The Story of God: Redemption

In Genesis 3:15, we get a glimpse, a “big picture” sneak peak of God’s remedy to the problem of sin. God said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Right after Adam and Eve sinned, God stepped in and brought not only immediate judgment on sin, but also a promise of a future “serpent crusher” who would ultimately deal a sweet blow to the serpent and the problem of sin.

Fast-forward to the New Testament, and we find the main character of the story—God—entering time and space. The Creator God stepped into creation not to destroy it, but to redeem it through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

A key event in redemptive history is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Timothy Keller, in his book Reason for God, states

If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead (210). [1]

If Jesus really resurrected from the dead, then He really is who He said He is—God in the flesh. The resurrection, among other things, changed the lives of Jesus’ original disciples, who went from being nobodies to being courageous men, ultimately dying for the message of the good news of the Crucified and Risen Messiah.

The disciples could not help, but witness to what they saw and heard about the person of Jesus Christ, especially, but not limited to, His bodily resurrection. Because of Christ and His finished work at the cross, the seed of restoration has been planted, bringing about real transformation in and through our lives.

The resurrection of Christ paved the way for the ultimate restoration to come in the future. As recorded in Revelation 21, the “new heavens and new earth” will be ushered—in all its fullness—in the age to come. This is when we will no longer experience the “former things” of this life, such as pain, suffering, evil, sin, and death.

Those of us who have trusted the finished work of Christ and placed our faith in Him have not only been forgiven and adopted, but also sealed with the Holy Spirit, who is “the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:14).

One day we will finally “acquire possession of it” and it is going to be glorious! We will experience and enjoy perfect relationship with God, perfect relationship with each other, and perfect relationship with creation, just how things were meant to be from the very beginning.

[1] Keller, Timothy. Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. Print.

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The Story of God: The Fall

In the beginning, everything was originally good and perfect. The universe experienced shalom as it was meant to, and mankind enjoyed—and benefitted from—a perfect relationship with God and each other. But, like most stories we know and hear, something went wrong—drastically wrong.

This is a dark chapter in story of God called “The Fall,” which refers to the historical event when Adam and Eve were deceived by Satan and rebelled against their good and loving Creator.

Sin entered the earth and infected and affected everything, such as the perfect relationship between God and mankind (vertical), the relationship between Adam and Eve (horizontal), and the relationship between mankind and creation, among many other things. The fall was truly a tragic event. Mankind—being created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27)—fell short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23).

What is interesting is that the original Genesis mandate—to rule over creation—calling still stands. The only difference is that it is now harder because of sin, which has permeated God’s good creation, negatively impacting everything.

As the story unfolds, mankind’s evil and pride only increases, as seen through events such as Cain’s murder of Abel and the towel of Babel, among others. Ever since the fall, mankind has been on a downward-spiral, relationally, physically, and spiritually.

Mankind has—broadly speaking—failed to, as one of my professors likes to say, “Put God on display” in such a way as to reflect or mirror God and His attributes well to the rest of mankind and creation.

This is a tragic reality. It would be eternally-devastating if the story ended there, but the good news is that it does not. On the contrary, the story continues on a note of hope, as we will see in part three, “Redemption”.

Ulcerative Colitis and the Story of God

Disclaimer: This is the first time I am writing about the biggest struggle of my life—chronic illness. I am going to be vulnerable for a moment and share with you some of my health problems, fears, frustrations, insecurities, and joys, in the hope of encouraging others. I apologize ahead of time if I gross you out in any way.


 

The Pride-Crushing Diagnosis

It all started my last week of high school. The first symptoms I experienced were abdominal pain, diarrhea, and bloody stool. It got worse after graduating. My parents and I made many trips to the hospital. I remember one day being in the waiting room of a gastroenterologist and thinking, “What am I doing here?” I looked around the room and was discouraged at the fact that I was the youngest person there. Everyone else was older—a lot older!

After several trips to the hospital and numerous tests and scans, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness called ulcerative colitis, which is inflammation in the colon (large intestine). Basically, the immune system is out of whack, attacking things such as good bacteria and food that comes in, resulting in inflammation in the lining of the intestinal walls. Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease that is life-long and incurable.

The year I was diagnosed was hard for me. Up until this point, I had never heard of ulcerative colitis, so I responded in a typical Hispanic way: “It’s nothing! It will go away eventually!”

That year, I lost a lot of weight and felt embarrassed to go out. Doubt and fear were my companions. Depression showed its ugly face on various occasions. And the physical pain was unbearable at times, to the point that I contemplated the idea of giving up on life.

But God—yes God!—was (and has) been my source of refuge and strength. When I wanted to give up on life, He was there. God stretched His mighty hand and pulled me up from my pit of despair, giving me the courage to press on with life.

The Struggle is Real, But So is The Story of God

I feel like my struggle with chronic illness has been one of “trial and error”. I have literally spent thousands of dollars, visited many doctors, and tried many medications, from antibiotics and natural supplements to probiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs.

Due to ulcerative colitis, I have a hard time maintaining a healthy weight and often deal with physical fatigue, leaving me frustrated and discouraged at times.

This might sound crazy, but I am thankful for the pain and suffering I have experience thus far in my short twenty-five years of life. I thank God for the physical hardships because they have brought me closer to Him. Make no mistake about it: physical pain and suffering sucks, and I have had a few other health-related issues that have tested my faith over time.

I do not know about you, but it is easy for me to see life through the lens of chronic illness. Limitations, failures, shortcomings, insecurities, and fears tend to color my view of reality.

Without realizing it, I have allowed chronic illness to become big and God small. Consequently, I have often allowed chronic illness to define me—my value, meaning, and purpose, negatively impacting my self-esteem and my God-given dreams and aspirations.

But there is good news—really good news! The story of God has changed it all. The story of God gives me an interpretive grid by which to make sense of life and chronic illness.

The biblical story paints a different picture of reality—one from God’s point of view. Though I am a sinner, I bear the image of God and thus possess dignity and value. I experience pain and suffering and illness as a result of sin and its tragic effects on creation, including mankind.

The story of God reminds me to look back at the cross and empty tomb as historical events marked with God’s redemptive fingerprints. The biblical story also points me to the future when God will restore all things and get rid of all evil, sin, death, and pain. Illness and suffering will be more. This is the blessed hope that keeps me going.

So I am not defined by chronic illness; I am defined by God and His redemptive story, which gives my life meaning, joy, and purpose. I am defined by my identity in Christ, which is eternal and unchanging.

Ulcerative colitis will not have the last word! Christ will have the last word! Or better yet, Christ has had the last word ever since His sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection. Ulcerative colitis has nothing on me!

I have to remind myself constantly that my value does not depend on how much I weigh or how I look or how much harder I am trying to live a “normal” life. No, my value rests solely on God and His love for me. Period.

The fight for my joy is real. And that is true both when I am sick—and caught up in the pain—and when I am feeling fine and cruising along.

Things I’m Learning … Six Years Later!

Here is a list of some of the things that I am learning (key word) as a Christian struggling with a chronic illness:

  • I am learning that God is good, powerful, and faithful
  • I am learning to exercise self-control when dealing with, and responding to, negative comments made on my appearance
  • I am learning that I need more Christian accountability and community in my life
  • I am learning to value friendships more
  • I am learning that having faith means both praying and taking action
  • I am learning to seek and find refuge in God and His joy-giving, soul-awakening presence
  • I am learning to appreciate the ordinary things of life
  • I am learning to accept help from others
  • I am learning to glorify God with my (limited) physical strength and energy and,
  • I am learning to not take myself too seriously and to enjoy life to best of my ability.

Some Advice

If you are struggling with ulcerative colitis—or some other chronic illness—please hear me out: you are not alone! It was not until I began to see my health condition holistically—taking in consideration stress management, nutrition, exercise, rest, etc.—that I started to see some improvements. I am no expert on ulcerative colitis, but I have learned some things along the journey. Here are three tips/recommendations:

  1. Manage Stress

Monitor what (or who!) gives you stress and take practical steps to relieve it. Go out with your friends, go watch a movie, or go enjoy your favorite dish. If you’re a student, break down big assignments (like that 10-page paper!) into smaller, more-doable assignments. This can be a great way to relieve stress—and get a better grade too!

  1. Eat Healthy and Exercise Often

Eating healthy is not only hard, but expensive! I have tried organic, vegan, and gluten-free products and my wallet has paid the price. For me, avoiding red meat, spicy and greasy foods, and lactose products help prevent flare ups and stay in remission longer. You will need to experiment a bit and figure out which foods trigger symptoms and which foods “feel good in your tummy”.

When it comes to exercise, I enjoy playing basketball and soccer. Whether you like hiking, going to the gym, running, or baseball, make time and do it as often as you can. Stay physically active!

  1. Get Help

If you have the means, get professional help from a gastroenterologist and/or nutritionist. If you’re a college student, visit the health center at your campus and take advantage of its free and low-cost services. For online resources, I highly recommend checking out The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America.

In regards to medication and treatment, every person is different; therefore, every case of ulcerative colitis will be different. There is not a one-size-fits-all treatment or medication. If you struggle with ulcerative colitis and are interested in receiving medical advice, please consult with a physician or healthcare provider.


 

Do you—or someone you know—struggle with ulcerative colitis? What have you found or heard to be helpful? What would you say to others who are struggling with the same or a similar condition? You can leave a comment below.

Feel free to share this blog post with others. Please let me know how I can help/pray for you? You can contact me here.

The Story of God: Creation

The greatest story ever told is not the story of mankind’s survival, independence, and achievement. To put it differently, the greatest story ever told does not begin with man, but with God. That’s right—God.

Mankind would not exist apart from God. Mankind would not have a story tell apart from God. Mankind would simply not be. God, on the other hand, is simply there. God is the God who is.

This God has a story, and it is the greatest story ever told. It is the story of all stories. It is the ultimate story, which trumps all other stories. It’s not that other stories are unimportant —they are in their own, unique ways—but the story of God is the story from which all other stories derive their meaning from, or at least they should. The story of God is comprehensively amazing and satisfying and encouraging. We would do well to spend some time on it.

Nancy Pearcey, in her ground-breaking book, Total Truth, encourages us to approach any worldview or story through a three-part grid: creation, fall, and redemption (127, 128, and 134).[1] It is through this three-part grid that we will briefly journey our way through the biblical story.

Creation

The biblical story begins with God. I have heard it said that the Bible does not begin by arguing for the existence of God, but by simply assuming it: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1; ESV). The beginning that is referred to here is not the beginning of God, but of the world, or better, the universe.

The Bible begins by drawing our attention to the main character of the story—God. He is the Creator of the universe who designed, filled, separated, and gave meaning to—and made possible the existence of—life in general, and humanity, in particular.

Out of all creation, mankind was created in a unique way to reflect who God is to the rest of the world. Humanity was created in the image of God, called to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (v. 28; emphasis added).

God, the rightful and just ruler of the universe, created and called mankind to represent Him and exercise His authority on earth. This was/is a great opportunity, blessing, and honestly, tremendous responsibility. (Let us just say that we have not, broadly speaking, done a good job at it).

Plus, God gave humanity the gifts of work and rest. Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden to work, care, and cultivate it for God’s glory. Overall, the beginning was characterized by shalom, and mankind was right in the center of it.

This first chapter of the biblical story is of crucial importance for the rest of the narrative for various reasons. The first chapter of Genesis teaches us some of Christianity’s core doctrines: creation out of nothing, the goodness of creation, creation of mankind as image-bearers, the origins of evil in this earth, the fall of mankind and its need for redemption, etc.

The creation account serves as the foundation to the rest of story of God. Nothing in the rest of the story will make sense without, or part from, the creation account.

[1] Pearcey, Nancy. Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity. Print.

My Story Thus Far

I was born in Ventura, California, and when I was four-years-old, my parents and I moved back to the small—but beautiful—Central-American country of Guatemala. The home/family life was characterized by traditional gender roles, hard work, and an honor/shame outlook on life.

My parents were, for the most part, good church attendees. I went along for the ride almost every day, if not every other day if there was a major obstacle, like a real emergency or a heavy storm. The early part of my childhood in Guatemala was all about going to school and learning Spanish, playing with marbles and trompos[1] and of course, working with my father at the ranch.

I grew up feeding cattle, cutting zacate [2] with my father’s machete (because I was too young to have one of my own), and, wrestling with small calves, swinging their little horns while I used my body to bring them to the ground. Those were the good old days!

My dad and I moved back to the U.S. in 2001. The rest of family—mother and four, Guatemalan sisters—came along the following year. I was eleven-years-old when I moved to the U.S., where I experienced—as you can imagine—culture shock. Though I was born in the U.S., I knew nothing about its culture, ideology, and way of living. I remember how I gained some popularity among my fifth- and sixth-grade peers by playing futbol.[3]

Middle school was a little better, as far speaking English and assimilating the American culture goes. High school was not the best, due to an apathetic, rebellious attitude, the influence of friends, and bad choices. All of this happened while still attending church with family. I acted as a good kid in front of other Christians, memorized Bible verses, and showed some passion. But underneath it all was a broken sinner in need of the grace of God.

It was not until God got a hold of my heart that I was awakened to His sovereignty, mercy, and unconditional, heart-warming love. The rest was history.

Things have changed since our time in Guatemala. I no longer wear tight, black denim jeans or a cowboy hat (thank goodness!) and neither does my dad. But on a more serious note, my family and I have experienced the grace and love of God in a whole new way, strengthening our relationships. In regards to the future, I would like to serve God in either full-time, pastoral ministry or the education system, or a combination of both.

My story is far from perfect. My story has been marked by physical pain (due to chronic illness), uncertainty, confusion, depression, frustration, discouragement, and doubt, just to name a few. But my story is a redeemed story. Why? Because my story is within a much-bigger, much-more-powerful, story—and that story is none other than the story of God, which gives my story meaning and purpose. It is to this biblical story that we will turn our attention to in the following posts.

[1] A whipping top, made out of wood, which is spun and launched by a string.

[2] Grass/hay/forage for cattle, horses, etc.

[3] Soccer.

We Draw Meaning from Stories

I recently heard a talk [1] by award-winning, recording artist, Lecrae, who, at a recent Q conference, said that statements only make sense in light of a bigger story. “Some master narrative is where we draw our meaning from” Lecrae stated. “People are drawn to stories more than graphs, charts, fact, and stats.”

For example, “Jesus died” is a historical fact, but alone makes no sense. Who was Jesus? Why did He die? What did He accomplish? What makes Him unique? These are some of the questions that need to be asked in order to make sense of the “Jesus died” statement. When one begins to ask these questions, one begins (or at least, should begin) to dig into the bigger story behind Jesus, which is the greater story of God as narrated in Scripture.

My story has, is, and will continue to derive its meaning from the greater story of God. It is only in light of this comprehensive narrative that my personal story has any value whatsoever. I am grateful that my story has experienced redemption through the story of God.

As life moves on, I want to get better acquainted with the biblical story and live in light of it. I want to get better acquainted with my own bicultural story (i.e., Hispanic American) and learn to navigate both worlds effectively for the gospel.

I want to get better at learning other peoples’ stories, listening to what they have to say, not just to respond, but to understand where they come from, their needs, etc. The goal is to be more effective in sharing the story of God, allowing the power of the gospel to bring about change in their lives and cultures. And to this end I pray. May God be glorified.

[1] Lecrae. “Artists and Poets”: Q Conference. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-hIPW2AJnc