The Art and Science of God – Putting the Pieces Together

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The Art and Science of God

Putting the Pieces Together

Acts 2:36-42

“Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

The First Converts

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Two final “formulas”:
1. repent + be baptized = beginning faith
2. (Apostle’s teaching + fellowship) + (breaking bread + prayers) = growing faith

The first “formula” here represents the synthesis of grace in our lives – our repentance matched with the mercy of God. We don’t decide God’s mercy, His part of that equation, but we celebrate the result in professions of faith particularly through the ritual and sacrament of baptism.

The second “formula” of spiritual growth is equally mysterious though. Somehow by learning together (Apostle’s teaching + fellowship) and by loving one another together in frequent and intentional ways (breaking bread, (or eating) + praying together), their faith grew enough so that their community of faith would double in size during the first week.

We church leaders often talk about ceilings we hit with attendance, but they had none of that here. The grew, and then they flew.

Some flew into persecution and death and others away from it, but the Church as a whole continued to grow and spread in places where they followed these two simple formulas.

While it was repeated over and over again, in different times, places, and cultures, the result was a diverse and beautiful work of art, the likes of which Paul would describe as:

Romans 12

The New Life in Christ

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

Marks of the True Christian

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

And maybe that is the short answer for what this is all about: God, working in, around, and through us, who is not overcome by evil, but overcomes evil with good.

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The Art and Science of God – Uncommon Sense

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The Art and Science of God

Uncommon Sense

Luke 14:7-14

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

One of the greatest gifts Jesus gives us is his practical teaching and example of the illogical and mysterious values of God. What I mean is that Jesus personifies (and perhaps humanitizes) Who God is, and does so in such an exemplary way that we are invited and instructed how to personify God in our own lives as well. However, the kind of example He sets is not necessarily one that is either easy to understand or follow. Not only can it be physically and emotionally challenging, it is sometimes counter-intuitive and hard to wrap our minds around.

Kingdom hospitality is an easy example of how the logic of God does not always line up with our culture’s version of “common sense”. Common sense from a capitalist standpoint tells us to focus the bulk of our hospitality on those whom we can expect a better return. Wine and dine those who have money to buy from you, not those too poor to afford your products and services. That first step to recognizing the truth about our common sense is that it is based upon our politics and economics, not our relationship with God.

Let me give another example. In our culture of copyrights land lawsuits, if you were able to create a water purification system using basic household objects, would you hold a public forum teaching your neighbors and community how to do it themselves or with you patent it in attempt to make money off of your idea? Which does your common sense promote? The good of the community for the good of your pocketbook? Most of us would probably try to do both. We might see it as a wasted opportunity if we did not try to make money and we might feel guilty if we did not at least try to make an attempt to better the lives of those around us.

Common sense is a tool designed to lead us to success (however we understand and define success). It is also a very logical tool. Common sense, like much of our scientific tools, is based upon success we can see. I think, like much of science, it is actually a little more biased toward sense of vision than any of our other senses. It leads us to make choices that look successful not just sound successful, or smell successful, and in many cases it leads us away from choices that “feel” successful. When we make choices because “it felt like the right thing to do at the time”, our common sense often warns us otherwise.

This is why Jesus baffles us so much. Jesus does not take the middle road. He does not tell us to go and invite anyone and everyone to our parties. He tells us to leave our rich neighbors alone, and throw parties specifically for those who cannot, let alone will not repay us. That makes common sense sick to its stomach.

Ambition tells us to succeed we must climb higher. A modest Version of common sense would tell us to be patient and strategic in how we climb to gain the most success without alienating those allies around us. As usual Jesus takes a completely different approach. He tells us, if you want to succeed do not climb higher… climb lower. Take a demotion. Now our common sense is screaming.

Is there no logic to God’s ethics? Indeed there is, but it is not based in capitalism, and even more jarring, it is not based in what we can see. John’s ethics are based upon an invisible truth: that God Himself created the world, holds the world together, and that we can not find success in life that is not A gift from Him. With that kind of logic it makes sense that helping our poor neighbors pleases God and we can expect to be successful and happy simply because God is pleased with us. Our common sense lives in a place of doubt and skepticism, existing to watch our back, doubting that we will be happy or successful merely by pleasing God, and coming up with back up plans just in case God does not exist at all. After all, our common sense has not seen Him lately.

What we need is not just more common sense. We need a little more faith in God. Not just faith in general or faith in ourselves… but faith in God. Perhaps this is why the author of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote:

Hebrews 11:6

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

How does your common sense help you draw closer to God?

How does your common sense conflict with your faith at times?

The Art and Science of God – The Wild Way of Holiness

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The Art and Science of God

The Wild Way of Holiness

Jonah 4

Jonah’s Anger

But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.

The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

Jonah Is Reproved

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?” “

Before we close the book on Jonah, there is one important thing we need to acknowledge. The story of Jonah was not written to the people of Ninevah. In fact, it probably was not written to any of Israel’s neighbors either. This is a story that has been passed on to and preserved for God’s own people over the ages.

That is going to change the kind of takeaway we get from this story. In fact, if it were just written to those outside the faith, we could probably end the story (much like the story of the Prodigal Son) early. Jonah, chapter 4, helps us look back and re-view this whole story about how God uses mercy to work His will in our world, and the way that God’s mercy is sometimes harder to swallow than God’s wrath.

Ninevah miraculously repents, and instead of giving God praise or celebrating with them at the thousands of new believers that have entered God’s kingdom, Jonah, like the elder son in the Parable of the Prodigal, Jonah gets annoyed, frustrated, and even angry. You see LORD, this is why I ran away to Tarsus! I knew you would have mercy on them if I came here, and these people don’t deserve it! Jonah had wanted to see the fireworks of Judgment Day fall upon these people he considered enemies. Instead, God redeemed them. And Jonah was not happy.

Peter wrote to the early church, reminding them of the purpose of God’s work in our world and in us.

1 Peter 1:13-16

A Call to Holy Living

Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”1

Holiness. It is the stuff that flows out of those points and moments of grace in our lives. It is the fruit that God raises in the soil of our being. And it trips us up when we try to take the wheel and drive it ourselves.

Here is how it usually breaks down. We preach and teach forgiveness and grace as a holy mystery – nothing scientific or practical about God dealing with our past sin. Then we switch gears completely and say, from here on out, it is our responsibility to do the right thing and sanctification, or the growth in holiness and the dealing with sin in the present and in the future is taught as something sterile, practical, and behavioral.

Want to quit swearing for Jesus? Put a rubber band around your wrist and snap yourself every time you swear. Put money in a swear jar. Write down in a journal the times you have sinned and share that with an accountability group. These are some of the many ways we teach holiness in our life, and while they can be helpful, they all come straight from behavioral psychology. I have nothing against behavioral psychology, but it assumes that either 1.) God does not exist, or 2.) That God does not intervene in our world. It takes us right back to Deism again.

I believe there is both art and science in all of God’s work. That means that while there is mystery in the way God forgives us of our past sins – there is a bit of logic and science to it as well. I would bet that, if studies were done, there would be significant brain changes, blood pressure relief, and some degree of general physical healing when a person accepted God’s forgiveness – especially for the first time. I think there are some kinds of things we can expect every time, from every person when they take some of those important steps to being a Christian. We may not be able to systematize the whole thing, but I suspect there are at least as many similarities as differences.

I also believe that our growth in grace is not any more systematic than our initial acceptance of it. Some parts we can plan. Some aspects are formulaic. Do this and don’t do that. But I think the real power in growing as a disciple of Jesus, walking that wild path of holiness, comes from God Himself as He intervenes into our lives every day, using both the good and bad experiences we have, to show us more of Him and His love, and to transform us from the people we are, into the people He has created us to become. We all need to learn to pray, but we will all have different experiences that will teach us the value of prayer and the methods of doing it. We all need to learn to search in and trust God’s Word, but the way I read my Bible may differ from the way you read yours, and some of those differences are intended by God. We all need to love one another. How that looks may be as varied and unique as the number of people God is calling. We will all struggle with holiness in different ways, and God, through His artistic prowess, will weave our stories of victories and failures, into a work of art that will overflow with His grace, encourage, and even direct those around us and the generations that follow us.

We all, as God’s people, are much like Jonah, and God will use us, with us or in spite of us, to do the amazing work of bringing grace and holiness into our world.

The Art and Science of God – Synthesis

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The Art and Science of God

Synthesis

Jonah 2

A Psalm of Thanksgiving

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying,

“I called to the Lord out of my distress,

and he answered me;

out of the belly of Sheol I cried,

and you heard my voice.

You cast me into the deep,

into the heart of the seas,

and the flood surrounded me;

all your waves and your billows

passed over me.

Then I said, ‘I am driven away

from your sight;

how shall I look again

upon your holy temple?’

The waters closed in over me;

the deep surrounded me;

weeds were wrapped around my head

at the roots of the mountains.

I went down to the land

whose bars closed upon me forever;

yet you brought up my life from the Pit,

O Lord my God.

As my life was ebbing away,

I remembered the Lord;

and my prayer came to you,

into your holy temple.

Those who worship vain idols

forsake their true loyalty.

But I with the voice of thanksgiving

will sacrifice to you;

what I have vowed I will pay.

Deliverance belongs to the Lord!”

Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land.

I think the heart of the story of Jonah is the world-changing power when repentance meets forgiveness. In the church we call that power grace and we have been singing songs about it for centuries. Grace stands in that middle place where the almighty power of God touches our frailness and brings forth greatness that we cannot contain ourselves. If you think religion and spiritual life is just a checklist, like eating healthy and exercising regularly, you are missing out on most of it.

It’s a power of synthesis, when two spiritual entities collaborate to share existence, to work together, to act as one. In science, when this typically happens between a greater and lesser being, the greater entity swallows up the lesser into is own being and the individuality is lost, the way we cannot see the raindrops within the clouds. However, even in science we see those hard rules of nature respecting this creative power of God. Those same clouds, as the heat is removed from them, distribute those unidentifiable drops of water as billions of snowflakes, each unique in its own delicate beauty.

God knows those snowflakes and He knows us even more. We are not made without purpose. We all fit into creation in a unique way. God does not separate the value of the holy and profane, the special and the plain, the way we, in our prejudices do. He created it all, and while He often creates an abundance of more than is strictly necessary, He does not let His world go to waste.

Case and point: even Jonah’s deliberate act of disobedience is redeemed and transformed into a story that has inspired the world to follow God for thousands of years.

This is grace, where the science of how things should work together meets the art of working through the disconnections and conflicts – creating something even more beautiful because of the fragility of it all. In our efforts to see how our world was made to work, when we look closely enough, we see that the only way it works at all, is if God continues to hold us all together.

Matthew 12:38-421

The Sign of Jonah

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! “

If you closely enough at the struggles you face today, can you see God working to hold everything together even there?


  1. (Lk 11:29–32)