people believe in absolute morality and believe the interrelated complexity of nature. From there it rejects Deism.

The argument continues not necessarily with a rejection of original sin but a statement of sin choices. The argument is that regardless of Adam’s sin humans chose to sin and selfishness as a lifestyle. From there the story moves to the incarnation as the answer to the question of why if God is loving does he not intervene. The Big Story shows that God does love and did intervene. Jesus took on the sin of mankind Himself and He paid the penalty for that sin. In return what is required is submission to Jesus’ lordship (leading). By following Christ and trusting in Him to lead we can be the people we want to be. Finally, it ends with allusions to the Bridge Illustration.

The Bridge Illustration answers the question of faith and relationship with God by saying that there is a God and man is separated from God and man’s good works cannot reach God. Just as in the Big Story, there are some presuppositions but not as many because it removes the ontological, anthropological, and intelligent design arguments and simply presupposes a belief in God. The Bridge Illustration moves on to say that while man cannot reach God, God can reach man. It argues that the central message of the Bible is that God loves His creation and has done what they cannot do making a way to Himself through Christ.

The Big Story is a fairly good presentation of the meta-story of the Bible. It coves God creating, man sinning, the world in despair, and God providing redemption. The problem comes from the many presuppositions it uses. The old adage that more is less can be true when speaking to people. Whereas the Bridge Illustration does use some presupposition it is limited to only a belief in God. Which one to use would depend on who you are speaking with and that situation.

I find that if I am speaking to someone who is more science-based the fewer presuppositions I have the better. It gives them less wiggle room to argue and more time can be given to the actual topic of God’s redemption of mankind. However, if I am talking to someone who is struggling with real-world problems the presuppositions are generally shared by them and I. We both agree the world is a messed-up place and that there has to be something more. We can agree that God would not leave His creation to fend for itself and that He wants to be part of it. It is almost as if the more presuppositions the better because they build to a big beautiful picture.

As for which I prefer I like them both. I am a fan of the meta-story of the Bible because it is the most beautiful picture I have ever heard. Yes, there are details that are hard to understand but that does not dilute the beauty of the story. It is the most wonderful thing I have ever heard. I am sure it has sounded like I am against presuppositional apologetics and to a degree, I might be, but it is still the best story ever. I also love the Bridge Illustration because it focuses in on Jesus and His work to reconcile us to the Father. It showcases the majesty of God. It is the focal point of this wonderful song that began before creation and rings out that God is with us. I could not pick one to prefer. I can only hold on to both and use them at their appropriate time.

Just a thought,

Mike

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Four Statements you need to hear

Did you know God is calling you? Not on the phone, although I am sure he could. No, God is calling and has been calling you all along. We can think God is distant, but He is not. He is present and calling. I for one know there have been times when I know God is calling me and other times like after I sin that I am sure He is not calling me. But again, He is present and calling. Not only is He calling but I like the way River Tree church in Ohio puts it – He is For, With, One of, and In Us.

God is the one who sought out Adam and Eve after they sinned. It was God who initiated the seeking. It was God who called Abraham to leave his homeland and become the father of the faith. It was God who called Moses. It was God who called Samuel. When we read through Scripture we read God calls to people. If we go back further even than the garden to pre-creation creation itself, we read that Christ was slain before the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8 NIV). Because God is omnipotent He knew before forming Adam that He would have to send His Son to pay the penalty for sin and still He was for us.

Because God is for us He was moved to be with us. Because God loves us He was moved to send Jesus to take up residence with us. Jesus chose to leave heaven and take on human form. Not only did He take up human form He spent time with some really bad people. How often did the religious leaders of Jesus’ day accuse Him of being friends with and liking sinners? It makes one wonder if I could be accused of such a thing.

Moving on, God is one of us. This is the incarnation! An event so great that all of heaven sang out in wonder that Christ is born as they gave glory to God and proclaimed peace on earth (Lk 2:14). This was a moment creation and heaven was waiting for. This was the first of what I think are four of the most profound statements in the Bible that relate to God’s relationship to humankind. The first being that the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us (Jn 1:14). God clearly pronounced what it means to be for someone. The incarnation is God demonstrating His great love for us. While the world is still sinning and far from Him, He has come to bring life. This creates the possibility for a second profound statement when Jesus says it is finished. God’s being for us moved Him to be with us, living like us and then dying as one of us.

Finally, we get to the God is in us. This is the third profound statement when the angels declare He is risen! The grave could not hold Him, and He is alive once again. This makes a way for the final statement which is in Colossians 1:27 when Paul declares that the glorious wealth of the mystery is Christ in you the hope of glory. God was for us and now He is in us.

FOUR Statements that changed the world!

  • The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. John 1:14
  • It is finished. John 19:30
  • He is risen. Matthew 28:6
  • The glorious wealth of the mystery is Christ in you the hope of glory. Colossians 1:27

Just reread those four statements and let that sink in. If you are “far” from God read those statements because they tell you that God is not “far” from you. If you are a lifelong saint, then read those statements because Christ is in you and He is your hope so don’t forget that. If you are a new Christian read those statements because they will be what you hold on to in times of trouble. If you are wondering what the purpose of your life is when read those statements because they will show you that Christ died and rose just to be with you. The beautiful thing about these simple little statements is they show so much about God and so much about you. So what are you going to do about it?

Just a thought,

Mike

Sojourner or Scattered Ambassadors

I was recently asked if you can have a regular job and own a home (or rent) and still be a sojourner. Well yes of course but we have to understand what it means to be a sojourner.

I do not think you have to leave your job or home to be a sojourner, but I am not sure you can be attached to them either. I think it is partly about what kingdom you are building. Are am I building God’s kingdom or mine? Am I amassing wealth for my benefit or His? Am I desiring to see His name proclaimed or mine? It is like Steve Saint says in the Great Omission when he talks about not everyone is called to be a missionary, but everyone is called to the mission (my paraphrase). Peter writes to the diaspora or exiles who are strangers or sojourners in 1 Peter and Paul calls us ambassadors. If I can put them together we are called to be scattered ambassadors who represents Christ. When thought of in those terms we can easily work a job and own a home as long we remember where our allegiance is.

That being said some are called to go. If you are called to go then you need to go. I know that sounds simple but that is because it is. There is great joy found in following God. We read stories in the Bible like those of Abraham and think it would be easy to follow if we could hear God like Abraham did. The problem is Abraham went years not hearing from God. There are only a handful of times we actually read that God spoke to Abraham. Scripture records more silence from God to Abraham than communication. I think we have it easier because we have the Holy Spirit living inside of us. We can commune with the divine daily. Yes sometimes God is still silent but sometimes that is because you have not listened to the last thing He said.

There is a Rita Springer song called If you say Go and part of the lyrics say, “If You say go we will go If You say wait we will wait.” We have to get to the point where we are willing to lay down not just our lives but our wills to God.

As Christians, we are called to be a holy nation and a kingdom of priests but the kingdom we belong to is invisible. It is real, and it is present, but it cannot be seen which is why geography, to a Christian, is more about direction than political allegiance. We have to come to the place where we are as willing to walk away from it all as we are to stay in it. The will is what is important and what God is after. Jesus prayed not my will by Yours be done. God wants us to turn our wills over to Him. We must be willing to go when He says God and stay when He says stay.

So yes, you can absolutely be a sojourner or scattered ambassador who represents Christ. But you can also go.

Posture and Prayer

So, what do posture and prayer have in common and why am I talking about them? First, I am not talking about the posture during prayer even though that might be a fun conversation. Instead, I was thinking about how posture and prayer are similar. I should probably explain…

I have horrible posture. It probably comes from sitting at a desk for years. I find that no matter where I am sitting I try to find ways to prop myself up. I put my elbows on my knees or I lean against something. I honestly have to constantly remind myself to stop slouching, sit up straight, get my elbows off the table, and so on. I am actively working on this, but it is a process. Even as I sit here and type this I am noticing more and more that my posture is horrid.

Now I am not a doctor, but I think good posture helps with all sorts of things from digestion and maybe even better abs. I honestly have no idea, but I do know that it does not feel right to slouch all the time and I am sure that because it is so hard to stop slouching I should probably stop. Besides people say things like “stop slouching, stand up straight.” Maybe if I stop slouching and using other things to support myself my back might start feeling better too.

This morning as I was hunched over the bed drinking a cup of coffee I was thinking about prayer. I was thinking about how my prayer life is weak right now. Don’t get me wrong I pray but it is usually for stuff or for help. My real prayer time though, the time I spend with God just wanting to connect with Him is lacking. My time to just sit at His feet and hear from Him or feel His love. My time to reconnect with my Lord and Savior where I can find refreshment for my soul is lacking in a big way. Because of this, I find other ways to support myself. Usually, it is trying in my own strength to hold myself up. I try to control my schedule or use my own might and power to accomplish everything. I would not say that I am being led by the Spirit right now. Wow, that hurts to say.

In Deuteronomy chapter 6 we read the Shema. If you are not familiar with it the Shema is usually summed up “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One.” It is called the Shema because the first word is Shema and it is usually translated “hear” but Hebrew words usually carry a lot of meaning. The meaning in shema is hear but it is also listen and obey. It is a call to attentive and active hearing that leads to obedience. In prayer we hear, listen, and obey God. A weak posture is like a weak shema in that it leads to using other things to prop you up.

Prayer is our connection to God. It is among other things an exchange of our will for His. If we are not praying, we cannot hear. If we cannot hear we cannot listen. If we cannot listen, we cannot obey. If we cannot obey we become the lord of our own lives. That will not do. We must like proper posture find ways to stand strong in the right things even though it is hard. Even if we must sacrifice other things to stand properly. It is something that is a must.

I am convinced that my lack of quality prayer time leads to my time anxiety among other things. Because it is so hard to find time to pray and spend time hearing, listening, and obeying God I am sure that means I must. What about you. Do you shema?

Just a thought,

Mike

Why must evangelism and discipleship happen at the same time?

Frank Sinatra sang that love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage. According to the song, one belongs to the other and any attempt to separate them is an illusion. In the Western world, we marry because of love and those in love will, ideally, get married. Why must evangelism and discipleship happen at the same time, because you can’t have one without the other. Evangelism is the telling of the Gospel or the good news. The gospel among other things includes that the Lord Jesus came bringing the kingdom of God. Evangelism is telling people about Christ death and resurrection and relating how it is relevant to their life now. Discipleship is not only helping accept this reality but submitting to the Lordship of Christ because the kingdom is here now. If the Gospel includes the fact that Christ is Lord, then submission or discipleship is included in the message of the Evangelism.

The goal is not church growth or numbers. At best we can understand that each number represents a life that Jesus cares about deeply. Our mission as the church is to spread the message of the Gospel and help people become obedient to that message and as Rick Wood says, “everything we do as a church must be evaluated on [that] basis.”[1] To say that a church is growing with discipleship is to say my marriage is growing without love. The two are connected because they require one another. Discipling people with mere information or facts apart from faith is like someone in the Western world marring without love. The two go hand in hand because “discipleship is transformational, not informational.”[2] Trying to separate the two puts the carriage before the horse or worse it forgets the carriage and the people inside at home.

 

[1] Rick Wood, “A Call to Radical Disciple-making,” Mission Frontiers, 2010.

[2] Eric Geiger, “Discipleship: More than Information,” 2012.

I have heard so much about you

I have this habit of talking about my wife a lot. I don’t really mean to do it, but it just happens. More than just talking about my wife I talk about my wife like people know who she is because I think they should. Sometimes I have said multiple things about her and then realize I have to clarify that Julie is my wife. It is usually just little things like Julie and I like to do ______, my wife was telling me about ______, or Julie is doing ______. I find that if I spend enough time talking to someone that by the time they meet my darling bride they say something along the lines of “it’s so nice to meet you. I have heard so much about you.” My goal is for people to love my wife as much as I do. I want people to know what an amazing woman she is. I love when people met her and see what I see. It gives me such joy to see people see the wonder of my wife.

I want to do the same thing with Jesus. I want to talk about Jesus in such a way that people feel they just have to meet Him. That after spending time with me they think “wow this Jesus guy sounds amazing” because honestly, He is. I love Him so much and I want other people to love Him so much. The problem is that all too often I get in the way. I start to talk too much about the things of Jesus and not Him.

I can tell you all sorts of things about my wife. Fun facts and figures that would make you think me a crazy stalker. I know every mannerism about my wife. Usually, I know something about my wife before she does because I study her so much. If I told you these things you would know about her too, but it would not drive you to want to meet her. You would know a good deal about her, but they would not be things that make you meet her and say “it’s so nice to meet you. I have heard so much about you.” Instead, you met her and say, “wow your husband knows you a lot.” By me telling you all the facts and stats about my wife you would learn a lot about me. You might even think I am awesome for knowing my wife so well. But that is not my goal. My goal is for you to meet her and thinks wow she is awesome.

The same goes for Jesus. I love to study the things about God (what we call theology). For me, it is so much fun. I enjoy talking about it and learning about it. I also think it is ridiculously important and the more I tell you about these things the more you will know things about Him too, but they will not drive you to want to know Him. The more I tell you about theology the more you might start to think “wow this guy really knows His Jesus.” But I don’t want you to know I know Jesus. I want you to know Him.

I want to talk about Him in such a way that you can’t wait to meet Him. That the more I talk about Him the more you think “I have to meet this Jesus.” That is all I want in life. I want others to know this same God who loves me and saved me from myself. I want people to know that Jesus loves them and wants to be part of their life. That Jesus looked down from heaven and said, “I want you.” That’s it, that is the good news right there. God sent His Son to come and be with you. That He says you are pretty messed up, but I want you and I am going to do something so big and so amazingly crazy to make this relationship work.

That is all I want right there. I just want to be so in love with Jesus that I talk about Him in such a way that people say to Him “it’s so nice to meet you. I have heard so much about you.”

Just a thought,

Mike

Faulty Teaching or Bad Language Part 2

In the last post, we looked at the results of some ideas that were put forth by the author of an article. They were that Jesus is no longer human and that reconciliation to the Father removes humanity. This time I want to tackle the next three which deal with emotions as it pertains to Christ, God, the Holy Spirit, and us (humans). As a reminder the sentence in question is “after Jesus ascended into heaven, he was no longer human. He had been fully reconciled to the Father and wasn’t experiencing human emotions and doubts anymore.” So, what we are going to look at is:

  • Jesus does not have human emotions. Statement
  • God does not have human emotions. Implication
  • God’s emotions and human emotions are different. Implication

All throughout the Bible emotions are ascribed to God. So, the question we are really asking is, when the Bible speaks of God having emotions is it anthropomorphic like when the Bible speaks of God having physical human traits (eyes, ears, arms, etc.)? Put another way does the Bible give God human emotions like it does physical attributes so we can relate or understand Him, or does He truly have emotions? Additionally, are our emotions as humans different than God’s emotions, if in fact, He has them.

First, just to give a clear picture the Bible does use figurative language about God. There are multiple passages about the eyes of the Lord or the arm of the Lord. This language is sometimes used to convey a nearness about God or His seeking of people. This type of language is used to communicate something about God in a way that we as people can understand. We can grasp things like eyes being used or seeing or arms used for strength, but we cannot grasp how the spirit seeks or has strength. It is something that is beyond our understanding. That should lead us to ask if the language used about God having emotion is similar language. Is the language used about God having emotions figurative? I say no.

To start with we must go to the beginning. Genesis 1:26 God says let us create man in our image. This tells us a lot because if I tell you I am building something like a motorcycle then when you come by you already have a reasonable idea of what you expect to see. You know what a motorcycle is, and you would expect to see something similar. Here what we have is God saying “I am going to create something like myself” so we should expect that whatever we have is like God right? Now let’s work backward. If I tell you I am building something like a motorcycle and you don’t know what motorcycle is then when you come by you have no idea what to expect. But, and here is the kicker once you see the thing I have built and learn that it is like a motorcycle you will then have an idea of what a motorcycle is like based on the new information. So, for starters what we have is an understanding that we are like God because we are made in His image. We have emotions and He has emotions. But there is more that is not simple reasoning.

I could leave it at that and I think that is a fairly decent argument but because there is more I will provide more. Theology places the perfections or attributes of God in categories. Why? Because we need more categories in the world. Anyway, two such categories are the Incommunicable and Communicable attributes of God. Incommunicable are attributes He alone possess and Communicable are ones He shares (for lack of a better term) with us. An attribute like Omnipresence (all present) is His alone but truth, while He possesses it to the ultimate degree, He shares with us. Omnipower (all powerful) is His alone but unity, as in being united as the body of Christ, we can share in. We can see there are things about God that rubbed off on us in creation. These are just two examples.

Emotion is one of those things. But how do we know this? Well, the most two popular are probably God saying He is a jealous God and Jesus weeping. However, because we are arguing the point of emotions for a preincarnate and ascended Christ we will skip over the earthly life of Christ for now even though I think that foolishness.

Here is a brief list I stole from a website because I am feeling a little lazy:

The list above shows us that God not only has emotions, but He has multiple emotions. More than that He is in control of His emotions. God is able to have emotions and not let them control Him. This, by the way, is an attribute of God which I place in the unity section because there is no division within God. He does not wrestle with His emotions like you or I do. He does not have to be conflicted over being angry at sin or feel sorry He hated something. There is perfect unity in His emotions.

I think one of the reasons people might reject the emotions of God is because to acknowledge that God has emotions and is able to remain in control (for lack of a better term) of them highlights the lack of emotional control we feel. We know that sometimes our emotions get the better of us and that we should do a better job at keeping them in control. To acknowledge that God has emotions is to either run the risk of being afraid God will fly off the handle at you or is to suggest you are not as in control of your own emotions as you think.

Additionally, we cannot attribute our general basic understanding of emotions to God. For example, we overuse and misuse the word love so much that when we attempt to think of God as love we uncut the real meaning of what that means. In the western world, and especially the English-speaking western world, we can say we love everything and the meaning can be anything from a fleeting infatuation to romantic desire to lifelong service to a spouse. The biblical definition of love, however, is vastly different. I like the way Charles Ryrie puts is when talking about love “love seeks the good of the object loved.”[1] Love is an emotion, but it is so much more too.

Lastly, because we have laid the groundwork we can probably now talk about the emotions Jesus has while in heaven and I will only mention one. Jesus sympathizes. According to Hebrews 4:15 Jesus sympathizes with our weakness. The Greek word is sympatheō. We could not even come up with an English word for the emotion or action. He intimately understands and relates to our weakness. Sympathy is an emotion and Jesus feels that for us while in heaven. This is why He lives to make intercession for His people.

None of this even gets into the emotions of the Holy Spirit see for example Eph 4:30. But whereas He is a full member of the Godhead He too has emotions.

We could probably keep going but I think the point is clear. Yes, Jesus has emotions because He is God and yes God the Father has emotions. God is not some impersonal force that is void of emotion who creates beings with emotions and then leaves them to fend for themselves. Jesus experienced all the “human” emotions and when He returned to the Father He kept those emotions.

We must be clear with the words we use to describe and talk about God because words are the basis for understanding and thinking. If we use the wrong words we start to get the wrong idea. It is not easy, and I have failed many times, but we must push forward never settling for cheap theology. We can never adequality explain God, but we can try to better understand and use the right words.

Just a thought,

Mike

[1] Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology, (Moody: Chicago 1999), 44.