You Are More?

 

10th avenue

Attending a Christian music concert the other night, I became inspired by the lyrics of the Tenth Avenue North song “You Are More”.  This is a song that I have long admired and believe it’s message is true. Here is a sample of the chorus:

“You are more than the choices that you’ve made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You’ve been remade.”

The song, written to the believer, makes a value judgement regarding a person’s relationship to the choices, mistakes, and problems attributed to them.  It places a person’s identity above their undesirable actions or consequences. Now I would think that believers and unbelievers, the same, would agree with most of these words, apart from the last line, “You’ve been remade”.  Aside from this reference to the regeneration of the human soul, surely there are folks who deny the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus who surely believe in their own personal value and, thus, feel enabled to enthusiastically belt out those lyrics right beside me.

The unbeliever’s testimony to the value, or “moreness” of humanity can be witnessed in instances like their moral indignation to the plight of the poor.  The fight for civil, moral, or “reproductive” rights also calls to attention a belief in inherent attributes of each individual that would not be relevant to beings whose existence stem from strictly material forces.

But how can they so rightfully agree?  On what rational basis can they place themselves, their worth, their identity, above the accumulation of their actions if not for the presence of an ultimate provider of value?

“You are more than the choices that you’ve made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You’ve been remade.”

The unbeliever may think that the answer lay in his ability to create value within himself.  In other words, much like they claim meaning and purpose for their lives, the God-denier himself needs to be the source of his own value.  But if that were true, where does one attain this value, if they do not possess it from the start? And is this self-given value real? For instance, if I call myself a king, but am not actual descendant of certain royal heritage, am I a true king?  I may feel as though I am a king. I may self-identify as one, but if I were honest, I have no authority to change the objective state of who I am, or have been from the start, no matter how many people I ask to “bow” to it.

Conversely, Christians account for this inherent worth of humanity from a source outside themselves.  Value, worth, meaning, and purpose are things that are given to us, not things true by virtue of human declaration.

Believers rely on the authority of the divine inspiration of scripture.  From Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them.”  As image-bearers of God, humans are set apart from the rest of creation and given dominion over “the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (v.28)  Not only does God demonstrate our value to Him through creation, He does so by the sacrifice of His son on the cross for those who love Him. We know this because Romans 5:8 tells us that “ . . . God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.

“You are more than the choices that you’ve made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You’ve been remade.”

This “remaking” we hear about in the last verse of the song’s chorus informs us of a regeneration of the believer’s spirit accomplished by Christ succumbing to death on the cross, paying for the redemption of His people with His life.  An undeserved act of God alone to bestow righteousness upon those who love Him. Something He as sovereign Lord alone has the authority to do.

So humanity can only be more because of our status as image-bearers of the Good Good Father.  Because of grace, believers are not only more, but are righteous because of Christ’s finished work for our redemption.

“You are more than the choices that you’ve made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You’ve been remade.”

May we sing that last verse as loudly and surely as we are able to sing the three before it.

God Bless.

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Contradiction or Undesigned Coincidence?

undesigned coincidence
As we move closer to Easter, as with most religious holidays, we will often experience a cultural backlash against our Christian faith. We see billboards, bought by atheist groups, denoting a lack of need for a Savior. At Christmas, we may see mythicism promoted by unbelieving “friends” on our facebook feeds. And claims alleging that the Bible is nothing but a book of fairy tales. It is for this reason I would like to share this bit of Bible teaching, to, both, strengthen our own confidence in scripture and help us further provide an answer to “everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope you have . . . with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

To do this, I will be referring heavily to Lydia McGrew’s marvelous book, “Hidden in Plain Sight: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts”. McGrew’s book, itself, is an unearthing of evidence for the historical reliability of the gospels written in the 18th and 19th centuries by apologists William Paley and Jame Blunt, respectively.

From the synopsis of her book, the term “undesigned coincidences” refers to:

“ . . . an apparently casual, yet puzzle-like “fit” between two or more texts, and its best explanation is that the authors knew the truth about the events they describe or allude to. Connections of this kind among passages in the Gospels, as well as between Acts and the Pauline epistles, give us reason to believe that these documents came from honest eyewitness sources, people “in the know” about the events they relate.”

For this article, I want to simply paraphrase one of my favorite instances of this inter-locking of events within the gospels, though there are many more illustrated in McGrew’s book. Please, by all means, check out this book for the rest.

We start in John 18:10 when Jesus and His companions are waiting in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus waited there for Judas to arrive with a detachment of soldiers to arrest Him. Verse 10 explains the reaction of Jesus’ followers to His detainment at the hands of the officials sent by the chief priests and Pharisees.

“Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus)” (verse 10). So after introducing the name Malchus to us, the Book of John doesn’t mention him again. We can only assume that the high priest’s servant left the scene holding the right side of his head, less an ear.

The story then leads us to the trial of Jesus and this exchange between Pilate and Jesus as He was questioned out of earshot of the Jewish council whose goal is to have Jesus executed. John 18:33-36:

“Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

Do you see a contradiction here between these two passages in the same chapter of John? When Jesus claims that His kingdom is not of this world, He supports His claim by saying that if it were not so, His followers would fight to save Him. Well, evidenced in John 18:10, Peter did fight. He lopped off Malchus’s ear with his sword.

So when Pilate hears these claims of being peaceful from Jesus, he goes to the Jews and says that he finds “no basis for a charge against him” (v. 38). Now because it was the aim of the Jews to present Jesus as opposition to Caesar, they could have shown a conflict in Jesus’s own words, opposed to the actions of his disciples (Peter), by simply showing Pilate Malchus’s wounded head. They could have attempted to show that Jesus and His disciples have a violent revolution in mind for the kingdom of Rome which would be a capital offense.

Why didn’t they do this? If our only source of information is John’s Gospel, it doesn’t make sense that the Jews wouldn’t use the attack on Malchus to make their case, right?

However, the question is answered in Luke 22:47-53. Describing the scene in the garden, Luke says:

“While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” (Luke 22.47–53)”

In an excerpt from “Hidden in Plain Sight”:

‘Only Luke says that Jesus healed the servant’s ear, though Matthew and Mark also recount that the ear was cut off. Here again, Luke supplies a unique detail within a passage that is in some respects similar to the other Synoptic Gospels. And here, too, this detail is confirmed by an undesigned coincidence. If it is true that Jesus healed the servant’s ear, it explains Jesus’ words to Pilate, though those words are given only in John. Jesus could confidently declare that his kingdom is not of this world and even say that his servants would be fighting if his kingdom were not peaceful. If anyone tried to say that Peter cut off a servant’s ear, the wounded servant himself could not be produced to show this, and an admission that Jesus healed the ear would be further evidence of Jesus’ non-violent intentions, not to mention evidence of his miraculous abilities.”

This is one of my favorite undesigned coincidences because, embedded within, it, in a way, confirms an actual miracle. Because if not for the soldier’s healed ear, the Jews could have produced actual evidence, though circumstantial and dishonest, to build their case against our Good Good Father. Instead, the happening of the crucifixion of Jesus depended entirely on the political manipulation of Pilate and making him worry that he appeared to be “no friend of Caesar” (John 19:12).

In this way and among other ways, detailed in Lydia McGrew’s book, John and Luke fit together like a puzzle, Luke explaining a difficulty in John. The writer of John’s Gospel undoubtedly knew about the soldier’s ear but, for some reason, left out this detail, all the while, continuing the narrative as if it did happen. In a completely unforced way, John’s story only makes sense in light of Luke’s version. Not to mention, that in a separate coincidence, Jesus’s testimony in John 18:36 explains why Pilate cannot find reason to charge Jesus in Luke’s gospel. So the authors of both gospels end up supporting the historical reliability of the other in a subtle, undesigned way.

What should be made of all this? The best explanation is that the authors knew the truth about the events they described.

God bless.

Church, Where Is Your Joy?

Joy

Today in church, we were awarded a special treat. We witnessed a profession of faith and two baptisms and a testimony. While professions of faith and baptisms are an absolute blessing to the church, this post will focus exclusively on the testimony. Allow me to paraphrase the joyful message we heard below:

After being challenged to confess her sins to God by her unchurched mother, she feels guilt for avoiding church and putting it off, so, alone with her child, she finally gives in and confesses. When she does this, she did so completely with an open mind and an open heart. To her amazement, she heard words, though not with her ears, that she had not used before this moment. The words were not hers, but they were spoken into her heart. And then, she confessed.

After her confession, since she had missed church, she found a church service streamed online. The sermon mentioned Isaiah 43:18-19.

She quickly looked up this verse in the pages of a used teen study bible someone had given to her. Within the Word of God, she read the verse, noting not only God’s answer to her confession, but that out of every verse in her used study bible, this verse was the only one marked with a highlighter. The only one. Through His Word God told her:

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”  Isaiah 43:18-19

While it occurred to me and many others that a wonderful thing had happened to her, later, I thought of something else. Much of what happened to this young lady we can see fits into a portion of our church order of worship.

http://network.crcna.org/worship/historic-order-worship

Some churches have a different order and may have slimmed it down to just a few headings, but in this order, we have Gathering/Praise, Confession, Proclamation, Response to the Word, Lord’s Supper, and Sending. I am, of course, paying close attention to the Confession section of worship here. Within that section we have sub-headings: Call to Confession, Prayer of Confession, Assurance of Pardon, Passing the Peace, and Response to Thanksgiving.

It occurred to me that God had lead her through part of this order of worship without the presence of a pastor, worship leader, choir, or congregation. Our Good Good Father came down to meet her in her own living room and, with Him and her baby son, she had church there. She experienced the Holy Spirit Calling her to confession through her mother. God lead her through her Prayer of Confession. God, then, Assured her of His plans for her in Isaiah 43:18-19. She received Peace from the Lord over the condition of her heart and along with that, a desire to joyfully tell others what He has done for her in Thanksgiving.

My telling of this event in this way is not to say that these things (pastor, worship leader, etc,) are unimportant, but to show that we as believers in Christ and church-goers get to follow this order of worship every week and some of us can still remain unmoved by it.  Why is that?

Unless you were there, it is hard to adequately describe the energy and joyfulness by which she had told us what God had done for her.  The room was electrified.  And why shouldn’t it be?  God performed a miracle on this woman’s heart just as He has for you and me.  I find the joyful manner by which she delivered her message to be almost as important as the Word she shared with us.  My hope, going forward, is that those blessed to be in attendance will not let this detail fade from their memories.  It is for this reason I humbly ask: Church, where is your joy?

Please pray with me: Lord, if we haven’t felt this way in a while, may this be us again.

God Bless.