A Theology of Expression

Some people have a problem with being thankful. I am not one of those people.

I thank God for things all the time. But I am not one of those irrational people who thanks God for everything – like inventing cars, or soda, or diabetic socks, or bacon. God didn’t invent those things, stupid people. But I usually pray a prayer of thanksgiving every time I eat a peanut butter sandwich that goes something like this: “God, thank you for creating the man who invented peanut butter.” Now, you might say that is George Washington Carver, but you’d be doubly wrong. So, maybe I have to retract my statement about bacon, but the rest still stands.

I’m so glad that God has inspired so many men and women to think, invent, and create.

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can cause a person to paint a picture, write a song, develop an invention, or pen Scripture. All forms of expression come from some form of inspiration. The key to discovering a great form of expression is to look at the inspiration. God is the highest form of inspiration there is. He is the Creator of the whole universe – from the stars in the sky to the fleas on a dog. Every night when I walk into my house, I look up at those stars and am continually reminded at how inspiring God is.

Just like you can look at a great painting and see the heart of the artist, you can look at the heart of mankind and see the hand of God. You can look at Christ’s life, death, and resurrection and see the love of God. You can see the conquest of Joshua and see the wrath of God. You read the Psalms and see how God inspires man. The Bible itself is another example of God inspiring man – in more ways than one.

Expression is only as good as the inspiration behind it. If your inspiration is temporary, if it is fleeting, if it can fail you, your expression loses significance. People who don’t live in an area where there are peanuts probably don’t care for the inspiration behind peanut butter. People who write songs about sex or drugs or money don’t create inspiration. But songs and paintings can be temporary or about current situations in time and still hold eternal significance depending on the inspiration. Great expression always inspires. It’s contagious.

My pastor said a few weeks ago that the gospel isn’t centered on expressing oneself but denying oneself. This is one of those statements though with a paradoxical twist – it is only when denying themselves that people can truly express themselves. If God is the highest form of inspiration, the highest form of expression comes through Him. This can be heard in Handel’s Messiah, seen in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, or experienced while walking through a park on a nice day.

A great thing about expression is it speaks about and to its inspiration regardless of how explicit that mention might be. There are some great worship songs out there that are glorifying and directly speak to God’s character. Then there are those songs that speak through metaphor or situations to point to spiritual and godly truths. I think one of the disasters today of the Christian music industry is its forcefulness of the inclusion of God. People love NEEDTOBREATHE and Switchfoot because their expression isn’t forced; it is fluid and it is natural.

One of my favorite songs of all-time is called “John Wayne Gacy Jr” by Sufjan Stevens. In the song, Stevens talks about one of the most prolific serial killers to ever live. The song is disgusting and it leaves the listener feeling sickened as the song progresses. In the heart, the listener feels how wretched this killer was. Then in the last line of the song, Stevens says: “In reality, I am really just like him. Look beneath the floorboards for the secrets I have hid.”

There it is.

What a phenomenal song to express the fallen nature of mankind and to show the morality engraved in the hearts of man to feel sickened by evil. It is something I loved about the show Breaking Bad. No show in the history of television has painted such a vivid picture of right and wrong. This is the key to great expression. This is a key that opens many doors and leads the artist down many corridors. This is the key that allows one to think outside the box, outside of themselves, and potentially outside their present reality.

What inspires you?

The Hudson and Our Inheritance – Galatians 3:1-18

Galatians 3:1-18

The Hudson River isn’t too far from where I live. It kind of reminds me of a dirty salty version of the Mississippi River, but that is beside the point. Imagine you are feeling a little risky – a little adventurous. You think, “I can swim across this thing.” So when the weather gets right, you go to the bank, wetsuit on, and just jump right in. Unfortunately for you, sitting on the couch everyday doesn’t count as proper training for something so strenuous, and you very quickly get winded. You are reaching the point of exhaustion, and to your grim despair, you aren’t even half way across. But you can’t go any longer. As soon as you accept your fate and make your peace with God, a friendly old man in a fishing boat comes and offers you a lift across.

I know at first you might be wondering why a man is out on the Hudson in a small fishing boat, but that doesn’t matter. You are just happy he was at the right place at the right time. You hop in and thank him for his hospitality. Though after a few seconds, your stubborn self catches wind and tells the man you want to get out… You can swim the rest of the way across by yourself.

I’m not too much of a swimmer. Even though I grew up right next to a private lake where I would swim EVERY day during the summer, I am not a strong swimmer. I don’t know the right strokes or how to breathe properly in the water. Not to mention I am incredibly out of shape. So anytime I go across a long bridge or see a wide river or a big lake I just think how hopeless I would be if I tried to swim across it. So, this illustration speaks to me.

After Paul shares his proposition for writing the Galatians in 2:16, He goes on in chapter 3 to explain that God has already given His Spirit to the Galatians, and that the Galatians don’t have to follow the Law if they already have the Spirit. And since they have the Spirit, they no longer have to feel like they need to mark up their flesh through circumcision. Here Paul takes a considerable amount of time to contrast; The Law and faith, the flesh and the Spirit, and being cursed verses being justified.

This is a persuasive argument from Paul. When I read this section I think of how I would write persuasive papers in high school. Appeal to emotion, refer to someone who has some level of authority, and weave some modus ponens in there like a fiend. Paul is the same way here.

First, he starts by appealing to the Galatians’ personal experience. For the Galatians to deny what God has done in their lives through the Spirit would be ignorance. In verse 5, Paul reminds them that God worked miracles among them and the Spirit moved through them because of their faith, not because they followed the Law. Paul even described the crucifixion of Christ to them so vividly when he first presented the gospel that he says in verse 1 that it was as though Christ was crucified before their own eyes. How can they deny what God had done in their lives?

Paul then goes on to present an argument from authority. Now, when we present an argument from authority, we usually quote doctors or specialists. Paul quotes a ton of Scripture in Galatians 3:10-14. If the Galatians were getting tempted by Jewish Christians to become more “Jewish” and follow the Mosaic Law, it would be harder for them to make an argument if Paul is arguing from the same source of authority that the Jewish Christians are.

Here Paul uses the promise of Abraham, the first “Jew,” the Pillar of the People of God. Paul is showing that God fulfilled the promise made to Abraham in Genesis – the promise that God would bless all the nations through him. This was only done through Christ, who is Abraham’s chosen offspring. God not only is fulfilling something that predates the Law, but is using an example of some one who was made right with God before being circumcised. Paul even says in Galatians 3:7 – “That it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” The Galatians, by being people of faith, now are considered welcomed in to the People of God and hold equal status to that of the Jews. This was without the Law, but was through their faith in Jesus Christ!

Here’s what happened. The Galatians were drowning and God saved them. They were warm and safe, but they are thinking about jumping back in the cold and dirty Hudson. Paul is trying to show them that if the Galatians go back to thinking they can do it on their own they will sink. They no longer need to follow the Law of Moses. It hasn’t helped them thus far. It won’t help them in the future. Next Paul will show them that they need to follow the Law of Christ – following the one who perfected the Law of Moses. This can only be done through faith.

Have you jumped out of the boat?

Maybe you are like the Galatians, and denying something God has done in your life. How can you deny what God has done in YOUR own life? It doesn’t matter if it was last week or in the last century, don’t forget the moments when God spoke to you. Don’t forget how God changed your family. Don’t forget that time that God healed you when the doctors said it was hopeless.

Sometimes what God has done in the past is the only thing that will keep us going in the present.

Or have you forgotten what the Gospel is about? It isn’t about following a set of rules and regulations. It isn’t about the Law of Moses. It isn’t about attending church, or going to Sunday School, or playing on the worship team. The Gospel is about how Christ came to reconcile a world that was condemned. Let’s not lose sight of Christ. Let’s not jump out of the boat – not even for humanitarianism, hedonism, or “morally sound deism.”

Remember what God did in history when Christ came and made us Children of Abraham – Children of His inheritance. Remember what God has done in your life through His Spirit. And never forget… It all centers on Christ’s faithful act on the cross and our faith in him.

Entrusted Not Entitled – Galatians 2:7-9

“On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.” –Galatians 2:7-9

I love coffee, and I like plaid, and I love to play acoustic guitar. I think that makes me a hipster. Or at least that is what people say. At first I would respond back the same way most hipsters respond: “I’m not a hipster.” Then when I realized that is what hipsters did, I just accepted the title. Now I think it is funny. And though now the fad is fading away, I’ll just about fitting this stereotype as long as I can.

It is strange to me that Paul would go from talking about a unified gospel to talking about a split gospel. Paul’s whole focus is to show that there is one gospel and no others. So now why is he saying there is a gospel to the circumcised and one to the uncircumcised? Why does it seem like he is contradicting himself?

Paul might be in a 50’s style gang fight – a greaser fight. Maybe what Paul is saying is that since the men who came to Galatia came from Jerusalem, they don’t have a right to preach the gospel to the uncircumcised. The Jewish disciples from Jerusalem would only have a right to preach the gospel to the circumcised. Paul might accusing these men are on his turf. Paul might be saying only he has the authority to preach to the Gentiles in Galatia.

Also, this is one of the only times Paul refers to Cephas as “Peter.” Everywhere else in Paul’s letters he refers to the head apostle as “Cephas.” This is telling for Paul. Maybe these aren’t necessarily his words. This could be what the pillars said; this could be what others in Jerusalem said. The change of name could hint to that. This would make sense if Paul used sarcasm or the words of others to drive his point.

Regardless, Paul is showing that his calling from God holds the same authority as does Peter’s. This would make Paul’s gospel message the true gospel. His authority isn’t below Peter. His authority is equal to Peter. They both have a calling and a purpose. And no one should question Paul’s authority – not the Galatians or the false teachers in Galatia trying to sway them.

Paul was pulling a hipster moment. He knew there wasn’t more than one gospel, but he used what people were saying to drive his point. His authority is on par with that of the apostle Peter, and that the church in Jerusalem gave him their right hand of fellowship. They saw Paul as a friend and a companion. They saw him as someone capable of sharing the gospel.

Another astonishing point is to note that the apostles physically saw that Paul was entrusted with the gospel (v 7). They didn’t hear that Paul was entrusted. They didn’t get insight. They saw that Paul was given authority from God.

I wonder what exactly they saw.

What do people see in you? Do they see the love and power of God? Do they see the gospel message? People might see me as the coffee drinking, earth tone wearing, crazy person, but I hope they also see a reflection of Christ.

Live in such a way that people see God in you.

Surrounded for Supremacy – Galatians 2:1-2

“Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.” –Galatians 2:1-2

College was a time where I grew in every area of my life. I was learning every day. My job was teaching me to have a work ethic. Classes were keeping me punctual. Spiritually I was growing every day through chapel. Being in such a concentrated environment was nourishing for my growth as a budding adult.

One of the greatest lessons I learned from college was to be surrounded by people in every area of my life. I learned that to be an effective leader, I needed to mentor people, have peers, and be mentored as well. It was while I was at college that I really understood how important this was to my personal growth. My senior year, I would meet with certain professors once a week for mentorship, I would have friends I could confide in, and I was an example of leadership to those in the student body and my hall – I was Student Body VP and a Resident Assistant.

Though I don’t think this was Paul’s emphasis in Galatians 2, I think it should be noted that he has all types of people mentioned in the first few verses. He has the pillars in Jerusalem with whom he was checking his gospel. There was also God who gave him his gospel. There was Barnabas who was seen as an equal to Paul. And Paul mentions bringing Titus along. Paul mentored Titus, and Barnabas possibly mentored him as well. Not to mention that Paul’s whole mission is to share the gospel with the Gentiles. That is a lot of people whom Paul is influencing.

It might not be the foremost focus here, but Paul is trying to stress his independence while showing those who are in unity with him. There are those in places of authority who agree with Paul. There are also those who are willing to stand along side Paul and preach this gospel – even another noteworthy Jewish Christian, Barnabas. There are also those who are willing to follow Paul to learn from him.

Do you have people who surround you along your journey? It is easy to lose your direction in life if you don’t have focus. Having people in front of you that you can look up to reminds you that there are those who have succeeded. They give you credibility. Those who are with you help you and challenge you. Iron sharpens iron as you fail and succeed together. They truly know where you are, because they are there too. Having people with whom you can influence reminds you of your purpose. When you want to give up, they are a constantly telling you that what you are doing is worthy.

This is true for teachers, preachers, coaches, dentists, and doctors.

Make sure you are surrounded. Use those around you as a support system. Use them to learn. Use them to grow.

A Family of Faith and Flesh – Galatians 1:11

“For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.” –Galatians 1:11

This past Thanksgiving was the first one where I was completely away from my family. Though I have only been home to Ohio twice in the past six years, while in college I had the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with my sister, brother-in-law, and his family in Missouri. Now, being at a new place (with my nearest family member nine hours away), I knew it wouldn’t be possible for me to spend Thanksgiving with my family. I was seriously prepared to eat macaroni and cheese, sit alone, and watch TV all day. What happened instead was a pleasant surprise.

A family at church invited me, and my roommate Kevin, and his dad to their cabin in the Adirondacks for the weekend. Thanksgiving was a holiday where all of their family came together. I had the privilege of not just hanging out with this great family, but I also got to meet aunts and uncles, cousins, and grandparents. There were almost twenty people there for the meal, and thirteen people crammed in the cabin for the weekend. It was the perfect break I needed amidst a hectic time of the year.

Right after Paul spends a considerable amount of time accusing the Galatians of deserting the gospel, he starts his next section by calling them “brothers” (or “brothers and sisters” for you politically correct folk out there). Right when the Galatians were probably starting to fidget in their seats, Paul points to his motive behind writing them. Of course it was because he cared about the truth of the gospel being proclaim, that is obvious. But if the reader forgets that Paul is writing the Galatians out of love, then the tone of the letter will not make sense. It will seem as though Paul is a ranting child and not a man concerned for the welfare of his family.

Just as the Galatians start to wonder if Paul is abandoning them, he reminds them that they are his family. They are “brothers” – not of flesh, but of faith. To be family isn’t just something one is born into for Paul. This is a theological claim. The Jews believed that one was part of the people of God by birth. To be in God’s family, one had to be born into it. Paul is calling them brothers, because he is reminding them that they have nothing to prove. They are already in the family of God. They don’t need to get circumcised. They don’t need to listen to the false teachers who have come in.

They are welcomed into the family of God by faith in Christ. This is the part of the gospel they have forgotten.

When I showed up to this family’s cabin, I didn’t expect to be welcomed in as one of their own… but I was. Even though I have only known these people for a few short months, they invited me to be a part of their family. We had devotions in the morning. We played board games in the afternoon. We watched movies at night. I even got to wield my first firearm! By the end of the weekend, I felt like I was a part of them. I felt like family.

Do you see your brothers and sisters in Christ as actual brothers and sisters? Do you hurt when they hurt? Or do you just shake hands with whoever is sitting near you during the weekend service? God is calling us to be united in him. He is reminding us who we are. We are a family. This isn’t just your church family. This is everyone who is in Christ.

What can you do to help your family? Maybe it is welcoming someone to dinner. Maybe it is helping someone find a job. Maybe it is praying for a brother or sister who has a loved one in the hospital.

We are a family.

We are the family of God.

We cannot be a house divided.

The Pipe. The Symptoms. The Significance.

Warren’s persona lingers on in the stereotype of the men of his age. The generation that lived amidst the Great War – the Second World War – was a group of people who worked hard and were tough to the core. Warren wasn’t any different. He was a man’s man. He drank beer, worked hard, and loved to smoke his pipe. He would even watch John Wayne. After a long day on the job, Warren would come home, sit in his recliner, and light his pipe. He was the image and prototype of the American Dream.

Shortly after the War, it was finally proven the health risks of tobacco smoke. But that didn’t stop Warren from enjoying his daily fix. The days melted together over the fabric of the next decade, as Warren would go to work, come home to his family, and have a smoke. Though the lung cancer was inevitable, it still caught Warren by surprise. The following weeks would be tough for him. How would he tell his family? What would he do for treatment? What changes would he have to make in his life? He felt as though his life was already over.

In the simplest terms, what is Warren’s story about? It isn’t about how smoking is bad. Though it can be easily surmised from the story, the story is about something else. It is about the affects of Warren’s smoking. It is about his cancer.

In the beginning of existence there was nothing. This is the start of God’s story. God brought material where there was an abyss. He brought order where there was chaos as he shaped the planets and stars amidst the mass of dark matter. Before there was even a sun the light of the Lord’s presence illuminated in the darkness of space. From the inorganic material throughout the universe he created, God molded together organic material, and there was life. And like a master painter finishing his most-anticipated work, God takes a step back and with delight He looks at the universe, the world, and His creation, and he sees that it is good. The whole story of creation crescendos into the apex of when God creates a man named Adam.

Adam and Eve were the focus of God’s creation. They were made in His image. They were carriers of God’s glory. They held the presence of God and the glory of God, but they were physical beings. Because of this, they were special and made stewards over the rest of the created order.

But Adam and Eve didn’t obey the one command that God gave them. Through temptation and their own desires, they chose to eat from the tree that held the knowledge of good and evil. They lost God’s glory that was given to them in their creation. In Romans 3, it says that we all sin and fall short of God’s glory. What Paul is saying is that we are all sinners, and, like Adam, we have lost God’s glory. Through Adam’s disobedience, death was brought into the world.

This is how Adam’s act of disobedience affects us. Think of it this way. Right now America is at a pivotal place. The President is urging us to go to war against Syria. People are getting persecuted in the Middle East, and there is great dispute as to whether we should get involved or not. If the government decides to go to war, all of the American people are “in war” with Syria, whether they agree with the decision or not. In the same way, we might not like the choice that Adam made. We might wish that it all went down a different way. But we are all fallen because of the action of Adam.

Paul spends a great deal of time talking about Adam and the outcome of his action. In Romans 5:12-21, Paul compares and contrasts Adam with Christ. In verse 14, Paul says specifically that Adam is the prototype, or model, or pattern that points to Christ. Adam is a prototype in that he is a figure from the beginning of time pointing to a figure at the end of time. Christ isn’t just an afterthought of God’s plan. Jesus wasn’t a plan B, but his coming into the world has been planned since the earth’s conception. And here, Paul spends considerable time looking at Adam and Christ.

Both Adam and Jesus were men who, in themselves, changed the course of the world with a single action. Adam had one act of disobedience. He ate the apple, and through his action the whole world now experiences sin and death. Christ had one act of obedience. He died the sinner’s death of crucifixion, and through his death and resurrection the whole world can now experience grace and eternal life. Adam might be the prototype of mankind, but Christ is the perfection of it.

Just how the focus of Warren’s story isn’t that smoking is bad, the story of Adam isn’t focused on his sin. The story of Adam is focused on the affect of his sin – death. Death was Adam’s cancer, and the world is dying to the cancer the same way Warren’s diagnosis is killing him.

Warren would be crazy to think that him quitting his pipe would cure his disease. If he just tried to stop the coughing or the wheezing, he wouldn’t be curing the disease, he would be only pointing out his symptoms. In the same way, the Law in the Old Testament is like trying to cure lung cancer by not smoking anymore. The Law is merely pointing out the symptoms of someone who deserves spiritual and physical death.

But what if there was a cure that was offered for that cancer? What if someone created a cure for lung cancer and offered it to everyone? What would that mean for Warren? If Warren’s lungs get cured, he wouldn’t have the symptoms of cancer anymore. He wouldn’t have spots on his lungs, and he wouldn’t cough the same way he did when the cancer was present. And he would be crazy to start smoking again.

Christ is the response to the cancer we know as death. Where the Law points out the symptoms of a sinful life that leads to this death, Christ offers the solution and the cure, which is the defeat of death. In Romans 5, death is personified. It is a villain. And Christ defeats death with his resurrection.

Here is the big point. Adam’s one act of disobedience led to many people experiencing death. But, despite the fact that ALL of mankind was disobedient, Christ chose to die for them. The whole world was at fault, but God chose to be graceful. This is why Christ’s action is so significant. This is why he is the perfection of the prototype.

Abstracting the Abstract into Application

I love to read. Whenever I get the chance, I love to find a good, inspiring, book. I sit down, grab some coffee, and usually don’t stop until the book is complete. Books are usually pretty easy to read. Chapters and ideas blend together as they collide in my cranium. They cascade into knowledge, and I feel a sense of enlightenment, peace, and utter tranquility.

Reading is definitely an acquired taste. I hated to read before I got to college. I would read every now and then books that sounded interesting or ones that were ascending in pop culture. I still have trouble finishing books actually. Most of the books I read are inspirational or informational, so the bulk of the book is spent on exposition with the end on application.

I HATE APPLICATION!

It’s not that I only like abstract thoughts that have no concrete ideas… I mean, just ignore the fact that my ministry is called, “The Abstract.” As much as my brain enjoys the endorphin rush of existential bliss, I have a hearty realization that life must be lived. To learn is to live. There is no way around it. But I hate when authors try to apply information for me. I feel like it is belittling, a crutch, helping me hobble along when I can walk fine without it.

Facts are concrete. Application is fluid.

Applying what is known is different for every person. It’s like the “Five Love Languages.” One person might express their love by taking out the trash. Another person might buy someone flowers. Another even might work magic with their words. The application of love, or anything, is left in the hands of the acquired.

Just make sure you have a balance. Don’t be “all upstairs.” If you can’t walk your ideas and passions out the door, then you won’t be able to excel to your fullest. Greatness can only be achieved by doing. Live and learn. Every person that has ever excelled in anything has brought his or her ideas to the realm known as reality.

It is one for us to tell people we love them. It is another to go out and feed the homeless, or to take care of widows. It is one thing for us to tell people we are for peace. It is another for us to allow our peace to be disturbed so that others might have peace. It is another to use love to bring peace.

It is one thing for me to talk about application in a blog. It is another to actually go out and start living what I write.

“… Don’t just talk about love as an idea or a theory. Make it your true way of life, and live in the pattern of gracious love.” – 1 John 3:18 (The Voice)