Christianity 201

April 26, 2022

It’s Not a Revelation of End Times, It’s a Revelation of Jesus

A decade ago, on two occasions, we featured the writing of Allan R. Bevere, and it’s always encourage to go back years later and discover the individual is still faithfully posting resources online. You’ll notice two things right away. Allan lists the scriptures from the Lectionary, and he also places the prayer at the beginning of the devotional, which can be a great way of centering our thoughts before we begin reading.

Alan is pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Ashland, Ohio. Clicking the header below will take you the text of today’s devotional at Faith Seeking Understanding.

A Vision Focused on Jesus

Scripture

Psalter: Psalm 122

Old Testament: Esther 7:1-10

Epistle: Revelation 1:9-20

___

Prayer

Mighty God, in whom we know the power of redemption, you stand among us in the shadows of our time. As we move through every sorrow and trial of this life, uphold us with knowledge of the final morning when, in the glorious presence of your risen Son, we will share in his resurrection, redeemed and restored to the fullness of life and forever freed to be your people. Amen.

___

Reflection

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades (Revelation 1:17-18).

“Revelation changes the way we see and respond to the world,” says Joel Green (Reading Scripture as Wesleyans, p. 160). He elaborates, “As much as any book of the Bible, Revelation recognizes how the glasses we wear determine what we see and understand about the world around us” (p. 161).

In Star Wars, The Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon Jinn says to a young Anakin Skywalker, “Remember, Your focus determines your reality,” or as is stated in C.S. Lewis’ Magician’s Nephew, “[W]hat you see and hear depends a good deal on where you’re standing: it also depends on what sort of person you are” (Green, p. 161).

The truth of the matter is that no one comes to the world from a neutral point of view. There is no objective account of reality. I remember listening to a sermon years ago. Near the end of the message the preacher said to the congregation gathered, “Now, when you leave the church and go out into the real world…” Such a comment is a great theological misstep. It is the conviction of the Bible that the real world is not “out there.” The world “out there” is a distortion of the true reality God has in mind for his creation. It is the church that is to glimpse that real world so the world will know what God expects of it. To be sure, the church so often falls short of reflecting that divine reality, but it is charged with doing so nonetheless. As Stanley Hauerwas states,

My claim, so offensive to some, that the first task of the church is to make the world the world, not to make the world more just, is a correlative of this theological metaphysics. The world simply cannot be narrated—the world cannot have a story— unless a people exist who make the world the world. That is an eschatological claim that presupposes we know there was a beginning only because we have seen the end … [C]reation names God’s continuing action, God’s unrelenting desire for us to want to be loved by that love manifest in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (Hannah’s Child, p. 158).

Green reminds us that in his vision the author of Revelation is not located on an island in exile or in the middle of the Roman Empire, but, “[h]e stands in the heavens. He sees things from God’s perspective, so he sees things as they really are” (p. 161)

As we read through the symbolism and the imagery, we are also transported into that realm that is beyond and yet interwoven with human reality that we might see all things earthly from a heavenly “point of view.”—to see things as they really are. This is a most difficult thing, to be sure, but Revelation gives us a glimpse of the divine reality thus determining true reality because of our changed focus.

Joel concludes,

…through his [John’s] narrative, he invites us to accompany him, so that we, too, see things as they really are. To do so, though, we need not only to travel with him to the throne room of God but also to allow our patterns of thinking, feeling, and believing to be dismantled and reassembled through binding ourselves to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who is worthy to receive honor, dominion, and power by means of his humiliating death (p. 161).

It must not be forgotten that in the Book of Revelation, John is not offering us a secret road map to discerning the signs of the end time, but rather he offers his vision from the perspective of a pastor who is encouraging his hearers to change the focus of their reality as churches under the thumb of an empire that pretends to offer security and salvation in exchange for complete and total allegiance. Their response to the world should not be focused on the empire’s pretentious claims, but rather on the heavenly reality that is true on earth—Jesus is Lord.


An excellent book on the book of Revelation is Michael J. Gorman, Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb Into the New Creation. It can be purchased here.

 

April 1, 2022

Christianity 201 12th Birthday | The Fruit of Wisdom

It’s Our Birthday!

I never expected when I started this that we would still be posting devotionals every afternoon at around 5:30 Eastern Time, seven days a week, 12 months of the year. Faithfulness to this and stewardship of the site has meant things like arranging for a series of things to be posted when we would be on holidays, and has meant building margin into my schedule for days when I knew that the devotional could have easily been crowded out by other activities. Some days, like yesterday, the WordPress “publish” button doesn’t get pushed until it’s already 5:30 PM.

It’s also been a matter of keeping some balance, both in the type of writers we feature (their doctrine, denomination) and the subject matters. I know for example that not everyone is married with children, but the scripture teaching on marriage and parenting can have valuable broader application for all of us. (Parenting being obvious, as God, our Father, parents us.)

Then there are the quotations. You can find collections online for hundreds of Christian authors, but I’ve been selective here in choosing a few key authors that I felt led to present, and also a certain type of quotation from each of them that befits the readership here.

I could not celebrate twelve years without thanking Clarke Dixon for his weekly contribution every Thursday which is always a perfect fit. Clarke and I got to spend an hour together yesterday for the first time in ages, and I do appreciate his friendship. I wanted to list some of the other frequently recurring writers here, but I knew that I would leave someone out. However I want to mention Kevin Rogers who has been featured here for a long time, and Stephen and Brooksyne Weber who, while I don’t get to read Daily Encouragement as often as I once did, have always been a source of inspiration and … encouragement!

After thinking about what we could present today, it occurred to me that the best thing I could do is to do what we do best, so here’s today’s devotional.

The Fruit of Wisdom

NIV.James.3.17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

The list before us is, I believe, both characteristics of wisdom itself, and of those who seek and manifest wisdom in their daily living.  The first verse appeared earlier this week on my NIV Bible App, but I decided to include verse 18 in light of what follows.

The first thing I noticed was how certain characteristics here overlap the fruit of the spirit as listed in Galatians 5:22-23. When I read “submissive” it reminded me of the overlap with the characteristics in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-10, where Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek.”  (Several translations have submissive as “open to reason.) The list may also remind you of the character traits in the “love chapter” in 1 Corinthians 13. It’s also reminiscent of the qualities Paul prays for the Colossian church to have in Colossians 1: 9-14.

But here we have not Jesus, not the Apostle Paul, but James reiterating a similar type of character checklist. (You’d almost think these personal qualities were important or something!) But James is speaking with respect to wisdom and this is an important distinction.

We often conflate wisdom with knowledge. I have to admit this is a real challenge for me personally. I gravitate to teachers whose sermons contain a lot of information. I don’t necessarily retain it all, but I’m challenged by it, especially in the context of the conclusions they reach at the end of their teaching. I love bullet points, and alliterative outlines, and infographics, and those little laminated pamphlets published by Rose Publishing which reduce major topics in Christian history and doctrine to their essential points.

Because of this, when we started Christianity 201, I tended to eschew devotionals which relied heavily on stores about a little boy and his dog, a person looking for a parking spot, a disobedient child, a rainbow appearing after a rainstorm. You get the idea. Privately, I tended to avoid sermons by preachers who feel the need to open with a personal anecdote from the previous week; I like the ones who just say, “Take your Bible and turn to the Book of  _________ …” and then start teaching.

But we don’t necessarily Jesus giving a treatise on advanced doctrinal concepts. There’s nothing close to an outline in systematic theology. Instead, we see, as Clarke reminded us yesterday, stories about a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son (or two lost sons). And the lost son story in particular is beyond human imagination in the different ways we can learn from it.

In other words, Jesus doesn’t give us summary teachings on his theological outlook, as much as he invites us to surmise his theology from the illustrations. He invites us to work it out. (Perhaps with fear and trembling?)

And so, to go back to James’ epistle, while knowledge can be amassed and stored and retrieved as needed, true wisdom is going to produce change in us. It’s going to bring about transformation. To repeat one more time, information (knowledge) is not wisdom.

When we seek spiritual wisdom, what James calls “the wisdom from above” we are asking God to shape us, form us, change us.

… For those of you who’ve been on this ride for a longer time, I hope the twelve years of Christianity 201 has blessed you, and tomorrow we’ll be back with more.

 

March 16, 2022

Living the Practical Implications of God’s Omniscience

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake
– popular Christmas song referencing Santa Claus

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.
– Hebrews 4:13 NLT

Jim is employed by a very large company that combines manufacturing, packaging and warehousing in a facility that spreads out over thousands of square feet in three different buildings.  His job is to oversee the “shop” where three technicians deal with the maintenance of the robotic and human-operated assembly of machinery that is used in other plants to build a variety of things we use every day.

Jim’s work station is monitored by four different security cameras. There’s no escaping them; no blind spot from which the the area is not visible. Still, Jim says he often goofs off.

“I figure that with over 140 cameras, they can only follow the action on three or four of them at a time;” Jim says, adding, “Besides, I’ve walked past that section and often nobody is on duty. The images are grainy and out of focus. Furthermore, I do my best work when I’m more relaxed.I have to live as if the cameras are not there and I’m not being watched.”

What Jim is saying is that he knows there is the potential that management or security is watching, but he feels the likelihood they’re watching is rather remote…

…That’s often the way we respond to God’s omniscience. We know that he can see everything; that his cameras are in place and functional, but we must assume that he isn’t bothering to track us every minute of the day, or else we wouldn’t do (or not do) the things we sometimes do (or not do).

To say it another way, our positional view affirms an all-seeing God, but on a practical level it isn’t impacting our lives. Some believers deplore the theology in the pop song that says God is watching us “from a distance,” but then we live as if he isn’t watching us at all.

I’ve heard it said that people who have a hard time cracking an online addiction to internet pornography often find success only after coming into a greater awareness that God is with them, in the room, sitting next to them, watching their keyboard keystrokes, seeing what’s on the monitor. Their ability to break the habit increases when they imagine Him sitting next to them; perhaps even adding a second chair as a reminder.

(It is interesting that Christian counselors, in the course of providing such counsel, will say to a person, “Imagine God is sitting next to you.” Imagine! Theologically, no such imagination is necessary; his presence is a fact of life.

II Chronicles 16:9 is translated in the KJV as “The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” and in The Message as “God is always on the alert, constantly on the lookout for people who are totally committed to him.”

Both versions indicate that God is not looking for people who are asleep at their work station, but instead He longs for a people who whose hearts are fully committed to Him. He doesn’t want to catch you goofing off; rather, he’s hoping you’re being diligent enough to be named employee of the week. In other words, just as I Cor 13 tells us that“Love believes the best…” so also God wants to believe the best about you.

But He is omniscient, and we can’t assume that we can escape His gaze somehow. I Cor 4:4-5; the Apostle Paul states:

4 My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide. 5 So don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time—before the Lord returns. For he will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due. NLT

This is an echo of Proverbs 16:2

All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight,
But the LORD weighs the motives .  NASB

It’s also the theme of Brant Hansen’s recent book, The Truth About Us (Baker Books) We think we’re good. We jump on our own publicity train believing the very best about ourselves, but as he notes, that perspective sometimes takes a lot of effort.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” Jesus says (Matt. 11:28). Perhaps that rest involves being able to stop all this machinery in its tracks. By admitting how we can fool ourselves, by admitting we’re addicted to our own rightness, by rethinking how we approach life, we may just also find this oft-elusive “peace” he spoke of.

No more justifying, no more constant rationalization. This is the beauty of actually saying, “I am not a good person.” (Page 40)

Someone once said that each one of us is three people

  1. The “me” that I think I am
  2. The “me” that I appear to be to others
  3. The “me” that I truly am

I’ll end today with a confession: While I am 100% convinced of God’s omniscience, I often live like he’s tied up monitoring someone else. He is watching however, and His greatest longing is to see me productive and fully engaged at whatever work station in life I find myself that his consistent with living as a citizen of his Kingdom.

March 9, 2022

Living in the Intersection of Two Worlds

To be a Christian is to be following Christ in a world that is dominantly following other standards, other passions, other rules of engagement.  There are several different aspects to this.

The first has to do with location. Have you ever gone ‘state straddling?’ That’s where you stand with one foot in one state and one in another. There are parts of the Canada/US border (and probably more in Europe) where you can actually do ‘country straddling,’ with one foot in the USA and one in its northern neighbor (or more correctly in this case, neighbour with a ‘u.’) As believers, we straddle a fence between two realms.

The first Venn diagram I ever saw that talked about the Christian living in two worlds depicted the intersection of ‘this age’ and ‘the age to come.’ We live in that intersection, as part of earthly kingdoms, and part of a kingdom yet to be realized.

Christianity is simple enough that a child can understand the basics, in fact, we’re encouraged to come as a child.

And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 18:3

However, as we press in to knowing God through Jesus, we discover that while the entry point is wonderfully simplistic, moving deeper involves beautiful complexity and the ability to think in abstract terms. Currently we’re aware of a family whose faith is stuck because they want to be able to express all of doctrine in literal, black-and-white terms.

But we need to be able to dig deeper. For example, fully grasping need for abstract thinking is fundamental to understanding salvation in terms like, ‘We were saved, we are saved, we will be saved.’ Such is the complexity and fullness of all Christ accomplished at the cross.

But there is also the dynamic of distinction. In this world, we are to be called out and set apart to live in the middle of a world that follows different marching orders. There are two forces wrestling for control of each and every one of us, the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness.

Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the LORD. Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you. – 2 Cor. 6:17 NLT

We’re called to be in this situation, but not of it. We’re called to live in a world where all type of influence may come into us, but where what comes out of us is what matters. We’re called to be affected by all kinds of external stimuli, but to respond uniquely and unexpectedly as strangers and aliens by going the extra mile, turning the other cheek, giving the coat off our back, etc.

But there is a third intersection which takes place entirely within. It has nothing about it that would register externally. There is no behavioral component where person ‘X’ is seen struggling with wanting to do right but finding himself/herself doing wrong. It is completely unseen.

We were created with ego. That’s it. Pure and simple. We were created with a survivalist instinct that runs completely contrary to the idea of preferring others. In the NIV, the verse reads,

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves…  Phil 2:3

Try this sometime: Look up a dozen verses containing the word sin, and replace it with selfishness. You’ll find the verses all read somewhat normally; they make sense. And it’s the opposite of the way Kingdom-of-God people should be living.

Living to prefer others is not natural. It must be labored at, worked out with fear and trembling. But even then, it can only be fully attained if there is a model for us to follow, to imitate. If someone has gone before and shown us by example that it is possible to live in this time and this place under a law of love.

Feel free at this point to interject, ‘Oh, if only there was such a person who could show us how to live this life.’

It also has to do with keeping an internal consistency.

I know everything you have done, and you are not cold or hot. I wish you were either one or the other.  – Rev. 3:15 CEV

This third type of internal struggle is for many the most difficult at all. You may live in a mostly Christian culture — even if it’s nominal — where your Christian beliefs are widely held. You may live in a situation that is somewhat devoid of persecution compared to other parts of the world. But I guarantee you that you do not escape the conflict between your egotistical, self-focused nature and the type of others-focused servanthood that the New Testament teaches.

The greatest battlefield we face as Christ-followers is often the battlefield within.

February 17, 2022

When Everyone Is So Certain

Thinking Through Luke 6:17-26

by Clarke Dixon

Is it just me, or is everyone convinced they are right and everyone else is wrong? For uncertain times there sure is a lot of certitude. How are we supposed to be sure of anything when everyone seems so sure of everything yet can agree on nothing? Our Scripture Focus today will help us find our way.

In today’s Scripture Focus Jesus challenged two things that many people were certain about.

First, Jesus challenged people’s assumptions about about how God works.

Then looking up at His disciples, He said:
You who are poor are blessed,
because the kingdom of God is yours.
You who are now hungry are blessed,
because you will be filled.
You who now weep are blessed,
because you will laugh…

But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your comfort.
Woe to you who are now full,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who are now laughing,
for you will mourn and weep.

Luke 6:20,21,24,25 (HCSB)

It was well known in those days that if you obeyed God, things would go well for you and you would be blessed. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t. Therefore the assumption was that the rich, the well-fed, the happy were obviously those who were well deserving of God’s blessings. The poor, the hungry, the unhappy, were obviously those who didn’t deserve God’s blessings. Many people think this way today.

Jesus challenged all that; “Blessed are the poor.” Discerning who is blessed by God and who is not goes way beyond merely looking at who seems to be doing well in life right now. There is something much deeper going on. That is not how God works.

So how did everyone get it wrong and could they have have done better?

The prevailing understanding seems to lean heavily on the Book of Deuteronomy where we find lists of blessings and curses for God’s people. If the people as a nation obeyed God, they would be blessed, if they didn’t, they wouldn’t. When Jesus spoke about blessings and woes he was probably intending for people to make that connection with Deuteronomy. Yet what he said was very different, and challenged their assumptions.

Assumptions could have been challenged earlier if people paid more attention to other parts of the Bible, like the Book of Job. The Book of Job is a rather long drama that asks the question, why do good people suffer while bad people flourish? The Book of Job is not really about the about the answer to that question but rather the validity of that question. It challenges the notion that you can tell if a person is blessed by God by looking at whether they are winning in life or not. Look around, good people sometimes do suffer, evil people sometimes do flourish. Perhaps the conclusions people jumped to by reading Deuteronomy could have been challenged by looking wider and being challenged by Job before being challenged by Jesus.

Looking wider and becoming aware of other viewpoints is key for us today as we navigate this era of certitude.

We can dig deep on any given topic, but we also must look around. As we do so, we are not seeking more reasons to stick to our guns, but greater wisdom, insight, and understanding, allowing our assumptions to be challenged. Doing so may or may not lead us to change our minds, but either way it will allow us to better understand the minds of others.

Some people think they are digging deep, doing research on a topic, but what that looks like is reading article after article that are written from the same perspective, that start from the same assumptions, that support the same conclusions. We call this being in an echo chamber where every voice is echoing the same thing. Sometimes our choice of echo chamber is based on wanting to hear from “experts” what we would want to say if we were the experts. Sometimes digging deeper just gets you into a bigger hole that is harder to get out of. We also need to look around. Other voices are important. We need the conclusions we jump to by reading Deuteronomy to be challenged by reading Job.

Think of how much better this world would be if we all let our assumptions be challenged, if we all sought wisdom, insight, and deep understanding rather than simply seeking confirmation of what we think we know.

Jesus challenged people’s assumptions about about how God works, about how life works. As a matter of prayer we might want to pause and ask the Lord to challenge us about our assumptions and whatever false conclusions we may have arrived at, or been pushed into.

Second, Jesus challenged the assumption that he, Jesus, was not from God.

You are blessed when people hate you,
when they exclude you, insult you,
and slander your name as evil
because of the Son of Man. [i.e. Jesus]
“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! Take note — your reward is great in heaven, for this is the way their ancestors used to treat the prophets…

Woe to you
when all people speak well of you,
for this is the way their ancestors
used to treat the false prophets.

Luke 6:22,23,26 (HCSB emphasis, clarification added)

Here Jesus pointed out how former generations had got it wrong. They often persecuted the true prophets who were from God, and rewarded the false prophets who were not.

When the religious leaders heard Jesus they were operating with a big assumption, namely, that anyone coming from God would live, teach, and act according to their understanding of the Scriptures. So, anyone healing on a Sabbath, something Jesus was prone to do, was obviously not from God. Jesus said and did many other things that got under their skin. Their attitude was: “Jesus can’t possibly be from God if he does not look, act, and think, just like we do.”

There was at least one religious leader who managed to challenge that assumption:

There was a man from the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Him at night and said, “ Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher, for no one could perform these signs You do unless God were with him.”

John 3:1-2 (HCSB)

Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, likely in secret because his openness to Jesus would not have gone over well with the other Pharisees. How many of us keep our thoughts secret out of fear of people jumping all over us for challenging assumptions?

Nicodemus was willing to allow his assumptions, as a Pharisee, to be challenged. And it was to Nicodemus that those most famous of words were said:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

John 3:16 (NRSV)

Some scholars see this verse, and those that follow, not as the words of Jesus, but as the writer’s comment on the important things Jesus said to Nicodemus. Nevertheless, do our assumptions keep us from hearing about God’s love for the world and for us? Assumptions like “miracles don’t happen,” “Jesus couldn’t have risen from the dead because people don’t rise from the dead,” or “The Bible is just all made up stories.”

Might assumptions keep us from learning important truths about Jesus, God, God’s grace and love, and God’s kingdom? Might assumptions keep us from learning important truths that lead us to life, to the Giver of life? Might assumptions keep those of us who follow Jesus from following more closely?

Might assumptions keep us from learning important truths about people and the way things work? It might be assumptions around mental health, race relations, viruses and vaccines. We might have assumptions about Muslims, atheists, Christians, truckers, health care workers, youth, seniors, people who are LGBTQ+, politicians, and yes, pastors. If I had a penny for every time someone has said to me “you are a pastor and you ride a motorcycle?”!

Jesus challenged people’s assumptions about their beliefs about whether or not he, Jesus, was from God. Perhaps we should pause and ask if Jesus would challenge our assumptions about who he is and he is about. While we are at it, perhaps we should challenge the assumptions we make about everyone else too. And then there are the assumptions we make about ourselves.

In Summary

In our society today there are many deeply held convictions. Deeply held convictions are no guarantee of deep insight. As we allow our assumptions to be challenged, as we listen to other voices, it will make a big difference. Let us be wise, seeking insight, knowledge, and understanding, on anything and everything, and of everyone, including ourselves. Let us especially seek insight where it matters most, about God and God’s love for us in Christ.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:17-19 (NIV)


In addition to formatting Clarke’s “Shrunk Sermon” notes for several years, for the past 24 months I’ve also been tuned into his church’s online “Worship Expression.” For the sermon portion of this week’s, on which this article was based, click this link.

February 14, 2022

Sometimes When We Sing

If the circumstances of the worldwide pandemic have meant there’s been a drop in the frequency of your corporate singing (worship) experience at church, I know that you eagerly await a return to in-person worship. This is an article which Ruth wrote four years ago for our Sunday Worship series.

Sometimes When We Sing

by Ruth Wilkinson

One of the precious things we do when we meet together as the Church is to sing. Together.

Sometimes when we sing together, we sing to each other.
I sing you my story, you sing me yours. We remind each other of who God is.

Our posture is face to face, looking each other in the eye, like the Psalm writers who said:

Sing to Yahweh! Sing praise to Him; tell about all His wonderful works!
Remember what He’s done: His wonders, and His judgments.
-Psalm 105

I love the Lord because He’s heard my cry for mercy.
And because He’s turned His ear to me, I will call out to Him as long as I live.

-Psalm 116

Oh, happy day! Oh, happy day!
When Jesus washed, when he washed my sins away!
He taught me how to walk, fight and pray,
And live rejoicing everyday
***
Forever God is faithful,
Forever God is strong,
Forever God is with us,
Forever
***

Sometimes when we sing together, we sing to God.
We sing to say “Thank you,” to say “I’m sorry,” to say “We love you.”
Our posture is eyes raised, hands reaching high, like the Psalm writers who said:

I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars that You set in place and wonder –
who are we that You think of us?
What are the sons and daughters of man that You care for us?

Yahweh, our Lord,
How majestic is Your name in all the earth!

-Psalm 8

We are a moment, You are forever,
Lord of the ages, God before time
***
O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made,
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee!
***

Sometimes when we sing together we sing as one – together.
We sing our shared history, our shared experience, our shared future.
Our posture is hand in hand, arms across shoulders, elbows linked, like the Psalm writers who said:

God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found
– when the earth trembles and the mountains topple,
when the waters of the sea roar and foam
and shake the land.

Come on, let’s shout joyfully to the Lord,
shout triumphantly to the rock of our salvation!
For He is our God, and we are His people.

-Psalm 46, Psalm 95

In the name of the Father, in the name of the Son,
In the name of the Spirit, Lord, we come
Gathered together to lift up your name
Our God saves, Our God saves,
There is hope in your name
***
Our God is an awesome God!
***

Sometimes when we sing together, we sing as one – each alone.
Each one alone before the Father who created us,
alone beside the Son who died for us,
alone in a body that’s wrapped around the Spirit who fills us.
Our posture may be eyes closed or open, head bowed or lifted high, knees bent or standing tall – like the Psalm writers who said:

You, Lord, are a shield around me;
You’re my glory, and the One who lifts my head.
I can lie down and sleep and I can wake again because You sustain me.
-Psalm 3

Lord, my heart isn’t proud; my eyes aren’t haughty.
I don’t get involved with things that are beyond me.
Instead, I calm and quiet myself like a little child with its mother;
I am your child.
-Psalm 131

In the morning when I rise,
When I am alone,
When I come to die
Give me Jesus;
You can have all this world,
Give me Jesus
***


Bonus item: On the subject of the triune nature of God:

This is a link to a short book excerpt from Moody Press via Outreach Magazine taken from 50 Most Important Theological Terms by J. Brian Tucker and David Finkbeiner. It looks at heresies often presented as sound doctrine on the trinity.


For those of you looking for something more “seasonal” today:

Valentine’s Day Devotionals – various authors:

October 27, 2021

Looking into the Depths of God

NIV.John.3.1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again…5 Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit…   12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?16 For God so loved the world that he gave…”

Those 3-D Computer Generated Picture Things at the Mall

by Ruth Wilkinson

You know the ones? They look like an explosion at the pixel factory, unless you stand just so far away and refocus your eyes just right and for just long enough that a 3-D panorama leaps out, thrilling and amazing all.

Except me. I can’t do it. I’ve tried starting with my nose almost touching the glass and slowly backing away. I’ve tried gently relaxing the muscles in my eyes. I’ve tried defocusing, unfocusing, disfocusing — everything. My husband and kids go from one to the next, saying, “Hey, cool! This one’s a cow! This one’s a space ship! This one’s the ceiling of St. Peter’s Basilica, complete with Michelangelo, paintbrush in hand!”

I’m still standing there crossed-eyed and head-achy looking at an explosion at the pixel factory.

I think it would have been better if I didn’t know. At face value, they’re visually interesting; a collage of images and colours, almost a pattern, but not quite. I could enjoy them that way.

But I do know and I’m missing something. Something my family sees, but I don’t. They tell me it’s there and, for them, it is. But not for me. I want it to be. I’d like to get it. They patiently try to help and advise. They really want me to get it, too. So I keep looking.

Nicodemus was like that. John, who was one of Jesus’ closest friends while he was on earth, tells us that Nicodemus was a Pharisee; one of a group who were deeply passionate about their faith. They knew the good that God had for His people and how much He loved them. But they had some very real and legitimate concerns about how the Jews could be drawn away from God by philosophical and religious influences of other nations and cultures. Pharisees worked hard at guarding the hearts of God’s people. We like to dump on them for working too hard. Making too many rules, making the whole thing cumbersome. Getting uptight at little things. We call them “legalists” and thank God that we’re not like that.

But Nicodemus, and others, were not entirely stuck in the mud. They were wise enough, humble enough, to know that they didn’t have God all figured out and someday He’d have more to say than 10 commandments and a whole lot of rules, and they’d better not be asleep at the switch when it happened.

Nicodemus and friends found Jesus very interesting. There was definitely something going on there beyond cool stories and sleight of hand. He wasn’t just a nice guy who knew a lot. He was extremely 3D. N & Co. realized that and they went to work trying to refocus in order to figure out the picture. They listened and followed and asked questions.

Everything they saw fit with everything they heard. Jesus wasn’t a fake. He wasn’t loopy. But he might be dangerous.

These guys cared genuinely about keeping people in line with God and Jesus was saying things just different enough to make them nervous.

All we know about Nicodemus is that:

1. He went to the trouble of getting alone with Jesus and asking some questions.

2. He risked his reputation to give Jesus a fair hearing.

3. When it came down to it, he made the choice to step up and take ownership of his respect and love for, and relationship with Jesus. We don’t hear anything else about Nico.

Tradition says he became a Christ follower and given John 19, I think he probably did. If so, he would have sacrificed a lot: prestige, power, family maybe, reputation. Maybe, in those three turning point moments, he found himself wishing he didn’t know. Life was good before Jesus. Obeying the rules was easier. Simpler. Walking through this relationship is a whole other layer of paint.

But in exchange, he would have fulfilled his mission as a true Pharisee. To know God’s voice and obey.

To look into the depths of God and see what’s hidden there. Love. Truth. Life.

October 6, 2021

Preaching in the Forest

It’s said that missionary statesman and Canadian pastor Oswald J. Smith would go out into the woods and preach to the trees. I am sure that some will say this is no different than modern preachers doing a midweek practice run in an empty auditorium, and I am 100% confident that when Oswald preached in the woods, the response rate was extremely low. No chipmunks or squirrels were saved.

Garrison Keillor tells a story of working a year at the campus radio station at his college, only to discover at the end of the year the transmitter had been shut off. The station ran a full schedule of programs, but they were doing it entirely for themselves.

Still, there are some who would say that many bloggers and podcasters — especially Christian ones — are also preaching, metaphorically speaking, to the trees, not because absolutely nobody is listening, but rather, because so many others are writing that it’s easy to feel lost in such a sea of voices. Or to feel like a ‘voice crying in the wilderness.’

That phrase is from Isaiah 40, and while there are narratives in the life of Christ which appear in all four gospels this is a case where all four use that exact Isaiah quotation to affirm the ministry of John the Baptist.

  1. Matthew 3:3
    This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”
  2. Mark 1:3
    “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”
  3. Luke 3:4
    As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.
  4. John 1:23
    John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

If John was using modern media today, I’m sure his wilderness experience would translate into low stats, or in church-related terms, low attendance. As he continued, the crowds came, but we know that while he preached his message of repentance with great conviction, and his prophetic word that The Messiah, the lamb of God had come into the world; we also know that later on he himself  had doubts as to the Messiah-identification being fulfilled in Jesus.

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Matthew 11:2-3

The wilderness mentality was hard to shake.

So knowing that John spoke in faith and not certainty, and knowing that his experience was a wilderness experience, we can be sure that John had days where he felt he was preaching to the trees.

But tree preaching is not a bad thing.

The speaking out of anything is a good test of what is in the heart. This can reveal a good heart condition or a bad heart condition. One time a few years ago, I said something out loud for which I am thankful that not even trees were present. Where did that come from? It wasn’t something angry or rash or hate-filled, just something I might not have thought I was capable of thinking.

Luke 6:45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

It’s the same with writing. You reveal yourself to yourself when you write. Sometimes you mentally picture a three-paragraph outline, but end up with eight paragraphs because there were things in your heart and mind which overflowed as you sat at the keyboard.

You ask yourself, Is anyone reading all this?

There are people I’ve never met in person but I read them online regularly. I know for a fact that some of them only get 4 or 5 visitors a day. I’m sure they feel they are preaching to the trees. But they have been a great influence in my life. Some are major Christian influencers while others are people who faithfully post online in relative obscurity.

So we’ll say things like

We are responsible for the depth of our ministry and
God is responsible for the breadth.

which is very true.

But the depth of our ministry is cultivated sometimes in the secret and almost-secret places. What I’m saying here is that you should

  • keep writing even when it seems that no one is listening
  • keep sharing with that spouse, coworker or relative even it seems that nothing is getting through
  • keep teaching that Sunday school class even when the kids are fighting, fooling around and talking
  • keep recommending those books even when nobody buys them or borrows them from the church library
  • keep serving those meals at the soup kitchen even it looks like all you’re doing is freeing up money they can spend on drugs or alcohol
  • keep supporting that missionary even when his/her prayer letters contain frustration over a lack of measurable results
  • keep sending cards and birthday gifts to that wayward person who seems to have gone so distant from you and from God

Why? Because of what is forming in you as you remain faithful, even when it seems that your efforts are met by nothing but the wind blowing through the trees.

Phil 2:13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

The Message renders this section as:

12-13 What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.

Be the voice in the wilderness, but let your voice resonate in social media posts, empty auditoriums and forest woodlands.

The trees are listening, and perhaps so are others, more than you realize at the time.


What if?

What if someone was preaching to an empty auditorium, not because they were doing a practice run, but because it was a regularly scheduled service to which no one had come, but they were determined to conduct the entire service anyway as an act of obedience, and an act of worship to God?

We happened upon this taking place when we were in Boston. Ruth Wilkinson describes it in this older C201 blog post from 2010: If a Tree Falls in the Forest.

September 22, 2021

I am Changed from Glory to Glory

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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But whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with Him, he would take off the veil until he came out; and whenever he came out and spoke to the sons of Israel what he had been commanded… – Exodus 34:34

Many times a phrase from scripture becomes, for lack of a better term somewhat enlarged through propagation in hymns or modern worship choruses and then finds its way into preaching. This is especially true when phrases rendered in the unique styling of the KJV become common in church life. Sometimes they can become part of the Christianese verbal landscape. Such it is with the phrase we’re looking at today.

The King James Version of 2 Corinthians 3:18 reads:

But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

First of all, the key focus in the context of this passage is not changed or glory, but rather the idea of the veil. This begins in verse 7 of that chapter, but because the imagery is unfamiliar to many of us, I want to look at verses 12-18 in four translations; two of which add additional words to bring clarity.

First, here’s The Voice Bible (added words in italics, as is that translation’s custom)

12 In light of this hope that we have, we act with great confidence and speak with great courage. 13 We do not act like Moses who covered his face with a veil so the children of Israel would not stare as the glory of God faded from his face. 14 Their minds became as hard as stones; for up to this day when they read the old covenant, the same veil continues to hide that glory; this veil is lifted only through the Anointed One. 15 Even today a veil covers their hearts when the words of Moses are read; 16 but in the moment when one turns toward the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 By “the Lord” what I mean is the Spirit, and in any heart where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is liberty. 18 Now all of us, with our faces unveiled, reflect the glory of the Lord as if we are mirrors; and so we are being transformed, metamorphosed, into His same image from one radiance of glory to another, just as the Spirit of the Lord accomplishes it.

Next, we have The Amplified Bible (added meanings in brackets, as is that translation’s custom.)

12 Since we have such a [glorious] hope and confident expectation, we speak with great courage, 13 and we are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the Israelites would not gaze at the end of the glory which was fading away. 14 But [in fact] their minds were hardened [for they had lost the ability to understand]; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed [only] in Christ. 15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil [of blindness] lies over their heart; 16 but whenever a person turns [in repentance and faith] to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty [emancipation from bondage, true freedom]. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, continually seeing as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are progressively being transformed into His image from [one degree of] glory to [even more] glory, which comes from the Lord, [who is] the Spirit.

Third, we have the Common English Bible.

12 So, since we have such a hope, we act with great confidence. 13 We aren’t like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the Israelites couldn’t watch the end of what was fading away. 14 But their minds were closed. Right up to the present day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. The veil is not removed because it is taken away by Christ. 15 Even today, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But whenever someone turns back to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Lord’s Spirit is, there is freedom. 18 All of us are looking with unveiled faces at the glory of the Lord as if we were looking in a mirror. We are being transformed into that same image from one degree of glory to the next degree of glory. This comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Finally, Here’s the full passage in The Message:

7-8 The Government of Death, its constitution chiseled on stone tablets, had a dazzling inaugural. Moses’ face as he delivered the tablets was so bright that day (even though it would fade soon enough) that the people of Israel could no more look right at him than stare into the sun. How much more dazzling, then, the Government of Living Spirit?

9-11 If the Government of Condemnation was impressive, how about this Government of Affirmation? Bright as that old government was, it would look downright dull alongside this new one. If that makeshift arrangement impressed us, how much more this brightly shining government installed for eternity?

12-15 With that kind of hope to excite us, nothing holds us back. Unlike Moses, we have nothing to hide. Everything is out in the open with us. He wore a veil so the children of Israel wouldn’t notice that the glory was fading away—and they didn’t notice. They didn’t notice it then and they don’t notice it now, don’t notice that there’s nothing left behind that veil. Even today when the proclamations of that old, bankrupt government are read out, they can’t see through it. Only Christ can get rid of the veil so they can see for themselves that there’s nothing there.

16-18 Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.

I was going to look at the one verse only and present about a dozen different renderings of it, but decided to go more in depth with these four translations. By now you have a clear picture of the imagery here — in reference to Moses — but you see that a more permanent situation is hoped for. The classic Albert Barnes commentary points us to this:

This is said in contradistinction probably to Moses. The splendor on his face gradually died away. But not so with the light reflected from the gospel. It becomes deeper and brighter constantly. This sentiment is parallel to that expressed by the psalmist; “They go from strength to strength” Psalm 84:7; that is, they go from one degree of strength to another, or one degree of holiness to another, until they come to the full vision of God himself in heaven. The idea in the phrase before us is; that there is a continual increase of moral purity and holiness under the gospel until it results in the perfect glory of heaven. The “doctrine” is, that Christians advance in piety; and that this is done by the contemplation of the glory of God as it is revealed in the gospel.

We won’t spend more time here, but to say that in understanding various types of imagery like this one, we are really learning more about the ways of God and the desire of God for our lives. Here’s a modern worship song which uses this phrase:

July 3, 2021

Called to Foreign and Fear-Filled Places

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Today we’re returning to Jesus Unboxed, written by Rev. David Eck, pastor of Abiding Savior Lutheran Church in North Carolina, and Chaplain PRN at Mission Hospital.  All his devotionals are also available on video, the one for today is at this link. Click the header which follows to read this at source.

Calming the Storm (Mark 4:35-41)

“On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’”

For those of us who may be a little bit geographically challenged, the “other side” of Lake Galilee was the land of the Gerasenes which, roughly translated, means “over against Galilee.” This was Gentile territory, the land of the so-called “heathens.” It was the place where Jews did not want to travel. It was the place where “those kinds of people” lived. And so, I’m sure the disciples looked at Jesus a bit perplexed when he told them he desired to travel there.

But isn’t that like Jesus? He calls us to go to places that sometimes make us feel uncomfortable. He calls us to leave behind the security and safety of the church and go out into a world filled with desperate people. A world that is in need of healing and hope. A world that has often felt rejected by the church and treated as “heathen territory.”

God’s people often hesitate to go to the other side, whether it’s a call to minister to the homeless, victims of domestic violence, the poor, those without the benefit of health care insurance, immigrants or the LGBT+ community. Typically, we like to surround ourselves with those who agree with us; those who look like us and think like us. We even select our newspapers and televisions stations based upon our beliefs and rarely consult those whom we view as being from the other side.

However, if I’ve learned one thing about Jesus in thirty-three years of ministry (Beside the fact that he passionately loves ALL his children), it’s the fact that Jesus rarely allows us to remain in places that are comfortable and secure. He often calls us to places that challenge us and help us to grow. He calls us to places that are out of our personal comfort zones. Because this is where he went while we has here on earth; smashing through barriers of culture, class, sex and race in order to transform everyone with the radical, inclusive love of God. And so, Jesus invites us to get into the boat and travel to the other side. We must make a decision as to whether or not we will accept his invitation.

The story continues: “And leaving the crowd behind, they took Jesus with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.” This is certainly an unusual detail in the story. Mark is the only gospel that contains the phrase “Other boats went with him.” To be honest with you, I’m not exactly sure why it is there. But I do know that it means we’re not alone. Others have also accepted Jesus’ invitation to cross over to the other side.

It has been my experience that some of these boats come from other Christian denominations, Some of whom believe very different things about God than we Lutherans do. But they have answered the call just as we have. Some of these boats bear names such as Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and the like. They, too, have answered the call to cross over to the other side. I’ve worked side by side with these “other boats.” We’ve entered the so-called “heathen territory” together and ministered to the most helpless and hopeless among us. I know this makes some Christians uncomfortable. They would like to be the only boat on the sea. But our gospel lesson tells us there are other boats. I’ll leave you to ponder the meaning of this unusual detail.

The story continues: “A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.” Storms come in many forms. Some of them are the diagnosis of a terminal illness, the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one. Our nation has been experiencing a great windstorm” this past year as we’ve faced a global pandemic, political unrest and conversations regarding systemic racism. Storms have raged, and continue to rage, all around us. They rock the boats of our personal lives, our families and friends, our church, our community and our world. This reminds us that no one is safe from the storms of life. We will all experience times of smooth sailing, as well as times when the waves crash into our boats and threaten to sink us.

The story continues: “But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’” It’s what I call the “Big God Question.” The “Big God Question” sounds something like this “God why are you punishing me?” “Jesus, why did you let this happen to me, to my family, to my church?”

We all ask the “Big God Question” from time to time. It’s human nature to do so. When the storms of life rage all around us, it’s natural to wonder where God is in the midst of our suffering, fear and loss. Our gospel implies that we are tempted to think Jesus doesn’t care about our plight. He’s asleep at the wheel, or in the stern of the boat, as the case may be!

During these times of fear and uncertainty it’s easy for us to try and blame God or blame someone else in the boat as the cause of the storm. I don’t know why this is the case. But it’s hard for us to accept the fact that storms are a part of life. They are unavoidable. Some of them result from us making bad decisions. Others have no great evil behind them. They are simply part of the cycle of life that goes between periods of calm and storm.

The story continues: “Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’”

The good news of our gospel lesson is that Jesus is NOT the cause of the storms that rage in our lives. Jesus is the one who is able to calm them. It has been my experience that the kind of calm Jesus offers us is not always smooth sailing and waveless seas. The kind of calm Jesus offers us is in here. In our hearts and minds and spirits. It is, as St. Paul calls it, “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.” It’s the kind of peace that recognizes we are in God’s capable hands no matter what kind of sea we find ourselves in.

Perhaps Jesus’ sleeping in the midst of storm is not a sign of his indifference as the disciples indicated. Perhaps Jesus’ sleeping means he knew whether he survived the storm or not he was in God’s capable hands. Nothing, not even death, could change this truth. Therefore he slept, not as a sign of apathy; he slept because his heart and soul were resting peacefully in God’s hands. Nothing could alter this truth.

Now there is something to ponder! The challenge is for us to grow in our faith to the point where the storms of life don’t faze us in the least. This doesn’t mean we’ll never be fearful. It means we will remain confident that God is with us in the boat no matter how rough the seas get.

Jesus’ response to the disciples in our story is interesting. After they accuse him of being apathetic, he says to them “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Some people may take this to mean that faith means WE have to be the strong ones. I think the opposite is true. Faith means we trust GOD to be the strong one in the midst of our fear and doubt.

You see, I don’t think Jesus was chastising the disciples because of their fear of the wind and waves. He was disappointed because of their lack of trust in him. They doubted his ability to protect them and see them through the storm. We’re not supposed to be the strong ones. We’re supposed to trust that God is the strong one. These two things are completely different. Which one we choose makes a BIG difference in how we understand the meaning of the story.

The kind of faith Jesus expects of us is beautifully defined by one of my all-time favorite authors, Frederich Buechner, who wrote the following about faith: “Faith is better understood as a verb than as a noun, as a process than as a possession. It is on-again-off-again rather than once-and-for-all. Faith is not being sure where you’re going but going anyway. A journey without maps. Tillich said that doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.”

So, my dear friends, there is so much we can learn from our gospel lesson for today. There is much to think about, pray about and apply to our lives. It is my hope that today’s story will challenge us to have the kind of faith to get in the boat with Jesus and sail to wherever he wants us to sail. To have the kind of faith that trusts his guidance through calm seas and rough. May Jesus be the captain of our boat, both now and forever. AMEN

Copyright ©2020 by David Eck; used by permission


Bonus article: Here’s another by the same writer, Growing the Kingdom.


Related: Reading the first part of today’s devotional, where Jesus takes his ‘guys’ to a place they might have referred to avoid reminded me of a study we did last year on the “Jersualem, Judea and Samaria” passage in John, and how the reference to Samaria is less geographic and more symbolic: Misreading Scripture with the Best Intentions.

May 22, 2021

When Face Masks Block the Light

A year later, we are returning to the website Sacred Sandwich. This article touches on a subject I was thinking about just a week ago and I urge you to click the header below to read it in full. The author is C. R. Carmichael.

Is Your Face Shining With The Light Of Christ?

“…It is ours to reflect the light.. and to proclaim the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.” — C.H. Spurgeon, 1879

It is not until you’ve been forced to wear a mask during a pandemic that you truly value the power of your face. No sooner have you exchanged glances with someone that you suddenly realize they can’t see your hidden smile, and you in turn have no idea what they might be expressing to you under that piece of cloth. It is in that awkward moment that you immediately comprehend how dehumanizing and frustrating it is to have your face so savagely removed from the process of interpersonal communication and emotional connection. No doubt this is why so many masked people these days seem to avoid eye contact altogether, walking past you like soulless zombies in a private hell.

For joyful Christians who demonstrate the grace of God through the social graces, this can be a difficult time for missional endeavors. As ambassadors for Christ who are called to be a light in this dark world, our shining faces are essential in communicating the Gospel to those with whom we interact during the course of our day. The Gospel, you see, is conveyed with more than mere words or deeds. It is a message of love and grace, fueled by the Holy Spirit, that can be powerfully expressed in the very countenances of our faces. Does the Scriptures not tell us so?

Indeed, the Bible teaches that the inward spiritual transformation of the Christian will bear outward “fruit” as the believer increases in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:9-10). By the grace of God, those drawn to Christ have been “transformed by the renewing of their minds” (Romans 12:2) and now possess the wisdom of God’s truth embedded in their hearts. This sacred Gospel knowledge imparted by His Spirit is a sparkling treasure in earthen vessels that will always radiate through the bright eyes and happy wrinkles of our beaming faces. Indeed, as God’s word tells us, “a man’s wisdom brightens his face, and the sternness of his face is changed” (Ecclesiastes 8:1).

Once freed from the chains of sin and guilt by Christ’s sacrifice, the wise Christian’s once-dour face is forever changed, shining “as the brightness of the firmament” and appearing like “stars forever and ever” so that the believer might “turn many people to righteousness” through the illumination of the Gospel (Daniel 12:3). Even stretching into eternity, Jesus has assured us, “the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43).

Light, therefore, is intrinsic to the new nature of those transformed by Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit. “You are the light of the world,” Jesus tells His people. “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

Jesus Christ, in fact, is our example to be emulated so that we might become “the children of Light” (John 12:36). During his earthly ministry, our Lord spoke to his disciples, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). And how was His light often transmitted in its full power and glory? Why, in His glorious face! “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

“In the face of Christ!” Imagine being witness to those historic supernatural events bathed in the brilliance of Christ’s white-hot countenance. How thrilling it would have been to stand beside Peter, James, and John in the high mountain when they saw their Master “transfigured before them,” where “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” (Matthew 17:2). Or being there to share in John’s vision of Christ holding seven stars in his right hand, a sharp double-edged sword coming from His mouth, and seeing His face “like the sun shining at its brightest” (Revelation 1:16).

One day, of course, the redeemed people of God will literally witness such a marvelous sight when “night will be no more, and they will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5). And what a glorious thought this is as we anticipate His return to usher us into this bright eternity.

Until that day, however, the question remains: how do we as Christians bring Christ’s light to our faces to help convey the Gospel message in this dark world? Quite simply, it can only happen when we are in daily communion with the Lord. Just as Moses’ face radiated with the fiery glory of God when he returned from his interaction with the Divine in Mt. Sinai (Exodus 34:29), so too the Christian’s face should be filled with the reflected light of Christ’s glory after boldly approaching His heavenly throne through fervent prayer, worship, and the reading of His word. It is, after all, the spiritual culmination of “fixing our eyes upon Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2).

As the old hymn beautifully says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus; Look full in His wonderful face; And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.”

When believers are regularly energized through communion with the holy dynamo that is Christ Jesus, such fellowship cannot help but show forth in their outward expression. This spiritual interaction with the eternal Light of the world produces a godly, compelling visage that can draw the attention of those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Isaiah 55:1; Matthew 5:6). As explained by Matthew Henry, “Near and spiritual communion with God improves the graces of a renewed and holy character. Serious godliness puts a lustre upon a man’s countenance, such as commands esteem and affection.”

This noticeable “lustre,” therefore, should be the goal of every Christian who desires to be used for God’s glory in bringing the lost to Christ. “Every Christian life,” insists Alexander Maclaren, “should be a life of increasing lustre, uninterrupted, and the natural result of increasing communion with, and conformity to, the very fountain itself of heavenly radiance.”

It is here where the Christian must be very careful not to pursue this heavenly radiance under their own power. This is not something that can be manufactured by sheer will or desire. We must never think we can put on a “happy Christian mask” of our own creation to hide a dark face still burdened by stagnant discipleship, ongoing sin or suspect faith.

When Jesus called the scribes and Pharisees, “hypocrites” (Matthew 23:25), He was using a common theatrical term of His day that denotes a stage actor in a Greek play who often wore a mask to “assume a role and identity that were not truly his own and performed for the audience’s approval” (Jesus and the Theatre, New Testament Studies, Vol. 30, 1984). The grave implications of being a hypocrite, therefore, are readily apparent. If you, as a professing Christian, are wearing the false mask of an actor because you are “more concerned with your public image rather than with genuine fidelity to God” (Ibid), then do not be surprised if the Lord soon calls you out as a liar and a hypocrite.

The true disciple of Christ has no need to hide behind a false mask. Stephen, one of the first deacons of the Church, is a case in point. To be sure, this servant of God was a humble disciple “full of God’s grace and power” who preached Christ with a true supernatural “lustre” that came from the Holy Spirit. There, even among the enemies of Christ, Stephen displayed in his face a real godly wisdom and calm serenity that struck at the very hearts of his listeners as he delivered his Gospel message. As the Bible records, “Gazing at Stephen, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15).

Did this mean that Stephen looked like an effeminate cherub from an old Renaissance painting? Of course not. John Gill tells us that the beauty displayed in Stephen’s face was consistent with the “lovely and amiable” angels of God, “who when they appeared to men, it was in very glorious and splendid forms.” Indeed, the Bible reminds us that angelic beings are “angels of light” that can have “faces like the sun” (Revelation 10:1). And so it was with Stephen’s appearance at the very moment of his martyrdom when his face reflected the heavenly vision he saw of Christ standing at the right Hand of God (Acts 7:55-56).

At this point, perhaps, the Christian may look in the mirror and become worried that the face looking back at him or her has little of the biblical radiance of an angel of God. This, of course, can be a frequent concern among those who are poor in spirit as humble servants and are often “working out their salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). Whether this fear of a dim spiritual condition is based on one’s lack of godly discipleship or from an overly-harsh assessment of their position in Christ, it makes little difference. The answer is simply to renew one’s commitment to Christ and seek His face at every opportunity. When our spiritual focus wanes, how blessed we are to have a God who is “gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness” (Psalm 145:8).

This is why the Bible is filled with repeated heartfelt petitions to the Lord, actively seeking His face and asking that He might “make His face shine upon thee” (2 Chronicles 7:14; Numbers 6:25; Psalm 27:8; 105:4-5). It is the shining face of God which imparts His grace and warms us in the rays of His care and benevolence. This, in turn, recharges us and brings a renewed spiritual brightness to our faces. It may not be a vivid, supernatural light of biblical proportion, but nevertheless the public around you will no doubt see a striking difference in your facial expression.

“It is not unusual,” writes theologian Albert Barnes, “for deep feeling, sincerity, and confidence in God, to impress themselves on the countenance.” Even the slightest Spirit-driven influence upon your face can mark you as “peculiar” and distinct from the world. As Scripture declares, “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people.” And why are you set apart from the crowd? “So that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

In this way, your happy face with sparkling eyes, a radiant smile, and the glowing cast of spiritual serenity can truly proclaim the light of the glory of Jesus Christ. And if the dazzling beauty of Christ and the shimmering power of the Holy Spirit rests upon your countenance, perhaps one day it will also warm and enlighten the heart of a lost sinner who then will ask you “the reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). As C.H. Spurgeon encourages us on this point, “Scatter your light in all unselfishness. Wish to shine, not that others may say ‘How bright he is,’ but that they may rejoice in the Source from which the light came to you and to them.”

Thus, the Christian should always ask, “Is the Light of Christ still shining in my face?” This may not be an easy question to answer these days. Sadly, we live in a stressful age of suppressive masks and fearful faces that have hardened and waxed cold. Now, more than ever, we must diligently and continually seek after Jesus, knowing that the Captain of our salvation will gladly fill our faces with His eternal brilliance to powerfully shine the Gospel “upon them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79).

Regardless of our circumstance, may we heed the charge of David’s inspired psalm in order to emit the rays of Christ’s glorious light in this dark and fear-gripped world:

“Oh, give thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples! Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him; Talk of all His wondrous works! Glory in His holy name; Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD be joyful! Seek the Lord and His strength; Seek His face for evermore!” (1 Chronicles 16:8-11).

If this we do, then no mask on earth will ever dim our glorious shine for Jesus.

April 11, 2021

Jesus: His Heart, Will, Cross, Joy, and Love

Eph. 5:1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Today and tomorrow, we’re going to reach back to the hymnbook and look at two individuals hymns which so well express period in the church calendar we’ve just experienced: The Good Friday / Easter story. Some of you may be unfamiliar with this song, and the YouTube videos for it are either instrumentals, or take a 1950’s ‘gospel’ approach to it. I was fortunate enough to grow up in the church founded by Oswald J. Smith, the writer, so I got to hear this the way his own church first heard it. My suggestion is that you find the print music and get someone to play it for you.

I hope this also benefits any of you who would desire to write lasting Christian material.

The process here is simple: Each verse is a snapshot of Jesus’ road to the cross. The first verse is general, but includes the picture of Jesus stooping. Is this a reference to Jesus washing His disciples feet? I think that was in mind.

The motif is a basic principle: As I get to know more about why, as I pray to be a better follower, as I experience Christ’s own prayer time in the garden, as I experience personal resurrection, and as I respond with worship and praise; as I do all these things listed in the third line of each verse, then what happens?

Then I find myself in the state mentioned in the last line of each stanza: I return to Jesus, I am shaped and molded, I am the beneficiary of grace, I am supported and sustained, I am ecstatically lost in thanksgiving and adoration.

So the song moves from the washing of the disciples feet, to the breaking of bread (‘take,’ ‘break’), to Gethsemane, to the betrayal and arrest, to “the world below,” (a reference to the worst this world can offer, or the Hades of the Apostles Creed, I’m not sure), to rising from the dead, to the complete recognition of how all this lifts us from our sin with reverberations into eternity.

1. Into the heart of Jesus
Deeper and deeper I go,
Seeking to know the reason
Why He should love me so,
Why He should stoop to lift me
Up from the miry clay,
Saving my soul, making me whole,
Though I had wandered away.

2. Into the will of Jesus,
Deeper and deeper I go,
Praying for grace to follow,
Seeking His way to know;
Bowing in full surrender
Low at His blessed feet,
Bidding Him take, break me and make,
Till I am molded, complete.

3. Into the cross of Jesus
Deeper and deeper I go,
Following through the garden,
Facing the dreaded foe;
Drinking the cup of sorrow,
Sobbing with broken heart,
"O Savior, help! Dear Savior, help!
Grace for my weakness impart."

4. Into the joy of Jesus
Deeper and deeper I go,
Rising, with soul enraptured,
Far from the world below.
Joy in the place of sorrow,
Peace in the midst of pain,
Jesus will give, Jesus will give;
He will uphold and sustain.

5. Into the love of Jesus
Deeper and deeper I go,
Praising the One Who brought me
Out of my sin and woe;
And through eternal ages
Gratefully I shall sing,
"O how He loved! O how He loved!
Jesus, my Lord and my King!"

So is this just a classroom exercise in poetry analysis? There are some principles here.

  1. If we wish to write things that will endure, things with substance we must begin with scripture.
  2. If we wish to depict Christ — in words or in visuals — we need to take our cues from the narrative that already exists; in other words, the gospel writers give us a beautiful picture and nothing should be added or subtracted from it.
  3. We must remember that what Christ did, is part of what had already been planned, and has ramifications for what will take place, including our standing side-by-side with saints from decades and centuries prior.
  4. Songs (and poems) can teach. The Christian songwriter is part artist, part Bible expositor.
  5. Many of the older hymns seem to implore the hearer to make a response, but any song of proclamation (i.e. not a ‘vertical’ worship song) should cause us to want to respond. Here, if you are not struck by overcoming thanksgiving — “O how He loved!” — then your life stands in contrast to that of the hymn-writer. So you don’t need to beg hearers to respond, a person who truly sees the passion in the song will be broken by it.

John 20

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.


Tomorrow: Part two of two.

April 8, 2021

What’s Included In Romans 8’s “All Things?”

Regular Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon will appear tomorrow.

Today we’re again back at the website Forward >> Progress, the personal website of Michael Kelley who is an in-house curriculum develolper for LifeWay. Because he does what he does as his vocation, you know his daily devotionals are going to be good, and the one we selected for today is no exception. Click the header below to read this at his site, and then take a few minutes to look around at his books and other writings.

What “All Things” Should We Expect from God?

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom. 8:31-32).

If you read these verses in isolation, there are a number of questions that ought to come to mind. You might, for example, ask, “What things?” Paul the apostle has some pretty audacious promises to make here, and he does so in response to “these things.” So what things lay the background for his rhetorical claims here?

Well, the “these things” are the weighty truths Paul has written about in the first 7 chapters of Romans. They’re the truths of sinful humanity’s desperate situation, whether Jew or Greek, from Romans 1-3. They’re the truths of the necessity of faith from Romans 4 and the peace we can have with God from Romans 5. They’re the truths of our ongoing battle with sin and the only power to overcome it from Romans 6-7. And they’re the truths of the indwelling Spirit, the fatherhood of God, and our adoption as sons and daughters from Romans 8. Those are “these things.”

In response to the ocean of grace given to us in Christ, Paul asked the rhetorical question, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” For surely God is for us. How could we conclude otherwise in light of everything we’ve just read? Yes, God is most certainly for us. But not stopping there, Paul asked another rhetorical question:

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

And this is where we ought to ask a second question of our own. We know what “these things” are, but what about “all things?” What are the “all things” we can and should expect from God, in light of the fact that He has already given us so much?

This is a big question. It is, after all, a question that relates deeply to our expectations and our future. It has bearing on how equipped and fortified we will be through life. It matters to both what is happening right now and what will happen in the future. But it’s also a big question because, if we’re honest with ourselves, we know our tendency toward dissatisfaction.

Let’s face it – we are not a very content culture. If we order cheeseburger, we wonder if we could have a few strips of bacon. If we buy a new TV, we wonder just how big the screen could be and still fit on our wall. If we go on a vacation, we wonder what it would have been like if we had paid a little more for the hotel. We are always pushing for more. More food, more entertainment, more prosperity, more of everything.

So when we come to this promise in Romans 8 – that God will give us “all things”, there is at least a part of us that looks around at everything the world has to offer and rubs our hands together. Does “all things” mean money? Power? Prestige? Constant good health?

Interestingly, this is not the first time in Romans 8 a question like this comes up. If you look back just a few verses to one of the most widely quoted verses in the Bible, you find this:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).

Here, again, we find ourselves drifting into the same thought pattern. God works all things together for our good. So what exactly does that mean? Does it mean we will face no troubles? No difficulties? No sickness? And the answer here is no. You only have to keep reading in Romans 8 to find that there will be all kinds of things that might threaten to separate us from God’s love – things like tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword (v. 35). Clearly, then, Paul doesn’t mean that we won’t ever suffer in this life.

Back, then, to our question – what are the “all things” we can expect from God?

The answer to both of these issues is in God’s intent for us. His intent is emphatically not that we never have difficulty, but instead that we become more and more like Jesus. This is what God is moving us toward in this life – to be be conformed to the image of His Son. It is not a life without difficulty; it is a life that looks more and more like Jesus. The “all things” God will give us are those things which equip and form us in this pursuit.

Maybe a little illustration here – when our family goes camping, we go to the back of the garage and get two plastic tubs and put them in the car. Over the years, we have accumulated everything we need in those tubs. There are lanterns, cooking supplies, matches, s’more sticks, bug spray, flashlights – you name it. And when we run out of one of those things on the trip, we make it a point to refresh the supply before we put the tubs away. That way, when it’s time to go, we don’t have to do another inventory – we know we have “all things” we need.

For camping.

We do not have “all things” we need to go another kind of vacation. Or the movies. Or to school or work. For the specific purpose of camping, though, we have everything we need.

Here is the answer to the question. God has outfitted us with “all things” we need for us to live His highest purpose for our lives, which is to become more like this. Of this we can be absolutely sure – no matter what else happens, He has given us all we need for this specific journey. For this specific purpose. In light of that, the new question is whether our purpose for our lives is the same as His.

February 14, 2021

As We Search Our Hearts

Two days ago we looked at our susceptibility to sin. There are a few verses I realized could have also been included, one of which follows in the excerpt from something by Elsie Montgomery we ran in September:

…Every day I need to ask Jesus what the psalmist asked: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23–24) This is one prayer that God is so faithful to answer quickly that I’ve often said if you pray it, you better duck!

I decided to continue tracing back the history of the particular scripture appearing here.

Just over a year ago, we shared a devotional from Gary Henry:

…We are hurt far more by the malignancies in our character than by the illnesses in our body. And it is the removal of these sins in the heart that God is concerned with. The Great Physician desires to restore our spiritual health and wholeness.

If we want to improve, we must be honest and open to the truth about our character right now. Not even the Great Physician can help us if we’re not willing to be examined. Trying to hide our symptoms and pretending that nothing very serious is wrong will only result in our getting worse. An accurate diagnosis will be humbling, to be sure, but we should still want to know the whole truth. David’s prayer is that of an honest man: Search me, O God, and know my heart . . . see if there is any wicked way in me (Psalm 139:23,24). We must desire to see ourselves as God sees us…

In December, 2017, Colin Sedgwick included this same verse, but looked at the life of Asa in both 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles and used the analogy of someone having what we call a Jekyll and Hyde character. More than anything else, God hates hypocrisy. Think of the word duplicity and the image is clear of a person who presents a double character. Colin also introduced the idea of a Asa as having an Achilles heel, a weak spot or vulnerability to certain types of sin. He wrote,

…I have to admit, that’s where his story strikes uncomfortably at my heart… Yours too, perhaps. As you search your heart and examine your life, do you see there a big, ugly “But”? Yes, you’re a genuine, sincere Christian. Yes, you want to please and serve God. Yes, you are happy to worship, pray and evangelise. But

If we fail to deal with that “but”, I’m not suggesting that we will lose our salvation. But there are, I think, two things we will lose.

First, our peace of mind. Like Paul in Romans 7:14-25 we will feel ourselves to be “wretched” because we are torn in two.

And second, we will lose our effectiveness for God. Putting it another way, our cutting edge will be blunted.

In August, 2017, I wrote a devotional based on a sermon I had recently heard, that was based on this passage:

“O Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands. But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets, who spoke on your authority to our kings and princes and ancestors and to all the people of the land. Daniel 9:4-6

I added,

…each time I ignore the commands of God, or rationalize some behavior, or allow myself some license in some area of thought or action, I am scorning God’s commands.

When our pastor spoke on this on Sunday he said you can’t always choose the place you live in, but you can decide where you are going to live toward. He contrasted living toward Jerusalem with living toward Babylon

In November, 2015, Rev. Gregory Crofford raised the dramatic account of Ananias and Sapphira whose duplicity cost them both their lives. He introduced this verse to the discussion:

For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” 1 Peter 4:17, NIV, italics added

Way back in July, 2012, a writer we used several times but knew only as “Cloudwatcher” also touched on the Psalm 51 verse, but introduced this from James 3:11 as well:

Both fresh water and salt water don’t come from the same spring, do they?

I read that verse today and marvel at the duplicity that seems to spring forth from the accounts of fallen Christian leaders; how their words and their actions did not line up. There was, as one person voiced earlier this weekend, apparently a lack of “a congruent life.”

Going back to December, 2011; we come full circle with Elsie Montgomery who noted Spurgeon brought up this scripture in the context of taking a personal spiritual inventory:

Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds. -Proverbs 27:23

[Spurgeon] points out that a wise merchant occasionally takes stock. He opens his accounts, examines what is on hand, and determines whether his trade is prosperous or declining. This practice is easily transferred to those who belong to Jesus Christ. Those who are wise will often take stock to make sure that our hearts are right with God. We ask Him to reveal sin and life-patterns that need attention.

That’s all for today; I hope this leaves all of us with much to consider.


For those of you who read the tags which appear after the title, this devotional is tagged with an assortment of search terms from all the devotionals used!

Looking for more content? This weekend I listened to the second part in a recent sermon series, Unleashed by Kyle Idleman based on the Book of Acts. If you’ve got time, sit back and listen to Complacent to Committed.

 

 

 

 

January 21, 2021

Genesis 3 and The End of a Golden Era

Ed. Note: Today we’re repeating the very first column we carried from Canadian Pastor and regular Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon, which appeared here on October 18, 2012.


by Clarke Dixon

A Golden Era is a time we look back upon with fondness, a time we think of as having something special about it. We might think of the golden era of cars, which for me would be the 1980s as I could still do my own oil changes on the cars I owned from that era. Since those cars I have not even been able to find the oil filters never mind change them. And we might think of the golden era for music. Eighties again with bands like U2, and REM, and other bands I could easily spell.

As for the Bible, there is no doubt that Genesis chapters 1 and 2 are a golden era. In those good ole days God “saw that it was good.” Also, Adam was over the moon about his new partner Eve and both of them could enjoy a full relationship with God. All is good. But it didn’t last very long. In fact in my edition of the Bible there are 1048 pages and the golden era is done by page 3! So what went wrong?

We might jump to the conclusion that everything went wrong when Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit and that this is primarily a matter of obedience. However things began to unravel before that and in fact the disobedience was a symptom of a bigger problem. What is the root problem? Let’s look at where it all starts going wrong:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” (Genesis 3:1,2 NIV)

You can’t hear the serpent’s tone but you can imagine it: “Did God really say . . ?” I imagine the tone to be one that sows ominous seeds. It is a bit like my Dad’s complaint about how the Irish (which includes my Mum, my brother and I) will ask a question while giving the answer they want to hear: “you don’t really want to do that, do you?” On the lips of the serpent to Eve, “Surely God didn’t say something as silly as that, did he?” The seeds of doubt are sown. Eve corrects the snake somewhat, but then comes the punchline:

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:1-5 NIV)

The seeds of doubt give way to a blooming assault on trust. The serpent’s words may as well be “God is a liar, listen to me for I know better.” This is not merely a matter of obedience, this is primarily a matter of trust as Eve and Adam end up placing their trust in the serpent rather than God. Not only that but Eve trusts her own judgement, and Adam likewise, over God’s:

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Genesis 3:6)

We live in a time and place where the serpent’s words are like an echo that keeps coming back like a broken record (did I mention record players and the golden era of musical gadgets?); “God didn’t really say that, did he? God doesn’t really even exist, does he? You don’t really believe that, do you? Your religion is full of fools who are lying to you, trust us.” Seeds of doubt in previous generations have given way to a blooming assault on trust in our day. How must we cope as we see the core problem of the fall in Genesis 3, misplaced trust, replayed over and over again in our day? Two things:

  1. Training in apologetics.
    With Adam and Eve the problem was not merely that they stopped trusting God, but rather that they placed greater trust in the serpent and in their own ideas. And so today, I don’t think the problem is that people stop trusting God, or fail to place their trust in God, so much as they place greater trust elsewhere. Experts say this and that about such and such, and “we trust that, end of story”. However, there are many wonderful experts who have much to say about the same things from a Christian perspective and who evidence a wonderful trust in God. We do well to learn this stuff! There are many great resources for apologetics available, we might even call it a golden era of apologetics (email me for recommendations if you like).
  2. Follow Jesus.
    Just as there was a temptation at the beginning of humanity, there was a temptation at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. If you take a moment to read Luke 4:1-13 you will see something remarkable. With every temptation Jesus responds to the devil with “it is written” and a quotation from the Old Testament. “Actually, what God says is . . .” and Jesus begins his ministry with a complete trust and confidence in the Father.

As we live in such a skeptical society as ours, assaulting trust on every side as if we are somehow stuck in Genesis 3, let us commit to being more knowledgeable Christians who follow Jesus closely. And remember, by the grace of God the golden era is ahead of us!

 

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