Genesis

Preparing for Worship: Yes, we are our brothers’ keeper,  Genesis 4

Preparing for Worship: Yes, we are our brothers’ keeper, Genesis 4

In Genesis 4, Adam and Eve bore Cain and Abel. Cain was a worker of the ground and Abel was a keeper of sheep. You know the story quite well. Adam and Eve were sent out of the garden. They were starting life anew outside of God’s covenanted garden. Everything was going to be difficult. In fact, the first brotherly relationship ended in death. Cain did not bring an acceptable sacrifice, and he became angry. So he rose up and killed his brother. And then the divine questioning began, very much like the questioning in the Garden, remember? “Adam, where are you?” Hide and seek is one game you don’t want to play with God. The Omnipresent God continues, “Cain, where is your brother?” “I don’t know,” Cain responds. “Am I my brother’s keeper?[1] In other words, “Should I be responsible for guarding something you gave me?” Does this language sound familiar? In Genesis 2:15 we read: “Yahweh God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.[2]” Cain is saying to God, “Am I supposed to guard and shepherd this gift?” Abel was Cain’s garden. He was expected to treasure his brother, but he killed him. Just as Adam killed his treasure, the garden by disobedience, so did his son Cain kill his brother by disobedience.

Brothers and sisters, indeed we are our brothers and sisters’ keepers. We come this morning to watch and care and shepherd one another. Let us love one another with singing, confessing, loving, and caring for this is what our older brother Jesus has done for us.

[1] Shamar indicates keeping, shepherding.

[2] Shamar – same idea.

Preparing our Hearts: Stop Hiding, Genesis 3

Preparing our Hearts: Stop Hiding, Genesis 3

In Genesis 3, Adam failed to protect this proto-sanctuary called Eden. He took of the fruit that his wife gave him and ate it with gusto. Genesis 3 says, “Then the eyes of both were opened.” But this is one of those rare cases where opening your eyes is actually a bad thing. When their eyes were opened, they saw their nakedness. The emperor had no clothes. And we find the first hide-and-seek game in the Bible. Genesis 3:10 says, “So I hid.”

They developed elaborate excuses for being afraid. Adam began the blame-shifting game. He tried to outwit God. He tried to be omnipresent. But who in their right mind would think they can hide from God?

This morning we come to worship knowing that we have been found out. God sees us as we are and clothes us with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Do not come afraid of punishment, but come expecting forgiveness and grace. Stop your excuses. Stop hiding. Come to worship and confess your sins.

Is Genesis merely scientific proof-texting?

Is Genesis merely scientific proof-texting?

As Trinity Sunday comes upon us, one of the lectionary readings for that day includes the first chapter of the Bible. Genesis 1 is typically looked through the lens of the modern debates over the age of the earth; the famous creation/evolution debates. Unfortunately, what is missed in these discussions is a careful look at the text itself. In order to jump to our scientific conclusions, we associate those initial words of authority with a certain scientific interpretation.  a But what about the language of the text? If one is looking at Genesis merely as proof-text for the particular means and time used by God to create the heavens and the earth, then one is undermining the full effect of the text to our personal reading and to its redemptive implications.

Walter Brueggemann asserts that what is important to consider in Genesis 1 and 2 is the nature of God’s speech. Speech is the mode used that binds God and his commitment to his creation together.

God and his creation are bound together by the powerful, gracious movement of God towards that creation. The binding which is established by God is inscrutable. It will not be explained or analyzed. It can only be affirmed and confessed. This text announces the deepest mystery: God wills and will have a faithful relation with earth. b

If we simply dissect the text looking for scientific clues, we miss the true poetry of the Triune God.  We miss the awe-inspiring movement and images that the text provides. Before such passages are preached and discussed, we need to “allow the Spirit to sweep into us, much as the Spirit swept over the face of the waters.” c God’s speech cannot be overlooked. His speech gives life. The Triune God not only speaks to us as intellectual beings, but also as complete beings made after the image of a poetic God whose words create and make all things new.

  1. My friend Peter Jones deals with the nature of the word day in his article  for those who wish to look into these subjects  (back)
  2. Brueggemann, Genesis, Interpretation, 23-24  (back)
  3. http://gmcelroy.typepad.com/desertscribblings/2008/05/may-18-2008-tri.html  (back)
A Review of “Unstoppable” with Kirk Cameron

A Review of “Unstoppable” with Kirk Cameron

The thought of spending $12.50 on a movie frightens me. I am perfectly content watching my favorite latest series on Netflix. The thought of going to a movie theater no longer appeals to me as it did ten years ago. So what would compel me to visit the theater this time? I confess, I was intrigued. I have been following Kirk Cameron for some time now. Kirk’s rise to stardom occurred in the late 80’s with Growing Pains. Since then, Cameron has come to Jesus and turned his career toward the Christian movie industry. His official entrance into the evangelical scene came in the 2000 movie, Left Behind. In those days, Cameron had drunk deeply of Tim Lahaye’s best sellers. The Left Behind series became a sensation. The 16-part novels emphasized the rapture, a popular evangelical doctrine of the end-times. The “Rapture” occurs when Jesus calls His Church home. The vision of falling airplanes, tightly folded clothes, and millions of people disappearing has become more than fiction; to many, it is Christianity in its purest form. And Cameron’s movies became the face of it.

Fast forward several years. Cameron’s involvement in broad apologetic and evangelistic work with Ray Comfort has given him some notoriety. He has spoken courageously on a host of moral issues and has received the type of media persecution expected from those who are antagonistic to the exclusivity of Jesus.

Cameron’s personal journey led him to some interesting theological figures. His youthful appeal can be deceiving. Kirk has actually become a fine thinker. And the greatest proof of his ability to engage the world of the Bible intelligently is his latest movie entitled “Unstoppable.” Originally presented to an audience of 10,000 people at Liberty University, Cameron explores the traditional question of theodicy: “If God is sovereign, why does He allow bad things to happen to good people?” a

A Case for Christian Activism

The theme song summarizes the basic thrust of the movie. There is a time to speak and that time is now. Cameron’s investigation provides an apologetic for Christian activism. The former Growing Pains star is now calling Christians everywhere to grow up. Speak for Christ. Defend Christ. The whole world has become a platform for the Christian vision.

This journey seeks to offer some answers to the broad questions of good and evil. Instead of entering into the philosophical arena, Kirk enters into the narrative of redemptive history. The drama of life is being enacted in this great stage. Unstoppable presents a narrative theology that is often unheard of in the evangelical pulpit. This narrative is both compelling and rich. It is a story that starts in the beginning.

Narratival Theology

Through very rich imagery, Cameron takes us through the formation of man. Man is created with authority and that is most clearly seen in his ability to name animals. In doing so, Adam mimics His Creator. God gives man a mission to heavenize earth.  The heavenification project began in the Garden. Adam then is put to sleep and, from his side, God forms woman, who is flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. This beautiful, poetic, creative act, now puts man and woman at the center of God’s great plans for history.

Man was to have dominion over all things. And the first great test they faced came in the form of a beast. Adam should have smelt it a mile away. He should have crushed it. But the compelling drama goes from the safety of the garden into the danger of the forbidden fruit. Adam’s sin plunges humanity into chaos. But in the middle of this cosmic betrayal, God does not betray His creation. He makes a promise (Gen. 3:15). Even after Adam and Eve leave the garden He continues to provide for them.

But the narrative continues in bloody fashion. Humanity experiences its first death: the death of a son, the death of a brother. God then places on Cain the first true mark of the beast.

At this point, Kirk Cameron explores the persuasiveness of this narrative. This is a narrative, he argues, that would not sell. In Genesis, the Creator of the world destroys His own creation when He sent a great deluge to drown humanity in their sin. Why would the Protagonist do this? It is here when Cameron shines in his narration. He argues that God packs the whole world in a wooden box and then re-opens the box (the ark) to a new and better world. The new world is born through tragedy. The story is persuasive because it does not hide the consequences of sin.

The Theology of Unstoppable

Unstoppable is a short commentary on Genesis, which is consequently a commentary on the whole Bible. The great rainbow (bow) serves as an instrument of war. God took that instrument and directed it to His only begotten Son at the cross. At the cross, Christ was brutally murdered by His own creation. But it is precisely at the cross, argues Cameron, that “Jesus flips death on its head by dying for His enemies.” After death came life. Life burst from the grave. In fact, every graveyard is a garden. And one day, “each seed will burst into a new world.”

It is in this resurrection theme that Cameron transforms the question of evil into a case for the God who redeems humanity and will bring humanity from the dust of the earth into a new creation. Cameron takes the death of his young friend and uses it as an example for how grieving is not the end of the story. God’s purposes are unstoppable.

This is not your typical Bible story telling. Cameron weaved into his narrative a robust view of creation. Creation is not something to be despised or rejected. Creation was not left behind by its God. Creation is being redeemed by its Maker. Redeemed humanity united to the Final Adam, Jesus Christ, is now commissioned to disciple the nations and make the glory of God known.

Evangelicals will be deeply shocked by its overwhelming optimism. Cameron does not end in lament, but in triumph. The Christian vision is not an escapist one. It is a mission grounded in resurrection joy. And because of this, evil does not have the final word. God cannot be stopped. His purposes will be accomplished in history. His glory will be known from sea to sea.

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JANUARY 28, 2014

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  1. Inherent in the question, is “How can He allow bad things to happen to Christians?  (back)

Saturday Night Live (SNL), DJesus Uncrossed, the Romans, the Jews and the God of the Bible

DJesus UnCrossed is SNL’s latest attempt to de-christ Christ. Of course, in our day, Jesus is easy to disrespect. One wonders if SNL would attempt a comedy journey through the life of Muhammad. No further comments needed.

David Flowers believes that the skit has something to teach us, and that we should begin to listen to our critics. He argues that the skit has hermeneutical problems, but that it shows our hypocrisy and inconsistency in our faith. Flowers argues that this is the result of an American-shaped Jesus. He is correct to assert that humor has a way of offending Christians and revealing weaknesses and hypocrisy. We should be aware of them.

The Jesus raised from the dead murdering Romans out of revenge seems bizarre in light of the biblical narrative. Flowers is correct to assert that it reveals the Jesus kick-ass motif portrayed by many in our evangelical culture. It is easy to object to the video’s false portrayals, but in what sense is this skit true, even with its exaggerative and faulty hermeneutics? There is something to be learned here. Flowers is correct that we are to listen to our critics. The point, however, is that our critics don’t go far enough.

Surely the 2nd Amendment Rights’ Jesus is very American and Neo-Conservative like. But that doesn’t even begin to describe the type of justice-driven Messiah we as Orthodox Christians believe.

For starters, we believe in a Messiah that is ascended to the right hand of the Father, and from that place of kingship rules and reigns over us and creation. He is not an unmoved Mover. Further, Jesus did not have the Romans in mind when He judged, He had the corrupt and idolatrous first century Jewish generation in mind. Upon them, He brought a profound tribulation (Mt. 24). The Gospel Lesson this Sunday is Luke 13:31-35 where Jesus laments over Jerusalem. He sought her with love, but she continued to kill and murder the prophets sent with a message of salvation and deliverance. The vengeful Jesus portrayed by SNL has no interest in context, but it should well observe that the Messiah who destroys is first the Messiah who shows mercy.

How Can we Learn from SNL?

First, Saturday Night Live is not a theology show. Its humor is devoid of accuracy, and frankly, that is not their interest. They have been on the air for 37 years because of their exaggerated (especially in the last ten years) view of current events. This is important to keep in mind.

Secondly, use these opportunities to correct false information. Bill Maher, the well-known HBO atheist host, does this better than anyone I know. He takes a portion of Scriptures and twists its meaning in a fashion that would make even the devil jealous. This is a good time for Christians to be hermeneutically savvy. In fact, go ahead and make a t-shirt with that slogan “I am hermeneutically savvy.”

Thirdly, do not allow an exclusively New Covenant narrative to shape your theology. As James Jordan observes: “The division of the Bible into “Old Testament” and “New Testament” is merely for convenience, for the Scriptures are one narrative from beginning to end.” It is important to note also that this one narrative portrays God as a God of justice who says all vengeance belongs to Him. The modern Marcionites have failed us just as much as SNL has.

Finally, remember that the life of Jesus–especially as we meditate upon it in this Lenten Season–is a life of cross before glory; suffering before resurrection. The Jesus that came out of the grave was first a Jesus that came riding on a donkey as the Prince of Peace. But that same Jesus has promised to come again riding a horse of judgment upon Jerusalem and upon all those who despise His Name.

Food Laws and Vegetarianism

A few thoughts:

a) Yes, vegetarianism was THE diet of our forefathers. At that point, death had not entered the world, so animals were not part of the pre-fall nutrition system.

b) Why vegetarianism? Because it was the first creation, pre-death and pre-fall. All things were given to Adam and Eve for their enjoyment and consumption, and animals were not necessary to provide the satisfaction Adam needed. It is true animals were under the dominion of man, but in a different capacity. Therefore, Adam named them accordingly.

c) After the fall, animals–rather than partners in the garden–became fully subject to man’s dominion. Before the fall, there was no need for food regulations. After the fall, food regulations, cleansing laws, ceremonial laws, all became necessary to distinguish God’s people from those outside the covenant.

d) Was it God’s original design for men to be vegetarian? My answer is No. But I am assuming God knew the Fall would happen. His intention was always to provide meat for his children. And through Jesus He cleanses all foods (Mark 7:19).

e) Final analogy: When our first parents were created, they were babies, even with the appearance of age. When Jesus came He came to usher a humanity of grow-ups, mature people of God. When He came, he cleansed all foods, and gave grown-ups the privilege of choosing one food over another, or both. With Christ, humanity increases in responsibilities. In the Garden, Adam and Eve had simple tasks and their diets were simple, but Christ rescued humanity from the fall, and gave them greater responsibilities in this new garden He is cultivating called the world.

 

The Dominion Covenant

I have begun reading through some portions of Gary North’s first work on Genesis as I read through the biblical account of Genesis. In this 1982 commentary, North attempts  to offer a distinctly Christian view of economics. Going against the vast secular economic agenda and the agenda of many Christians who find economics to be an area of neutrality, Gary North offers at the very least a framework to begin thinking biblically about economics.

North argues that neutrality is a myth, and that creation is directly linked to Providence. “God did not create a self-sustaining universe which is now left to operate in terms of autonomous laws of nature (1).”

Though so many of the older works published by ICE in the 80’s are no longer seen with the enthusiasm it had back then, I strongly urge Christians to consider this economic paradigm. Quickly he will begin to discover that the present paradigms offered by our political leaders and so-called economists truly do not offer us a remedy, but a band-aid to the current woes that assail this nation.

North has done a great service to the Christian community, and he would be the first one to admit his excessive enthusiasm in some applications, but at least he offers something. And to quote Gary North, “you cannot beat something with nothing.”

Genesis 6, Giants, and Ungodliness

Recently an old acquaintance requested an old sermon of mine on Genesis 6. This gentleman and I had discussed the strange elements of the text many years ago, and recently he wanted to re-acquaint himself with my thoughts on this passage. So, I dug out my sermon from 2005. Here it is.

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

The Greater Joseph; or, Ruler Over All

One of my goals this year is to read through Genesis 12 times.  It has been quite  a profitable exercise. The Genesis story reveals the story of all redemption with pictures and images of things to come.

Joseph’s authority in Egypt points to the authority of Jesus over all things. In Genesis 45:26, Joseph’s brothers return to their father from Egypt and declare: “Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.” Joseph was dead to his brothers, yet he was alive. It is hard not to consider the parallel of Joseph and our Lord. The gospels reveal the disciple’s absolute anguish and defeat at the death of their Lord. It was the proclamation that Jesus is alive by the women that began to undo the spiritual starvation of the nations.

Unlike Joseph, Jesus truly did die–though Joseph does go through a death experience in the pit (Gen. 37:22)–and the joy of a resurrected Jesus has far greater repercussions than the salvation of Egypt. “Jesus is alive” means He is ruler over all.

 

Food and Temptation

Much of the Sacred Scriptures deal with food. Food has both a nurturing dimension and a testing dimension. When eaten accordingly, it nurtures; when eaten at the wrong time it is a sign of failure. Adam and Even fell as a consequence of eating at the wrong time. Eating uncontrollably leads to gluttony; so too, eating at the right time leads to nurture.

Food is given to us for our enjoyment and pleasure, but it is truly pleasurable when it is given by the Father at the right time.

Jesus understood this lesson in the wilderness. He could turn stones into bread and satisfy his hunger, but He acknowledge that faithfulness to the Father’s word (Deut.8) is far more beneficial than food. The principle then is that faithfulness precedes food.

At the Lord’s Table, Yahweh provides for us a meal. He tells us when to eat. The meal is given for us after we have been faithful in our call, our confession, and consecration. We only eat when God says so.