Sunday, February 16, 2020

What A Fool Believes- Readings in Genesis

There is no limit in this culture of people who mock or ridicule people of faith. Some are downright nasty while others bemuse themselves with jabs at the religions for humor or entertainment. Bill Maher is a combination of both. Here is one of his few quotes I would feel comfortable quoting in this blog post: "It worries me that people are running my country who think - who believe in a talking snake."

I guess it would be snarky to say that some may find him to be a talking snake, and a more irenic response would be to say, "I'm sure you could easily find people who think that both of us are talking snakes."

But the skeptical (mocking with sarcastic tone) question remains...."Do you believe in that brain dead story!?"

Not just Genesis... Here is how Bill Maher ridicules the entire gospel:

'What if there was a religion which an all-powerful god from outer space decided to send his unborn son on a suicide mission to planet Earth? So this space-god impregnates a human female in some mystical, not-quite-physical fashion, and she gives birth to a baby who is both a human being and a divine incarnation, simultaneously the space god's spawn and the space god himself. (Oh, space god also has a third manifestation, one that's totally invisible.) So space-god junior is born on Earth destined to be killed, even though he's a space god and therefore immortal. " Bill Maher at the Vatican City in his documentary, "Religulous"

That is a 'throw down the gauntlet challenge'.... right?

The title of this particular post is straight from the mesmerizing notes and beat of the famous Doobie Brothers song, What A fool Believes..... it is playing in the back of my brain right now

He came from somewhere back in her long ago.....

Tryin' hard to recreate, What had yet to be created....

She musters a smile for his nostalgic tale, Never coming near what he wanted to say
Only to realize it never really was....

As he rises to her apology....Anybody else would surely know...
He's watching her go

But what a fool believes, he sees


No wise man has the power.... to reason away
What seems...... to be
Is always better than nothing, Than nothing at all

Am I a fool for believing?.... Do I stand in front of all educated elites and hear the echo of bombastic laughter and finger pointing shame?

Not at all..... what I believe is the very essence of faith, but it is not incredulous.

And the attack from both sides of the spectrum show up when you write about Genesis.

I have been very encouraged and persuaded regarding Genesis in the last few years by C. John "Jack" Collins, a professor of Old Testament and Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. Dr. Collins has an excellent background for tackling Genesis... he has a love for science (former MIT engineer), a love of language, a love for literature, and a love for the Lord and His scriptures.

Dr. Collins has written several books and can be found on you tube lectures. I have enjoyed his view of 'periscopes' in Genesis, theories regarding analogical days, and excellent analysis regarding authorship, Hebrew consistencies, plain reading analysis, and commentary about original reader understanding and intent. He does so while keeping a high view of a God inspired Bible and a robust, traditional gospel.

But leave it to the Creation Institute writers to call Dr. Collins book, Science and Faith as 'Sloppy, lazy, and dishonest'..... wow, with friends like that, who cares what our enemies think!

But let's go back to Genesis... back to creation, back to the garden, back to the talking snake in the garden....

I read it, and there is room for analogy and interpretation....I read it differently now, but it still rings true.... and if you accept the one line "In the beginning, God" .... the rest isn't hard to accept on face value.

What a fool believes?

I think I could put the shoe on the other foot....

What else explains life? our understanding of good? dark? seasons? weeks?
How am I able to internally meditate and debate value and purpose?
Why do I wrangle over words?
Can I explain death or zeal for life without some knowledge of the divine?

Who is the bigger fool? One who joins others in a shared belief in a Judeo-Christian cosmology? Or the one who looks at the uncanny nature of the fine tuning of the universe as one cosmic accident?

The Bible actually takes sides here:
Psalm 14:1 "The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (ESV)

So what do I believe?

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
      creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
      who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
      and born of the virgin Mary.
      He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
      was crucified, died, and was buried;
      he descended to hell.
      The third day he rose again from the dead.
      He ascended to heaven
      and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
      From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
      the holy catholic church,
      the communion of saints,
      the forgiveness of sins,
      the resurrection of the body,
      and the life everlasting. Amen.

And my only prayer for those who reject this, don't double down on your pride.... all Creation is full of the glory of the Lord, and every heart beat is proof of His grace.....

Sunday, February 09, 2020

We Know Sin Too Well and Grace Too Little- Reading in Genesis

Genesis is Beginnings, and 'Origin' is a more accurate term.

I love origin stories..... any reading or video series that tells me how things came to be captures my attention. These stories often pull together distant details and end up in the fabric of a grand narrative that deepens our understanding on where we are and possibly where we are headed.

And these aren't always 'happy tales'.... some origin stories are dark and are unknown. Time covers tragedy and though we may know the surface story, we have no inkling of past shame. Humans are really good at forgetting.... and we sometimes purposely forget as a type of cover-up. Deep shadows in the past, regrets that press with force and  tension like the fault lines of broken continents, that tremor and strain below the crust.

God had Moses write about this. Because this is the question that always demands an answer. The question of evil is a fishhook that cuts to the very marrow of existence. Indeed, the very understanding of sin and consequences is real .... we all know the dark very well. What we demand to know is 'whence did it come from'?

On May 24, 1844 Samuel Morse was being carefully watched by members of congress as he was set to send the very first commercial message by the single wire mass communication that he had so cleverly invented.  The message was going to be sent by a series of taps and pings that was going to be transcribed by a partner in a Baltimore train station 40 miles to the north.

It was a very short sentence, a process that is an ultra-cosmic distance from what we know today in a world of texts and tweets that travel the globe in seconds (actually they travel to space and back in seconds). 

The irony is what Morse sent.... the message also from the hand of Moses. A quote lifted straight from Numbers 23:23.  Morse's assistant, Alfred Vail transcribed the short 'telegraph onto a piece of paper':  What hath God wrought?

And now we know a lot more about what was brought about.... the 'genesis' of mass communication technologies... on first glance a neutral tool that transmits information, but also admittedly has been used for evil and destruction.... as well as for healing and good.

Most parents first response to mass communication is negative, and for good reason. We do evil too easily, we know evil too well.... it takes work to keep it wholesome and positive.

That is what we tend to focus on as we read Genesis - the seeds of sin and rebellion that will rip apart Paradise.

We all know the account (though few read it carefully)... In Genesis 2:15 God puts man in the garden to 'work and to keep it' and He does it with a privilege and a command:

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, [17] but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16–17 ESV)

Who knows how many trees were given in the privilege.... man was permitted FREELY to enjoy hundreds? Thousands? Tens of thousands? “What hath God wrought?

Herein lies the greatest distinction of the creature and Creator. In this first 'prohibition', the framework was laid for not only the possibility of evil, but actually the probability of it.

God knew the type of being He had made.

And there is something else here.... He already knew of the rebellion of a powerful, created being. He already had experienced 1/3 of His creation shake their fists and follow a leader into direct confrontation. Such a mystery.... freedom and sovereignty.

Back to Genesis 2:15.... Eve was not yet in the picture.

I read liberal and conservative textual commentaries and criticism. As a reader, I have to admit there seems to be on the surface differing creation accounts... perspectives... timelines. 

I have spent time pondering the possibilities.... and each possibility has a resulting consequence. Our choice is exactly what Adam had to understand. We are free to choose, but not free to choose the results of our choosing.

Every time I whittle the creation account down to symbol, I unleash human propensity of speculation and manipulation. 

God is telling me something very complex is a very simple way. And in my rebellious nature, I miss the forest for the trees.

As we move from Genesis 2:15 to the first gospel promise in Genesis 3:15.... we are left without a good many details.... and as a reader, I have to accept the storyteller's motive and purpose. 

Moses was never afraid to ask God hard things. Moses saw God in a way that no other man ever would again. Moses got real with God and both communicated real feelings, including anger and discouragement.

But we get a clue to things going wrong.... and one important clue was that Adam had added to the Lord's prohibition. 

When the crafty serpent floated the question... "Did God actually say?"

She had already gotten it wrong.... 

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may (missing 'surely') eat of  (missing 'every') the fruit of the trees in the garden, [3] but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden (missing the name - 'tree of knowledge of good and evil'), neither shall you touch it (added something God did not say), lest you die (missing 'you shall SURELY die')’” (Genesis 3:2–3 ESV)

And we know the sin and consequences... the pain and the shame. Innocence gone and paradise lost.

Human propensity, not trusting, a lack of gratitude, the nature of temptation, and the subtle slide to destruction and death.

And in just a few short paragraphs, we have all of human misery and the full impact of the curse. The origin of why our nature is full of sin and shame.

lying, cover-up, blame, shame, running from God, regret, hatred, violence, strife, pain, discontentment, false teaching, hunger, thorns, bloodshed, death, exile, separation, rivalry, seduction, failure, murder, rebellion, bigamy, genocide.....

But as we shudder at the reading and understand these terms too well.... what do we miss? 

We miss God's grace... all the way through each tragic event.

God's Grace to Adam and Eve

Even in the consequences required by God's holiness- His grace shines, and I miss it ALL the time.

In the curses, there is grace:

The very first one is the promise of the gospel in Genesis 3:15

There will be a warrior from the woman- an 'offspring' who will prevail in the battle

But there are MANY more:
The Lord God clothes them
He protects them from the Tree of Life- I believe this keeps them from being forever stranded in their condition
Blesses them with children
Allows worship and maintains contact

God's Grace to Cain

This is the one that took me by surprise recently.... look how the Lord tried to counsel and how he protected Cain in spite of his horrendous sin...

God counsels with Cain- approaching him over his fallen countenance
He warns him about sin's crouching- and commands him to fight it
He creates a sign to protect him after he gives the consequences of Cain's actions
Allows Cain to live
Allows prosperity and even allows rebellion

What do we make of this?

I still think we make the Bible out to be the story of man and sin.... but we still miss that this is actually the glory of GOD. His love and long suffering, His goodness and sacrifice.

And His consistent call is to leave the forsaken things and fall on Him. His arms are open still.

Don't be a SCOFFER....

[4] They (The Scoffers) will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” [5] For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, [6] and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. [7] But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

[8] But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. [9] The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. [10] But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (2 Peter 3:4–10 ESV)


Lord, depart from me, I am a sinful man..... “What hath God wrought?
More grace and love than we can comprehend.











Friday, February 07, 2020

It Was All VERY Good- God and Light- Readings in Genesis

Linguistically, the better organization of the Genesis text is to take Genesis 1:1- 2:3 as a coherent section. 

There is considerable debate to counter this, but I have been persuaded through those who study the Hebrew and who faithfully press into good points and counterpoints that this is the best break.

I won’t publish all of Genesis in these writings, but take some time to read this section as a whole.
In reading blog posts, I sometimes skip over the Scripture.... don't do that...it is the only good stuff here!
Genesis 1

[1] In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. [2] The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

[3] And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. [4] And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. [5] God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

[6] And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” [7] And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. [8] And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

[9] And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. [10] God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

[11] And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. [12] The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. [13] And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

[14] And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, [15] and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. [16] And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. [17] And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, [18] to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. [19] And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.


[20] And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” [21] So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. [22] And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” [23] And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

[24] And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. [25] And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

[26] Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

[27] So God created man in his own image,

in the image of God he created him;

male and female he created them.

[28] And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” [29] And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. [30] And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. [31] And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (ESV)
Genesis 2:1–3

[1] Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. [2] And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. [3] So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. (ESV)



According to Genesis 1 and 2, it was God Himself that brought into being not only good things, but things that He named. He was the first to name- “Day”, “Night”, “Land”, “Seas”, “Heaven”, “Earth”

He was active… He said, He saw, He created, He made, He blessed, … also early it was written that He ‘hovered’ which has a reference to wind. I sometimes think of the rushing wind of God’s spirit that blows over a dark, empty, soul that is void.

It was His idea to mark seasons, days, and years.

He was also, somewhat passive- some things happened out of the motions He put is place…. He didn’t stop the earth from sprouting or fish from swarming. He saw and blessed.

He allowed for a division called ‘livestock’- domesticated animals for man’s good. This was apart from ‘wild animals’ and ‘small animals’.


He is a God of lavish blessings- the sea ‘swarmed’ with fish, the skies “filled” with birds. A once ‘formless mass cloaked in darkness’ now overflows with light and life- good bounty and great harvest!

He then patterned people after Himself (actually "Us"which I believe is a reference to the triune Godhead). We reason, emote, contemplate, choose, and communicate.

It was all excellent and good and He rested, and He designated that rest as 'holy'- set apart for His glory.

I want to address a few other concepts here. It is interesting that we have light and dark on day 1 and the ordination/placement of the sun and moon on day 4.

We can’t ignore light…. When it comes to God.

LIGHT– is one of those things that cry out to the existence and glory of God.

If you did not have the Bible- LIGHT would still be enough to cause the human mind to contemplate a Creator. Why?

Well, it is so unique… it has been discovered that light is a particle AND light is a ray. Einstein sums up this interesting scientific observation of light being particle and ray at the same time:

“It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do” Albert Einstein

Also, when Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards were outlining their case for Intelligent Design, they were suddenly grasped by a reality that seemed to ‘reveal’ more evidence than just the ‘fine tuning of the universe’ properties that seemed to suggest prior intelligence in the formation of our planet and the environment most favorable to life. Not only were the basic laws understandable.. they were discoverable.. and not only that, we live at a particular platform where these things are OBSERVABLE!

In their mind, the fact that light was available and we had an atmosphere to SEE beyond our planet was too ‘coincidental’ to not be ‘suspicious’. The slot machine of the lottery wheel seemed to be rigged….

I have always been intrigued by the way Jesus says in Luke, Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. And again in Matthew: If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

I don’t know about you.. but having DARK LIGHT in me sounds serious and heavy!

As great as light is in the physical world… the dynamic of spiritual light and darkness is even more so!

The spirit of man is the lamp of the LORD,

searching all his innermost parts. (Proverbs 20:27 ESV)


The NLT says it like this:

The LORD’s searchlight penetrates the human spirit, exposing every hidden motive.



SO WHAT IS THIS DARK LIGHT THAT WE FIGHT BY A SHINING LIGHT?

The fundamental difference in the Christian worldview and predominate spirit of this age is in determining man as evil or good. The world says, “Man is good, but he sometimes does bad things.” This view believes man’s intentions and motives are for universal good. If educated and free, man will choose to help others and end evil.

BUT…the Scripture says, “Man is evil”. Born into a depraved condition. Whose motives are greedy and malicious. When he does good, it is usually tainted. He speaks lies and defends immorality. Good only exists because of the common grace of God.

This is the paradoxical dichotomy of man. He builds hospitals. He sells illegal drugs. He gives to the poor. He brutalizes children. He gives to charity. He robs from the poor. What explains this?

‘Man is good and does bad things’? or ‘Man is evil and is good only by God’s common grace’?

The Bible’s answer is most likely correct. It fits the either/or reality in a more correct way. Modern man rejects original sin and blows it off as myth. I accept it because it defines me according to the reality of my nature.

Without God, how low would I go? I tremble at the thought.

When the searchlight of God hits my motives, I stand before the world guilty and condemned. Who is my advocate? Who can cleanse me? Who can forgive? “Therefore now, there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1)” I don’t have to cover up my sin problem, I give it to my Savior.

SPIRITUAL DARKNESS IS THE SHADOWS OF SIN AND SHAME:

Job 24:13,15,17 (NIV) “There are those who rebel against the light, who do not know its ways or stay in its paths… The eye of the adulterer watches for dusk; he thinks, ‘No eye will see me,’ and he keeps his face concealed… For all of them, deep darkness is their morning; they make friends with the terrors of darkness.”

Isa 29:15-16 (NIV) Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, “Who sees us? Who will know?” You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay!… Can the pot say of the potter, “He knows nothing?”

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,

and the light about me be night,”

even the darkness is not dark to you;

the night is bright as the day,

for darkness is as light with you.


(Psalm 139:11-12 ESV)


JESUS CHRIST SHINES A SPIRITUAL LIGHT INTO THE DARKNESS

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
(John 3:19-21 ESV)


SPIRITUAL LIGHT IS A KEY TO SALVATION AND SANCTIFICATION


He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
(Colossians 1:13-14 ESV)


For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.(2 Corinthians 4:5-7 ESV)


AS JESUS IS LIGHT- WE ARE TO ‘WALK IN THE LIGHT’

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:11-14 ESV)

THE NEW JERUSALEM WILL HAVE A SPECIAL LIGHT:

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
(Revelation 21:22-27 ESV)


SO HOW ABOUT IT…do you want the dark light or the light of salvation?

Physical light has a speed.. the speed of light is:

299,792,458 miles per second!

The Speed of Spiritual light is FASTER… it responds to the cry of the sinner to the Savior….

Indeed- HE is ALL VERY GOOD!

In my next post, you will become breathless when you see his grace on display in His dealings with Cain.

Thursday, February 06, 2020

God in the GAPS? Reading in Genesis

[1] In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. [2] The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1–2 ESV)

Education is wasted on the youth. I now confess that when I was a young seminary student, I quickly moved past the volumes of debate regarding Genesis 1 and 2. It seemed foolish and speculative to identify any ‘gap’ of time between the two verses. I was too eager to just finish, I had things to do!

I was equally foolish to mention it in a sermon I got to preach at Harold Hills Evangelical Free Church in Romford, England in 1990 on Genesis 1. I don’t know if was my southern accent, youthful appearance, or casual, fly by comment - but I soon found that more than one elderly congregant wanted explanation, and I was ill equipped to defend it in exposition.

Once I started teaching apologetics in 2004, I was now into the material with new vigor and I poured over manuscripts that spoke of Masoretic texts, verb tenses, and Hebrew names for God.

It was also in Nashville, where I began to experience the ire of the ‘Answers in Genesis’ people if I even breathed a belief in a GAP of time between Genesis 1:1 and 2 or 2 and 3 and I was taken to task as dishonoring the text. (More on that in a minute).

I never seek to place things in the GAP even if I believe it is there…. That would be to me  the ‘foolish speculation” of I Timothy. I don’t want to add information that the Lord has chosen to keep secret (Deut. 29:29).

But there is plenty of literary evidence to support Genesis 1: 1 and 2 as a ‘stand alone’ apart from the narrative that follows.

Skeptics get angry when Christians add God to the GAPS- the mysteries that science can’t answer…. But Christians get angry when a Genesis commentary mentions the GAP theory with anything but skepticism.

I have landed on the narrative telling us that God began creation on a ‘formless, dark,  and void’ mass of material that He created out of nothing (Ex nihilo).

Ex Nihilo is easier to prove- almost all ancient Jewish texts support that this was the common belief understood throughout Old Testament scholarship. It flies into the face of materialists, who hold the stuff has just always been here… but Scripture begins with a bold assertion, God has no beginning, but He did create the beginning. He is the great Uncaused Cause.

God didn’t find the stuff formless and void…. He created the formless and void like a lump of clay.

If someone disagrees with me, I won’t question their salvation.

Now, it is important that I don’t use this as a cop out over the age of the universe. I guess we can explore a little of that here….. Here is a little of my journey.

I vividly remember my first encounter with evolution in the classroom. I was in 6th grade at Robinson Elementary (1974ish) and the mere mention of an unguided process that over eons of time turned a germ into a monkey and then into a man was laughable to me.

I don't know if the two visceral reactions were connected- but my 'red flag' aversion to evolution was equally comparable to my anger toward racism. At the core of my being, these views collapsed right in front of my deep grained instinct that the Creator was there and He was just and good. And I was not a ‘believer’ at the time, but my predispositions were already God directed- He was already working on me.

This class was prone to tough debates and I remember the interesting realization that I was in the minority. It's funny, but my weakest argument to these elementary debaters was my firm stance on the six day creation account. But God was big enough for the miracle... He could have done it in six seconds!

"Everyone knows that the universe is millions of years old"
"Oh Yeah?" I said.
"Yeah"

Do you believe me? I so remember it and I specifically remember being a science skeptic from my early years. I trusted God and I did not trust men. If God's story and man's story were in conflict...I'm taking God. I still get concerned over bias and truth in science, but I also realize that honest science is self correcting as well as honest theology.

"Science gives us the full accord of facts- It costs the church a severe struggle to give up one interpretation and adopt another- but no evil need to be apprehended- The Bible still stands in the presence of the whole scientific community, unshaken”
Charles Hodge- Princeton 1829


As I got older, and actually became a Christ follower, my argument grew more 'sophisticated'-

'A very smart man still has little perspective on time. He may know 75 years....possibly a select few know 100....but no one truly can perceive 1,000- let alone 1 million"

I will tell you that a ‘young earth believer’  in Genesis has a pretty simple apologetic. God said it and that settles it. He was there and you weren't. I believe in one miracle, GOD. You have to believe in millions of miracles without Him.

My next interesting skirmish was in Birmingham in the mid 1990’s.. I was teaching at a Christian school and we hosted Hugh Ross for a weekend. It seemed to be fine until Hugh got an audience with our Bible department. I remember sitting in the school library. My recollection was the audience was very small, three or four Bible teachers, our pastor, and a history teacher.

Hugh Ross had barely started before the theologians attacked with their guns blazing.
"How dare you teach this day age stuff?" "You are out of your field and have no right to make theological applications." "You have undone Romans, you have destroyed the gospel, in your view there is death before sin and death cannot happen before sin."

I was shocked and I was embarrassed. Though I still believed in my literal, young earth view,  I saw Hugh Ross as a man who proclaimed Jesus and taught a high view of Scripture.

I also need to say that I have deep respect for the Bible teachers. They loved Jesus and the gospel and knew the Bible so deeply. But this was a hot button topic. I loved them, but I did not agree with the nature of the ‘debate’.

It even got to the point that some in our Bible department would not label a college 'Christian' unless it taught a young earth and a literal six day creation.

My questioning would get me small splashes of indignation. It is the mischievous side of me that kind of sadistically enjoys the turmoil.
 "Who says there can't be death before sin?"
"What if it meant spiritual death... or human death?"
"Did Adam not step on an ant?"
"Did the serpent eat bananas?" I know...stupid!

But they were settled. In their mind, the slippery slope to liberalism begins when a person compromises Genesis 1. Once you begin... where does it stop? If the day is not literal, how can we say Adam and the garden are not figurative?


For a long time after that, I was the 'good-natured young earth guy'. I held firm to my position, but did not question the faith of any 'old-earther' I ran into. There were times where I didn't know what was more shocking to them. The fact that I was young earth or the fact that I was accepting of others who weren't.

I mentioned earlier that I moved to Nashville and began teaching apologetics in 2003. My department leader was ‘old-earth’ and he seemed ok with my young earth view. The only time I got him riled up at all was my 'young earth that appears old' argument. He said it makes God deceitful. I never really agreed with that rebuttal because general revelation only declares that God is there; it takes special revelation to give out the details that He wants us to have.

 It would not bother me at all if I found an antique storage chest in my father's workshop.
"Wow, dad, this is amazing."
"How did you make this? It looks 200 years old!"
"I finished it this morning, son."
So a five minute tree in Eden had 35 rings... and it keeps a Biblical theme.. things are not always what they seem.

My apologetics studies led me at first into evidentialists and the weapons against macro-evolution. You have to understand that hearing arguments against Darwin were thrilling to me. I hated what Darwin had done to the church. I remember that sheer anger I felt when I watched 'Inherit the Wind' and saw the biased attack on my faith. So how could I not cheer when I read about irreducible complexity, and the Cambrian explosion, and the faulty Miller Urey experiment.. and on and on.

But a funny thing happened. As I read the evidence I had to admit that there was no doubt that evolution was true. The slight, successful changes in species had ample evidence, even I could see that. But the extrapolation of that theory into a naturalistic world-view which helped kick God out of classrooms and relegated faith to a 'stay at home' private thing was offensive. It didn't help that all of the neo-darwinists would take all kinds of explanations for life.... including aliens.. as long as God wasn't mentioned. I have to be honest here as well, the dominance of macro-evolutionary dogma is also a mistake by the church. The retreat of evangelicals away from the debate after ‘Origin of the Species’ was published did not help. Thankfully, some have stayed and worked and stayed steady in the discourse.

And you can’t win the argument versus the ones who double down on their refusal to believe in God. Macro-evolution criticism is not relevant as neo-darwinists evolve themselves into arguments of closed and open systems and the only limits on their theories  is their creativity.

My young earth views were greatly helped by Douglas Kelly's excellent book "Creation and Change". But I also was helped by reading Einstein's biography and going back into Hugh Ross from time to time. I saw the two camps (young and old) BOTH as being tools to spread the gospel. Young earthers reach traditionalists and old earthers reach post-moderns. God has people in every sphere with a high view of Scripture and a love for gospel proclamation.

I even developed a 'power point' where I helped to clarify a lot of mistakes we make in the church. It demonstrated how the Big Bang theory actually helps a theistic worldview and how I.D. could be a rival to macro-evolution in the science classroom.

My next funny moment was when I was asked to speak at a Creation Conference at a Christian school across town that was also a big sports rival to our school. I knew that my power-point was going to be picked to death by the 'Answers in Genesis' people. My mentioning of Intelligent Design was anathema to them and they took me to task in the gymnasium that day. The students loved it! The rival football coach was getting grilled! After I answered their main criticism a few other panel speakers came up to me. 'I thought you made a great point". I thought 'thanks for speaking up for me'. But in a weird way, I enjoyed it.

 I did spend some time going back to Genesis and considering again: Day Age concepts, Analogical Days,Fiat Days, and Framework Views. I prayed and read and wrestled. If I haven’t said this before now, I better do it now. I admit that I am not a scientist or a theologian... so I doubt I will ever be the last word on anything. 

A final note regarding time (and once again, I lean young earth that looks old because it was created already working). And this is why I stopped writing on this many. Many times.

This is a long chapter and will be a long book. It is truthful for me to say, I wrote this book in 21 days (actual hours writing it), in 15 years (actual time I have started, stopped, and edited it), in  six months (time it took to start and finish)..... So there is enough relativity and perspective in time to allow room to be truthful in communication.

Six days and rest has often impressed me as a pattern for man rather than a treatise on time.

At the same time, the text does day ‘morning and evening’, so we will have to see if time can be relative as we read that section.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Early Obstacles and Issues in Genesis

(my 2020 reading is in the Book of Genesis)

I first read "Christianity and Liberalism" by J. Gresham Machen in 1993 (it had been published in 1923) and I did a detailed study of it around 2010.

I got to where I couldn't read it at night, because I would lay awake until late haunted by the prophetic words Dr. Machen used in warning us about the sad consequences if the Orthodox faith slipped in our midst.


I am writing about Genesis in the aftermath of a theological war regarding the origin of the Pentateuch (the 5 Books that start the Old Testament that reference Moses as the author).

Influences of the enlightenment and the rise of science elevated scholarship and led many theologians to write apologies for the Scriptures from purely naturalistic theories. Studies in Theology are inherently difficult because our ‘subject’ is by definition above and beyond us. We can’t study God under a microscope, He is the One who stoops down to us.

The foul dust left in the wake of such ‘research’ has created a purely educational recap of presuppositions that leave no room for the supernatural or any notion of a real God. Critics attack the manuscripts saying these are the superstitious fancies that men carry prior to enlightened discovery, Skepticism 'feels' true because it assails belief and fastens theories as ‘facts’ because they sound scientific.

Without taking too long here- I reject many liberal notions such as Friedman’s Documentary Hypothesis because it is obvious these are logical conclusions of a purely naturalistic premise, but in the end, they take as much faith to believe in as Genesis 1:1.

This blog project starts with my premise, just as logical, that Moses is the primary writer. If there were other source documents at his disposal, that doesn’t negate Mosaic authorship, and the use of editors to assemble the ‘final’ version of the Pentateuch under the divine calling of Scribes who labored over every jot and tittle in reverent fear of the Almighty- WHO is called by MANY NAMES in Hebrew including one NAME that was too Holy to even speak (YHWH).

The source documents are in Hebrew. The reported author was educated in Egyptian schools. I am reading it in English. The original readers had almost no understanding of God’s ultimate plan. I look at it with 2,000 plus years after the cross of Jesus. The original readers had to scratch out a life in harsh and ancient conditions. I am typing this on a Mac in a time of ease and comfort.

But I am still drawn in at the complexity within a simple text. The confident truths espoused in these pages provide a wide canopy of protection and provides a meta narrative to make sense of human existence. The world view of Genesis allows my life to make sense. Without it, I would be aimless and hopeless.

Genesis provides origins of life, explanation of evil, the organization of the cosmos, and foundations of all that has value in our world.

Is it factual history? Symbolic? Fiction?

As I read it, it comes across as narrative.Each section has a special verb tense (wayyiqtol) that in Hebrew serves as the order and structure of narrative sections. Genesis isn’t poetic or preachy. It doesn’t present any main character as a superhero. The things these characters struggle with are the same in my day, They are the same in Shakespearean tragedies, and stir the heart in any generation.

Sure, we may feel like we are more sophisticated in the 21st century- but the story is the same.We have children, we desire security, we fear the future, and we crumble under the duress of living. We bury the dead and spill innocent blood.

Nothing in archeology DISPROVES the stories here. There is always room for the skeptic to reject the accounts. But we still have people who refuse to believe that men went to the moon. For some, it is easier to hold to conspiracy theories of aliens, Elvis, and Sept. 11 than it is to believe that all mankind descended from a common DNA and all living things were created already according to various kinds.

As we read, our world view overlaps with the original writer in a shared human experience. That is a miraculous experience in and of itself. I am reading a man who had a different language and experience. He lived thousands of years ago, completely on the other side of the world. But he and I are involved together with understanding of narrative, genre, communication skills, and common feelings, attitudes, and emotions.

The writer is also skilled enough to give cultural signals that we can study and organize. To the one willing to dig, we discover order, verb tenses and indicators, word play, drama, and humor. Don’t be fooled…. You are not reading an unsophisticated man here. The writer is highly intelligent- he uses Hebrew repetition, key words, categorical diction, and higher order concepts of comparison, cause and effect, and argumentative analysis. He uses allusions, analogies, and dramatic elements of setting, theme, symbolism, and stunning denouements.

Be careful before you dismiss.

In my own experience, I see logical applications to the Genesis account everyday. I have never felt that accepting the Book on face value is intellectual suicide.

I live in a world of the sun, stars, and moon. I see a multitude of living things that have uncanny markings of art and design. When I hike in the American west, the sandstone looms like the beaches in Destin just after a storm surge.

I experience day and night, the successive seasons, a seven day week, and a pattern of corporate worship. My work is often hard and my wife and I don’t always see eye to eye. I have a deep desire for justice and I have deep longings for love and peace.

Science tells me that the universe is in motion. I need an explanation why man can do great acts of courage and nobility and then turn and murder, exploit, or betray.

I need a story that tells me how things got to be the way they are. It needs to explain why I worry about what others think about me. It needs to give hints regarding my dreams and the evidence of common love, logic, law, and longing for liberty.

There are some who immediately throw it out. But they never stop to think of the motive. They also never question their own ability to judge without presupposition. I am too skeptical of my ability to be right…. Life has given me a healthy suspicion of myself.

I have great disagreements with others on the meaning of these texts… but in the end, Christians only believe in ONE big miracle… the existence of the God of the Bible. If you take Him according to His Word, then everything else isn’t really a problem. Once you reject Him, you also must trust in a story of many, many more unlikely miracles.

Monday, February 03, 2020

Reading Genesis? Remember Moses

The author of Genesis is God. The writer is Moses. And yes, there had to be another editor, copier of the 5 books (Pentateuch) to include the death of Moses (obviously allowed and protected by the Lord). What I am reading is exactly what God intended for me to have and He calls me to abide in Him. Part of abiding in Him is to wrestle, dig in, and grow in His Word. He created the stars, drafting and overseeing His written instructions is not hard.


And it is a wrestling match…. Do you hear the subtle manipulation of Satan in Genesis 3:1?

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (ESV)

So, a big part of Genesis IS Moses though his biography doesn’t show up until the 2nd book of the Pentateuch (Exodus). He is the one who is uniquely picked to lead the Exodus and allow God to continue His plan of salvation in space, time, and history. Human teachers use analysis and examples to teach truth. God channels and uses actual history to teach His people. He providentially uses all of human existence to point to Him for His glory. We can’t comprehend this… it is too lofty for us.


God reveals Himself truthfully, but it is also an accommodation. God has not been disingenuous in His communication, but he is a teacher. He has used human history and His Word to communicate in types and shadows to a reality beyond our comprehension. Moses wore a veil from a glory just from God’s back!…. Jesus pointed to a burning heap of waste to communicate the horrors of hell. All of these are truthful, but likely point to a reality beyond our current comprehension.


So why must we remember Moses? We have to understand the strange mixture of his education and identity. Moses is writing in full context and worldview of the City of Man (Egypt/ Babylon/etc) and the People of God (Israel). He was well versed in both.

A teaching technique that God frequently uses is to parallel existing world views and practices and then clearly show the distinction of His kingdom and practices.

An example of this can be seen in the story of Abraham and the call to sacrifice Issac in Genesis 22. Let’s compare that to another study in history. This was from a series of posts I wrote about called “History is His Story”.

2300 years ago a Punic warrior named Hamilcar had his 9 year old son put his hand on a sacrifice and vow a lifelong hatred of the Romans. His son was named ;"Blessed by Baal". It can't be proven, but it is possible that this was a child sacrifice to the mountain god of fire and thunderbolts. Based on urns dug up in the Valley of Tophet, sacrifice of the first born to Baal was done by the thousands. This young boy could have been a surrogate, being offered in his stead. This boy was the warrior Hannibal- who may have been motivated in his travel over the Alps to invoke the blessing of Baal in his quest to carry out his vow to his father.


Compare this to Abraham, as Jehovah called him to take his only son- the miracle child of promise- up the mountain for a sacrifice. And the God of Israel showed a counter way. God himself would provide the sacrifice.

My point is that God uses real life cultural practices to ultimately show a distinction. God’s kingdom works in the midst of cultural norms, but in the end He is counter to the City of Man. It is a recurrent theme throughout the Bible. God needs to be imminent (with us and relevant) enough before we can catch a shadow of His transcendence.

I think a BIG key to understanding Genesis has to be read in the context of the worldview of the writer, and to see how God’s kingdom stays in conflict with the ways of mankind who continually ignore and rebel against their Creator. In Exodus, there is a lot to compare to Egyptian education and influences. I submit, you can also read much of Genesis in that same light.


Some of the Genesis stories are paralleled in the myth of other nations. But I believe there was a real account and then accounts that spread and were repeated throughout ancient history. The battle would be over which one was real and which one was the copy.


Adding the context of the Egyptian influences in the education of Moses is not a hindrance of truth. All truth is God’s truth,

For interpretation purposes, my enduring hermeneutic is that we cannot adopt theological applications for today’s audience that are contrary to the original audience. We may have a fuller understanding of concepts, but they are not opposed to one another. It is part of why I am covenantal in my theology and not dispensational.

That does not mean that we don’t have a fuller sense of applications or meanings. As history has unfolded, the prophecies of the Old Testament are MUCH clearer and the mystery of God’s plan can be articulated.

But Genesis is pretty cool in that there are hints and shadows in the text that refer to truth yet discovered. The plural ‘US” in Genesis 1 is an example of this. It is now clear that this is an early indicator of the trinity, but would not necessarily be understood at the time it was originally penned.

I also think there are numerous ‘Egyptian Echoes’ in the Pentateuch that signify the educational worldview of Moses. What Moses records predates Egyptian history, but is written post Egyptian history. This has given false ammunition in the battle versus the skeptics, who do not want to believe.

So yes, we will remember Moses as we read his absolutely mesmerizing manuscript, that came in his mysterious times on the mountain of God amidst smoke, lightning, mystery, and glory.

It took a long time for Moses to discover his true lineage as a Hebrew baby in the reeds. I can only imagine how thrilling it was to reconnect to his roots and his people. He was an early picture of the Savior, leading the people through the wilderness to the promised land.

But he also was given the great honor of providing the record of God’s promise, privilege, and purpose of His people.

Over and over, he records “I will be a God to you and to those who come after you” the great theme of the covenant of grace.

We get a thrill reading the stories, but I bet his experience in hearing them from the Lord was majestic!

Sunday, January 26, 2020

"Tell Them How Good I Am"

This is my yearly tribute to the memory of Coach Bryant

These stories fade and change as time goes on.

Coach Bryant told a great memory in his classic documentary, 'Nothin' But a Winner', that featured his old trainer from the Texas A&M days, Charles E. 'Smokey' Harper.

Harper is actually an inductee in the national trainers Hall of Fame.

One internet site lists this story about him:

"He was a character and helped Alabama to many championships. He got his nickname when he was 17, after his high school basketball team (of which he was captain), won the state championship. His hometown held a parade in their honor. He was marching along, smoking a big cigar, proud as punch, when he spotted his Aunt in the crowd. Knowing that he wasn't supposed to be smoking, he stuffed the lit cigar in his shirt pocket. Soon, he was jumping around, as the cigar kept burning in his pocket, and smoke went everywhere. After that, his teammates decided to call him "Smokey," and it stuck with him the rest of his life. His accomplishments include: Captain of his State Championship High School Basketball Team Played Baseball, and was Captain of the Basketball Team at Mercer College Coached Baseball & Basketball at Vanderbilt, taking both teams all the way to the SEC championships Worked for Bear Bryant as a Trainer at Kentucky and Texas A&M, as part of "The Junction City Boys," whose story later became a movie Last, but not least.... He worked with Bear Bryant' s as a Trainer, helping win more than one National Championship, for the juggernaut football program better known as the Alabama Crimson Tide !!! His old school training motto was, "If you're hurt below the waist take a hot shower and if you're hurt above the waist take an aspirin," and he kept a lot of aspirin in his shirt pocket. Smokey was tough old hickory nut from days gone by."

The story I wanted to write about is the one Coach Bryant tells about him bringing Smokey to Tuscaloosa.

Smokey called coach Bryant and asked if he had a job for him. Coach Bryant said, "No, Smokey, I don't have anything."

Smokey tried again, "Coach Bryant, I can only make (some small amount) or it will mess up my retirement check."

Coach Bryant said, "Well, come on then, I can find you something to do for that amount."

When Smokey finally showed up for duty Coach Bryant gave him the orders.

"Smokey", he said, "I know you like to smoke cigarettes and drink coffee. So I want to hire you to go to these coffee shops in town, drink coffee, smoke cigarettes, and tell everyone what a helluva coach I am."

Obviously a great punch line.... with a nice spoonful of truth.

In a profession where your success is enhanced or hindered by the conventional talk on the street, it is important to have those who are willing to be a voice of support in a world of naysayers.

I don't know why bad news travels so fast and good news stays under the bushel. But that is the reality.

As an athletics director, I hear constantly from the detractors. Those who feel compelled to come and tell me all that is wrong with a coach or a program. I rarely have anyone who takes the time to come in support, even though my experience has been the supporters outnumber the detractors in most circumstances, but you have to go and find them.

My encouragement is that we always look for the good and publicly side with those who do great jobs for our kids and communities. I don't believe you have to be dishonest about it, and yes there are people who need to be corrected, and even sometimes removed.

But if Coach Bryant knew he could be helped by a champion at the water coolers .... don't we ALL need that support?

This is my yearly post in honor of Coach Bryant. You can find all of the posts here.

https://bearbryantmemories.wordpress.com/author/jayopsis/

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Elements of the Fight- God's Call in 2020

There are still dead bodies on Everest.

In fact, about 300 of them. The height and conditions of their strange and sad sepulcher make it too risky to remove them.

The sheer danger of the trek adds to the glory of triumph, though the feat has been diminished over recent years due to catty consumerism and crammed camps due to overuse and unprincipled caretakers. 

Nevertheless, it is still dangerous and unwise to attempt this task for the one who is unprepared and naive to the peril.

There was a time that I read numerous accounts, especially the early days, of those who battled every difficult aspect of the quest. The life lessons for a competitor are endless.

Many of the accounts, spoke of the 'slumber of death'. It is a time of sheer exhaustion where a climber lays down for rest. The longer they stay in that state, the more dangerous it becomes. In low oxygen, every muscle throbbing, and every aspect of their being on red alert.... it feels so good to just lay down and close the eyes. And if they don't rouse themselves quickly.... they will unfortunately sleep forever and their bodies soon become a marker and warning to future enthusiasts.

I have found a similar retreat in my life.

My daughters have long teased me... the 'highly functioning introvert' who works in a job more suited for extroverts. They see me when I retreat like a turtle into my shell, needing to find energy and stamina that is rapidly depleted in a world of constant contact with others.... who are usually upset or concerned. My dad was a firefighter.... but he knows little of those who fight fires as school administrators. In 7 years as the Dean of Discipline and now over 2 as an Athletics Director, I have found most days having to choose which wire to cut in hopes that the atomic explosion will be avoided. And, unfortunately, the blast sometimes happens and the mess takes on a life of its own.

And before I over dramatize it... I have a blessed profession. I rub shoulders with so many who are the salt and light of the world. I get more solace and accolades than most men ever get to see. And my struggles are small in light of true suffering and pain.

No one can ever truly escape the slings and arrows of life..... sometimes the hurt of 1,000 ant bites is harder to endure than the major blow that is often the fate of humanity.

January is always a time where I reflect on what the Lord wants me to concentrate on. And it seems like this year He wants me to fight more and retreat less. He sees me as too passive and too pleasing.... too accommodating.... 


“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”                        Edmund Burke (1729-1797)

Proverbs 24 outlines the 'fight' of the wise and the righteous. I'm sorry to report, but no one gets out of this war. You are either on the side of evil or good- but you hit the ground running everyday in an all out spiritual battle with eternity at stake.

1 Do not envy the wicked,
   do not desire their company;
2 for their hearts plot violence,
   and their lips talk about making trouble.


If I am honest, this is the crux of my struggle. I struggle to label anyone as 'wicked' because I know my heart and desires. And I have never seen a teen like that.... my vision is always that these are young people who are simply needing to experience real life, the failure of idols, and then watch God do the finishing work. And I don't ever envision that changing.


No, this 'wicked company' is Satan's system..... the manipulative halls of earthly power that reeks of injustice. It is the wheels of society that sweep up the defenseless and destroy others in addiction, sex trafficking, illusions of luxury, and the decay of decadence.

Proverbs 24 also calls me to action.... it requires me to find in God discernment and partners in the battle.
5 The wise prevail through great power,
   and those who have knowledge muster their strength.
6 Surely you need guidance to wage war,
   and victory is won through many advisers.


How can you win if you do not plan or do not get help? I think my biggest failure in things is when I do not enlist help from others and strike out on my own... BIG MISTAKE.


Verse 10 is God's major criticism..... I have not prevailed in fighting....

 10 If you falter in a time of trouble,
   how small is your strength
!
11 Rescue those being led away to death;
   hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
12 If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,”
   does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who guards your life know it?
   Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done?


Sadly, this is the general experience of my life- soft and frail- and more willing to beg out of the fight. I need to be willing to step in and lovingly, boldly confront- I may get to help save one starfish in the process. One life matters!


And His call urges me to rise up and begin again.

16 for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again,
   but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes.


So in 2020- I need to COMPETE- I am fighting sin within and Satan's system without.

Where competition fits in within the Biblical guidelines for people has always intrigued me.


And the important qualifying questions are: by what means and by what cost?


Years ago, I had a brief debate with an outstanding Bible teacher about whether competition is godly or ungodly. He was against all forms of competition, especially sports. His concern was that it was driven by ambition and fueled a person’s pride.


I did not agree with him then or now. God is a competitor, a worthy warrior Who excels at defeating His enemies.


The Israelites had to take possession of the land.
Yes, Jesus did have Peter put down the sword.
But watch the angels fight in Revelation.


What is the balance?
I think there are 4 categories of ‘human effort’ that line up in our concept of God’s control versus our freedom. And I think I could at some point compare and contrast these with what I believe are 4 freedoms in Scripture.



JACOB AS COMPETITOR WITH NO GOD AND NO BOUNDARIES


Every time I read about Jacob it brings to light the limits of competition and a stark difference between those who compete with honor and those who fight with darker and more questionable motives and tactics. Here is my model and my challenge... I am too much like 'Jacob' and too little like 'Israel'.


The early story of Jacob involved two famous accounts of Jacob getting what he wanted, including the of grabbing Esau's’ birthright and later stealing his blessing. In both instances, Jacob was fulfilling a prophecy made about him and earning the reputation of his name…. ‘the deceiver’ or the ‘one who grasps the heel’.


But it doesn’t take long to understand that Jacob is a by product of his environment and his nature as well.


Both Rebekah (mom) and Isaac (dad) contributed to the dysfunction of the situation and Esau fared no better in the tale.


Isaac? Way too passive and uninvolved. Sure, his submission to Abraham on the mountain of sacrifice is commendable, but Isaac doesn’t really seem to do much or accomplish much in the narrative of God’s line of redemption.

Rebekah? Way too eager to teach the tactics of deceit and treachery, even manipulating Jacob by assuring him that if it goes bad, she will let the curse of Isaac fall on her.


And both parents suffer the consequences of playing favorites with their children. Issac more loving on the hunter, Esau and Rebekah more doting on her ‘tent dwelling’ Jacob.


I also think it is important that both parents were aware of God’s presence and the promise that the older should serve the younger. But as the Bible shows over and over again, there is serious condemnation when humans refuse to trust God in the timing and means of the fulfillment of His promises.

DISHONORABLE COMPETITION



It would be wrong of me to label ANY of Jacob’s early conflicts as anything close to honorable. If I can give him one token of praise, it would be that he valued lasting things enough to suffer loss of temporary things in the present.


Ultimately, that is why Esau is rated so poorly in the New Testament. Esau is called ‘ungodly’ for despising his birthright for something as trivial as a bowl of soup.


Jacob had the right reward in his mind, but that is the last compliment I can give him in these early accounts of his deceit, manipulation, and trickery.


JACOB GETS A TASTE OF HIS OWN MEDICINE


It didn’t take long for Jacob to learn that Rebekah’s family came from a long line of cheaters and Uncle Laban excelled in the scheming… he applied the con almost like an expression of art. He got 7 years of labor and someone to take care of Leah out of the bargain. Jacob though, never quit, and battled his way 7 more years for Rachel and ended up the champion. But Jacob still had battles to fight and lessons to learn….


JACOB’S GREATEST COMPETITION...
HIS BATTLE WITH GOD


The most glorious and important battle in any person’s life is their struggle with the Almighty. If He has left you alone and you are not struggling with Him, I fear for you. But if you just read that statement and it caused even a twinge of fear or any red flag...there is still hope.


In Genesis 32, Jacob has sent his caravan of family and possession ahead… hoping they would meet Esau first.


Then in the night, all by himself, he gets jumped by Jesus. Early in the fight, my guess is that Jacob was fighting to live and fighting off the aggressive pursuer. But somewhere along the way, the fight changed. It wasn’t Esau he was fighting. It was a ‘man’. One who had the power to knock Jacob’s hip out of joint with just a touch.


This “angel” tells him to let him go. But Jacob says NO- not until you bless me.


And at that point, Jacob not only got a new life…. he got a new name… no longer the deceiver/manipulator… he was now a God-striver.


Of everything about Jacob… that is what I want. That is the change I desire.


And it starts with an decision to stop fighting God and start clinging to Him.


Stop running away…. and start running to… start fighting for!



THE PRIZE OF COMPETITION

What am I fighting for?


The great theme of the Bible is “I will be Your God and you will be MY people” and this theme is gradually expanded and implemented through a very deep promise… more serious than even a contact.. the assumption and execution of a covenant promise. Indeed, all of the history of redemption can be laid out according to these administrations of the covenant of redemption. Beginning with Abraham and ending with Jesus, the oaths, signs, ceremonies, seasons, celebrations, daylight/darkness-  in some ways the organization of time/calendars themselves are all tutors of this grand theme.


The Grand prize of this grand scheme is God Himself…. but God is so good- he knows how to treat His children…. there is also from the very beginning  a promise of prosperity, family, land, and blessing.


So, the hard part of competition is …. there is a war going on with eternal stakes and it is time to get in the game and fight.


The beauty of the call is this… it is a worthy fight, primarily through spiritual weapons, and has already been won, we just need to be engaged… it is a blessing to do so.
Our charge is not even to win every battle, our charge is to fight every day until our last human breath, until the heartbeats of our funeral march come to the end, and every time we fall or fail… just get back up.


And life teaches us how to fight. That is why I love my involvement with football over the years… it teaches me how to be a warrior… how to fight with my brothers, how to fight for my brothers.


Once I do that, transitioning to fighting as a happy warrior in the Kingdom of Christ is an easier transition.

THE GLORY OF COMPETITION



“I Am Jacob”. I know I have the sinful characteristics of this man, but there is also a yearning in me to overcome those as he did and even have my base name/nature changed by the sanctifying process of God’s spirit.


And by all means- I want to continue to keep my competitive fire burning well into my advancing age.


I want to be like Caleb who still wanted to conquer mountains at age 80.


The past few weeks I have talked with some coaches and teachers who are in various stages of discouragement.... I was praying for them one night when I remembered paraphrasing a famous Tennyson poem…. I may send it to them this week.


It may be that foes wear us down. 
It may be that we wear championship crowns, 
And be like great champions past, whom we knew. 
Tho' much is taken, much abides; 
and tho' We are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven…..
that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made TIRED by time and fate, but strong in will.
To strive, to seek, to find, and NEVER to yield.

These lines from Tennyson speak more to me now than ever before in my life.

I could spend time on the whole poem, but Tennyson knows the longing to get to the battlefield and leave a mark....



As a competitor, especially as I grow older, I become like Ulysses, and soon grow weary in a life of leisure when I have tasted the fire of battles and won. That slumber of death reeks of boredom and leaves a life on little consequence.


I have been still too long now- you only think that rest, leisure, and escape will still the soul.
But already I am dreaming of where to go- I need a wall and a mountain in my path I no longer need anyone to applaud my glory or understand my motives.



I think the mistake is thinking a person has to MOVE to find these walls or mountains. Too often men apply the wrong opportunity to their desire to keep charging… it isn’t a new wife, or new job, or new car, or new life… it is simply opening your eyes to the opportunities around you and dare to make a difference.


My scars are all that must stay attached
I long to remember the important things forgotten in the fog of battles that few recall
It is a loss to know that everywhere I have been is now long behind me, but I carry parts of every stop ahead in me
I am weary from waiting and dull from peaceful sleep. I am rusting too early from a lack of activity Will I end my time in a furious panic of all undone? Little remains: but every hour is saved From that eternal silence, something more, A bringer of new things; and vile it were For some three suns to store and hoard myself, And this gray spirit yearning in desire To follow knowledge like a sinking star, Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.


Jacob's competitive spirit, though misguided and even sinful at times.... did not prohibit the Lord from channeling it to propel him to heights he never imagined.

So may it be with us!


There are dead bodies all around me.... zombies on parade.... in 2020 I hope to stay sharp and keep swinging.... mentally, physically, and spiritually.