A Primer on Christian Faith (Part 1)

Painting by: Jan Brueghel the Younger, God Creating

For God so loved the world that He gave
His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him
should not perish but have everlasting life.
John 3:16, NKJV

John 3:16 is one of the most well-known and frequently memorized verses in the Bible. Bible Gateway, an online Bible study website that offers over 200 versions of the Bible in over 70 different languages, reported for the year 2019 that John 3:16 was the number one most popular verse.[1] For those who are well-acquainted with historical Christianity, it’s easy to see why. John 3:16 embodies the fundamental message of Christian faith—those who put their faith in Jesus Christ will receive eternal life.

At the heart of this message is the invitation to believe—believe that God loves me, sent His Son to die for me, and offers eternity if I will simply believe. The invitation to believe is simple enough to understand. However, it seems almost unthinkable according to twenty-first century sensibilities characterized by relativist spirituality and secular humanist morality. But it is precisely for these reasons that it is well worth our time to renew our hearts and minds with another look at this favorite verse.

For God…

John 3:16 begins with the phrase for God. This is the beginning point for the Christian worldview—faith in God. The Bible makes no defense for God’s existence. Rather, it simply assumes He is. This is easily seen in the very first verse of the Bible, Genesis 1:1,

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Notice, before the beginning of the universe, God already was. God has no beginning, middle or end. God simply is. The Psalmist set this truth to song in Psalm 90:2,

Before the mountains were brought forth,
Or ever You had formed the earth and the world,
Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.

From everlasting to everlasting, God is. There is no before God, nor will there be any after as if God might stop existing. The Bible teaches that the physical universe had a beginning and that beginning came by the will of God. But God has neither beginning nor end.

It is interesting to consider that the most prominent scientific theory for the origin of the universe, the Big Bang Theory, agrees with the Christian. Beginnings and endings are not so difficult to understand. They are also easy to illustrate with everyday life. The challenge for the human mind is answering the question so often asked by the inquisitive child, “if all things have a beginning, then who created God?”

But the question of the beginning of God need not stumble the Christian. The difficulty with the question is the question itself. The question suggests that God needs a creator by assuming that God is bound by time, space and matter. This does not describe the Christian’s God.

God is not physical, but spiritual. God exists outside of nature. The Bible clearly presents a spiritual world inhabited by spiritual creatures and governed by God. Though the naturalist and many spiritualists balk at the reality of a spiritual world, the Bible is clear that the spiritual world is real and is the true battleground for the hearts of humankind. This spiritual world, sometimes called the heavenly places, includes two opposed spiritual factions, one of which is set against both humanity and God. Paul describes this reality in Ephesians 6:12:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

But even though the Christian lives in daily struggle against spiritual powers of darkness, we take comfort in the knowledge that, ultimately, God is ruler over all. As Psalm 103:19 says,

The Lord has established His throne in heaven,
And His kingdom rules over all.

And behind the scenes, God has a host of spiritual ministers who serve Him and us in a variety of unseen ways, the most well-known of these spiritual creatures being angels. Concerning the role of angels in world events, the writer of Hebrews asks rhetorically,

Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?

Further, though it seems that God’s permissiveness toward evil violates His good nature, the Bible teaches that God’s temporary allowance of evil shows His patient love for the world. As the Bible explains in 2 Peter 3:9,

The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

This is the Christian God who loves. God is spiritual, searching for human hearts open to the idea of eternal life with Him. He made provision for our total inability to leave behind our innate sinfulness by giving His Son to die as our eternal sin-covering. This is the God who invites the whole world of humankind to eternal life and welcomes whoever receives Him by faith.


[1] Megan Fowler, “The Bible App’s Most Popular Verse of 2019: ‘Do Not Worry’,” Christianity Today, December 9, 2019, https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2019/december/bible-app-most-popular-youversion-bible-gateway-2019-worry.html.

I Am Yours (Gracie’s Song)

An original song based on Ephesians 1:3-6.
In loving memory of Graciana Jane Northup, December 6th, 2019.

I Am Yours (Gracie’s Song)
Words and music by Tim Northup

Before You made the worlds
You called me by Your name
That I might live for You
Holy without blame
You chose me as Your own
According to Your love
To the praise and glory
Of Your beloved Son

I am Yours, I’m Yours
I am Yours, I’m Yours

Before You set the stars
In the evening sky
You knew every thought
That passes through my mind
Every joy and pain
That ever fills my heart
Sovereign over all
You keep me by Your love

I am Yours, I’m Yours
I am Yours, I’m Yours

When I feel alone
Drifting in the wind
The storm surrounding me
Darkness pressing in
You never let me go
Your Spirit drawing near
Comforting my heart
Wiping every tear

I am Yours, I’m Yours
I am Yours, I’m Yours

When the pain is too much to bear
This heartache beyond compare
All hope lost in the despair
You are near, You are near
You are here, You are here

I am Yours, I’m Yours
I am Yours, I’m Yours
I am Yours

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread Mini Muffins

IMG_20200313_110555-01

I adapted this recipe from my basic banana bread. It’s a fairly straightfoward recipe, using pantry basics: eggs, oil, vanilla extract, brown sugar, all-purpose flour and typical leavening agents. My family really likes chocolate chips, but other mix-ins like nuts or berries work well, too!

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread Mini Muffins

  • Servings: 24
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 medium very ripe banana (roughly 1/2 cup) mashed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar loosely packed
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp mini chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk mashed banana, egg, oil, and vanilla extract until uniform. Then mix in brown sugar.
  3. Add flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix until well-combined.
  4. Stir in chocolate chips (or other mix-ins).
  5. On a non-stick mini muffin tray, spray 24 of the mini muffin cups with non-stick spray. Then distribute batter evenly among the 24 mini muffin cups.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees F for 10-13 minutes, until edges just start to turn golden and toothpick stuck in center comes out clean with maybe a couple crumbles (but no raw batter).
  7. Allow to cool 10-15 minutes before removing from pan.
Makes about 24 mini muffins at roughly 85 calories per mini muffin. Great for breakfast, snacks, and dessert!

Fear and the Goodness of God

wrath-of-god-martin

Fear (terror) compels people to do all kinds of things. History has proven this to be true at all levels of human experience, from personal interactions to community concerns to international conflicts.

Concerning salvation, many Christians confess that the fear (terror) of God’s wrath resting on unrepentant sinners (John 3:18-21, 36) is what initiated their faith in Jesus.[1]

There is another sense of fear that also plays a role in the Christian’s faith. The Bible teaches, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov 1:7, NKJV). This kind of fear (awe, reverence) comes from some measure of recognition of how truly great, mighty, and awesome God is and how small, puny, and powerless we are in contrast to Him.

But when it comes to salvation, God isn’t just interested in handing out “fire insurance” or “keep out of hell” cards. God doesn’t save us to set us on a pedestal. God desires changed hearts producing changed lives, lives that increasingly become transformed to reflect the the righteousness of the Son.

This kind of change is not produced by fear, but by the goodness of God. As Romans 2:4 says, “the goodness of God leads you to repentance.” Thus, the Lord invites us, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him!”

Consider an example from Jesus. It was not the fear (terror) of death that drove the prodigal home. His fear caused him to reflect on his life choices and remember his father’s house. It was the goodness of his father that convinced him that he might find some small portion of sustenance after squandering his resources and exhausting his options (Luke 15:11-32).

Thus, in facing the fear (terror) of death apart from God, we learn the fear (awe, reverence) of the Lord, which draws us to the Son. And when we come to the Son by grace through faith (Eph 2:8), we find we need no longer fear death and the grave because God’s wrath no longer abides on us. What we find is good Father who welcomes us with open arms.

[1] R.C. Sproul relaying the testimony of some of his congregants for their reasons for believing in Jesus https://youtu.be/fcOzTZUOBn0?t=293.

San Diego Holiday Half 2019

san-diego-holiday-half-2019

Tomorrow morning, Lord willing, I will run my first half marathon race. Last winter I wasn’t quite ready for the distance and this year has been a very rough whirlwind of events. But the Lord is faithful. I’m excited for this next milestone in the journey of healthful living that the Lord started me on a little over two-and-a-half years ago, on February 27th, 2016. As long as the Lord keeps me healthy, I know I can go the distance. But my two hour goal is going to be a bit of a challenge.

This race is also very special for me because one of the reasons I run is for my family. I signed up for this race back in August knowing my goal time would be to hours. But I didn’t know then how meaningful those two hours will be for me. Exactly two weeks ago today, on December 6th, 2019, at 6:05pm, my second little girl, Graciana Jane Northup, was born. She had already been quite sick for several weeks and the doctors didn’t hold out much hope for her to survive delivery. Nonetheless, the Lord graciously gave our family two precious hours with her to pray and sing praise over her before He took her home.

Gracie, this race is for you.