Creation

The manner in which God created all that exists was a rather humble undertaking, especially when compared to the creation myths of ancient Israel’s cultural relatives. Many other ancient creation myths tell the story of cosmic war, of a battle being waged between the gods where the loser’s carcass becomes the earth and its drops of blood becomes humans. (Or other such things.) In this scenario, all humanity is meant to serve the victorious god as his slaves, providing for his various wants and needs. But in Genesis, we see creation accomplished by the mere act of God’s speech. There is no violence; there is no victory. There is only, “And God said…and it was so”.

Humanity, in Genesis, is not placed on earth to be God’s slaves, providing for his miscellaneous divine needs. Instead, they are placed on earth to rule and subdue it, to be fruitful and multiply. They are, most profoundly of all, created in God’s image. God is neither so immanent that he requires human slaves to meet his divine needs, nor is he so transcendent that he would not deign to have a creature represent himself on earth. God, in his deep humility, created human beings just a little less than himself, and set them apart from creation to bear his image and rule the world for its and their own good.

We bear God’s image in that we are free moral agents. God intentionally created us with the freedom to choose to obey him or disobey him. This is remarkable! God had every right to create intelligent beings without freedom; beings who would always choose to obey him no matter the circumstances. Instead, he created us: intelligent beings who could freely use their powers for evil—people who would set themselves up as rivals to God. God knew this would happen, and yet he showed such unconcern for his own unique majesty that he created free moral beings, a little lower than himself, and gave them the charge of ruling creation. In this he has revealed not simply his all-surpassing power, but the infinite well of humility out of which all else that is true of him flows.

Abram

When human beings used their God-given freedom to rebel against him, sin entered the world and poisoned everything good that God had made. At that time, when confronting Adam, Eve, and the serpent, God promised that, one day, one of Eve’s offspring would contend with the serpent and overcome him. This is the first promise of a Savior, or a Messiah. Thousands of years passed, however, before God began to set that plan into action. The man he chose was a pagan named Abram, whom God called to leave his homeland and go to Canaan.

When reading the account of God and Abram, the humility of God is not necessarily self-evident. It crops up here and there, but really the story is about God creating a nation through Abram’s offspring—of which he has none, though he is quite old. But there is one strange passage that holds the whole story together, and in it we see God’s humility on display unlike anywhere else in the Old Testament.

Genesis 15 | The Lord Makes a Covenant with Abram

1 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.

I am your shield,

your very great reward.”

2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?”3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.”5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

8 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

9 So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half.11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there.14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age.16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates—19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites,20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites,21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

In the ancient near east, covenants like this were made (literally cut—because of the cutting of the animals) between two parties, one greater (the suzerain) and one lesser (the vassal). The suzerain determined the terms of the covenant, and the vassal was required to obey them. The vassal symbolized his agreement to the terms by passing between the pieces of the animals, saying, in essence, “If I break the terms of this covenant, may it be to me as it has been done to these animals”. But in this covenant, the vassal (Abram) does not pass through the pieces. Instead, the suzerain (YHWH) does. In this act, God is saying to Abram, “If you [or your descendants] break the terms of this covenant, may it be done to ME as it has been done to these animals”. God kept his promise, but Abram’s descendants failed to keep faith with this or any other covenant they made with God. He knew this would happen, and yet God made this covenant with Abram anyhow. Nothing shows his humility more than God’s willingness to die for the faithlessness of his creatures.

There is no doubt in my mind that gay marriage (or, marriage equality) is one of the most important issues of our time. For many people, it has deep, personal significance, and therefore deserves to be treated with respect. In this post I would like to lay out, as briefly as possible, my thoughts on gay marriage. While I have already sketched my thoughts about marriage on this blog (and if you have read that post you already know where I stand on this issue), I would like to talk specifically about gay marriage. My hope is to contribute something to the larger, cultural discussion, that is both gracious and thoughtful. You can judge for yourself whether I have done so at the end of this post.

Let me begin by sketching, as best I can, the current case in support of gay marriage.

Marriage is a basic human right, and human beings ought to be free to marry whomever they choose, insofar as that person is a willing participant in the relationship. Love does not discriminate between genders; homosexual love is qualitatively the same as heterosexual love. A gay man’s love for another man is essentially the same as a straight man’s love for a woman. To deny two consenting adults the freedom to marry is discrimination of the first order, akin to racism, and definitively unAmerican. Our nation’s deepest values, after all, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness–at least two of which are flatly denied to homosexual couples through the prohibition of gay marriage. Therefore, gay marriage is not simply about marriage; it is about civil and human rights.

I hope that I have captured the essence of the argument in support of gay marriage, though it is not my intention to debunk this argument. In fact, if I were to approach the issue from a purely American standpoint, I could not debunk it. Within the American political and cultural climate, this argument is perfectly logical, and we, as a people, would have a moral obligation to immediately legalize gay marriage.

However, I do not approach this issue, or any other, as an American. I approach this issue as a Christian whose faith in Jesus is authoritatively informed by the Bible. Based on how I read the Scriptures, I make the following assertions:

The Church, especially the evangelical church and the individuals who compose her, needs to repent of the way in which she has treated homosexuals.

Whatever we believe about homosexuality, there is no excuse for the way the Church has typically treated homosexuals. What we see in Jesus is that God has not treated any human being with contempt or disgust, but has graciously given each of us sinners infinite worth. Rather than extending that grace and worth to homosexuals, we Christians have played the part of the ungrateful man whose massive debt was repaid but who would not forgive the smallest amount owed to him.

I, too, have participated in this hypocrisy, contempt, and disgust. I have told innumerable gay jokes. I have used caricature and overdone imitation to get laughs. I have been thoughtless, careless, and judgmental toward homosexuals. For all of that, I am sorry. I was wrong.

God is neither impressed nor moved by our notion of romantic love.

Somewhere along the way we have developed this idea that there is no higher thing than romantic love. Though billions of people have lived lives at least as happy and healthy as our own without romantic love, we take it to be as important to our well-being as the air we breathe. It is worth fighting for, dying for, or killing for. Romantic love, we believe, is inherently good, and therefore anything that stands in its way must be evil. We are lost without it, and therefore entitled to it. Romantic love is a fundamental human right.

God does not share such a high opinion of romantic love. Don’t get me wrong, God likes romantic love–after all, he created it. But I believe that he created it as an aid to human life, not as the aim or highest ideal of it. Romantic love aids us to have good marriages where union and intimacy are present more often than not. But, as almost all of us have experienced, romantic love can be a real pain. It is no fluke that the ancient Greeks depicted Eros, the god of romantic love, as a mischievous child-god who caused love to grow between two people who had no business being in love. (Think: Evil Cupid.) Romantic love, while a beautiful and glorious thing in the appropriate context, can create feelings within us that, in the wrong contexts, blind us to the truth. 


Agape is the love that lays down its life, forgoes its rights, forgives sins, and brings life where there was death.

But perhaps the most important reason that God is not impressed by our overwrought notion of romantic love is that it keeps us from pursuing the greatest love–agape. I’ve written and spoken on agape extensively, so I don’t want to get into it too much here, but I will say that agape is the love that lays down its life, forgoes its rights, forgives sins, and brings life where there was death. It is the love most clearly on display at the cross of Jesus, and it is the love that all who follow Jesus are called to demonstrate. Agape is the love that sustains eternal life, the love upon which the Great Marriage–between Jesus and the Church–will be founded. The agape of God is the most adventurous love story and the most beautiful love song, a poem of love beyond compare. This is the love that is no mere aid to life; it truly is the highest ideal to which we can aspire, for it brings us to the lowest point of ourselves–of dying to ourselves–which is the point at which we will most fully find God and flourish.

Romantic love (Eros) is idolatrously worshipped in our culture, by Christians and nonChristians alike.

While this assertion is related to the previous one, it is worth stating clearly. We worship romantic love. Eros is the god of our age. It dominates our art and entertainment. It gets ratings and sells books. It is, quite literally, everywhere. But Eros makes a fickle god, and I believe that we are experiencing a pandemic of sexual confusion as a result of our idolatry.

This idolatry has manifested itself within the church through our normalization of marriage and marginalization of singleness. We don’t know what to do with people who, like Jesus or Paul, don’t get married. We spend more time teaching our young people how to choose the right spouse than we do training them to become like Jesus. Again, romantic love is important, but agape love is more important.

God created humanity as male and female; this gender complementarity is vital to human flourishing.

It is not for nothing that God created humanity male and female. The vastness of his image could not be borne in a single man–the man needed a complement in order to accomplish his God-given task. Each sex brings elements that are vital to create a good society in which humans and creation can flourish; Adam and Eve each bear one part of the complete image-of-God-on-earth. To forsake one gender in the most basic and important of human social units–the family–whether through divorce, death, or gay marriage, is to throw off the balance of creation and create environments that are adverse to human flourishing. One of our most basic needs as human beings is to have both a father and a mother.

Homosexual activity is contrary to God’s sexual design and purpose, and the Bible consistently names it as one of several sexual sins.

I have heard the arguments that the Bible is not talking about committed, monogamous homosexual relationships when it condemns homosexual practice; that the authors of Scripture did not know about sexual orientations; and that the passages in Leviticus were only concerned with pagan, cultic sexual practice. I am not convinced by this exegesis. The testimony of Scripture is clear that homosexual practice, like infidelity and bestiality, lies outside of God’s design for sex. (I’d like to take a hot second to make the remark that most of the marital relationships in Scripture do not, in fact, reflect God’s design for sex and marriage, either.) God designed sex to achieve a purpose, and contrary to popular teaching both within and without the Church, the purpose of sex is procreation, not to be the ultimate demonstration of romantic love. (I take this as biologically self-evident, and if I were a Darwinian Evolutionist, I would be even more adamant on this point than I am.) As with all created things, the purpose of sex informs the design, and not the other way around. In other words, because the purpose of sex is procreation, sex is designed to be an act of unparalleled union, intimacy, and pleasure. God designed sex this way because these are precisely the things that are most important to a child as he grows–to know that his parents are united, that there is a shared intimacy within the family, and that the parents are pleased with one another and the child. 


Because the purpose of sex is procreation, sex is designed to be an act of unparalleled union, intimacy, and pleasure.

When sex becomes about the gratification of sexual desire, or merely a demonstration of romantic love, it becomes disconnected from its created purpose. Like anything else, when sex becomes disconnected from its created purpose it becomes a caricature of itself. We have embraced the caricature. We have replaced the design for the purpose. We have mistakenly declared that the purpose of sex is pleasure, intimacy, and union. Pregnancy is the last thing we want out of sex. (And yes, I think that abortion is extremely relevant to this discussion, but I don’t want to get into that here.) Based on this assumption, very little sexual activity can be declared out of bounds. When sex becomes about pleasure, intimacy, and union, only rape and certain kinds of pedophilia can be wrong.

But the truth is that God has fenced sexual activity in order to create healthy families, which in turn create healthy societies. In this sense, what appears to be a great big “NO” to human desire and happiness is actually one resounding “YES” to human flourishing and joy. On a global scale, the purpose of sex is to populate the world with healthy, whole human beings who rule the earth with strength and wisdom.

It is neither gracious nor loving to encourage and support others in sinful behavior.

Many Christians believe that the most gracious and loving thing we can do for our homosexual neighbors is to help them achieve marriage equality. While I understand this notion, and believe that it is rooted in good intentions, I think it is misguided. Here is why: Our access to the grace and agape love of God is entirely dependent upon our repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ. Grace and agape love forgive and expel sin, not foster and enable it. As the representatives of Jesus Christ on earth, we do no favors to anyone by enabling and supporting sin of any kind, and specifically to our homosexual neighbors by enabling and supporting gay marriage. When we fail to graciously and lovingly call people to repentance, we fail to bring them to the cross of Jesus.

The Gospel offers hope for all who find themselves in bondage.

This is the Gospel: Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures, he was dead and buried, and he rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures. This is news of an event that has actually and already happened. The Gospel is the most powerful force on the face of the earth. If Jesus overcame death, and if you follow and trust Jesus, then there is nothing that can keep you in bondage. There is real, tangible hope in the Gospel that can’t be found anywhere else. You do not have to be in bondage to the god of romantic love. You do not have to be in bondage to your sexuality. You do not have to be in bondage to the sins you have committed or the sins that have been committed against you. Jesus has overcome the world and all of its sin, evil, and idolatry. When you find yourself in Jesus, then you, too, have overcome all of this through his power that lives inside of you.

Conclusion: I cannot support gay marriage.

God’s design and purpose for life, love, sex, and marriage leave no place for gay marriage. This is hard news for many people. But if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, it is an opportunity for life, glory, and a love that does not fade with time and age. I believe that God is offering us something that is far more wonderful and incredible than anything our sexuality can offer. Does it sound good now? No, it sounds like bad news, doesn’t it? Hateful, even. But then again, the cross sure looked like defeat and folly for a while, too. Then came resurrection.

And that’s the way it always is with God. He leads us to this place that demands our death, asking us to do something we believe will kill us. And in a way, it does. But then comes resurrection. On the other side of God’s demand is a life more full and flourishing than we ever thought possible.

“God eternally exists as three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; each person is fully God; there is one God.” That is how Wayne Grudem summarizes that fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith, the Trinity. How it can be true that God is both three and one is a mystery, something that we take on faith. It defies human reasoning and presses the boundaries of human language. It should humble us and drive us toward belief, because, after all, who would believe in a God they could fully understand?

Some Muslims accuse Christians of being polytheists (tritheists, to be exact) because of the doctrine of the Trinity. We are not. Ancient polytheists could have never understood the Trinity because the gods and goddesses of their various pantheons were wicked, juvenile, selfish, arrogant and proud. There could be no perfect relationship between any of those gods, much less a good one! But we see, in the Godhead, a perfect relationship of three distinct, but united, persons. This relationship can only exist if the relating of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is rooted in humility.


In the Trinity there is submission, restraint, and an economy of words.
The Son submits to the Father, doing only what he sees his Father doing. The Father sends the Spirit, reminding the disciples of the words of the Son, speaking only what he hears. The Father elevates the Son, putting everything under his dominion. There is, here, no self-aggrandizement. There is no selfish ambition or grab for power. There is submission, restraint, and an economy of words. All three speak with one voice. At the heart of the Trinity, where the Father, Son and Spirit relate to one another, there is a dynamic humility being exercised without which divinity would be an impossibility. God is because he is humble. If he were proud, he would be the devil. If one of the members of the Trinity were to become proud, all creation would fly apart at the molecular level and all matter would be destroyed. (I’m speculating, of course!) But that will never happen because God is fundamentally humble, and he does not change.

In his book King’s Cross, Tim Keller talks about the love that exists within the Trinity – a love that is self-giving and other-glorifying. The Father, Son and Spirit willingly give love and glory to one another. “The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are pouring love and joy and adoration into the other, each one serving the other. They are infinitely seeking one another’s glory.” This love, which we call agape, is the evidence that there exists within the very being of God an infinitely deep well of humility. Without humility, agape love is impossible.


We are most like God when we are humble, engaging in acts of self-giving and other-glorifying love, most of which will be beneath the “dignity” of our position.
 If we want to partake in God’s life, both in this life and in the age to come, we must be humble. We are most like God when we are humble, engaging in acts of self-giving and other-glorifying love, most of which will be beneath the “dignity” of our position. I believe that the eternal plan of God is to spread this self-giving, other-glorifying love (which flows from this infinite well of humility) to humanity. God created humans to extend the “divine dance” from three to infinity. He is currently preparing the Church as the Bride of Christ, made suitable for marriage to Jesus.

So then, our responsibility is to discipline our hearts to learn humility. Some of the enemies of humility are:

A Sense of Entitlement
Prejudice of any Kind
An Us/Them Mentality
Inability to Truly Listen to Others
The Need to be Right
Narcissism/Arrogance/Pride

What are some of the enemies of humility that are alive and well in your heart? What do you think you can do to discipline yourself to be humble?

Christian, nondenominational.

That’s how I’ve always defined myself. From childhood, through college, and for all of my years in ministry, I have always attended nondenominational churches. My churches have been a part of networks (like the Willow Creek Association, or the Alliance for Renewal Churches, with which Ember was associated), but never a denomination. Now, however, Breena and I attend LifePoint Church, which happens to be part of the Southern Baptist Convention. I’m certain that God finds this hilarious.

Today at LifePoint we had the privilege of hosting the SBC-Ohio’s annual evangelism and church planting conference, called Momentum. There were four plenary speakers, David Uth of First Baptist Orlando, Phil Hotsenpiller of Influence Church, Tony Merida of Imago Dei Church, and Michael Catt of Sherwood Baptist Church. (Sherwood is the church that produced the films Courageous, Fireproof, and Facing the Giants.) There were also several workshops, including one by my old friend Matt Pardi of H2O Church in Bowling Green, and another by Shane Tucker, the Worship & Arts Pastor (and my boss) at LifePoint.

I wasn’t planning on “attending” the conference because I was really there to work, but I did get to sit in on just about everything, so I really felt like an attendee. The first highlight for me was Tony Merida’s message, which was so good I pulled out my notebook and started taking notes. He was talking about endurance, and he made the excellent point that grace is the means of endurance. “If you are fatigued,” he continued, “then you are an excellent candidate for grace.” I am fatigued. My wife is fatigued. Like all parents of kids with special needs, we’re exhausted in just about every way you can imagine–physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, relationally. We’re just tired. It was restorative, if even in just a tiny way, to hear Tony say those words. On the flip side of that, though, I was challenged when he said, “It takes great discipline to be a pastor.” Ouch.

The second highlight was Phil Hotsenpiller’s breakout session on transformational discipleship. (I only went to this session because Shane wouldn’t let me go to his on Creative Process. I’m pretty sure he didn’t want me in there because he was going to be dogging on me the whole time.) My takeaway from this teaching was that it’s vital to challenge the minds of men. So much of what Phil said on this point resonated with me because getting people to think more deeply, more critically, and more creatively is a major driving force in all of my communication, whether on this blog, through the preaching I did at Ember, or the teaching I did while at Heritage. Using a teaching on Satan as an example of how he disciples men, Phil asked some very good questions that pretty much blew my mind, but he did it in the same way that I try to approach the Scriptures. The point he was getting at is that men need to be challenged, particularly intellectually, because they’ll get bored after 3 years of church. Amen, brother.

I really enjoyed my time at the conference, and know that God used it to speak to me in several ways. After attending a church planting conference, I’m surprised to find that I’m not jonesing to get back out there and plant again. It’s not that I don’t want to plant another church or be a lead pastor again; it’s that I know that the time is coming, but it’s not now. Even stranger, I’m totally content with that, which is how I know that God has me right where he wants me. This conference was wonderful to take in as an attendee/worker, but it also confirmed the contentment I’m currently experiencing as I pursue God in this pulpitless season of my life.

What’s next? I don’t know. But I’m happy to have spent the day with the Southern Baptists.

Theology isn’t just an academic exercise; it really matters. A.W. Tozer wrote that the most important thing about us is what we believe to be true about God. How we think of God, and what we believe to be true of him, will determine, more than any other thing, the manner in which we live. To live well—that is, to flourish in God—we must be rooted in rich theological soil. We must have a vibrant and robust theology in order to stand against the stiff breeze of popular philosophy and common cultural religion. In a billowing and raging sea of political correctness and therapeutic moralistic deism, a rich and robust theology will be what lashes you to the Rock, preventing you from drifting away in the rolling tide of dumbed-down, liberal spirituality, or short-sighted, fundamentalist dogma.

In fact, knowing God well is a worthy end in itself. It is a tremendous joy to know, deeply and truly, your maker, redeemer, and re-creator. To think rightly of him is freedom from despair and deception. Good theology, according to the author of Hebrews, is the cure for spiritual apathy (Hebrews 2:1). To know God is to love God is to obey God.

My hope is to be a part of a community that develops a rich and robust way of thinking about God. We must search out the deep things of God, meditate upon the Scriptures, and form, as best our shallow minds can comprehend, a thorough and faithful understanding of the character of God. We will not know him fully, but we can know him well.

But where do we begin? What is the foundation of God’s character? What is the most important thing about him? Is it his love for all creation? Is it the relentless pursuit of his own glory? Is it his yearning for justice? Is it his complete holiness? Is it his omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence?

All of these, and more, are vital for understanding God because they are important elements of his character. But I believe there is one thing that underlies them all—the humility of God. God’s humility is the soil out of which his other, better-known attributes grow, and it defines how he exhibits them to his creation. Behind the Trinity, behind Creation, and behind the Incarnation is God’s infinite humility. If we are to ever understand God, we must first know that he is humble. At the root of all that he is and does lies an infinite well of humility.

So then, what does it mean to be humble? For us, to be humble means to see ourselves rightly, particularly in relation to God. Paul urged us “to consider ourselves with sober judgment.” Maintaining a humble view of oneself requires that we know ourselves well and honestly, being neither swelled with pride nor deflated with self-hate. A humble life is lived in right relationship—that is, in submission—to God. It is to do things that you might otherwise consider beneath yourself–things that you don’t want to do, but know that God requires of you.

But what does it mean for God to be humble? There is no one above him by which he can define himself, no one greater who can set tell him what it means to “consider yourself with sober judgment.” Like all of God’s attributes, the humility of God does not depend upon an external standard for definition or judgment. God is humble in relation to himself. Humility is that condition of the heart which is directed toward others in service, even to the degradation of oneself, and this is exactly what we see in the actions of God as revealed in Scripture.

God reveals his humility when he does anything that is beneath the dignity of his divinity. The sheer act of God pursuing a relationship with beings he created is the most thoroughgoing example of his humility. It permeates our experience of God so much that we take it for granted. God condescends to use our words and our language to communicate to us. We can only know him because he humbles himself enough to be known. He bends down to us so that we might be lifted up to him.