Thursday, September 24, 2009

John 3:16

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

This was the first verse of scripture that I ever committed to memory. I am certain that I had heard the passage before I attended my first day of Daily Vacation Bible School, for that would have been the Baptist way. John the Beloved’s stunning statement lies at the heart of traditional Christianity. This is the hope of every believer, that God somehow, for some reason, loves the world in spite of all of its ills, and to prove that love, sent His Son into the world to redeem it and all who dwell within. If one does not believe this fundamental principle, he cannot consider himself to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

In the heart of most believers, however, lie several questions. “Why am I loved? Am I loved because I am good? Am I loved because I am in the world and have partaken of it? Why would God the Father sacrifice His Son for me? Why should I have everlasting life?” So far as I can recall, neither the ministers nor the teachers of my youth ever addressed those questions to my satisfaction. I wonder if they knew for themselves all of the answers. I am not being critical or snide; I am simply relating my experience. After a few years of contemplating these questions, I simply found myself in the same boat as everyone else who desired to have faith unto salvation. If I cannot answer those questions, can my faith be strong enough to withstand all of the trials and tribulations that are common in this world?

We live in a time of great cynicism. Many people have looked around this planet, surveying its history, and have concluded that there is not much going on here that is lovely or of good report. Charles Darwin seems to speak for a great many intellectuals when he concludes that the abundant and diverse life on earth is the product of two basic principles: survival of the fittest and natural selection. The strong and the clever survive and propagate themselves, adapting to the natural and social orders that have come into being over the millennia. Much of the survival and selection techniques seem to be quite brutal, depressing in fact, especially if one is not particularly strong or selectable. Some men have concluded that a loving God could not be the author of all of this violence and duplicity, therefore He must not exist. The premise is correct, but the conclusion is erroneous.

What is it that God loves about the world? In short, He loves that which it once was and He loves that which is its potential.

When the world first came into existence, once all was organized and set forth as it was ordered, the Lord God pronounced it “very good”, and so it was. There was no death or disease. There were no scars made by the fang and claw. The earth rested in a paradisaical state after it was brought into being. The nature of life in this condition was free from aggression and chicanery, quite dissimilar from the way it is now. The change that took place to bring us where we are now was fundamental, a change that came to pass in part because of a being who had freely chosen to be something other than what he could have been. God did not create death, disease, destruction, duplicity, or any of the other great ills which we see around us. These came about as the natural consequences of individuals choosing that which was at variance from His will. When there is the possibility of good, there is always the possibility of evil. God the Father chose that which was good and created the paradisaical earth; Lucifer chose that which was evil and has attempted to impose that evil upon the children of men. He has been astonishingly successful, primarily because “natural men”, the inhabitants of this earth who follow their Darwinian instincts, are inclined to gratify their desires for popularity, wealth, and power.

Natural men are those who have forgotten who they really are. They dwell upon the earth generally ignorant of their divine heritage. No one should be surprised, however, that the title “God the Eternal Father” is more than metaphor. God loves the children of men who are in the world, not because they are in the world, but because they once lived with Him, as His spirit children, before the foundations of the earth were laid. If we listen to our hearts carefully, cannot we say with Paul the Apostle, “Abba, Father”, the Spirit of God bearing witness to our eternal spirits that we are the children of God? God loves us for the same reason that goodly parents love their offspring. Because of His great and abiding paternal love for us, He sent His Son into the world to provide a way by which we could return to His presence, without the scars and stains of mortality, perfected, sanctified, and exalted in every way. The atoning sacrifice and the power of the resurrection vested in the Lord Jesus Christ makes that eventual entrance into the Kingdom of God possible. Without him we would merely curl up in the dust and partake of the forlorn hope of the damned, having momentarily thrashed about in a lost and fallen world, and as disembodied spirits forever exiled from that which God would have us partake.

God the Father sent His Son into the world because it was possible to save it. Jesus Christ was not on a fool’s errand. Every man, woman, and child who has come here upon the earth is capable of instruction, improvement, and eventual perfection, notwithstanding the abounding wickedness that surrounds us, of which we partake at times. Like every goodly father who has ever lived among men, God desires His children to grow into maturity as His sons and daughters. He, therefore, has done all that is necessary, according to eternal law, to help us choose life and light through what we call the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a product of His pure love, an aspect of His perfection, and the grandest invitation that has ever been extended to anyone, anywhere, in time and in all of eternity.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Verse By Verse

When I was a little boy, not much older than the picture that I use for my profile, I attended a little non-denominational church in Carbon Canyon, California. From time to time it was run by the Baptists and then by the Nazarenes and then by other groups. I participated in that church from the time I was about five years old until my mother, my sister, and I moved away when I was sixteen. I was frequently in the Christmas and Easter plays. I rang the bell every Sunday morning to bring the believers to the chapel. I sat in Sunday School where we learned about the Old and New Testaments from teachers who seemed to be interested in the welfare of the children in Sleepy Hollow. I enjoyed myself immensely. I cannot say that I applied every teaching into my daily walk and talk, but I think that I instinctively believed that what was being taught was true.

One of the greatest experiences that I had took place during the summer time. The church sponsored Daily Vacation Bible School. I am quite certain that it lasted for at least two weeks each summer. Every day I would walk across the creek from my house to the basement of the chapel where we would all learn how to do ceramics, wood, leather, and copper work, all of which had some sort of Biblical theme associated with it. I was a terrible artisan, but I kept at it. We were all expected to memorize one scripture every day for the two weeks, so that as a result of each summer's work, I had learned ten or twelve basic scriptures that informed the Christian faith. I wasn't particularly good at memorizing anything, but I put my mind to it.Sixty years have past since those days.

For more than fifty years of that time I have been a fervent student of the scriptures, ancient and modern. For more than thirty-five years I served as a religious educator at high schools and universities throughout the United States, teaching young men and women many of the things that I had learned as a little boy in that little Baptist church. I am not a Baptist and never have been, but I have come to love the truth through the principles that I received at their hands. The postings that will appear here at this site will reflect what I have learned about those simple truths that I first accepted more than a half a century ago.