More Wonderful Beyond

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

I Corinthians 15: 12-14

 

Alister McGrath, a former atheist who has become a believer in Christ, a theologian and a scientist, tells the following story about the first time he awakened to the hope of Christ’s resurrection:

[As a young man], I was a grumpy and frankly rather arrogant atheist. I was totally convinced that there was no God, and that anyone who thought there was needed to be locked up for her own good. I was majoring in the sciences at high school and had won a scholarship to study chemistry at Oxford University, beginning in October 1971. I had every reason to believe that studying the sciences further would confirm my rampant godlessness. While waiting to go up to Oxford, I decided to work my way through a pile of “improving books.” Needless to say, none of them were religious.

Eventually, I came to a classic work of philosophy—Plato’s Republic. I couldn’t make sense of everything I read. But one image etched itself into my imagination. Plato asks us to imagine a group of men, trapped in a cave, knowing only a world of flickering shadows cast by a fire. Having experienced no other world, they assume that the shadows are the only reality. Yet the reader knows—and is meant to know—that there is another world beyond the cave, awaiting discovery.

As I read this passage, the hard-nosed rationalist within me smiled condescendingly. Typical escapist superstition! What you see is what you get, and that’s the end of the matter. Yet a still, small voice within me whispered words of doubt. What if this world is only part of the story? What if this world is only a shadowland? What if there is something more wonderful beyond it?

 

McGrath’s struggle with the truth(s) of the Christian faith is not unique. The Apostle Paul had his own barriers, one being (from a Jewish perspective) the barrier of a religious tradition which assumed that the Messiah would conquer via the glory and honor of war, not the ignominious cross of dishonor.

Barriers to belief many times come in the form of intellectual pride as with McGrath, but McGrath knew by virtue of the moral law within and the starry sky above that “there is something more wonderful beyond” this life. Our neo-pagan culture lies to itself by saying that this is all that there is. It reduces reality to matter, a contiguous concourse of mere molecules in motion. We are like the ancients in Plato’s allegory of the Cave; we believe the shadows of this dark fallen world are all that there is. Yet, some of us are like St. Paul prior to his conversion; because of religious pride we assume “man-made” traditions are all there is. Religious tradition can too cast a long, dark shadow upon us. Even regenerate (born again) Christians will allow the need to belong to muddy our thinking in the morass of misconceptions. This was the case for Paul as he addressed the First Church of Corinth. Their intellectual pride of wanting to be accepted by their surrounding pagan culture (sounds familiar?) had them buying into pagan concepts (like the pagan idea that there is no bodily resurrection of believers), concepts contrary to the essentials of the faith (like the Christian idea of the physical, bodily resurrection of Christ). 

These are just some barriers to belief. Others barriers can be suffering, evil, and pain. However, when we are confronted with the resurrected Lord, when we have an encounter with the living God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, when we encounter the ultimate reality of the Word of God made flesh then all the idols of our minds retreat while our hearts surrender to Christ. This is what happened to Paul. It was Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus which eroded his doubt; his pang of a guilty conscience receded into the shadows in the face of the overwhelming effulgence of the resurrected Lord.

During this season of Lent and Easter if you are struggling with doubt—e.g. doubt from pride, or doubt from pain and loss, etc.–turn your gaze again to the reality of our Lord who conquered death not for Himself, but for us. Because of Christ’s death on the cross death for us is but a shadow; and because of Christ’s life and resurrection there is something more wonderful here and now for us and beyond!

Soli Deo Gloria

G Carl Moore

 

 

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Preserved By God

4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God (Gen 45: 4-8a)

 

 

In this text we read about how God preserves his people in the midst of forces and pressures that seek to do us no good. Joseph the son of Jacob knew this very well. If there was ever a person who knew the forces and pressures of life that seek to pull apart and press us down it was Joseph: sold into slavery; sent to prison, forsaken and betrayed by family and friends. Yet through all of that Joseph persevered; Joseph prevailed; Joseph persisted! He went from prison to prominence! How? Why? 

4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve lifeGod sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God.”

In our text Joseph is pointing to a biblical truth which is throughout the Old and New Testaments: that is, the truth that God preserves us. In a theological parlance or manner of speaking this is known as “remnant theology.” All throughout sacred history God has always preserved for Himself a remnant: in the days of Noah there were eight; Abraham there was one (Isaac); in the days of the Judges God whittled down Gideon’s troops from 32,000 soldiers to a mere 300 to win the battle; in the days of the evil King Ahab there were 7000 who would not bow their knee to Baal; in the days of our Lord he taught that broad was the road to destruction, but narrow the road to life; in the days of the Apostolic church it was known as a “little flock.” Joseph points this out to explain how he persevered and how he was used by God to preserve his family in the midst of a great famine, taking them from Canaan to Goshen, preserving 70.

One of the things we learn from the life of Joseph is that in spite of our abilities, our tenacious perseverance, we are held up and preserved by God. I like to say that God preserves us in our perseverance. Paul says, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling, knowing it’s God who works in us to will and do!” As we look back in faith upon 2013 we are aware of how God has preserved us. As we look forward in hope may we look to God and his plans for us in 2014 as He again continues to preserve His people! Pray for your leaders and your church this coming year for God’s preservation!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Carl

 

 

 

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Love’s Pure Light!

Silent night, Holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth!

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”—Nelsen Mandela

Mandela was a great humanitarian and civil rights leader for the people of South Africa, a moral virtuoso! But he had too high a view of human nature and human moral ability. For the unregenerate, hate is more natural; love is most unnatural. You cannot change the human heart by naively teaching people to love and not hate. Until the depraved human heart is reconciled to God by way of regeneration (i.e. being born again from above by the Spirit of Christ Jesus), and no longer hostile to God, then and only then can human beings truly learn to love his and her fellow man as he or she ought!

This is why Jesus came as a baby in the manger. Our Lord God incarnate– the second Person of the Trinity, as the Son of God enfleshed– came to put an end to hate and hostility. He came first to announce the beginning of the end of hostility between humanity and God. The reason why there is hate and there is hostility between our fellow man is because of the hostility between humanity and God. That is the source of our hate for one another. Yet while we were enemies to God, He vouchsafed His love to us! This is what Christmas is all about!!

During this Holy Season of Advent and Christmas may God’s radiance beam from the holy face of the Son of God as His love, love’s pure light, of redeeming grace infuses us with supernatural love  as grace changes our hearts to love and not hate.

Soli Deo Gloria

G Carl Moore

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Thanksgiving Eve Sermon–November 2013

“Be Thankful”

Luke 7:36-50

Robert Emmons, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and psychology professor Michael McCullough of the University of Miami, have long been interested in the role gratitude plays in physical and emotional well being. They took two groups of volunteers and randomly assigned them to focus on one of two things each week: focus on things that irritate them or things for which they were grateful.

The first group concentrated on everything that went wrong or that irritated them. The second group recalled recent events or people for whom they were grateful.

The results: The people who focused on gratitude were happier. They saw their lives in favorable terms. They reported fewer negative physical symptoms such as headaches or colds, and they were active in many ways that were good for them. Those who were grateful quite simply enjoyed a higher quality of life.

Emmons was surprised. “This is not just something that makes people happy, like a positive-thinking/optimism kind of thing. A feeling of gratitude really gets people to do something, to become more pro-social, more compassionate.” Such was not the case in  the other group: they were miserable.

Which group are you in this evening? Maybe you are one of those who look for things that irritate you. Well if you are, then you probably don’t have to wait long. How long do you have to wait before you are flustered? It wasn’t long for Simon the Pharisee to find something that irritated him. Why do I say this? He was looking for it. Simon invites Jesus over to get to know him; he was looking to see if Jesus was who he claimed to be: a prophet of God. But Simon was skeptical; he was not sure if Jesus was  true prophet. Surprisingly Simon found what he was looking for: Jesus was not a prophet (so he thought). Why? Because if Jesus was a prophet he would have known that “This Woman” who is touching Jesus (attending to Jesus’ needs) is a sort of loose woman that no “true prophet” would have anything to do with. But Jesus knew this. Jesus knew that this Pharisee was the sort of man who looked for things that irritated him. Jesus knew that this man saw life as a glass that’s half empty. If given lemons, he would make every one and every situation around him sour.

But as a prophet Jesus was also able to discern truly what sort of woman “That Woman” was who had been attending to his needs. This woman did not belong to the group of people who look for things to irritate them (like Simon), but she belonged to a second group of people, people who focuse on things which they were grateful for. Only a grateful person could serve Jesus the way she did. Unlike her critic “cynical Simon” who looks under every rock, leaving no stone unturned to find some offense (so that he may express his ingratitude) this woman serves Jesus with tears of gratitude. Have you ever been so grateful for something… that you have tears of joy? Well this is what happens to this woman—she expresses her gratitude with tears. In fact it was a floodgate of tears: she cried enough tears to wet the feet, to drench the feet of Jesus; so many tears drenched Jesus’ feet that it was enough to saturate all of the caked-on-dirt and grime and dung that Jesus had collected in his day’s journey. Mind you, Jesus and his contemporaries wore sandals with toes exposed. Jesus and his contemporaries would walk (not on nice clean paved roads) but on dirty, muddy, grimy roads. They would have to walk though dung left by horses and mules and donkeys. All of this would be caked on ones feet. We moderns don’t know a thing about stinky feet like the ancient Palestinians. We have nothing compared to ancient “Palestinian toe-jam.” This woman wipes off the dirt, grime, and dung from Jesus’ feet with her hair and then pours perfume (her expensive perfume) on them. As opposed to being critical, she was thankful for Jesus and his presence. Why? Why was she so thankful?

This woman was a known sinner in town; she was known for her sinful, disgraceful life. Most likely she was a prostitute. There is nothing glamorous about the sex trade industry. Prostitution is one of those sins that racks the body, destroys one’s sense of dignity; it leaves one jilted, and critical and cynical of life, of relationships. If anything it makes more sense for this woman to be in the first group; she has more reason to be critical and cynical than Simon the Pharisee. But she wasn’t! She was the very opposite. She was grateful. Why?

Jesus tells us why. He does this by-way-of a Parable. Jesus asks the Pharisee (Simon) I got something to tell you, a Parable. It’s a story about two men who owe a money lender: one owed five-hundred denarii, the other fifty. The money lender decided to cancel out both of their debts. Jesus asked rhetorically “Now Simon…tell me which one will love him (the money lender) all the more? Which one will be more grateful” Simon said “I guess the one with the bigger debt.” Jesus responds with a resounding eureka, A+ “cynical Simon.” Jesus then turns to Simon and tells him (and us) why this woman who had more reasons to be critical and cynical of life, and relations and even to Jesus more than anyone in this sanctuary tonight. This woman was able to love, was able to be grateful, was able to focus on things she was grateful for because she has been forgiven of much: no more guilt, no more punishment. She, unlike Simon, was aware of the fact that she was a dreadful sinner, estranged from God. She was aware of what sin had done to herself, others, and (most importantly God). She felt the weight of sin bearing down on her to the point of suffocation. It was in these circumstances that Jesus comes and liberates her, redeems her, tending to her emotional, and psychological and spiritual scars of sin. This woman was morally, emotionally, spiritually dead and Jesus brought her back to life with these words: “your sins are forgiven.”  This woman had an awful lot to be thankful for and she knew it.

The only difference between Simon and this woman is that she knew she had a lot to be thankful for. Simon did not. The woman was aware of her immense moral debt she owed God; that’s what made her appreciate what Jesus did for her. This is why she could say even on a bad day when asked “how are you doing?” by responding “better than I deserve!!” This is why she couldn’t help but to focus on things she was grateful for. What else is there? But this also explains Simon. Simon was not aware of the moral debt he owed God. Such people think that things are owed to them. If we think everything is owed to us—and we do not have everything—then it’s natural to be critical, cynical, and ungrateful even in the midst of grace. This is why the other guests were critical of Jesus when he said to the woman “your sins are forgiven.” They murmured, “Who is this who even forgives sins.”  God’s grace was in their midst and they missed it because they were too smug, self-satisfied, and ungrateful…too busy focusing on what irritated them.

In conclusion, I will not ask of you this Thanksgiving Eve “what do you have to be thankful for?” That should be obvious. But I will ask, “which group do you affiliate with the most?” Do you look for things that irritate you? Are you critical, cynical, and ungrateful? Are you in that group that focuses on what is owed to you? Or are you in the other group that focuses on what is owed to God (giving thanks to God), focusing on all that you have to be thankful for?  If so… be thankful!

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We Are NOT Forsaken!

Whate’er my God ordains is right;

Here shall my stand be taken;

Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,

Yet I am not forsaken.

My Father’s care

Is round me there;

He holds me that I shall not fall;

And so to Him I leave it all

Samuel Rodigast (1649-1708)

There is a truism from the great John Newton. John Newton’s maxim goes: “Everything is needful that he sends; nothing can be needful that he withholds.” For Christians the latter assertion is easy for the head and heart to accept. We know that whatever God withholds from us couldn’t be of much use or need for our good. How many times have parents withheld something from their children to save them from the consequences of their bad decisions? Some years ago when my son was about 9 years old “pokey-man cards” were all the rage! My son was convinced that if I would buy him as many cards as possible at the current bargain then “we” would have a return on “our” money. His pitch was this: “Dad these cards are going to be worth loads more in the future.” But alas, his powers of persuasion (though amusing) did not enchant me. Every so often I’ll ask my now college age son “how is the value of those pokey-man cards holding up?” The silence is deafening.  What I withheld from him he really didn’t need. Thank the Lord that our heavenly Father does the same for us as his children!

However, Newton’s former assertion can be a little more difficult to accept. It’s not difficult for us to intellectually affirm this truth. “Everything is needful that he sends!” This proposition is rather easy to grasp intellectually. Since God is sovereign, and all knowing, and all good, and all powerful, then it is most reasonable to deduce that everything that comes our way— sent from the invisible hand of God’s providence—is needed. However, the heart is a different matter. It is much more difficult for us with heartfelt confidence to trust that everything that comes our way from the invisible hand of God’s providence is needed for our good.  As the poem from Rodigast suggests, how can “sorrow, need, or death” be something that works together for our good? Well the tendency for us is to think that during times of trial we are forsaken by God. We intuitively equate difficult times of trial with being forsaken by God.

But, what if God is there the whole time? What if God is in fact holding us up so that we shall not fall—fall from his love, fall from hope, fall from faith? Faith, hope, and love assure us that we are not forsaken! Faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ on the cross grounds us in our justification! Hope anchors our souls as we anticipate the marriage supper of the lamb and our glorification! And the love of God which suffuses our very being radiates within and without, empowering us to dispel hate, fear, and anxiety in our sanctification! We can be assured that we are NOT forsaken! And this confidence (which mostly comes through trials) is needed for our good!

Soli Deo Gloria

G Carl Moore

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The Glory of God

“…for Thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory forever. Amen!!”

As a Christian and pastor I am very familiar with the Doxology that serves as the capstone of the Lord’s Prayer in worship. Many of us are familiar with the meaning of both the concepts of Kingdom and Power, but what about Glory. What is the glory of God?

Biblically the glory of God literally means the weight of God’s dignity and worth. God has infinite gravitas.  This weight reflects the ontological complexity and moral depth of the person of God. Glory is the inherent worth, dignity, complexity, and deepness of God. Martin Luther referred to such complexity as the “hiddenness of God” (Deus Absconditus); Karl Barth called such depth the “wholly otherness” of God (Totalitar Alitar). No matter how theologians have attempted to describe God’s glory none have captured it in full.

One theologian I think who has come very close in capturing this is St. Anselm (though the finite can never contain the infinite). Let me share a quote from St. Anselm I memorized some years ago, but only until more recently have I become slightly more capable in breaking through the surface to fathom (only somewhat) the meaning of Anselm’s depth of thought. He says:

Again, if there is nothing greater or better than God, there is nothing more just than supreme justice, which maintains God’s honor in the arrangement of things, and [sic] which is nothing else but God himself…. Therefore [sic] God maintains nothing with more justice that the honor of his own dignity.[1]

In Chapter XIII, from which the broader context of this quote is taken, St. Anselm speaks in terms of justice. St. Anselm speaks in terms of justice as both “the order of things” and the “arrangement of things,” on the one hand, and, on the another, justice as honor due to God which Anselm explains as being simply “God himself.” We see that ultimate justice is concerned about the proper social order, but one defined in relationship to God. Proper order is defined as humanity honoring God. We can say that the social condition or (more precisely) the economy of a rightly ordered society is constitutive of ultimate justice, but the social economy, or condition of humanity of a rightly ordered society, is secondary to the divine economy of God. This divine economy of God takes moral precedent over-and-above the social conditions of a rightly ordered society. What is this divine economy? Anselm contends that it is “God himself,” i.e., the person of God. The person of God is the “honor of his own dignity.” Anselm notes that honor is something due to God. In other words (to put it in the parlance of the moral discourse of rights), God has a claim-right to honor. Honor is the respect due to God which is commensurable to God’s inherent worth or dignity. In short God’s divine rights are His claims to honor: the cardinal claim-rights of worship and obedience.

What St. Anselm is articulating is consistent with the glory of God. The glory of God is the inherent worth and dignity which serves as the ontological and moral ground of God’s inherent rights, that is, primarily the right to worship and to obedience. This is why the glory of God is inextricably connected to the worship of God.

The next time we pray the “Lord’s Prayer” may we be reminded of the glory of our Lord and His inherent claim-right to be worshiped. “…for Thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever. Amen!”

Sola Deo Gloria

Carl


[1] St. Anselm, Cur Deus Homo, trans. Sidney Norton Deane (Texas, Fort Worth: RDMc Publishing), 43.

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Faith Seeking Understanding

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 (ESV)

There is a famous Christian maxim from St Anselm. His famous motto goes: “faith seeking understanding.”  What exactly did St. Anselm mean? Does he mean that faith initially begins with a lack of understanding, void of rational support? Does he mean that faith is uncertainty?

There are those, unfortunately, within the Christian tradition, whether Christian existentialism a la Soren Kierkegaard or Fideism a la many modern evangelicals, who do believe that faith, is a “blind leap into the dark” of irrational abandon.  There are also those of a secular, humanistic proclivity who contend that faith is unsupportable. Case in point is one modern secular, humanist. Siegfried Gold writes:

Moving on to the charge of “the glorification of absolute certainty”: Faith is not certainty. Belief in the omnipotence of a being who is invisible, intangible, and undetectable–especially in the face of scientific theories that remove the need for God in explaining the origins of the universe or intelligent creatures–requires a lot of faith. If the language expressing that faith sometimes seems over the top, full of hyperbole, expressive of an impossible certainty, let us have some sympathy for what believers are trying to overcome with such language. People don’t believe because they are certain; they use professions of certainty as a support for a nearly unsupportable belief–and, again, they do so because it is worth it to them….The question for thoughtful atheists is not how believers manage to sustain their belief, but why they choose to do so: what do they get out of it? They are not primitive people needing myths and fairy tales to explain a frightening universe. They gain a source of hope, purpose, camaraderie, and moral guidance that some atheists find enviable.[1]

Note that he says “faith is not certainty.” Why does he hold this? It’s because, as he says, “People don’t believe because they are certain; they [have] certainty as a support for… [a lack of] belief.” His reasoning goes: the greater one’s certainty… the greater is one’s incredulity. He seems to be saying that the Christian faith and all Christians’ faith are sort of delusionally optimistic. The delusion is not based upon, as Freud was fond of saying, the impersonal forces of nature explained and animated and personalized through myths and fables. He is honest and more gracious than some militant atheists on this matter. It is not a matter of inferior intellect, but the delusion is based upon “hope, purpose, camaraderie, and moral guidance that some atheists find enviable.” I would guess what Mr. Gold means by his comment about some atheists envying the Christian sentiment of hope, purpose, etc. is something akin to an adult who envies the innocence of a child’s hope that springs eternal, a hope which inevitably gives way to the angst of brooding adolescence.

What are we to make of all of this? Well, there is a myriad of points I could take to task, but let me simply explain what St. Anselm meant by “Faith seeking understanding.” Anselm, like Augustine, held to a biblical/theological notion of faith. Biblically speaking, faith (as in the exercise of one’s faith as a faculty of the soul or mind), is first and foremost an intellectual assent of the mind where the mind agrees with the facts of reality. For example, an elevator will take me to the 50th floor of a skyscraper. I am acknowledging that the elevator will take me to the 50th floor. This is my intellectual assent. Philosophers call this the correspondence theory of truth. However, there is a second component to faith, and that is the emotional consent of the will. This is when one’s heart trusts and then acts in light of such trusting. For example, if I agree to get into the elevator and have it take me to the 50th floor then I am trusting that the elevator will take me to the 50th floor, evinced by my stepping into the elevator and allowing it to take me to the 50th floor. This is what Anselm meant by faith. When faith is habitually exercised a deeper understanding, a deeper trust, a deeper confidence supervenes. For example, the more frequently I take the elevator to the 50th floor my understanding deepens, my trust deepens, and my confidence deepens in the ability of the elevator to function. Faith seeking understanding is simply the moral dynamics of faith increasing in certainty.

The author of Hebrews says that “Faith is the substance of things hoped for the evidence of things unseen.” In other words, biblical faith is based upon reality: that is, substantial reality, or evidential certainty! The reality that is hoped for and the certainty evinced is God’s promise of His Son. All the promises of God are yea and amen in Christ. God has placed “eternity” in each and every person’s heart, a heart in need of Jesus Christ the eternal Word made flesh. Christ is the embodiment of eternal hope, eternal purpose, eternal fellowship, and eternal moral guidance envied by all. The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ—that is the gospel concerning Jesus Christ is the only certainty in life. And the more we trust in Christ the more our faith increases in certainty; in Christ faith is always seeking understanding or as St. Paul notes in his letter to the Romans: “The just shall live from faith to faith.” It is a life of ever increasing faith.  Faith seeking understanding does not require a lot of faith, but it does requires an ever increasing faith.

Soli Deo Gloria

G Carl Moore

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