Personal Reflections on #blacklivesmatter

So much has been going on in the past week about what’s not going right in this world. Having not blogged in a while, I wanted to address a few things about this blog post before going on to my own reflections on the topic.

  1. There are numerous writings that I would recommend people to look into. I’d like to direct you to one particular piece of writing that might encourage you to think from the perspective of a Christian on how to relate to this issue at hand. Russell Moore, who is a Christian theologian, has written a couple of articles in regards to Christians’ relation to some of the tragedies that have transpired within the past month. Here’s the particular link to an article I found quite helfpul, insightful, and challenging: http://www.russellmoore.com/2016/07/07/shootings-justice-body-of-christ/
  2. I’m thankful that I’ve had time to discuss this topic with some other people before writing. I’ll have to admit that I have made some sinful and illegitimate accusations towards certain people with certain opinions about the topic. I’d also been a bit irritated on the overusage of the hashtag on social media, because I had thought people were hashtagging something without properly knowing the whole perspective of #blacklivesmatter or knowing the possible consequences of doing something so lighthardedly. These were rash thoughts that I was able to flesh out through conversation with some who are passionate about the topic and movement. I’ll get into some of these mistaken thoughts in a bit. 
  3. This is a reflection, so it won’t be addressing some of the raw data and facts concerning the events that have transpired. This isn’t because the events are unimportant to mention. Rather, if you want the facts about what’s happened with regard to the police brutality and the reaction to such, just search for articles online. I’d assume you know at least the gist of what’s happened, unless you’ve been hibernating or consider Pokemon Go more important than the lives of fellow citizens. Still, if you don’t know what’s happened, there are plenty of sources (and a few videos) that will educate you far better than I can or will. 

CONFESSION

My original thoughts when I started to see #blacklivesmatter all over social media was that it was excessive and irresponsible. This wasn’t because I wasn’t a supporter of the movement. Rather, I thought it to be rather uncalculated and ignorant. Ironically, it was in my ignorance that I thought that the hashtag could inadvertantly perpetuate unnecessary bias and hatred toward police officers and authorites. I have to admit that I got caught up in allowing the ignorance of some of those who were commenting on the issue to get a hold of me to persuade me to think otherwise of what they were advocating for. Well, that’s my fault. That’s on me. 

My wife Judy and I had an extensive conversation about why this movement matters, and she was able to enlighten me in thinking about some things I had not considered heavily. One thing that changed within my line of thinking was that the movement was not saying that black lives were the only ones that matter. The whole idea of all lives matter is, in fact, quite irrelevant to the issue, because the movement is not advocating for black lives above others. Rather, it’s merely asking for black lives to be thought of as equal to the lives of others. God often has a way of humbling the proud, and I’m grateful that he’s placed people like Judy in my life to correct me where I’m wrong. 

CHRISTIANS CAN’T NUMB THEIR SENSES

As a Reformed pastor, one of the practices that I’ve gotten accustomed to is being very careful (often, too careful) with the Word of God and what the Word says. In fact, this is a sentiment against Reformed pastors from many that we spend too much time in the text and not enough time outside of it. All of our hours are spent in our offices exegeting passages about ministering mercy to others, and not enough time is spent actually doing it. Though I am convinced that Christians need to be proactive and do something when they feel compelled to, I’m still convinced that the Word needs to be handled with such precision. This is because I believe and trust in the Word of God and I believe in the power of the Spirit that’s promised by the Son when the Word of God is read, preached, and meditated upon. What I don’t trust in is the hearts of sinful men.

Where the Word of God is inerrant and without error, the hearts of men (even the best ones) are prone to wander and prone to faults. This is why there is validation, after some consideration, within my own thoughts that the best way for Christians to react is to just do something and react to their senses when tragic events occur. Sure, it may be great for there to be education reforms, less money dedicated to inmates, more money flowing through to make life for the impoverished more comfortable. For some of us, we might choose not to partake in little things like movements through social media, because we feel like we won’t make a difference. Change has to happen from the top down in this line of thinking. But here, we place too much trust in the hands of those on top of the food chain. Mankind has time after time proved right the doctrine of total depravity. Wealth, education, safe enviroments, and reputation doesn’t change that–at least not according to the Bible I read.

Judy challenged to think what would have happened if those following Dr. King had the same mindset. If the people were not going to voice their opinions, would drastic changes have happened? Sure, there might have been some pain and tragedies along the way, but all would agree that the end result is positive. It’s because the people rallied around a cause that they became a loud voice in unison. Then, those who had the power to make relevant changes were able to hear such voices. However, without the cries of the people, one has to imagine that the end result would have been different. Imagine if the majority of protestors had decided to just sit back passively because they thought, “It’s not going to make a difference anyway.” Christians ought not to be these people.

In fact, it’s the Lord who hears the voices of the afflicted. There’s a reason why he hears our prayers, even as a sovereign and all-knowing God. He not only listens to the contents of our prayers, but he listens to our heartbeats and wipes the tears off of our cheeks. Our God feels our pain and Immanuel is with us in our affliction. Let’s never forget that the essence of the gospel places us in the position of needing to be helped and needing to be heard. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is to visit those who are in affliction, because we’ve been visited in our affliction. Yet, this isn’t anything that should be foreign to us. We’re the ones who have cried out to God for help, and he’s sent us his Son. We were those who had no shoulder to lean on, so Jesus offered up his, as his shoulders sank and his organs slowly collapsed on the cross, where the weight of our sin brought his heart to hang low. 

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Spirit not only causes us to know but also causes us to feel. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Lord uses emotions like anger, regret, and delight to describe the ways he feels toward his creation. Knowing the gospel means we feel the necessary emotions that are produced with such knowledge. These are emotions that we can’t neglect. When we feel the pain of those who lost loved ones, we enter in by connecting with the emotions the gospel brings forth for us. When we sense connecting emotions in such a way, the response is one that comes from the gospel that shapes our hearts and our faith to believe in the God of this universe.

Revelation mentions the cries of martyrs who are asking for justice. We seek for justice, and we seek for wrongdoers to be brought to be punished as they should be. Yet, sometimes, justice does not prevail. To those who need assurance of justice, I’m reminded that Moses instructs us that vengeance is the Lord’s–not ours. All things will be brought to justice in the last days, and we can be comforted in knowing that justice is not ours to exact. What we know is that the God who will bring proper judgment to all wrongdoers is the same God who has spared us from our own wrongdoings for those of us who believe. When wishing proper judgment on others, let us bring ourselves to envision the justice that we were spared from first.

Therefore, we hurt with those who hurt, because we react to pain. We react with our hearts, because we’re given new hearts. We are advocates for change, because the Spirit is constantly at work to change us and conform us into the image of Jesus. Understanding pain and affliction is at the heart of the gospel, and losing this jeopardizes us and our churches in losing the gospel flavor that makes our community different. It’s not human emotion that sets us apart. It’s emotions that connect us to the gospel that sets us apart and propels us to action. Let’s not disconnect ourselves from our emotions, brothers and sisters. Let’s hurt for those who hurt and weep for those who weep.  

SOME GENTLE SUGGESTIONS

I’m definitely no expert on ministering to the hurting. Too often, I’m consumed by the things I have and the needs of my own heart. Yet, while considering some of the things mentioned above, I want to offer up a few suggestions:

  1. Pray. As mentioned earlier, God hears the prayers of his saints. Why and how this alligns to his sovereign will is more mysterious than revealed much of the time to me. But one thing I do know is that praying helps allign our will with God’s. Praying also helps shape our hearts to those that run after the Lord’s heart. Pray when you can, and pray for those affected. This is not a redundant or useless exercise, because the Lord uses prayer to bring his children closer to him to share the heart of the shepherd to those who are shephered.
  2. Reflect. Think about how the gospel has shaped your understanding of pain and suffering. Reflect upon the pain and suffering that Christ entered into in order that he might share his glory with us. Let the death and resurrection of Jesus be the starting point in how to hurt with others.
  3. Share. I’ve been reminded recently that we are able to share in others’ suffering much better when we look toward a common sufferer. In A Grief Observed, Madeleine L’Engle writes the foreword to C. S. Lewis’ classic. Lewis wrote in reaction to losing his wife to terminal illness, and L’Engle, likewise, lost her husband as Lewis had. Yet, she reflects that it wasn’t until halfway through the book that she started to connect emotionally to Lewis. He had entered marriage with his wife knowing that she would die soon. She, on the other hand, enjoyed many years with her husband where he was perfectly healthy. Even similar outcomes warranted a different set of emotions. But what they had in common was that they looked to a common sufferer. They could relate to one another more perfectly in this way, and we ought never to underestimate the power of looking toward a common sufferer. What can we share with those who have undergone tragedies that we haven’t? We can’t tell them that we understand. But we can tell them that we know someone who does. In fact, he knows all about dying unjustly. He knows all about dying though one wasn’t deserving of death. We point our arrows toward him, because he can and does minister to the hurting, the needy, and the broken. Bring them Christ, because he can bring them home. To a place with no more tears, no more pain, no more dying, no more injustice. He’s died and risen to ensure this.
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Personal Reflections on #blacklivesmatter

The Names of God

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Rom 10:9-17)

When I started to pursue my now-wife, then-acquaintance Judy in a romantic relationship, I told those close to me, in my youthfulness, that I knew she was THE ONE. Looking back, I cringe at some of the foolish statements I’ve made in the past, but I somehow thought I knew that the two of us were meant to become husband and wife. I obviously didn’t really know about any of the hardships that would come with marriage, the strength and perseverance required for marriage, and the true meaning of marriage then. I just had a gut feeling that told me that I liked this girl a lot. And for me, that was sufficient knowledge to convince myself that she was the one. There wasn’t too much objective about how I knew Judy was the one, considering I hardly knew her as a person and vice versa. Marrying Judy was one of the most important decisions in my life. Yet, even in marrying her, there was a whole of subjectivism that overpowered the pursuit to be objective in making a life-altering decision. Now, I’m not saying that there was no objective validity in marrying Judy, because others have confirmed with me that I lucked out in marrying her. However, my gut feeling often overpowers my reason and logic. Truth be told, this happens all too often for me. It’s not necessarily wrong, because I’m human and am attached to my feelings and my “gut instincts.” 

Yet, even as someone who depends on his instincts all too much, this is something that needs to be done in moderation and carefulness when it comes to spiritual matters. In ministry, some of the questions I always get in some form is: How am I saved? And how do I know I’m saved? I am often tempted to tell people that I just know, because I know my Father in heaven, and he knows me. Jesus is a personal Savior, and he sends the Holy Spirit for our bodies to be the temple he dwells in. The New Covenant informs us that the law is now written on our hearts (Jer 31:33). Peter informs us that all believers are a royal priesthood (1 Pet 2:9), as the Holy Spirit allows us to understand the truths of Scripture in a personal way. These are all very adequate references to turn to when considering salvation to be a very personal thing. Yet, this is where we need to put on the brakes. When we assume that subjectivity trumps objectivity in regards to the method and certainty of salvation, we trust in our own innate ability to interpret Spiritual truths that live within us to justify why we belong to a holy (set apart) God. This past clause is a contradiction, because the Holy Spirit comes as God who is set apart from us. So the way of subjective thinking goes against everything that the gospel represents. After all, the Bible does say that all of us are sinful and fall short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23). Also, God’s holiness informs us of an ontological distinction between the creator and his creation along with an ethical distinction between a perfect God and sinful people. By way of understanding holiness, then, we as sinners are distant from God and incapable of knowing the things of God … Unless he bridges that gap himself.

Think of our separation from God as an eternal time out. I have a little toddler at home who is learning to test her boundaries to see what she can get away with. When she crosses the line, I inform her that she’s done something wrong by putting her in separation from me. It’s by my initiation as a father that I bridge this separation when I take her back out from time out. Of course, what I ask for is an “I’m sorry” through a hug and kiss, but that’s a response to my initiative of bridging the separation between the two of us when entering back into the room. Though it is a very inadequate illustration and faulty on many levels, this kind of example can give us an idea that salvation must come from outside and not from within. We can convince ourselves all we want that God is within us and inside of us, but it just might not be true. Unless we understand him as holy and set apart and as his gospel to be a message that comes from outside in, Jesus never intrudes our lives. We’ve merely tricked ourselves into thinking that we believe in Jesus when something else has taken his place. Reformed theologians have historically attributed our relationship with God to an alien righteousness. This is a credit given to us by something outside of us so that this ethical divide might be bridged. Salvation has to come from outside of us, because if it were to come from inside of us, there would be no need for trusting in another for our salvation. Looking within is just another self-salvation project. 

I believe the Apostle Paul addresses this issue in Romans 10:9-17. This entire portion mentions many things through and through. There is a link formula that happens from verses 13-15 to show that each step is indispensable for salvation. In addition, it leads to the initial cause of salvation–what we have come to know as the effectual call. This is re-iterated in verse 17, and this topic alone deserves much more consideration. However, I want to hone in on verse 13 for our consideration here. 

For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

This verse comes by way of referencing Joel 2:32, and Peter uses it in his sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2:21. For this blog entry, I’ll merely be focusing upon its placement in the aforementioned section in Romans 10, because it is just right on point. 

But what does it mean to call on the name of the Lord? 

I don’t think this means that those who cry out “Jesus! Jesus!” at the top of their lungs are saved. There is heavy biblical reflection that is required to understand this statement. The phrase “name of the Lord” needs to be seen in relation to the way God’s names are used throughout Scripture. One famous location in relating to God’s name is in the Ten Commandments. There, it is written, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain” (Exod 20:7). And though I don’t find it proper to state God’s name by saying things like, “Jesus Christ!” or “Oh my (fill in the blank) God!” I think minimizing the third commandment to be merely be a prohibition of such statements is losing out on a huge part of what the third ommandment informs us of. The phrase in vain can be understood as “empty” or “worthless.” This is a lack of care for what the name of the LORD is.

Michael Horton states that revelation of the names of God signify his transcendence (separation between God and humanity) along with his immanence (belonging of God with humanity).[1] This is certainly true when looking at how God is shown behind a veil throughout the Old Testament and at how through Jesus that veil is torn in the New Testament (Matt 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45). 

When considering the veiled nature of God’s name in the Old Testament, we start with his name Yahweh. Though we openly sing songs where we phonetically utter “Yahweh” with our lips in the New Testament era, this would be considered an abomination to the Jews. In Jewish custom, “Yahweh” was replaced with “Adonai” in speech. Along with the word Yahweh being a conjunction of consonantal misfits (YHWH), the Jews viewed the Lord’s name to be too holy, as he is set apart.[2] This is parallel to how God reveals himself in the Old Testament. His appearance comes by way of a glory cloud, through fire, and other means of separation and distinction. His presence is hidden inside a Tabernacle, which is veiled within a Temple, which is in separation from the people of God. When Moses asks to see God’s glory, he needs to veil it by telling Moses that he can’t see his face (figuratively speaking) but can only get a back glimpse of his glory. This is for Moses’ protection, since God is a just God and needs to execute justice upon sinners who are exposed to his glory. Thus, God’s name informs us of his transcendence as one who set apart from us as our creator and as one who is perfect.

However, the immanence of God through his names is where Romans 10:13 starts to really make sense. Jesus is the Word who became flesh to dwell with his people (John 1:14).[3] He is called “Immanuel” which means “God with us” (Matt 1:23). Isaiah tells of the coming of this Messiah by calling him “Wonderful Counselor” and “Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6). He is the  Prince of Peace as one who reconciles us to God through his own death and who saves us by his life (Rom 5:10). We are given this peace with God, though we once waged war with him by rebelling against him, as those who are justified by faith in Jesus (Rom 5:1). You see, Jesus is the Prince of Peace as one who went to war in our place. He is the Wonderful Counselor, who stands in the middle of the conflicts between us and his own Father in heaven. Jesus’ names inform us of these truths, that we have a way to salvation through him, because he’s paid the price to make it effective.

Perhaps, the most obvious of Jesus’ names would be Jesus. Yet, this might give us the greatest insight into how we might understand Romans 10:13 and how believers are saved. “Jesus” linguistically conveys the idea of God saving his people. Thus, when we call upon the name of Jesus, we are calling upon a God who is mighty to save! Yet, we are not only calling upon one who is able to save his people but one who has. Jesus has come in the flesh. Jesus has died on the cross for our sins. Jesus has risen for our justification. We need not only to believe in these things, but we need to believe that we need these things. God is not only mighty to save, he is the only way to salvation. These things have objectively happened. Without this objective truth, any subjective understanding of God is fabricated from lies and distortion. The good news is news that happened outside of us, for us, so that we might have God within us. What a savior He is!

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[1] Michael S. Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 224.

[2] Whenever you see LORD in the Old Testament in our English texts, it’s a reference to YHWH.

[3] In the Greek, “to dwell” can be literally read as “to tabernacle.” This holds theological significance, as God is one who is now choosing to unveil himself to be with his people by coming in fleshly form.

The Names of God

The Image of God

Psalm 13: How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy says, ‘I have prevailed over him,’ lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

This past week, the world has seen evil. With numerous deaths and injuries, with families torn apart and devastated, and human life trashed, our voices resound with the Psalmist who says, “How long?” How long before evil is trumped? How long before sin and the effects of it are no longer? While the Scriptures inform us of the necessary patience of a Christian during trying times, it is moments like these where we pray earnestly for Jesus to return soon to call us home. Though the numbers slain are not all those who confessed to be followers of Jesus, I’m reminded of the cry of the martyrs in Revelation, when they cry out for vengeance upon evildoers (Rev. 6:9-11). It is surely a significant mark of a Christian to learn to dispense grace towards those undeserving of it, for this was how we were treated by our holy God. Still, I wonder how proper it is for us to assume a thoughtless position of automatically dispensing grace when those affected by the tragedy are still mourning and seeking for justice. Perhaps, words of comfort during these times is that vengeance is the Lord’s and he will repay (Deut. 32:35). He is a just God who deals justly with all things, and evil will be judged according to his time. The Christian faith is a waiting faith, a patient faith. Things are not as they ought to be, but we await for our God to make all things right at a future time.

Interestingly, during Jubilee’s leadership retreat this past weekend, the image of God was a large topic that I was able to present. Not only is this topic crucial in coming to understand people in the church, it goes forth to show that God values human life. Consequently, Christians are called upon to value others who bear an image, though an imperfect one, of God. The Fall of man in Genesis 3 had put Adam in a disconnect with God, where his image, while not “totally annihilated and destroyed,”[1] was corrupted and deformed. Thus, what we see today will not be what we see in glory. Thankfully, I will no longer struggle with this flesh, and sin will no longer have rule over my decisions and desires. 

CREATED IMAGES

In creation, God made man as male and female after his own image. Genesis 1:26 reads, “Then God said, ‘Let us make make man in our image, after our likeness.”[2] Westminster Confession of Faith 4.2 says, “After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image; having the law of God written in their hearts.” Thus, this was a special relationship between God and Adam, the first human, as one casts his image on another. To highlight the significance of God’s creation of man, we can note the differences between how man was created and how the other creatures were created. 

  1. Let us make man. When God created things into being in Genesis 1, the usual way of speaking things into being was him saying, “Let there be…” or “Let the…” However, in Genesis 1:26, the personal insertion of let us shows a difference between man and the rest of created things.
  2. Breath of life. In Genesis 2:7, God formed man by breathing into him the “breath of life” and man became a “living being.” This is obviously not a physical life, for other animals had physical life without having this “breath of life” given specifically to man. 
  3. Male and female. In Genesis 1:26; 2:18, 22-25, man is the only one given the specific creation of woman. Other creatures are not shown as much details, but there seems to be quite a significance for man to have woman as a companion. 

MARRED IMAGES
As stated before, the image of God was corruped in the Fall. However, God doesn’t abandon man even after the rebellion that caused man to have a marred image of God. Even in its imperfection, it is God that preserves all image bearers through his Covenant of Common Grace. After the Flood, in Genesis 9:6 God says, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” The preservation of life is kept through an eye for an eye principle (life for a life here). Then, it is not only Christians who carry this marred image of God. All human beings have the image of God; thus, all human beings must be treated with dignity and respect, just as God has.

We live in a fallen world, where all sorts of corruption takes place. As mentioned before, the result of what happened in Paris is a reflection of the sin-stained world that we live in. There is a devaluing of human life that is so contradicting to what the Scriptures state. ALL humans are in the image of God. ALL humans also have a corrupt image of God. However, not all humans will be in this corruped and fallen image for all of eternity. In fact, the one who repairs this image is the one who made man in his own image. He is the “radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3), yet he became “flesh” to be among us (John 1:14). Would you like answers? The only one who can reverse the evil in this world, make all things new, and restore the image man had in creation is Jesus. But let’s not stop there. Let’s continue to see how he makes this possible for us.

REDEEMED IMAGES

The redemption of our marred image comes from the very Jesus. In Matthew 22:17-21, Jesus engages with the Parisees and the Herodians about the issue of paying taxes to Caesar. 

It reads, “‘Tell us, then, what you think. Is it not lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ They said, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.'”
Here, the word likeness is εἰκὼν, which is where the word “icon” comes from. This exact word is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (LXX) in Genesis 1:26, where God states that he made man in his own image (εἰκὼν). Then, the last statement is a telling statement of the image of God. Taxes were given to Caesar, because the coin had Caesar’s image on it. However, Genesis 1:26 shows us that man has God’s image on him; thus, if the citizens of Rome were to give to Caesar taxes as they belonged to him, then humans are to give our lives to God as the “living breath” of God cast his image on our lives. The Apostle Paul illustrates this in Romans 12:1 when he states the urge to present our bodies “as a living sacrifice.” Just as taxes showed one’s allegiance and obedience to Caesar and his law, offering up our bodies shows our allegiance to God our maker, who cast his image upon us. Yet, there is a glaring contradiction in the phrase living sacrifice, because sacrifices were never presented alive but dead. As the gospel serves as the greatest of contradictions, we are only able to present our bodies as living sacrifices because we, who have Christ, have been given redeemed images.  

Romans 1:22-23 reads, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the truth about God for images (εἰκὼν) resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Here, the usage of εἰκὼν brings us back to creation, along with the references to birds and animals and creeping tings. Though sinful man is made in God’s own image, he does not worship the creator but worships created things. In fact, these are the exact things in Genesis 1-2 that man is given rule over. In reversing the order of rule as it ought to have been, man in his marred image, sins against and offends the holy God who cared for man and thought for man to be most special amongst all of his creation. 

Yet, the promise of the gospel is not that God would forget those who have forgotten hijm; rather, he gives his own redeemed image by his own Son Jesus Christ. Romans 8:29 reads, “For those whom he foreknew, he predestined to be conformed to the image (εἰκὼν) of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Jesus, the true image bearer, brings us to be conformed to his image as the firstborn son. Likewise, Colossians 1:15-16 reads, “He [Jesus] is the image (εἰκὼν) of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him.” Then, the one who redeems our image is the one who had made us in his own image. How does this beautiful conforming happen? It can only be done by a transaction, an exchange — precisely a Great Exchange.

This Great Exchange is elaborated upon in 1 Corinthians 15:49-50 which reads, “Just as we have borne the image (εἰκὼν) of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image (εἰκὼν) of the man of heaven. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. The only we as those who have the image of the man of dust attain the redeemed image of the man of heaven is because he became the flesh and blood that we were. Indeed, Jesus “became flesh” (John 1:14), and he poured his “blood of the covenant” for the forgiveness of sins (Matt. 26:28). As he promises those who believe in his name “eternal life” and to never perish[3] (John 3:16), he exchanges our doomed fate with his deserved reward. Therefore, our redeemed image is found in the Great Exchange that made Christ “to be sin so that we might be the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). 

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

The God of the Scriptures thought enough of humans to make the first human special, in distinction from the rest of creation, as the crown of creation. Even more, he thought enough of humans to give redeemed images to those who have corrupted the image cast upon them. It costs us us belief and trust, but it cost the Son of God his life. 

Therefore, when the image of God is disrespected through the likes of events as we have seen in recent days, hope is not lost but found in Jesus. May this reminder cause us to honor humanity with due respect, to be more eager witnesses to our neighbors, and to trust nothing more than the saving works of Jesus. “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” (2 Cor. 1:20) We don’t have faith in faith, but we have in Christ, who redeems the broken and gives strength to the weak.

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[1] John Calvin, Institutes 1.15.4.
[2] Calvin makes a point to state that image and likeness assume the same meaning and intent. The second is to re-iterate and further clarify what the first is. Calvin, Institutes 1.15.3.

[3] Hence, be imperishable.

The Image of God

Ordination

On September 14, 2015, I was ordained to be a minister of the gospel in the North America Presbytery. Since my freshman year in college, being a pastor was a dream for me. Studying God’s Word had brought me the kind of passion and excitement that I hadn’t found in doing much else. So this moment was a monumental one for me. One thing that my senior pastor Steve Park said the Sunday before was that ordination vows cannot be undone; rather, one is merely unfaithful to them. I’ve said this before, but for some reason, this left a pretty big impression on me.

The ordination service was just one part of a series of items on the list for the fall presbytery meeting for the NAP. Thus, leading up to the ordination service, there wasn’t too much time to reflect upon and think of how this ordination service would affect my mindset as a minister of the gospel. One item lead to another, and the ordination service for brother Jonathan Na and me had come. I came to the Lord in prayer, originally intending to thank him for the night, but I got overcome with an ocean of emotions that I was swallowed up in for the rest of the night. I had a lot of questions leading

A couple of thoughts arose in my mind:

1. What changes?

Since 2011, I felt like I had already been doing the work of a minister serving the college ministry of my previous church and a campus ministry at UCSD. At one point, I was preaching, teaching Bible Studies, and holding counseling sessions on a weekly basis. Yet, I was an intern at the church, because I had not been ordained and I was still in the process of attaining my M.Div degree. Functionally, however, it didn’t seem like there was much of a difference between what I was doing and what I would be doing as an ordained minister. The main differences seemed to be what was on paper. As one of many serving in the Korean-American church (sorry for alluding to the stereotype), I think my question resonates with many who serve as intern pastors at their respective churches.

Though not exhaustively, these questions were answered on the night of the ordination service. I had been familiar with the presbyterian structure of the church. There was a plurality of leadership so that power is not misplaced on one specific person above all others. In addition, there was an added sense of accountability on many levels. Local churches were overseen by their respective presbyteries, and these presbyteries were overseen by the general assembly (or synod). Structurally, this all made sense in my head, but it didn’t really hit as to how amazingly powerful accountability was until that night.


Due to the ordination service being in the midst of the fall presbytery meeting, there were over thirty pastors present for the ordination service. As custom in the NAP, there is the laying of hands, where pastors pray for and lay hands on the brothers being ordained as ministers in the presbytery. There was this literal and figurative weight cast upon my shoulders when the surrounding pastors were praying for brother Jonathan Na and me. Not only were these brothers praying for our future ministry as those who trusted that the Lord would guide us, they were praying for us and inviting us into a true fellowship with them as laborers for the gospel ministry. Reflecting on this truly changed my perspective on being an ordained member of the NAP, the church for pastors.

I look forward to the meetings I’ll have with these brothers, and there’s a oddly strong connection built amongst brothers I had just met and would most likely only meet once a year. This is true fellowship and accountability. If I were to stray from correctly teaching and applying the Scriptures, these brothers would protect me from harming my sheep.

2. Why the process? 

The process was a long one, starting from my time as a seminarian. Amidst the years of training in seminary and my internship at a church, the ordination process was a strenuous one. Not only was the journey arduous from an academic perspective, spirituality on my end was severely lackgin. After the multiple 25 page papers, the sleepless nights reading Berkhof’s Systematic Theology repeatedly, and the process of memorizing the names of accomplishments of obscure historical figures, the motions seemed a little robotic to me. Sure, pastors need to be tested doctrinally and theologically to ensure proper teaching and application of the Word, but I was lost amid all of the work in the process.

Historically, one of the trends away from Protestant orthodoxy was a combination of drifting away from a focus upon the historical creeds and confessions along with lowering the position of the minister. An overemphasis on the priesthood of all believers has lead to the elevation of small groups above church, personal above corporate, subjective above objective, and the laity above clergy. This is not to say that the minister ought to take himself too seriously, because the presbyterian model seeks to ensure that no minister takes himself too seriously. However, the office of a pastor is one that must be taken seriously both by the one assuming the office and those affected by it. Pastors come with the authority of the Word and as servants of Christ, who was the greatest of all servants.
A couple of passages that humbled me in reflecting upon my call:

The Apostle Paul says in Ephesians 6:19-20, “That words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” These words for the apostle come in times where gospel proclamation was not received as well as it is in today’s culture. For those of us who are Americans, we are shaken up by any kind of pushback given by today’s culture and those relatively opposed to the Christian faith. However, the first century imposed political consequences for faithfully preaching the gospel. The paradoxical image of an ambassador in chains goes forth to show that proclaimers of this gospel come in power but a power that is different from that of this world. As Christ came to serve, we as representatives of Christ come to serve. Contrary to what I often want, the pastoral ministry is not a pathway to earthly riches and glory. Rather, when properly assumed, it brings about a commitment to die so that the living Christ might be known. In this spirit, 1 Corinthians 4:9-13 reads, “For I think that God has exhibitued us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” Ought not pastors have this same mindset as the apostle had? The gospel ministry is not a place where pastors seek to mirror the glory of the resurrected Christ on high. Rather, we look to the Suffering Servant who was despised and rejcted by men, a man of sorrows. It’s a dangerous place to be, because it demands full submission but displays temptations for further self-glory.

I ask you for your prayers to be a faithful child of God to properly serve God’s people … In the words of Rev. Ryan Kim, I would “show them Christ” and not myself. Thank you, in advance, for dealing with my mistakes, failures, and insufficient moments as a pastor. May those moments of weakness display the grandness of our King, our Savior, our Shepherd, our Friend Jesus Christ the righteous.

Ordination

Relationships: Approaching God

Each month, I’ll be writing out an entry that’s targeted at our small groups ministry at Jubilee Presbyterian Church. As we’re looking at “Relationships” for the upcoming six months, that’ll be the focus of these monthly blog entries. These are longer than the usual blogs that I post, so if you’re looking for an easy two minute read, you might want to come back to it at a later time. Still, I hope that this survey of relationships will somewhat aid in understanding and bringing about harmonious Christian relationships in the midst of sinful hearts and tendencies. Enjoy!

INTRODUCTION

Relationships are crucial, and in Christianity, I argue that there is nothing more important to the individual than his or her relationship with God. In an age where Christianity has unfortunately been stretched from experience-related spirituality to therapeutic psychology to seemingly heartless and cold academic pursuits, a relationship with God has come to mean many things. Contrarily, a meaningful relationship with God starts with an understanding of who he is and how he’s come to reveal himself to us. Through the words and explanations of the Scriptures along with input from other men much more knowledgeable than myself, I’d like to take us along for a ride to capture the essence of the greatest of all relationships. This relationship is not only the beginning of Christianity, it is the foundation of all other relationships as Christians. What our relationship with God looks like will ultimately dictate what our relationships with others look like as followers of Jesus Christ.

INFORMATION ABOUT GOD

The first thing we need in understanding a relationship with God is to know who he is. In any given relationship, there are judgments that are made about the other person in a relationship. Rarely, will you ever see one jump into a relationship with no assumptions or understanding of who this person is. Take for example a blind date, since some of us might posit that this would be an example where we know nothing of the other person. There are still assumptions and judgments you make about the other person based on the little information you have. He or she might have been recommended to you by a friend. From there, you collect information of the validity of his or her character based off of your opinion of your friend. That’s still information, as invalid and tertiary as it might be. You also might have a picture of this mysterious him or her, which may lead you to formulate differing levels of excitement in meeting this new person. This is information that leads you to approach the relationship in a certain way. Thus, any relationship, “blind” or thought through, comes with assumptions and judgments you make of the other based off of the information that you have.

A relationship with God is no different. In the Christian tradition, we believe that we were created for worship, and we have a longing for God in our lives. In the words of Michael Horton, “You cannot experience God without knowing who he is, what he has done, and who you are in relation to him.”[1] Thus, there is a three-fold process to digest before approaching God for a relationship with him.[2]

Who God is

To understand who God is, there are two ways that God has disclosed information about who he is. The primary way to understand who God is comes through the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. There, we get all of the necessary information we need to approach God for a relationship with him. However, the Scriptures are not an exhaustive handbook in life. You would find absolutely no information in the Scriptures to help you with the practicality of your new start-up business. There’s nothing in the Scriptures that will aid you in studying for your upcoming biology exam. Nowhere does Scripture help you with your second round selection in that all-important fantasy football draft. What we want to take note of is specific intention behind the things that are placed in Scripture and the things that are not placed in Scripture.

In his preface to Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis brings about the possible implications behind his silence to certain issues.[3] Because he himself couldn’t be absolutely exhaustive in describing Christianity through the radio, he forewarns his hearers that there will be plenty of issues that he won’t touch upon. Still, there seems to be much value in things that are unsaid. Indeed, one can know a lot merely by looking at these unsaid things when looking at a piece of writing. Perhaps it wasn’t to be known, perhaps it wasn’t relevant at the time, perhaps it was a touchy subject, perhaps the author was on the fence, perhaps it was something the author didn’t know. The list goes on and on. With that said, there are plenty of things excluded from the Scriptures, as it is not an all-encompassing and exhaustive handbook to everything in life. The 66 books in the Bible are intentionally crafted in a way to draw upon a specific purpose of bringing people in a relationship with God.

Thus, the things that are unsaid in Scripture highlight not only the non-necessity of such things, but it further highlights the necessity of the things written of in the Scriptures. For this the Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms helps us categorize the contents of the things in Scripture into two distinct categories: (1) what we should know to believe in God, and (2) what we should know to live for his glory.[4] Then, the things omitted or unwritten are things that are either irrelevant to the aforementioned things or excessive to the necessary things already stated. I don’t want to play a dangerous game in assuming things about the intention behind all of the things in God’s Word, but it is fully sufficient and the necessary content for us to know him and navigate through this Christian life.

Ironically, even those who do not read or believe in the Scriptures are said to have knowledge about[5] God in some sense. Romans 1:20 states, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” Here, the Apostle Paul notes that since the creation of the world, which marks the beginning of time according to man, God’s existence has been clearly perceived, and all men are without excuse for refusing to believe in his existence. Anything in creation, starting from things natural such as sky high mountains to man-made inventions like the iPhone 6 points to the existence of God, since they all find a starting point in a divine creator. All things are done and have come to be after the creation of the world. Therefore, even those who don’t believe in the words of Scripture have a relationship with God. It might not be positive, but it’s still a relationship with him.

Some of us might have seen the movie Home Alone. There, the main character Kevin McCallister is an eight year old boy who is stranded by himself in his home due to forgetful parents leaving without him for vacation. He’s called upon protect his home from burglars and be courageous upon interactions with any suspicious people. One of the characters that he is deathly scared of is his next door neighbor “Old Man” Marley, who is rumored to have killed his family with the very snow shovel he uses to clear out the sidewalk everyday. Because this is the only knowledge and information Kevin has about “Old Man” Marley, his relationship with him is based on fear and distrust. However, one Christmas Eve, Kevin meets Marley in a church where Marley is watching his grandchild sing. Upon carrying a conversation with Marley, Kevin comes to know that Marley didn’t kill his family, but he’s actually a very kind-hearted man. The reason Kevin never sees Marley’s family is because Marley’s not currently on good terms with his son. He also shovels the sidewalk daily as his duty of service to the community. Then, all of the preconceived notions of “Old Man” Marley were actually false due to speculation without interaction. In flow with what we’ve been talking about thus far, Kevin had a relationship with Marley before his interaction with him at church. However, the relationship crafted through rumors and unverified thoughts brought upon an unfair relationship between the two. It is only through interaction and verified truths that bring the two into a harmonious relationship with one another that is not entirely based upon speculation.

Such speculation without interaction in a relationship with God can lead to false information gathered. Therefore, it isn’t sufficient to look at the things in creation to come to know who God is. That only leads to speculation upon how he exists in relation to us. Rather, the source of such knowledge of God must come through interaction with God himself. And as the Westminster Standards have informed us, this personal interaction with God comes through the things written in the Word. It is there that we come to truly know about God so that we can come to know God in a personal and intimate way.

Historical Validity

If coming to know God comes through coming to know the things in Scripture, we must believe in the validity of the things in Scripture. Though spiritual documents, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are also historical documents that present facts and events. Yet, there are many things in the Scriptures that are not completely understood through the things we see in everyday life. There is definitely an element of faith in believing in the things of Scripture, but C. S. Lewis argues that faith is necessary to believe in anything you can’t see. He writes this:

I believe there is such a place as New York. I have not seen it myself. I could not prove by abstract reasoning that there must be such a place. I believe it because reliable people have told me so. The ordinary man believes in the Solar System, atoms, evolution, and the circulation of the blood on authority–because the scientists say so. Every historical statement in the world is believed on authority. None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Armada. None of us could prove them by pure logic as you prove a thing in mathematics. We believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them: in fact, on authority.[6]

According to Lewis, belief in things comes through credible sources who inform him of that thing he believes to be as true. Just as one might come to believe in historical events through historical evidences and documents, the events of Scripture are likewise validated through such means. However, what one has to establish is credibility. If credible, the things attached to these reports are deemed to be true also.

The resurrection is, according to the Apostle Paul, the staple to this credibility of Christianity. Without it, he says his preaching is in vain along with the faith of those who believe in Christ (1 Cor. 15:14). The life, ministry, and crucifixion of Jesus Christ are historical facts. These occurrences need no supernatural faith to believe in apart from the kind of faith that we place in believing in historical events that we have not witnessed ourselves. What polarizes the audience of the Christian narrative is one’s understanding of this resurrection. Then, proof of the resurrection is incredibly valuable in coming to understand the true Jesus of the Scriptures and in history. Timothy Keller makes a convincing argument about the historical validity of Christianity through the legitimacy of the resurrection through two explanations.

His first explanation deals with the timing of the books in Scripture in relation to the resurrection. His example focuses particularly on Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. 1 Corinthians was most likely written a little over twenty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus,[7] so there had to have been eye-witnesses in the church and at large who could testify against Paul had the content of his letter been incorrect. 1 Corinthians 15:3-6 reads, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.” As the reading of letters in the first century were public readings, Paul was inviting any kind of refutation of what he considers to be truth. He would not have been able to make such a challenge had eye-witnesses of the event not existed in the time of his writing.[8] Thus, through the silence of any kind of protest and the continuation of prominent usage of 1 Corinthians, Paul’s testimony stands to this day that Jesus Christ was “raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”

The second explanation for the validity of the resurrection Keller uses is one involving the women. Each of the four Gospels note that the first eyewitnesses to the resurrection were women which seems ineffective had one tried to pass something as truth. Women’s social status was unmatched to that of men in the first century. Then, their words in the human court of law would not have been deemed credible. There would have been no advantages given to the church’s defense of the resurrection in involving women as the first eyewitnesses… unless it was the truth.[9] It goes against the line of human thinking to envision a liar presenting to his audience eyewitnesses who were not credible in an attempt to convince others of his lies. Though small details, these two explanations mark the historical validity of the resurrection. This verified and credible piece in the Christian religion stands representative for the validity and credibility of the entire Word of God. This, in turn, validates the supernatural revelation of Scripture.

The Truth about God’s Character

If we are to believe in the Bible’s account and testimony of the resurrection, we must also hold the entirety of the Bible to be true. After all, God is the author of all the Scriptures, not just portions or in limitation (2 Tim. 3:16). C. S. Lewis famously states, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.”[10] I’m not exactly sure if Lewis was aware of Francis Turretin’s statements in his Institutes, but he seems to be drawing upon the same line of thought. Turretin states, “For as the works of God exhibit himself and as the sun makes himself known by his own light, so he wished in the Bible (which is the emanation from the Father of lights and the Sun of righteousness) to send forth different rays of divinity by which he might make himself known.”[11] Essentially, what this goes forth to show is that God’s revelation for us comes to us from his Word. All understanding of God must come from God.

In any conversation concerning a divine being, one of the things that always comes up for discussion is the creation of the world. That’s a perfect place to start when it comes to finding out about the Christian God of the Bible. It’s actually where he begins to reveal himself to his creation. Genesis 1 and 2 shows the creative force by which God makes all things from nothing in this world. This creative force sets him apart from all other things in creation, as he alone is capable of making things out of nothing. Even with human inventions and with technology progressing, things are made of something whether they be actually physical substances or ideas from past reflections. All created things of men have a starting point dating before men began creating things. Men do not have the power to create things out of nothing, because we are creations ourselves. The distinction between God and man is what theologians have come to call the creator-creature distinction.

Yet, with the first person Adam, God holds a special and intimate relationship with him. He is different from all other things he created, because he was made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26). Through disobedience to the commands of their creator, Adam and Eve sinned against God. This resulted in a barrier between God and his creation man, because Adam and Eve had violated what he as the creator desired from them. As a perfect God (Deut. 32:4), God had required perfect obedience in order for man to join him in a perfect relationship for eternity. As a just God (1 John 1:8), he was not able to overlook the sin committed but needed have consequences for man’s disobedience to him. Thus, as a consistent God, he had to punish man for the sins committed. The Apostle Paul reminds us that in Adam’s sin, all sinned (Rom. 5:12). We don’t have to look very far to see this sin and imperfection in our character, in our conduct, and in the world around us. This sin sets us apart from God, since he is a God who cannot be in perfect harmony with corrupted and unpunished souls. Then, how is it that we are able to come to form a relationship with this God?

THE PERSONAL ENCOUNTER

As stated before, a relationship with God comes with what we know about God. We’ve concluded that God is a perfect God who is just and needs to punish imperfect people. This is the starting point in coming to understand God and to know him.

How one ultimately gets to know another is dependent upon the person he or she is getting to know. Think about it with me when considering some of the relationships you’ve built. The people you’ve come to know have come to be known through different steps and methods. The way you might know your spouse is much different and has come through different methods than the way and method in which you know your sibling. To a child, knowing a superhero is different from knowing a parent. To take it a step further, one might find methods different in getting to know a public figure, i.e. Barack Obama, than in getting to know an acquaintance at church. It’s all relevant to the character involved. How available/accessible is that character? What’s the maximum knowability of this person? How much am I willing to invest for the relationship? These are all questions worth pondering before committing to a relationship with another.

J. I. Packer in his famously written Knowing God writes that the purpose of our existence is to know God and to be known by God.[12] Further, he states that the way in which Christians come to know God is to hear the shepherd’s voice whom he knows (John 10:27).[13] It is this voice that calls us out of death into life.[14] Then, this sort of intimate knowledge of God is contrasted from both a collection of information about God and a information-less experience of God. It combines both information and experience, because the source of the information is crucial. It must be the shepherd who speaks to us through his Word that we hear his voice and draw near to him. The Apostle Paul makes clear the way to come to know God in Romans 10:13-15: “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'” It’s by hearing the good news proclaimed and believing in this that our shepherd speaks into our broken lives of a new life and a new creation. This experience-packed and information-filled, as we encounter the God whom we are created to come to know.

It is the voice of the shepherd that we need to hear, and it is by means of words through that voice that God establishes a relationship with us. Think with me in the way God comes to interact with his people. It is through words that God communicates to his people. The prophets were mouthpieces of God who communicated the words of God to his people. The Scriptures are words testifying to the message of salvation and the content needed to comprehend the Christian religion. It is also through words that Jesus teaches us to communicate to God in prayer. Thus, the Scriptures pointedly shows that Jesus, in the prologue of John’s Gospel, is called the Word as one who establishes our relationship with him. John 1:1-3 states:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

Christ himself is the Word who was in the beginning. That phrase in the beginning must strike a nerve with those who are familiar with the creation account, for it points to the beginning of creation. This is where God makes all things from nothing as stated in the beginning of Genesis: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Furthermore, the way in which God makes all things into being is by speaking things into being. The formula of creation is that God said, and it was. John unmistakably makes this connection between the God who spoke things into being with Jesus who speaks a better word. The creator of the universe who is set apart from his creation is this person who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The very God who is not able to be in eternal fellowship with sin and darkness came into a world of sin and darkness to be the light of men (John 1:4). Yet, the purpose of him becoming flesh was not merely to be in our midst, but he became flesh to put himself into human history–precisely because that was what was needed for us to have a relationship with him.

Tim Keller recalls and explains an analogy that points to God writing himself into human history as a playwright. C. S. Lewis once responded to a Russian cosmonaut who declared that he went into outer space and looked for God. However, he came back and said that God was nowhere to be found. To this, Lewis stated that this is similar to Hamlet going into the attic of his castle to find Shakespeare. The only way that Hamlet would come to know Shakespeare is if Shakespeare wrote himself into the play where Hamlet was. Essentially, he as the playwright had to write himself into the story. Then, we like Hamlet, can not know God by going up to the attic. The only way we come to know God is if he writes himself into human history.[15] The point is that there is no way man could seek to find God on man’s own terms. The only way that man could seek to find God is if God makes himself accessible to man on God’s own terms. He must write himself into human history as the Playwright.

This is precisely what John 1:14 shows us when we are told that Jesus became flesh to dwell among us. He needed to take upon himself flesh so that he would live the life that we should have lived so that we might get the life that he alone deserved. The story of this good news is that upon believing that Jesus paid in full the sins committed by you and me, we have access to a relationship with God by grace. Therefore, one can not forcefully approach God for a relationship with him. Upon understanding who he is, who we are in relation to him, we find that the only way to access him for a relationship is through the gospel message for all who believe in the name of Jesus Christ.

Approaching God

The way we know the goodness of God is by way of understanding how he relates to us and acts in our lives. We might turn to things that we can tangibly relate to, such as our families, the blessings we’re grateful for, daily encounters of provisions, etc. However, without a proper understanding of the God in history who took the Israelites out of Egypt, who promised a better land and dwelling, who came down in form of a man and lived a sinless life while dying a sinner’s death, who promises eternal life for belief in him, who rose again symbolizing victory for all who are in him, and who reigns today as the one who puts those individual blessings in your life leads to a gospel-less understanding of who God is. As Michael Horton says, “I do not believe the gospel because I believe in God; rather, I believe in God because of the gospel. There is more for us to know in the Bible than the gospel, but apart from it there is nothing worth knowing.”[16] The gospel becomes the gateway for us to understand and know this God.

God allows for us to know him, because he reveals this way in the gospel to us. The gospel is the good news of God from God. Whenever God and the things of God are revealed, man is not the revealer but God himself is.[17] This is the specific way we have to submit to in order for the loving relationship of God to be ours, because we have wronged God. For this, he has given us a specific path to recover that relationship with him. We are the wrongdoers have no right in claiming a specific way for us to make right our relationship with God. We have to abide by the ways he instructs us, not only because it is his way but it is the only way.

In example, I find this applicable to my relationship with my wife as well. As a young married man, I make plenty of mistakes in my relationship with my wife. Though none have been severe enough (fortunately) to bring our relationship to a close, the relationship when affected by my mistakes is not in the right state between my wife and me. I’ve attempted to right this wrong status in our relationship by doing things on my own terms by thinking of ways I’d want to be treated in the situation. However, that never seems to work out. In order for our relationship to be right again, I need to play by her rules and take the specific path that she wants me to take in reconciling with her. A correct apology is definitely needed, but an apology that is acceptable to her is doubly needed to restore the relationship to a right standing.

John Calvin writes of the order by which a right relationship with God can be set into play:

We find God just as declares himself in His Word. … God declares in what character he would have us know him. … Indeed, the knowledge of God set forth for us in Scripture is destined for the very same goal as the knowledge whose imprint shines in his creatures, in that it invites us first to fear God, then to trust in him.[18]

Note here that Calvin marks an order for us to know God–that we are first to fear him, then we are to trust him. This comes because we first know about his character as a perfect God in opposition to imperfect people, then about his loving actions found in the love story of the gospel. When thinking about the gospel message, indeed, it is the message of salvation where one truly encounters God. This is absolutely true, so one might posit to say that it’s the loving action and the love story of the gospel that causes one to know God. While this is true, embedded implicitly within that form of logic comes back to God’s character.

Think with me here. Say you’re thinking about a person who bought you flowers. The same act could be done by completely different people, and it would mean different things to you. If a stranger would come up to you and offer you flowers, you might respond in flattery. If your child were to come up to you and offer you flowers, you might respond with parental love and appreciation. However, when your spouse offers you flowers, you exclusively respond romantically. This is all because the character is presupposed even before the action is laid out. Thus, it is not only about what the actions are but about whom the actions come from. To carry the example even a step further, the context behind the action of giving a flower from your spouse gives a fuller platform to form a reaction. The flowers could be received on your anniversary, they could be received as an act of surprise, they could be received after an argument. The more specific the context, the more specific the act. The act of giving a flower becomes narrowly fixated upon one character being the ultimate fulfiller of that act–your spouse.

Think about this with our relationships with God. In saving us, it had to be God saving us for the grand gesture to be infinitely grand. If a finite person died for our sins, it could be a touching moment; however, it doesn’t have everlasting implications as when an infinitely holy and present God comes to die for finite beings. The fact that God is God makes the gospel what it is. Then, if we place the proper context in that action, where God specifically saw the need to save us from our sins, it makes his grand gesture the only possible gesture to enable us to be in a relationship with him. Modifying a famous saying: If God thought our primary need was health, he would have sent a doctor; if he thought our primary need was more knowledge, he would have sent an educator; if he thought our primary need was a way to prove our salvation, he would have given us an extra set of laws; if he thought our primary need was another chance, he would have given us a clean slate; but he didn’t. God saw that our primary need was salvation from the sin that leads to death, so he sent us a Savior, who gives us life by giving up his own.

Now that we know of how it is possible for us to approach God, I’d like to finish by looking at the attitude we carry because of a God who approached us.

As Children to a Father

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. However receives one such child in my name receives me.”

– Matthew 18:1-5

The Scriptures talk about Christ requesting that his children are brought to him. This shows the need for childlike faith in the Christian religion. What exactly is childlike faith? It’s something that is thrown around but is hardly explained in full detail. Before we talk about what it is, I want to address what it is not.

There is often this misconception that having a childlike faith is one that is pure and absent of sinful and malicious thoughts. This is due to the false presupposition that children are innocent, unlike corrupted and sinful men. However, Jesus does not ask that the children be brought to him due to the fact that children are innocent and pure in relation to their faith. You and I know that children are definitely not absent of sin. I’m a young father with a near one year old baby, and I see marks of sin in her life already. What’s endearing but a bit scary is seeing our little Kalen smiling and laughing at herself in the mirror. She really seems to love herself and is very fond of herself through her own reflection. Whether this is merely smiles due to a new discovery or a funny looking person that stares back at her in the mirror is unanswerable. Yet, due to human depravity, the idea of narcissism creeping into the mind of a young baby doesn’t seem to be out of reach. I can only imagine what older children are like in their self-serving and manipulative ways. Due to a ME ME ME attitude brought about by children, we don’t have to look far to see how society has succumbed to the desires of these children. There are things upon things that serve children and their desires–things like Disneyland, Pixar, Pokemon, etc. Children are hardly absent of sin and are morally pure in heart. What, then, does Jesus mean by saying that only childlike faith inherits the kingdom of heaven?

In looking at childlike faith, I want to take us to two approaches in understanding this in relation to our own relationships with God. Firstly, what Christ means when stating that it is the children who enter into the kingdom of heaven and have a relationship with the Triune God is in connection to the context of the time of his statement. Children during the first century were not regarded as precious beings that are far more important than grown adults. In fact, the opposite is more likely to be true. Each child didn’t get his or her own room decorated with a drawer full of onesies. In fact, children were considered less than human at times. The Apostle Paul equates young children to slaves during the first century (Gal. 4:1). There have been recorded instances where children were left from the family to fend for themselves, because there wasn’t enough food to feed the whole family. They were hardly an asset to the family. Rather, they were, at times, considered a detriment and a nuisance to have to feed and to have to provide for.

Thus, when Jesus says that he wants the children to come to him, he’s stating that he wants the lowest of the low to come to him. These are the people who know innately that they have nothing to offer God. Like children, they cling to their Father in heaven through their Savior Jesus, because they are utterly lost without his protection and providence in their lives. Does that reflect our mentality when we approach God? I dare say that our mentality is often one that mirrors self-sufficiency and pulling out God as an accessory that we find useful from time to time. This makes God a convenience in our lives. It makes him a God who is readily approachable on our terms. This is the God we come to like, not fear. However, God doesn’t call upon his people to like him. He calls on his people to need him. Those who like God find him friendly and useful. Those who need God find him dangerous and necessary. Those who like God approach him as an equal and as a pal. Those who need God approach him as a king and as a Father. Our attitude when we come before God is not one where we offer him mutual benefits. It’s one where we admit our utter dependency upon him, knowing that he very well does not need us but our life depends upon our need for him.

What does this look like? It presents a relationship where we come before God empty-handed, knowing that there is nothing we can offer him. It presents a relationship where his grace, and not our works, is the reason why we carry confidence to approach his throne. This relationship is placed upon the firm foundation of the finished works of Christ and not the ever so wavering works of our own hands. This relationship is about God, not about us. The more we think about ourselves, the more we fall out of love with our God. Yet, the more we think about God, the more we realize that we are more loved by God than even ourselves. The gospel is not the door to get us into a relationship with God, but it is the very floor we stand on as we walk with the Lord. Constant meditation of the gospel and its meaning for us in light of God’s character brings for us a childlike dependence upon the Almighty. This is the way God desired for our relationship with him to be, because we were helpless, we were lost, and we were headed for destruction.

Secondly, C. S. Lewis paints an interesting picture of a childlike faith in his series of The Chronicles of Narnia. When reading from book to book, one can note the changing characters that join Aslan in the magical world of Narnia. In the beginning, it’s Digory and Polly entering into this fantasy world. After, it’s the famous Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy who merge lanes with the Great Aslan in his road to defeat the witch. Through time, however, Peter and Susan stop joining the stories (after Prince Caspian), and it is Lucy, Edmund, and their cousin Eustace interacting with the great battles. Eventually, it is Eustace and Jill who are found towards the end of the book as the remaining characters as the stories come to a close. What is symbolized with the changing characters who eventually leave the story? Peter and Susan are the first to stop appearing as the oldest of the siblings. They’ve grown up, and they’ve stopped believing in this magical fantasy story. Likewise, with age, Edmund and Lucy stop believing in the fantasy land of Narnia, as they stop appearing in the stories. Lewis’ portrayal of a childlike faith, then, is coupled with a belief in the unthinkable sketched out through talking animals, fantasy battles in a world that exists apart from the knowledge of most.

As a Christian, the most unthinkable and inconceivable thing to believe is that a king would come and die for his servants. We might line up the doctrines of grace by looking at the attributes of God, the depravity of man, the plan of redemption, the acts to reconciliation and restoration, and such. However, if those do not lead to an utter belief and faith in an unthinkable and seemingly inconceivable story, childlike faith is nonexistent in our relationship with God. Even through seeing the logical explanations for the existence of God and the benefits of the gospel, there needs to be a belief that God can do what we cannot. This is the faith that serves as the foundation of our relationship with our heavenly Father through his only begotten Son whom he gave up to have this precious relationship with us. An attitude that reflects belief in the unbelievable and an approach that shows that we have nothing to bring to the table grants us access to the greatest of banqueting tables through the exchange of Christ’s life for our own.

Here, then, lies the treasures of a relationship with God. It’s a gift, characterized how salvation is described to the grace of God. It’s God giving us a way out of sin though we are absolutely at fault for our state of misery. It’s God giving us the promise of eternal life though we did not deserve. It’s God giving us a relationship with him, as he loves us more than we can ever imagine… because he gave for us the greatest of gifts by giving up his Son on the cross. All that he asks of us is to give up our pride and give way to the King, who is the way, the truth, and the life.

——————–

[1] Michael S. Horton, Pilgrim Theology: Core Doctrines for Christian Disciples (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 14.

[2] These three steps: (1) who he is, (2) what he has done, and (3) who we are in relation to him will be somewhat of a guide for how we can come to understand our relationship with God. In essence, this talks about (1) God’s character, (2) his story, and (3) our salvation.

[3] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperOne, 1952), ix-x.

[4] WSC 3 & WLC 5.

[5] The distinction of about and of in relation to knowing God comes through J. I. Packer’s explanation of such in his book Knowing God.

[6] Lewis, Mere Christianity, 62.

[7] D. A. Carson & Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 448.

[8] Timothy J. Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Riverhead Books, 2008), 212.

[9] Keller, The Reason for God, 213.

[10] C. S. Lewis, “Is Theology Poetry,” 1944, in They Asked for a Paper (Longdon: Geoffrey Bles, 1962), 165.

[11] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. 1, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison Jr. (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1992), 63.

[12] J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 33.

[13] Packer, Knowing God, 38.

[14] Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1981), 34.

[15] Keller, The Reason for God, 126-128.

[16] Horton, Pilgrim Theology, 20.

[17] Horton, Pilgrim Theology, 21.

[18] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 1.10.2.

Relationships: Approaching God

The Poison of Porn

It doesn’t take much to realize how much our society is obsessed with the idea of sex. You can look at social media, consisting of sexually inviting pictures that are readily available for the public to see. Any website is sure to have ads of some sort that can lead to sexual thoughts. In fact, there are countless websites that promote sexual promiscuity, especially those that are pornographic. The reality is that the majority of teens and adults in the world (if you think this is strictly an American problem, you can look for statistics of other countries) [1] regularly watch porn. This would only make sense, considering the amount of emphasis put on sex in today’s world. Porn is a regular thing that is growing in popularity and frequency.

These might just be facts to you. If they are, I’d like to spend the rest of the entry convincing you of the poison of porn. This does not come merely from a Christian perspective, though I do believe that the best way to combat this problem is through a gospel perspective. I’m hoping that, at the least, some come away reflecting upon the issue of porn and consider the remedy Jesus offers in the story of the gospel of which he is the protagonist. On the flip side, if you are a Bible-believing Christian who struggles with porn and claims to have been affected by the gospel of grace, porn is a serious sin issue that you have to start taking more seriously.

For starters, I want to state that I do not write this in any way with a sense of superiority. I am not speaking down to anybody, as I am just as prone to and susceptible to lust and the various forms of actions that occur due to sexual desires and thoughts as anybody else is. Then, I am speaking alongside those who struggle with pornography, not above and over those who struggle with this issue. Still, I believe it’s an issue that needs to be spoken of, and I’d like to look through the perils of it, the reason it’s so difficult to overcome, and some words of suggestion to believers and pastors with relation to porn.

1. INVOLVEMENT WITH PORN IS A SIN. This can come in all forms, starting with those who shoot, cast, or even watch pornography. For the sake of the majority, we’ll talk primarily about those who watch porn. Watching porn is a sin. It’s clearly stated through Christ’s words on the Sermon on the Mount when he tells his disciples that anyone “who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). Categorizing lust in the same section as adultery, Christ explains this in Matthew 15:19 which reads, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” Here, adultery and sexual immorality are not only placed together as evil that comes out of the heart, they are distinctly written out. Sexual immorality is a big, big deal, and it’s more prevalent in today’s society than many Christians can handle. The Apostle Paul notes the uniqueness and severity of sexual immorality when stating, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Cor. 6:18). Sexual immorality, by definition, is one’s desire or performance contrary to how God designed sex to be. From creation, God had designed sex to be good for marriage. This means that these desires and acts are rightly used in the context of proper marriage and nowhere else.

As Christians, we always have to remind ourselves that sin is first against God. You might think that pornography is not too bad, because you’re sitting behind a screen and not necessarily affecting anybody else with your actions. However, sin is first and foremost against our Maker and Creator. Our God deems sexual immorality to be against that which pleases him and brings him joy. You might not be directly hurting anybody through your acts of masturbation or watching porn, but it’s damaging to your relationship with God.

With that said, porn is not only sinful but it is destructive to the Christian faith.

2. PORN LEADS TO ADDICTION. The reason porn is such a lure to people is that we are created to be sexual beings. This means that sexual desires and cravings are part of our original design. Through sin, our sexual desires have been stained to match this fallen world that falls short of God’s original intent. Yet, due to the fact that we are sexual beings, our sexual passions are also strong.

Countless people have confessed that porn is addicting and that they can’t get off of it. Watching pornography definitely leads to addiction, which is one of the reasons for it being destructive. This is because sexual acts contribute to compulsive behavior that eventually plays a role in the patterns of the brain. As human beings, every time our passions are met, this reward increases the level of dopamine in the brain. This signals a high or emotive satisfaction. Eventually, when high levels of dopamine is craved for and met upon desire, this creates a pathway where dopamine levels control the brain’s reward-related system altogether. This is why addictions often control the person and not vice versa, whether substance-related or behavior-related.

By definition, the word addiction comes from Latin, [2] and it means to be “handed over” or “enslaved to.” Thus, by definition, addiction shows a contra-Christian idea of idols that take a hold of our lives to the point of our full submission and enslavement to it. For those enslaved as addicts, there is no greater news than the gospel that informs us of our liberation from being addicts to false lords to being servants to the True Lord. Romans 6:15-23 marks a section in Scripture where Paul contrasts the way one is either a slave to sin or to righteousness. In doing so, he shows that one cannot be a slave to both, because you can only be lorded over by one or the other. By our sinful nature, we are naturally slaves to sin. This explains our proneness to addiction, including our seemingly unstoppable desire to watch porn. Idols in this world provide for us temporary satsifaction, but in the end, they will continue to rob us of our time, rob us of our sanity, and rob us of our control. Practically and spiritually, they take over our lives, showing a direct opposite result of those who belong to a different master Jesus Christ. Those bought by Jesus to be of his fold and under his kind and gentle lordship are brought in at a price. Romans 6:23 famously states that “the wages of sin is death,” meaning the price Jesus had to pay as our Lord was to die to pay our old master the cost to redeem us. Then, the key to overcoming this addiction that takes over our lives is looking at a better master who promises better things. Furthermore, this master sacrificed everything he had so that we might be safe in his arms.

This addiction and behavior not only has a negative impact on our relationship with God, but it negatively affects our relatoinships with our loved ones as well.

3. PORN DESTROYS MARRIAGE. I don’t think I have to explain how damaging it is for a spouse to find out that his or her spouse has been watching porn. It signals a multitude of hurtful thoughts to the victim of the situation, which may include the following:

  1. “Maybe my spouse doesn’t think I’m attractive enough.” Particularly for the men who are addicted to porn, this kills your wives’ self-confidence and self-worth in the relationship. As sexual beings called to love on our wives, our duty is to reserve our sexual desires and satisfaction to love our wives with as whole of a heart as we can offer. On our wedding days, we vowed to love and protect our wives. This is not only from the dangers of this world but also from ourselves. We know fully well of how dangerous we could be in our sinful habits. And there might not be much else more hurtful than our wives knowing and feeling that they are not good enough for us. It is our duty to prayerfully be in our knees, asking for strength to live lives that reflect Christ’s righteousness and love our wives that reflect Christ’s love. Shame on us if we cease to do so. Yet, I understand that pornography is not just a male problem. Sisters, will you not also seek to honor and love your husbands by preserving your sexual passions for them?
  2. “Maybe I’m not that special to him/her.” It was never the wedding ring that symbolized marriage in Scripture. In fact, that’s a Roman Catholic invention. Rather, the symbol for marriage in Scripture is sex. Thus, as sex is the symbol to point to the highest union between human beings in this world, it is to be preserved and treated with great caution and great care. Flinging our sexual desires around everywhere shows that we are not devoted to this special relationship we have with our spouses. Sure, you could state that you’re not necessarily having sex with other people outside of your spouse. But if Jesus points at the heart, I think we ought to examine our hearts too.
  3. “He/She is cheating on me.” This could be two-fold, as it really could signal towards a cheater’s tendency as one who does not value the specialness of sex within marriage. Also, it could be that the spouse feels cheated on by those his or her spouse watches online. Is this not asolutely right? At the heart, what difference is there between sleeping with another person that’s not your spouse and lustfully watching others interact with sinful sexual acts? In both cases, your desire for sex is not for your spouse in the context of your own special marriage but in a context outside of your own marriage. Habitually watching porn is the equivalent to sleeping around with different people frequently, as both expose a lack of contentment with your sexual interaction with your spouse in your marriage.

The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7 that our body parts belong to our spouse. Thus, it is used not to satsify our own sexual needs but paints a beautiful picture symbolic of all of marriage where spouses give of themselves to one another in sacrificial and generous love. In marriage, our spouses are the object of our love and affection. Thus, sex serves as an instrument of loving our spouses and showing them affection. However, when sex and porn become our god, we reverse this order to make our spouses serve our sexual desires. This objectifies our spouses and is harmful beyond measure to those we have been called upon to show Christ-like love toward. This also applies to those who are single, because porn addiction cannot be erased overnight through a wedding ceremony. Single brothers and sisters need reminders and gospel-centered guidance to direct passions away from lustful thoughts and desires through life in the church, fellowship, and ultimately finding worth in the true master who protects his own.

Yet, I fully understand and know the temptations and difficulties the world presents before our very eyes to make porn addiction so difficult to contain.

1. PORN IS SO ACCESSIBLE. In relation to the way porn addiction controls the reward-related system of the human brain, the priority to fill this need often rises to the very top. The problem our society poses for us is that sex is displayed in every which way we turn. For starters, pornography is extremely accessible online for no cost at all. In addition, there are internet ads, Facebook posts and pictures, Instagram posts, etc. that might trigger the porn addiction that craves the dopmaine level sexual satisfaction brings.  This, then, easily can point one to those sites taht are so accessible.

2. PORN CAN EASILY BE HIDDEN AWAY. Due to the privacy of porn, nobody might know of one’s struggles with it, making it all the more convenient. In a church culture that often shames sinful Christians, this can be something easily slid underneath the rug. In turn, the lack of urgency directed toward this sin issue works hand in hand with how much deeper one can fall in the destructive cobweb of porn. Hiding one’s sin brings him or her further and further away from a cure tosuch addiction.

Accountability is absolutely necessary when dealing with porn addiction. I truly do believe that this is where the community of grace comes in. A note to pastors: Nobody will come to you with their problems if you’re condemning them on the pulpit. There is already an overwhelming sense of shame for those who are struggling with porn. Would this shaming not turn them more inward and cause those struggling to hide their problems furthermore? A practice of admitting one’s problems on the pulpit caters more to those who have problems so that they could have confidence in knowing that their pastor might understand them. Let’s face it. Pastors are not saviors. Pastors point to a savior, so pastors don’t have to carry the burden of being perfect. The community of grace points corporately to one savior who died for sinners. It confesses together that each part of the body is fallible, but the head is looking to bring them to glory one day. Its trust is in Jesus, not in man’s opinion or approval. Let’s build our communities to look more like this, where sinners come together to be helped and guided to loving a committed God.

I believe that a proper view of God needs to be set in place for this to happen. Both legalism (too much emphasis upon works) and antinomianism (lack of emphasis upon works) lack a gospel vision, because the gospel states neither that our works dictate our salvation nor that our works are unimportant. Rather, it places to the forefront Christ’s works above ours. This mindset does away with the notion that our deeds and self-righteousness equate to our acceptance into the Kingdom of Heaven. Yet, it also does away with the notion that our deeds are unimportant, for it was because of our deeds that Christ died. Then, do we not find it necessary to use our deeds to live for him?

Contrary to what legalism might suggest, neither legalism nor antinomianism have a high view of God. Both suggest that one’s view of God is equivalent to the way one portrays the law. Legalism shows that one’s satisfaction and joy can be found in one’s performance. On the flip side, it also suggests away from Christians’ assurance from damnation through the grace received in Christ. Ironically, this lowers one’s view of God when elevating one’s view of the law, because God is thought of in relation to the law instead of vice versa. Antinomianism also lowers one’s view of God by lowering one’s view of the law. As the law is good and comes from God, it ought to be honored (though we fail it). Dishonoring the law and dishonoring the commands of God is disregarding the holiness of God himself. Then, the gospel of grace is not the middle way between these two thoughts, because it points to the worth of one’s deeds in relation to the law of God through the accomplished work of Jesus Christ. The law is no longer a burden, but it is a blessing. A high view of God and his law means that he is an unattainable God, unless he provides a way for you. Jesus calls himself “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) as the one who tore down the curtain and veil to provide access to God as the “new and living way” (Heb. 10:20). There is no access point to God without Christ, but that access comes through his work and the laws he fulfilled. Thus, if the laws point to him, who are we to diminish them or use them for our own misguided achievements?

Therefore, the growing problem of pornography within the church must be dealt with in grace, because “the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2). Christ, who died to set us free from the tyranny of the law, can also guide our passions away from sinful addictions. May our churches and our fellowship point to him, not to our own self-righteousness or others’ wrongs and flaws. If Christ died for our sins, he’s covered every one of them. We can be rest assured that he who died for our sins will help us through them in this life of sin.

[1] India, for one, shows around 90% of teens starting from the age of 10 start watching porn regularly.
[2] Addicere, in Latin, means “to hand over” or “to enslave.” Addictus is the past participle of this root, carrying over the nuance of one “handed over” or “enslaved.”

The Poison of Porn

My Journey with Coffee

To this point, I’ve been blogging primarily about things related to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, which is appropriate seeing that nothing compares to him in this life. Still, everyone needs hobbies, and I found one that takes up a little too much of my time and focus (according to my wife). Coffee. I don’t know if it was my wife’s influence, but I got to thinking about the pros and cons of my coffee obsession. To each person, the pros and cons of a particular thing is different. For some, practical benefits might outweigh the theoretical beauty. For others, the art of crafting and tasting good coffee might outshine the time, money, convenience lost in order to do so. I’m probably more along the lines of the second group (though roasting your own beans can save you money in the long run). And in thinking about my love for coffee and reflecting upon the steps taken to uncover the beauty of cooked beans, I’ve found pretty decent life lessons learned along the way. I want to take you on a journey with me in my relationship with coffee, and how it showed me different shades to the person I am.

I’m not the quickest when finding out the newest trends, so when the “third-wave” movement was starting up, I wasn’t in line with all the micro-roasters in my neighborhood. Besides, I was beginning to attend middle school when that was happening, and I don’t think it’s a good idea for twelve and thirteen year olds to be drinking coffee when some of them haven’t even gone through a voice change. In fact, it wasn’t until late in college and as a post-grad that I started to drink coffee. I won’t lie… I remember the early stages of drinking coffee, and I absolutely hated it. I couldn’t stand the bitterness, the burnt smell, and the medicinal taste in my mouth (when thinking of it, it was probably also due to it being bad coffee). I always had to couple coffee with packets of sugar, milk, or ice cream, or have it as a frozen dessert beverage of some sort. Still, I persisted with drinking coffee, because it made me feel like a grown up and I liked the idea of it. I mean, not all of us started to drink coffee for its taste, right? Liking the idea of coffee turned into a dependence upon caffeine, and that in turn resulted in an acquired taste for coffee. I finally started liking it.

I guess this is where my journey with coffee really started. Like many other coffee rookies, I started with Starbucks. There, I thought it was a true coffee lover’s duty to drink everything black and as dark as possible. I began consuming a venti cup of Pike Roast on a daily basis and depended upon it for my source of energy for the day. This eventually progressed into drinking iced coffee black which then progressed toward taking espresso shots over ice. At this point, I thought that was all there was to coffee. Comical, I know, but ignorance can cause you to think a multitude of things. I eventually had to start cutting back on my coffee expenses, because daily drinks at Starbucks would cost anywhere from two to four dollars, and that amounted to about a hundred dollars a month, at least, spent on coffee alone. As a seminarian and part-time intern pastor, that wasn’t ideal. So my caring wife (fiancee at the time), decided to buy a Keurig machine for Christmas. I started to buy K-Cups in bulk and took full advantage of the coffee selection Keurigs had to offer. Growing up in Minnesota, my mom was friends with the owner of a Gloria Jeans coffee shop, so I tried their assortment of flavored grinds. Along with these, Donut Shop, and Starbucks K-Cups, I thought I found my solution to saving more money with coffee while enjoying it. 

I think I would have been satisfied with K-Cups for a length of time had I never tried Bird Rock Coffee in San Diego (I’ve tried other micro-roaster shops in San Diego but found this to be my favorite). This took coffee to a whole new level for me. I never knew that a cup of coffee could capture such sweet and fruity tones within it. I started reading blogs about beans, grinders, and methods of making a quality cup (Stumptown’s website has a good tutorial for those unfamiliar with how to use various coffee instruments). In a timely way, I was also gifted a french press and an aeropress that Christmas. I incorporated those with a Hario handheld burr grinder, and I grew increasingly satisfied with each cup of coffee I drank. Then, I started to look at what kinds of beans produce a certain kind of flavor that I liked. Having tried various beans from South American and Eastern Africa, I found Kenyan beans to provide my perfect cup. I was satisfied with buying beans from Bird Rock (they also give you a free cup when you buy a bag of beans–for Kenyan AB grade beans, $18.99/12 oz bag). 

But of course, things have to be taken to another level for obsessive people like myself. I began reading books about coffee (recommended: Home Coffee Roasting by Kenneth Davids) and concluded that I needed to start roasting my own beans. Time is money since roasted beans have a short shelf life the moment after they have roasted. So I explored ways where I could roast at home and looked into roasters. The price of roasters scared me away, but with the help of one of my old college students Kichan along with a few blogs, I looked into making my own coffee roaster for a fraction of the price of buying one online. After doing laps at Home Depot, Target, and IKEA, I found some parts that might work to make a mini drum roaster. 

  
The parts are the following: Two pencil cups, some nuts and bolts, two cork stoppers for turning, hatch, 3′ x 1′ x 0.5″ wood, aluminum sheet metal to put on the inside of the wood, and a portable gas stove. It’s definitely not the perfect roaster, but I’ve found it to be a good place to start. I usually get my beans from Klatch or Sweet Maria’s (2-5 pounds at a time at ~$8/pound). If you do the math, you can save a good deal of money, considering the fact that beans often lose weight while gaining volume in the process of roasting. Sure, you could aways save money at Costco buying a huge bag of dated and flavorless beans (also, often robusta which is a no-no). But for those who enjoy a nice cup of coffee that comes from freshly roasted and high quality beans, cooking your own beans might be worth your while.

Some might ask the question: Was it all worth it? I could give you the list of pros and cons for roasting your own beans from time spent to energy consumed to money spent/saved. Yet, for some reason, I guess this isn’t the way my mind works. To be honest, I’m not so sure that it was worth it to spend all that time researching, trying out different shops and beans, investing in different ways to make a cup, etc. But it makes me happy drinking a good cup of coffee, and I’m satisfied in thinking that I did everything I could to ensure a good cup of coffee each morning. The beautiful thing about hobbies is that the process is just as enjoyable as the end result.

I don’t mean to get philosopical after having talked about my journey with coffee, but this does point to a few things about myself that it made me realize. I’ve never been too good with balancing a checkbook and keeping tabs on my expenses/income, so I guess I’ve never been like that with anything else in life. If someone were to ask me if it was worth it to marry my wife, I don’t think I would give a list of pros and cons and show how the pros outweigh the cons. I would simply say that I love her, she loves me, we continue to grow to show Christ’s love to one another, and that’s all that matters. The same would go to how I spent my years in seminary. I spent a longer time there than most, because I took classes slower and learned slower than most while serving at a local church. But I’d say that I’m happy with the way things turned out. I learned a lot more than I would have had I stayed less years. I took more classes than I needed to having stayed the extra years, but I did more reading and I learned how to be a better student through it all. If I were to do it over again, would I do things differently? I’m sure I would, but I’d say the same with many things in my life. It just doesn’t help in thinking of how things could have gone differently. It’s not the way my mind works. I’m happy with where I am, and I think that’s all that matters.

Yet, I’m grateful for those who aren’t like me. If the whole world were to think the way I do, I’m not sure if anything productive would get done. A world filled with people pursuing hobbies would leave more necessary work to be done by less people willing to do it. So I guess I’m reaping the beneifts of those who weigh out the pros and cons of life and work hard to ensure people like me can ride our hobby horses without too many negative effects on society. I’m grateful for my wife who lets me have all my hobbies (I have a lot more than just coffee, sadly…) and doesn’t think the way I do. If she was exactly as I was, we’d be out of money very frequently and our necessities might not be covered. But most of all, I’m thankful for my God who gives common grace for all to enjoy (the original use of the rainbow). Even a good cup of coffee is something to give him thanks for. 

I don’t know how many non-believers read my blogs entries. I mean, the title of my page is called “The Art of Godliness.” Still, it wouldn’t be fitting to close an entry without giving thanks to the thing that means most to me. No, it’s not coffee, it isn’t even my wife or daughter. It’s the very God whom I thank for the common grace shown through the tasty cup of coffee I drank this morning. In the Christian faith, there are two forms of grace given by God–common and special. Common grace is that which is given to all people. These are the very things we’re able to enjoy in life, such as good coffee, good music, a good pair of 501’s, and a beautiful summer night. Yet, if common grace is cause to give thanks, think of how amazing special grace is. See, this special grace is given without a cost to us, but it cost God everything. It cost the Father his Son, and it cost the Son his life. In him, we get more than a good cup of coffee. We get more than 80 years of a pleasant life spent. We have an eternity with perfect relationships, and we have a place where there will be no tears or pain. It’s home. So while I give praise to the small things in life given to me, they really stand small when placed next to the saving relationship I have with my God. I hope that we would all give thanks for the small things but know there is something truly worthy of our gratitude. For some, a relationship with God is one where the cons outweigh the pros. But I don’t think like that (not that the pros don’t outweigh the cons). His grace is enough, his love his sufficient, and I need him more each hour. That’s more than enough for me. 

My Journey with Coffee