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DOGMA: Understanding the Father

Front Page My Beliefs

This post is part of a series investigating the most important items of Christian doctrine. View all posts by clicking here or the DOGMA tag above.

On Sunday, we addressed the third statement from the Lafayette Community Church Statement of Faith, but before we can look at it, we need to consider the relationship between human language and the reality of God.

The Limits of Our Language

What thoughts come to mind when you think of God? What images come to you? Is he some old man sitting on a throne? Do you imagine him in the ways of Greek mythology, like Zeus holding a lightning bolt and standing on a mountain? Do you imagine him as a highly exalted human being?

The problem is that none of those images are valid. None of those images work. None of those images are allowed. They are all idols. In the burning bush, God used no mental images to describe himself. The fire was a portal for his voice, but his self description was simply “I AM.” In the march from Egypt to Israel, God confirmed his presence before the people as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. In the days of wandering, God confirmed his presence by the golden box called the Ark filled with the ten commandments. And near the top of the list at number two was the command against having any idols, any objects of worship that were visible and tangible.

Our mental images are just as idolatrous because they put representations of God in our mind that are not actually God as he is. The most important thing to know about God is that he cannot be contained, he cannot be imagined, he cannot be imaged by humans. Our concepts are too small, our brains are too childish, our language is too limited, our knowledge is too elementary.

Even as we talk about God, we must keep in mind that God is bigger than the words we use. When we say God is love, we mean that he has revealed himself to us with the word “love,” but that his love is more loving than our love.

By way of disclaimer, then, I just want to say that God is the standard for the attributes we describe. It is not the other way around. We can’t use our words, define our words, put our own concepts into our words, and then apply those labels to God. We can’t say, “Well, to me, love means… and therefore, since God is love, he should act like…” You can’t come to know God by learning more about the attribute. You can’t study fathers to learn about your Heavenly Father. You can’t study lovers to learn of God’s love. You can’t study morals to learn about God’s goodness

Instead, we need to let God and his reality fill out the definition for the words we use. If God is love, we must let God’s character and actions define for us what love really is.

Now, we can turn to the statement.

The Father

LCC’s Statement of Faith reads thus:

God the Father is an infinite personal spirit, perfect in holiness, wisdom, power, and love. He concerns Himself mercifully in the affairs of each person, He hears and answers prayer, and He saves from sin and death all who come to Him through Jesus Christ (Deuteronomy 32:4-6, Psalm 139, Matthew 6:6-8, John 3:16-17, John 4:24, Romans 6:23, 1 Corinthians 8:6).

Implications

What I find to be most fascinating about all of this is that the statement starts with a God who is an infinite personal spirit, perfect in holiness, and it ends with a God who pays attention to the prayers of individual people.

In talking about this with our congregation, I walked through the statement point by point, showing supporting verses and providing brief explanation where helpful. Then, at the end I addressed some live questions from the congregation. Those questions were fascinating because they all seemed to revolve around the one big issue of God’s will versus human freedom.

Answering those questions adequately requires us to fully grasp the meaning of the first sentence of our statement above. Here are a couple bullet points to flesh out the statement:

  • As the only infinite personal spirit, God is boundless with regard to time and space, without physical properties, but able to mentally relate to other intelligent beings.
  • Perfect holiness means that God is completely distinct—other than—everything in Creation. He is above and beyond his creatures. His essence, attributes, and behaviors cannot be fully comprehended by any created being.
  • Perfect wisdom means that God always fully understands all possible courses of action. He perfectly understands the past. He can perfectly predict the future. Therefore, he can perfectly select the best course of action in any circumstance.
  • Perfect power means that God is always able to accomplish what he intends to do. It doesn’t mean that he is able to create logically impossible realities like a circle with four right angles. It does mean that he always gets what he wants. His power extends so great that he is even able to create a world where the independent actions of free beings bring about the end result he desires.
  • Perfect love means that God is first of all in a perfect love relationship with the other members of the Trinity. His very nature allows for and demands a loving mutuality of deference, equality, respect, and affirmation. Love is intrinsic to the nature of God. Therefore, because the Trinity is at work cooperatively to bring about God’s desired plans, the Father deeply loves his plans and the execution of those plans by the Son. Finally, the Father loves the individuals of the world because they are his prime agents working out his plan on planet Earth.

In the posts to follow, we will be addressing questions regarding the will of God, but to conclude this post, I want to affirm the most personally compelling reality of the nature of God.

God, the one who is unbounded by time and space, who knows the best thing to do at all times, who is fully capable to bring about his will regardless of circumstances, made you to be who you are at this moment in history. God, who always knows what’s best and always gets his way, made you.

Take pride that God has chosen you to be part of his plan. Take warning that God expects you to play by his rules. Take comfort that God has done everything possible to empower you to do just that.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. — John 3:16-17

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The Bible: What about the apocrypha?

Front Page My Beliefs

This post is part of a series investigating the most important items of Christian doctrine. View all posts by clicking here or the DOGMA tag above.

On Sunday, I was asked about the apocrypha, but I later found out that the answer I gave was partially wrong.

What I said was that back in the days before Jesus, there were a number of books that were circulated among Jewish people. However, back then, no one considered them to be on the same level as Scripture. In fact, after the prophet Malachi wrote his prophecy it was widely understood that there were no more prophets, and that was 400 years before Jesus. Nevertheless, history still happened during those 400 years and Jewish teachers still speculated on spiritual realities. That’s where the extra books came from. Nevertheless, as I said, the Jews of the time did not consider them to be authoritative or on the same level as the other Scriptures. Continue reading

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The Bible: Have we found all the original manuscripts?

Front Page My Beliefs

This post is part of a series investigating the most important items of Christian doctrine. View all posts by clicking here or the DOGMA tag above.

How do we know that all of the original manuscripts have already been found?

I didn’t get to answer this one on Sunday, but the answer is simple. None of the original manuscripts have been found. Sadly, the oldest shred of any manuscript we have is a fragment from the gospel of John that dates to about 100-120 AD. It’s theoretically possible that John himself wrote that fragment since he died around 90 AD, but it’s highly unlikely. What we have are so many thousands of copies, versions, translations, and commentaries that we can reconstruct the originals with a high degree of certainty. Continue reading

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The Bible: Is one translation of the Bible more accurate?

Front Page My Beliefs

This post is part of a series investigating the most important items of Christian doctrine. View all posts by clicking here or the DOGMA tag above.

Is one translation of the Bible more accurate? Why the need for so many English translations?

I addressed this one on Sunday, and the basic answer is that because inerrancy depends on understanding the original intent of the original manuscripts, we employ as much scholarship and study as it takes to get back to both. Some scholarship helps us reconstruct the original manuscripts with greater accuracy. Some scholarship helps us translate the original intent with greater accuracy. Continue reading

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The Bible: Do NT verses on Scripture apply to both Testaments?

Front Page My Beliefs

This post is part of a series investigating the most important items of Christian doctrine. View all posts by clicking here or the DOGMA tag above.

Can we generalize New Testament verses on the authority of Scripture (eg. 2 Tim 3:15-17) to the NT since in the original context they were referring only to the Old Testament?

I didn’t get to answer this one on Sunday, but it’s a good question and deserves a little time. Basically, the question raises the issue that the New Testament authors use the word Scripture to refer to their Scripture which would have been the Jewish Scriptures or the Old Testament. Therefore, one could argue, the New Testament passages on Scriptural authority apply only to the Old Testament. As a result, how do we get our idea that the New Testament is also authoritative? Continue reading

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DOGMA: The Authority of the Bible

Front Page My Beliefs

At Lafayette Community Church, I have just begun a teaching series called DOGMA to discuss the core beliefs of our church and why we should be dogmatic about them.

Even though our world is filled with arguments about tolerance, the Bible is completely intolerant about a few key doctrines. We would say the Bible is dogmatic about them, and though we never berate or belittle those who disagree with us, we can certainly hold that over certain issues, there are clearly defined lines between right and wrong.

This series is all about exploring those lines. Continue reading

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Random: My thoughts on prepositions

Front Page

The preposition at the end of a sentence is one of those grammar “rules” that is often disregarded, but the three main reasons it is there as a rule as I understand it are the following:

  1. To reduce redundancy.
  2. To increase clarity.
  3. To strengthen speech.

To illustrate #1, for example, the most commonly misused preposition that I’ve heard is “at.” It shows up in the sentence, “Let me tell you where I am at.” The preposition in this case is adding a layer of redundancy that isn’t necessary. Simply removing it, we are left with, “Let me tell you where I am.” This second version is stronger, because the emphasis is on the verb. People inherently know this, I think, because the usual formulation of the sentence actually goes like this: “Let me tell you where I’m at.” People will use the contracted form of “I am” but feel like something is missing, and so they will add the lingering “at” to finish the sentence. Continue reading

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Overheard in yesterday’s sermon…

Front Page Lafayette Community Church

During my message yesterday at Lafayette Community Church, I made reference to a couple psychological researchers who made presentations at the TED conference regarding happiness and freedom and choice.

The two researchers are Dan Gilbert and Barry Schwartz. Linked here are the videos where they explain the results of their research:

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What is “it”?

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Some people have “it.” Some people don’t. Some people get “it.” Some people won’t.

Recently, I have been teaching a series of messages on what it means to have “it” as a believer. I mean, when you consider that Christians have a direct line of access to the God of the Universe, doesn’t it make sense that we should be expressing evidence of something special about us? Shouldn’t Christians be the most amazing, interesting, weird, and cool people on the planet? Continue reading

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Thoughts on Evolution, Creation, and Adam and Eve

Front Page Tough Questions

Why Evolution Is True (Book Cover)
For a few weeks now, I have been teaching in my church on the topic of belief and doubt, so I have been on a personal journey to understand the mind of the atheist so I can better understand the mind of the serious person who cannot cross the line of faith and possibly understand the mind of the person who wants to believe but is having difficulty taking the final step of commitment.

In the process, I have been learning things about the Theory of Evolution that have really interested me. I’ll get to a couple of those things in a moment, but first, let me tell you my perspective on the whole evolution and creation issue. Continue reading

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