Monday, May 23, 2011

What's The Big Idea?

I remember Mama standing in front of me, her hands poised on her hips, her eyes glaring with hot coals of fire and saying in stentorian tones, "Just what is the big idea, young man?"
Instinctively I knew my mother was not asking me an abstract question about theory. Her question was not a question at all--it was a thinly veiled accusation. Her words were easily translated to mean, "Why are you doing what you are doing?" She was challenging me to justify my behavior with a valid idea. I had none.
Recently a friend asked me in all earnestness the same question. He asked, "What's the big idea of the Christian life?" He was interested in the overarching, ultimate goal of the Christian life.
To answer his question, I fell back on the theologian's prerogative and gave him a Latin term. I said, "The big idea of the Christian life is coram Deo. Coram Deo captures the essence of the Christian life."
This phrase literally refers to something that takes place in the presence of, or before the face of, God. To live coram Deo is to live one's entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God. (R. C. Sproul)
Have you ever wondered, “What’s the big idea of the Christian life?” or “Why are we here?” Though this and other questions of ultimacy should be asked and honestly faced, I fear a great many people in our society never take the time or effort for such contemplation. I remember an episode from the sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond,” in which Ray’s daughter asks her unprepared father: “Why are we born? Why does God put us here, Daddy?” And Ray mumbles something about heaven’s being overcrowded and thus God sends us to earth to ease the congestion. He then feigns a sneezing fit and runs from the room.

Now, in my opinion, Ray’s antics were funny--the absurdity of it all! This was a lighthearted television show. But in all seriousness, how many today could do no better in answering the “big idea” question of an inquisitive child? What is the meaning of life? Sadly, our godless culture is languishing under nihilistic philosophies which say that there is no meaning to life whatsoever. Their logic, though based upon a wrong premise [that there is no God], is solid. If there is no God, and thus we exist for no reason, then there can be no “big idea.”

Of course, if we exist meaninglessly in a universe of blind chance, if there is no “big idea;” from whence comes the notion, this idea, of a “big idea”? As C.S. Lewis aptly observed, when a man falls into water he feels wet. But fish, who live in water, have no sense of wetness. If the world is meaningless, and man is merely a small part of the world, man should have no conceptual category of “meaning.” Yet questions of ultimacy, though perhaps downplayed, never altogether disappear. These questions persist because man is created in the image of God.

The Bible alone sufficiently answers questions of ultimacy. To find out “why we’re born” we must look to God in His word. The questions posed to the fictitious “Ray Barone” and the very real R.C. Sproul, are essentially one and the same. Sproul answered his inquisitor that the “big idea” of Christianity, it’s ultimate goal, is to live one’s life fully and consistently aware of God’s presence and authority; “to the glory of God.” Does Sproul’s answer surprise you? It seems many people, including Christian people, think the ultimate goal of life is going to heaven. Though that is a goal of Christian living, it’s not the goal.

Sproul rightfully observes that “going to heaven” is not the center or essence of the Christian life. Rather, the essence of Christianity is coram Deo. What does it mean to “live one's entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God,” as Sproul put it? First, this will require mental effort. True, all orthodox Christians believe God is omnipresent, and therefore we are always in His presence. But are we mindful of His presence? Sunday, at church--yes. But what about Tuesday morning or Friday afternoon? To live coram Deo will necessitate that we foster a sense of God’s abiding presence--not just when we feel our need of Him or when we are being religious.

Second, coram Deo will not only challenge us mentally or intellectually, but also morally. We realize this omnipresent God’s authority not only extends to our actions but even to our thoughts. God is always with us and we are always under His authority. We must therefore think and behave according to His preceptive will as revealed in scripture. At no time and in no sense are we autonomous or our own. Body and soul, we belong to God. Christ is our Lord everywhere and always.

Finally, coram Deo challenges us not only mentally and morally, but also in the arena motive. The Christian who would live thus must strive to be godly not only in thought and deed, but also in motivation. Everything he does will be done to the glory of God. How susceptible we are to desiring glory for ourselves. How addicting is the praise of man. The Christian may indeed be gratified by the appreciation of others, but this gratification he offers to God. And this gratification can never be what motivates him. Coram Deo requires excellence, for one cannot halfheartedly do anything to the glory of God. Therefore, the Christian worships, works, and plays with all his might and to the best of his ability; all to God’s glory alone.

The Westminster catechism reads: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” Here we find that when we live coram Deo on earth, heaven is thrown in. What a marvelous thing. The treasure of Christ and the enjoyment of God now and always, is our exceedingly great reward. It’s the “big idea.”

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Agnostic's Angst: Having No Knowlege...and Knowing It

The following is a pluralistic argument of a sort [“argument” is a bit of a stretch!] put forth by a guy named Chuck. For clarity, Chuck’s words appear bold and italicized. [I have left his grammar and syntax unedited.] May God add His blessing to your reading.
“What i know is that you don't know and that would include me and all"s called Faith...feel free to base ur beliefs on a turkey sandwhich if u wish....i don't care.”
I would ask you: Are you absolutely sure? How do you know we can't know? Knowing that one can't know is the essence of agnosticism. Agnosticism simply means "no knowledge."

I'm asking, how does one arrive at the knowledge that knowledge is inaccessible?

If God had never revealed Himself...agnosticism would, of course, be the only option. But God has revealed Himself in His world, in His word, and in His Son.

This is the clear teaching of scripture. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:18-19).

In other words, Chuck, according to the Bible, agnosticism is self-imposed and inexcusable. Agnosticism cloaks itself in humility. But in reality, it is the rejection of God’s self revelation. Notice, the scriptures I gave you don’t say man doesn’t know truth, but rather, man suppresses truth. “Not knowing” and “suppressing” are two very different things.

“has nothing to do with agnosticism.....ur truth can be my blasphemy and vice versa.....unless of course ur self proclaiming urself god....again, ur truth and my truth may be two different truths and i don' t claim any religion has exclusivity to God...not even urs...r u startin to get the point…it's all left up to the individual to determine what works best for them.”
Yes, I understand, I fully comprehend, your position. I've had this discussion many times. I understand your position and I fully disagree with it. No orthodox Christian agrees with the non biblical notion that "it's all left up" to us. Nothing could be further from the truth. Christ is clear: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

You say this “has nothing to do with agnosticism.” You previously alleged that “mankind” cannot know. Chuck, this is agnosticism by definition. You’ve yet to explain to me how you can know that man cannot know. You’ve yet to actually engage anything I’ve said.

You offer: “ur truth can be my blasphemy and vice versa…” You offer this as an absolute truth statement. You deny absolute Truth [truth which is true for all men at all times and places] yet you keep making absolute truth statements. You're talking out of both sides of your mouth. That being said, this particular absolute truth statement of yours is completely false.

Your “truth” statement denies the nature of Truth and it also commits the logical fallacy of denying the Aristotelian law of non contradiction. That is, something cannot be what it is and not be what it is at the same time and in the same relation. For example, it cannot be true that Christ is God the Son incarnate and that He is not God the Son incarnate.

This is the problem with reasoning autonomously rather than biblically: eventually it breaks down into unlivable truth claims and logical absurdities.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Answering Those Who Ask

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear. (1Peter 3:15)
In the above passage of scripture the Apostle Peter says, in no uncertain terms, that it is incumbent upon every Christian to be ready to answer the inevitable questions which rise in the minds of non believers, concerning God and His world. The questions are inevitable because while man may suppress his knowledge of God, he cannot be rid of that knowledge entirely; for the knowledge of God inheres to His creation in both the natural external world of man and in the internal conscience of man. Thus, man can suppress some of the truth some of the time, but he cannot suppress all of the truth all of the time. God will not be dismissed. And so the questions persist.

It is the believer’s duty to answer the unbeliever, thereby further disabusing the unbeliever of all pretended excuses for disbelief. Notice, the believer is to be ready to answer “everyone who asks.” Because everyone who asks, asks in various ways and for various reasons, the Christian must be discerning. Some questioners are insincere skeptics, desirous only of debate--much like the Pharisees challenging Jesus. Others, like those who listened to Paul the apostle on Mars Hill, who “spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing;” are merely intellectually or philosophically curious (c.f. Acts 17:21). Questioners such as these are always interested in questions but never interested in answers. Then there are those questioners who are more akin to Nicodemus: A sincere person with genuine questions, who is accepting of genuine answers. Regardless of the questioner’s motive, the believer is to be ready to answer everyone. While the Christian is responsible to answer everyone, he is responsible to convert no one. Answering is the work of the believer, converting is the work of the Spirit.

How is the Christian to ready himself to defend the Faith to everyone who asks? The answer to this question, painting in broad strokes, is twofold. First, the Christian must know, understand, and apply the scripture to the issue, whatever the issue may be, in question. For instance, if the question asked of him is, “What’s wrong with gay marriage?” or “Why is abortion such a big deal?” he must know, understand, and then apply what the Bible says concerning such things. The Christian need not turn anywhere else but to the scriptures. Now, this isn’t to say that he will never need to consult theology books or commentaries or pastor/teachers; but all of these resources should merely serve to help the Christian better know, understand, and apply the scripture. The Bible is his ultimate authority for all matters of faith and conduct, and the Bible is completely sufficient to answer every question he will face.
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2Timothy 3:16-17)
If the “man of God” is to answer “with meekness and fear” then he must answer biblically. The meek Christian will submit to the final authority of scripture, as touching all subjects or issues. The believer who fears God more than he fears man will fearlessly convey the truth presented in the Bible. So it is, we find that the man of God is to answer questions biblically, both in content and in attitude. When the Christian, with meekness and fear, responds to his inquisitor biblically, he avoids the common pitfalls of pride and presumption. In meekness, he will never arrogantly answer on the basis of his own personal authority, disregarding the Bible. Similarly, in fear, he will never presumptively speak for God apart from, or without reference to, God’s objective self revelation in scripture.

As we speak of meekness and fear before God, we come to the second aspect of being ready to defend the Faith. The believer who would effectively answer everyone who asks, must spend time in prayer. Never underestimate the importance of or the power of prayer when engaging in apologetics [defending the Faith]. Only the power of the Holy Spirit, not the power of human persuasion, can open closed minds and hearts. In other words, the Christian can plainly and forcefully present the truth of the Bible, concerning any issue, to the unbeliever; but only the Holy Spirit can open the mind and heart of the unbeliever to understand and accept the truth that has been presented. It is no coincidence that the apostle Paul, immediately after encouraging the believer to take “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;” adds, “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17-18).

To effectively defend the faith and to advance the kingdom, the Christian has been given the mighty “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” May he skillfully wield this sword of the Spirit, this sword of Truth; with meekness and fear, and fervent prayer, to the glory of God.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Dancing on Graves: Osama's and Ours

The sleepy Sunday evening of May 1, 2011, suddenly turned surreal. Amid a flurry of media activity, President Obama was preparing an impromptu announcement. Even before the President strode to the podium, the word was out: Osama Bin Laden had been killed.

This late breaking news report was greeted in America with great joy and revelry. Literally, there was dancing in the streets. The Star Spangled banner was sung--badly--in a New York subway. Baseball stadiums reverberated with spontaneous eruptions of “USA, USA, USA.” It was a night to be remembered. And more than remembered-- it was a night to be contemplated.

How does America’s response to the reports of Bin Laden’s death appear--when viewed through the lens of the Holy Bible? This is the question to be considered if we would be biblical in our worldview. A few scripture passages come to mind and we will briefly examine each one in turn.

But first, this caveat. Please understand, this isn’t about whether or not Bin Laden was deserving of death. Of course he was. He is responsible for the killing of thousands of people. And God’s word is exceedingly clear concerning the punishment of murderers: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:6). So, we are not here addressing the justice of killing murderers. We are here addressing our response to the killing of murderers. How should we respond to the killing of our enemy?

We begin with Proverbs 24:17. “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.”

Many in America were and are rejoicing in the demise of Bin Laden. While I do not feel one ounce of regret for this terrorist, neither am I inclined to exult in his execution. (I am sure I would feel differently if I had lost a loved one on 9/11. This however, would not make my feelings right in the eyes of the Lord.)

So, on the one hand we are exhorted to be subdued in our response to the death of our enemy. But then we read Exodus 15:1-18. This is the song of rejoicing the children of Israel sang when the Egyptian army was drowned in the Red Sea. The people of God were indeed rejoicing. But were they celebrating the deaths of these men per se? Or, were they jubilant in the salvation of God?

We must remember, at this point the children of Israel were facing certain, imminent genocide. But their omnipotent God saved them. God’s power to save is the central message of their song. “I will sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously! The LORD is my strength and song. And He has become my salvation; He is my God, and I will praise Him…The LORD is a man of war…Your right hand, O LORD, has become glorious in power….in the greatness of Your excellence You have overthrown those who rose against You” (Exodus 15:1,2,3,6,7).

I do not believe the late night revelers, gathered in front of the White House, were thanking and magnifying God for delivering them from Bin Laden. That certainly wasn’t the message of their slogans or signs. God uses many methods and means to distribute His justice. He used the Red Sea then and He may have used SEAL team 6 now; but then He was praised, now He is ignored.

Another passage pertinent to our examination is 1Samuel 18:6-7.
Now it had happened as they were coming home, when David was returning from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women had come out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy, and with musical instruments. So the women sang as they danced, and said: “Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands.”
Obviously, the entire song is not recorded. Perhaps they praised God, perhaps not. But we must observe two things. 1)This seemingly innocuous song culminated in a bloody civil war, lasting 7 years, between the house of David and the house of Saul. 2)This narrative is descriptive, not prescriptive. That is, it merely describes the response of the women to God’s victory--through David--over His enemies. It does not command or infer: “Go and do likewise.”

Next, we consider Ezekiel 18:23,32.
Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord GOD, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live…I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,” says the Lord GOD. “Therefore turn and live!”
Here we find that God does not delight in the death of the wicked. To be sure, God ordains the death of the wicked--as He does all things--but He gets no fiendish enjoyment out of such things. God’s justice is manifested in the death of the wicked but He is not sadistic in His righteous wrath. That is, God reveals both His pleasure and His displeasure in His inscrutable dealings with sinners.

Thus, we may recognize the hand of God in all things and bask in the display of His glory, without delighting in the death--in and of itself--of wicked people.

Finally, I will end where we began. We looked at Proverbs 24:17, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.” Now let’s read the conclusion of the thought: “Lest the LORD see it, and it displease Him, and He turn away His wrath from him” (Proverbs 24:18).

As we exult in the death our wicked enemies, are we failing to face the wickedness in ourselves? I love America, and sometimes love is blind. [As is hate.] But I clearly see, in the light of scripture, that America is a wicked nation. I do not need to delineate our national sins, but they are many.

Think of the judgment of God which rests upon our own people: an economy in shambles, a society spiraling downward into decadence, poor leadership in government [both civil and sacred], ten years of warfare with no end in sight, a lack of unity and a devaluing of national identity, etc. etc.

I echo the sentiments of Thomas Jefferson. “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.” These are sobering words, my friend. And also remember this: Those who joyously sang after God’s killing of the Egyptians in Exodus 15, were themselves judged by God. They wandered 40 years and never stepped a foot into the promised land.

And so we must be cautious when dancing on graves. Because someday the grave will be our own.