Gift and Glory

“Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).  Do you wonder what that looks like?  Eric Liddell, the famous gold medalist in the 1924 Olympics, knew what that means.

 Liddell was born in 1902 to Scottish missionaries in China.  His athletic talent emerged in high school in England.  He entered the University of Edinburgh in 1921.  It was there he became known as “The Flying Scotsman” for his abilities on the track.

During his college years, the Glasgow Students’ Evangelistic Union planned an evangelistic rally in a small coal mining town nearby.  They reached out to Liddell to speak at their event.  At first he agreed, but soon had second thoughts.  He was comfortable on the track and in the classroom, but not behind a pulpit.  As the day of the event approached, he received a letter from his sister Jenny, saying, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Isa. 41:10).  Liddell said, “Those words helped me make my decision and since then, I have endeavored to do the work of the Master.”

 Encouraged by the crowds and the results, he joined the Glasgow group, and began to speak in more rallies.  Liddell said, “My whole life had been one of keeping out of public duties, but the leading of Christ seemed now to be in the opposite direction, and I shrank from going forward.  At this time I finally decided to put it all on Christ – after all if He called me to do it, then He would have to supply the necessary power.”  God gifts and equips us to glorify Him. 

 The 1981 movie “Chariots of Fire” focused on Liddell’s refusal to run on Sunday in the Paris Olympics.  As he prepared for a different race, a trainer handed him a note:  “It says in the Old Book, “Him that honours me, I will honour.”  (1 Sam. 2:30).  He won the race pulling away, setting a new world record.

 Liddell’s gift was that he was fast; his heart’s desire was to glorify God, and that carried him back to China as a missionary.  He served the Chinese people and his fellow missionaries, even while held in an internment camp by the Japanese during WWII.  He gave from his athletics, education, and possessions.  In 1945, Liddell died of a brain tumor while in captivity after giving up his place in a prisoner swap to a young expectant mother.

 God has given you the gift of life, abilities, resources, and knowledge that He can use to advance His Kingdom.  Your purpose is to “do all to the glory of God.”  You only have one race to run, and this is it.


Mystery literature began to develop in earnest in the early 1800’s.  This fiction genre brings to mind Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Edward Stratemeyer’s Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew.  Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock are also notable.  But one usually does not think of the Bible as mystery literature.

 Of course a major difference is that the Bible isn’t fiction, demonstrated by prophecies that have come to pass.  In one instance God revealed to Daniel not only the meaning of the Babylonian king’s dream, but what the king saw in his dream, prompting the king to acknowledge that God is “a revealer of mysteries” (Dan. 2:47).  And what God revealed did happen.

 In the Hebrew Scriptures, the Messiah was to be a mighty king, but also a suffering servant.  He was to be from Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Egypt.  Indeed a mystery!  Yet now we know how Jesus, God the Son, fulfilled these prophecies and revealed the mystery.  Paul writes that the gospel of Jesus Christ is “the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations” (Rom. 16:25-26).

 Having established the identity of the Jewish messiah, another mystery emerges.  What about the rest of us?  Are we hopeless, or would God provide a Gentile messiah as well?  Paul explained that the mystery of Christ “has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel (Eph. 3:4-6).  Good news!

 The final mystery is if the world and human history will end.  Modern prophets warn of an epic doomsday from either climate change, nuclear holocaust, or meteor strike.  I propose that since the Bible has proved reliable in proposing and revealing mysteries in the past, we might do well to consider what it says about the future.  The books of Daniel and Revelation speak to the subject, as do the sayings of Jesus (Matt. 24, 25).  Granted these often raise more questions than answers, but that’s OK.  God said some things must remain a mystery.  “Seal up the things which the seven peals of thunder have spoken and do not write them” (Rev. 10:4).  God is Sovereign over the future, and we cannot know all details.

 In the Bible, revelation and mystery coexist with God deciding what is revealed and what remains hidden.  He has revealed himself as a God of love not content to leave you in the hopeless human condition.  You can trust Him with this, and the things you cannot know or understand.  I see no mystery in that.

Facebook and Community

Rolling out Facebook’s new mission, founder Mark Zuckerberg mentioned church as an example of community. It made me wonder if he thinks church and Facebook are interchangeable, although he never actually said that.

Zuckerberg compared organizers of Facebook groups to pastors who care for their congregation. Then he said, “Membership in all kinds of communities around the world has been declining, in a lot of places by as much as one-quarter. That’s a lot of people who now need to find a sense of purpose and support somewhere else.” He continues, “This is our challenge. We have to build a world where every single person has a sense of purpose and community.” With that he announces the new mission: “To give people the power to build community to bring the world closer together.”

Zuckerberg’s Facebook groups are going to reach out and hug the whole world! Sounds inspiring. But it’s much less so that Facebook plans to harness the power of artificial intelligence to nudge users to join Facebook groups. It’s no wonder that Tristan Harris, former Google product manager, accuses social media of brain hacking. He says, “Never before in history have a handful of people at a handful of technology companies shaped how a billion people think and feel every day. The constant distraction of phone aps and emails are weakening our relationships to each other.” The more user attention, the more advertiser revenue, at the cost of relationships. Zuckerberg is right about our need for community, but the paradox is that marketing his product can militate against it.

A friend of mine said, “The community on Facebook might be interesting, or entertaining in ways, but can never replace a true personal relationship, or Christian fellowship.” In his book, “Faith Seeking Understanding,” Dr. Daniel Migliore explains that the New Testament church “is a distinctive form of human community characterized by mutuality, interdependence, forgiveness, and friendship. Ecclesial life is a new community of free persons centered on God’s love in Jesus Christ and empowered to service by the Holy Spirit.” Christian fellowship means dwelling together in unity (Psa. 133), sharing meals and possessions with one another (Acts 2), stimulating one another to love and good deeds, and encouraging one another (Heb. 10). This means hugs, laughing, crying, giving, and receiving. This means “facetime” not Facebook.

Social media may be harmful or helpful depending on how and why it is used, but it will never be a substitute for the fellowship of believers, “and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ” (1 Jn. 1:3). That is the church’s blessing, and we don’t need artificial intelligence to enjoy it.

Art & Beauty

Last month in Atlanta, the Fellowship of the Performing Arts presented “The Most Reluctant Convert,” a retelling of the story of C.S. Lewis’ journey to faith in Christ.  The 80 minute, one-act play featured Max McLean, the founder and artistic director of the new York City-based troupe.

McLean’s own reluctant journey includes a girl who took him to a Bible study.  “I had not been confronted by the power and insight of the Bible prior to that.  At first I wanted to run away, but I couldn’t.  Then I read John’s Gospel – in one sitting. I thought Jesus was going to come right out of the pages of the Bible and take me with him.  I knew this story was true and that my life would never be the same again.”  He later founded FPA as a means to express faith through the dramatic arts.  And yes, he married the girl, Sharon.

Art in its many forms is intended to allow us to experience life from another’s perspective.  Sometimes it conveys truth through language, such as in a play or literature.  Other times the truth can be more subtle, such as in painting or music.  Good art is compelling because it tells the truth about God, human beings, and nature.

The original Artist is the One who painted truth into creation.  “Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made…” (Rom. 1:20).  Is that not why we marvel at the beauty of nature, which is evidence of the mind of God?  Humans alone in creation admire and create beauty, because we alone are made in His image and yearn for the Divine.

Lewis’ artistry in “The Magician’s Nephew” has Digory and Polly arriving to an empty, dreary place.  “But then in the chaos, a Voice began to sing in the most sonorous tones imaginable. All at once the blackness overhead was ablaze with stars. The sun was born, laughing for joy as it arose! In the fresh light of the young sun stood the Lion Aslan — huge, shaggy, and bright as it was singing the new world into being. As his song continued, the valley grew green, trees were born, flowers blossomed, and then, as a stretch of grassy land was bubbling up, out came the animals great and small.”   Aslan said, “I give you the woods, the fruits, the rivers. I give you the stars and I give you myself.”

Lewis’ thoughts on art and beauty may well be summed in his words, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”  Thanks Mr. McLean for the reminder that indeed, we are.

Origin and Destiny

I learned how to make canned preserves.  This new kitchen hobby was prompted by a harvest of strawberries, caused by a decision last year to plant, because I inherited an interest in growing food from my farmer Dad, who was also raised on a farm.  And the causes march resolutely backward in time.  Everything has a cause, a series of causes, and ultimately a first cause, if you think about it.  The first domino has to be pushed over.

Philosophers have dissected this idea for ages.  If the origin of the universe is uncaused then a Creator is not needed.  If there is a First Cause, who is it, and what are the implications for our destiny?

William Lane Craig is a Christian philosopher who expounds on the cosmological argument for the existence of God.  The syllogism is stated thus:  If the universe began to exist, then the universe has a cause of its beginning; the Universe began to exist; therefore the universe has a cause of its existence.  Craig adds to the conclusion saying, “If the universe has a cause, then an uncaused personal Creator of the universe exists, who without the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless and enormously powerful.”

Only a force outside of the universe could be the First Cause.  The ancient Hebrews came to know this First Cause as YHWH, the timeless and uncaused God of the Bible who spoke the world into existence ex nihilo, or “out of nothing.”  It is not irrational that “by faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” (Heb. 11:3).

Francis Schaeffer describes the Trinity’s existence before creation.  “Prior to the material universe, prior to the creation of all else, there is love and communication.  And hence, when modern man screams for love and communication (as he so frequently does), Christians have an answer: There is value to love and value to communication because it is rooted into what intrinsically always has been.”  Our desire for love and communication is evidence we are created in God’s image, and meant for an eternal relationship with Him.

In love, God has communicated to you about origin and destiny.  The ultimate destiny of creation, including you, is to worship the Creator.  From John’s vision, “Every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the seas, and all things in them, I heard saying ‘To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever’ ” (Rev. 5:13).  God created you to eternally occupy the place Jesus prepared for you.  He said, “I am the Way” to that place.  By faith in Him, your destiny is sure.  That’s good news!