The Preeminence of Relationship

“And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.” (Luke 10:39)

At the heart of true religion is a relationship with the living God.  To know the Creator intimately and personally ought to be the principle desire of the creature’s heart.

“One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4)

When Jesus called his disciples, he did not merely give them orders and send them on their way like servants, but took them to himself and nurtured fellowship like family.  They were his brothers.  He wanted them, not just to work, but to be with him.

“And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach,” (Mark 3:12)

Mary sat at the feet of Jesus.  This was the place of a disciple.  There at his feet, she heard his word.  Through his word, God communicates himself to us.  We can know him because as the perfect God, he is able to perfectly express himself through his word.  Through that expression, the internal thoughts, intents, and purpose of the heart of God – which would otherwise be transcendent and unknowable to man – are revealed to the creature.  All scripture is God-breathed, and so the very breath and Spirit of the eternal God moves to communicate with man in human language.

Since the Creator descends to communicate with the creature, he is therefore knowable.  Indeed, it becomes not just possible to know him, but imperative.  Therefore, anything less than a personal, active relationship with the living God is deficient.  However honorable one’s religion, upright one’s character, or diligent one’s life, to forego communion with the maker of all things is to neglect the ultimate for the sake of something lesser.

Mary sat at the feet of Jesus because, above all else, she wanted God.  She chose the “good part”, and it will never be taken from her.

Biblicals Principles of Government

“Government is not reason; it is not eloquence; it is force!  Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” (George Washington)

Some say Religion and Politics are the two subjects one should not discuss in polite company, so I guess I’ll have some fun and dip my toes in both ponds at the same time.  The Bible has a lot to say about government.  That should not be too surprising, given that the central subject is the supreme Governor of the world.  In the midst of a time when politics can be highly contentious, the Bible provides many important principles to guide our thinking.  Here are a select few.

We should desire good rulers and we should pray for our rulers.

“I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” (I Timothy 2:1-2)

This verse implicitly acknowledges the direct impact that those in authority have on the lives of the people they govern.  For this reason, we ought to desire that those in authority govern with justice and wisdom.  By going to God in prayer first we also recognize that, though politics is a tool, God alone is Savior.  By praying for both rulers we like and rulers we dislike, we put our faith in God rather than man.  Moreover, it is an opportunity to love our neighbor whether or not we get our way in any given political battle.

We should be subject to the higher powers.

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” (Romans 13:1)

Rightly followed, this principle can make Christians simultaneously the most loyal, law-abiding citizens and also those best positioned to advocate for righteous societal reform or stand against tyranny.  On one hand, Christians should obey earthly authorities as though they are obeying God himself.  In doing so, they will be a delight to their rulers and will provide stability to their society.  On the other hand, this verse makes clear that all earthly authorities are derived authorities.  No earthly authority is absolute, and so Christians will not offer blind allegiance to the evil dictates of corrupt rulers.  They have a higher authority.

Perhaps it was on this basis that when Peter and the other apostles were commanded by the high priest not to preach Jesus, they replied: “We ought to obey God rather than men.”

Government is Force.

“For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” (Romans 13:4)

Government can do things nobody else has the right to do, and they can do so on threat of force.  They bear the sword.  They can confiscate your money; they can deprive criminals of their freedom; they can execute murderers.

We should govern ourselves.

“Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:10)

The Bible teaches us that if we live according to love, then we become a law unto ourselves.  Much of Government’s role is to prevent us from doing ill to our neighbor.  If I love my neighbor, then I will not contaminate his drinking water; I will not steal his chickens; I will not promise to build his barn, get paid, and then fail to do it.

Over the years I have heard a number of people quote Thomas Jefferson as saying, “That government is best which governs the least.”  And, rightly so, Christians often tend to favor limited government.  How wonderful would it be to live in a society where government has minimal interference in the lives of its people and serves only those purposes that only it can serve.  However, there is an important caveat that is revealed by looking at the next part of Jefferson’s quote:

That government is best which governs the least, because its people discipline themselves.

Self-government.  Personal responsibility.  Morality.  Discipline.  These are principles without which a free society cannot exist.  And when they are not present among a people, the door is open for tyranny.

We must not make an idol of government.

“Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” (I Samuel 8:5b)

We ought to earnestly desire a just and righteous government.  However, we must also recognize that government is not our savior.  Neither politics nor government can solve our deepest problems.  Government cannot purify mens’ hearts, heal human divisions, or enrich the land.

When ancient Israel asked for its first earthly king, Samuel warned them of the mild tyranny that even a relatively decent king would bring about.  God also characterized their desire for more powerful government as a Spiritual condition: they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.

Government is accountable to God.

“And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, King Of Kings, And Lord Of Lords.” (Revelation 19:16)

Jesus is the King of Kings, and as such, all earthly powers and authorities are accountable to him.  It is on this basis that Christians can speak truth to power, advocate for social reform, seek justice for the oppressed, and oppose tyranny.  The most powerful kings have their own king, as one mighty ruler learned so long ago:

“The most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men.” (Daniel 4:17b)

Do You Take the Bible Literally?

“God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19)

I am often asked, when discussing religion, if I take the Bible literally.  People intend different things by this question, and a terse answer may not always hit the mark.  In fact, even the definition of “literally” may be somewhat controversial, so I find it best to use the question as an opportunity to explore the matter further.

I believe that God has spoken (indeed, is speaking) to us, through the Bible.  As the word says, “all scripture is God-breathed.”  This itself is a stunning declaration.  The timeless, almighty, transcendent God has spoken to us little humans, in human language!

Christians call the Bible “God’s word,” acknowledging that he speaks and that, moreover, he speaks truth.  If the Bible is true, then it follows that I should take it exactly as it intends to be taken.  Another way to say this is that, of course I ought to take it literally, which includes accounting for style, genre, and context.

For example, when I am asked this question, I like to go straight to the gospel: I believe that Jesus was literally born of a virgin, that he actually performed miracles, that he really died on a cross, and truly rose again the third day and ascended to heaven.

The early Christians took the gospel literally in this way.  The Apostles’ Creed, for example, does not merely state abstract theological truths, but grounds the faith in real historical events.  “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again;” etc.

On the other hand, the Bible contains plenty of figurative language and symbolism.  What do you do with a passage like this?

“And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.” (Revelation 13:1)

Revelation contains John’s prophecy of “things which much shortly come to pass,” so should John’s early listeners have expected a literal seven-headed ten-horned beast to rise out of the sea?  The answer, in this case, is actually not that complicated.  The Bible itself tells us to interpret John’s visions here as symbols. When the book of Revelation begins, it specifies that the prophecy was signified (“the meaning or idea expressed by a sign, as distinct from the physical form in which it is expressed,” Oxford English Dictionary).

Therefore, taking the Bible literally in this example means believing that John literally saw a vision of a seven-headed beast and that the vision actually and truly symbolized a reality that God intended to convey using the symbol.  To expect a physical seven-headed beast, in this case, is actually not taking the text as it is written.

Interpreting the Bible can be challenging.  Nevertheless, the core message is clear and straightforward to understand.  Moreover, if we read the Bible with faith and seek to take it as it is intended, we will be well on our way toward greater understanding of this glorious text.

 

All My Tears

So weep not for me my friend, When my time below does end, For my life belongs to him, Who will raise the dead again. (All My Tears, Julie Miller)

At the heart of the Christian gospel is this dramatic creed, “that he [Jesus] was buried, and that he rose again the third day.”  Christ’s victory over death forms the foundation of Christian hope for life to come.  Moreover, it is, alongside his sacrificial death for sin, the basis for newness of life here and now.

The Scriptures speak of the consummation of God’s saving victory for his people in this way, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

For those who possess the life of Christ, resurrection is both a future hope and a present reality, for he said, “I am the resurrection, and the life.”  Embracing that reality has radical consequences for life here and now.  This blog seeks to examine those consequences, looking at life in light of the astounding truth that he rose again.