Identity

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Who Am I?

People wrap their identities in where they came from, who their parents are, or even what sports team they pull for. Their primary characterization of themselves is all about something in this physical reality. But, for a Christian this is a real and spiritually fatal problem.

There are a couple of primary issues that come to mind when we as Christians consider who we are. One, of course, is the fact that we are supposed to be ONE in Christ. This is an issue that has been on God’s mind since before the creation. Just look at what Jesus says in John 17: 23-24:

I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”

God wants us to have unity in Him! He wants us to identify ourselves as a body of believers who hold Him up as our single point of honor, glory, and praise!

This unity has everything to do with identifying ourselves as His. God wants us completely. He wants us undividedly! This goes all the way back to Ex 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me.”

God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are the center of who we are.

This being said, we also have to understand WHY God is the center of who we are, not just as a body of believers, but as individuals.

For everything else that scripture tells us about who God is and who we are, the one most defining fact that stands out is that we are individually created in God’s image.

But, what does it mean to be created in God’s image?

While both humans and animals are referred to as “nephesh chayyah” (living souls), the Scriptures make it clear that God did something special in reference to man. Genesis 1:26-27 records: “And God said, Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness. …And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.” Nowhere does the Bible state or imply that animals are created in the image of God. This fact leaves us with the special distinction of a closeness to God that is lacking in the remainder of Creation. As God’s image-bearers, we have souls and spirits that allow us a privileged position within God’s created order. This understanding and ability to not only have dominion over the Creation, but understand it by way of observation and study, allows human beings the envied ability to see the universe for what it is; a physical manifestation of God’s awesome love for us all.

I use this illustration (Figure 1, God’s Image) to describe to the sixth grade Bible class I teach each year how God can be three, but one. As image bearers of God, we also possess three parts of a whole, (1 Thessalonians 5:23). This similarity agrees completely with the fact that we are created in God’s image. If God is three-in-one, then as beings who are modeled after Him, we should maintain the same properties. That is not to give the false impression that we are divine in any way, but to simply draw a parallel between the nature of human beings and a God who desired to make His pinnacle of Creation like Himself.

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Figure 1, God’s Image

In the end, we as individuals are three in one, Image Bearers of God! Our entire identity is wrapped up in Him and Who He is! We must never let this escape us, but live each day as people whose identities are indelibly conjoined to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

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God’s Word Upholds: Construction and Deconstruction in the Word Part 1: The Physical Universe

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God’s Word Upholds: Construction and Deconstruction in the Word

Part 1: The Physical Universe

Have you ever considered how everything is held together, not just in your life, but the entire universe? Materialists would point to weak and strong magnetic and gravitational forces as the primary reason for the physical bonds of the universe, but is there something deeper than just physical forces that holds everything in its place? Is the very matter of the span of creation being upheld by something unseen and far more powerful?

Who remembers high school or college science class, more specifically physical science? What kinds of things did you learn? In the world we can observe, it seems that everything is held together by physical forces such as magnetism and gravity. If you go all the way down to the atomic level, you see electrons spinning around a nucleus of protons and neutrons. You can even work your way down to subatomic particles such as bosons, muons, and gluons and see these revolving around things, being held together by these nuclear forces. All of this attraction is based on objects having mass and positive/negative charges. So, if we continue down and down and down, we see smaller and smaller components of matter being held together by weaker and weaker forces, upon which the fabric of the physical world seems to rest. In fact, there may be sub sub atomic particles that have not yet been discovered. Where will it end?

Now, let’s go up. We live on Earth. Earth has mass as well and is made up of uncountable atomic and subatomic particles. But, around the Earth, other things revolve, don’t they? Then, you move back and begin to see that the Earth itself spins around the Sun. move farther back and notice that all the plants and their moons move around the Sun as well. Pull back farther and you’ll observe that our very solar system is in a spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy, revolving around the galaxy’s nucleus. And, if you could go even farther back, you’d see that our galaxy is merely one of trillions of galaxies, spreading across light years of space! It’s an amazing universe God has made!

Just look at some of the Biblical passages that describe the universe in all its beauty and majesty. Psalm 19:1-6 refers to the Sun and the “tent” under which it is set, referring to space. Space being stretched out like a tent is referenced many times in scripture. Psalm 104:2, Is 40:22 … This is consistent with what astronomers and physicists see in the universe today. Our universe is literally stretching away in every direction, the fabric being pulled in every direction simultaneously as if it were a balloon being blown up…1 Cor 15:40-41 “There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.” Here’s another view from the heavens where we see the immeasurable variety of creation and all its glory. No two stars are alike just as no two snowflakes or animals or humans are exactly alike.

God of Infinite Possibilities

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God of Infinite Possibilities

For centuries, theologians and philosophers have struggled with two seemingly contrary characteristics of God; namely His love for us demonstrated in the gift of free moral agency (freedom of choice) and His absolute nature of omniscience (the fact that He knows all things in all times). These properties are evident throughout the Bible within the Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and are immutable. But, as a result of these attributes, a controversy and debate swirls. Before we get into the debate, lets first consider the two attributes that seem to contradict one another and see what the Bible says about each: free choice and God’s omniscience.

Free choice is first seen in Genesis where God creates the Garden of Eden and speaks to the two humans He has created and placed there. “And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:9, 16-17). In the establishment of something that humans were not to do, God established the freedom of human will, choice, and volition. The theme continues after this point throughout the rest of the Bible with such statements as the one made by Joshua in 24:15 “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…but, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” This freedom is continued throughout the New Testament in passages such as John 14:6, “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” Jesus essentially makes the statement that people must make a choice that will lead to salvation or destruction. These and many other verses and narratives throughout the Bible firmly establish the fact that human beings are created souls who have free moral agency.

God not only established within humans the ability to choose between right and wrong, God and sin, but also holds the distinction of being the all-knowing , timeless, spaceless, perfect Creator. This is made clear in a plurality of statements made by God Himself throughout the Old and New Testament. In Exodus when Moses asks God whom He should tell the Israelites had sent him, God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you'” (3:14). This statement establishes God’s own view of His eternal nature as the one and only necessary being. Jesus is established in the same way in John 1 where we see “In the beginning the Word was with God and was God…” (vs. 1). The clearest exhibition of the triune God is seen at the creation where God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) says, “Let Us make man is Our Image…” (Gen. 1:26) indicating His intent to create humans as individual representations of Himself (Soul, Body, Spirit = Father, Son, Spirit). Although there are many other passages that indicate God’s omniscience as well as His omnipresence, omnipotence, and ominbenevolence, the fact that He is all-knowing across all time and space is firmly established by scripture and understood to be true by virtually every Christian.

Now, to the controversy that has sprung up among Christians and non-Christians alike: how to reconcile God’s property of omniscience with His establishment of free will to all human beings. The question that most often arises goes something like this: If God is all-knowing, the He knows what each person will do before they do it, therefore there is no such thing as free choice. Conversely, if man has free choice, the God cannot be all-knowing since He would then not have foreknowledge of man’s choices. This is known as “Theological Fatalism” that we are fated to do what God knows we will do. Various philosophers and theologians have attempted to get around this issue through either denying one attribute or the other. In fact, a new movement called “Open Theism” has sprung up in which the adherents deny God’s omniscience in favor of human agency. Philosopher William Lane Craig in his video tries to account for this by saying, “Just because God knows you will do a certain thing doesn’t mean that you necessarily will and that if you change your mind and do something different, then God’s foreknowledge would have been different…” While this statement may be true, it seems somewhat incoherent in its statement and application which I believe leaves this question open to further and perhaps a more complete and coherent explanation.

Consider for a moment the hypothsis of multiple alternate realities. I will first make the disclaimer that I don’t believe in alternate realities, but I think that the idea can be instructive when talking about God and His ability to know all while we still function within free will. The alternate reality hypothesis states that there are infinite realities that could exist alongside our own (this is also termed in some circles as the multiverse) where something in that timeline went differently and changed the historic trajectory. For instance, in our timeline, the Allied nations won WWII, but in an alternate timeline, Hitler and Japan might have won and that “reality” or “universe” would be different. But, alternate realities are not just formed out of large-scale events such as World Wars, but something as simple as choosing a paint color or taking a different route to work. You see, in this hypothesis, every decision, minute and large, makes a difference in the way life would have gone for one or all people within that particular “universe” or “reality”. I usually equate this to the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books I read when I was a kid. In the book, you come to the end of a chapter and get to make a choice about which way you will go. One decision takes you on through the story in one direction whereas another decision could lead you another direction entirely. In “The God of Infinite Possibilities” hypothesis, I propose something similar to the “Choose Your Own Adventure” or “multiverse/alternate reality” hypotheses. God, being all-knowing not only knows what will happen within one timeline, but knows what would happen given ANY choice, circumstance, or aberration within any timeline at any point EVER. As a result, God can consistently know everything without human choice being fettered by His omniscience. In other terms, I can make any seemingly infinite combination of choices in my life span and God with His infinite knowledge can know the outcome of any of those combinations of choices. You could possibly represent it this way:

GK = ∞ and HC ~ ∞ therefore GK > HC

GK or God’s Knowledge is equal to infinity and HC or Human Choice approximates infinity, therefore GK is greater than HC. In other words, God’s Knowledge of all events, past, present, and future, overcomes any need to doubt that any human choice can be made and not still allow His omniscience.

Overall, the fact that God has infinite knowledge and wisdom can overcome any such matters, especially when dealing with moral, cosmological, and teleological questions. The above information could likely be adapted to fit these various questions.

Soulbook: The Whole Christian Soul and the Incomplete – After the Fall: The Law @Enwrightened

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This is the thirtieth excerpt from Soulbook. Order Soulbook from Enwrightened Publications or Amazon.

Soulbook: The Whole Christian Soul and the Incomplete – After the Fall: The Law

As mentioned above, the Law was given to Moses, who acted as a mediator between God and the people of Israel. As the mediator, Moses was able to speak to God and take His messages back to the Israelites in order to establish a law that would allow them to be set apart from the rest of humanity as God’s people. The only person allowed contact with God was Moses himself, (Ex 19:20-24). Clearly, God’s presence was extremely limited to the Israelites. While He considered them to be His people, He still could not have a close relationship with them due to the perpetuation of mankind’s sin. This is evident in all of the rites and ceremonies God set up as a way to bring the people closer to a right standing with Him. But, even through these various laws, God was still not a part of mankind.

The same limits applied to the tabernacle and temple, (Leviticus 16:1-10). God only allowed the high priest to approach Him and to sacrifice the lamb for His people. Only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place before Him in order to sprinkle the blood on the Mercy Seat upon the Ark of the Covenant. Only this person could speak to God on their behalf and God did not return the favor. He still only spoke to Moses during this time and the rest of the people could not have the kind of contact Moses did, nor could the priests. God was their God, but He was too Holy for public consumption. He was the purity that was unattainable and unknowable, even by Moses himself.

We see that Moses could not look at God like Adam and Eve once did. His own sin did not allow him to see God in His purity and might. God Himself said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” There was a definite separation, even for Moses. Obviously, there was still something not right with human beings and this incompleteness prohibited them from seeing Him and having a relationship with Him.
Even with the sacrifices the High Priest made, Heb 10:1-4 tells us that these sacrifices merely put off the sins for another year. They were never forgiven under the Law. The people of Israel suffered under the weight of their sin, year after year. The sin was like a bank debt that you postpone until it finally has to be paid. Of course, by then the debt has built up so much with interest that you can’t pay it even if you had a thousand lifetimes. Ultimately, under the Law, the Israelite people were not reconciled to God, nor were the Gentiles. Mankind was just as lost as that day in the Garden when Adam and Even took the fruit and ate it. The sin of mankind kept building up and up and up, until it was an overwhelming mass of filth. The sin and death that man was resigned to did not relent, no matter how many animals were sacrificed and no matter how many prayers were uttered. All of humanity was incomplete and lost. They all still were missing a piece of themselves; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Why Judges?: Where did God get the idea to use Judges to lead His people?

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This year, I was allowed to present a lesson before the Dalraida church of Christ concerning the Judges: Why Judges?. The lesson was written and presented specifically for Vacation Bible School: Heroes of the Faith. The second area covered in the lesson was Where did God get the idea to use Judges to lead His people?.

Why Judges?: Where did God get the idea to use Judges to lead His people?

He had basically already been doing it this way for a while:

  1. Patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were all spoken to and handed laws and promises directly from God. He used these chosen men to carry out His will in very much the same fashion he had the Judges carry out His will. Even Noah and Adam were specially used for His purpose, so using Judges is in close keeping with the way God interfaced with humanity.
  2. Moses – Moses was specially called as the patriarchs had been. However, the law was imparted to Moses, introducing a written code by which His people were to operate. This written law stood as an addendum to the inherited laws of the patriarchs. Gal 3:18-19 “For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.” The law stood as an agreement or covenant between God and His people so that they could continue in right standing with Him.
  3. Joshua – Joshua, while a transitional figure after Moses’ death, was effectively “Moses 2.0”. He carried the law and mission of Moses forward and gave Israel its first push into the Promised Land. He was chosen by God through Moses and was present for many important events and changes in Israelite culture, history, and religion.

God knew what would happen if He gave them a king:

  1. Sin – What happened when Israel got their first king? Saul almost immediately messed up by disobeying God. David was called a man after God’s own heart, but even he was an adulterer and murderer. Solomon was led away by his wives. Then, things got REALLY bad…
  2. Selfishness – 1 Sam 8:11-18 “He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”
  3. Worldliness – 1 Sam 8:19-20 “But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.”
  4. He would no longer be king. 1 Sam 8:5-7 “and said to him, ‘Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.’ But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to judge us.’ And Samuel prayed to the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.’”

God knew exactly how Israel should be led, but He, as most parents do, allowed them the freedom to make a choice for themselves. God still allows us to choose for ourselves who we will serve as Joshua did in Joshua 24:15 “And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

I Have A Nightmare

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I know that today is a day for thinking big and reaching forward. I love that, but I also realize that mankind still has just as many problems, if not more, than it did prior to the Civil Rights Movement. 

I am seventh generation Alabamian. My family has lived on the same property in rural Alabama since the early 1800s, so we have many long years of history here. In that history, I’m proud to say, none of my ancestors owned anyone else. However, that doesn’t mean that they never hated someone of another color. This is the past we all continue to break from and ensure our children do not experience in any way.

The South has healed amazingly well since the Civil War and Civil Rights. In fact, I believe that a great deal of the South is better off in many ways than the rest of the country where I see news reports of violence and hate all the time. People in the South, to a much greater extent, no longer find it taboo to marry someone of another color or ethnicity. So many wonderful things are happening.

My nightmare is that the division we see in so many other ares of our country will start a new culture of hate. I don’t want my children to have to deal with this, but it seems that it’s inevitable. Overall, I would have all people live peaceably and love one another. I believe in the words of John who says, Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8). 

If God is love, then love is God. I hope that each person in this world will keep this truth in you and let love live in you.

The Peace Without

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There is a peace, a true peace, that is found only outside of one’s self. I saw this in the eyes of a person tonight. He is a prisoner. I don’t know his name or where he’s from, but he will never leave my mind.

Another man and I go to a prison every month to conduct worship services for the inmates. We usually have around 200 men in the chapel. These are people who have been involved in all manner of criminal activity, but none of that really matters since I’m really no better than any of them. I stand there, leading songs, a sinful and incomplete man, the same as them. But, I have hope. I have peace and I want them to have it, too.

Tonight, nine men humbled themselves and allowed my friend Matthew to bury them under water. These men relinquished their old lives. They assented to execution of a kind that will now allow them to live more abundant lives; lives of hope and peace.

One of the men met us after we had finished worshiping. He shook our hands and said, “My mother passed away last night. I know she’s in Heaven. Now I know I can be there, too.”

You can’t find that kind of peace inside yourself. It’s the kind of peace that truly passes all understanding. I’m grateful to have seen it from the other side of these eyes.