Christian, You Are a Betrothed Bride

Christ and the Church: King and Queen of Heaven

There are parts of the Bible that, as a guy, used to “weird me out.” If you’re a lady, I’m sure it’s the same feeling from your perspective. In the last article in this series “What Is a Christian?” we explored how God identifies Christians as witnesses, and we retold mythical tales of dragons and devils and battles and persecution and standing by faith in Christ to the death. Bible stories for manly men! That was last time. In this article we’re going to enter a dream world of what is traditionally considered girl-stuff. Royal weddings, dashing grooms, brides that turn heads, and happily-ever-afters. But Scripture, the one book inspired by God and useful for everything you need for life and godliness, has a way of presenting its material, whether traditionally masculine or feminine, that ministers to every human heart. Whoever you are or whatever your particular dreams, surely you’ve felt the heartache of love where hope and disappointment collide.

Maybe your hopes have been crushed by a disappointment that sounds something like this. “A storybook wedding and marriage made in heaven sounds wonderful, but I don’t feel very worthy of one. Will ‘lonely ol’ me’ ever be chosen for such honor and glory, or is the dream too good to be true?” Wounds of a lonely or broken heart can either be hopelessly covered over or dressed for healing. My prayer is you’ll gingerly uncover your heart today. Take the risk to expose yourself to the message of Psalm 45, asking God for healing and for faith to believe your dreams for love will someday come true.  As we’ll see upon a close reading of this song, God’s all-majestic bridegroom-king will be crowned with the surpassing glory of his princess-bride and receive “wedding gifts” that promise enduring fame, sons to rule in his kingdom, and a worldwide legacy. Bow to the heavenly bridegroom King Jesus and glorify him as your betrothed husband and Lord.

This is no Disney-fied wedding story where the girl is the central character, the movie heroine, with the guy not much more than a supporting actor. With the surge in what I call “Disney Princess wedding syndrome” comes the $60 billion wedding industry that overwhelmingly caters to the bride’s dream to be the star of her day.

Now, please don’t label me a chauvinistic crank. I’ve been to many awesome weddings—the bride always looked glorious and the groom always looked like a regular dude who just got lucky. All those weddings were great and a lot of fun, and often explicitly God-honoring. All I’m saying is that a biblical wedding, a wedding that closely mirrors Christian themes in all its aspects, would be a strange, dare I say offensive event today. That’s regrettable because the Bible’s wedding vision is best. For Christians, we should take our cues for evaluating everything in life, including wedding ceremonies, from the Bible. Where the Bible’s teaching feels oddly inappropriate, it is critiquing us as people shaped in specific ways where our culture is fallen, so we might reform our cultural sensibilities according to God’s view. And so it is with this strange but beautiful wedding song. Continue reading

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Christian, You Are a Witness

C.S. Lewis, the famous 20th century Christian apologist and author of many books including the beloved children’s fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia, was also a scholar of medieval literature and mythology at Oxford and Cambridge. As an expert in mythology, he recognized the power of story, of epic, of myth to shape the hearts and minds of entire cultures. Before his conversion to Christ, in his frequent dialogues with colleague and friend J.R.R. Tolkien (himself renowned for his legendary Lord of the Rings trilogy), Lewis understood that myths employ the genre of fictional fantasy to answer foundational worldview questions that all societies ask. “Who am I? How did we get here? Why is there evil in the world? Is there a larger plot to our individual stories? How should I live? How will it all end?” As Lewis listened, argued, and reasoned with his Christian friend, it suddenly dawned on him that the grand story of the Scriptures, rooted in the history of the OT and culminating in the NT, fits the characteristics of “myth” in the technical sense. But Lewis designated the Bible as the Myth of myths because Scripture alone is actually true. Factually, experientially, historically true. Here are a few things Lewis wrote about this.

“Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths…”

“The value of the myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by ‘the veil of familiarity.’ The child enjoys his cold meat, otherwise dull to him, by pretending it is buffalo, just killed with his own bow and arrow. And the child is wise. The real meat comes back to him more savory for having been dipped in a story…by putting bread, gold, horse, apple, or the very roads into a myth, we do not retreat from reality: we rediscover it.” ~ C.S. Lewis, On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature

This insight that the pre-modern world easily grasped helps us modern and postmodern people to make sense of what the Bible reveals to be true in its highly symbolic and visionary content. In the book of Revelation, I believe God in his perfect wisdom has chosen to teach his people in exactly this way about (among other things) the sobering subject of persecution, a topic that elicits very personal questions.

If and when opposition, threat, and violence are aimed at me and my church, will God protect and provide for us? What will happen to us? Are we strong enough to overcome? How can we overcome? We find the answers in the Bible, in Revelation 12 where John the Apostle sees a dramatic, symbolic vision of the cosmic war between Satan and God: a great dragon seeks to kill Christ and his glorious Mother, but God rescues them, casts down the dragon, and declares salvation for his persecuted witnesses. Live and die in this story to conquer through Christ.

Revelation, the last book in the Bible, was also the last one written, authored by the apostle John sometime during the last 30 years of the first century. Chapter 12 is considered by many to be the key to the whole book. It is certainly the point when the narrative shifts from spiritual warfare on earth to reveal the larger picture unfolding behind the veil of heaven. Revelation seeks to make sense of persecution and help Christians grasp their God-defined identity in it. But when people hear the book of Revelation nowadays, their minds tend to jump to thoughts of Left Behind: of a secret Rapture, of everyman hero Kirk Cameron, and lots and lots of complicated end-times charts. If that’s you, if you’ve been obsessed with the challenge of figuring out Revelation like it’s a code only decipherable by the spiritual illuminati, then I’m going to politely ask you to just STOP! You’ve made Revelation too hard and have probably missed the point. Revelation isn’t primarily a puzzle book to solve, it is a picture book to imagine. So pretend you’re a child hearing Revelation for the first time, without all the pop-eschatology baggage you’ve got stored up in your head stunting your Christian imagination. If you don’t take my advice, your kids might be explaining the sermon to you later. Remember, shortly after speaking to his disciples about serpents and scorpions and Satan falling like lightning from heaven, Jesus prayed, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will” (Lk 10:21). Now, with faith like a wide-eyed child, let’s peek into this apocalyptic world of wonders. Continue reading

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Earth’s Catastrophic Past: Volume 2 (Book Review)

Young Earth Creationism has needed a new book to provide something of a “scientific makeover” for its resurgence since the 1960s.  Scientific theory is always in flux as new theories are proposed, tested, challenged, retested, reformulated, and occasionally scrapped for a fresh paradigm.  Earth’s Catastrophic Past, by geologist Andrew Snelling, attempts to fill this void.  Who is Andrew Snelling?

From the back cover flap:

Andrew A. Snelling is a research geologist and technical editor who earned his Ph.D. from the University of Sydney, Australia, in 1982.  After working with the Creation Science Foundations of Australia for 15 years, he served 9 years as a Professor of Geology at the Institute of Creation Research.  He was a principal investigator in the RATE (Radio-isotopes and the Age of The Earth) research project, to which he made major contributions in studying radioisotope dating of rocks, and radiation halos (radiohalos) and fission tracks in minerals.  In 2007 he joined Answers in Genesis, where he is the Director of Research and Editor-in-Chief of the Answers Research Journal, and continues his research on the geology of the Flood and on radioisotope dating. He currently resides in the USA.

As a two-volume book, both volumes (ECP1&2) total 1102 pages!  This is a massive, technical scientific tome containing a thorough case for the geology of a young earth.  A scientifically-qualified editor probably could have trimmed the whole down to 800 pages or so (there is a lot of repetition as to be expected in a work that appears to string together many repurposed academic journal articles), but even 300 less pages would still qualify as a daunting read.  I can’t help thinking ECP2 is misdirected away from its intended audience.  While Henry Morris’s seminal work, The Genesis Flood, was published a generation ago and written for a scientifically sophisticated lay audience, Snelling’s two-volume work is best read by highly educated and specialized professional geologists, but it is marketed to the average Christian who is interested in going deeper into the scientific and biblical case for young earth creationism.  I’m no expert in this field, therefore I should never have found my way to this book.  Granted, only a couple copies were placed on the top shelf at the Creation Museum bookstore in Kentucky.  But even so, there it was, with its bright and glossy cover just asking to be read by a regular Joe like me.  Though I’d bet I’m the only regular Joe in the whole wide world who slogged through all 1102 pages.  Yeah, I try to finish what I start.  To a fault.

Hence my main beef with ECP1&2: Continue reading

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Devotional Classics (Book Review)

Today I found myself at a local MLK commemoration.  My Presbyterian church is in gospel partnership with an African-American Baptist church.  Their church cosponsored the event with other churches in our community, and our church was invited to attend.  Surrounded by neighbors, friends, and congregants, a sense of foreignness enveloped me.  The speakers were engaging, the prayers and songs were Christ-exalting, and the awards presented honored folks who embodied service in several categories such as religion, education, and community.  The reason I felt out of place was the heavy emphasis on the theme of justice.  Which is a wonderfully comforting topic to consider until you hear it espoused from the lips of conservative, Bible-believing evangelicals from a different subculture.  It’s not that I didn’t know another perspective is held by brothers, sisters, and friends in Christ.  I did.  But the experience of hearing it again from those I know and trust reminded me how God is at work in the church’s diverse traditions.  And in ways that I have a hard time appreciating if I don’t cultivate personal relationships with those who are culturally “other”, and engage people who hold political and ideological differences from me.

Such a spiritual humility that I’ve been trying to cultivate (reality check: in fits and starts!) is the goal of a broad-ranging book I read last year.  Devotional Classics [hereafter DC], edited by Richard Foster and James Bryan Smith (both affiliated with a spiritual formation ministry called Renovaré), attempts to introduce its readers to selected literary gems from the many historical streams of the Christian tradition.

From the back cover:

Updated to incorporate all six traditions, or “streams,” that comprise a healthy and holistic life of faith, these fifty-two selections have been organized to introduce the reader to the great devotional writers over the course of one year.  Edited by James Bryan Smith, each reading is accompanied by an introduction and meditation by Richard J. Foster.  In addition, each entry includes a related biblical passage, discussion questions, and individual and group exercises…Foster and Smith sift through works from the great spiritual writers of the past as well as readings from contemporary spiritual leaders to create a guide that is indispensable for those looking for a deeper and more balanced spiritual life.

So what are those six traditions or “streams”?  The editors identify the different emphases on life to which the various Christian traditions have historically gravitated.  A glance at the Table of Contents below reveals these streams in Parts 2 through 7.  Part 1 includes writings meant to prepare the reader for a year-long exploration of the wholistic spiritual life. Continue reading

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It Couldn’t Just Happen (Book Review)

Not everyone can be an expert.  Achieving competency in a particular field takes hard work, dedication, and perseverance.  Attaining to the lofty peak of “expert,” and garnering a reputation as such, adds to these requirements the characteristics of intelligence, ambition, and self-promotion.  Plus a little bit of luck!

During his lifetime, author and teacher Lawrence O. Richards was widely considered an expert in his craft.  That doesn’t mean he was a subject matter expert on every topic he wrote about.  But his published corpus reveal a level of competency about Christianity, the Bible, and related disciplines that very well may withstand the test of time.

Along the way, Richards picked up his prolific pen to tackle the topics of biblical creation, evolution, and intelligent design.  That book, It Couldn’t Just Happen: Knowing the Truth About God’s Awesome Creation [hereafter ICJH], is aimed to disciple older children and teens who have been exposed to naturalism and materialistic evolutionary theory, and who subsequently find their childlike faith shaken in the Bible’s account of creation and nature.  Recently I sat down with my son to work through each chapter, coupled with asking critical questions and studying selected Bible passages.  ICJH proved to be an age-appropriate blend of Bible teaching, empirical and experimental science, a healthy dose of common sense, and some fun thought and science experiments.  Perfect for my sharp-thinking, inquisitive boy! Continue reading

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Christian, You Are a Bondservant

As we wrap up the Advent and Christmas season, many of you are thinking about the New Year, which brings up the topic of New Year’s resolutions. If you’re inclined that way, setting goals and starting new habits are on your mind. Resolutions always have a purpose that serves someone, either you or someone else. It cannot be otherwise. And if you’re too perfect or too flawed to make any resolutions, you’ll just keep on slaving away at what you do—serving.

The Bible and human reason both attest to the truth that everybody serves something or someone. Are you living for yourself: your flesh, your desires, your goals, your dreams? Are you living for someone else: for their approval, their love, their admiration, their dependence on you, their defeat? Are you living for some thing: the Almighty Dollar, Power over Others, Sex Appeal, Comfort, Security, Control? Do you see that every single person lives for something or someone? You too! The Bible calls this unavoidable condition “slavery” because we are servants to what we live for, what we obey. Unfortunately, not all masters treat their servants well. If you serve the wrong master, then you’ll reap a bitter reward in this life and the next. No one serves hoping he will lose in the end. We all serve hoping to gain. Therefore it matters who or what you serve. So the all-important question for you is this: Who will you serve, and will your service lead to life or death?

The Bible has a lot to say about these questions. In Romans 6:12-23, the apostle Paul outlines an answer. Since Christians are no longer slaves to sin which leads to death, but slaves to God through Christ their Redeemer, they must now serve God in righteousness. As a bondservant of Christ, your offering of obedience to God leads to holiness and eternal life—not as your wages, but by his gracious gift. Continue reading

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Christian, You Are a Church Member

I.C.2. When the preacher got to that point on last week’s sermon outline as he wrapped up our church’s series on the Gospel of John, I thought, “Oh no, he’s scooping my Bible passage!” It was just a little point, but he spent a few minutes explaining how Peter and John, very different men, were both called to follow Jesus in diverse ways. We learned our responsibility as Christians is to a shared ministry, that God utilizes everyone who has been called to follow, and that all are needed. In this sermon we’re not going to repeat that so much as do a deeper dive into what that means for us, especially in our American context 2000 years later.

We live in an atomized society—people are highly individualistic yet longing for a feeling of belonging to a vibrant and fully-functioning community. But the groups we belong to frustrate us because we either get marginalized by the ones at the center, or if we are “insiders” we get puffed up and impatient with others for not being more like us. Being a marginalized “outsider” is to feel misunderstood, devalued, envious, and useless. Being a puffed-up “insider” is to feel superior, independent, entitled, and irreplaceable. Community can (dys)function these ways at work, in the home, among friends, and in every kind of voluntary organization. Thankfully the church is different, right? Sigh. Who has not felt these in a church, perhaps even in this church? I believe we all desperately desire that our experience in church would be different. The question is how do we get there? Has God given instructions and provided means to equip each one of us—with all our differences, struggles, and sins—for our calling to be a church whose members are beautifully unified and undivided?

A few answers to these questions are found in the biblical book of 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. There we learn the Bible teaches the truth and derived application of the unity and diversity of the church by analogously exploring how the human body is also a unity composed of diverse members. Your specific role and functions as a “member” in the local church are vital aspects of your Christian identity. It’s a Bible passage structured like a perfect mini-sermon, with the answer given first, then a few illustrations follow that show us that answer from a different angle, and finally a couple points of down-to-earth personal application so we can put it into practice. Continue reading

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