Yellow-Brick Road Christianity

The Bible says that the most important command is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength (Luke 10:27)

I once read a book about this: thinking, loving, doing. A call to holistic Christianity. A challenge to be thinkers, engaged and serious about knowing God. And to be feelers, pulsing with passion for Jesus and His gospel. And to be doers, endeavouring great acts of love for others!

And I agree, it is no good just loving God with our heart, or just our mind, or just our strength – we need all three. I know this and I agree. In fact, growing up I once heard a talk that compared the types of Christians who love God with only some of these ingredients as the people Dorothy encounters on the yellow brick road towards the Wizard of Oz.

The straw man who doesn’t have a brain, the tin man without a heart and the lion without courage. The various pitfalls for Christians loving God like this are obvious!

However, the part that I need to focus on now is not using all three – but using ALL of all three!

You see, as important it as it is that we love God with our heart, mind, strength and soul. As important as all these three components are. It is just as important that we are wholeheartedly loving God.

There isn’t room for lukewarm discipleship, halfhearted obedience or ‘one hand to the plough, one eye back’.

In studying Genesis 3, I came across this quote from one of the commentators:

“The serpent touches us at the one thing in our lives where we would rather God did not trouble us. We will give Him everything else, but we will hold this one part of life to ourselves”.

This may be our ambition, our refusal to forgive, our determination to exercise, eat whatever we want, watch whatever we want. An area of sin we refuse to confess. A possession we refuse to give away. Be aware, this is where satan will aim his temptation.

What do we withhold from God?

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=holding+nothing+back+tim+hughes

Genesis 1:1-2:3 Part 4 An Ongoing Call to Worship

Truly, the Bible is the gift that keeps on giving. I’ve done about 8-9 passes on these few verses and I keep getting to hear God’s voice! It’s just as well I’m not a time limit to finish this. I have a feeling a study like this is going to take a while.

It’s probably worth noting that I think going through the Bible at a fast pace is still important. Not only does it make it easier to appreciate each story in context, it also enables to see the Big Picture of God’s plan. That is why I’m still continuing my Bible Read Through approach with a friend. Saying all that, I can’t tell you how good it feels to soak this much in Scripture. It feels like a bath.

In this post I want to explore the Ongoing Call to Worship found in Genesis chapter 1-2:3. Because I’m a sermon writer, I can’t help myself, and have divided the post into three…

1) Creation still hums and buzzes with God’s word all these years later. It is amazing enough that when God spoke things happened, He said “let there be light” and there was! Boom! Cause for worship. But did you know that creation is still obeying His voice today – I know it’s obvious. But look at all the calls to reproduction we see in this passage. The plants are commanded to bring forth seed, fruit and more plants. The animals, fish and birds also. Whenever we see creatures, moving, living, growing, we have an opportunity to see the reverberation of God’s voice still at work today!

This means that when we go outside, listen to the birds singing, see the plants in all their vibrant beauty, right there, we can see God’s voice still working. Boom! Let us worship a God who’s voice echos these thousands, if not millions, of years later.

2) Every day the sun rises, every night the moon shines, we are given a rhythm to worship. Not only is the call to worship present in the ongoing obedience of creation to God’s ordinances. But we as human beings are given daily and weekly rhythms by which to worship. Every day the sun governs the light, every night the moon and stars rule the darkness, we can respond and worship in sync with that which is obediently, steadfastly proclaiming God’s power. Yes, His mercies are new every morning, praise Him, yes the sun rises every day, praise Him. Praise Him in the morning, and the evening.

3) We have been invited to enjoy His creation, especially on the Sabbath! The fact that God finishes what He starts, and rests, and enjoys His creation. Is a model for us, that we should do the same. May it be part of our weekly schedule, routine and rhythm, to pause on the Sabbath and appreciate all the work that God has done.

Creation calls us to worship it’s Creator. Look and see, hear and listen. It echos God’s power!

Genesis 1:1-2:3 Part 3 The Divine Image

Another thing that I wanted to share from my study of this chapter, is the emphasis on the creation of mankind. It says God created man(kind) in His image and in the image and likeness of God He created them. I think overall the passage mentions that we were made in God’s image three times! As Mike Pilavachi would say, if God says something three times, it’s generally “good-theology” to pay attention.

So it is not surprise then that the commentators did pay a lot of attention to this. I wanted to include a list of thoughts towards what it means to be made in the ‘Divine Image’ here:

1. Humans are given Various (God-like) Capacities. Wayne Grudem, I understand, calls these “communicable attributes of God” – the attributes of God that we share/shadow in. For example we can reason, we can create, we can talk and listen. Obviously not to the infinite extent God-can, but like Him nonetheless. There are “incommunicable attributes” as well such as omnipotence, omnipresence etc. But clearly part of what it means to be made in God’s image is that we can function a little like God. See my previous post on Genesis to see how God has provided mankind with authority.

2. Humans are made Relational beings. Just like the Trinitarian God, who has been subtlety introduced throughout this passage (His Spirit over the water, “let us make mankind” and that He made us in His image: male and female), human beings are made relational. In fact we will later notice that the one thing “not good” in all of creation is that it was not good for man to be alone.

The commentators highlighted that we are not just relational in terms of our capacity to relate to each other, but also in our capacity to relate to God.

3. Human beings are made Human Becomings. Since humans are relational, and relationships happen over time part of what it means to be a human is to be someone who is moving into closer relationship with God. To be someone who is growing into their identity. That’s why Ephesians 4:13 hints at when it says: “until we all reach unity…and knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

It was picked up by the commentators in the next chapter: man is offered two paths to knowledge. 1) Experientially, through obedience to God and participation with His plan. 2) Sinfully, through detachment and “enlightenment” via the “tree of knowledge of good and evil”. The commentator emphasises that true knowledge is always found via knowing and obeying God. This is how we become more human. I am fascinated with this concept!

4. Human beings are made to Represent God to creation. Just as an ancient king might set up statues in distant lands to represent himself to the population, so too our God sets us up to represent Him to creation. However because of sin we are limited and marred in all our attempts to do this. However, Jesus who never sinned, is called the ultimate image of God, in fact His exact representation! (Col 1:15)

Finally, let us not forget Colossians 1:15: “THE SON IS THE IMAGE OF THE INVISIBLE GOD THE FIRSTBORN OVER ALL CREATION.’’ Where Adam and Eve failed to live up to the opportunity God gave them, Christ succeeds. May we seek to look upon Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12), may we contemplate His glory and in so doing be transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory (2 Corinthians 3). For we know that it when He appears, when we see Him, that we will be like Him (1 John 3:2).

Oh, may our gaze ever be towards Christ, the true divine image of God!

There was a quote which I really liked. To be made in the Divine image is both “a task and a gift, it is a history and a status”. Yes it is inherent in our nature to be made in God’s image, but it is also a responsibility, an invitation and something which we can grow into. May we seek to obey God, steward His gifts, represent Him, carry out our God-like capacities, and in so doing come to know Him more through experiential obedience!

Nuanced Initiative

Earlier this week I shared a post about the importance of taking initiative. I would recommend reading it, here. However, over the last couple of days I’ve been thinking a little more about initiative and I wanted to add this nuanced post-script.

Talking about taking the initiative is very empowering, it’s very popular and “go-getter” speech. But there are a few important caveats that we need to remember.

1) Initiative doesn’t negate listening to God

The Bible is filled with stories and characters who were so keen to “take the initiative” that they ignored the process of listening to God. We see the downfall of King Saul begin this way, so keen to take the initiative that he refused to wait for Samuel. We see the Israelites, led by Joshua making a hasty alliance with the Gibeonites without enquiring of the LORD. Even one of Jesus’ disciples took the initiative to “defend” Jesus against the Roman soldiers by slicing off an ear! Not a good idea.

Yes, let us take the initiative, especially in areas where God has led us to move. But let us be quicker to listen to God before we act.

2) Initiative doesn’t mean automatic (immediate) success

Just because we act, because we move first, or we move boldly forward, does not mean that we will be successful. (Even if we’ve enquired of God!) This isn’t talked about much, but is so important.

Remember Stephen, who preached the gospel, who did all the right things and was still stoned? Remember Joseph who took initiative to flee from Potipher’s wife – and who was still falsely accused? Remember the early Church, scattered and persecuted? Remember our Lord Jesus, who was without sin, who was crucified?

No, obedience to God, and initiative doesn’t always magically produce “success” (at least how we might define it). In our obedience and initiative, we must take the attitude of the three faithful men who said:

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it…BUT EVEN IF HE DOES NOT, we want you to know…that we will not bow to the image of gold” [Daniel 3:17-18]

3) Initiative taking in one area, doesn’t mean you can relent in other areas

We all have strengths and weaknesses. It will be easy for us to take initiative in some areas of life, more so than in others. Just because we’ve taken the initiative in exercise, doesn’t mean we don’t have to care about our relationships etc.

Final Thought

I’ll come into land with this thought: God encourages initiative. This is why He selected 12 disciples to lead the Church movement forward. This is why repeatedly throughout scripture God is trusting men and women to co-labour with Him, to be His hands and feet, to represent Him in the world.

Three things to expect from studying the Pentateuch

We are studying the Bible and working our way through many of the introductions! This morning I’ve looked at an Introduction to the Pentateuch from the ESV study Bible. For those who don’t know, the Pentateuch is the name given to the first five books of the Bible. A lot of information to digest, but overall a helpful article to read.

The three things which most resonated with me were:

1) One of the foundational purposes of the first five books of the Bible is to introduce us to God. Who He is, what His character is like and what His ethical standards are. I was particularly taken with the emphasis on His character. One of the things I’m going to be looking out for as I study these books is: what does this story, passage or moment tell me about who God is? Since one of the reasons I’m studying the Bible, is so that I can become more like Jesus, when I spot something of God’s character I’ll be wanting to pray: “Please, make me more like this!”. For a simple example, when I see God generously provide to Adam and Eve food, clothes to wear, relationships, work and even breath to breathe, (even though they will later betray Him), I ask that God make me more generous.

2) This article also touched on the dilemma of historical dating with accuracy. It explained that whilst it was easy to map out certain dates of events in the Pentateuch, such as the Flood (which apparently can be calculated to the day of the week and year!), it is difficult to map out all of the events, such as creation and the exodus. I have always avoided looking closely at the dating of things in the Bible. I know that there are legitimate Biblical cases for both “old-earth” and “young-earth” creation standpoints and that has always been enough to satisfy me. I think the important things aren’t really to do with the dates. But when I read about this, I thought about the many objections to Christianity made by people who don’t believe it, and a lot seems to centre on the creation account. I was challenged that I may need to make more of an effort to educate myself on this aspect. At least to know the arguments better.

I know from studying Systematic Theology, that there is a difference between Accuracy and Truth. For example I could say: “I live close to my office”, or “I live within 5 kilometres of my office” or “I live 4.75 kilometres from my office”… All three statements are true, but clearly one is more accurate than the others. In this way the Bible can be true and yet not “accurate” (at least to the degree we might expect as 21st century western readers!). “Biblical statements”, writes Grudem, “can be imprecise and still be totally true. Inerrancy has to do with truthfulness, not with the degree of precision with which events are reported” (Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology p.92).

3) Finally, the article mentioned that one of the main themes in these books will be the importance of the law and right behaviour. A concept we tend to overlook as Christians, who know we are saved by grace through faith and not by works or our own merits. And yet, Deuteronomy 4:6-8 talks about how it was by observing God’s law that the Israelites could magnify God and communicate His goodness to the other nations. These words are mirrored in the teaching of Jesus who said: ‘let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven’ (Matthew 5:16). Faithful obedience to God is still important for Christians today.

To emphasise this point further I want to share a quote from Dallas Willard, that I saw he tweeted last week:

Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action. Grace does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins alone. You will consume much more grace by leading a holy life than you will by sinning

Please find below my full notes from this article below:

God, I thank you for the work of other Christians to put together this resource for me to use and learn from. May this post further enable others to pursue Your heart. Amen

To God be the Glory