God Is Closer Than You Think #3 – What Is The Trinity?

Dr. Jeff Arthurs, Guest Speaker

 Intro: The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is the heart of our faith. It is found in the Apostles’ Creed.

Definition: One God existing from all eternity as three Persons.

We come to this doctrine, this revealed word, with humility and wonder. Why do we believe it? It has been revealed.

1. God is One.

 [Dt. 6:4; Is. 46:9]

 2. In three Persons

  • Implied in OT
    • Genesis 1:26, Let us make man in our own image.
    • Gen. 3:22,  Man has now become like one of us.
    • Gen. 11:3, And they said to each other, Come, let us go down and confuse their language.
    • Is. 9:6, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
    • Gen. 1:1-2, In the beginning God created…and the Spirit was hovering…
  • More explicit in the NT
    • Baptism (Matt. 3:16-17). Spirit descending and Father saying . . . .
    • Great Commission (Matt. 28:19). Baptize in the name of . . . .
    • Benediction (2 Cor. 13:14). Grace of the Lord Jesus, love of God, and fellowship of the Holy Spirit . . . .
    • High Priestly Prayer (John 14:16). I will ask the Father and he will give you the Spirit of Truth.
    • Deity of Christ (Romans 9:5). From them is traced the human ancestry of Christ who is God over all, forever praised, Amen.
  • Deity of Christ
    • Philippians 2:5-8.

 3. Illustrations:

  •  Roles/hats (father, husband, pastor). No—this is what the ancient church called “modalism.”
  • Egg (three parts of one). No—the three parts do not share the qualities of the other parts.
  • Water (same essence in three forms). Better, but only appearance is different.
  • Human psyche (we can hold conversation with self).
  • Three dimensions of space (height, width, depth).

 Note: the nature of reality is usually (always?) more complex than first glance reveals.  It will be at least as complex as physics.

4. Implications. This is the central reality of the universe. The grand dance of diversity within unity is a dance of mutual honor, love, and submission. That is the essence of reality—love.

  • Eternal life. By grace we are grafted into this life. We become by grace what Christ is by nature—sons of God. How does this occur? He shares it with us.

Ephesians 2: 4-6

  • Christian life.
    • Marriage. Unity and diversity. Equal standing, value, personhood, but distinct roles.

1 Cor. 11:3

    • Church. Diversity and unity.

Rev. 7:9

1 Cor. 12:12

    • Humility, submission, and love.John 15:9

Philippians 2:1-11

Random Reflections on the Prop 8 Ruling…

I have mixed emotions about yesterdays Prop 8 ruling. As an intentional follower of Christ, I hold a historic, orthodox, New Testament view of marriage. I am also cognizant of how we (Protestants at least) have allowed any moral authority on this issue to dissipate by collectively allowing our divorce rate to match (and some would say, exceed) that of the larger culture. If we can’t do marriage well, how can we weigh in on others? I am reminded of Paul’s words to the Corinthians that we are not to “judge” those outside the church, but that we are to judge ourselves – those of us inside the church (1 Cor 5:12). As active, intentional followers of Christ we would probably be wise to focus on removing the log from our own collective eye (Mat 7:3).

In my view, legislating morality is always Plan B. Plan A, according to my understanding of the Bible, is cultivating and growing in our relationship with Jesus Christ (personally and collectively), growing in sound doctrine, modeling authentic community, and learning how to love. (The first three, BTW, are intended to feed the fourth.)

I appreciate author and pastor Tim Keller’s approach here…In Prodigal God he quotes from The Lord of the Rings – the hobbits asking the ancient Treebeard whose side he is on: “I am not altogether on anybody’s side, because nobody is altogether on my side…[But] there are some things, of course, whose side I’m altogether not on.” Keller notes that Jesus’ own answer, through a parable, is similar. Jesus doesn’t pick a side yet singles out religious moralism as a particularly deadly spiritual condition (pg 13). I find religious moralism on both sides of the Prop 8 issue. I would prefer honest respectful dialogue.

In commenting on the Parable of the Prodigal (Keller would say it should be plural), Keller correctly identifies two basic ways people seek happiness: 1) moral conformity and 2) self-discovery. Each is a way of finding personal significance and worth, of addressing the ills of society, and for determining right from wrong. The elder brother in the parable illustrates the way of moral conformity, while the younger illustrates the way of self-discovery. Underneath both brothers’ sharply different patterns of behavior is actually the same motivation and aim – using their father to get the things on which their hearts are really fixed. For both, it was the wealth of the father, not the love of the father, that they believed would make them happy and fulfilled (pgs 29-39).  (If you’ve found yourself asking, “Why does he title the book Prodigal God?  That’s a great question…get the book.)

As I contemplate my life, I have spent various stints as both the younger and elder brother. In both, during my darker moments, I have sought the hand of God and not the heart of God.

Just last night Linda and I were reading a biography of the early church father, Athanasius (don’t ask). He defined sin as an abuse of freedom. We humans, he said, were originally given the ability to know God by looking at the creation (and seeing its otherwise inexplicable order and harmony) and noticing the image of God within ourselves. But we have turned away from the signs of God in creation and ourselves, and turned instead to the things of this world to satisfy ourselves – whether, I would add, it be moral conformity or self-discovery.

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of Ghandi’s encounter with a respected Christian missionary… Gandhi admired Jesus and often quoted from the Sermon on the Mount. Once when E. Stanley Jones met with Ghandi he asked him, “Though you quote the words of Christ often, why is that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming his follower?” Ghandi replied, “Oh, I don’t reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Somethings just don’t seem to change. Ann Rice is another, more recent example of someone, who “in the name of Christ,” quit the church.

This is yet another wake-up call for the us (inside the church). Not to react with religious moralism, but to respond with appropriate self-reflection, honesty, repentance, love – and a willingness to dialogue. In the great political cartoon strip of its day, Pogo declared, “We have met the enemy and it is us!”

Thoughts From a Dad

I was both saddened and excited by her email. Our daughter was away at college and as part of an assignment asked me to list the top five qualities that I would encourage her to look for in a spouse. My sadness stemmed from wishing we’d had this conversation sooner so that she didn’t even have to ask the question. Our kids could lead more secure and focused lives by having a clear response to this question firmly planted in their hearts as they transition from adolescence into adulthood. It didn’t take me long to respond. As the father of four children, I had intended to initiate this discussion many times, yet I never seemed to find the right moment – mostly because I was afraid that my thoughts might be perceived as manipulation. What excited me most about her email was knowing that my daughter is taking the time to cultivate her own criterion for relationships that are both healthy and holy.

Here’s my response:
1. That he share your love and passion for God. There must be a core values match in this area for a marriage partnership to flourish. My experience in ministry has taught me that couples can be unequally yoked even with other believers who do not share a parallel passion for pursuing God’s heart and ways.

2. That he be absolutely, totally, and utterly abandoned in his love and passion for you. Because you deserve it.

3. That he be able to support and even steer you toward the fulfillment of your divine destiny. To accomplish this he will need to appreciate your unique (albeit emerging) calling and spiritual gift-mix. This reflects the foundational purpose for our existence. In addition to the extraordinary opportunity for a growing friendship with God, we are invited to allow God to shape us and send us to serve humanity with wisdom, resolve, and anointing — which increases exponentially through regular affirmation and encouragement.

4. That, when he makes a mistake, it’s by giving, not by withholding. The old adage, “you can’t out-give God” is true. And remember, we don’t give to get — we give to get to give again.

5. That he would actively pursue mutually accountable relationships with other men. Most of the growth I have enjoyed has come through proactively pursuing mentoring and accountability. We all need people in our lives whom we have invited to ask us soul-searching questions – usually it’s about motives, money, and morality.

I love my children.  I may have learned more from them then they from me…

Random Thoughts From My Stickies

I use the application “stickies” on my Mac to make notes to myself and to collect random thoughts, quotes, or pithy sayings to contemplate or study. Following are some random thoughts from the last few weeks. Sorry I didn’t always record the source…

*God’s perfection doesn’t merely reject or punish evil: it overwhelms it with good.

*Grace – God’s love for tomorrow coming into our life today

*Love – Shared hope (Kim McManus)

*There is a difference between obligation obedience and covenantal obedience

*Shalom results from living in the tension of…

  1. Contentment (Phil 4:6-7)
  2. Justice – making things right (Lk 18:7b-18a) “Shalom-makers”
  3. Righteousness – right relationship, navigate the relationship (Rom 8:31-39)
  4. Loyalty
  5. Community (Col 3:12-17)
  6. Wholeness
  7. Integrity
  8. Salvation

*Paradigm shift  — Gap between stimulus and response (Covey)

*Rules keep us immature

*Virtue comes as a result of moral effort – It’s like learning a new language, it becomes second nature

*We don’t need to learn our love language as much as we need to learn the language of love

*Learn to think Christianly

*The nature of virtue ethics

*The Spirit works to re-humanize us

*Love is not our duty, it is our destiny

*Take a nurturing response toward your emtional self, listen to the emotional self in the presence of God (Ps 139:1-3), draw your emotional self toward God, stay and wait/receive in God’s presence (Ps 46:10; Lk 10:42) — It is scary to be deeply revealing in God’ presence.

*Soul ache

*God comes to you disguised as your life. –Paula D’Arcy

*Every person we meet is Jesus in a distressing disguise.  –Mother Theresa

*Worship is the primary means to transformation

*Gideon and God test one another. God is available for interaction. Invitation to be bold (vs foolish). We are free to be bold.

*God “tests” us to reveal our hearts to ourselves (he already knows).

*OT is brutal and filled with war. The NT concept is that our battle is NOT against flesh and blood (Eph 6).

*Glory of God is among the poor.  –Joel Green

*Take calcium to sleep better

*Spiritual Formation – Intentionally partnering with the work of the Holy Spirit to help people learn to love the Lord their God with all of their heart, mind, soul, and strength.

*Joy does not mean the absence of sorrow, but the capacity to rejoice in the midst of it.  –Gordon Fee

*Bidden or not bidden, God is present. Erasmus/Jung

*God is the goal of God – John Piper

The embrace of faith, like any embrace, is visible.  –Scot McKnight, Dancing Grace (Chap 13)

*Marriage is a duel to the death which no man of honour should decline.
I refuse to die while I am still alive.
–GK Chesterton – Man Alive

Thoughts on Love

Speaking of Valentine’s Day… I’ve been writing quite a bit lately – working on a manuscript on the mysterious topic of intimacy. Today I was grappling with the ideas of love. As I worked through my notes I found some descriptions and definitions for the various Greek words for love. Here’s a sampling…

OT Theme – The Prophets, particularly Hosea and Ezekiel, described God’s passion for his people using boldly erotic images. God’s relationship with Israel is described using the metaphors of betrothal and marriage; idolatry is thus likened to adultery and prostitution.

EROS (ἔρως) –

  • Intense physical desire. It’s the same word we get our English word “erotic” from. The Song of Solomon (or Songs) is a passionate and powerful recounting of a man and a woman falling in love that includes the erotic aspects of their love.
  • In their book Holy Eros, James and Evelyn Whitehead speak of a different slant on eros than is typically defined in Evangelical circles…

Although we usually associate eros with the engines of sexual desire, it is much more than that: “It is an ebullient, eager, and sometimes disruptive energy that moves us again and again toward more life…the energy of eros also opens pathways to our passionate God.”
“The human journey is sustained by eros and grace.”
Eros names the vital energy that animates all creation.”
Eros lies at the source of our desires — for friendship and love, for fruitful work, for life in abundance.
“Grace names the healing energy that flows from our loving God, transforming the world through compassion and hope.”
Eros and grace embrace in the heart of God.”

  • The Whiteheads proclaim that the Holy One is involved in the affairs of humanity as they survey the Biblical themes of grace and divine extravagance. In a section on “The Body’s Romance with Eros,” the authors discuss the potencies of sensuality and sexuality; the movements of eros in energy and tension; our body image and the body sacramental; and the eros of pleasure as a pathway to presence and gratitude. It is so good to read about positive ways of thinking and practicing eros in everyday life.
  • The Whiteheads also connect the passions with hope, suffering, anger, and compassion. The vital energies of eros infuse us with the transformative power of hope, the ability to cope with suffering and pain, the chance to use anger as a spur to righteous indignation, and the call to love our neighbors and reach out to strangers.
  • In a section of the book titled “The Rhythms of Eros,” the authors deal with presence and absence as a means of honoring light and darkness; holding on and letting go as learning the rules of engagement; feasting and fasting as nourishing the Spirit; and shadows of eros with a look at ways vital energy can go awry. The Whiteheads are convinced that our erotic lives stir within us wonder, imagination, creativity, curiosity, and generosity. (I haven’t read the book yet – found an excellent review at this site.)
  • C.S. Lewis in his book The Four Loves describes eros as love in the sense of ‘being in love.’ He says this is distinct from sexuality, which Lewis calls Venus, although he does spend time discussing sexual activity and its spiritual significance in both a pagan and a Christian sense. He identifies eros as indifferent. This promotes appreciation of the beloved regardless of any pleasure that can be obtained from him/her. It can be bad, however, because this blind devotion has been at the root of many of history’s most abominable tragedies. In keeping with his warning that “love begins to be a demon the moment [it] begins to be a god”, he warns against the danger of elevating eros to the status of a god.

PHILEO (φιλία) –

  • A brotherly/sisterly kind of love. Philadelphia is the city of “brotherly love.” While males and females can’t be non-sexual in relationships; we can be non-erotic. Phileo love is friendship love without the “weirdness” – and where we feel safe.
  • My take on the writing and speaking of (Vineyard pastor, author, and speaker) Ed Piorek is his different, and quite helpful, slant on PHILEO love… In attempting to define the Father’s love in the experiential sense we are focusing on his PHILEO – his demonstrated tender affection for us. The PHILEO of the Father for the Son is described in John 5:20. The ministry of Jesus apparently flowed out of a continual experience of his Father’s PHILEO. Within the intimacy of this relationship, Jesus could sense his Father’s presence and hear his Father’s voice, thus perceiving what the Father was saying and doing. Henri Nouwen also speaks to this as he defines prayer as listening for the voice of God who calls you his beloved.
  • C. S. Lewis on PHILEO – Friendship is a strong bond existing between people who share a common interest or activity. Lewis explicitly says that his definition of friendship is narrower than mere companionship: friendship in his sense only exists if there is something for the friendship to be “about”. He calls Companionship a matrix for friendship, as friendship can rise in the context of both. Friendship is the least natural of loves, states Lewis; i.e., it is not biologically necessary to progeny like either sorge (e.g., rearing a child), eros (e.g., creating a child), or agape (e.g., providing for a child). It has the least association with impulse or emotion. In spite of these characteristics, it was the belief of the ancients, (and Lewis himself), that it was the most admirable of loves because it looked not at the beloved (like eros), but towards that “about”—that thing because of which the relationship was formed. This freed the participants in this friendship from self-consciousness.

STORGE (στοργή) –

  • Describes affection and was applied especially to the mutual love between family members. In the New Testament, this word is used in the negative as astorgos, of steárgo (to cherish affectionately) and means hard-hearted toward kindred and is translated “without natural affection”(Rom 1:31 marg.), inhuman (2Ti. 3:3 RSV), unloving (2Ti. 3:3 NKJV) The word is also used in combination with philos. philostorgos (5387), “tenderly loving” (from philos, “friendly,” storge), is used in Rom. 12:10, rv, “tenderly affectioned” (kjv, “kindly affectioned”). (Vine’s complete expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words).
  • C. S. Lewis describes STORGE as affection and fondness through familiarity, especially between family members or people who have otherwise found themselves together by chance. It is described as the most natural, emotive, and widely diffused of loves: natural in that it is present without coercion; emotive because it is the result of fondness due to familiarity; and most widely diffused because it pays the least attention to those characteristics deemed “valuable” or worthy of love and, as a result, is able to transcend most discriminating factors. Ironically, its strength, however, is what makes it vulnerable. Affection has the appearance of being “built-in” or “ready made”, says Lewis, and as a result people come to expect, even to demand, its presence—irrespective of their behavior and its natural consequences.

AGAPE (ἀγάπη) –

  • Describes a unique type of supreme love involving a conscious and deliberate choice to do good for another, a commitment based on the willful choice of the lover, not the qualities of the person receiving the love.
  • This word, interestingly enough, was used quite sparingly by ancient secular Greek writers. It’s original definition identified a kind of abstract virtue out of Greek thought.
  • Over the years, this word has been redefined to describe a different kind of love in relationship to God.
  • AGAPE love is a sacrificial love that reaches out to people who don’t deserve it – a love that puts the interests of others first – a love that forgives and starts over. AGAPE love means caring, forgiving, spontaneous, redeeming love, which is the essence of God’s nature.
  • AGAPE love may be best described in John 3:16, “For God so loved that world that He gave His only begotten Son…”
  • C. S. Lewis on AGAPE, or charity, is the love that brings forth caring regardless of circumstance. Lewis recognizes this as the greatest of loves, and sees it as a specifically Christian virtue. The chapter on the subject focuses on the need of subordinating the natural loves to the love of God, who is full of charitable love. Lewis states that “He is so full, in fact, that it overflows, and He can’t help but love us.” Lewis compares love with a garden, charity with the gardening utensils, the lover as the gardener, and God as the elements of nature. God’s love and guidance act on our natural love (that cannot remain what it is by itself) as the sun and rain act on a garden: without either, the object (metaphorically the garden; realistically love itself) would cease to be beautiful or worthy. Lewis warns that those who exhibit charity must constantly check themselves that they do not flaunt—and thereby warp—this love (“But when you give to someone, don’t tell your left hand what your right hand is doing.”—Matthew 6:3), which is its potential threat.

An acquaintance of mine, Walter Hansen, says this — Much is made about the difference between friendship (PHILEO) love and divine (AGAPE) love, but this is overdone. The words are used interchangeably for Jesus’ love. For example, the sisters of Lazarus sent a message to Jesus to tell him, “the one you love (PHILEO) is sick” (John 11:3). Then the gospel writer tells us, “Jesus loved (AGAPE) Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.” The point is that Jesus loved in many different ways. All the words for love in every language of the world together are still insufficient to describe the love of Jesus.