faith

Washington’s First Presidential Act

In George Washington’s first inaugural address he expresses deep humility regarding the task at hand and publicly turns his attention heavenward as the first step in his journey. Washington’s first presidential act is an instructive moment in history.

Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station; it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official Act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the Universe, who presides in the Councils of Nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that his benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the People of the United States, a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes: and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success, the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own; nor those of my fellow-citizens at large, less than either. No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.

Gospel Strength

“You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”

In one sentence Paul pulls back the curtain on the link between strength and the gospel (2 Tim 2:1). What can we learn from Paul’s words to Timothy?

  • The source of strength in this text is grace. Paul affirms here that the journey of the Christian is by “grace alone.” In other places, Paul asserts that we are “saved by grace” (Eph 2-8-10). Here he shows us that we are “strengthened by grace.” The journey begins and continues by grace.
  • The grace that Paul speaks of is that which is located in Christ Jesus. Here he pushes us toward a gospel-centered understanding of strength. The grace of God is found in the message of the incarnate, crucified, risen and exalted Lord. As we press into the gospel of our salvation, meditate on it, study it, internalize it, speak it to one another, trust it and allow it to permeate our hearts and minds we are strengthened.
  • The word translated “be strengthened” is the present passive imperative form of a verb that is concerned with being strong (ἐνδυναμοῦ). Paul commands Timothy toward strength and yet, Timothy’s role is passive. Strength is required of us, it is a command. Strength comes to us, it is a gift. Timothy is called upon here to unfurl the sails of faith and position himself to catch gospel wind. The call here is to strategically position ourselves to be reminded of the gospel of God. We are to put ourselves in situations where reading, hearing, speaking and believing the gospel is sure to happen.
  • Strength comes from the gospel. Weakness must also be gauged by the gospel. Proximity to the gospel determines both strength and weakness. Full battery on a cell phone indicates recent close proximity to its power source, just as low battery indicates distance from its power source. Paul is helping us grasp that weakness is no mystery in the Christian journey. When we are far from the gospel we will certainly be weak. When we are near the gospel we will certainly be strengthened.

Theology of Beauty in Action: Jesus

Beauty or Jesus

The rich young ruler loved his money more than anything in the world including the God who created him. We are all idolaters. Jesus comes to each one of us, points to our idol, and gives us an ultimatum. Give up your idol worship and follow me or perish in your idolatry. For the rich young ruler the call was to give up his money and possessions. We all know how the story ends. How about you? How does your story end?

Calvin once asserted that our hearts are “idol factories.” If this is the case then the idol of beauty is being produced in mass throughout our culture. For you it may be your golden calf; your replacement god that you worship with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. If you were in the rich young ruler’s shoes and Jesus was confronting the idol of your heart how would you respond? Would you leave all to follow him? Maybe you already have done this.

If you are a disciple of Christ it is good at times to be challenged in your loyalty and devotion. Is your answer to Jesus the same as it has been in the past? How does the story end for you? The reality is that we cannot serve God and mammon. And we cannot serve God and the idol of beauty.

If your conscience is heavy because the idolatry of beauty is something you grapple with, do not despair. Look to Christ. He is your substitute. His heart was a factory of goodness and perfection. And his perfect life has been accounted to you. He absorbed in himself the punishment for your idolatry. The result is that there is no condemnation hanging over your head as you struggle to be undivided in your loyalty to Christ.

He knows your heart and he knows the wrestling in your soul. He is a sympathetic, compassionate, and patient Savior. Fix your eyes on him whether your stride is strong or you are face down on the ground. Whether you are weak or strong, trusting or doubting, hopeful or despairing—-look to him.

The paradox in leaving behind the pursuit of beauty to follow Jesus is that you end up falling into beauty when you do. The principle of losing your life to gain it applies to beauty. By giving up an idolatrous pursuit of a certain physical appearance that is equated with beauty we come in contact with true beauty.

Our loss is always our gain. We meet beauty incarnate. By faith his beauty becomes ours. And by the Spirit he transforms us to reflect his beauty more and more. The rich man would have become truly wealthy if he would have given everything away to follow Christ. The person in pursuit of beauty does not lose it but truly finds it in Christ.

The Beauty of Jesus 

I have painted with broad strokes in attempt to capture some of the major biblical ideas that help us think well about the issue of beauty. I do not believe we have missed the forest for the trees. But I do believe a certain tree in the forest demands more of our attention. It is a tree in the forest of beauty that dwarves the rest. It is a redwood among pines, a sequoia among maples.

I have asserted that beauty is a Trinitarian reality made manifest in the person of Christ in the context of the gospel. The unveiling of Trinitarian beauty and gospel splendor intersect in God our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. If we would know beauty we must know Christ.

Of all the application we derive from a theology of beauty, this is the most important. Strive to permeate your heart and mind with the beauty of Christ. The longing of David to “gaze upon the beauty of the Lord” (Ps 27:4) is a desire that can only be realized as we focus on the gospel. As we look to Christ, our deepest creaturely needs and yearnings find satisfaction.

It is in his presence and before his face that we recognize the reason for which we were created. As we gaze upon him we know liberation from our sin and our selves. As we look to him we are transformed into his likeness. As we are overwhelmed by his glory and beauty we are driven to glad obedience. Beholding the beauty of Christ would be sufficiently fulfilling in itself. But the beauty of Christ is also functional. Things happen to us as we behold him. For the Christian, beholding beauty leads to becoming beautiful.[1]

My encouragement to you is to continue building your biblical framework for beauty by focusing your study on the person and work of Christ. Let his beauty be a topic of conversation with others. Where do you see his beauty? What is his beauty like? What language is used of Jesus that is similar to beauty? In what way does he challenge the cultural perspective on beauty?

Search, explore, ask questions, make observations, think fresh thoughts—just focus your heart and mind on him. Look at his incarnation, his ministry, his cross, his resurrection, his ascension, his return, his intercession, his second coming, and his eternal rule—all with an eye to beauty.[2] The voice of God cuts through the chatter of our culture and beckons us to come, and “behold the king in his beauty” (Is 33:17). If we follow the sound of his voice, we will never be the same.

For a link to this entire series in an article/paper format: Gospel & Beauty: A Cruciform Majesty.


[1] Ibid, 46. Mahaney asserts something similar when she says: “If I keep my eyes on the One who is loveliness incarnate, I will grow more beautiful by reflecting Him.”

[2] If you want to read outside of Scripture on this theme check out John Owen, The Works of John Owen Volume 1: The Glory of Christ (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1965). Jonathan Edwards, “The Excellency of Jesus Christ” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards Volume 1 (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers Incorporated, 2004), 680-690. This sermon can also be found online in article form. Bruce Ware, Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, & Relevance (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005). Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008). Fred Sanders & Klaus Issler, Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective: An Introductory Christology (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007). This document was authored in August, 2011.

Absorbing the Pain of Others

Compassion at heart is to suffer with someone, to enter their pain, shoulder their suffering and walk with them in their valley. Stanley Hauerwas hits the nail on the head in his discussion on the appropriate posture of Christians toward the problem of evil…we need a pastoral posture rather than a philosophical stance.

“For the early Christians, suffering and evil . . . did not have to be ‘explained.’ Rather, what was required was the means to go on even if the evil could not be ‘explained’—that is, it was important not to provide a theoretical account of why such evil needed to be in order that certain good results occur, since such an explanation would undercut the necessity of the community capable of absorbing suffering.”

This gets to the heart of the matter, how are we genuinely going to help one another on the journey of faith? Answers can only go so far in the service of a suffering brother or sister. Putting your arm around a limping friend and walking with them, sweating with them, hurting with them, crying with them, having no answers with them…that is a completely different story.

The goal on the journey of faith is to stay on the path and make it to the end. Analyzing the roadblocks will not ultimately accomplish this objective. Sharing the journey and being present to one another through the roadblocks will move us toward perseverance on the road.

C.S. Lewis on Embracing Childlikeness

Scripture affirms the goodness of being childlike. Humility, dependence and simple faith are exemplified in children. Karl Rahner makes this helpful point. “Childhood is not a state which only applies to the first phase of our lives in the biological sense. Rather it is a basic condition which is always appropriate to a life that is lived aright.”

C.S. Lewis equates maturity and adulthood with embracing an appropriate childishness. “Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

Fear Makes Life Small

Walter Brueggemann provides some very helpful insight on what fear does to us.

“When we live according to our fears and our hates, our lives become small and defensive, lacking the deep, joyous generosity of God. If you find some part of your life where your daily round has grown thin and controlling and resentful, life with God is much, much larger, shattering our little categories of control, permitting us to say that God’s purposes led us well beyond ourselves to live and to forgive, to create life we would not have imagined.”

Good Theology Changes Everything

Theology is the engine that drives action. There is a direct link between what we do and what we believe. A.W. Tozer was not wrong when he said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” We are all theologians—there are no exceptions. The only distinction is whether we are good or bad theologians, accurate or erroneous, healthy or unhelpful.

How we work our jobs, treat our families, interact with our neighbors, handle relationships are all deeply theological things. Theology informs the way we engage issues of war, peace, death, suicide, abuse, money, time and freedom. Every sphere of life is connected to theology—there are no exceptions.

When I was in college I recall a class discussion on the Trinity. In the middle of this mind blowing discussion of how God can be one and yet exist in three persons, the professor asked a profound question. “How do we apply the Trinity?” He was driving toward practical theology—he was helping theology find feet. What does the truth of one God existing in three persons have to do with me, my family and my co-workers? What a wonderful question!

The answer: everything! The Triune God is the blueprint of true community. In God we behold how relationships are intended to be. In him we see what love, service, humility and honor look like between persons. In him we behold what safety and acceptance mean. In this God we see how difference and distinction can exist perfectly alongside equality. When we press into the Trinity we see that true love is marked by sacrifice and other-centeredness. The Triune God is the one who defines community and relationship—he shows us what it means.

That’s not all—the Triune God is also the one who saves and rescues us. The fact that our relationships and communities do not look like the Trinity means we have sinned. It means we are broken and need to be restored. All three persons of the Trinity in perfect unison to bring about this restoration. The Father is the architect of the rescue mission and the sender of the Son and the Spirit. The Son comes willingly and humbly to pay the ultimate price for our sin and rebellion. The Spirit empowers the Son to accomplish his task and then comes to apply to us the benefits of his death.

The great work of redemption and restoration pulls us into community with the Triune God—through God’s grace we can know fellowship within this perfect community. The Trinity changes our understanding and experience regarding true community. The Trinity then begins a work within us to take this community blueprint and flesh it out in our homes, in our jobs, in our neighborhoods and in our churches. In short, there are innumerable ways to apply the Trinity. When you start to think about how the doctrine of the Trinity can find feet in your life…everything changes!

This is true of all theology—the same thing happens when you ask that question about the atonement, the person of Christ, the person of the Spirit, the nature of man, the nature of the church and many other doctrines. How do we apply the image of God? How does the atonement affect how I think about my enemy? How do I apply the doctrine of the Holy Spirit? What does it mean for me that Jesus was a 9 year old boy at one time? How do I apply the doctrine of the universal church?

Wrestling with theology is richly edifying and rewarding. How much more when you work out how mind blowing truths can directly affect the very core of your family or job or life challenges.