Thursday, July 23, 2015

"And God Said" - Clear Meaning in a Confused Culture

Recently I was speaking to some boys at a Trail Life scout meeting and I asked them what they see when they go and look into a mirror. Quickly, an obvious answer came back,  “me”.
“Very good”, I replied, “I’ve often looked at the guy in the mirror and wondered about WHO I am?  But this time I want to know WHAT I am?”
“A person!” one answered.
“Yes, I see a person, but what else, what is that person?”
“A human!”

There it is, that’s what I was looking for. Most people would agree, that ‘thing’ looking back at me could be called a human and I believed that, until I read a game changing  article called, “Finally, a map of all the microbes on your body”.

In just the last few years, scientific researchers have cataloged all the bacteria, viruses and microorganisms that live in and on our bodies. The human body is made up of about 100 trillion cells, ONE HUNDRED TRILLION CELLS!  Now hold on to your hats here ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages because this might hurt a bit - might give you a charlie horse in your brain. The researchers concluded that only ONE out of every TEN cells is actually - human. When you look in the mirror, that is NOT the human you’ve been assuming it to be. You’ve been combing the hair and brushing the teeth and plucking the eyebrows of a thing that is more microbial than human! One tenth of what you see is a feeble host to 10,000 or so other species. 10,000 species whose genes are 300 times the number of human genes. These microbes are helping us to fight disease, digest our food, to LIVE and that human part is a small minority.

When I am tossed about by these kinds of worldview revolutions, I return to the one authority that is never muddled in its truth claims; it’s propositions and proclamations are comforting to me, it’s the Bible. I love science, I love it for it’s methods for discovering the natural revelation of the Creator, but I love the Bible of God because it reveals the God of the Bible directly.   The Bible is NOT a science book but I have learned over and over again that where the Bible touches on science, it is perfectly consistent with scientific discovery.

But doesn’t the Bible say that God made us human beings? Does the Bible mention this microbial stuff that scientists call a ‘microbiome’? Well… we had better go to the source.

Please turn to Genesis 2:5-7

 When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground—then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
(Genesis 2:5-7 ESV)

The first thing I see there is WHAT we are made of, “the dust of the earth”.  Now, I would love to go into what makes up dust but it’s contents are even more unsettling than the ingredients of sausage; I must go far enough to tell you that today’s dust is made up of dead things - dead skin from your friends and strangers, dead skin and dander from animals, dead insects, old food, pollen and so on. Dust is dead stuff.

But before sin came into the world NOTHING DIED!  The dust of the earth was not dead!  The dirt that God formed us from was, as any farmer and gardener knows, very much alive.  It was living stuff, scientists would call it a microbiome, I suppose.  God shaped this stuff into the form of a man.  We are not in the form of an animal, but a man. Then God breathed into the man’s nostrils the breath of life and the man became a LIVING CREATURE!  How about that? The Bible never mentioned a human, we are a living creature in the form of man, made up of very small, dust-like living things and that is consistent with the scientific research, as we may expect.

“Every word of God proves true, he is a shield to those who take refuge in him”, Prov. 30:5.

The Word of God has authority, in fact there can be no authority above God’s Word.  God’s word proves all things but God’s word is proved only by itself.  It is a gift of grace that the Creator chose to reveal himself to us. Our God is a God who reveals himself through his word, through an epic and grand story of redemption.

If you turn back to the opening words of Genesis you can see how God reveals his authority. Genesis 1:1-3.

The Creation of the World

 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 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.
And God said...

(Genesis 1:1-3 ESV) 

Before God spoke there was only void and darkness, there was no form, no order, there was nothing, not even dust.  Then God spoke and there was for the first time, a something. 

I can’t resist repeating the wonderful words of Dr. Shadrach Meshach Lockridge here, and I wish I could match his cadence, he said:

“The reason God came from nowhere, was there was nowhere for Him to come from. And coming from nowhere, He stood on nothing for there was nowhere for Him to stand. And standing on nothing, He reached out where there was nowhere to reach and caught something where there was nothing to catch, and hung something on nothing, and told it to stay there.”  Oh, that man could preach!

God spoke atoms and molecules into being, light and energy; planets, moons and stars; oceans and mountains; animals and plants and finally, mankind.  He also spoke logic into being, propositional truth - meaning!  We take meaning for granted but it has to come from somewhere! 

God owns everything he spoke, the mountains, the stars, the cows, the man.  In Him we live and move and have our being, (Acts 17:28). God owns all things and therefore God may dispose of all things and God alone assigns meaning and purpose to all he spoke. God owns the patent on meaning, God alone has the authority to define meaning.

Let’s take the word “murder” for example.  If we look at the uses of the word “murder” within the text of Scripture, we find that the word murder is not simply the killing of another but it’s the taking of the life of a person without just cause. Is human life precious? Not to the evolutionist, not to the materialist.  Ending a life is simply the survival of the fit, natures way of selecting the weak and the inconvenient for disposal.  

But the Word of God gives a dignity to a man’s life that demands it be protected even at a great cost of retribution. Genesis 9:6 says “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed,”

That is severe!  Why? What is so special about a man? The verse continues, “for God made man in his own image.”  To kill a man for an unjust cause is to attack the image of God, it’s an assault on the Creator.  

Hence, every man, woman and child, (and sadly I must add, that means a child inside and outside his mother’s womb) has a precious dignity simply because our very form glorifies the Creator of the universe.  If you attack your Creator, in that murderous way, then it is a just cause for YOU to be put to death. God has defined murder and revealed the true dignity of a man so respect others, treat others as you would want to be treated.

Gender identity is big news of late. For fun, I “googled’, (that’s a verb, foreign to the Bible and Shakespeare, but that’s a verb.)  I googled this question, “How many genders are there?”

The numbers varied from site to site, 41, 63, 58, over 4000 and included labels such as transgender, transman, trans woman, trans person, bigender, multiple gender and two-spirit.  

These lists became better known when Facebook, an accurate indicator of cultural shifts, didn’t want to offend those who believed they fell into a non-binary gender category and so they added a long but still not comprehensive list of ‘genders’.  It didn’t stop with Facebook, of course, high schools, middle schools, elementary schools are now having to make accommodations for these newly labelled students.. 

There are parents who refuse to let anyone know of their child’s birth gender for fear it will interfere with the child’s choice of gender later on.  Teresa was speaking to a lady this week whose friend is a teacher. This teacher has a student who believes she, and I realize I should not say “she”, is not human. The entity goes to great lengths to make sure all around know she is not human. She identifies herself as non-human!  Can’t help wondering what bathroom accommodations you make for a non-human.  Will a litter box be enough?

Ok, it’s easy for me to make snarky comments in this transition period of our culture but this is serious stuff and we need to move back to Scripture because it treats gender seriously.

Genesis 1:27

 So God created man in his own image,
  in the image of God he created him;
  male and female he created them.
(Genesis 1:27 ESV)

God created man, male and female, as a means for human flourishing and as a revelation of his Image. The male had masculine traits and the female had feminine traits.  They were anatomically different from the start and they were assigned different and separate roles to the glory of God.

For Adam and Eve’s children, gender would be assigned at birth, a gift from the creator.  For thousands of years, expectant mothers and dads would wait as that baby would enter the world.  

“There’s the head, honey.  The head is out!  Oh my, so much hair!”
“What color?”
“I can’t tell yet, but there’s a lot of it!”
“We have an arm!  Now another arm!  The baby’s out!”
“What is it, a boy or a girl?”
“Well honey, we talked about this. We’re not going to push our biases on this child.”

First someone decided that society was assigning gender but now we must leave it to the individual to choose. Thousands and thousands of years and now in 2015 we are to suddenly assume anatomical blindness. We’re just going to pretend it doesn’t matter. But God says IT MATTERS!

My wife is a female, a feminine woman, and she glorifies God, she displays shared attributes of the Creator that I cannot.  She shows me images of our God that I cannot manifest.

I am a male, a masculine male (and I know what some of you are thinking but it’s not a pony tail, it’s a war braid). I have masculine traits and I glorify God in ways that my wife cannot.  Let me give you a very recent example:

My son, Jean-Baptiste, less than a week ago got out of our truck and slammed his fingers in the door.  The scream told the entire county that his flesh, and the truck’s metal had fought a quick battle and that the truck had won.  He screamed and yelled and then screamed more. It’s was heart wrenching.

I felt just awful for him, I had empathy, I had an experiential knowledge of the pain he was feeling.  I ran to his side and stood over him and firmly said, “Son, you need to stop screaming!  You NEED to stop screaming.  Son, I can’t tell what is wrong unless you can stop screaming and show me which hand you hit.”  I noticed that there was no blood or misshapen fingers, but that’s it.

“Son, show me which hand!”  He held up the hurting hand.  I took a visual and physical assessment and led him to the house to get some ice on the bruise.  

I was calm, concerned, empathetic, firm, strong and practical - it was, according to my way of thinking, the proper and manly response.

We had taken a few steps when my phone rang in my pocket, it was Teresa.  I calmly answered and we talked about where she was and when she would be home and then I told her that JB had just slammed his fingers in the truck door.

“OH MY BABY, MY BABY!  MY POOR, POOR BABY!  NO, NO NO, TELL HIM I’M SO SORRY.”  I was trying to reassure her that everything was ok, but she still had many more “Poor baby’s” to get out.  I’m thinking, this isn’t helping, he needs ice for the swelling.  Finally, Teresa told me to put ice on it.

I know for a fact that if she had been there, she would have picked him up in her arms and kissed his head and held him close and repeated “Poor baby” over and over.  How does that help?  IT JUST DOES!  When Theo gets a hurt finger he runs to his mom and say’s “I hurt, kiss it!

I’m thinking, “well, great! He has a hurt finger and now we are going to add germs to the healing process.  She kisses his finger and he smiles and goes off to play.  It worked?  He’s healed? By a kiss? 

With JB and all my children, Teresa is emotionally linked, she hurts for them, she hurts with them, she’s nurturing and protective.

She shows the world an image of God that I can’t and I show the world an image of God that she can’t.

God is my refuge and strength, my fortress, my shield, he tears down strongholds, he clears the temple of riff-raff, he sends his son to be crucified, he dies on a cross, and like the ultimate warrior he conquers DEATH.  He is God the Father who shakes the universe, God the Son who is fully man, a man’s man, and He is God the Spirit who wields his sword of spiritual warfare. He is a masculine God!

“He will tend his flock like a shepherd. He will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.”  Isaiah 40:11
“a bruised reed he will not break,  and a faintly burning wick he will not quench he will faithfully bring forth justice. Isaiah 42:3
“As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.” Isaiah 66:13

It’s is easy to find examples of a nurturing, merciful Jesus in the narratives.  He was compassionate with a rich young ruler, a woman caught in adultery, the hungry, the disabled.
One day, Jesus wept over the confused people of Jerusalem, crying out, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Luke 13:34

Jesus kissed hurt fingers and cried for the broken and whispered comfort into the ears of frightened children.  God is a feminine God!

A favorite, Hosea 13:8, “I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs; I will tear open their breast, and there I will devour them like a lion, as a wild beast would rip them open. These are feminine and masculine traits of God.  

Another favorite, Zephaniah 3:17, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”

We need both male and female perspectives to understand the strength and beauty of that marvelous verse. 

I feel sorry for those who are so confused about their own identity. It must be tragic to struggle with what you are, but the answer won’t come by changing and inventing new definitions, the answer as we will see, is in the Gospel

There is another word that has been redefined only recently. In fact in contemplating changing the definition of the word “marriage”, Supreme Court Justice Kennedy observed, “The word that keeps coming back to me is ‘millennia,’ I don’t even know how to count the decimals, this definition has been with us for millennia.”

Of course, Justice Kennedy’s observation was an understatement and he finally made his decision based, not on millennia or the constitution or the Word of God but simply on his own opinion. He went with the mob. America now has a new definition of “marriage” but as people of the Word know, the new word does not describe “marriage” at all.

Let’s read Genesis 2:23-24.

 Then the man said,

 “This at last is bone of my bones
  and flesh of my flesh;
 she shall be called Woman,
  because she was taken out of Man.”

  Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
(Genesis 2:23-24 ESV)

God is the author and creator and definer of marriage.  The first thing we notice are Adam's words, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”. Marriage creates the closest of all human relationships, there is a oneness between a husband and a wife.

The closeness of this marriage relationship actually overrides the duties and obligations to one’s parents. We do have a duty to honor our parents by ensuring their welfare but a husband’s first obligation is to his wife, “therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife.”

We can’t fail to acknowledge in this passage that God did not create two or several Eves. Multiple wives are not part of the definition of marriage. God did not create another Adam. God created Eve, one woman, and this is for all time the divine pattern for marriage, established not in a courtroom, but at the creation, by the Creator.

There is another word that has been redefined by the culture and has nearly disappeared, even in sermons - SIN.  Sin is any rebellion against conforming to, or any transgression of, God’s law. Sin is destructive to the individual in this life and the life to come.

In the 1950’s sin was redefined, marginalised and neutralized by something called “the triumph of the therapeutic”. Religion and Christianity, it was said, were not solutions but in fact, part of the problem.  Sin became an oppressive, damaging label.  The psychologist would demonstrate that there was an historical or psychological or chemical reason for every behavior.  Morality had to go so that we could find therapeutic ways to reorder a disorder, or realize that the disorder was the new normal and that it’s society that is wrong.  The individual began to climb up onto the throne.

Today, the individual and the feelings of the individual are the basis of truth.  Does this behavior make you happy? Then it is good.  Does that person who disagrees with you make you unhappy?  Then he is bad.  You have your truth, I have mine so let’s coexist.

Read Genesis 2:16-17

 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 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)

The church must share the blame for the redefinition of sin.  We came up with too many “sin lists”.  Everybody seemed to have their list of sins.  Don’t drink alcohol, don’t smoke, don’t go to movies, don’t dance, don’t play games on Sunday, don’t wear jewelry, don’t do whatever action I don’t think you should do.

We made sin sound like lists of actions, sin is not actions, sin is a condition.  Adam ate the fruit and this created a condition, a deadly condition.  Our representative passed this deadly blood borne, sin condition onto his offspring.  No one escapes, none are righteous, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  The wages of sin is death.

So, regardless of what I decide to call myself when I look at the human and his microbes in the mirror, the Bible defines my identity. The Bible defines me with one soul crushing word, “sinner”. My father was a sinner and his father before him.  In sin I was conceived.  I have never thought of one good work that I could perform that wasn’t connected to my own selfish gain.  I have the nature of a sinner, a nature that is a slave to sin.  

I was never able to choose my temptations, nobody gets to choose their temptations. I cannot do a thing to change my sinful condition.  God has defined me.  I may not like the definition, it doesn’t make me happy, but I cannot change the definition because God alone has the authority to define meaning.

But, oh believer, you know what’s coming.  I am a helpless, hopeless sinner but it’s my utter helplessness and hopelessness that makes GRACE AMAZING!  God alone has the authority to define meaning, this is a fundamental truth but here is another, God alone has the authority to transform meaning!

How?  Through the Gospel.  What is the Gospel?  The Gospel is a historical fact that must stand outside of myself.  The Gospel has nothing to do with my feelings or my will.  The Gospel is the truth claim that God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to save sinners.  He hung on a real cross outside a real Jerusalem on a real Friday afternoon and shed his blood as an atonement for my real sin condition.  God’s wrath against my sin was satisfied by Christ’s sacrifice and at the same time his perfect righteousness, under the law was transferred, imputed into my previously bankrupted account.  That is the Gospel, 

The Gospel is transformative.  I am a sinner who had offended the infinitely Holy God and the only suitable justice for my crime is eternal punishment.  That was my relationship with God but God transformed that relationship. What is that new relationship?  It’s like a marriage.

God established a covenant with Adam and Eve and between Adam and Eve.  A covenant protected by his own words, a covenant that must be unbreakable because it represents the absolutely unbreakable covenant of grace in the Gospel.  What God has brought together, let no man separate, Jesus reminded us.  

Hosea spoke these beautiful words on behalf of our faithful Lord, “I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy  I will betroth you to me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord” Hosea 2:19-20

The Gospel transforms the meaning of marriage, it takes the deepest human relationship and becomes a description of an even deeper relationship, a truly unbreakable and eternal relationship.  

The Gospel transforms our identity.  I don’t know what has led to this massive confusion and doubt about gender identity in America right now.  The short answer is sin but I don’t understand the mechanics of this national moral confusion about identity.  I repeat, my heart really does go out to these poor people.  As Pastor Dennis reminded us last week, we have an obligation to pray and give encouragement to these folks but they need the same Savior that I need, and it would be hate for me to withhold that truth.  

I don’t understand the struggles they have with desires but I do know that we all will fall short when we desire anything above Jesus Christ.  

My desires are messed up because my identity is ‘sinner’.  However, in 2 Corinthians 5:16,17, God breathes words through a transformed sinner to write THIS exhortation, 
“Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

Find your identity in Christ and Christ alone, set your preference and him and on his commandments.

Finally, accepting the label of sinner is not therapeutic but it is the first step in realizing the good news which is the Gospel. Sin is destructive and it leads to hopelessness and invites the wrath of God but the sinner can be transformed.  Every sin must be paid for by the sinner or by the Cross.  The sinner who cries out for God’s mercy will not be ignored. God has done everything necessary for the salvation of the sinner.  “God demonstrates his own love towards us in that, while we were STILL sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

This is how God loves the world, “he sent his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

This is the Word of God, this is the Word with the authority to define us and more importantly, this is the Word that transforms us.  May the Lord bless the hearing of His Word.


Anonymous said...

Amen! Amen! Your writing really opened my eyes to understand God's words more. Thank you for sharing your sermon. "And the truth shall set you free.". I had a clearer understanding forthe message of the scriptures you mentioned. Thank you and praise god.

Bob Vigneault said...

Thank you "anonymous" for your kind words. It was very nice to hear from you. Blessings to you.