Monday, July 31, 2006

No. 17: Worship

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I have been thinking about worship. What is worship and what relationship does it have with culture?

In its simplest form, worship is the love, affection, adoration, and reverence that we show to a deity. Our worship can be appropriately directed toward the One True God, the only real Deity, or it can be directed toward one or many false gods, little deities of our own making or imagination.

We are all created with a need to worship. From birth to death, we live with an intuitive yearning for our Creator, the One who made us. And this yearning exists whether we acknowledge Him for who He is or not. We humans are made first and foremost to be worshipping beings.

God desires for us to worship Him and Him alone. We are constructed to have God at the center of our lives. But God has granted us the freedom to set our love and affection upon whomever or whatever we choose—to center our existence upon something other than our Creator. However, regardless of who or what we worship, we are all worshippers.

We all long and yearn. We each possess a “God-created void.” This “void,” or intuitive yearning, reveals our createdness. We are not complete. But God does not share these same longings and yearnings. For although we are created and have an innate need to worship, God is not created. He is complete.

Transcendence. As Creator and creature, we coexist. And we share many of the same attributes. After all, we human creatures are made in the image of our Creator. But that is where the similarities end. For God is separate and distinct from His creation. He is other than us. He has sometimes been called the “Holy Other.” In the Creator/creature distinction, The Creator transcends His creation.

Transcendence, though not a commonplace word or concept in our post-modern world, is yet a critical building block in our understanding of culture. Without transcendence, lesser ideas such as political freedom and civil rights exist without an identifiable source. It is easy to take our freedom and civil rights for granted. But from whence do they come? If there is no God, to whom or what do we appeal when the civil authorities abuse our liberties and rights? We could attempt to appeal to the objects of our worship—the gods of our own making, the idols of our hands. But do they possess the power to deliver us?

Worship Shapes Culture. Cultures are shaped by what they worship. A culture's view of God determines a culture's view of man. A culture's view of both God and man determines a culture’s nature, flavor, and attributes. In a monarchy, a king possesses all power and authority. But where does the king’s power come from? In a republic, power is invested in the representatives of the people who in turn are subject to the laws of the land. But where do the laws come from?

Whether we worship God, or gods of our own making, we cannot avoid transcendence. Politicians who promote abortion rights do so at the altar of a “woman’s right to choose.” Where does that right come from? Some sort of transcendence, though never mentioned, is assumed. The radical environmentalist seeking to restrict growth and development elevates his or her ideas and ideals to a position of transcendence. Where do these ideas come from?

Every culture worships something or someone.

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Monday, July 24, 2006

No. 16: Infrastructure

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I have been thinking about infrastructure. Infrastructure is a common enough word. We hear it from time to time referencing our nation's roads and bridges, our rail systems, our communication and power-lines, our underground water and sewer systems, and our public institutions such as schools, post offices, libraries, hospitals, and even prisons.

Technically, the word “infrastructure” refers to an underlying base, foundation, or even a framework. Many types of infrastructures exist. Among them are military infrastructures, financial infrastructures, and political infrastructures. Individual churches, along with para-church ministries like Focus on the Family are, in practical terms, the infrastructure of the larger body of Christ. A building’s framework can also be referred to as an infrastructure. Essentially, an infrastructure is that which lends support to something larger than itself.

Since the early 1970's, I have worked in the "infrastructure" industry. Plans for water and sewer lines, drainage systems, roads, bridges, and even underground electrical systems have graced my desk for many years. I am very familiar with infrastructure, and I understand that without it our world would be grossly underdeveloped and likely dysfunctional.

But the word "infrastructure" somehow seems out of place when we discuss the themes found in this kind of newsletter—a publication devoted to Biblical matters such as theology, creeds, kingdoms, and doctrine.

Because I work in the infrastructure industry, I think about infrastructure almost every day. And I can’t help but make a connection between the infrastructure in our physical world, and the “infrastructure” of our thought-processes.

Let us step back just a moment and consider if the word "infrastructure" might have a place in our conversation about developing sound, Biblical thinking and a clear-headed Judeo-Christian Worldview. Those things are, after all, the mission of this weekly newsletter.

In the upper right hand corner above, in the heading of this newsletter, are the words “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Our thought life is critical. The way we think determines who we are—at least to a very large degree. And if our thoughts about important things are out of sync with reality, then we ourselves too, will be out of sync.

Our theology, our doctrine, and the creeds to which we hold, are very much like an internal infrastructure, providing support and stability to our lives. Even as our cities and towns require underground utilities and public institutions for support, so we humans require Truth to be rooted internally within our minds and our consciences for us to live out our lives in a sound and God-pleasing way.

With a right-minded, internal, Truth-rooted, Biblical infrastructure, we can expect to possess good mental and spiritual health and a well-rounded vitality. This is the life God intended us to live.

Monday, July 17, 2006

No. 15: Patterns in Creation

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I have been thinking about the Trinitarian patterns found in creation—marveling actually at God’s imprint upon this planet we call earth, and all of its contents and surroundings.

The Trinity in Creation. All three members of the Trinity were active in the creation. The Holy Spirit hovered over the waters of creation making the earth habitable for man (Gen 1:2). The Father breathed life into creation (Ps 33:6). All things were made through the Son, the Word made flesh (John 1:3). All things were created by Him and for Him (Col 1:16) and he upholds all things by His Word (Heb 1:3).

The Trinity of Creation. History began when God spoke time, space and matter into existence. (Gen. 1:1; Heb 11:3). What did God create first? Did He bring all three of these primary components together simultaneously? We do not know.

What we do know is that a simple observation reveals a multitude of trinities in creation. W. A. Pratney, in his book titled The Nature and Character of God, lists thirty separate categories of the triune expression within God's creative order. Perhaps the first noticeable expression of the Trinity in creation is creation itself, consisting of time, space and matter. Within this trinity there are additional trinities:
  1. The trinity of time—past, present and future
  2. The trinity of space—height, length and breadth
  3. The trinity of matter—solid, liquid and gas
The Scriptures also reveal multitudes of other trinities throughout God's created order. A serious student of the Word will find great joy in uncovering the magnificently artistic handiwork in God's design.

Three Types of Angels. Angels are messengers of God. They were spoken into being by the word of God's mouth (Ps 33:6). There are multitudes of them in creation (Dan 7:10; Matt 26:53; Rev 5:11). Their dwelling place is heaven (Matt 18:10). They serve many functions. God again reveals his Trinitarian nature by establishing a trinity of authority within the angelic structure. He created the archangels, the cherubim and the seraphim. There are also three named archangels—Michael, Gabriel and Lucifer, the fallen angel.

Three Heavens. There is more than one heaven. The apostle Paul professes to have been caught up to the third heaven (2 Cor 12:2). Paul, like several others in Scripture (Isaiah and the apostle John among others) was somehow transported into heavenly realms, into the dwelling place of God. Again we discover another trinity. The heavens just above the earth's surface which the clouds and birds occupy are the first heaven. The realm of the stars, the planets and all the rest of the physical universe are the second heaven. The place where God dwells with the angels is the third heaven.

Many other examples can be found in creation and in Scripture which speak of God’s Trinitarian nature. For example, man is a trinity of spirit, soul, and body (I Thess 5:23). Red, blue and yellow are the three primary colors. And mathematics is clearly an area where threes are abundant (eg: 1+1=2, A2+B2=C2). Seeing these threefold patterns in creation boosts our faith and confidence, that the God we worship is indeed who He claims to be!

Monday, July 10, 2006

No. 14: Kingdoms

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I have been thinking about about what Jesus had to say about His kingdom. He said,

"Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." (Matthew 6:33 KJV)

The world is filled with kingdoms. Authority is inescapable. From the moment we take our first breath, we are subjects under rule and jurisdiction. But take heart. God reigns supreme over each and every one of them.

Did you know that there are 117 mentions of the word "Kingdom" in the gospels, yet a scant 7 mentions of the word "salvation" in the gospels? In fact, careful study reveals that Jesus came to preach, not a gospel of salvation, but rather the gospel of the Kingdom.

Prior to Jesus' entry into public ministry, His cousin John the Baptist, the one spoken of in Isaiah 40 sent to prepare the way for the Lord, prefaced his introduction of Christ with these words: "The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" (Mark 1:15 NIV).

Jesus arrived shortly thereafter.

Jesus Himself, chastising the Pharisees for falsely associating His ministry with the work of the devil, said this: "... if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you." (Matthew 12:28 NIV)

Jesus' disciples, like all Jews of their day, suffered under the unjust governing authority of Rome. Not yet understanding the essence of Christ's ministry, they looked for an earthly resolution to their dilemma, hoping that Jesus might somehow lead a revolution, and remove Rome's grip on their land. But Jesus redirected their thinking. He explained that "The Kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the Kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17: 20b-21 NIV)

Recently, a friend of mine thoughtfully characterized the kingdom of God as having properties similar to DNA. What he meant I believe, is that by God's grace, the Kingdom of God gets inside of us and slowly changes us to look more and more like Jesus.

How can we tell if the kingdom of God is within us? Because we find ourselves wanting to do the will of God. Teaching us to pray, Jesus uttered these words: "your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10 NIV)

Jesus' mother, Mary, when first visited by the angel announcing that she was pregnant with the Son of God, responded, "Let it be to me according to your word." (Luke 1:38b NKJV) Mary's response demonstrates a spirit truly humble and submissive to God's authority. At that moment, she embraced the Kingdom of God.

Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night He was arrested, prayed this prayer: "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you ill." (Matthew 26:39b NIV) Preparing His heart for His destiny on the cross, Jesus too, embraced the Kingdom of God.

May we do so as well.