“Lily” (Part three)

Beth’s figure cast a shadow over Lily’s chair. Lily looked up reluctantly, fluorescence glittering off Beth’s hands and earlobes. “Thank you,” Lily responded. Beth’s feinted welcome rangimgres hollow to Lily.

“We’re a great class,” Beth said. “I’ve been here for years. I should promote up to the next age group, I suppose, but I just love Tim, and this class. Tim’s a great teacher, and we’re all such a close group. If you want, I could introduce you. I know everybody.” Lily’s stomach again turned.

“I work at Covenant, too” Beth said, “but I’m with administration. I’m a counselor. I help direct students in ways they ought to go.” For a moment, Lily felt she might vomit. “Oh,” said Lily. “I teach English—grammar and literature.” It didn’t appear to Lily that Beth had even heard her.

Behind Beth, Lily could see Tim making his way towards his lectern. “Guys, we’ll go ahead and get started this morning,” he said. “First, welcome to Lily. She teaches at Covenant. She moved from Rook last month. Please make her feel welcome. “

Tim and the others in class smiled at Lily. Beth, who had taken a seat opposite Lily, interjected: “Guys, this is Lily. Yes, she works with me at Covenant. But she just teaches English. We in administration are just so glad she came to Covenant and to our church, aren’t we?” Beth’s bracelets jangled. Lily felt acid in her throat.

Tim sat upon the stool, glanced down at the lectern, and addressed the class. “The passage this morning comes from Genesis. It’s the story of Jacob’s wrestling with God in chapter 32.

“Be thinking about what God is teaching about his own nature, and about Jacob’s nature. Then ask yourself how this episode in the life of the patriarch applies to us. Are we at all like Jacob? Then we’ll discuss these things, okay?” The class nodded. Tim read:

 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip on the sinew of the thigh.

 Lily looked up from her Bible app, where she’d been following Tim’s reading. Tim looked out at the class. “Well,” he said, “did anyone notice the first sentence—and the crowd of people Jacob was with?”

Lily appreciated Tim’s method. Beth, unsurprisingly, spoke first. “Well, Tim, I know just how Jacob felt. I mean, when I’m with the Lord, I too want God to bless me, and I think it’s so important to listen to him like Jacob did.” Again, Lily felt her stomach turn.

Then Tim looked at Lily. “Lily,” he said, “you look like you wanted to say something.”

“Well,” Lily said, “Jacob was not with a crowd. He was alone when the Lord confronted him.”

“Oh,” Beth said, “well, I mean, of course, he was. We knew that. I was just saying how God blesses us.” Again, the feeling in Lily’s stomach.

“That’s right, Lily. Jacob was alone when he wrestled with the angel of the Lord,” Tim said. “Does anyone think that is significant?” Lily felt Beth’s glare.

“Well, Tim, we all know that Jacob was going to be used by God for something great,” Beth continued.

Then Beth looked down at her hands and began adjusting two of the rings on her right hand. Lily glanced at some of the faces in the semi-circled class to see if anyone’s thoughts were with hers. Several people nodded at her. Beth fondled her golden rings and avoided Lily’s eyes.

(To be continued)

 

 

 

The Secular or the Savior?

Are you old enough to remember when government schools released students for Christmas holidays and Easter holidays? Those terms have now been replaced with winter break and spring break. And Thanksgiving is being replaced by fall break. Do you think those replacements are accidental? They are indicators of the secular worldview and of paganism being the all-but-declared religion of the West.

What will be the endgame of a culture given over to the secular worldview? Is there reason for hope in the secular worldview? Does paganism deliver on its promises of progress?

Do not be deceived; we are incurably religious. We will worship someone or something(s). The question is whether we will worship the Creator, the one true and living God, or if we will worship ourselves (creatures)–that is, the earth (the creation).

Recently I heard a fine sermon on Psalm 19. Called by C.S. Lewis the finest poem in literature, Psalm 19 is typically divided into two major parts. The first part describes God’s general revelation of himself through his created order (cosmos). The second part describes God’s special revelation of himself through his Word.

David wrote that God reveals himself to us, his creatures, through creation:

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world (Psalm 19:1-4a, ESV)

What is that poetic language teaching? It’s straightforward—namely, that the firmament, the heavens, trumpet and herald this message: God is. The stars, the planets, the galaxies, etc. fill the mind and soul with wonder and cause us creatures to declare in response, “This has to be of God.” Randomness, chance, accident, billions of years, etc. cannot begin to explain the glory of what we behold.

And yet the slide into the secular pit continues. Why? Is it because God has not given enough evidence? Is it possible that it’s not lack of evidence for God’s existence that has led to the larger culture’s embrace of secularism and paganism? Is it possible that it’s much simpler—that, in fact, it’s a moral issue? What if it came down, in fact, to suppression of the overwhelming evidence of God’s existence?

According to Scripture, our consciences bear witness to God’s law written on our hearts. Our consciences either accuse or excuse our behavior: “They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (Romans 2:15, ESV).

And yet the slide into the secular pit continues. Yet we have general revelation (the cosmos), and we have special revelation (Scripture). Moreover, we have consciences that accuse and/or excuse our behavior.

But ultimately we have God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, who, according to one of Christianity’s greatest creeds, was “conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.”

And yet the slide into the secular pit continues. Despite the heavens declaring the glory of God; despite the millions of Bibles on dashboards of vehicles or on coffee tables in homes; despite our consciences that prick us when we know we’ve violated the moral code; and even despite the Lord Jesus, whom the secular pagan world hates, but cannot get rid of. Where’s hope or salvation in secularism and/or paganism?

Despite the Dan Brown novels; despite Richard Dawkins’ tirades; despite Sam Harris’ vitriol—somehow this Jesus resurrects and outlives his enemies. And somehow the Christian church, so maligned by the increasingly secular and hostile culture, gathers across continents regularly, as a ransomed bride, and professes the faith of the gospel of grace–that Christ has died, that Christ has risen, and that Christ will come again.

 

Thanksgiving, a Pop Song by the Police, and Your Mind: Worldview in Microcosm

“When the world is running down/You make the best of what’s still around.” That’s the refrain in a pop song from a very popular band, The Police. That line reveals a lot about the theology and worldview expressed in the tune of the same name. This week, many Americans will celebratthe Thanksgiving. What Americans believe about God will be evidenced in what we do/don’t do this week. Will we pray or not? Will we express thankfulness? To whom? To ourselves? To our predecessors? To our nation? Our military? Why? These questions go to the heart of the matter. If we are thankful, does that thankfulness not assume there is someone to whom to be thankful? It personalizes the act of thanksgiving. Ought we to be thankful to someone? How you answer that question reveals much. Ought implies a moral imperative. It is a way of saying, there is a right standard, a way man ought to follow. But we’re in a day when many will gather together and be at a loss as to whom they should thank. In other words, they’re cut off from the author of life (God), the only One to whom we ought to be supremely grateful.

Antithesis. Literally, the term means “against/opposed to another argument/idea.” Does that sound too sophisticated of a term? I hope not. It’s simple. In informal language, it’s the other side of the coin. It’s a way of saying this vs. that. This way, not that way. God or Satan. Good vs. evil. Justice vs. injustice. Truth vs. lies.

Antithesis is a mark of thinking. Thinking conceptually is predicated upon one’s thinking via antithesis. In other words, the person who cannot make distinctions cannot properly be said to be thinking conceptually. Here’s the upshot: either we’re in a theistic world (where God is sovereign Creator and we’re His creatures) or we’re not. It’s one or the other. Either we are to thank the God who is, who has spoken, who upholds all things by His sovereign power, or we are cosmic accidents who cannot even begin to explain why things exist, why we’re here, why morality is not an illusion, or how nothing gave rise to everything, all the while undirected.

What does that have to do with Thanksgiving? A lot. Ever had this experience? A family gathers in the kitchen or dining room, and someone is called on to offer a prayer of thanksgiving. But do we think about that? Whom are we thanking? It does not make sense to thank randomness/chaos/nothingness. Are our talents our own? Is our strength our own? Is our wealth our own? Our health? Are we in control of seedtime and harvest? Did we control the gifts of our children?

This is just where we need to understand antithesis. If we do not come to terms with the concept of giving thanks, we are eschewing intellectual courage and honesty. This morning, I listened to a fine sermon by my pastor from Psalm 16. It was about, among other things, how believers recognize that we have no ultimate good apart from God. David wrote, “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the LORD, “Your are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” (Psalm 16:1-2, ESV). David recognized that he was to thank God. Why? Because God is the author of life; God is the fount of blessing. In short, life without God is unthinkable. This is the perfect example of why it’s crucial for us to think via antithesis. Either God or an idol. God or Baal/idolatry. Theism or atheism. Pushed logically, how can the atheist justify being thankful, if he/she believes he came into being accidentally, cannot explain purpose, meaning, or origins? Why ought the atheist be thankful if there’s no one to thank?

Was Sting right? If the world is running down, should we just try to make the best of what’s still around? That’s pretty sad. What would it take for you to consider that the reason the world is running down is because we live this side of Genesis 3? What if this world is running down because we are moral rebels from God, trying to cover our sin? What if the world is running down because the whole creation is groaning from shaking its fist in the face of the God who loves the creation enough to take on flesh and come for all who will repent and believe upon Jesus?

The antithesis is this: either God is, and we ought to honor Him as such or we’re on our own, and the jig is up. Either God has spoken through creation, through Scripture, through conscience, through design, and through Christ and His resurrection, or He hasn’t.

The apogee of this antithesis finds many illustrations in literature, but perhaps none is more familiar than Macbeth’s lines: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/And then is heard no more. It is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing” (5.5.25-28).

Is life (is your life) a tapestry woven by God or a tale told by an idiot? This is why thinking antithetically is crucial. Let us think with honesty, with logical consistency, with humility, but let us think and then act with conviction. And, yes, Happy Thanksgiving.

His Speck but My Log

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Some books should be read once; some books should be read and recommended; some books should be read and purchased for others who will read them. Lastly, some books should be read, purchased for others, and read again for our own benefit. This is my third time reading through I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek. The title is appropriate and summative. The authors ask rimgreseaders to examine their own assumptions in their search for truth. I’ve read scores of books on Christian apologetics, but what I appreciate about this book is its forthrightness and accessibility for lay persons. I use it as a gift for others whom I believe will actually read it.

What demands more faith—to believe that an intelligent, uncaused, personal being (God) created everything, or to believe that nothing gave rise accidentally to everything? If God exists, then origins, identity, meaning, morality and destiny are explainable. If atheism is true (where God’s non-existence is assumed as an absolute) then origins, identity, meaning, morality and destiny are unexplainable rationally; they become subjective and preferential. Stick with me as I tell a personal story from just a couple of years ago.

During a military deployment a couple of years ago in Afghanistan, I developed a friendship with another officer within our battalion. We both had been English majors as undergraduates and we talked often of our favorite books, writers, and ideas. He’d grown up in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts as a nominal Roman Catholic but said he was now agnostic. He said he’d read the Bible through but could not bring himself to believe in the exclusivity of Jesus as God incarnate. He’d come to reject Christianity. Why? He said that he’d seen too many sins (his word) in the Roman Catholic circles in which he was reared. Even in his forties, he was still wounded by them. In short, he said he was disappointed. Therefore, he said, Christianity could not be true.

Are you following his reasoning? Because he’d seen sinful behavior of those claiming to be Christians, he rejected the Christian faith. May I say this kindly but clearly? That’s very poor reasoning. None of us is righteous. None of us is good. We’re all sinners. The first three chapters of Romans explain this with unmistakable clarity. Because hypocrites exist, Christianity is false? That’s hardly sound reasoning. Jesus excoriated hypocrites: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell, you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice” (Mt 23:2-3 ESV).

Over and over again, Jesus pronounced judgment upon hypocrites. In Matthew 23 alone, Jesus pronounced “woes” and judgments repeatedly upon fakers. Why? Because they (scribes, Pharisees, etc.) were charlatans, they were fakes. They brought reproach upon God’s name for pretending to be lovers and followers of God, yet living ungodly: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Mt 23:23a).

Were that insufficient, Jesus turns the screws tighter still: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean” (Mt 23:25-26).

Any righteousness is internal before it’s external. Because our hearts are evil, self-absorbed, and factories of idols, we need new hearts. And that is what Christ provides. He did not come for the righteous but for sinners. Conviction over one’s own sin, not scoffing at others’ hypocrisy, is evidence of a teachable spirit. Trying to use others’ hypocrisy is a tactic of distracting oneself from addressing our own personal sin. We reveal ourselves to be just like the Pharisees Jesus excoriated. We want to appear righteous but we know that we’re guilty sinners.

My friend was right to loathe the hypocrisy of the hypocrites he witnessed. But he (and I) would do well to loathe the hypocrisy in ourselves more than we lament it in others. We’ll not answer for others’ sin; our own is more than enough to battle.

I bought my friend a copy of Geisler and Turek’s book two years ago. He promised me he would read it. I don’t know if he has. I’m now reading it through for the third time. I don’t say that to boast, but out of love for a friend, who sees the specks in others’ eyes with clarity. May God use this helpful book to help him see himself as well as he sees others. When we begin to see ourselves as the sinners we are, we see what amazing grace is extended to all who will humble themselves before the cross of Christ.