The Mystery Of His Will Made Known

God’s will has been made known to us in and through Christ. He has redeemed all of creation to himself and his will is to “in the fullness of time, gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1.10). So why has God’s will seemed to remain such a mystery to us? A problem to solve. A code to decipher. As we have often done the message of the gospel has been hijacked and meshed together with the messages and slogans of our culture and led to confusion and misdirection on what exactly it is that God is up to. Our society is all about self and individualism thus the prevailing gospel message of God’s plan of salvation and redemption of all of creation has been replaced with a message of self-help, self-improvement, personal faith and relationship with God. Our gospel message has narrowed from a view of what God is doing in the entire cosmos to what God can do for you as an individual. It is the Jesus for me Jesus. Thus when we try to discern God’s will even the way we go about it is shaped by this subtle misunderstanding.

God has always made his will known to mankind. We are not left in the dark. We are insiders when it comes to what God is up to. The problem is we so often want the details of how it all works. And we want specific instructions on what we are to do the choices to make, the right decision to be made. The mystery has never been an issue of what. It has always been an issue of how. When God made Adam and Eve he made them in his likeness. They were content to figure out what that looked like until they were deceived into thinking that there was another way of how, by eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, to be like God. Likewise we get distracted from the “what “ of God’s will, wisdom and understanding, and become obsessed with “how” we can get him to reveal it to us. When we do this we fail to realize that Jesus himself is the mystery revealed. When Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us God’s will was no longer a mystery. His will for us is to abide in and know him. When the mystery of God’s will becomes a personal thing that involves predestined fixed plot points of our story that require moral adherence or practice of disciplines to be revealed then we fail to recognize that Jesus is the way the truth and life as opposed to specific life events, ‘divine’ appointments, choices, or life decisions.

Who Does It Harm Anyway?: The Harm In Using ‘Harm’ As Measure of Right and Wrong

Let me clarify something: this post is not in any way shape or form meant to be a commentary on the marriage debate. I am using it as an example to point to something else that I think the Christian community should be concerned with. How Christians determine or distinguish what is sin, right and wrong, is an area of concern. We would be foolish to believe the line of thinking that has arisen in the marriage debate won’t play a role in how we think of other behaviors that scripture has named sin and more importantly behaviors that scripture isn’t as explicit about. Often times in discussions and debates about gay-marriage, you’ll hear someone make the following point: “Allowing two people who are already in a committed relationship living together to marry isn’t hurting anyone.” For the Christian—whose life and thinking is largely shaped by God’s revelation to us through scripture, and who is committed to having the life of Christ generated in them—this philosophy of using the question of harm to determine what is right and wrong is hugely flawed. Evidence of this kind of thinking has been around long before the “marriage debate”. It has led to many paradoxes that can’t be resolved if harm is the measuring stick of right and wrong.

The question of harm has allowed for many Christians to start questioning the validity and existence of Hell. The question of harm has caused many Christians to be unsettled by God’s allowance of evil, pain, and suffering in the world. The question of harm has allowed for many Christians to excuse numerous behaviors that God says miss the mark of holiness because we determine that it doesn’t cause very much if any harm.  Ironically the question of harm was a reasoning that many in the purity and holiness camp used to try to persuade Christian teens to not even kiss prior to marriage because, they could be someone else’s wife or husband, and could cause harm in their relationship. Ultimately an ethic based on what is harmful potentially leads Christians to ignore or take issue with one of the central calls to the Christian life: to be willing to endure suffering, trial and testing. A Christian who determines right and wrong based upon how much harm is incurred will eventually have to question whether or not God should be God in the first place. A Christian who determines right and wrong based upon how much harm is incurred will not see, in Jesus, God was willing to endure more harm than we will ever know in order to deal with everything that is wrong with and in the world.

For a Christian right and wrong is determined by God’s holiness. Leviticus 19.2 summarizes all of the law of the Old Testament by saying, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.’” In Ephesians Paul echoes the call to holiness when he writes, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” Not to say causing harm shouldn’t be a concern of Christians whatsoever. In the discussion of human ethics it’s a good place to start. For the Christian, however, human ethics begins and ends with God’s holiness. For the Christian often times the things that cause us harm, pain, and discomfort are also the things God uses to sanctify us and make us holy.

Are You Blessed?: Recapturing What It Truly Means To Be Blessed

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Blessed had become a dirty word as far as I was concerned while my wife and I struggled with unexplained infertility. Hearing the things that people saw as evidence of God’s favor had put a bitter taste in my mouth. I wasn’t bitter things were apparently going their way and God possibly had a direct hand in making sure things worked out for them.  I was bitter about what it implied. If getting the job or the house or the car or the new pair of jeans at the right price meant that you had God’s favor, then what did it say about the unemployed, the homeless, the people that have to ride the bus, and those who get hand-me-down pants? Are they not favored? If they don’t have God’s favor then does that mean they’re cursed?

This came to a head for me one Sunday morning during baby dedications when it was repeated a few times that babies are a blessing. Not to say that children are not a blessing. Still when you’re sitting there childless and enduring months of infertility treatments, it’s like a punch to the gut. It’s easy to wonder if maybe, just maybe, God has cursed you. It’s easy to start wondering if there is something you did to really tick God off and he’s not going to bless you until you make amends. I’m sure I’m not the only Christian who has had dark moments like this when you look at what seems to be the overflow of the lives of others claiming God’s abundant blessing and wonder where you went wrong.

It’s not as if this kind of thinking doesn’t have a biblical precedent. Look no further than Leviticus 26, subtitled “Blessings for Obedience, and Punishment for Disobedience”, to see where it comes from.  In an ancient world dominated by pagan religious practices shaped by the pursuit of the gods’ favor, God did this to show his people and the nations that he was the one true God. So when the prophet Elijah predicts that it won’t rain for three years, except by his word, it wasn’t to simply punish the people. It was to demonstrate that God was real and Baal was not (1st Kings 17.1-7), which is exactly what happened three years later on Mount Carmel (1st Kings 18.20-41).

Of course if we understand Jesus’ ministry in light of these things we understand that the New Covenant, established by Jesus’ death and resurrection, does not include the if you do this, then I will do this equation. Because Christ was obedient unto death, we have God’s favor. Because Christ was punished for our disobedience, God is with us. And because Christ, our mediator has ascended to the right hand of God, those of us who are being sanctified always have God with us (Hebrews 10.12-17). In other words we are blessed in good times, bad times, ugly times and everything in between.

So when Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven”, he’s saying God is with those who we assume according to Leviticus 26, he is not. When he says, “blessed are the hungry”, he is saying God is with those who we assume are cursed. In fact Jesus completely turns Leviticus 26 on its head, and he warns against assuming that just because things are going you’re way, [“Woe to you who are rich”, “Woe to you who are full now”, “Woe to you who laugh now”, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you”] that you’re blessed and experiencing God’s blessing.

I think this is important to know because there are still churches that preach Leviticus 26—at least the blessings part—so loudly people get the message without ever listening to a sermon. It is important to know because if life is really hard for you individually, it can be depressing to log on to Facebook and see what people are claiming as God’s blessing.. I think it is important because I know good Christian people who are growing angry with God, or walking away from him, because little if anything seems to be going their way. It is important because there is a growing movement of believe-ism claiming if you believe hard enough God will bless you so your life goes well and your dreams come true. Jesus is little more than a genie granting countless wishes and the Bible is the lamp. It is important because the truth of the matter is God’s blessing and favor is as simple as his presence. His presence and desire to be with us in good times, bad times, awful times, and everything in between… God is with us. When we understand that we don’t have to be the person in the poem Footprints who looks back and wonders why God abandoned them. When we understand that we may not even have to be carried at all because we know God is walking alongside of us always.

Connecting the Pieces of the Puzzle: A Cool Moment in Sunday School

So I just have to brag on my students for a moment. We’ve been going through the Old Testament in Sunday School since the beginning of September. The whole point being that they become more familiar with God’s story in the Bible and how it all connects. As children they heard different narratives from scripture in a random fashion that kept them totally disconnected from being the complete narrative that they are.

Yesterday we covered Genesis 29-31 where Jacob has given away 14 years of his life in service to Laban to have Rachel as his wife, even after being deceived into marrying the markedly less attractive sister Leah after the first seven years of work. I spent much time explaining to them the complicated web of relationships and personal brokenness (Jacob’s obsession with Rachel, Laban’s obsession with his wealth, Leah’s obsession with being loved, and Rachel’s obsession with herself), all coming to a climax in Leah and Rachel’s baby race, where even the servant of each wife is brought into the middle of quite literally. Of course the sisters spirited competition to give Jacob sons results in him having twelve sons the last of which and put an end to it all, because it was the first and only born from Rachel.

As I am saying all of that and saying, “And the twelve sons are the ones that eventually became…”, and before I could get the words out of my mouth the collective light bulb of many of the students about nearly exploded. In the blink of an eye they started to piece together little bits of those disconnected stories they had heard all their lives and things they had always just accepted or knew about started to make sense! Without me telling them they (1) realized that these were the twelve sons (of course Benjamin would be born much later) for whom the twelve tribes of Israel are named (2) that the last son and only one born from Rachel to that point was Joseph (3) and that is why Joseph was the favorite of his father Jacob and therefore why his brothers hated him so much. The same favoritism that Jacob showed Rachel was given to Joseph and indifference same indifference shown towards Leah and the servant girls he likely showed towards his other sons.

It made my day that 35 minutes into a lesson with it’s fair share of random tangents and technical difficulties they were tracking in a manner that clearly indicated that they were thinking, comprehending and concluding on their own.  It was really cool to see how impressed they were with themselves for putting the pieces of the puzzle together. Not in an arrogant way but in a way that says “This makes so much more sense. These seemingly random stories that I grew up with aren’t so random now that I have more information”. Not that it never happens, but it was just really cool to see it happen in such a vivid way.