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Ascetics: The Character of God and the Beauty of the Universe - Part 2

The Why Question

Though we may have great interest in discussions concerning causality, our focus will migrate away from causality and toward purpose.  Belief that God created you, the universe and all things in it, is not sufficient. This answers the fundamental question of how but does not get to the fundamental question of why.  The deist holds to a rather scant purpose statement with their belief in an impersonal Creator.  This view holds that God created the universe and then, as an unengaged and disinterested observer, He peers in occasionally just to see the outcome of His scientific experiment.  In the end, this worldview is practical atheism.  It addresses the overwhelming evidence that there must be a cosmic cause but fails to give a sufficient reason for the cause.  Atheists believe there is no God.  The deist lives as if there is no God.  Intellectually there may be a difference, but practically speaking there is no distinction.

If God is impersonal, something along the lines of the impersonal deistic force from Star Wars, then this God is neither good nor evil.  That is why the children’s catechism moves so quickly (just the third question out of 50 questions) from cause to purpose.  The affirmation that “God made me and all things,” is helpful.  However, this is insufficient and irrelevant in my life if that is the beginning and end of God’s involvement in the matter.  Significance cannot be manufactured by insignificant pawns moving aimlessly in a deistic science experiment.  Purpose must proceed from the reality of the God who personally made me and the universe.  The third catechism question turns to the fundamental question of purpose, significance, and relevance.  “Why did God make you and all things?”  “Why?”  The question is loaded with a pursuit of purpose and the answer explodes with purpose.  “God made me and all things for His glory.” 

When my son was about four, I brought home a new laundry sorter and declared with great excitement, “We’re going to put this together.”  A father son project unfurled.  Opening the box and dumping all the parts into the living room floor made him extremely happy.  As we began our project Austin asked, “Dad, who made this?”  I grabbed the box and read the company name off the front.  Assuming this would satisfy his four year old mind, I plunged back into the sorting of parts and looking at the directions.  (As a side note, I only looked at the directions to assuage my wife.  All men know that you only look at the directions after you have attempted to put it together and it doesn’t work.)  After a few moments of pause and reflection Austin asked, “Why?”  Even a four year old sees the fallacy in the mind of the deist.  No one would design, produce and sell a laundry sorter without some legitimate purpose.  Why did the company make the laundry sorter?   I assume they designed and built it to make money.  They designed it to make a profit by producing a product that met the needs of consumers.  The four year old knows instinctively that there must be a purpose behind any maker’s act.  Notice the personal nature of my four year olds’ question, “WHO made this?”  He asked WHO and not WHAT.  Even four year olds know that designing and building requires a mind.  There must be a mind behind every thought.  A mind requires that there must be a person behind the mind.

Why? Why did these individuals at the company design and build a laundry sorter?  “Why did God make me and all things?”  “God made me and all things for His glory.”  The statement brings clarity to both cause and purpose.  We are here because God created us.  God did this for the purpose of manifesting His glory.  God made us to demonstrate His glory.  God created the universe to display His glory.  This brings us to the place of understanding the cause and purpose of His work.  God’s desire to show His glory motivated Him to create the universe.  As a personal extension of this, God’s desire to show His glory motivated Him to create you.  This is the reason we are here.  You and I, we exist for the glory of God.  What is God’s glory?

How do things like the creation, the Bible, His Son Jesus, history and the church, demonstrate His glory?  To understand how each of these may be instrumental in accomplishing this goal, we will spend some time defining the term “glory.”  After defining the term, we will take a look at the various ways God’s work achieves this goal.

Show and Tell

When I was in elementary school, we had show and tell on Fridays.  When it was my turn, I longed to ‘wow’ the class.  I wanted my moment of show and tell to be the greatest on the planet.  Since my last name is so late in the alphabet, my turn usually fell toward the end of the school year.  This gave me time to observe others and to really think about the best way to stand out among the masses.  In second grade, after listening to the paltry offerings of my classmates for twenty weeks, I finally got my chance.  My selection – a miniature Civil War canon I purchased on our family vacation the summer prior.  The class was mesmerized (actually they mostly ignored the entire 30 second presentation, but I’m retelling the story with no refuting eyewitnesses).  I finally got my chance to show something of great value to me and it brought me great joy. 

In the same way, God hosts show and tell.  Unlike my one Friday out of the school year, God’s show and tell occurs continuously.  Creation becomes an instrument through which God shows His attributes.  His intervention in the course of human history becomes another tool through which God puts His attributes on display.  God works in my life and in yours, bringing salvation, producing good works and preserving you in and through death to eternal life.  God speaks through the Bible, demonstrating His attributes as they are communicated through written words.  All of these works function as a means to an end.  They are God’s show and tell.  God demonstrates His specific attributes through His works.  God chooses when and how to display His attributes.  He demonstrates His particular attributes in specific divine works at specific moments for maximum impact.  His intentionality in this allows us to focus our minds on His specific attributes.  Each one of these attributes is infinitely beautiful and infinitely glorious.  For instance, the creation of the stars reflects God’s power (and a host of other attributes) while God’s kindness may not be readily obvious when studying the heavens.  The cross of Jesus reflects God’s justice and mercy (and a host of other attributes) but the attribute of God’s invincibility may be cloaked in that event – at least until the resurrection when the invincibility of God is demonstrated in full force.  God communicates each of these attributes with purpose and intent.  Nothing that God does is by accident.  He acts in a manner to maximize the revelation of His own glory for His own pleasure.  It pleases God to reveal His attributes.  He created the universe in order to accomplish His revelatory desire.   

Jonathan Edwards gives us some help on this front.  In The End for Which God Made the World, Jonathan Edwards says that it seems “proper and desirable, that the glorious attributes of God… should be exerted in the production of such effects as might manifest his infinite power, wisdom, righteousness and goodness.”  Edwards goes on to argue that these attributes, and many more, would still be present within the Godhead without the creation but without the creation “these attributes never would have had any exercise.”  God inherently possesses these attributes.  However, it brings God delight to “exercise” His attributes.  Edwards reflects on the joy and goodness manifest in our own lives because God has made His glorious perfections known to rational beings beside Himself.

All things exist for God’s glory.  All creation and each individual work of God in creation display specific attributes of God.  Glory is the term to summarize all of these attributes condensed or coalesced in a single expression.  God’s “glory” describes the summation of all of His attributes.  His glory is shown in the individual attributes of God woven into the fabric of our lives. 

 (Part 3 in the June Blog)

 

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Who Made You?

We begin with the most basic of questions.  How did the universe come to be?  All evidence points to the temporal nature of the universe.  It had a beginning.  It will have an end.  Just like us, the universe constantly changes.  It ages, getting older every day.  Galaxies collide with other galaxies.  Stars explode and die.  Our own star had a beginning and will eventually run out of energy and die.  The earth ages, along with the rest of us.  The earth had a beginning and will come to certain end.  Just like the universe, just like our sun and our planet, each of us had a beginning.  There was a time when you did not exist.  There is coming a time when you will die.  Just like humans, the universe will eventually die.  The universe is not eternal. 

From where did the universe come?  How did the universe begin?  The Bible opens with emphatic language in addressing this most basic question.  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  The universe exists because God made it.  This answers the question of causality.  What caused the universe?  How did it get here?  God put it here.  That is how the universe came into being.  That is how the earth and our sun came into existence.  God made the heavens and the earth and everything on the earth. 

If there is no God, extremely difficult questions arise.  How does a contingent, dependent, temporal universe come into being?  How does non-existence become existence?  Some say the universe just is or that it is eternal.  This seems to be as audacious a claim as a person claiming that they have no beginning or that they have always been.  If asked, “How did you come to be?” most will answer with statements about conception, birth and parents.  Hopefully no one will claim that they have always been or that they were self-created.  Any foolish language like that should prompt immediate scoffing - “You have NOT always been.”  When confronted with the origin of the universe, any claims to eternality or self-creation should be met with similar skepticism.  If the universe has a beginning someone or something brought it into existence.  The most rational answer to the question of how the universe came into being comes from the affirmation of Genesis 1:1.  God, a non-contingent, independent, self-sufficient, eternal being, brought the universe into existence –
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

In R.C. Sproul’s book Not a Chance, he describes a radio news report that aired when the Hubble Telescope was launched.  The news report “quoted a noted scientist who declared, ‘Fifteen to seventeen billion years ago the universe exploded into being.’  The operative words are the last three, ‘exploded into being.’… Whence does something move into being?  The only logical alternative is non-being.  Does the statement mean that fifteen billion years ago the universe exploded from non-being into being?...This is so absurd that it seems to be downright silly.”  In addition to this quote from his book, I once heard R.C. Sproul say that if the universe exploded into being out of nothing, “Can you imagine the explosion that NOTHING makes?  If there was ever a time there was nothing – a million years A million years ago, a billion years ago, a trillion years ago, what would there be now?  Nothing.”  It is illogical to speak of a temporary universe exploding out of nothing and into something. 

            It is tremendously helpful to know the cause for the universe’s existence.  God made the world and everything in it.  An eternal, self-existent God brought a temporary, dependent universe into existence.  However, simply stating that God created the universe still leaves the fundamental question of why unanswered.  Not surprisingly, the children’s catechism begins with the issue of causality.  The first question of the catechism is, “Who made you?”  Answer: “God made me.”  The second question, “What else did God make?”  Answer: “God made me and all things.”  From the opening verse of the Bible, God’s word clearly states that He is the source of  all things.  A chorus of other verses supports this claim.  In addition to God’s revelatory word, there is a wealth of philosophical, ethical and scientific arguments that come to bear on this debate. 

                                                                                   

                                                                                                        
 (To be continued in the May Newsletter)

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We Believe

Matthew Road Baptist Church functions as an autonomous gathering of Christians, committed to God and each other, in a covenant relationship.  As such, in our thirty-six years of existence as a church, we have been guided by some basic principles.  These principles include both theological and practical aspects of church life.  These foundational principles are articulated in our church’s constitution and by-laws.  The initial constitution and by-laws was enacted at the inception of the congregation over thirty years ago.  In the 1990s, the church issued a new constitution and by-laws, revising the original document.  Now, almost twenty years later, we are at the point of needing to revise our constitution and by-laws again.  This is no small matter. 

For the past ten months the deacon body has undergone the arduous process of rewriting this document.  Several months ago, the deacons appointed a subcommittee to undertake this process.  The subcommittee included the pastor, the associate pastor, the chair of the deacon body, and three other deacons as nominated and approved by the deacon body.  The six members of the subcommittee are Daniel Sweet, Phil McGlothlin, Steve Hines, Bruce Andree, Chris deWolfe and William Sullenger.  This group of six men spent hours meeting together, discussing the content of the existing constitution line by line, comparing our constitution with other church constitutions, reading legal advice from representatives of Baptist conventions, and reading legal advice from other experts on church constitutions and bylaws.  The committee reported back to the deacon body at various times over the last several months including the presentation of an initial draft in the summer of 2015.  Additionally, the ministerial staff also gave input to the subcommittee. Comments from both the deacons and the church staff were instrumental in revisions that were incorporated into the initial draft.  In January, the deacons and the staff were asked if they could affirm the new document.  Both groups unanimously voted to support the new document and to present the new constitution and bylaws to the church for approval. 

We are now in the next phase of this process.  At the quarterly business meeting in February, we presented the draft of the document to the congregation, thus beginning a new step in the process of receiving feedback for the purposes of revising the language in the document.  We are hosting four town hall meetings, two on Wednesday evenings and two on Sunday afternoons.  These meetings provide opportunities for each person attending Matthew Road Baptist Church to ask questions, seek clarification, make suggestions and to express any concerns.  We have already hosted one of these events.  The subcommittee of the deacon body that has been tasked with the crafting of this document will reconvene our meetings after the completion of the four town hall meetings.  With the public comments and suggestions, we will make adjustments to the constitution and bylaws and present a final document to the deacon body and staff for approval.  After both groups approve this final document, the church will have a final opportunity to discuss and vote at the quarterly business meeting in April. 

The most significant changes include a more extensive statement of faith and covenant.  For some time now, I have wanted to have a more detailed statement of faith in our constitution.  For the months of March and April, on Sunday mornings we will be preaching through the basic tenets of our faith as outlined in the new constitution.  This will allow us to present this statement of faith in a systematic way, using biblical texts as our guide.

This document is meant as a guide to the faith and practices of our church.  However, it is not a replacement for the Bible.  Nor do we hold this document as having the same authority as the Bible.  The church ultimately answers to Christ.  Christ exercises His authority over the church through the written word of the Bible and the Holy Spirit’s leading of the church as we apply the Bible to our lives.  But the church needs the administrative tools of the constitution and bylaws in order to function in a way that maximizes our kingdom impact and minimizes distractions from our calling.  You can help us in this process by reading the new constitution, asking questions and seeking corrections in order to help the church produce the best governing document possible.

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