Mystifying the “Mystery” of God

Have you ever known someone who is married to someone who is way out of their league? I mean, to the point where it doesn’t even make any sense? I’m talking about a guy who is Steve Buscemi status marrying someone at the level of Scarlett Johansen. That drastic.

If I think about it too much, I end up confusing myself. Usually, I figure that it’s not even worth thinking about because I’ll never get a satisfactory take away from it. I’ve often just left it at, “Well… this is just a mystery.”

Christians have usually tended to read about God being a “mystery” in the Bible and think that when Scripture uses that word, it has a relationship analogous to being confused about a couple like this. We think that since we’ll never be able to get to the bottom of it, the endeavor itself is useless.

We’ve used language of God’s mysteriousness as an excuse to not engage in any kind of theological talk, because we are convinced that nothing productive can come out of it.

However, Scripture seems to give a different perspective.  Continue reading “Mystifying the “Mystery” of God”

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Hide and Seek

When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit in the garden, something happened that we don’t normally realize:

They hid themselves.

Now, you’re probably pushing back and thinking, “Of course we realized this.” However, often times our ideology says otherwise. Continue reading “Hide and Seek”

Does God Love Christians More?

I’ve heard many preachers and teachers say something like this:

“God loves us! You see, God loves the whole world—but there is something special about the way that God loves his Church. He’s saved us! So, his love for us is greater than his love for others.”

There are various scriptures that people use to justify a statement like this. My question, though, is this: does God actually love his people more than he loves everyone else?

My answer is a resounding no.  Continue reading “Does God Love Christians More?”

The Gospel According to “Arrow”

arrow

[Warning: may contain spoilers]

I admit it—I am a fan of the tales of Starling City’s masked vigilante, Oliver Queen aka the Arrow.

Initially, I had heard so much about it from multiple different people that, in order to understand what any of them were talking about, I knew I needed to watch. So, I decided to give in and turned to the ever faithful database of popular shows: Netflix.

As I watched, I ended up getting immersed in the show.

Surprisingly to me, the show wasn’t just a typical, ridiculous action-packed show, lacking any real substance. Even though the acting was a little stale at times, as I continued to watch, I was riveted by the story lines and compelling plot that drove the show.

More particularly, I was enraptured by the redemptive themes of the show.

I’m the type of guy that looks for themes of redemption in everything, mainly because I believe God uses everything to testify to it. The second season of the show is really where these types of motifs started to flesh themselves out. I started to see how Arrow presented the same truths that the gospel itself presents. While, of course, Arrow doesn’t explicitly give a Christian account of these things, I still was able to pick up on these themes. I found Arrow presenting the following three truths. Continue reading “The Gospel According to “Arrow””

The Head and the Heart—Integrating Affections and Reason

“I can’t stand that girl…”
“Why?”
“She trusts her feelings too much; it’s like she never actually thinks things through.”

Have you ever heard a conversation like this?
I have.
Conversations where people bash feelings and exalt thinking.

Well, I have personally come to think that feelings aren’t the bad guy. However, thinking doesn’t have to be villainized to arrive to that conclusion either. The head and the heart aren’t enemies—they’re friends.

People always seem to present this false dichotomy. It’s either thinking or feeling, reason or affections, logic or passion. Even one of my favorite personality indicators, Myers-Briggs, splits people into two groups. There’s the people that make decisions based off of cold hard data (thinking) and then the people who decide what to do based on how they feel that they themselves and others may respond to the decision (feeling). It seems that human beings seem to be hardwired to be this way. Like the example at the beginning, there’s people like the girl who “trusts her feelings” and people like the one who believes people should “think things through.”

But, what if it’s not either/or, but both/and?

I think that thinking and feeling are a lot more interconnected than we may believe. Continue reading “The Head and the Heart—Integrating Affections and Reason”

Granny’s Chocolate Cake and the Resurrection

My mom’s mother is the epitome of the southern granny. She is short, nice, and wears the tiny circle glasses. Her hairstyle has been the classic “granny fro” for as long as I’ve been alive. She has the essential Charleston accent straight from “Gone With The Wind” and says things like “over yonder” and “bless your heart.” To top it off, she’s an excellent cook. When we go to her house, we never have to worry if we’ll have a good meal. My grandma is going to have dinner on lockdown.

One of my favorite things that she makes is cake. She can make all kinds of different themes and styles, but I just like plain old chocolate cake. There’s something about Granny’s chocolate cake that makes me feel better about life. I loved it so much growing up that I asked her to make a big one for my birthday when I was a kid. We had the party at my house and she came over early to help us set up. She brought that masterpiece of a cake that she baked up along with her as well.

She came in the afternoon, but the party didn’t actually start until later that evening. The thought of waiting several more hours for that cake was killing me. Especially after I had already seen it. Like Eve in the garden of Eden, I had seen the cake and it was pleasant to my eyes. Very pleasant. However, I still held on to the sweet hope that I would have granny’s chocolate cake in a few hours, which seemed like years.

However, suddenly Granny gave me some wonderful news. She asked, “Blake, do you want to go ahead grab a small piece of cake now?” A small piece?! Now? And I don’t have to wait all the way until the party comes and they sing “Happy Birthday” to me? Of course I wanted a piece! So, I was able to taste and see that the chocolate cake was good. I had the opportunity to experience a small foretaste of the fullness of Granny’s cake that was soon to come.

And that’s a bit what Jesus’ resurrection was like. Continue reading “Granny’s Chocolate Cake and the Resurrection”

The Meaning of Jesus’ Birth

My favorite types of films are the kind that open up with a scene from the middle of the plot. It begins and you see a lot of action going on. You don’t really know what’s going. It starts in the midst of all of the chaos and madness and you’re left wondering what it all means. Then, as the movie continues to play, you finally realize that you actually caught a glimpse of a later section of the movie. You begin to see the context and backstory of that one opening scene until it eventually returns to it. Then you see it in context and go on to experience the thrilling climax and, finally, the conclusion. However, at the beginning of the movie, you landed right at the middle of the overarching story that was about to unfold.

That’s what it’s like when you look at the birth of Jesus.

When families gather around Christmas time to read Luke 2 or Matthew 1, which contain the story of Jesus’ birth, they’re simply opening up right in the middle of the grand, overarching narrative that is contained in the whole of the Bible. There’s an entire backstory before it and a climax and conclusion after it. The question that’s on everyone’s mind around the holiday season is, what is the actual meaning of Christmas? What should we make of this intense scene of Jesus’ birth directly in the middle of God’s big story contained in the Bible?

Too often, it’s simply taken as a detached tale that’s just told as a children’s story the night before the kids get to indulge themselves in a consumeristic pleasure land. It would be like playing that movie I described earlier and then rolling the credits after the opening scene. I know I’d want my money back. The absolute most important thing when trying to understand the meaning of Christmas is understanding it in the context of the overarching redemptive narrative of Israel’s God.

In summary, God had created a good world and had ordained humanity (man and woman) to bear his image, exercise his dominion, and fill the earth. Consequently, humankind failed to do so and God’s good world was marred by sin, falling short of God’s perfect glory. In order to restore what was lost in humanity’s fall, he called a man, Abraham, to be the father of a family who would be a blessing to all the families of the world (Genesis 12:1-3). God made a promise, a covenant, with him to make this come to pass, no matter what. Abraham’s family eventually turned into a great people, called Israel. God rescued Israel and called them his people. After doing so, he commissioned them to have the same roles as Adam and Eve (Exodus 19:5-6). They were meant to be the means of restoring the world. However, while Israel prospered at times, they ultimately failed in their vocation to restore what was lost in the Fall.

So, if God is faithful to his promises (and he is), what is Israel’s God going to do with a disobedient people who is in just as much need of rescuing as the rest of the world they were originally called to rescue? How can he remain faithful to his end of the covenant with a people who is either unwilling or unable to stay faithful to their end?

It’s at this moment of the narrative that we return to the scene that we began with, now, however, in its proper context. In a time period where people are asking these same questions comes a baby boy. However, this isn’t just any baby boy. This is the baby boy. After Israel’s failures, prophets began to rise up, prophesying of a time where an anointed king would come to redeem and rescue Israel (Psalm 2). They started to tell of someone who would stand in for Israel, as its representative (Isaiah 53:4-6). They began to speak of God returning and dwelling with his people (Zechariah 2:10-11).

Little did they know that all of these promises would come true in this baby boy.

Jesus was not only going to be the king of Israel, but the king of the world, the King of kings. Jesus was not just an Israelite, but he was Israel embodied, standing in for them. Jesus was not only fully man, standing in for all humankind, but he was also fully God, acting with his authority. He would be the one to truly reflect God’s image and exercise God’s authority, as God originally called Adam and Eve. Eventually, he would establish a kingdom and followers who would then be commissioned to fill the whole earth.

This is the meaning of Christmas. It’s understanding the impact of this one scene after finally seeing it in its full context. Yes, the climax will come, but that’s what Easter is for. Yes, the conclusion will come, but that’s why we eagerly anticipate his coming. Christmas is about understanding Jesus’ birth as the revelation of God’s answer to the entire backstory as told in the Old Testament.

We can’t simply think of it as a cute story to recite in December. It’s so much more than that. The birth of Jesus means that God is faithful to his promises. It means that he loves his creation enough to rescue us. It means that he loves humanity enough to empty himself and step into human flesh. It means that he loves the world enough to bear the sin of us all.

When we celebrate this season, we celebrate a God who is Love. When we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we celebrate a God who has loved us all along. And he decisively began to demonstrate this love and set it in motion through a bouncing baby boy on Christmas day.

(This post was featured on “The Poor In Spirit” blog, and won a contest!)

Hate Your Enemies and Bomb Those Who Persecute You

As Jesus sat on the hillside, he told his Jewish listeners, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven… except for Rome. Since they are oppressing Israel, our native nation, we have every justification to declare and support a bloody, violent revolution against them!”

Obviously, the bit after the ellipses is a fabrication and not found in the Sermon on the Mount. However, how many modern Christians would read this addendum into the text? This question is all the more relevant considering the recent events involving Syria. What are Christians to think in times like these? Think about it: how ironic is it to be a faith that emphasizes God’s love for the all the nations of the world and yet be citizens of a country that is possibly about to bomb one of those nations? What are we to think about this, being both American and Christian?

Ultimately, we know that Paul teaches us in Philippians that our citizenship is not of this world, but from heaven. Our allegiance for the gospel overrides our allegiance to any country. What does that mean though? The Philippians knew exactly what that meant. They were a colony who had full citizenship of Rome, even though they were not located there. However, Rome came and brought their culture into a foreign land. Philippi was Roman in every way, except for location. The point, I believe, is that Paul wants us to live in this world, but change the very culture of it, to “colonize” it, and influence it with the character, lifestyle, and ethics of Jesus Christ himself. To be in the world, but not of the world or drawing from its influence.

Thus, no matter what the opinion our country holds about what to do in situation like the one the U.S. is facing with Syria, our opinions and personal convictions should be those which reflect the character, lifestyle, and ethics of Jesus Christ. So, what does that look like? The mission of Jesus makes it very clear how he feels about his enemies. The passage at the opening says a ton. We are not to hate our enemy! We are to love them and pray for them. Is it possible to love your enemy when you drop a bomb on them? Even if you don’t personally do it, is it truly loving to support such an action?

Jesus models so clearly how we should treat our enemies. He is emphatic that violence is not the answer. Most people would agree that peace is the goal. However, how can peace be the goal if peace is not the means? Paul warns us not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good. Jesus agreed with Paul that his kingdom is not of this world, that it is not influenced or derived from it. He says to Pilate in John 18:36, “If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” There, Jesus makes an important distinction! If his kingdom were of this world, if it acted as the other nations did, then his disciples would be fighting. However, they are not of this world. And so they aren’t fighting.

How does Jesus deal with his enemies then? Instead of violently and coercively overthrowing them, he nonviolently and lovingly lays down his life for them at their own hands. As the Roman soldiers are shaming him and torturing him on the cross, he cries out “Father, forgive them!” The kingdoms of the world sacrifice others for the benefit of themselves. But the people of the kingdom of God sacrifice themselves for the benefit of others.

So, remember, our citizenship is in heaven. Our primary allegiance is not to Caesar, to any government, but to Jesus. We are to reflect God’s character to the world, through his kingdom. This includes loving our enemies and sacrificing for them, even if this means going against our native country. We are not of this world.

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This is an excerpt from my book, “Church Kid: Restoring Your Faith After Being Raised in Church,” now available for purchase here.

What About Bikinis?

Summer is coming and, in Christian circles at least, the big question is popping up again all over the place: “What about bikinis?” This season is a time full of pools, beaches, and the lake. And so, it isn’t a question of whether bikinis are going to be worn or not. Rather the question is “How should Christians look at the issue?” One popular blog post has already been circulating, a post written by Rachel Clark at Made In His Image. Though many think that this question should just go away forever and never be discussed again, the reality is that the issue will not just disappear overnight. Therefore, engaging people on this question is necessary. So… what about bikinis?

Firstly, I wanted to make it clear that I am addressing this as a male. Therefore, I realize that my opinions don’t carry the same weight or validity as a woman coming directly from a female perspective. However, I wanted to first address Rachel Clark and her thoughts. The big issue that is addressed is the matter of “lust”. However, unlike a lot of popular Christian articles on this topic, she did acknowledge that guys are the ones with the problem and that ” they should control it”, rather than putting all of the blame on the girl. I also appreciate the fact that she said that girls are to “help out” their brothers in Christ. As the body of Christ, we are to look out for one another and to help each other grow in the faith. But that’s where there may be a problem with her line of thinking.

Clark makes a big deal out of not wearing a bikini as a “sacrifice”. Dressing modestly becomes something that girls must do to look out for the best interest of their brothers in Christ. And though she doesn’t put all of the blame on the girls, she does admit that “part of it is our [girls’] problem”. She sells the message of “boys will notice what you advertise”. Therefore, if you  want guys to notice your personality, smile, or love for God, then advertise that, and not your butt, chest, or any other part of your body. Clark likens girls’ wearing bikinis in the eyes of a guy to a health nut being tempted to eat chocolate cake. Someone then follows them around with the cake as they try to exercise. Eventually, since the cake is being imposed on her, she’ll give in and eat the cake.

To me, there is a huge flaw in this thinking. And I have heard arguments similar to this. “Would you put alcohol directly in the face of a struggling alcoholic?” a person would ask to girls, “Then why would you wear a bathing suit in front of guys who struggle with lust?” Not only are you comparing desire for a food or drink with sexually objectifying someone against their own will, but you are perpetuating the objectification of the woman in an attempt to stop just that! Therefore, you reveal that your primary desire is not to help end the objectification of women, but make it easier for those who are actually objectifying the women. Plus, if you were to be consistent in the analogy between the cake and alcohol, then there is a huge difference between something being imposed onto you against your will (as the analogies suggest) and freely deciding to go to a place where, for example, alcohol is offered or cake is sold.

And I think this is where the solution lies. Remember, the point of not wearing bikinis in the first place was to help out the guys. So, I think many would agree with the sentiment. But, the question is: in what way should girls help the guys out? Should it be by not wearing bikinis? I don’t think that would do much of anything. The problem with the alcoholic won’t be fixed by someone simply not having a beer when he or she is around him. Rather, he would need to get professional help and actually avoid going to places that he knows will stimulate the problem that he has. I think the solution should be the same for those who struggle with lust and objectification of women.

Just like Clark suggests, we should aim to help out these guys. Absolutely. Sisters should want to help their brothers out! However, perhaps helping out a brother who is struggling with lust and the objectification of women should look differently than girls not wearing bikinis. Perhaps it should look like his not going to the beach, where girls are going to be in bikinis. If his lust and proneness to objectify women are that much of a problem, then why should he go to places like that in the first place? He knows what he will be tempted to do. And if he chooses to go anyways, then why does that mean that the girls have to alter their swimwear to facilitate his own problem and perversion? Instead of enforcing an oppressive system of swimwear uniformity amongst women to facilitate these guys with problems, we should aim to get these guys professional help and tell them to actually stay away from situations and places (such as beaches and pools) where their personal problem could become a problem for others.

Blaming girls for the problems and perversion of the guys needs to stop. I would quote Jesus saying for His followers to deal with the plank in one’s own eye before pointing out the speck in the other, but it seems to me that there is not even speck on the other side. Just one big plank. The solution of the problem is not to monitor what girls are wearing, but to deal with those who objectify and lust in the first place. If a guy is going to lust after and objectify women, a little more fabric on their bodies is not going to fix that. A trash bag couldn’t fix that. Telling girls to avoid wearing bikinis in public places where guys will be is like cutting away the branches, but unless the root is dug up, the problem will remain. Not to mention that the same kind of steps aren’t being taken with the swimwear of the men.

So this summer, if you are a guy who struggles with lust or who is prone to objectify women, I urge you to stay away from situations where your own problem might then become a problem to others. You shouldn’t impose your own struggle onto others or expect them to change because of it. Rather, seek help. God can heal you and redeem you. Jesus came to conquer the powers that hold you in bondage. Recognize that this is a real problem and be bold enough to assume complete responsibility, not transferring any of it to any girls. This doesn’t mean that God loves you any less or that you are without hope. God forgives you and loves you. And He also longs for you to love His daughters the way that He does, purely and absent of lust and objectification. When you get to a place where you can see women as fellow humans and not objects of lust, then join them in the fun of the pool, lake, or beach. Until then, there are plenty ways to have a fun summer. Take advantage of that!

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This is an excerpt from my book, “Church Kid: Restoring Your Faith After Being Raised in Church,” now available for purchase here.

Find Your Identity in Christ… Not in Being a Christian

Many times, people are like, “Hey, you’re that super Christian guy.” And I do not know that I am okay with that.

Christians are constantly reminded to find their identity in Christ. And rightfully so. While that exact phrase might not be found in the Bible, it is an idea that is all throughout Scripture. However, I believe that too often, Christians are led astray as to what this exactly means. I believe that we have equated the idea of finding one’s identity in Christ with finding one’s identity in being a Christian. While those may sound like the same thing, I can assure that they are not only different, but mutually exclusive.

People usually think that finding their identity in Christ means you need to become a “Jesus Freak”, be “on fire for Jesus”, or morph into Ned Flanders. In other words, you better start reading your Bible in public places (preferably Starbucks), praying louder and longer than everyone else, making Christian statuses, tweets, and posts (much like this one… I am getting major Christian identity points right now), and making sure you go to church and invite as many people as you can.

But, what a shame that is!

Finding one’s identity in Christ is so much more than doing “Christian things”. It is human nature to want to define who we are by what we do. Literally. Ask someone who they are and watch them fumble around. We do not know how to answer that question! So, since they do not really know, they will say stuff like, “Well I work at this business, and I graduated from this university, and I am married to this person, and I have this many kids.” That says nothing as to who you are though. So, what we do when we try to find our identity in being a Christian we simply change the criteria in what we do. Now, it is how often we read our Bible, what church we attend, what denomination we are, what role we serve in our church, and the list could go on and on.

Now, please do not misunderstand me. All of those things are absolutely great, however, they are not where we should find our identity and they are definitely not how we find our identity in Christ. It is simply where we were before, now with a religious twist. So, how do we find our identity in Christ?

The Bible has a ton to say about who we are in Christ. I will just give you Scripture.

  • …even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will… (Ephesians 1:4-5).
  • But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Peter 2:9-10).
  • For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).
  • And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14)
  • No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:37)
  • No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. (John 15:15-16)
  •  …for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:26-27)

I could go on and on, but just look at a little of what the Bible says about who we are in Christ! Really. If you just skipped the verses or skimmed over them, go back up and read them again. How amazing are those verses!

My point is, we are not saved to do “Christian things”. We are saved to do all things to the glory of God. In other words, our identity is in Christ. Therefore, everything we do will always be put through that filter. Christianity is not about being a Jesus Freak! It is not about being “that super Christian guy”. It is about knowing who God says we are in Christ and living in response to that. It is about walking in the reality of who you are now that you know that you are God’s. Your identity is not in what you do, but in whose you are. You are sons and daughters of God. If you do music, do it as His. If you do art, do it as His. If you do sports, do it as His. If you do your job, do it as a son or daughter of the most high God.

Do not find your identity in being a Christian. Always remember that your identity is and will always be in Christ. 

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This is an excerpt from my book, “Church Kid: Restoring Your Faith After Being Raised in Church,” now available for purchase here.