What is the Gospel?

The Gospels tell the story of the Son of God Who became a human being, lived a sinless life, died a sacrificial death, was resurrected from the dead, and ascended back to the Father, offering salvation for all who believe in Him. The “good news” of the Gospel is the availability of God’s salvation to everyone who believes. Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” (NIV) Not everyone is open to the message, of course, and to some it sounds rather absurd. For me, when I first heard it as a youngster at thirteen, I was able to take it on blind faith. By the time I reached college, I started picking it apart, trying to reason it out and explain it. As Paul said, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)

Paul summarizes the Gospel message in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you –  unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

Who is Jesus?

This is the most important question a person could ever ask. We must know Who He is, and the Gospels provide the answer. Herod, who had John the Baptist beheaded, was perplexed by the miracles performed by Jesus and thought He was John raised from the dead. (Luke 9:7-9) Some thought Jesus was Elijah, risen. Christ asked His disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They respond in the same manner as Herod: John the Baptist, Elijah, or perhaps other risen Old Testament prophets. Jesus asks Peter, “But who do you say that I am? Peter answers, “God’s Messiah.” (Luke 9:18-20)(NIV)

The disciples had been rather slow in grasping Who Jesus is, and His earthly ministry was coming to an end. He was about to enter Jerusalem where He would suffer and die. Although Peter’s confession seems sincere, he ultimately denies Jesus three times. Of course, Peter later remembers his conversation with Jesus about His true identity, and it would strengthen him tremendously. Of course, this question is for all of us. Who do we say Jesus is? Do we fully grasp His identity?

What is the Meaning of His Death?

The death of Jesus served several purposes, some of what are interconnected. It was substitutionary He died for our sins in our place so that we will be freed from the death that we deserve. It is atonement for our sins – though we were separated from God through sin, we are now reconciled to Him (Romans 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18-20; Ephesians 2:26; Colossians 1:20, 21), thereby reuniting God and man in a personal relationship; thus the term “at-one-ment.” It is a propitiation one of my favorite terms, meaning appeasement or satisfaction (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10) – and it expiates our guilt. It redeems us. We are ransomed “with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Peter 1:18-19; Mark 10:45; Matthew 20:28), and are forgiven (Colossians 1:14) and delivered from the curse of sin. (Ephesians 1:7)

Through His death we are adopted as children of God, having been born again through faith in Christ (John 1:12), and we are justified, as we are declared legally righteous. (Romans 3:21-26) Charles Spurgeon argues that when God sees saved sinners, He no longer sees sin in them but instead sees His dear Son  Jesus Christ covering us as a veil. “God will never strike a soul through the veil of His Son’s sacrifice,” says Spurgeon. “He accepts us because He cannot but accept His Son, who has become our covering.”

The Reality of His Resurrection.

Paul writes, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) The Christian message that Jesus conquered Satan, sin, and death is not allegorical. As expressed in Genesis 3:15, Jesus allowed Satan to “strike His heal” by voluntarily dying on the cross, but in the very process of dying (and being resurrected), Jesus “crushed [Satan’s] head,” thereby defeating Satan, sin, and death. It’s been said by William Romaine, evangelical author and minister of the Church of England in the mid- to late 1700s, that “Death stung himself to death when he stung Christ.” You might recall that the honey bee, when it stings, cannot retract its stinger, thereby tearing out part of its digestive tract, leading to its death. In this regard, the honey bee sacrifices itself in defense of the hive.

Christ’s resurrection consummates God’s salvation plan for mankind. The historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection is pivotal to Christianity. Paul writes, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith… And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17-19)(NIV)

A Call to Repent.

Repentance is not a separate requirement for salvation. We are saved through faith alone, but repentance goes hand-in-hand with believing. Faith and repentance must be seen as marriage partners and never separated. Repentance is a change of attitude and action from sin toward obedience to God. The Greek word for repentance (metanoó) literally means “I change my mind.” I’ve heard it described as a turning away from or doing a 180. This is a big issue for me. Presently, I am at a crossroads where I am finally ready to be obedient to God. Repentance signifies a person attaining a divinely provided new understanding of his or her behavior, and feeling compelled to change and begin a new relationship with God. Hebrews 6:1 says, “Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death.” (NIV) Walter Elwell, noted evangelical author, declares that repentance is “literally a change of mind, not about individual plans, intentions, or beliefs, but rather a change in the whole personality from a sinful course of action to God.”

A Call to Believe.

To believe in Jesus Christ requires more than mere intellectual assent that He is the Son of God. Saving faith is not merely accepting certain propositions as true. After all, even the demons believe and shudder. (James 2:19) I had a sponsor in my 12-step program say to me, “I hope one day you get God from your mind to your heart.” At first, I was offended. How dare you question my commitment to God? Yet my behavior was nowhere consistent with the Christian worldview I claimed to hold true to my heart.Indeed, I needed to stop thinking about God and start living God.

A call to believe involves trusting in Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins. It involves an act of the will. Personally, I have come to believe that our will resides in our heart and not in our mind. We have to see it as a faith-union with Christ, in which we cleave to our Savior. We need only believe in Christ for our eternal salvation. Nothing else is required. The Bible is clear on this. When the Philippian jailer asks Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved, they respond, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved – and your household.” (Acts 16:30-31) We cannot earn our way to salvation. This plagued Martin Luther as a young monk. He wrestled with Romans 1:17 for months, lying awake at night, convinced he could never attain the righteous needed to live by faith. He constantly confessed his sins, fearful he’d left something out and would not be forgiven. He practiced self-sacrifice in order to “earn” God’s favor. His epiphany came when he realized God’s righteousness is not acquired by works but by belief.

Salvation is a gift from God. Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9, “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.” (NIV)

My hope is that you have found salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. If you have not made that step, but are ready to do so, here is a simple prayer you can say right now:

Lord Jesus, for too long I’ve kept you out of my life. I know that I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself. No longer will I close the door when I hear you knocking. By faith I gratefully receive your gift of salvation. I am ready to trust you as my Lord and Savior. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth. I believe you are the Son of God who died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead on the third day. Thank you for bearing my sins and giving me the gift of eternal life. I believe your words are true. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, and be my Savior. Amen.

God bless.

Steven Barto

Is the New Testament Authentic?

The following is based upon information taken directly from David Limbaugh’s “The True Jesus: Uncovering the Divinity of Christ in the Gospels,” chapter two, “New Testament Basics Building Blocks of the Revelation.” I recently added this book to my personal library and highly recommend it, along with Limbaugh’s “Jesus on Trial.” Both are available at Amazon.com through this link: David Limbaugh

The authenticity of the New Testament documents is shown by dating the original documents – none of which still exist – and determining how much time passed between those writings and the events they record, assessing how many copies we have of those writings, and examining them for accuracy, measuring the time gap between the original writings and the oldest copies we have, and then comparing our findings with those of manuscripts of ancient secular history.

Most scholars – liberal and conservative – agree that Christ died between 30 and 33 A.D., and that all the gospel accounts were written in the first century between twenty-five and fifty years after those dates. This is a short period considering this was an oral culture in which people would have memorized these accounts before reducing them to writing. Many scholars believe the gospel writers may have referred to earlier written accounts for some of their material. As noted, Christians agreed on and shared much creedal information about Jesus well before the New Testament writings, and many references to this “Jesus tradition” appear in Paul’s epistles, some of which predate the writing of the gospels. You might be thinking that such an oral tradition, combined with scribes writing down information over hundreds of years in various geographic locations, would lead to errors in the text. You’re correct. But, as we’ll see later, these were minor spelling, grammatical and punctuation errors that had no impact whatsoever on the doctrine itself.

The original twenty-seven New Testament manuscripts probably perished within decades of their composition because the writers didn’t write on bricks, rocks, or wooden tablets, but on paper – Egyptian papyrus (see John’s reference to his writing tools in 2 John 1:12; 3 John 1:13). What remains are handwritten copies called manuscripts. Inevitably, mistakes occurred in the copying process, no matter how meticulous and skilled the scribes were. To evaluate the accuracy of manuscript copies for the New Testament writings – or any other ancient books for that matter – textual critics study the differences in wording to determine the precise composition of the original manuscript. New Testament manuscripts are so plentiful that, according to Professor Craig Blomberg, textual criticism enables us to reconstruct what the New Testament authors wrote with a high degree of accuracy.

There are more than 25,000 New Testament manuscripts in existence, some 5,800 of which are in the original Greek (kione – common Greek vernacular spoken on the streets during the time of Jesus), which range from the early second century to the sixteenth century. Though we don’t have a complete manuscript dated before the third century, many fragments exist that include a substantial amount of the New Testament. There are also a million-plus New Testament quotations in the writings of the early church fathers. The number of surviving New Testament manuscripts dwarfs those of ancient secular writings. There are one thousand times as many existing manuscripts of the New Testament than of the average classical author’s works (between ten and twenty copies). Homer’s Iliad is the exception, but even those copies are limited to about 1,800, which is less than ten percent of the total amount of New Testament copies.

What about the “errors” in the New Testament? Aren’t they terribly problematic for those who maintain the Bible is inerrant? In a word, no. Inerrancy  only pertains to the oral or written proclamation of the originally inspired prophets and apostles. As such, it does not exist. Not only was their communication of the Word of God efficacious in teaching the truth of revelation (there is literally power and life in the Word), but their transmission of that Word was error-free. David Limbaugh relates that he was skeptical about the issue of errors, especially as it might relate to doctrine. His research led him to the discovery that nearly every error was relative to spelling, style, and other grammatical trivialities, and that only about one percent of the variants – differences in wording – bear on the meaning of the text, with none affecting any major Christian doctrine. (Limbaugh notes this refers to one percent of the errors, not one percent of the entire text!) Richard Bentley, a classical English biblical critic, confirms that these minor errors do not pervert or set aside “one article of faith or moral precept.”

Even Bart Ehrman, the most famous manuscript scholar who has been skeptical of orthodox Christianity, affirms that “the essential Christian beliefs are not affected by actual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.” Evangelical scholars Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace observe, “Any uncertainty over the wording of the original New Testament does not have an impact on major teachings of the New Testament. They certainly do not affect the deity of Christ. There is simply no room for uncertainty about what the New Testament originally taught.” What matters, says Carl Henry, is whether these variants corrupt the substantive content of the original and whether they “convey the truth of revelation in reliable verbal form, and infallibly lead the penitent reader to salvation.”

As an aside to David Limbaugh’s work, I want to note that it is not uncommon for Muslims to claim that the Bible is corrupted, and therefore not trustworthy. It is their contention that the angel Gabriel came to Mohammad and dictated to him – and only him over a period of twenty-three years in a cave – and that the Qur’an is the corrected truth. We should ask when this supposed corruption occurred? The Qur’an actually states that the Bible is the Word of God (Surah 5:43, 44, 46, 68; Surah 4:136; Surah 10:91; Surah 15:9; Surah 6:34; Surah 10:64). If the Bible was corrupted, was it before the time of Mohammad? Why then would God (Allah) tell Mohammad to look to the Scriptures for guidance and light? If the corruption occurred after the time of Mohammad, then why don’t Muslims accept the Bible as authoritative as our current translations are based upon manuscripts that predate Mohammad by hundreds of years? The earliest textual evidence we have for the Bible (the Dead Sea Scrolls and thousands of partial and complete Greek New Testament manuscripts dating back to within the first three centuries A.D.) simply does not allow for the claim of widespread corruption of the Bible.

The gap between the earliest New Testament manuscript fragment – the John Rylands Fragment (117-138 A.D.), which contains five verses from John 18 – and the original is less than fifty years. Another New Testament fragment, the Bodmer Papyri, which contains most of John’s books and Luke, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and Jude, is dated circa 200 A.D., so there is a gap of between 100 and 140 years between the manuscript and the original. Even more impressive is the Chester Beatty Papyri (circa 250 A.D.) – a gap of 150-plus years from the completion of the originals – which contains most of the New Testament. The Codex Vaticanus (325-350 A.D.) contains the great majority of the New Testament and the Greek Old Testament. The Codex Sinaiticus (340 A.D.) – found on the Sinai Peninsula – is the oldest existing manuscript of the entire New Testament, and contains much of the Old Testament. These date some 250 years from the originals. Again, compared to existing manuscripts for ancient secular texts, the gap between the original and the copies is much smaller for the New Testament. The time gap between the original Iliad and the oldest existing manuscript of the work is between 350 and 400 years, but for most other secular works the gap exceed a thousand years.

The New Testament documents are copied accurately, and there are more copies, with many earlier copies, than any other book from the ancient world. As British paleographer and biblical and classical scholar Sir Fredric Kenyon states, “The interval between the dates of the original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.”

I never had any doubt.

REFERENCES

Carlson, J. (Mar. 19, 2014). Responding to the Muslim Claims That the Bible is Corrupt. [Msg. 1] Message posted to: https://www.chess.com/clubs/forum/view/responding-to-the-muslim-claims-that-the-bible-is-corrupt

Limbaugh, D. (2017). The True Jesus: Uncovering the Divinity of Christ in the Gospels. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing

 

The Genesis Problem: The Methodological Atheism of Science

“There is no such thing as philosophy-free science. There is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination.”
– Daniel Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea

YOU DECIDE TO SIT DOWN and examine science in order to come to a better understanding of the empirical world around you. This seems to be a sound proposition, yet there is a problem. The issue is not with modern science itself, but rather with a faulty view of science: The idea that science is a complete framework for understanding man and the universe, and that unscientific claims should be automatically rejected. Scientists naturally like to think of themselves as reasonable people, ready to follow the path of evidence no matter where it takes them. Carl Sagan’s boast is typical in this regard: “At the heart of science is … an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counter-intuitive.” Of course, we must also remember that virtually everyone comes to a subject matter already in possession of a particular bias or worldview. That’s fine. What is not okay is when an individual denies his or her biases or presuppositions, or, worse yet, is dishonest about them when presenting their findings.

Stephen Hawking explains why a large number of theorists were attracted to the steady state theory of the origin of the universe. Steady state theory posits that the universe is always expanding, but it is maintaining a constant average density, with matter being constantly created to form new stars and galaxies at the same rate that old ones become unobservable as a consequence of their increasing distance and velocity of receding. He said, “There were therefore a number of attempts to avoid the conclusion that there had been a big bang … Many people do not like the idea that time has a beginning, probably because it smacks of divine intervention.” For some time Hawking had given the impression that he is neither a strong believer nor disbeliever in a higher power, but in 2014 he told a symposium, “Before we understood science, it was natural to believe that God created the universe, but now science offers a more convincing explanation.” This is decidedly quite a reversal of opinion.

Astronomer and physicist Lee Smolin complained, “Must all of our scientific understanding of the world really come down to a [seemingly] mythological story in which nothing exists … save some disembodied intelligence, who, desiring to start a world, chooses the initial conditions and then wills matter into being?” Man must ultimately confront nature in order to develop a sense of who he is within nature itself. Indeed, by default one’s worldview will have an impact on how one defines nature. For example, Western societies do not generally confront nature with the same sense of respect. For us, the physical realm of “not man” is indifferent to man. In the Western Hemisphere, we believe nature exists for man to harness for his own purposes. We do not conform to the universe; rather, we seek to conform the universe to us and our needs. Phillips, Brown & Stonestreet. (2008) How we confront and interpret nature has a direct impact on understanding our place in it.

Today all evidence of God is a priori rejected by science. Even empirical evidence of the kind normally admissible in science is refused a hearing. It doesn’t matter how strong or reliable the evidence is, scientists acting in their professional capacity are obliged to ignore it. If you know anything about the history of the church, all of this may seem surprising, in view of how science developed out of the theological premises and institutions of Christianity. Copernicus, Kepler, Boyle, and others all saw a deep compatibility between science and religion. All believed in God. Today, however, scientists typically admit there is a specific orderliness to the universe and nature, but refuse to consider the source of that orderliness. Science has front-men like Stephen Hawking to attempt to convince everyone that the laws of physics and the language of genetics came from nothing.

Today’s atheists, Dawkins and the others, seem naively to believe they are the apostles of reason who are merely following the evidence. It is important to note that modern science seems to be based on an unwavering alliance to naturalism and materialism. Naturalism is the doctrine that nature is all there is. It is a philosophical viewpoint according to which everything arises from natural properties and causes. Supernatural or spiritual explanations are excluded or discounted. Materialism is the belief that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications. Material reality is the only reality. Of course these philosophical doctrines – naturalism and materialism – have never been proven. In fact, they cannot be proven because it is impossible to demonstrate that immaterial reality does not exist. Naturalism and materialism are not scientific conclusions; rather, they are scientific premises. They are not discovered in nature but imposed upon nature. In short, they are articles of faith.

Here’s something to ponder which was written by Richard Lewontin, geneticist and author of Billions and Billions of Demons:

“We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment – a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori commitment to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.” [Emphasis added.]

The million-dollar question: Is science intrinsically atheistic? Well, yes. From a procedural or narrow sense, science is anti-God. And this is probably okay, because we don’t want scientists who run into difficulty proving their theories to get out of the dilemma simply by saying, “You know, I’m not going to investigate this any longer. I’m just going to put it down as a miracle.” Could you imagine what would happen to the “reputation” of miracles if we called everything we cannot understand a miracle? Moreover, there are many religious scientists who find no difficulty in working within the domain of procedural atheism while at the same time holding their religious beliefs. Biologist Francis Collins says that as a biologist he investigates natural explanations for the origin of life, while as a Christian he believes that there are also supernatural forces at work. Science is not the only way of knowing.

The more I read the works of today’s apologists and the counter-arguments of today’s atheists, the clearer it becomes to me that we are slowly uncovering scientific facts that speak loudly of the existence of a creative force in the universe. I see that reality goes much deeper than the scientific portrait of it. Many people regard scientific and religious claims as inherently contradictory simply because they are unwitting captives to a second type of atheism, which has been identified as philosophical atheism. The best way to define this term is the dogma that material and natural reality is all that exists. Everything else is illusory. Atheists of this persuasion, and this would include Richard Dawkins, pretend that because God cannot be discovered through science – which is a dubious claim anyway! – God cannot be discovered at all.

Here’s the thing about philosophical atheism: Only data that fit the theory are allowed into the theory. By contrast, the theist is much more open-minded and reasonable. The theist does not deny the validity of scientific reasoning. Again, we have only to look to the great scientists who were Christians. The theist is entirely willing to acknowledge material and natural causes for events. After all, it is God who put the laws of physics in motion when He created the universe. I am of the firm belief that physic did not exist before the universe existed, therefore physics cannot be used to explain how the universe came into being. (Consider, for example, the first law of thermodynamics.) However, the theist also admits the possibility of other types of knowledge

Let me take a moment to point out something very few have focused on in arguing that God simply cannot exist because the explanation of a supreme deity is far too simple to be true. They claim belief in God cannot explain the complex theory of evolution. Richard Dawkins, in his seminal book The God Delusion, faults theologian Richard Swinburne’s concept that examination of electrons shows God’s hand in all of creation, and His ongoing sustenance of all that exists. Swinburne said billions and billions of electrons, all with the same properties, all working together in perfect symmetry, is too much of a coincidence. Dawkins states, “But how can Swinburne possibly maintain that this hypothesis of God simultaneously keeping a gazillion fingers on wayward electrons is a simple hypothesis? It is, of course, precisely the opposite of simple. Swinburne pulls off the trick to his own satisfaction by a breathtaking piece of intellectual chutzpah. He asserts, without justification, that God is only a single substance. What brilliant economy of explanatory causes, compared with all those gigazillions of independent electrons all just happening to be the same!”

First of all, Dawkins and many others continue to quote statements made decades, and sometimes centuries, ago in support of their attack on theists, and do not include remarks that indicate how far science and religion have come as partners in discovering the origin of life. For example, some modern theorists see randomness as a genuine design feature, and not just as a physicalist gloss. Their challenge is to explain how divine providence is compatible with genuine randomness. (Under a deistic view, one could simply say that God started the universe off and did not interfere with how it went, but that option is not open to the theist, and most authors in the field of science and religion are theists, rather than deists.)

Elizabeth Johnson (1996), using a Thomistic view of divine action, argues that divine providence and true randomness are compatible: God gives creatures true causal powers, thus making creation more excellent than if they lacked such powers, and random occurrences are also secondary causes; chance is a form of divine creativity that creates novelty, variety, and freedom. One implication of this view is that God may be a risk taker – although, if God has a providential plan for possible outcomes, there is unpredictability but not risk. Johnson uses metaphors of risk-taking that, on the whole, leave the creator in a position of control (creation, then, is like jazz improvisation), but it is, to her, a risk nonetheless. Why would God take risks? There are several solutions to this question. The free will theodicy says that a creation that exhibits randomness can be truly free and autonomous:

Authentic love requires freedom, not manipulation. Such freedom is best supplied by the open contingency of evolution, and not by strings of divine direction attached to every living creature. (Miller 1999/2007: 289)

What’s fascinating to me is that none of these cherished atheist theories can account for the origin of life, the origin of consciousness, or the origin of human rationality and morality. Any theory that cannot account for these landmark stages can hardly claim to have solved the problem of origins, either of life or of the universe. The universe could not have evolved solely through natural selection, as the universe makes up the whole of nature. Someone made the universe and prescribed the laws that govern its operations. There are innumerable life forms in the universe. These life forms are the product of evolution (natural selection), and Darwin and his successors have elegantly elucidated how the selection process occurred. Of this I have no doubt. Accordingly, I am not a hardcore young earth creationist. But evolution has no explanation for the origin of the universe or its laws. So how can evolution undercut the argument from design as it applies to the universe itself and the laws that govern it?

Simple. Scientific truth is not the entire truth.

REFERENCES

Dawkins, R. (2008). The God Delusion. New York, NY: Mariner Books
DeCruz, H. (2017). “Religion and Science.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Science. (Spring 2017 Edition). URL: https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2017/entries/religion-science/
D’Souza, D. (2007). What’s So Great About Christianity? Carol Stream, IL: Tyndall Press
Phillips, W., Brown, W. and Stonestreet, J. (2008). Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview. Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing Company

 

Jesus Calling

EXCERPT FROM JESUS CALLING
©2014 Sarah Young
August 8

I SPEAK TO YOU from deepest heaven. You hear Me in the depths of your being. Deep calls unto deep. You are blessed to hear Me so directly. Never take this privilege for granted. The best response is a heart overflowing with gratitude. I am training you to cultivate a thankful mind-set. This is like building your house on a firm rock, where life’s storms cannot shake you. As you learn these lessons, you are to teach them to others. I will open up the way before you, one step at a time.

PSALM 42:7-8 NKJV; PSALM 95:1-2; MATTHEW 7:24-25

Martin Luther and the Righteousness of God

It was 500 years ago this year when Martin Luther took a stand against the various aspects of corruption and misguided doctrine within the Roman Catholic Church, thus launching the Reformation. On the heels of my class on the History of Christianity at Colorado Christian University, I read an article in Christianity Today, January/February 2017, Vol. 61, No. 1, by David Zahl, titled, “Justify Yourself.” I find the Protestant Reformation to be a very engaging and fascinating topic, and, indeed, consider Martin Luther to be one of my heroes of the Medieval Church. It was an easy decision for me to do my final paper on Martin Luther.

Luther

Zahl, wondering whether the Reformation is over, writes, “Don’t we get the message already? Aren’t we all on the same page when it comes to salvation by grace through faith? The short answer appears to be no.” This has been true for me personally, which is why I have struggled for decades with my will versus God’s, and with forgetting that I am nowhere near equipped to ever be justified by my own actions. I consider myself somewhat of an amateur scholar of the Apostle Paul, especially of his Epistle to the Romans. I find chapters six, seven and eight of Romans to explain the very essence of the Gospel. I relate fully to Paul’s commentary on warring with the flesh, especially having spent forty years in active addiction.

LUTHER’S BREAKTHROUGH

Martin Luther had an overpowering sense of his own sinfulness. He spent a great deal of time in confession, and often worried that he might have “forgotten” something he did wrong, thereby not making a thorough confession. He believed this would put him in jeopardy of losing the reward of being completely forgiven. As a monk, he was remarkably astute. He plunged into prayer, fasting, and ascetic practices – going without sleep, enduring bone-chilling cold without a blanket, and flagellating himself. As he later commented, “If anyone could have earned heaven by the life of a monk, it was I.”

Though he sought by these means to love God fully, he found no consolation. He was increasingly terrified of the wrath of God. Not knowing what to do, he began pouring over the first chapter of Romans. The 17th verse was literally keeping him up at night: “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, the just shall live by faith.” (KJV) Luther had been trained in the Medieval understanding of Paul’s phrase the righteousness of God as being shorthand for the awesome holiness of God, before which all of mankind must quake in fear. Basically, Luther understood the verse to mean, “The Gospel reveals that God punishes sinners,” which, of course, is no Gospel at all.

In his article, David Zahl writes, “Brother Martin, you see, possessed what might politely be called an overactive conscience. Today he’d likely be termed a neurotic or ‘a real handful.’ Whatever the root of his sensitivities, they had already driven him into a monastery, where he hoped a life of radical service might bring him the peace with God he craved.” Finally, on this particular day, as Luther meditated on Romans 1:17, he had an epiphany. Zahl said this is how Luther described it: “I grasped that the righteousness of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon, I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.”

As Zahl explained in his article, Luther came to realize the difference between the righteousness of the law and the righteousness of the Gospel, or that which can be earned by man (although not really!) and that which is given by God. Prior to this point in this studies, Luther regarded both God’s law and His Gospel as the same thing, and held that there was no difference between Christ and Moses except their degrees of perfection. Luther said, “When I realized the law was one thing, and the Gospel another, I broke through and was free.”

RADICAL DISTINCTION IN AN UNDIVIDED WORD

It’s been said many times that there’s really nothing new under the sun. What was believed hundreds of years ago is often still considered true today. I, for one, believed for many years that the Bible is divided into two halves. There is the Old Testament (the Law of God) and the New Testament (the Gospel of God). Of course, this in effect shackles the Word of God. The distinction between the Law and the Gospel is less about imposing a doctrinal straight-jacket on the Bible than about engaging a living God over the entirety of an unfolding story. If anything, reading the Bible through the eyeglasses of “law” and “Gospel” safeguards the Word from being read predominantly as an instruction manual and more as a living instrument of the Spirit that proclaims God’s work in the world on behalf of sinners in need of saving. From cover to cover, the Bible is about creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.

As Zahl puts it, “Indeed, the distinction between law and Gospel is a powerful explanation of how the Bible doesn’t just sit there; it reaches out and grasps us, shakes us, transforms us, frees, us – it kills us and makes us alive. Luther said, “There is no man on living Earth who knows how to distinguish rightly between the law and the Gospel. We may think  we understand it when we are listening to a sermon, but we’re far from it.” Luther believed only the Holy Spirit knows how to make this distinction.

THE LAW

Luther believed that God has spoken to human beings and continues to speak to human beings in two words: law and Gospel. He believed these words are distinct from one another but not inseparable. The basic distinction is as follows: The law tells us what we ought to do; the Gospel tells us what God has done. The law shows us that we need to be forgiven; the Gospel announces that we have been forgiven. The law paves the way for the Gospel by revealing our predicament, and the Gospel proclaims the Good News to those struck down by the law.

What most of us think of when we think of “the law” in religious terms is, of course, the capital-L Law of God, the Oughts and Ought Nots that we find spelled out in the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. We automatically think of the great commandments of God: don’t steal, don’t kill, don’t worship idols, love God with all your heart. This Law shows us the true outline of holiness. And in doing so, it reveals us to be selfish, obstinate, self-centered people, fundamentally flawed, turned away from what is right, away from God Himself. Of course, the Law ultimately shows us our own mortality, for it reveals the wages of sin. (Romans 6:23)

I’m impressed by Luther’s description of the law as “a constant guest” in our conscience. Zahl puts it this way: “You might say that the little-l law is the air we breath as human beings, the default setting, the quid pro quo that characterizes our internal life and much of our external one as well.” In other words, to get approval, we have to achieve something. We have to do something. Behavior precedes belovedness: Climb the ladder, or else. Zahl makes an interesting comment that we could be walking down the street, mid-week, not giving any thought to last Sunday’s lesson at church, yet our behavior is governed by subconscious commands telling us, in much the same dogmatic fashion that was once reserved for religious commands, “Thou shalt be skinny, successful, independent, self-actualized.” We have grown accustomed to the internalized voice of a demanding parent; that feeling of never being quite enough, which drives us to the point of exhaustion.

THE GOSPEL

The second word, Gospel, means good news. News is not a command. Command comes in the imperative voice – “Do this” – and news in the indicative voice – “This has been done.” Look at it this way: We typically watch the evening news to hear what has happened or has been done. For Christians, of course, the good news is Jesus Christ, who died and rose again, taking the entirety of God’s wrath upon Himself and setting us free. The Gospel announces that because of Christ’s death and resurrection we are justified by grace through faith: not by what we do, or even by who are are, but by what Christ has done and who He is. Our guilt has been atoned for, and the deepest judgment satisfied, reconciling us with the Father. While the law is conditional – a two-way street – the gift of Christ is unconditional. Like all true gifts, we have to do nothing to earn it or deserve it. His affection cannot be bought or merited. It is a free gift with no strings attached. Jesus simply gave.

Much like capital-L and little-l forms of law, there exists a corollary between the capital-G Gospel of Jesus and little-g grace in human affairs. We see this played out in our own lives  and those of others around us. When it comes to lifting the human spirit, nothing is more potent than love in the midst of deserved judgments. This is sometimes referred to as unconditional love. Grace proves, time and again, to be the force that inspires service and creativity; hope and vulnerability; new life. Biblical figures like Zachaeus and Gomer, fictional ones like Jean Valjean and Ebenezer Scrooge, and historical figures like John Newton and Martin Luther King, Jr. testify to such human qualities.

A grace-centered view of the world takes for granted that we are all severely handicapped in our ability to love one another, and that we stand a better chance of loving our neighbor when we aren’t looking to them to do or be what they cannot do or be. Christian hope, therefore, lies in not having to generate love on our own steam but in prior belovedness, expressed in sacrificial terms, and in spite of our being undeserving. This, of course, is the very definition of divine love. It is known by its tendency to seek out and care for the unlovable. The law commands that we love perfectly; the Gospel tells us that we are perfectly loved. Consider, for a moment, how “humanly” impossible it is to love in the manner described in 1 Corinthians 13 (“The Message” translation):

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

One of Luther’s earliest and most important expressions came in thesis 26 of The Heidelberg Disputation (1518). He wrote, “The law says, ‘Do this,’ and it is never done. Grace says, ‘Believe in this,’ and everything is already done.” As Zahl notes, “The pressure to self-justify has been removed, and it has been replaced with freedom: the freedom to die and yet to live, to fail and yet to succeed. The freedom to love, to serve, to wait, to laugh, to cry, to sit idle, to get busy – yes, even to play.”

The Blind Shall See

The following is an excerpt from “As Easy as Drinking Water: A Muslim Forgiven,” by Afshin Javid. Afshin, an extremely devout Muslim boy, had sought to please God in every way by following the words of the Qur’an. Having committed himself to live and die for Islam, at the age of 12 he joined Hezbollah. Later, in obedience to his grandfather’s commission to preach Islam to North Americans, Afshin attempted illegal immigration to the West. Plans went awry when he was arrested and imprisoned in Malaysia’s infamous Pudu Jail.

“As Easy as Drinking Water” is the life story of Afshin Javid, who, in an hour of darkness, had an encounter with Jesus that would change his life forever. As you will see from reading Afshin’s memoir, he cried out to God in desperation in his cell one night. He felt a hand on his shoulder and asked who it was. A voice said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Not sure what this meant, or who the presence was, Afshin again asked, “What is your name?” The voice said, “I am Jesus Christ.” Afshin said he fell immediately to his face on the floor of his cell. From that point on, he was commissioned to tell the world of God’s marvelous love and His desire to forgive. This excerpt is from the chapter titled “The Blind Shall See.”

***

DURING ONE OF OUR Friday evening services, a young blind Bengali man in his late twenties or early thirties tapped his way through the entrance of the church with a cane. He sat and listened to the service, and at the end he came forward during the prayer time. One of our members greeted him at the front.

“How can we pray for you?”

“I was born blind, but I would like to see. Can you pray for me to be able to see?”

“Of course we can pray for this,” someone said.

“Yes,” I said, “there is no reason why you cannot be healed today. There are plenty of stories in the Bible where Jesus healed incurable diseases, including blindness. There is no reason why He can’t do it today.”

There happened to be a doctor in attendance who was visiting our church. Having overheard the story, he felt he needed to protect us from embarrassing ourselves and making God look bad in the process.

“Everyone should know that if this man was born blind, it probably means he had an infection in the womb that destroyed his retina, or maybe he has some other inherited problem. Whatever the cause, the nerves from his eyes cannot carry any signal to his brain. The connections are broken. I don’t think that praying is going to work here.”

“I really don’t understand what you are trying to explain to us, and further, I don’t want your thoughts to stand in the way of us trying to pray for healing,” I said.

“It’s like the plug for a lamp,” he said. “If you cut the cord, you can’t get any power to the lamp. Praying for this man is going to put us all in an awkward position. When nothing happens, we will have to explain why. It would be better to not pray at all.”

I didn’t understand anything about how eyes work, how nerves work, or how the brain works – and I still don’t. What he was saying was all mumbo jumbo. I only knew one thing. James 5:14-15 says, “Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.” (NASB)

It does not say, “Pray only for people with certain diseases.” It says, “Pray for the sick.” For me, praying for the sick was as simple as that: “Pray for the sick.” It did not seem all that complicated. It was not my responsibility to be certain that God was going to do what I asked for. It was my responsibility to be obedient to His command, which was to pray.

Sometimes God does not heal but says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9), and other times He says, “Yes, I will heal.” Why He says what He says, and how He answers prayers, are His business. These are management decisions. I am a soldier. I don’t get to make management decisions. I just have to do what I am told.

So I turned and said, “Doctor, I don’t care what you say. I am not deterred by the specifics of this man’s medical problems. I am approaching the One who created this man, and I am asking Him for healing. I can assure you I have no power of my own to do anything. I just take orders.” I felt a little bad for the doctor. I understand that as a medical professional and an intellectual, he was trying to help us out. But sometimes, too much knowledge has a negative effect on our ability to take God at His word.

We all gathered around the man and prayed a very simple prayer, short, to the point, in faith, and in obedience. “Lord, would you stretch out your hand and heal this man in the Name of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Please give him back his eyesight, Lord.”

The next thing we knew the man said, “I can see something! It’s kind of blurry, but I can see!” We all immediately burst into praise and shouts to the Lord. We were so excited to see such a miracle happen right in front of us.

“Hallelujah!” people were shouting.

“Praise God!” echoed around the room. It sounded like the home team had won a football game. The doctor tried to calm us all down and assure us that we were completely deluded.

“Hey, everyone, just settle down. There is no way this man can see anything,” he assured us. “Look, I will show you.” The doctor raised four fingers in front of the man’s face. “How many fingers am I holding up, sir?” he said. Without waiting for a response, he looked over to us smugly. He was certain that the man would not be able to answer. “Four,” the man said.

“You see? He can’t see anything.” The doctor looked down at his own hand and realized he was holding up four fingers. I must confess that the fact that the doctor could not remember how many fingers he had held up added to the moment in a most gratifying way. I am not sure who was more shocked – the man who had been healed or the doctor. Jesus performed this miracle for the Father’s glory in the same manner as when He was living among us: “As He went along, He saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked Him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.'” (John 9:1-3)

Sometimes, as Christians, we try too hard to protect the reputation of the God we serve. Because we are afraid He might not answer our prayer, we avoid praying altogether. We don’t want anyone to say, “Your god does not exist!” or “Your god never answers!” That day I learned we should never assume the role of God’s protector and defender because it may lead us to misguided inaction, preventing Him from doing a miracle. On the flip side, many have tried to defend God with misguided action, and in so doing have wrongly shed blood in His name. It’s best to let God defend His own reputation, and do only what He commands.

This experience built my faith tremendously. After that day, I fully believed that whenever I had the opportunity to pray for the lame, the blind, or the sick of any sort, they would be healed instantly and restored to health. I thought of these words from Scripture: “And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” (Mark 16:17-18)

Afshin Javid

Jesus Calling

EXCERPT FROM JESUS CALLING
©2014 Sarah Young
July 19

Bring Me all your feelings, even the ones you wish you didn’t have. Fear and anxiety still plague you. Feelings per se are not sinful, but they can be temptations to sin. Blazing missiles of fear fly at you day and night; these attacks from the evil one come at you relentlessly. Use your shield of faith to extinguish those flaming arrows. Affirm your trust in Me, regardless of how you feel. If you persist, your feelings will eventually fall in line with your faith.

Do not hide from your fear or pretend it isn’t there. Anxiety that you hide in the recesses of your heart will give birth to the fear of fear: a monstrous mutation. Bring your anxieties out into the Light of My Presence, where we can deal with them together. Concentrate on trusting Me, and fearfulness will gradually lose it foothold within you.

EPHESIANS 6:16; 1 JOHN 1:5-7; ISAIAH 12:2

Jesus Calling

EXCERPT FROM JESUS CALLING
©2004 Sarah Young

July 14

Keep walking with Me along the path I have chosen for you. Your desire to live close to Me is a delight to My heart. I could instantly grant you the spiritual riches you desire, but that is not My way for you. Together we will forge a pathway up the high mountain. The journey is arduous at times, and you are weak. Someday you will dance light-footed on the high peaks; but for now your walk is often plodding and heavy. All I require of you is to take the next step, clinging to My hand for strength and direction. Though the path is difficult and the scenery dull at the moment, there are sparkling surprises just around the bend. Stay on the path I have selected for you. It is truly the path of life.

ISAIAH 40:31; PSALM 37:23-24; PSALM 16:11

Where Is This God of Yours?

Whenever I am feeling lost or frustrated, or think God is not there, I remember the trials and tribulations of David, which prompts me to open my Bible to the Psalms. Today I opened my copy of “The Message//Remix” translation by Eugene H. Peterson and remarkably the ribbon bookmark was at Psalm 42. I decided to share it with you.

A white-tailed deer drinks
from the creek;
I want to drink God,
deep drafts of God.
I’m thirsty for God-alive.
I wonder, “Will I ever make it –
arrive and drink in God’s presence?”
I’m on a diet of tears –
tears for breakfast, tears for supper.
All day long
people knock at my door,
Pestering,
“Where is this God of yours?

These are the things I go over and over
emptying out the pockets of my life.
I was always at the head of the worshiping crowd,
right out front,
Leading them all,
eager to arrive and worship,
Shouting praises, singing thanksgiving –
celebrating, all of us, God’s feast.

Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God –
soon I’ll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face.
He’s my God.

When my soul is in the dumps, I rehearse
everything I know of you,
From Jordan depths to Hermon heights,
including Mount Mizar,
Chaos calls to chaos,
to the tune of whitewater rapids.
Your breaking surf, your thundering breakers
crash and crush me.
Then God promises to love me all day,
sing songs all through the night.
My life is God’s prayer.

Sometimes I ask God, my rock-solid God,
“Why did you let me down?
Why am I walking around in tears,
harassed by my enemies?”
They’re out for the kill, these
tormentors with their obscenities,
Taunting day after day,
“Where is this God of yours?”

Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
Fix my eyes on God –
soon I’ll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face.
He’s my God.

©2006 Eugene H. Peterson. The Message//Remix: The Bible in Contemporary Language

What Good Is Work? Is Government Assistance Biblical?

“Christians must revive a centuries-old view of humankind as made in the image of God, the eternal Craftsman, and of work as a source of fulfillment and blessing, not as a necessary drudgery to be undergone for the purpose of making money, but as a way of life in which the nature of man should find its proper exercise and delight, and so fulfill itself to the glory of God. That it should, in fact, be thought of as a creative activity undertaken for the love of the work itself; and that man, made in God’s image, should make things, as God makes them, for the sake of doing well a thing that is well worth doing.”
                                                                                                                                Dorothy L. Sayers

Public Assistance

I know from experience that lack of work almost always leads to complacency, stagnation, negativism, and laziness. It can eventually lead to serious financial woes, including insolvency and lack of preparedness for emergency. I suffered a back injury in 2004 while helping a gentleman “flip” houses for a living. I did a lot of concrete work, tear outs of old kitchens and bathrooms (oh, the cast iron tubs and old radiators!), and hanging drywall. I spent hours at a time on extension ladders painting the eves of houses. Due to my injury, and the subsequent collapse of discs in my lumbosacral spine, it became impossible to work in any capacity for several years. I subsequently began receiving welfare benefits, then, ultimately, social security disability benefits. Recently, I have been able to hold a part-time job or two while still collecting SSDI benefits.

A sense of guilt eventually set in, and I felt it necessary to return to the “world of the working,” which to me is akin to the world of the living. I am currently attending online classes at Colorado Christian University to finish my undergraduate degree in psychology, and will graduate next year. I have applied for admission to the master’s degree program in professional counseling at Lancaster Bible College (with a concentration in addictions). Classes begin September 2018. It is thrilling to me to be able to finally complete my education in psychology which I started at the University of Scranton in 1982. It is my intention to work as an addictions counselor until the day I can no longer make it out of my house and to the office.

It’s is sad to see the extent of “welfare as a way of life” in America today. Indeed, it often spans generations. There are so many factors that feed into this dilemma; too many to get into here. I think there are two ways we can help break that cycle. One is through an incentive-based public assistance program. We have to STOP allowing people to collect benefits while doing nothing whatsoever to improve their station in life. The other is to make college much more accessible to lower income families. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, approximately 25.3 percent of the Commonwealth’s population (one in four) receive some type of vital support, ranging from cash benefits and food stamps to medical assistance and low income home heating grants.

Welfare Benefits Pie Chart

In the matter of people who are incarcerated, it is paramount that we focus on vocational, psychological, spiritual, and educational programs and not merely on warehousing of criminals. In addition, we have to do something about the stigmatizing of felons, which is disenfranchising them from the workforce upon their release. Then there’s the nationwide opiate epidemic, mainly heroin, and our tendency to criminalize what is actually a brain disease. Yes, the individual makes a choice to get high, but the power of the morphine molecule is impossible to resist by sheer willpower, and the result is relapse and recidivism.

From a Theological Perspective

I read Courage & Calling by Gordon T. Smith for a class at Colorado Christian University. It’s available on Amazon.com by clicking here, and I highly recommend it. Gordon believes God calls us first to Himself, to know Him and follow Him, but also to a specific life purpose, a particular reason for being. This second calling or “vocation” has implications not only for our work or occupation, but also includes our gifts, our uniqueness, our life community, and what we do day-to-day. When we fulfill our specific vocation, we are living out the full implications of what it means to follow Jesus.

There seems to be this huge assumption in our social context today that work is bad (or, worse yet, something to be avoided) and leisure is good. Billions of dollars are spent every year on ways that help us relax or escape from the toils of work. God made man to work, and that work was to be meaningful. I believe God made mankind workers so that they could be co-creators with Him – not in the sense that they are creators of the Earth, but that their work was a part of God’s continual re-creation. Man is to be a steward over creation. Over all there is.

In Courage & Calling, Gordon says it is important to have a biblical theology of work. The witness of the Scriptures and of Christian spiritual heritage suggest that responsible human life includes stewardship of our capacities and opportunities. A biblical theology of vocation provides us with a critical and essential lens through which to view our lives and what it means to be stewards of our lives. So, we can ask not only “What good is work?” but “What is the good work I am called to do?” Living well, surely, is a matter of taking seriously the life that has been given us – the opportunities and challenges that are unique to us, to our lives, our circumstances. Taking our lives seriously means that we respond intentionally to these circumstances and the transitions of life. This is something I had no concept of, or capacity for, while in active addiction.

I had to come to understand three things. First, our lives are of inestimable value. Second, living our lives to the full is precisely what it means to be good stewards of our lives. Third, we live fully by living in a way that is deeply congruent with who we are. In the Scriptures there is a clear proclamation of what it means to have human identity – a person created by God, with worth and significance. It is also true that the field of psychology has enabled many to appreciate the full significance and weight of this scriptural insight. No lives are dispensable. No one can say that their life or work does not matter. Each person brings beauty, creativity and importance to the table.

Let’s Go To The Scriptures

The Bible has much to say about work, which in its different forms is mentioned more than 800 times. This is more frequently than all the words used to express worship, music, praise, and singing combined. The Bible begins with the announcement, “In the beginning God created…” It doesn’t say He sat majestic in the heavens. He created. He did something. He made something. He fashioned heaven and earth. The week of creation was a week of work. From the very beginning of the scriptures we are faced with the inescapable conclusion that God himself is a worker. It’s part of his character and nature.

Proverbs beautifully illustrates the work ethic. “Take a lesson from the ants you lazy bones. Learn from their ways and become wise! Though they have no prince or governor or ruler to make them work, they labor all summer, gathering food for the winter. But you, lazybones, how long will you sleep? When will you wake up?” (Proverbs 6:6-9, NLT)

In Genesis 2:15 we read, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (NIV) [Italics mine.] We were created by God to be stewards of His creation through our work. Work is actually a gift from God, and by it we employ useful skills to glorify Him and to help our neighbors. The Fall did not create work, but it did make in inevitable that work would sometimes be frustrating or seemingly meaningless. I believe Adam’s work in the garden can be seen as a metaphor for all work. In the story of Creation, we see God bringing order out of chaos. A gardener does the same thing by creatively using materials at his disposal. Adam was called by God to essentially rearrange the raw materials of a particular domain to draw out its potential for the benefit of everyone.

I believe our true calling evolves over time, and tends to emerge as we discover and hone our God-given talents into skills and useful competencies to be used for the glory of God and the service of our fellow man. Frederick Buechner said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Here’s the key: When it comes to work, there is no distinction between spiritual and temporal, sacred and secular. All human work, however lowly, is capable of glorifying God. Work is, quite simply, an act of praise. Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (NIV) Our work matters profoundly to God. We must be committed to the idea that we express our Christian discipleship through our employment, which is an important part of life. It is in this realm that we are called to stewardship.

Certainly, it can be argued that we will not have a meaningful life without work, but we cannot make our work the meaning of our life. As Christians, we must find our identity in Christ, not in our work. Yet, work is the major way we respond to God’s call in our life. It gives us the platform from which we can be salt and light in a tasteless and dark world. Interestingly, the idea of rest must also be in the picture. God rested from his labors on the seventh day, and so should we. Please know I’m not talking about a dogmatic observance of “the sabbath.” There are literally dozens of interpretations of sabbath from a religious perspective. In Courage & Calling, Gordon tells us the pursuit of diligence can sometimes become the burden of perfectionism, which is a burden to you and to those with whom you work. It can easily lead to a person feeling overworked and exhausted. Our only hope is to keep a balance.

This is only possible with a clearly defined pattern of sabbath renewal in our lives. The word sabbath comes from the Hebrew shabbat, which is derived from the verb shavat, meaning “to cease.” By regular sabbath rest, we are freed from seeing work as a burden; it is ultimately God’s work that is entrusted to us for six days a week, but we are not responsible for, nor should we feel the need to, feel the burden of carrying this work seven days a week. The sabbath gives us perspective. I will go so far as to say we should not call it a “day off,” because this does nothing more than define our day of rest negatively in terms of the absence of work. Sabbath actually builds a sense of rhythm into the whole of creation.

Closing Remarks

Work is a lifelong endeavor. Genesis 3:19 says, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (NIV) It is important to realize that through the doctrine of work God changes culture, society, and the world. The entire world has fallen into a state of injustice and brokenness. Redemption is not just about helping individuals escape this world, or saving souls condemned to eternal spiritual death (although this is certainly the message of the Good News), it is about restoring the whole of creation. I can think of no better way to contribute to this goal than through fulfilling God’s call on our lives. We must integrate our faith and our work. It is critical that we perform our jobs with distinctiveness, excellence, and accountability.

You and I were designed by God to work. Work is not a curse that we must endure, it is the way we experience purpose, meaning and joy. It’s what we were created to do: work and produce. In fact, not working takes a greater toll on us in the long run. Our attitude toward work should be without parallel. Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, “Whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might.” God wants us to work in a vocation that compliments the way we were designed to act. Ultimately, this means discovering our skills or talents and using them rather than burying them in the ground or hiding them away. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”