In a sense, only God creates. Only God can “stand” in the “middle” of complete nothingness and call as-yet-non-existent things into being. We call this creation ex nihilo: “out of nothing.”

So we can truly look at every aspect of our world and say, “God made this.” But as every parent knows, it gets more complicated when your children start asking, “Did God make cars?” “Did he make your computer?” My fumbling answers to these questions have gone something like, “Well, yes. He created the metal that the car is made out of, and he created the minds of the people who put the car together.”

Only this week have I begun to realize the true genius of God in this respect. It was John Frame who helped me think this through as he wrote about human choices: How is that we go through life making decisions based on our desires, and yet the Bible is still able to insist that God ordains all that comes to pass? It’s an old question, and I wasn’t expecting any fresh insight.

But Frame began talking about “our participation in God’s creativity.” He says,

“Our choices among possible alternatives image the choices that God himself has made in eternity, and they serve as the means by which God actualizes and rejects possibilities in history.”[1]

When we go about creating in God’s world, we are making choices, and in doing so we are acting like God, following his image, which he placed within us. But it’s bigger than us simply making choices. It’s that as we create in this world, God is creating. He is working through us to create. Our acts of creation are both ours and his—we are making the creative decisions, and in doing so we are playing out God’s perfect eternal plan.

The Creation of Adam

All of this is guaranteed to hurt your brain if you try to comprehend it entirely, and the mere raising of this topic sends people scurrying for their copies of Attacking Arminians or Countering Calvinists. (If those aren’t books yet, they should be.)

But this is why Paul is able to thank God for the Philippians’ partnership in ministry. The Philippians chose to work together with Paul; Paul saw their involvement as the working out of God’s plan. This is why Joseph was able to point to the same event (being sold into slavery) as both the evil intention of his brothers and the good plan of God (Gen. 50:20).

Now let me cut the urge to argue short: I’m not interested here in settling the fee will vs. predestination debate. What I find fascinating here are the implications for human creativity. Ultimately, we create because God made us in his image.

“Much about the divine image is mysterious, because God himself is mysterious. But among other things, there does seem to be something in us analogous to God’s creativity…”[2]

Dorothy Sayers looked at the context of the “image of God” passage in Genesis 1:26 and says that the only thing we know about God leading up to this is that he is the Creator. All he’s done in Genesis 1:1–25 is create. So when God sets out to make a being “like himself,” he seems to be creating another creator. Sayers identifies this as at least a part of what the image of God means.

Here’s why it matters. God has a plan for history. God formed this world with his words and his fingers, and he has not stopped speaking, he has not stopped shaping. Everything—everything!—from the largest imperial expansion to the slightest shifting of the smallest grain of dust is seen by God, known by God, captured in the interest and attention of God.

And as we step out into this world to create, to shape, to dream, God is stepping out to shape the world through us. When Steve Jobs created the iPhone, God was shaping his world through Jobs. (The same goes for whoever invented the Android, everyone calm down.) When I hug my daughters, God is wrapping his arms around them. When I work, play, sing, sleep, and eat, God is working out his plan for this world. My choices (at least, so my experience tells me), his plan.

(As an aside, let me just acknowledge that this gets much darker when we ask where God is in the evil moments. For example, where is God when an innocent man is wrongly accused, beaten, and murdered? But according to the Bible, God is still working out his plan in those types of events: Acts 2:23, 4:27–28.)

So be assured, God is still working in this world. And he is all of the time working through us. We are his image-bearers, his mini-creators, his world-shapers. Let’s be careful to shape his world in ways that fit his mission and highlight his glory. And let’s be confident that in all of it, God’s plan is being worked out, drawing ever closer to its good and glorious culmination. God has never taken his hands off of his world. He continues to work in it in deeply mysterious and incomprehensible ways. And he also continues to work in our creative decisions, shaping his world through our hands and feet and mouths.

 

 

[1] John Frame, Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2013) 837.

[2] Ibid., 836.

If you have read the Bible much, you know there is a lot of talk about this day called ‘Sabbath.’ Jesus talks about it, and even used the Sabbath to antagonize the Pharisees and expose their hypocrisy. Israel was supposed to keep a Sabbath day, and even a Sabbath year. One of the reasons they went into captivity was because they grossly neglected the Sabbath.

Ten CommandmentsWhat should be most unsettling for those of us who claim to obey the Bible is the fact that the Sabbath shows up in the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments. Yes, one of the Big Ten is that we are to take one day a week to rest and not do work. It is right there in the same list with not committing murder or adultery. Now that is unnerving, or at least it should be.

Are you telling me that taking a day off every week carries the same moral weight as sexual purity in marriage? And the same moral weight as plotting and carrying out a murder? It would appear that yes, it does. In fact, if amount of ink is any indication, then this Sabbath command might be more important (if that is possible) since it gets more ink than any of the others. Take another look at Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. God doesn’t just say, “Remember the Sabbath” and let it go at that. He goes into a great deal of detail. Seems this is a pretty important command, a pretty important moral issue.

So why is Sabbath so important? How can a day off work even begin to compare to the other commandments? Let me throw out a few thoughts. Remember that the Decalogue was given to an agricultural society, a work cycle not many of us live any more. In the spring, the fields needed to be plowed. Seed needed to be sown. Weeds needed to be killed. In the fall, when the crop was ripe, the harvest needed to come in fast before rain or wind or hail destroyed an entire year’s income. There was a lot of pressure to get each season’s work done as fast as possible. The idea of taking off one full day each week was completely counterintuitive.

Taking a Sabbath day, in obedience to God’s command, was really an act of trust. It was a living statement that God was actually in control of my crops and my income. It was an acknowledgement that God is sovereign over the winds and rain and He is the one who makes things grow, not me. Sabbath is only partly about a day of rest; it is also a deterrent against idolatry, against self-sufficiency, against thinking I am in control of my destiny. It is even a means of socio-economic balance, not allowing a workaholic to get further ahead financially because he or she works 7 days a week.

We live today in a mostly post-agricultural society. Oh, there are still a lot of farmers out there, and I have the highest respect and appreciation for what they do. It is a lifestyle I would have loved to live had my life gone differently. But how does the Sabbath apply to the office worker? the construction worker? the housewife? the firefighter? the doctor or nurse? and so on? It is still an act of trust and a deterrent against idolatry. Taking a day off each week is still a strong statement that God is in control, not me.

Few would disagree that we as a 21st century people are way too busy. Many would even agree that this busyness is a sin. What better way to counter-act that busyness than by taking one day each week, and resting. No shopping, no errands, no work, no busyness. But simply resting. Being still. Worshipping. Lingering long over the Word, over dinner, over a sunset.

I suggest to you that our busyness is idolatry. It is an act of thinking we are so important that we can’t stop or our world will collapse. The kids will miss soccer practice. The profitable stock deal will get away. I will miss a text message. The car won’t get washed. Do we really think we are such a big deal that the world will fall apart if I shut down for a day? Sabbath is acknowledging the fact that God is God, and I am not; He is in control, and has it all covered.

Of course for most of us, taking a Sabbath day each week means something in our lives needs to go. So what are you going to eliminate from your life so you can obey the Fourth Commandment? Or will you continue to flaunt your self-sufficient, I-can-do-it-all lifestyle in the face of God? Let me suggest, quite strongly, that refusing to obey the 4th commandment, refusing to take a Sabbath day each week, is idolatry. And that is a violation of the First Commandment! Wow, double whammy. Take stock, reflect, slow down, eliminate something. Be still, and know that He is God, and you are not.

The following is an excerpt from my book, Charis: God’s Scandalous Grace for Us (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2014), 45-46. At the end of the post, enter to win a free copy of Charis!

“Bad little girls get thrown away,” Cynthia reasoned when at five years old she found out she was adopted. She didn’t understand how her parents could give up their Charis front cover_w:tullianchild if they loved her, so Cynthia logically concluded that she was unloved and unworthy—valueless.

All humans crave value; it’s in our DNA. So Cynthia tried to satisfy her craving in unhealthy ways. Maybe sex will give me value, she thought. I want to feel happy; I want to feel loved. A friend of hers had a father with a stash of porn magazines, so the two girls raided the stash and began acting out the sexual activities plastered across the pages. Maybe homosexual sex is where value could be found. The two girls were about seven years old.

When Cynthia was around fourteen, she was sexually abused by a guy in his midtwenties. She then explored value through alcohol, drugs, more sex, and slashing her body with a razor. “I hated myself with a passion,” Cynthia recalls. “I didn’t need people to put me down. Because I did it fine from the time I woke up until the time I went to bed. The inner dialogue that went on in my head was I was stupid, I was not wanted, I was ugly. The only thing I was good for was sex.”

More drugs, more sex, more cutting. When Cynthia was seventeen, she married a boy with a similar past and quickly got pregnant.3 Cynthia’s story is frighteningly typical. One in every five girls and one in every twenty boys are victimized by sexual abuse. Twentyeight percent of fourteen- to seventeen-year-olds have been sexually abused on some level as children or teens.4

Eating disorders are rapidly increasing among teens and even among young children. Kids under twelve experienced a 119 percent increase in eating disorders between 1999 and 2006, and the statistics continue to rise.5

But it doesn’t matter where you fall in the statistics. God doesn’t see you as garbage, unwanted, fat, or ugly. Where you see defects, God sees a crown and a robe of glory. You are covered in God’s fingerprints, with God’s breath in your nostrils.

A few years later, Cynthia found Jesus, the One who crowned her with glory and honor. The pain of her past will never fully leave her, but neither will it condemn her. “I have intrinsic value no matter what,” Cynthia says, “just because God made me.” Though she was unwanted and abused, God has crowned her with beauty and love. Some of the greatest lies you’ll ever believe are told by your eyes as you gaze into a mirror. Lies fueled by your own doubt and a culture that worships a false standard of beauty and worth. Beauty is formed in the eye of the beholder. But your Beholder is God. He made you in His own image; He gave you that crown.

I love the redemption Cynthia found in Christ because it challenges a common misconception about God. Too often we think that having a high view of God means we have a low view of people. In fact, I remember reading those very words at the top of a church’s doctrinal statement many years ago:

We seek to have a high view of God and a low view of man

I get the motivation behind this statement. We want to elevate God; we don’t want to worship mankind. But this statement suggests that people have little value, little worth. But we’re created in God’s image and Jesus paid a very high price to restore us back to our Creator. He paid a high price for us (His own blood) since we had an expensive price tag on our heads that reads, Created in God’s Image.

Think about that. We have an exalted status above everything else in creation. We bear God’s image not just by what we do—think, feel, imagine, relate—but simply by who we are. A quadriplegic two-year-old with Down syndrome possesses the CharisSocMed_02image of God and therefore has infinite worth and value in the eyes of God, not because of what she does, but because of whom she reflects. Every human, every single one, bears the glorious image of the transcendent Creator.

Rich, poor, successful, homeless, healthy, disabled, black, white, brown, young, old, famous, abused, abusive, pervert, or priest—whoever you are and whatever you have or have not accomplished—if you are human, then you are cherished and prized and honored and enjoyed as the pinnacle of creation by a Creator who bleeds charis. If you’re reading, listening to, or following the braille dots of this book, you are infinitely more majestic and beautiful than the glimmering peaks of Mount Everest, the soothing turquoise waters of the Caribbean, the commanding cliffs of Yosemite, or the well-titled Grand Canyon, which God carved out of Arizona.

Bad girls don’t get thrown away. They get delighted in by a shameless God on a relentless pursuit to love broken people.

 

Enter below to win one of 10 free copies of Charis! You have until Friday July 18th to qualify.

 

Enter to Win a Free Copy of Charis

I often get asked if I’m “Reformed.” Oftentimes people just assume that I’m “Reformed.” Since I don’t care for labels and resist giving yes or no answers to always reformingcomplex questions, I usually give an answer much longer than the asker cared to receive.

I’m I “Reformed?” No, but I am “reformed”—lower-case “r.” Here’s why.

I believe that God’s agency is primary, prior to, and causative of a person’s response to God in salvation. (Whoa dude, I thought this was “Theology for Real Life,” not “Theology for Real Geeks.”) In other words, I chose God because He first chose me. I repented and believed because God’s Spirit enabled me to. When I heard the gospel, God opened up my heart to understand and welcome the truth, just like He did to Lydia in Acts 16.

I also emphasize, cherish, and rejoice in God’s sovereignty over all things. I love it. I don’t always understand it, but I love the fact that God reigns over the universe. I believe that God can do whatever God wants to do, and He can tell me to do whatever He wants to tell me what to do. He’s God. I’m created. He makes up the rules. I’m only to follow them. From Genesis through Revelation, with some extended pit stops in Job, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Romans 9, the Bible celebrates God’s freedom. Sometimes it’s hard to rejoice in. Still, the Bible doesn’t seem to make excuses for God’s actions in the world. He made it. He governs it. He will redeem it as He sees fit. And I live by this truth. Yes, I’m “reformed.”

I also believe in and will take a bullet for the authority of the Bible. Our beliefs and behaviors should be derived from the text—even if the text offends our presuppositions and tradition. If my student says “I believe that God…” I immediately ask where? What passage? What book? What theological theme are you deriving your beliefs from? When my heart says, “I feel like God is…” I challenge my deceitful heart with the God-breathed text. Yes, I’m “reformed.”

But I’m not “Reformed.”

I’m not part of any specific “Reformed” tradition and I think that the Bible challenges all theological systems—not just Arminian ones. And not everything about the “Reformed tradition” (or traditions) rightly captures, to my mind, what the Bible actually says. In fact, just the other day I hung out with a bunch of Arminians from the Nazarene tradition and I was pleasantly shocked at just how passionate they were about the gospel, the authority of Scripture, and even God’s sovereignty in salvation and the world. Sure, we may quibble about the ordo salutus and finer points of the atonement, but on the central points of the gospel I felt that we were on the same team. Unfortunately, some “Reformed” people only know of one team; the “Reformed” team. No, I’m not “Reformed.” I love to learn from people outside my tradition.

I’m also very willing to ditch, reevaluate, shift and sift various doctrines that have been traditionally called “Reformed.” That is, if the Bible demands it. Justification, sanctification, baptism, hell, heaven—we lay them all before the text of calvin and lutherScripture because we’re reformed. We don’t lock them in a safe and throw away the key because we’re Reformed. Remember, semper reformanda: “always reforming.” To be truly reformed is to be in a constant state of humbly submitting what you think the text says before the text itself since the text—not your, or your favorite Reformed preacher’s, understanding of the text—is inspired and authoritative.

And I believe in grace. Not just the “doctrines of grace” but “incarnating grace.” Showing favor (grace) unconditionally (biblical grace) to people of every sexual orientation. If believing in the doctrines of grace doesn’t move you to love your enemies, then you don’t really believe in the doctrines of grace. You endorse them. Sign off on them. Nod your head when you’re reading Calvin’s Institutes. But until we love the unlovable, we fail to incarnate grace and imitate the one who died for His enemies.

Jesus. Died. For. His. Enemies.

He calls His followers to merely love them. He cut us some seriously slack!

And I’m not Reformed because, well, many Reformed people I know seem arrogant. I know this is a stereotype, a generalization, so if you know a ton of people who are both Reformed and humble, then please ignore this paragraph. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’ve been around a bad crop. But most Reformed people I’ve met, hung out with, read, and listen to, give off an overly confident, some would say arrogant, air about their beliefs. Again, this isn’t all of them, but in my experience it’s a lot of them. And almost all of my friends who are turned off by a reformed way of thinking are actually turned off more by their Reformed friends than their beliefs. So even though I hope I’m alone, I don’t think I am. For some reason, discovering the doctrines of grace becomes like a second conversion where the Reformed person now has it all together, doctrinally speaking, and looks down upon all those lesser species of Christians who are merely 4 or 3 point Calvinists.

I know this, because I used to be one. I was so locked into an airtight theological system and I thought, or knew, I had it all figured out. And I honestly looked down upon people who weren’t Reformed like I was. It didn’t matter that they led hundreds of people to Christ, if they called people to “choose Christ” or quoted the “Nearly Inspired Version” (NIV), they were a lesser-informed Christian. And I looked down upon them. I was overly confident. I was arrogant. I was ignorant and acting contrary to the doctrines of grace.

I’ve since abandoned this way of thinking, even though I’m still reformed. I still believe that God does all things ultimately to bring glory to His name. I believe there is a real hell. I think that election is unconditional. And God’s sovereignty is broadcasted and celebrated on every page of Scripture. But believing these things should push us to be more humble, more careful about thinking you have it all together theologically.

Yes, I’m reformed. But I’m not Reformed.

Over the 4th of July weekend, I spoke at the Audio Feed Festival in Champaign, Illinois. I was invited last year and was excited to speak again this year. The fact thatAudioFeed-8 I agreed to come back shows what I think about the festival. Yeah, it pretty much rocks.

The festival is only two years old, but its roots have a rich history. AudioFeed was born out of the widely popular Cornerstone Music Festival started by the Jesus People USA in 1984. In 2012, Cornerstone announced that this would be the last year of the festival, and AudioFeed said lets keep rocking! So for the last two years AudioFeed has been hosting a music festival where dozens of bands and several speakers come together to enjoy God’s gifts of creativity lavishly poured out on his image bearers.

Yes, it’s a “Christian” music festival—but don’t think CMA. This stuff is different. And in my mind, refreshing.

Artists from several musical genres rock out (or scream out or rap out, or whatever) in a way that might not seem “Christian”—that is, you won’t hear most of these bands on K-Love. The Homeless Gospel Choir is a one-man band who writes satirical songs about nationalistic Christianity. Justin Driggers has tats and dreads and sings emotionally dark, yet real and redemptive, country songs. Timbre shreds on a harp. Sean Michel, whose signature beard puts Phil Robertson to shame, lights

Peter Furler, former lead singer for The Newsboys.

Peter Furler, former lead singer for The Newsboys.

up the stage with deafening guitar riffs, powerful lyrics, and rich sermons between his songs. My Epic, Listener, Flatfoot 56, and several other popular bands drew some loyal crowds. Noah James—a largely unknown Christian artist—sent my heart to heaven and my knees to the cross as he left me spiritually dazed after proclaiming the gospel through some of the best “Christian” music I’ve ever heard. His song “Heaven Is Far” punched through my chest, ripped out my heart, and slammed it at the foot of the cross. Joy collided with frustration over the fact that Noah will probably never break through the political and consumer-driven walls of CMA, which is unfortunate for those who love theology, the cross, and unpredictable music.

Although I rarely visited the “Black Sheep” stage, I could hear the screaming from across the fairgrounds, which freaked out my daughter at first. One band screamed out David Crowder’s “How He Loves Us” just after the lead singer gave his testimony about how Christ rescued his soul from hell. I can’t say I love the hard-core screamo stuff, but I can appreciate someone screaming for Jesus. If we meditated on what we’ve been rescued from, I think we’d probably scream too. Grave Robber, a “horror punk” band, showers the audience with blood launched

Sean Michel ripping it up--Arkansas style

Sean Michel ripping it up–Arkansas style

from cannons in celebration of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. But it’s not real blood, which means Grave Robber is tamer than the freak show Moses and Aaron put on in Exodus 24. That was real blood.

AudioFeed is one of those places you’d never bring your grandma—though I saw quite a few grey-haired enthusiasts dancing around with ear plugs—but you’d do well to bring your non-churched, de-churched, or overly churched neighbor. Why? Because the music is simply outstanding. It’s fresh. It’s real. It’s unpredictable (blood from cannons, folks). And the musicians are real people who don’t think much of themselves. I don’t want to overly sanctify the musicians—they’re just as screwed up as you and I—but humility seemed to glow from these artists who don’t carry the stage with them when they finish playing. Casual conversations between rock stars and fans is a regular sight at AudioFeed. I met Peter Furler (former lead singer of the Newsboys) in passing, and when he saw me just seconds after his set, he remembered my name. Shane Claiborne, the keynote speaker, defies Christian fame by going out of his way to turn Christian celebriolatry on its head. He talks to people, looks them in the eye, remembers their name, and doesn’t ask to be put up in a hotel. He’d rather stay at the home of people in an effort to obey Jesus’s second greatest command. Shane is one of the most authentic, humble, passionate Christians I’ve ever met. What you read in his books is what you get in the flesh. And that’s pretty rare.

The thing that encouraged me the most was the intellect and passion among the participants. It’s a counter-cultural crowd, but you only become counter-cultural by thinking outside the box, asking hard questions, and not being satisfied by recycled answers. It’s not uncommon, as a speaker, to get questions about apocalyptic readings of Revelation, reader-response hermeneutics, or various theories of the atonement from a dude wearing black eye shadow and spikes. This is why I came back to AudioFeed this year. The festival reminds me that the kingdom of God is pushing forward through all types of people who live out their faith in nontraditional ways. And most of the people who attend this festival have a massive, cross-shaped heart for people. Yes, it’s true. Many of them have problems with patriotism, militarism, capitalism, suits and ties, combs, and the traditional evangelical church. But walk around and talk to them. Get to know their stories. Have a 5 minute conversation with a stranger and he’s likely to give you the shirt off his back. Even if you’re a suit-and-tie wearing CEO of a large company that served in Desert Storm. Disagreement doesn’t interrupt love.

Josh Stump, Shane Claiborne, myself, and Jay Newman. My kind of panel discussion!

Josh Stump, Shane Claiborne, myself, and Jay Newman. My kind of panel discussion!

At AudioFeed, everyone is accepted. Rainbow hair, painted faces, spiked Mohawks, and tattoo-less dorks from California (er, Idaho) wearing flip flops and a sun visor. If you want to wear a black trench coat on a hot July day. That’s cool. What matters is whether you love Jesus and people. You want to walk around hoisting a log on your shoulder, no one’s going to bat an eye as long as you don’t smack anyone with it. (These are all true scenes, by the way.) For one of my talks, I wore a black Harley Davidson shirt and I felt like people were thinking, “you don’t need to dress up here, bro. It’s AudioFeed.”

And this is why I love this festival. Jesus was all about the marginalized, and his followers would have raised a few eyebrows if they entered most of our churches today. Our New Testament was written by a terrorist named Saul, a slave named Luke, a treasonous extortionist named Matthew, and other marginalized ruffians with variegated shades of a shady past. But God loves people unloved by the

Josie and I with Sean Michel. He wouldn't give me the shirt off his back, but he gave me his face on my shirt.

Josie and I with Sean Michel. He wouldn’t give me the shirt off his back, but he gave me his face on my shirt.

religious elite. And God loves diversity. Middle class, white, suburban Christianity only reflects a small sliver of God’s image in the world. AudioFeed reminds us that we serve a beautifully complex and diverse God who loves all types of musical genres and doesn’t have a favorite hair-style. Suits and ties, khakis and blue blazers, boots and 10 gallon hats, black leather and trench coats—they’re all woven from a creation blessed and enjoyed by God.

AudioFeed: A festival that celebrates and magnifies our Triune God who defies singularity.

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