Criss-Cross

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)

We ended last time in a depressing predicament. Humanity had crossed the great boundary established when God created the universe: the distinction between the Uncreated God, and all created things. From the beginning we strove to be like God, we committed idolatry.

This crossing, the worst of all transgressions, seemed to have doomed the human race to futility and failure. Instead of rejoicing in the presence of God, we hide from the blessings our Creator appointed for us to enjoy. (Genesis 3:8) Instead of eternal joy and life, our sin earns for us condemnation and death. (Ephesians 2:3)

What a terrible mess we’ve made of God’s world. He created it beautiful, purposeful, orderly. We shattered the goodness God created and turned order into chaos, life into death, purpose into futility.

Would God annihilate his ruined creation, or is there hope of rescue and restoration? The answer lies in this secret: the boundary between God and creation is asymmetrical. When we cross God’s boundaries it is sin; but when God crosses, it is grace. And salvation. We cross divine boundaries, but God criss-crosses them.

We can thank God that he did cross over. This is how it happened: one of the three divine Persons of the Trinity took on a human nature—and so this Person is now both fully divine and fully human. That’s Jesus. He is God (John 1:1), who became flesh, i.e. human (John 1:14). Jesus came to earth to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29) and to reconcile our broken relationship with God. (2 Corinthians 5:19)

John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” – John 1:29 (NIV)

Jesus effected what we must call the great crossing: dying by crucifixion on Good Friday, Jesus criss-crossed death and returned to life on Easter. Consider what had to happen for this to come true. As we saw in the last blog, God cannot not exist (God cannot die), but because Jesus possesses a human nature he can die.

On the other hand, no human being could pay for the sins of the world—only the infinite love of God can accomplish that task, but because Jesus possesses a divine nature he can pay for all of our sins. Jesus alone possesses both a divine and human nature, which makes Jesus unique. This is why Jesus is the only Savior provided by God for the whole human race. (Acts 4:12)

So Jesus, his physical body (first on the cross, then risen and now ascended), is the instrument of divine mercy. In order to receive God’s mercy we must receive Jesus.

Only through Jesus can we cross the great divide between sinner and saint. The first step of that journey is the forgiveness of our sins. By faith in Jesus, we allow his Spirit to begin the work of transformation within us, that changes us from sinner to saint.

This doesn’t mean we become perfectly good—far from it. History proves that Christians remain sinners as long as we live in this world. What we become is not perfectly good, but perfectly forgiven. Forgiven so completely, so fully, that nothing we have done in the past and nothing we will do in the future, can separate us from God’s love in Jesus. (John 3:16; Romans 8:38-39)

In Christ God spans the gulf created by our sin via the Incarnation (Christmas) and completes that wonderful criss-cross through what we call the Resurrection (Easter).

As I finish this blog, it occurs to me that I’ve left out a step. For awhile now, I repeated the claim that to sin, to transgress boundaries established by God, inevitably breaks our relationship with God and leaves us in a state of condemnation and judgment. But I didn’t address the question, Why must God judge and condemn sin? Why can’t God just forgive us? We’ll answer that question next time.

Next Time: Living in the Land Beyond Love

The Greatest Boundary of All

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1 (NIV) 

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on earth beneath or in the waters below. Exodus 20:4 (NIV)

In the last blog we encountered God as a powerfully creative intelligence. This time we consider what must be the most mysterious, even inconceivable of all the attributes or characteristics of God.

We human beings have some degree of power, creativity and intelligence. To be sure, we can’t imagine the full scope of divine omnipotence and omniscience, but those basic qualities: power, creativity and intellect—at least they aren’t completely alien to our natures. Several blogs ago we contemplated what it means to say, “God is love.” While the ocean depth of divine love remains unfathomable to human hearts, love is not alien to us—in fact God created us to receive his love.

The most mysterious and inconceivable aspect of the divine Being must be found elsewhere. Nothing about God, not even his Triune nature, is more alien to our existence, more profoundly separate and distinct from the entire created order than this: God is Uncreated. God exists without beginning and without end. God cannot not exist—he is. All else that does exist receives the property of existence from God.

God exists not merely as an immaterial spirit (i.e. God has no body)—he must exist outside the boundaries of time and space, because God created time and space. How can we even begin to think of such a Being, who exists in the absence of time and space? It’s literally inconceivable!

This quality of God, the uncreated Being, goes by the name “transcendence”. God’s transcendence doesn’t mean he’s in a high and far away place. Rather, it means God is totally other than us. Divine transcendence refers to the vast gulf separating the Uncreated from all that is created, forming a deep and profound boundary. God is the Creator—all else is created. (Genesis 1:1)

This must be the greatest, most fundamental boundary of all: the immeasurable distance between the uncreated Creator and his creation. God himself is unbounded, unlimited, infinite, while everything created by God is, by nature, limited in power and time and space. Limits and boundaries define existence for creatures who are not the Creator. This is the most fundamental distinction, the greatest boundary of all.

As we saw last time, when creatures cross divinely appointed boundaries they sin. This is called “transgression”. Arguably the worst transgression, the most terrible sin in the Old Testament is idolatry. (Exodus 20:4) What makes idolatry so awful is that it seeks to merge and mix the divine with the created (by worshipping something from the created realm as if it were God), violat­ing that first, primeval distinction.

Idolatry ruptures the proper relationship between God and humanity. Instead of a relationship of loving communion, it becomes one of judgment and condemnation. Idolatry is the worst transgression because it crosses the greatest boundary: between the Creator and creation—introducing chaos into the foundations of the created order.

The temptation to cross the greatest boundary greeted humanity in the Garden of Eden, “you will be like God”, the serpent whispered. (Genesis 3:5) Sadly, we believed the ancient lie then, and so it has been ever since. Idolatry infects generation after generation. Each of which fails, succumbing to judgment and condemnation and death, instead of succeeding to the blessings of love and joy and eternal life that God created us for. Life ends in the futility of death.

Will the cycle of failure and futility ever end? Answering that question must wait until the next blog.

Next Time: Criss-Cross

The Artist

Scripture Reference:  Genesis 1:1 to 2:1 (NIV)

Artists are known by their artistic output. Whether in the graphic arts, sculpture, music, theater…great art reveals a distinctive vision, which educated patrons of the arts easily recognize. The ability to render a unique vision of reality with crystalline clarity distinguishes great art from the merely pedestrian.

We can legitimately think of God as “the Great Artist”. His work displays his grand vision. In this blog post and the next two I want to investigate God’s artistic output as God describes it, in the story of creation from Genesis chapter 1.

How does the Great Artist appear in Genesis 1? First, as powerfully creative on a massive scale: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” – Gen 1:1  God speaks into existence the entire universe in all its vast array. (Gen 1:3; 2:1)

In addition to raw power, we also see wonderfully intri­c­ate detail, revealing the divine wisdom by which God implements his boundless creativity. God creates sky and ocean and land (Gen 1:6-10), then God populates these spaces with a wonderful variety of plants, fish, birds, animals and finally human beings. (Gen 1:11-12, 20-28)  Amazingly the elements of creation fit together perfectly in a universe that is very good. (Gen 1:31)

The creation we find at the end of Genesis 1 is beautiful, purposeful and orderly. The careful development of a self-sustaining, life-producing universe through the seven day pattern reveals God as the master planner and designer, organizing creation according to principles that allow his intelligence and artistry to control his infinite power.

Knowing God to be a Triune Being, we can discern the most fundamental principle God employs to control his creative power. I’m thinking of unity and distinction. There is one God (unity) who exists as three divine Persons (who re­main distinct, not mixed together). So we are not surprised to find that God’s one, unified creation contains innumer­able distinctions—we perceive the nature of the Artist by closely observing his work.

God’s distinctions take the form of boundaries. Boundaries define proper relations, like the relational boundaries that have eternally distinguished the three divine Persons from each other. God groups related things (like land or sea or sky) and distinguishes them from other things by boundaries is the basic principle God uses to control the divine, creative power.

God created all things, each with its own set of proper relations. God made each thing to fulfill a specific purpose or role in creation, and it must be properly linked or related to other created things in order to accomplish its divinely ordained purpose or play its role. Day is not night; land is not sea; bird is not fish; male is not female. Boundaries distinguish each thing from all others, defining its purpose, yet each is related to the others in ways that allow the flourishing of God’s creation.

The relational boundaries distinguishing the three divine Persons can never be erased, mixed or merged—they remain eternally. This quality is reflected in the Great Artist’s creation: boundaries and distinctions established by God must not be crossed. Crossing a bounda­ry of God’s divine order is transgression. When things operate outside their purpose, their proper relations get twisted, distorted—and the purposes of God are perverted. That is sin.

By its nature sin fractures and mutilates proper relations by using created things for purposes or in roles other than those God intended. God made all things good (Gen 1:31), but precisely because all things God made have particular design purposes or roles, all can be perverted—used for other purposes, in other roles.

We learn from the Genesis 1 creation story that life without boundaries is chaos (Gen 1:2).  Only God is unlimited. We creatures are limited. We fulfill our divinely ordained destiny by honoring the relations God has appointed as proper for us.

 Next time: The Greatest Boundary of All

Circles that Form a Chain

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. John 15:9 (NIV)

No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Luke 10:22 (NIV)

 

Previously (Circle of Love) we delved into the mystery behind Jesus’ words, “As the Father has loved me”, and found that God, who alone exists eternally, never exists alone. The Divine Being is eternally Triune, consisting of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The three divine persons exist in an eternal relationship of perfect love and harmony. God is a Triune circle of endless love.

If human beings are made in that image, we should find circles of love within our nature and in our lives—and so it is. Jesus began John 15:9, “As the Father loves me”, then adds, “so I have loved you.”

Here’s a new circle of love, emanating from the Son and encompassing humanity. Now we have two linked circles of love. The point of connection between the two circles, the element which exists in both circles, linking them together—is Jesus, the Son of God.

Through the Son, the love of God full and entire, belongs to each person who surrenders in faith to Jesus Christ. Since Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, Jesus is the only point of contact between God’s love and humanity. As Jesus himself put it in Luke 10:22, “no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him”.

The Father’s love can connect with humanity only through his Son. Without Jesus there can be no contact between a human soul and the love of God. The Gospel message is that God desires to share his love; in fact he created us for the purpose of receiving it! The Father sent the Son for the express purpose of revealing the Father to people.

You must realize that in Jesus, you receive all of God’s love. There is no extra love of God reserved for the angels, no additional love of God to be gained in any way, other than receiving by faith the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is the second circle of love.

With two circles joined at one common point, we have the beginning of a chain—the chain of love. It is probable that God’s primary reason for creating the universe is to extend the chain of love beyond the three divine persons of the Trinity to others. But, since God alone possesses the quality of existence, he must create those others in order for them to enjoy his love. This divine insight lies at the heart of the Gospel: God’s will is to share his love with creation through his Son Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ love is the Father’s love. There is no other love waiting for you, beyond the love of God that you receive by faith in Jesus. Looking for love elsewhere is looking for love in wrong places—looking to anything else but Jesus to satisfy the love God built you to need is idolatry, and it brings only disappointment.

Once you’ve been touched by this divine love, you can share it with other believers. This Jesus commands in John 13:34, “love one another as I have loved you”. If Jesus’ followers truly express between themselves a love like that love shared by the Father and Son, then God’s will for the creatures he created in his image is fulfilled: they have mirrored on earth the essence of the heavenly Creator. This is the third circle of love, and it connects believers to each other.

The fourth link in the chain of love occurs when believers in Jesus share God’s love with the world. Sin disconnects people from their destiny in the love of God. Sharing God’s love with the world reconnects people to God. At the cross God released the power to reconnect people to God’s love by destroying sin’s disconnecting power.

When we share Christ’s love with those who don’t know him, the Holy Spirit joins new people to God. This is the final link in the chain of God’s love: reconnecting lost souls to divine joy—the destiny God made people to enjoy. That’s how the chain of love connects back to its origin, becoming the grand circle of love, that divine purpose behind all creation.

So the chain of love emerges from the mystery of God as circles of love originating in God, connecting through human hearts, and returning to God. I pray you will live in that magnificent circle this week. May God’s love for a hurting and dying world flow through you. Become God’s instrument to join other links into the chain of love, that glorious circle of joy and bliss that continues without end.

Circle of Love

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. – John 15:9 (NIV)

All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. – Luke 10:22 (NIV)


It ranks among the most profound issues we could possibly con­sider: in John 15:9, Jesus says, “Just as the Father loves me”. The subject: God the Father’s love for his only begotten Son. How can we comprehend such divine love?

Consider what the Bible teaches us about this relationship. The Son is everything to the Father. We find this truth expressed in John 3:35, “The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.” Jesus reiterates the same truth in the opening words of Luke 10:22, “All things have been committed to me by my Father.”

The Father’s love for his only begotten Son never grows or changes. It is and always has been perfect and complete. The Son luxuriates in the per­fection of the unending love of the Father. The Son is eternally im­mersed in this overwhelming, overpowering love. For the Son, the Father’s love is existence—there is no Son apart from the Father’s all-encom­passing, all-pervading, all-embracing love.

In this love, everything that is the Father becomes the Son, and all that is the Son is subsumed into the Father. The Son possesses all that is the Father, and in turn joyfully surrenders to being possessed by the Father. The consuming nature of this relationship is expressed by Jesus in the middle portion of Luke 10:22, “No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son”.

In the intense fire of divine love, the Father shares all of his existence with the Son. The Son receives this love, he absorbs this love which is his own existence, and in perfect harmony and full com­munion with his Father, from the Father and Son together, the union of their love proceeds forth as the Holy Spirit. So the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are drawn into each other, penetrating the core of each other’s being, and so sharing the divine essence in the full union that makes God Triune—a mutual sharing of existence forming the circle of divine love.

This circle of love is the very essence of God, who is an eternal circle of love. A most profound truth that grounds the Bible’s simple definition of Deity: God is love. These words offer a basic expla­nation of the Trinity—God is a Triune circle of endless love. This greatest conceivable love … greatest possible love, is the full and complete love of God.

One concluding thought: contemplate the cross in light of the Father’s love for the Son. The Father surrendered to brutal death on a cross that most beloved of all beloveds—the only begotten Son of God the Father. The greatest possible lover surrendered the greatest conceivable love—for you. If God already did that to save your soul, how could you ever doubt his love for you?

Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” Once we know the Father’s love for the Son and the Son’s love for us, how could we fail to trust that the will of God is love for us? If you believe that Jesus emptied himself from his position of eternal, loving bliss to die for your sins, then trusting his promise of eternal goodness is easy. How could any power ever separate you from that love? The very love of the Father for the Son is now ours!

Meditate on the love of God and the cross, and then you cannot doubt God. That’s how you remain forever in this most glorious and splendid of all loves.

Next time: Circles that Form a Chain

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The Beginning of Clear Thinking

“Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” – Isaiah 6:9-10 (ESV)

Shortly after moving to New York City I started a part-time job teaching introductory computer programming. At first I found my students incredibly obstinate. They would make a simple error in program coding, I would tell them what it was, but they refused to see it. Sometimes I pointed directly to the error. They stared right at it, but saw nothing wrong.

After a semester of frustration I realized that the students were not obstinate; rather they were seeing, but not perceiving. This phenomenon is true of life in general. Paraphrasing the prophet Isaiah, we see, but don’t perceive the reality before us; we hear, but fail to distinguish truth from falsehood.

Was that ever more true than today? Thousands of images flash before our eyes—how could we possibly perceive the truth buried in them? A cacophony of chaotic sounds clamor for our attention—how can we hope to discern what is true?

Yet our blindness and deafness to truth, especially spiritual truth, is more than a fact of modern life, it is a fact of human existence. Isaiah described it over 25 centuries ago. Nearly 500 years ago, the great protestant reformer John Calvin wrote these words, commenting on people’s inability to perceive Jesus’ true identity,

how great is the blindness of men, when they ought to judge about the things of God, but this vice is almost natural to them: to be ingenious in contriving what may hinder them from arriving at the knowledge of the truth. … though the road were plain and smooth, every man would contrive [a reason to stumble] for him­self. … they contrive a new reason for themselves, that they may not come to the faith. [1]

The apostle Paul analyzes our spiritual condition in the following words, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4, ESV)

This is true, tragically true.  The sinful human mind and fallen human heart produce an endless supply of self-deceptions, when confronted by the truth about God. How can we hope to think clearly about spiritual things, to know the truth about our eternal destiny? Given our present condition, the only way we will clearly know the truth is if someone from outside our confused and chaotic existence tells us. Someone must break through the clamor and the clutter that blinds the eyes of our minds and deafens the ears of our hearts to the truth about God. But this would require a miracle!

That mir­acle is called con­version. It occurs whenever God illuminates a human mind with pure and holy light, bringing clarity to the darkness and chasing away decep­tion—when divine mercy begins to erase confusion and peace calms the chaos in a human heart. What a blessed miracle! God’s Holy Spirit enters that caldron of impurity called the human heart, turning hearts to God the Father. The blood of Christ cleanses the stain of unbe­lief from our minds, so the love of sin and rebellion against God’s way fades. By God’s grace we are converted, surrendering to his love and learning to submit gladly to his righteous way of life.

Miraculously, God hides his Spirit inside the text of a book. Scripture is the lens God provides to focus our vision. In the Bible we find God’s true message—it comes from beyond this world, outside the realm of confusion and sin. The truth about God is most clearly revealed in Jesus. Seeing Jesus in the Bible is the most direct vision of God available in this life. Speaking of Jesus, Calvin altered a famous Proverb slightly, “the beginning of wisdom is, to behold God.”

Beholding God in Christ is the only way to see with clarity. The Holy Spirit emerges from its hiding place in the Bible to shape our minds, enabling us to accurately comprehend spiritual truth, to know with assurance our eternal destiny.

The beginning of clear and wise thinking arrives when God implants within us and we receive the truth about Jesus: he is the only Son of God and the Savior of the world. That is the truth we need to know—the truth that brings clarity to all the other truths of life. Look for Jesus in the Bible, that’s where you’ll find him.


[1] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on the Gospel According to John (Jn 7:27). Bellingham,WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Life After Disaster

The message on January 1 looked back at one of the worst natural disasters in the U.S. during 2011, the monster tornado that flattened Joplin, Missouri last May. Many people lost everything they possessed when the storm winds ripped their homes to shreds. What does the Bible have to say to people after tornados, or other disasters, shatter their lives?

The Bible teaches us about God and about real life. God doesn’t promise a simple and easy life. In Isaiah 43:1-7, the prophet warns us to expect floods, fires and hard trials in life, “When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you; your troubles will not overwhelm you. When you pass through fire, you will not be burnt; the hard trials that come will not hurt you. For I am the LORD your God, the holy God of Israel, who saves you.”

So what does God promise? First, he promises, I will be with you in the midst of the storms, the floodwaters and fires of life. God promises that through our experience of trouble we will learn how much he loves us. We will learn to turn our eyes away from the things of this world and see the glory of God. In this beatific vision, we will experience God’s love, and find spiritual strength to continue, after we pass through hard times.

Second, God promises he’ll save us from ultimate disaster. We are created for something bigger and better than tragedy. The Lord says, “You are precious to me…[you] are my own people, and I created [you] to bring me glory.” “I will bring [you] home.” God did bring his people home to thrive in the Promised Land once again. But God’s promise to save goes deeper than simply restoring Israel to her homeland.

The decisive fulfillment of this promise comes in the Gospel passage from Matthew 1. Here God explains both how he will be with us always, and how he will ultimately save: by the power of the Holy Spirit working through Jesus.

The angel told Joseph, “do not be afraid to take Mary to be your wife. For it is by the Holy Spirit that she has conceived. She will have a son, and you will name him Jesus—because he will save his people from their sins. … this happened in order to make what the Lord had said through the prophet come true, ‘A virgin will become pregnant and have a son, and he will be called Immanuel’ (which means, ‘God is with us’).”

So Jesus Christ is Immanuel, God with us, the fulfillment of all God’s promises. The angel also told Joseph to name the baby “Jesus” because that name means “Savior”. Think of it this way: the angel told Joseph to name his son Savior because he will save his people from their sins.

You need to know that God’s promise to save us extends beyond life in this world. God’s promise finds its final fulfillment in our eternal existence. But how can God continue to save us after we eventually die? The answer is simple: through faith in Jesus, who is both God with us and our Savior from sin. Sin is what separates us from God, so by freeing us from our sins, Jesus makes it possible for us to be together with God forever in heaven, after we die in this world.

Back in Isaiah 43, God calls us to trust him. “Do not be afraid”, he insists, for I am bigger than all life’s storms and floods and fires. Christian faith looks beyond this material world to what is eternal and spiritual, and by faith we see God in Jesus. This week I pray you will learn deeper faith in God’s word, and by faith you will walk in his light and know the joy of the Savior he provides.

Christmas Joy

Every year at this time we collect an offering named the Christmas Joy offering. It started in the 1930s, primarily to support retired ministers and other church workers (including missionaries) whose pensions proved inadequate or who ran into medical problems.

My thoughts moved on from that specific offering, to Christmas Joy as a concept. Why is Christmas time supposed to be joyful? What source for joy is peculiar to Christmas? The answer to these questions is, of course, the birth of Jesus. But how is the birth of a single baby 2,000 years ago the source, the cause, of worldwide joy today?

Let me backup for a moment. We traditionally associate the Christmas season with gift-giving. What does receiving a gift mean to the recipient? It says, “You are valuable. You are cared for. You are loved.” We don’t give gifts unless we perceive the value, the dignity of the person we give to…unless we care enough to spend the time and money required to give a gift (this is the basis for the old expression, “It’s the thought that counts”)…unless the sense of devotion we call “love” impels us to generosity. To know you are the recipient of these spiritual and emotional qualities naturally creates joy in human hearts. So Christmas time, as a gift-giving season, is a natural time for joy.

“You are valuable. You are cared for. You are loved.” How does Jesus’ birth induce those spiritual qualities within our hearts and minds? Because of the Gift and the Giver at Christmas. The Gift is Jesus, the Savior and Redeemer of the world. What a valuable gift! And given at such a great cost. Don’t let sugar-coated Christmas cards cause you to forget the awful destiny that baby of Bethlehem was born to fulfill: to die for our sins on the cross.

Even more, we must remember the Giver: God the Father. This fact is what makes John 3:16 the most popular verse in the Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (NIV) The Gift given at Christmas proves that divine love and care belong to us. To be the recipients of such a marvelous Gift is the cause for worldwide joy.

God gave that Gift to us! How can we ever doubt that we are valued, cared for, loved by, the Supreme Being who created the universe! The only way we can doubt is by forgetting the fundamental Christmas Truth: God loves us so much he will stop at nothing to draw us into his eternal embrace, into everlasting life in paradise. You Christians, who have received this most blessed Gift into your lives—never doubt the depths of joy that belong to you on Christmas Day, and on every day…now and forevermore.