Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Though you can't see it, the wind can be measured, and has effects that you can observe, like trees bending over. God's Holy Spirit is similar in that way. The Spirit can't be seen, but the effects he causes can be seen. We aren't in charge of which way the wind blows, nor are we in charge of the Spirit's direction either. Jesus said in verse 8 of John 3, "The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit." (New Living Translation). The Greek is more literally, 'so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit' but the emphasis is on the idea that the inner change in people by the Spirit can't be seen but the outer manifestation of that change is obvious to all.
Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would continue his work in the world, like continuing to teach us as Jesus did (John 16:12-14) and convicting the whole world of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8-11). The Spirit has a lot to do with the growth of the church in Acts, and with people understanding God's will (for instance, Acts 15:27) and we believe he continues to be actively involved with the direction of the church today.
How do we know? Well, you can't see it, just like the wind, but you can look at the results. Churches continue to find ways to bring the good news of what God has done for humanity to a changing culture. People continue to be convicted of sin, and their need for the righteousness of Christ. Those people begin to learn how to live a new life, directed by a new sense of peace and an outward love that they didn't have before. And we continue to learn more about how to understand the Bible. Are those all things that would happen through our own effort? Given the track record of humanity overall, I don't think we would find those improvements on our own, or agree on them together. Instead, it seems that God is still busy doing what he does, even sometimes in spite of us.
The wind of the Spirit is blowing. He is calling us all to more understanding of God, more surrender and dedication to his will, and to more actively serving others. Why not hoist your sails like a wise sailing captain, and ask to be carried where He is going. You won't know where that is (John 3:8 again) but if you hang on, you'll enjoy the ride!
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
This is sometimes called "The Great Reversal" in theological circles, or to us common folk, just a most amazing contradiction. It's something I contemplate, as much as my poor brain will let me try to plumb the depths of something, and every time I do, it leaves me speechless. (Of course, if you know me, it doesn't leave me that way for long...) I don't think we'll ever truly understand how great the difference is between being God and being human, until we finally see God (1 John 3:1-2) and begin to understand how truly great he is. Then, perhaps only then, we will start to understand what an enormous sacrifice was made by the eternal Son of God, just to put on human flesh. And even at that, this huge move was only the first step in bringing us back to himself. He also had to die, was destined to die from the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34, 2 Timothy 1:9, Titus 1:1-2, Revelation 21:6), to perfectly erase the guilt of our sins.
Not that there was any guarantee we would respond. We humans are famous for not paying attention to what's best for us. Several of Jesus' parables were about people who spurned God's gracious invitation. Even many of the people who heard him teach, standing there in the dusty streets of their own city, didn't believe him. How much less we who sit here in the comfort of our warm homes 2,000 years later? Nonetheless, God made the effort, all on his own, to give us life: everlasting, abundant, joyful, and full of absolute love.
Our loving God has already given us the greatest gift he could offer: himself. He asks in return that we love him with all our heart and mind and soul and strength -- that is, without holding anything back -- the same way he has already loved us.
How about giving God that complete, unreserved gift of your love today?
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
You probably know where I'm going with this. Whenever we humans go our own way and try to make life turn out the way we want, on our own steam, we're turning our backs on the one Source of life, happiness and peace. Well, guess what? Anxiety results! By trusting ourselves, instead of God, we not only are unsuccessful in our pursuits, but we live anxious and unsettled lives.
The wonderful message of the Incarnation, celebrated this time of year with Advent and Christmas, is that God has come to be with us in the person of his Son Jesus; and has permanently erased that separation. Jesus said in Matthew 11:27 “No one truly knows the Son except the Father, and no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Jesus came to show the Father to all of us wandering people (John 14:6-11).
To make the truth even more amazing, Jesus said "When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you" (John 14:20; also John 17:21). His being "in" the Father, and our being "in" him, is no mere wordplay; it is a word picture of the intimacy, the closeness, the bond of love, that the Father and the Son have for us, as expressed through the Holy Spirit's mind in us. The Father's intention, as delivered through his Son's life on earth as he brought all of creation back to himself, was and is for us to be in complete unity and intimacy with him again, forever.
The holiday seasons can be lonely times as we miss the companionship of loved ones, or wish for closeness with others and see it missing from our lives. Jesus came that we might never have to be truly lonely again. He wants us to know the love of the Father and never be without it. So if you know those who, this time of year or any time, are feeling lost, left out or alone, why not find a way to help them know that love of God for them? As you call or write, visit and sit with them or help with chores, you're expressing to them the love that God sent into the world through his Son, and continuing the Son's work in the world. That love flowing through you will increase your own closeness to the Father, too.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
In the US, we have what is called a ‘representative democracy.’ That means we elect people who go to the place of government and act on our behalf – voting to pass laws that, we hope, will benefit us and our country.
Jesus, as the only perfect human ever to live, was a perfect sacrifice when it came time for him to die for our sins (John 1:29). As an ordinary human, he could only have died for his own sins; but without sin, and as the infinite Son of God, he died for all of our sins, as our representative.
But he was a lot more than that. Jesus was also the only proper representative of the human race to the Father. He lived a perfect life, in complete faith and complete obedience. So, his perfect obedience represents, to the Father, perfect obedience for all of us. The same with his faith, his prayers, his love, and so forth. He was the perfect human ‘Yes!’ response to God’s loving invitation to relationship.
Just think – when our faith is not as strong as it ought to be, Jesus is there at the Father’s right hand, representing us (1 Tim. 2:5) as the perfect mediator between God and man (Rom. 8:34). In fact, our salvation is not by our own faith, but by our trust in the perfect faith of Jesus Christ himself, the perfect Son of his Father. Our obedience, our prayers, our thoughts, our trust in God, is all perfect in the Father’s eyes, because we approach the Father by Jesus, the perfect man.
And of course, Jesus also perfectly represented the Father to us: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). So when we want to understand the Father, we study the life and teachings of Jesus the Son.
These are some of the reasons we refer to Jesus as the ‘hinge of history’, the ‘perfect Lamb’ and ‘the plan of God.’ Without him, the Bible is a rulebook, not a story of God pursuing us. Without him, we literally don’t have a prayer – because our prayers aren’t good enough to approach a perfect God. But with him, and in him, and through him, we have life.
Which is a great reason to celebrate him any time of the year, and why especially during the Advent and Christmas seasons we take an even closer look at this God who loved us so much he became a man. May that stopping to look, this year, bring you many blessings.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Peace is elusive to people, even individually. Between people, and between groups and nations, peace is almost impossible to achieve. (When’s the last time you saw a news headline claiming ‘Peace Breaks Out’?)
But peace is exactly what God intends for us. Inner peace, peace between us and God, and as a result, peace between people. That’s what he wanted for us in the first place, and it was our own fault that we didn’t accept it. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, had a face-to-face friendship with God, but they decided they would rather make their own choices without his help. They turned away from him, and in trying to make their own decisions, their minds became tormented with the loneliness of their existence without their Creator. Their children and grandchildren invented their own ‘gods’ who only resembled themselves with all their own faults magnified – not their true loving, living Father at all. So their minds continually tried to resolve their self-made conflict, turning it over and over and inventing new, flawed realities to live in. (Romans 3:9-20.)
Sounds nasty? Well, it is. Human life without a loving Creator is no life at all. But God is far too loving to leave us in the lurch. He sent his Son to bridge that gap, and to create peace for us (Eph. -22).
During Advent, we celebrate the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), the Son of God who was God-With-Us, Immanuel. He came without our asking, rescuing people who didn’t deserve it, and was killed without reason to wipe out the guilt of even those who killed him. He brought peace to our tormented souls by taking all that pain and separation on himself, and created an unbreakable bridge between us and the Father. He gives us the peace of his own mind, the Holy Spirit who lives in us because of our faith in the Son (Romans 5:1, 8:6, , , etc). He himself is the Plan of God (2 Tim. 1:9-10).
“Give peace a chance?” Amen, so we should! So if you’re not feeling peaceful, then it’s time to surrender – for the first time ever, or once again – all your conflicts and inner turmoil to the One who has already resolved it for you and is waiting for you to accept it. If you know someone who is full of that turmoil, then maybe you can introduce him or her to that Prince of Peace. It’s the best gift you could give a loved one, now or anytime.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
We won't have the cute little yap-yap dog across the hallway, or the people downstairs who smoke strange-smelling cigarettes at night, or some of the other wonderful amenities one finds in an apartment building. I'll miss them all! But we have a new set of neighbors -- some people we have met and most we haven't had a chance to meet but want to, as soon as we can.
This happened to the Son of God 2,000 years ago. The Message Bible says in John 1:14, "The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood." We see this today as one fulfillment of what was said in Isaiah 7:14, "All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’)." God came to live within his creation -- living in a physical world, becoming flesh and blood and bone, but still God -- as Paul tells us in Colossians 1:19, "For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ".
This is an astounding truth, and of all the astounding truths of Christianity, probably the greatest one. That God, who is the maker of everything there is, would decide to limit himself by descending into that creation (a little like crawling inside a tiny soap bubble, to give you a sense of perspective) and then allow himself to suffer and die at the hands of his creation, is just plain beyond me. But the Bible says it's true. Amazing. Impossible to get a grip on. Blows my limited imagination all to smithereens. But true. Wow!
This current Advent season is the time of year we Christians use to stop and try to understand the implications of this ancient prophecy come true. The date of Jesus' birth in the flesh isn't known, although there is some historical evidence that points to December; and the date itself isn't important. Advent is more than Christmas itself, since Advent includes teaching about the Second Coming (parousia, in the Greek) as well as the first. Still, this birth was something very, very special, because when it happened, the angels jumped into physical space to announce it: "Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.' " (Luke 2:13-14) . Now, you don't get that kind of angelic action happening a lot in the Bible, but it's there at special times (see Job 38:7 and Luke 15:10 for examples). So for the angels, the Son of God becoming flesh was a very big deal -- so maybe it should be for us too. It brought the creation back into touch -- literally -- with the Creator, and made the salvation of all humanity possible through his death.
Over the next 33 years or so, Jesus got to know his neighbors really well. He got very close to a select few, and they told their true story to many more who believed, and, well, the rest is history as they say. But with that one bold stroke, he changed it all: by coming into the creation, he brought it back to himself once and for all, and nothing would be the same again. We're God's neighbors now, and in effect, we get to live in his neighborhood, and can get to know him. We can have coffee with him on the front porch. Invite him over for a meal. Ask him questions. Introduce him to the guy next door with the huge dog and the parrot. Let the kids crawl up on his lap. Become his friend. After all, he went the enormous distance between eternity and humanity, first, to become our neighbor. Are you getting to know him?
Monday, November 17, 2008
Sometimes a referral is merely introducing one friend to another friend. "Bob," I might say at a gathering, "this is my friend Al. I've known Al for 20 years, and since he's in town, I wanted the two of you to get acquainted." I do that a lot, since I have friends in many different locations and circumstances. I enjoy seeing them having fun together and making new friendships.
What sort of referrals would you want to receive? A hairdresser, perhaps, or a golf coach? Or a gardener, carpenter or carpet cleaner? Most of us enjoy hearing about someone whose knowledge and skills can be useful to us. And I've enjoyed giving referrals for those I know who have special abilities that will help others.
The best referral of all, though, is one that will change your life forever. Not the diet-and-exercise kind of change, but the spiritual kind. Getting introduced to the Savior of the world is definitely a referral that will change your life! Remember when that happened to you? And has that truly changed your life? I should hope so!
Christianity has been one giant referral network for almost 2,000 years. Jesus told the disciples to 'go, and make disciples of all nations' in Matthew 28:19. Those who went out 'preached the good news about Jesus wherever they went' (Acts 8:4). And everywhere, people believed. Some of them told others, who told others, and then finally someone told you.*
And since Jesus, the Son of God, is not only your Lord, and your Savior, but also your Friend, doesn't it make sense to refer another friend to Him? And since He has changed your life so much, isn't it likely that He will also help your other friends too? It's worth thinking about.
We're winding up to the Advent season, a time that commemorates the first coming of Christ and anticipates His second coming. This could be a time that a friend or family member will either ask you about, or be more open to, the whole question of who this Jesus was and is. Your introduction of one Friend to another could change that person's life forever. How about giving a referral to someone you know?
*If nobody has told you, I'm telling you now -- Jesus, the Son of God, came to this earth in the flesh to bring you back into a full relationship of love with the God who created you. That relationship is something God had planned from the first, and when it got messed up by humans, he was determined not to let that stop him. In fact, he had already known this would happen and planned for it. God's most precious plan, since before he made the whole universe, was for us to become his children (see some of these other blogs for more) and have a close and fun relationship with him, forever and ever. Interested in knowing more? Let me know.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Even though we got rid of a lot of stuff when we moved to beautiful Colorado a year ago, the amount of stuff we still have is a little frightening, especially when I think of having to carry all our stuff down three flights of stairs into a truck. So I'm thinking about purging again.
I have a lot of old files, from when I ran a business, and a year ago it wasn't yet time to ditch them. Now it is. There are probably a few clothing items I'll never wear again -- this might be a good time to give them to someone, or to Goodwill, and get it over with.
The Bible talks a lot about possessions and how we use them. The book of Proverbs is full of warnings not to put our trust in money or stuff; for instance, Proverbs 11:28 and 23:5. Jesus talked a lot about money and its use, particularly the need to be generous with it, especially in the gospel of Luke. (I remember a Veggie Tales segment about an enormous store called "Stuff Mart" where Larry kept going to buy more stuff that wouldn't even fit into his house.)
God's word also warns us about excess baggage of other types like old habits, mistaken ideas and sin. We're told in Hebrews 12:1 that we need to "strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us." That's a reminder that we're in this for the long haul, and some things in life will only weigh us down.
Every once in awhile it's a good idea to "take an inventory" of our lives -- our habits and thought processes, as well as our physical possessions -- and see what we don't need any more. What about that old resentment, that TV show, even a favorite beverage, or whatever? If it takes our attention away from loving God and loving others, and wastes our time, money or energies with no eternal return, then perhaps it's time to shove it out the door and into the trash. On the other hand, there may be parts of our lives that need to be turned around into vehicles of love and service, rather than used only for ourselves. That's an inventory and analysis that each of us needs to do on ourselves -- I can't do it for you, and you can't decide it for me, but it's a healthy step.
So even though you're not moving, like I am, we're all headed for "a better place, a heavenly homeland," just like the heroes in Hebrews 11:16. Like them, we don't need to be weighed down by extra stuff. Ready to get rid of some of yours? Why not ask God to help you sort out your closet? You'll gain a surprising feeling of lightness and freedom by getting rid of the "stuff" that's been weighing you down.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
This is an important election. Most are. But I hope you're not worried about it. A friend of mine wrote today: "Whatever the outcome, it's going to be okay, because the God we worshiped last Sunday is the same God who is still on his throne on Wednesday." God will always be working out his purpose on the earth, and he will always do it through imperfect people who hear his voice imperfectly -- that's how he has chosen to do it. Our task as Christians is to continue to pray for those in authority, and implore God to guide them to do what's best, whether they know it or not.
Some elections have a profound effect on history, and today's may too. But the most important election of all -- the one that changed the most things for the longest time -- is our election, by the grace of God, in Jesus Christ, into the life of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
It didn't start with us, it started with God. In fact, Jesus Christ was the elected one of God in the first place: "God chose him (Jesus) as your ransom long before the world began, but he has now revealed him to you in these last days" (1 Peter 1:20). Peter continues in 2:9 to tell us that we are God's chosen people, reminding us that God was the initiator, and we the recipients of his grace. Paul agrees, and brings in another point, in Ephesians 1:11: "Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance..."
So our 'election' was determined before the world began, and because God chose us 'in Christ', whom he would never reject, then our place with God is secure. We don't have to be concerned about being 'un-elected' because our performance isn't quite up to scratch -- our sins, including all our shortcomings, were wiped away in Christ before we were born. (This doesn't address how we as God's kids should be living -- that's a topic for another day; but just reminds us that it was his idea, and we are secure in Christ because of that.)
What a relief! What joy, that we have been made right with God through his own Son! How much of a burden that takes off our shoulders! And he did it all for us, out of love (John 3:16). How about publishing that as an election result!
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
The Bible says a lot about time. The ancient Hebraic notions of time had to do primarily with when something should occur, or with someone's life ('the days of Abraham', Genesis 26:1), not with time as a way of measuring something -- so our idea of turning clocks back and forth would seem foolish to them. The Greek language had some concepts of measurement of time (the word 'hour' is used about 50 times in the New Testament) but the word 'kairos' is often used to designate something like 'the right time' as in Acts 24:25 or 1 Peter 5:6; and the word 'aon' was used for long, indefinite periods of time, like sermons.
So what time is it today? Well, Paul said that 'at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly' in Romans 5:6, which means from that time on, it's always time to turn to God and receive the amazing grace he has created for us in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 6:2). And at some indefinite time in the future, we don't know when, our Lord will return and restore everything to the way he planned it in the first place.
We'll just have to wait for that, but when he arrives, I believe that 'when' will be the last of our thoughts, and 'Hallelujah!' the only thing that still matters.
In the mean-time, he's given us a lot to keep us busy. It's always time to take our calling seriously (Romans 13:11 and Ephesians 5:16). Part of our calling is to 'take every opportunity' to live and speak in a godly way around others, (Col. 4:5-6) so the Good News can spread more effectively.
So whatever time it is, whatever time we have on earth, let's use that time to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
We like change. Change is the main theme of the US elections this fall. At the same time, we tend to resist it. But without change, we stop growing and die.
Our first parents, Adam and Eve, had an open friendship with God -- complete access to all the power and the wisdom in the universe. When they decided they could handle things on their own, and turned away from him, everything changed for the worse. It wasn't until a long time later that God sent his Son into the world to change everything back.
A lot of people of his day didn't like the changes Jesus, the Son of God, brought. They had everything worked out in their minds about the methods a person had to use to approach God, and didn't like the idea that he was bringing in a new system of trust. They did everything they could to convince him he should follow them instead, but in the end, they couldn't handle the idea that they might be wrong and need to change, so they killed him.
That didn't work out the way they wanted, either. He didn't stay dead. And his disciples changed from a bunch of uncertain, arguing trainees to powerful speakers who helped convince even more people that they needed to change too.
That was 2,000 years ago. Change is still important to our spiritual maturity. When we're faced with some way we don't measure up to the life of Jesus, we have something he wants us to change. That's okay; we get help with it (John 16:12-15, etc). And we get to look forward to one final change that will let us see God together: "But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown." (1 Cor. 15:51-52).
I'm really looking forward to that one.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Meanwhile, we're winding up toward October 31. Traditionally on this evening, children dressed up as scary characters like economists and bankers come to our homes and attempt to coerce us into giving them candy and other nutrition-free junk. Some use the ancient epithet "trick or treat!" which sounds a little like investing in the stock market.
Hmmm...so there are threats on every side, it seems. What's a Christian to do? Spend all our time and energies in an attempt to keep all these threats from hurting us? Opt for self-protection at all costs? And for that matter, shut off all the lights and pretend not to be home when the little costumed threat-bringers show up?
Time to stop and ask "What would Jesus do?" And we have an answer. He himself was born into uncertain economic and political times--we'll talk more about that during Advent season--and faced threats similar to ours, although I don't think he worried about his 401(k). But he taught his disciples something very interesting in the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew chapters 5 through 7. (Click here to read what he said about possessions, prayer, fasting and faith in Chapter 6.)
Jesus explained that the Father knew exactly what is going on with each person, and is able, as well as ready, to provide all their needs. So the big idea, he says in verses 31 and 32, is that we should have faith in our Father's ability to provide for us:
And the Father has provided all our needs -- starting with sending his Son to live and die for us so we could live forever with him, and then for every other need
And what about all those little costumed characters who may come around in a couple of weeks? Just like with the economy and an uncertain future, I can't control them. But I have the choice to hide, run away, or face them calmly. So here's what The Lovely Joanne and I have been doing the last few years: knowing we'll get visitors asking for something, we decided to give them something much more valuable than candy. Instead of carving up pumpkins into scary faces, we carve pumpkins with the word "Jesus" and maybe a Christian fish symbol, or a heart and a cross. Then when the little guys come around to "scare" us, we give them the most reassuring message there is: "Jesus loves you." I'm always delighted at how the atmosphere turns around when we say those words. And then we give them some kind of treat, and a little card telling them there's a God who loves them. The evening ends up being a lot more fun for us all that way.
Jesus' words of reassurance that the Father is watching over us mean as much to me now as they did to the disciples 20 centuries ago. My Father has pulled me through a lot of pain and loss in my life, and I'm convinced he will keep doing it. That helps me not worry so much about the sky falling. Or the doorbell ringing. I pray it will do the same for you.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
I have mixed feelings about it. Our apartment has been a place to meet a bunch of new people, and we've enjoyed having people over here. We've made friends with the management and staff, and taken time to welcome new tenants to our building and some of the others too. Whenever we leave, I'll miss this place that welcomed us to Colorado. But then again, we could do the same things in a new neighborhood -- inviting people in for coffee or lunch, and welcoming new arrivals, maybe hosting a Bible study and introducing people to this amazing God who loves us so much.
The Bible talks about home too, of course. Many of God's servants were wanderers, not having a place to call their own. Take Abraham, for example, along with Isaac and Jacob, as told in Hebrews 11:8-9; or Moses, who left his home in Egypt and moved to the desert, then came back and wandered with the Israelites in tents for another 40 years. All of these, the writer tells us, were looking for something beyond just this life: "Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God." (Hebrews 11:10) And all the other people of faith were hanging on for something none of them ever completely received: "All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised." (Hebrews 11:39) Even Jesus had to do without a home sometimes, he said (Matthew 8:20).
And Paul wrote that this physical life is, after all, only temporary and he was looking forward to a different 'home' after death, in 2 Corinthians 5: "Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands...We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord." The here-and-now looks so solid and real, but the true reality and permanence is in the final home we get to have with God.
I don't know if we'll find the perfect house or not, or if God will call us to stay in the apartments awhile longer, or whether if we move, we'll stay there until the end of our days. But I do know that God has a home for me that won't need paint, a new roof, or even heating in the winter -- and that's the one I'm really looking forward to.
And the best news of all, God has reserved a 'new house' for all humanity, not just the nice kids -- Jesus died and was resurrected on behalf of every single person. We've all got that permanent home waiting for us. Isn't that great news?
Do you believe that? Or is something holding you back from being sure what God has waiting for you? If so let's talk.
My place or yours?
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
The human heart is a marvel of engineering -- beating about 70 times a minute, over 100,000 times a day on average. Its four chambers collect blood from the veins, push it to the lungs, collect it, then send it out to the body again, in a double thump-thump beat that is recognized as a sign of stability and comfort.
The heart's chambers are also a model of how God deals with all of us as his beloved children.
The task of the first chamber is to gather up from the rest of the body the tired blood that no longer contains life-giving oxygen. That blood needs new life -- new energy -- and can only receive it by returning to the heart for renewal. The second chamber pumps that blood into the lungs. That 'old' blood is buried, in a sense, in the life-giving oxygenated sacs that take away the carbon dioxide and renew the blood as the carrier of life.
The third chamber receives this renewed blood from the lungs, collecting what has now been filled with the 'breath of life.' And the fourth chamber powerfully propels the life-giving blood out into the body, distributing that renewal wherever it is needed.
These four chambers represent our spiritual rebirth. The first chamber shows we must "Return" to the heart of the Father, who has called us out of the lifeless existence we have without him, and that he accepts us in his grace. The second chamber says we must "Let Go" of the old, death-bound idea of independence from God, change our attitudes toward him ('repent', in biblical terms) and be buried, as it were, in the waters of baptism. The third chamber tells us to "Be Filled" with the Holy Spirit and be prepared by his work in us for greater spiritual service. And the fourth chamber says we aren't just called to enjoy this ourselves, but our calling is "And Go" into the service of God, giving that same life we've been blessed with to others we meet.
Those four double-beat terms are a reminder to us, just like our heart beats constantly with a double-beat life-giving rhythm, of the infinite love of our life-giving God who wants all of us to "Return" "Let Go" "Be Filled" "And Go". Our Father calls us back to himself, urges us to give up our lives of sin and selfishness, be renewed by the Holy Spirit's life-giving presence, and then spread his life-giving message of grace to all his other children who are starving for that new life.
Next time you feel your pulse, or hear a heartbeat, stop and appreciate those four chambers beating so faithfully on your behalf, and hear the voice of our Father calling out to us: "Return -- Let Go -- Be Filled -- And Go." I don't think I'll ever hear a heartbeat the same way again. Will you?
Monday, September 22, 2008
But that poll opens up a bunch of other questions. For instance, where do people go when they die; why do you call it heaven; and how do you get to wherever the good place is? And do all Christians automatically get into the good place, or is there more to it?
Heaven is described in the Bible as the place where God lives, or the place of his immediate presence (1 Kings 8:30, Deuteronomy 26:15, Matthew 6:9, etc). Stephen "gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand" (Acts 7:55) Because of these verses, we could say that 'being with God' is the same as 'being in heaven.' To make matters more immediate, Paul said in Ephesians 2:6 that we are already "in the heavenly realms" with the Father and Jesus. So in some sense, because we are "in Christ", we are already "in heaven!"
So if you're here, and you're also there, where do you go when you die? Paul said he wanted to 'go and be with Christ' in Philippians 1:23, so he believed that after death he would be where Jesus Christ is. He's not clear in that passage whether he meant immediately in the sense of time as we know it, or whether he meant after Christ's return, when the living and the dead will meet the Lord together (1 Thess. 4:15-17, 1 Thess 5:10). And the timing is really a less important issue than the togetherness. However it turns out, we get to be face to face with God forever (1 John 3:2) and I don't think we'll be disappointed!!
But who goes there? If the people in the poll are right, not even all the Christians get to go. But I don't think they are -- for one thing, we know that salvation is a gift, not to be earned (Eph 2:8-10, for instance) so it's not the 'best Christians' who get to go, but everyone. Jesus died for the sins of the whole world (John 1:29) not just for the most obedient; and he reconciled the whole universe to the Father (Col. 1:20). The 'whole universe' would include you and me, even on our worst day.
Some nights you and I don't sleep well anyway. So I sure wouldn't lose any more precious sleep worrying about whether or not we get to be with God forever. He's already decided he wants us there, and I intend to let him get his way. How about you?
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Because when I'm speaking of religion, I'm speaking of a man-made set of beliefs that defines what a group of people are told they have to believe and live by -- a method we humans invent to claw our way up to God and jackhammer our way into his house, rather than walking through the open front door. I use a somewhat sarcastic description of that concept to try to drive home the point that it's a human-devised method, not the one God designed in the first place.
Religion has been the cause of a lot of evil in this world. The Crusades, for instance. The Inquisition, for another. The Islamic conquest of North Africa and parts of Europe during the 6th and 7th centuries AD, for another. Anybody remember Northern Ireland being torn apart by religious rivalry? And it all goes on today. That's religion for you. A set of rules to determine who's in and who's out. And the 'out' guys usually get slaughtered.
It goes from the macro level to the micro level. Some churches teach that you can't use dice to play Monopoly (and some don't play that nasty, selfish game of acquisition at all!) because dice are used for gambling. They use a spinner on a card to point to a number that tells you how far ahead to move your game icon. (Don't tell them what other people use spinners for, or icons either, for that matter.) Then there are movies, dancing, and microwave ovens. I'm serious.
Dear friends, God never designed any of that as our relationship with him. He created us to be relational, like he is (Genesis 1:26) and called us to be in his family even before he made us (Ephesians 1:3-8). He sent his Son into the world to reclaim the world (Eph 1:5 again) and did it not because we were good enough to be his kids, but precisely because we weren't good enough nor ever could be (Romans 5:6-11).
Yes, he has told us some ways we should love him, and various ways we should treat one another. But they all get back to two real rules: Love God with all you are; and love other people like God has already loved us. When those two rules seem to conflict -- like thinking you should kill someone else because you love God -- it's time to think through the problem again and see if there's a different solution, because I'm pretty sure you could find one!
May you live in peace and joy today and every day, through the love of God.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
The Random House Unabridged Dictionary, source of the online 'dictionary.com', has eight definitions for the word "religion". The first two fascinate me:
|1.||a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.|
|2.||a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.|
If we think of Christianity as a religion, these definitions will work -- mostly. But when I think of Christianity as a relationship between an all-knowing and all-loving and all-powerful God and his creation (which includes me) these don't work at all. The above definitions begin from a human perspective: what we decide we can believe and practice. The Bible starts from a different perspective: who God is and what he has done, and then who we are as a result.
Relationship is the basis for Christianity. The Christian doctrine of the nature of God describes a relational being, who created the universe in order to interact with it, and has loved us (that's a relationship) from before the world began (Matthew 25:34, Ephesians 1:1-4, etc). God's love for every human being is the defining principle for the whole universe -- everything else comes from that beginning point.
Religion, as it is often practiced, becomes a way for humans to create a relationship with God; we define how we should act in order for God to show us favor and interact with us. What's worse, it becomes a way for us to define who is 'in' and who is 'out.' But God says that he created a relationship with us before we could 'act right': "Even when we were God's enemies, he made peace with us, because his Son died for us." (Romans 5:10; in fact, all of Romans 5 talks about this principle.)
This makes me think about marriage, another relationship. The Amazing Joanne and I have worked out some basic rules, or practices, in how we're going to run the household and such. We're not slaves to the rules -- from time to time we have to change the rules to fit into new realities (like when she's gone for a couple of weeks). The rules only work because they all come from a decision to love each other, and we'll keep loving each other even when we have to face new circumstances and create new practices to adapt to them.
So, do you want religion -- a system that starts with us and tries to relate to an infinite God -- or a relationship that starts with God and provides an infinite love for us? (To Be Continued.)
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
The same thing is true of humans. If we try to paint ourselves with good behavior, it won't stick. Trying harder just makes us more tired. Saying "I'll try harder next time" makes the people around us even more tired! But in our relationship with God, it doesn't start with our behavior -- or even with our hearts -- it started with his own actions for us. He cleaned us off first, through Jesus Christ; and the 'new paint' goes on as a result.
Rather than telling us that we have to behave ourselves, then believe him, then we can belong -- God started by changing the situation all on his own. He tells us that we belong to him, and asks us to believe it; and only then can our behavior be changed. It looks like this (with thanks to Ted Johnston for these three B's):
Belong: Colossians 1:12 says "giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light." And in verse 20, it says "and through [Jesus Christ] to reconcile to himself all things..." So the whole creation, and with it all humanity, has already been brought back into God's love and given a place of acceptance, through what Jesus already did. Colossians 2:13 says "when you were dead in your sins...God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins..." and that was before we did anything!
Believe: Our belief doesn't cause this to happen, or qualify us to receive it; it already happened on our behalf, when we were definitely un-qualified! Our belief only changes our thinking to help us see what is already true. Colossians 1:21-22 continues "Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your own minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death..." and once we fully embrace that truth, we can rejoice and thank God.
Behave: In Colossians 1:10, we're told that this life of being re-united with God does have an effect: "And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work..." But that fruit only comes because we are already adopted into God's household; it's never a means to convince God to adopt us, because he already has. We start making a decision every day to live like what we truly are -- God's dear children.
"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God" (Colossians 3:1). First things first: we do belong; we need to believe it, then and only then can we behave like it.
May we all learn to live within that truth.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Christians hold, in effect, dual citizenship -- both of this world (Paul claimed to be a Roman citizen) and of the kingdom of God (Philippians 3:20). We were born into this world, into whatever nation we came from, but we are also 'born again' into the family and kingdom of God Almighty. In case of a conflict, that heavenly citizenship takes precedence over the earthly one (see for instance Acts 5:29) but by and large, our Christianity helps us be better citizens of our earthly country as well. That includes keeping the laws of our community and, yes, paying taxes.
What about voting? There's no command one way or the other in the Bible, so we have to look at principles and ask if we can gain an idea from them. Since Paul says the governments are from God, then participating in them could be seen as a participation with God.
But there are issues that we may disagree on with one candidate or another -- so how do we handle that? There are three options, I think: vote for the one that's closest to your understandings and values; lobby the one who is closest to your understandings, in order to sway his/her vote on various topics; finally, we can refuse to vote -- which is our right to abstain from the process, and treating our allegiance to God as over-riding all of those other considerations.
Paul gives us one command, though, that is clear: pray for our leaders. 1 Tim. 2:1-2 says this: "I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. 2 Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. 3 This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth." So Paul is even saying that God expects and is pleased by our prayers of intercession (asking for his help) for those rulers -- and ties that comment to God's desire for all to be saved.
Maybe there's another reason to follow the news coverage of the two major conventions: to have more to pray about. Even if some of the speakers irritate us, and we disagree with what they're promoting, we can pray that God will guide and help them do their jobs in ways that further His eternal purpose, even in spite of themselves. That's good enough reason for me. How about you?
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
I got to see in action the scriptures that talk about teaching the next generation about God. For example, Deuteronomy 6:7-8, which tell us to talk to our children about these things morning, noon and night, in all our circumstances. And another one, in Psalm 145: "One generation will declare your Your works to the next and will proclaim your mighty acts."
When we teach the next generation, several things happen. One, we're functioning within his plan for us and letting him fulfill his will in us -- that means we're going to be more fulfilled in life. Two, we're helping the younger generation 'get it' -- which points them to a life of fulfillment and joy in God's will. And three, we're continuing the life of the church (as a whole) by bringing the next generation into God's service. What's not to like?
So if you get a chance to pour something of your Christian life into a young person, why not take it? Jesus said to let the little children come to him -- and that's what we do in ministry to these kids.
And just for fun, you can go to www.seprockies.org and have a look at what we do there every year.
Monday, July 21, 2008
What's wrong, I ask myself at those times, with getting a little sleep? And why do I have to be dragged out of peaceful dreamland by such a racket?
We can get distracted just the same in other parts of life, when our old habits, sins and weaknesses come along and whack us on the back of the head again.
The writer of Hebrews, in chapter 12, encouraged his readers (that would be us, now) this way: "Do you see what all this means -- all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we'd better get on with it. Strip down, start running -- and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in." (the Message).
To be fruitful in Christian life, in this endurance race I'm in, I have to push away the sins, doubts, fears, weaknesses and other problems, and follow Jesus as he focused on his Father's will. It's a choice I make -- to ignore distractions and keep my eyes on the goal. It's a choice to believe that life in God's path is better than all the distractions around me.
How are you dealing with the distractions in your life? Can you decide today, to push some aside?
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Some Christians call this transition "going home" based on 2 Corinthians 5:6-9 -- "So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him." (New Living Translation)
We Christians know that this physical life, as much fun as it seems sometimes, is only the beginning. When that ends, we move to a totally different realm, one of peace and lack of pain or physical need (Revelation 21:4). And then, we will come face to face with our Creator and Savior (1 John 3:1-2). The 'walk' we get to have with the Father through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit, as good as that can be, is only a tiny, flimsy representation of the real thing we will experience one day. I wonder if we'll get to walk 'in the garden, in the cool of the day' (Gen. 3:9) again?
Whatever it is, it will be fabulous (1 Cor 2:9). Let's look forward to it together.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
There's no end, it seems like. My mom used to say "if it's not one thing, it's two" and she was often right. And if worry or activity could have sent it all away by now, surely my level of both would have sent all my concerns to the other side of the moon, at least. But they never seem to leave.
Jesus promised us rest in Matthew 11:28: "Come to me, all who are weary of carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest." And though he meant that first in the sense of finding rest from our works, he offers rest from all the 'stuff' we carry around. Peter expanded on the idea a little in I Peter 5:7 "God cares for you, so turn all your worries over to him."
There's a modern Christian song written about this idea, in case we forget:
"I cast all my cares upon you,
I lay all of my burdens down at your feet.
And anytime that I don't know what to do,
I cast all my cares upon you." (C) Kelly Willard, Maranatha Praise
Of course, God doesn't stop me from worrying if I really want to. I can keep on carrying my backpack full of junk, all of which he's already planned for. Or I can choose to accept his invitation to take it off and drop it at his feet, knowing it's all in his hands anyway; and enjoy the simple pleasure of walking with him without burdens. That's how he wanted it in the first place, in the Garden.
Ready to give it a try? On three: One, two...
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Kind of like our lifelong struggle with the sin that seems to never leave us alone. We can either go into denial (what, me sin?) which would be like letting the grass grow without mowing it. Or we could go hide in a monastery, hoping that being away from cable TV and the other temptations of civilization will insulate us from sin; but monks in monasteries struggle just the same as you and I. We can beat ourselves up with remorse and promise God never to do it again (sort of like cutting the grass really, really short and hoping it won't grow back) and then of course get really depressed with the sin comes back to haunt us next week.
None of these works. We're still alive and sin still happens, in spite of our most earnest efforts. But we've also been forgiven by Jesus Christ, and brought into new life with him; so our sins no longer count against us. What freedom and relief!
Paul said this in Romans 7: "22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin." Now, this chapter is a hard one to understand for a lot of reasons, but here's one quick analysis of this section: No matter how much I love God, and though I am reborn in Christ, I'm still human and can't get away from sin.
The grass still grows. We still have to cut it. Sin still happens. And because of the mind of God in us, because we are 'in Christ', we want to root out sin and be turned more fully to the mind of Christ (otherwise, using the metaphor, we'd let the grass grow, and maybe park old junk cars in the lawn too). That desire to turn from sin in disgust comes from the Holy Spirit in us, and when we obey his prompting and cry out to God again, our love-bond with God strengthens. Our sin is already covered by the blood of Christ -- we don't have to 'repent' of every new sin in the sense of hoping to be forgiven -- but that continual turning away from sin and toward God is what 'walking in the Spirit' is about.
Like any parent, God knows his children aren't going to be perfect. That's what the sacrifice of Christ was about. But he loves us, and he loves it when we keep coming back to him every day, even when we have to apologize for getting dirty and leaving grass clippings everywhere. His love covers it all, and like any parent, he'd rather have us in his house, all cleaned up now, than standing outside pretending the grass doesn't need cutting.
Have a great summer!
Monday, June 23, 2008
But there's one debt you'll never have to worry about. It's been paid in full, before you were ever born. In fact, it was paid in full before the stars began burning or this Earth was set spinning in the blackness of space.
That's the debt of your sins. It's already been paid. Before you were born, before the universe was created out of exactly nothing, God had a plan in place to unite the whole universe to himself by one selfless act. The eternal Son of God was made flesh, and in his flesh reconciled all of us -- united the physical creation with its Maker, through and including the resolution of all sin for all time. See Revelation 13:8, John 10:11, John 12:32, Eph 1:3-8, and many other scriptures.
One more: John 19:30 says: 'After Jesus drank the wine, he said, "Everything is done!" He bowed his head and died.' The Greek word for "everything is done" is 'tetelestai' which is a term found on business documents of that time period, to note that a debt was paid or a transaction completed.
It's all done. You can't do anything to pay for your sins or to present yourself clean before God, because he arranged it all, even before you had sinned once. Your repentence doesn't change the truth -- it simply means you've turned around and recognized what is already true. So when the Accuser calls you to hound you about your guilt, you can just hang up. It's already been handled!
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Plus, some of us aren't as young as we used to be. Come to think of it, didn't Jesus call a bunch of young, energetic guys? Maybe we need to hand this over to the young, energetic types.
Well, God has called us to a task that's bigger than we are, so we have to rely on him. And he has a unique way of providing resources. He asked Moses, back at the burning bush: "What's in your hand?" (Exodus 4:1-2) Moses doubted, but God put into use something Moses was already holding.
You may be 'only' a grandparent, or 'only' a schoolteacher, or 'only' a contractor or street sweeper or cafeteria worker. Moses was 'only' a sheepherder. Well, none of us can serve except where we are right now. And God, who is all-powerful, can work with any person, and can make anything into a tool to accomplish his will.
Maybe it's time for a new prayer for insight -- for God to show you the people in your life that he wants to reach through you. For the insight to hear the cry of the lonely, feel the pain of the desolate, see the need in someone else's eyes; and the insight to know how you can respond.
What's in your hand today?
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
As often happens, that got me started thinking about spiritual things. It's a central part of my thinking that God has saved us from spiritual death through the free gift of life given us by Jesus Christ ("while we were still sinners, Christ died for us", Romans 5:8). Jesus Christ says that we are 'in him' (John 14:20) and that means we are secure. Nobody can take us out of his hands (John 10:28-29).
The next human thought can sometimes be, "Okay, now all I do is coast and enjoy life!" Well, not quite. If we want to enjoy life, we need to stay 'plugged into' the source of life -- kind of like the printer has to stay connected to the computer to be of any use. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:30, "Don't grieve God's Holy Spirit, who sealed you for the day of redemption." He says also in Romans 8:15, "...but you received the spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out 'Abba, Father'." And in verse 26, "In the same way the Spirit also joins to help in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings."
The Holy Spirit, who lives in us, is the one who actually initiates our prayers and our contact with God. He's the one who reminds us that we are the children of the Father. He makes up for our human inability to see God's perfect will in our prayers, by communicating perfectly with the Father for us; and in turn, reminds us of the Father's perfect will for our moment-by-moment actions and words. (For you computer geeks, think 'bi-directional printer communication' as a loose analogy.)
So as we continue on in this new life in Christ -- whether it's six weeks new or sixty years new -- we are at our best when we stay fully plugged into the mind of the Spirit at every step. Have you felt the tug of the Holy Spirit to pray, or to stop and talk with someone, or send a card or a phone call of encouragement, or do something generous? That's being 'plugged in' with God. Do you sometimes ignore that tug due to being 'busy'? That's when the cable falls out, and when it's time to plug it back in.
Stay connected, my brothers and sisters!
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
While trying to improve our physical condition, The Amazing Joanne and I collided on our bicycles. She injured her shoulder and couldn’t sleep well. As things go, I ended up sleeping the wrong way one night, ended up with a pinched nerve, so my shoulder is stiff and my wrist is tender. (All in the pursuit of becoming stronger!)
All this reminds me of my own mortality, which is very embarrassing. I prefer to think of myself as being immortal, or at least free from weaknesses. Yeah, right.
God knows better. He made us out of mud, and he’s never forgotten that. Psalm 103:14 says “The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. He knows how weak we are; he remembers we are but dust.”
Not that I like to be reminded I’m made out of mud, and that I’m fragile -- but to compensate, God himself remembers how fragile I am, and treats me tenderly because of it.
God also knows that we aren’t able to provide our own salvation. He tells us through Paul in Ephesians:
2:4 -- But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, 5 that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)
So God doesn’t expect us to achieve some level of perfection in order to qualify for his forgiveness or for life itself. He knows we can’t, anyway.
That’s a good thing, because just as in physical life, when I try to live a spiritual life, I keep colliding with obstacles and other people. I will never get it right, but that’s OK because Jesus Christ himself has gotten it right for me, and by grace the Father has given me the gift of life through Jesus. And he still treats me – and you – tenderly.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Which brought to mind the question of what our prayers accomplish. Again, as we talk about prayer we're discussing how we talk to a Being who already knows more about the situation than we can tell him, about a friend or family member he already loves infinitely more than we do. So as we pray, are we convincing God to do something good for this person for whom Jesus has already died?
My best understanding, as of May 27 2008, is that prayer for the good of someone else does several important things:
--Reminds me to love that person, since God already does
--Keeps that person in my mind during the week, rather than simply saying that I care about him or her, but forgetting all about their needs later
--Allows God to bring to mind things that I can do for that person, over and above prayer
--Encourages that person, when he or she learns how many people are praying and concerned about their needs
--Shows me my un-Christlike attitudes about another person.
There are probably more, but those are pretty powerful already.
When I actually wrestle with God in prayer over the needs of a friend or family member, I have to work through some of those parts of my thinking that aren't like God. Praying through those things is like taking the flour and other ingredients from the cabinet and working them slowly into the dough that will be good bread; in this case, finding places in the Bible that help me see the mind of God, especially as revealed through his son Jesus, and working that into my thinking to replace the selfish ideas and motivations.
Jesus said "the Kingdom of God is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough." (Matthew 13:33). That works on the macro-level (that is, all through the world) and the micro-level (all through me).
Good prayer, like good bread, takes work. But it's worth every second. Why don't you give it a try? And let me know how it comes out.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
If you believe in this God who is all-knowing anyway, why bother praying? I mean, after all, if he knows what you're gonna say before you say it, what's the point? You could be boring God by saying it all. You could be irritating him by letting your thoughts wander, or by using wrong grammar or being disorganized in your request list. What if he only listens to glib talkers, or the deeply introspective, or the dramatic? Or those who haven't sinned yet today?
Does God have an emotional need to hear from us, or maybe he forgets we're still here unless we make noise? I don't think so. Then prayer is more for us than for God. He sees us wherever we are. We're the ones who don't see him. He doesn't need us, but we sure 'nuff need him.
Our first parents, Adam and Eve, got to talk to God all the time, face to face. Then of course they decided they'd grown up and didn't need him anymore, and the whole human experience went downhill, fast, from there.
I think one of the important parts of prayer -- and there are many -- is to be reminded that I don't know it all. Psalm 25:4-5 says it this way: "Show me the right path, O Lord; point out the road for me to follow. Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me."
Prayer gives me a chance to admit that there's a lot of stuff in life -- okay, all of it -- that I can't do, and need his help to accomplish. For that matter, even to know which thing to be working on, let alone how to do it. To admit to God, not just to myself, that I need him and always will. (Now, he already knows that, but it helps me to face the fact that I do.)
For a lot more perspectives on prayer, I recommend Philip Yancey's excellent book Prayer: Does it Make any Difference?
What is it that you need to admit to God today? He know you're there, he knows what's on your mind, and he's listening. What's more, he loves hearing from you!
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Grace -- which comes from absolute love -- is the foundation for the way an eternal, limitless, perfect, holy God interacts with a physical, limited and very much imperfect humanity (that would be you and me both). Hey, God is perfect and we aren't, so how else would he deal with us, than by grace? Would you let the Three Stooges into your house??
I'll give you an illustration from my own life (I know, you didn't ask for one, but it's here anyway). Years ago, I was divorced. It wasn't pretty. Divorce never is. I figured, well, that's it for me, God won't ever let me be married again. Or it will be five or ten years of being single, and I'll finally find someone I can be moderately happy with.
Wrong on both counts. God is gracious, not vengeful. It was only two years, and I met somebody that has absolutely taken my breath away, over and over, as I see God's hand in our relationship. I'm happier than I ever thought possible, and more fulfilled in this marriage than I thought marriage could be. It's still work -- it always is -- but it's amazing.
Grace is something we can't earn and couldn't qualify for in a million years. It's a gift, that's all. And I'm here as one of the prime examples of God's graciousness. Like Paul said: 'This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all.'
I'm glad it's grace not works. How about you?
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Others of my friends completely didn't get the concept of worship, even tho it's written up in the Bible. I mean, looking at it from a human viewpoint, what kind of personality needs to be praised and complimented all the time? If one of my friends acted that way, I'd have to have a long talk with him or her about insecurity and peace. Do you really want to have a person like that around you? I don't! And how about those megalomaniac rulers in this world, who demand their followers tell them how great they are? If God is like that, and wants to burn me when I don't give him enough of it, I don't think I want anything to do with him. Would you?? But if God is love, why does he need all this praise stuff?
C.S. Lewis, one of the clearest writers in English on Christianity in the 20th century, asked that question too. He wrote a book, Reflections on the Psalms, and wondered aloud why so many times the scripture says something like this, in Psalm 8:1 -- "O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!"
Lewis's conclusion in that book was, worshipping God is simply to recognize who he is and what he's like, and respond accordingly. "To worship God is merely to be awake, to have entered the real world," he writes. So to be truly paying attention to reality, seeing how great God really is, would that help us worship?
Two metaphors that help this make sense to me: one is my memory of walking into a room at a museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma where a huge painting was hanging, depicting a morning in the Sierra Nevada mountains, with a lake and deer in the foreground. It filled my whole field of view, and just took my breath away. I was stunned by its beauty. The other idea is what it means to show appreciation to someone (I think first of my wife, The Amazing Joanne) for her traits or a gift she's given me.
If we apply those ideas to God, what do we have? Being bowled over by how great he really is, when we get a glimpse of that; and being filled with appreciation and excitement about all he has done for us; those are some of the ways we can be aware of reasons to worship him.
Who he is, and what he's done; both of them knock me over every time I really hone in on them. It makes me want to dance, sing, shout, kneel, bow, reach up to him in love, and a lot of other actions and thoughts.
How about you? Have you had a glimpse of him lately? How did you react?
Friday, April 25, 2008
Some ppl don't get it that God permeates this creation. Sometimes I get busy trying to get from A to B and forget to notice what he's doing out there. But the Bible, his word, says he is actively involved in keeping it going. In fact, it's not just "God" in the generic sense, but Jesus himself, who once walked this earth and still is intimately involved in it:
"Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe. The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven." (Hebrews 1:1-3)
So, what this is saying is, the one who created the whole universe billions of years ago, came to the earth and brought the whole thing -- including the people -- back from our disastrous self-will detour, and is asking us to walk alongside him as we learn to take care of the place and each other. And he still holds it all together himself, because he likes it that way. He's still involved and he's not going away.
Even if we get busy and don't notice him. Or don't believe in him. Or don't want to go along for the trip.
But he's busy, continuing the work he sent his Son to do. He's got projects going on all over the world -- and all over Arvada, or wherever you live. He asks us to be involved with what he's doing, showing his love toward his children everywhere we meet them -- whether they're 'wayward' or not.
Join me and God for breakfast sometime? He'll refresh you with real food and real energy for the job he's about to give you.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Jesus didn't have a refrigerator, so he understood about food spoilage. In fact, he said at one point, "Don't work for the food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you." (John 6:27, if you want to look it up.) So, was he talking ptomaine, or pushing antioxidants, or what?
Well, Jesus had just fed 5,000 people with a few biscuits and some pickled sardines. That must have wowed the crowd, because they followed him around the next couple of days hoping he'd repeat the feat. They wouldn't listen to what he said about eternity, but they did want him to start up the manna-from-heaven miracle again, so they wouldn't have to work for food any more.
So he tells them not to spin their wheels working for physical food, because it will just spoil anyway. Why was that? Could have been several reasons, I suppose. But basically, he was working on people to stop looking at merely physical things and begin looking at the spiritual. He did that a lot, because people back then were, in the main, looking for just the physical and didn't realize there was more to life.
Oooooops, I do that sometimes too, and so do lots of people I know. Maybe even you...well, okay, not you, but somebody you know. Really well...
So, is there a cure for not seeing the spiritual? I think it's the same way you get to Carnegie Hall -- practice, man, practice. But it takes spiritual eyes; you have to ask God to help you see the big lesson behind the little one in front of you, the spiritual thing that the physical thing stands for. He's created a lot of physical stuff that gives us windows into the spiritual world; so why not use them to understand him better?
'scuse me, there's something boiling over on the stove....
Saturday, April 19, 2008
On a night like this, but at or near the fall equinox, Jesus stood in the temple courtyard and said "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
Now, the Jews of that time had said that light was a symbol of the presence of God. They had created some large menorahs (candlesticks, or lamps for use with olive oil, with seven branches) that they kept lit during the Feast of Tabernacles to illustrate that symbol. And then here came this upstart teacher from Galilee saying that he was the one to whom that symbol pointed. He said that he was the presence of God in the world -- not the light from the menorahs, not the light from the full moon that combined with the oil lamps to cast a brilliant light over Jerusalem.
They didn't like it. That was just one more excuse for them to call him a false prophet.
The next week, the light from those lamps was extinguished. Jesus still shone. He still does.
Can you see where you're going? Or do you need his light in you?
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
That all changed with the arrival of the Son of God in the flesh. In Jesus, God was with us (Emmanu-el) and we got to watch him work and ask him questions. Theology writers like Michael Jinkins and Baxter Krueger tell us that Jesus is the perfect revelation of the Father to us -- so now, we finally know what the Father is like, because of Jesus. He said himself once, "if you've seen me, you've seen the Father." (John 14:9).
After he was resurrected, Jesus said, "Go to my brothers and tell them 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.' " (John 20:17)
Now we have access to the Father through jesus (Romans 5:2, Ephesians 2:18). Now we can call God our own Father. Or as Jesus said, "Papa" ("Abba" in Aramaic) in Mark 14:36. And Paul tells us in two places, Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6, that through the Holy Spirit's speaking for us, we now use the same familiar term. Wow! What a dramatic change from the remote, inaccessible God of old!
"Papa." All those warm connotations of closeness and tenderness are now available to everyday, average people. Really -- to all people -- all we have to do is start talking to him in the name of Jesus.
Have you talked to Papa today? How about right now?