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?

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The Day That Death Was Defeated

Imagine a Jew living during the time of the Second Temple. Nehemiah might have brought some of the Jewish people back to their Promised Land, but the Jews were still in disarray. A Temple might have been built to replace the former one, but the Israelites were no longer a nation of God – they weren’t a nation at all. The Israelite people were floating from nation to nation – Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans. They might have been “post-exilic”, but they were definitely not out of exile.

Imagine an Israelite who was alive amidst the captivity in Egypt. Their ancestors might have freely come to the land, but that isn’t the case for them now. People through whom God said he would bless the world are now captives in a foreign land. The Israelite people weren’t “people” at all – they were slaves. They might have been promised a blessing, but their children were still getting slaughtered by the hundreds.

Moses was sent by God to deliver the Israelites in Egypt from their physical bondage. God parted the Red Sea, and from Mount Sinai Moses presented to the people of God how they should live according to the Law.

They were to be God’s chosen people.

Through them the whole world was to be blessed.

But they took the Law and saw it as a way in which to separate them selves from the world they were supposed to bless – a Law they couldn’t even keep. They needed a truly Faithful Jew through which Abraham’s covenant could be fulfilled. But they were looking for a way out of their physical bondage of exile during the Second Temple Period. They lost sight of the promise that God made to them. They lost sight of their purpose as the People of God.

Jesus was sent by God to deliver all of mankind from their spiritual bondage of sin. God’s Spirit fell on Jesus during his baptism, and from there Jesus presented the Sermon on the Mount, where he showed the people what it meant to live by faith.

He was God’s Chosen One.

Through him the whole world had been blessed.

But the people crucified him. When given the chance to free this man who knew no sin, the people chose an insurrectionist instead… How fitting. They took an innocent man and gave him a death sentence expected for the worst of people. Just as Moses and his people were the first to celebrate the Passover, Jesus was presented as the final Passover Lamb the day he was crucified during that Passover week.

The Passover. The Passion.

Moses. The Messiah.

Physical Bondage. Spiritual Bondage.

God’s Deliverance.

If Christ’s story ended there, then this wouldn’t be a story worth being told. When Jesus was taken to be crucified, the disciples fled. After his death they left in shame believing that they were merely following an allusion of grandeur that he was there to set them free from Roman rule.

But Christ’s story didn’t end there. When Jesus rose from the dead, he proved his reign as King! Christ didn’t ignore death; he defeated it! And by defeating death, Christ showed how he was the Ultimate Deliverer. He isn’t just Christ – but he is Lord! He is the I Am! And though the Jewish people were expecting their Messiah to come and deliver them from their bondage from Rome, he came and delivered all people from their spiritual bondage of sin.

This is the day in which death was defeated.

We now know that there will be a day when we are resurrected.

We now know that there will be a day when all things will be reconciled to him.

We now can go to the world knowing that he has ALL authority.

We can now go bringing this news of reconciliation.

Because this is the day in which death is defeated.

Science on the Scales, Part Two.

I was recently asked if I considered myself a skeptic…

I guess I do.

So, imagine me at a conference called, “Skepticon.” Hearing the name of this event, I was so excited to go! By the title, one would think that the conference was a place for people to come together and talk about different ideas and theologies rationally, and for them to decide on beliefs themselves based on all the facts considered. So, you can imagine how upset I was to find out that this was not a conference for skeptics. It was a conference for atheists to come and make mostly ad hominem attacks on theism and, more specifically, on God himself.

In my previous blog, I laid down an argument against Naturalism, stating that empirical science fails because it cannot prove itself. I also stated that these “sciences” have at their foundation an atheistic understanding, which most people use to disprove the existence of the supernatural a priori, and with it, God. But, with this philosophical framework crumbling at its foundation, there is lying amidst the rubble an idea that has been long forgotten – buried by time. And though some people in the Western world still believe in God, it is seen as folklore and fanciful, good for some but not to be pressed upon others.

There are people waiting to rebuild from the rubble.

At the crux of Christianity lies the doctrine of the resurrection. In 1Corinthians 15, Paul says that without the resurrection, Christianity would be worthless! Many have used the previous understanding of naturalism to disprove the resurrection, and in doing so, diminish Jesus and his message of a future hope for the world. But is the resurrection rational?

There are few that disagree with the historicity of the Bible – stating that Jesus was merely a myth. Most of them think that 1st century Christians (mainly Paul or Mark) saw prophesies of the past and formed them into this myth of “Jesus.” However, the gospels weren’t written as though they were myths – they were written as historical narratives. There were also no Jews that believed that their messiah would die and resurrect before Jesus came… and just because there is a correlation between these prophesies and what happened doesn’t mean that the material is therefore fabricated. Correlation does not mean causation.

Some people think that the life of Jesus was distorted, and that what we have now is an exaggeration of his life. They go from this hypothesis and try to decide which sections of Scripture Jesus “really did and said.” However, their argument is biased from the beginning, and therefore clouds their vision as they decide arbitrarily what they think is “historical.” There are also almost a countless number of manuscripts that attest to the Jesus of the Gospels. As far as manuscripts are concerned, there is more proof for the legitimacy of Christ than there is for the lives and writings of Aristotle, Plato, and Homer. There are far more documents about Jesus, written closer to the time he lived than there are for many figures in ancient history. But we don’t question these men’s existences.

But what about the Jesus of the Gospels, God incarnate, resurrected from the dead?

There are many things that make the resurrection the most plausible solution for one to consider. Of all the possibilities that are available, the empty tomb is the most likely option. Many Christian Apologists make this claim, and all of my “evidence” will be based from their arguments. I think if one leaves open the possibility for the miraculous, then Jesus makes a whole lot of sense with reference to the world in which we live.

Many people in the New Testament claimed to have seen the risen Christ. Aside from the 12 disciples and witnesses mentioned in the gospels, there are others, such as Paul and James, who have witnessed the resurrected Messiah. Paul is written in Acts as a persecutor of Christians until he experiences a vision from Christ. James is one of the brothers of Jesus, and previously didn’t believe his brother was the Messiah (Mark 3) until after Jesus’ resurrection where after James proclaimed him to be the risen Lord.

Mary Magdalene and Mary, Christ’s mother, were also the first to witness Jesus resurrected. Though this doesn’t seem important, women at the time were not seen as being “higher up” in society. Why would Mark say that women were the first to see Christ if he were fabricating the resurrection? Wouldn’t he want to put someone whose testimony would be more credible in his gospel if he were making it up? He could have put Peter, or any other disciple, or even a Jew high among society as the first witness of the empty tomb, but instead it was two women who first saw the risen Lord.

And let’s consider the changed lives of Jesus’ disciples. There are many people who are willing to die for what they think is true, but the disciples died for what they knew was either true or false. If the resurrection were fabricated, then roughly a dozen men died for something they KNEW was not true. I might die for something I think to be true, but I wouldn’t die for something I knew to be false!

Lastly, I think it is important to notice that there is continuity in Jesus’ character in the gospels. If you read the life of Jesus, a man performing miracles and teaching the way he did, and even claiming his own divinity, you shouldn’t be surprised to read that later he would be resurrected from the dead. Not to mention that Jesus predicted his own death and resurrection.

Maybe you thought that Jesus was a great teacher but never before considered him to be who he claimed to be – Lord. C.S. Lewis does a great job explaining that there are only three options of Christ’s character: that he was a lunatic, a liar, or the Lord. If you have never considered Jesus to be Lord, I ask that you look into it. Read the bible. Listen to some debates. Truly seek for what might be true, without having any presuppositions.

And if you are a Christian, remember to have some tact if you are telling someone about Jesus. We can win some arguments but lose the person in the process. We have at our hands the message of hope to the world! Let’s not have our pride or let condescending remarks get in the way. The world should know who we are by our love.

Be challenged – whether it is to know more or to love more. And maybe through that we can change the world.

The Prime Optimist

Vincent Van Gogh was not alive long enough to see his fame. In and out of the mental hospital, cutting off his own ear, and painting a style of art that repulsed his critics, you wouldn’t imagine at the time that this man some day would be held in so high of a regard. It is shocking to find out how impoverished Van Gogh was while he was alive.

In the 19th-century, the famous impressionist movement was born. Like previously stated, the movement got criticism by nearly every “professional” in the field. With Claude Monet at the forefront of the movement, those who painted impressionism were sick of the way art had always been done before. Popular art until this point were pieces crafted in a studio, with fine strokes, posed and poised people, with high contrasts and usually (but not always) a religious nuance.

Impressionism was art for art’s sake. They looked at the world in a different light. They took the easel out of the studio and into the gardens and fields. They used heavy brushstrokes to convey motion in their art. They knew that the human eye could only focus on one point at a time, and their art reflected that, in showing textures over details, emotions rather than messages.

I like impressionism though not because of the brushstrokes or the flowing paints or the textures, but because I feel like the painters truly understood the world that they were trying to convey in their masterpieces.

I feel like there are a lot of people who truly don’t understand the workings of the world. For arguments sake, I will only discuss the most ignorant of these people – “immature optimists.” I HATE “IMMATURE OPTIMISTS”…

I know, such a pessimist thing to say. (and yes, this is a hasty generalization)

And I may sound macabre, but I hate when I have something constructive or cynical to say, and I am glared at by this ignorant fool. And then they turn a deaf ear as I try to explain my well rounded, realist view – knowing it to be a tool used by the “pessimist” to shift the “immature optimist’s” worldview. But what I hate the most about the “immature optimist” is this:

They refuse to believe that ANYTHING bad happens in the world.

After Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ in Mark 8, Jesus begins to tell the disciples in simple and understandable terms what is going to happen to him. He tells them of his suffering, his sacrifice, and how he will be rejected. After talking about all of this, Peter pulled Christ aside and rebuked him.

I feel like Christians today are trying to escape the idea of death. Many atheists say that Christians use heaven as a coping mechanism to escape the idea of their imminent death, and I don’t completely disagree with them. Many people want the cross without the sacrifice. They want eternal life without an earthly death. They want a rapture without a tribulation.

Jesus didn’t circumvent death to redeem our souls. He died on a cross. And more than that, he is risen from the dead!

So many people talk about a spiritual death to self, a death to their sinful nature, but they are running from the death of their earthly bodies. Christ didn’t ignore tribulation or suffering. He faced death. And that is the beauty of the gospel.

Christ defeated death!

The “immature optimist” looks for immediate happiness. The worldview itself is just an ignorant rouse a few simple shakes away from hedonism. They want a deathless cross. They want a resurrection without the defeat of death. They want redemption without a fall. The “immature optimist” has tunnel vision.

We need to expand our vision to the Vision of Christ – that there are bad things that happen in this world. There are diseases, there are wars, and there are sinners. It is up to us to be the change for a better tomorrow. We keep thinking that if we put the right person in a political office, or if we vocalize our opinions without action, that the world will change. Or even worse – we think if we ignore the outside world, home school our children, and donate to the Salvation Army at Christmas that we are changing the world.

The only way to defeat “immature optimism” is by grasping a cold, hard helping of the truth.