Tuesday, December 29, 2009

He's still talking to us

In Genesis 1, the Bible talks about God speaking the universe into existence. God spoke and it happened (verses 3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26). Then God spoke to the humans (verses 28 and 29) and gave instruction. He continues to speak in chapter 2, particularly verses 16 and 18. Now, it seems that the humans listened at first, and as long as they did, all was well. It was when they listened to the serpent, and believed him instead of God, that things went south.

And so it has gone, ever since. As I've written before, God talked to people like Noah, Abraham, and the prophet Moses, as well as kings and prophets after them. He has never really left us without knowing His will. But to make the speaking perfect, the Father sent the Son to be with us and show us the Father's heart. We can read in Hebrews 1:1-2, "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."

How did the Father speak to us through the Son? In the Incarcation (God made flesh), we see many ways, verbal and non-verbal. For instance, the Son was born as a baby, expressing solidarity with humans in our weakness and helplessness and poverty. He was baptized to identify with our need for cleansing and to make our baptism perfectly valid. As a human, Jesus had to learn the scriptures; and as God, he taught the will of the Father that stands under and behind all the written word. Jesus gave up his life as a perfect sacrifice for our sins, in order to clear the way for our adoption by the Father; and was resurrected to show the Father's desire for us to join him in eternal happiness and peace.

The infant in the manger speaks to us. The young man in the Temple speaks to us. So do the Teacher and the Lamb and the risen Son. He's still talking to us through scripture and the Spirit's voice. It's all the one and same God speaking -- not one mysterious short-tempered God in the Old Testament and a new, nice and sweet Jesus in the New. It's the same will of God, the same love of God for his children, and the same faithfulness of God to his promises, that have spoken to us from Creation to now -- revealed, finally and fully, in the incarnate Son.

The Christmas season, for Christians, is not a time of spending money we don't have, to buy stuff we feel obligated to buy, for people we don't like, so they can take it all and exchange it on Monday for stuff they'd rather have anyway. Christmas teaches us to recognize the voice of God in the Son of God made flesh for us and with us. It teaches us that, by entering his creation, God has united his creation -- including all of us -- with himself forever. And that, we can celebrate with great joy!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hearing from God, Part 3

God has been talking to humans since He walked and talked with our first parents in the garden of Eden. We've responded by turning away from Him, refusing to listen, and talking back, like a bunch of self-willed kids. Even Abraham, the father of the faithful, had trouble remembering what God had said and trusting Him to work it out -- like in the ill-planned birth of Ishmael as his heir, instead of waiting for the promised son Isaac.

The nation of Israel continued to have trouble hearing God's voice, even though He spoke to them through the judges and prophets of the period before the kings, and by prophets and priests during the time of the kings of Israel and Judah. Time and again He sent someone to call a king or the nation back to covenant-faithfulness. They spoke in words that were clear, or sometimes not clear (especially to us in the modern Western world who don't understand Eastern thinking). Sometimes the people listened and turned back to God; and sometimes they didn't even listen. Sometimes they killed the prophets God sent.

At the right time, God sent His Son into the world (Galatians 4:4) to save us, as Gabriel explained to Joseph: "And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21). Finally, we had someone we could hear. Not a prophet who spoke for God, or a priest who offered sacrifices, or a judge who interpreted the law, not a king to make and enforce law, but the true Son of God, who came to be God-With-Us, Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). But in His own way, He was also prophet, priest, king and judge. And when He spoke, Jesus said the words of the Father Himself: " I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it. And I know his commands lead to eternal life; so I say whatever the Father tells me to say" (John 12:49-50).

As the Son of the Father, Jesus spoke the words of the Father; not as some representative but as the Son who knew the Father personally. Finally, we had a chance to hear the words of God, in a way we could understand! As before, some people heard, and some rejected Him, to the point of killing Him. But now, finally, God was speaking for Himself, not through some intermediary, and Jesus came as God to show the heart of God to all humanity -- if we will hear.

Hebrews 12, verses 18-29, compare the imagery of Sinai as a contrast to Jesus' presence and teaching. And it says "
Be careful that you do not refuse to listen to the One who is speaking." That tells us once more that, as God, Jesus was and is speaking to us the words of God.

God speaks. Do we hear? That is the question of the ages. In Jesus, we are given the words of God to us all. In Jesus, we hear the Father's heart, calling us to hear and follow just as the prophets of old did. Jesus continues, but more importantly brings personally to us, the message of salvation. Do we hear? Do we believe? Do we accept?

I think it's a lot more comforting and peaceful, from the human point of view, to listen to the voice of Jesus in the pages of the Bible than it will be to hear His voice thunder from the heavens at His second appearance. One way or the other, though, we will all hear Him. I pray you will hear Him, clearly, today.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hearing God, Part 2

Last time we looked at humanity's on-again, off-again way of hearing from God, starting with Adam and Eve and going through Abraham. The times when people actively tried to listen, things went a lot better with them, and vice versa. Now we come to Moses, in the book of Exodus.

God had been keeping track of the descendents of Abraham and their problems for the last 400 years. In Exodus 2, he arranges for a new leader to be born and trained to accomplish the next step in the plan. Moses is a sheepherder, and God starts talking to him out of a burning bush. Moses has enough sense to listen; although his version of listening includes a lot of arguing and complaining (see 3:11, 4:1, 10, 13). Moses continues to listen to God and to complain to Him for another 40 years. But God seems to enjoy the give-and-take; He compares His conversations with Moses to that of friends in Ex. 33:11.

God brings the Israelites out of Egypt, where they saw His miracles in the plagues against the Egyptian gods and His parting the Red Sea for them. They still hadn't heard His voice, though, as Moses had. So He calls them to Mount Sinai and there He speaks. But they can't listen; in a kind of irony, after Moses was afraid they wouldn't listen to him at all (4:1), they want to hear him instead of God: "don't let God speak to us, or we will die!" (20:19).

Moses was like the later prophets: he told the people, over and over, to hear God and not turn away, even though he knew they were going to (Deut. 4:1-14, 31:27, etc). Moses had seen from his own life and from watching others that we aren't very good at listening, but that God is talking and we should pay attention.

Now, here's a point: God had continued to find various ones who would listen, and He kept up the dialog. Why? Because He wants relationship with us. He wants the dialog, even when we get argumentative and difficult. And He sent His Son to talk to us, tell us more about Him and to call us back to that dialog and to walking together. We'll see some more of that next time. In the meantime, keep your ears open. He will definitely have something to say.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Hearing God, part 1

Humans started out hearing God's voice, kind of like a baby hears its parents' voices, just as a part of living. Adam and Eve seem to have listened to God (Gen. 1:28-30) as he told them why they were in the garden and what they should do about it, and to stay away from that one pesky tree of 'knowledge of good and evil' (chapter 2). But in chapter 3, after they'd already taken the one thing they weren't supposed to take, the tone of the conversation is strained -- it reminds me of some discussions I've had with my children. "What did you do?" "I didn't do it, it was her fault!" and evasion instead of honesty. Adam even tried to blame the whole thing on God ("“It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.”). I can imagine God sighing at this point, and shaking his head.

From then on, things get tense. God tries to discuss things with Cain, who isn't in much of a listening mood (chapter 4) and from that time, there don't seem to be many who are in a conversation with the Creator. God speaks with Noah (Genesis 6) and Noah does everything God tells him to (verse 22). But Noah is the only one who seems to pay attention at that point. Not even his three sons and their wives, who get saved from the flood also, seem to have any ongoing contact with the Lord.

After the great flood, everything continues much as it had before. The gift of speech, which includes the need to hear, is used by the humans to plan and build a tower. They are listening to each other, but nobody is listening to God. So he confuses their speech (11:7-8) and now they can't hear each other!

Along comes a fellow named Abram. This man seems serious about hearing God; when the Lord tells him to pick up and move to a different land, he does (12:1-4). And throughout the rest of his life, through all sorts of adventures, God talks to this man and this man listens. Sometimes the conversations are more difficult, like in chapter 15 where Abram complains that God's promises aren't coming true because he doesn't have a son. But Abram/Abraham learns to trust God and even more, to be honest with him -- as Adam and Eve didn't do. And he keeps hearing when God speaks.

There's a lot more to the story, and I want to go into that the next few weeks. But every time we read in the Bible about God, it seems like he is trying to reach out to us, to help us, to teach us. Will people learn to hear him? Will we learn to trust him? That's the continuing question -- not only for humanity as a whole, but for each one of us.

What are you doing to hear from God today? He speaks through his word, the Bible, and to our minds and emotions as we pray, and through circumstances and other people. I need to hear from him about all kinds of things and I bet you do too. How about spending some time talking with him, and asking him to talk to you? And then actively listening? It will change you. It changed me, and a lot of people I know.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

He's Been Here Already

Christians are waiting for the return of Jesus to rule the nations. That's completely legitimate, because He said He was coming back. But "back" means He's already been here once. And both of those points are the message of the traditional four weeks of Advent -- that the Son of God visited us once, and that He's returning. ("Advent" means "arrival," as we see in the name "Seventh-Day Adventists" who emphasize the Second Coming.)

The first week of Advent wraps up the entire year of Christian teaching and celebration, by telling us of that blessed, joyful return of our Savior to the world. Typically, the message of that day in song and sermon and prayer gives us reasons to lift up our eyes in hope of His return, and to be encouraged as we continue to work with Him on the earth now.

But of course, Jesus couldn't return unless He'd been here once already. The next three weeks of Advent teach us some of the many lessons of the first coming. Those include the fact that humanity needed His sacrifice for sin. But Jesus didn't just come here to die -- He, as the Son of God and the Son of Man, perfectly joined God with humanity for the first time. Because He did that, He healed the breach that was opened up in Eden and continued on to that time. All of the angels were waiting for that new beginning, and they celebrated at His birth (Luke 2:8-14) just like they had at the creation (Job 38:7).

Hebrews 9:26-28 gives us both ends of the Advent season when it says this: "But now, once for all time, he has appeared at the end of the age to remove sin by his own death as a sacrifice. And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ died once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him."

Do you have goose bumps yet? I do, every time I think about the magnificent, all-inclusive scope of that passage. He's been here once; He dealt decisively with our separation from God; and He's coming back to finalize what He started a long, long time ago. I've got every reason that I can think of to celebrate. How about joining me?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

God's Faithful Deliverance

I just noticed a parallel, brought out to me by a commentary, on two passages in the Book of Moses:
Gen. 8:1, 14 -- and God remembered Noah...and sent a wind...and the waters receded...and the ground was dry.
Ex. 2:24 -- and God remembered His covenant... 14:21 and sent a strong east wind and drove back the sea... 14:22 and the Israelites went through on dry ground.

In both stories, God "remembered" and "sent a wind" and the waters were pushed back and "dry ground" appeared for the people to walk on. Now, isn't that interesting...the same sequence (even though, in Exodus it's separated in time) of remembering -- taking note of and deciding it's time to act -- sending a wind, and the dry ground appearing for the people to walk on.

There are other places where God "remembers" or takes special note of something, and then takes action, sometimes an action that requires time and a sequence to complete; for instance, Gen. 30:22, where God 'remembered' Rachel, took note of her need and acted.

But in these two cases, the sequence includes a drying wind. Now, for Israel on the seashore, the strong wind was probably unpleasant -- the sand getting in their eyes, and perhaps in their food. Noah and the family may have had a bit of a rougher ride once that wind started. (I wonder if seasick elephants throw up?) But the wind came as an agent of God, and the good result came later. In both cases, He used the wind instead of just waving His hand or something.

Just a thought -- if a dry wind of distress or pain is blowing in your life right now, it could be in preparation for a greater miracle. If God has taken away something, perhaps it's so He can give you something else. That's how it's happened in my life, a dozen times that I can think of. As James 1:2-4 says, about trials:
"Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way."

May God give you the strength and patience, from His store of grace, to ride out the wind of pain or loss or worry, whatever you're going through, so His greater miracle can become evident in you. And may you walk free, on dry ground.

Monday, November 9, 2009


November 11 is celebrated in the US as Veterans' Day, remembering all the men and women who have served and are serving in the armed forces in this country. Those who fell in battle, and those who are still serving, get honored once a year. So they should be. To keep us a free country, they risk their lives every day, enduring a lot of discomfort, often thousands of miles from home and loved ones. As much as I hate war, with its waste of human lives and its savagery, I still believe it's important to honor those who have served our nation. Whenever I have a chance, I stop and thank people in uniform for their service to the country. (And that includes emergency workers as well -- especially our police and firefighters.)

We can also honor those in the faith who went before us. Hebrews 11 has a list of them: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Jochebed (Moses's mother), Moses, Rahab the prostitute, and a bunch of others, named and unnamed. You could also include Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her husband Joseph. All the apostles and leaders of the early church, too. They all went through suffering, pain, separation from their families, ridicule and disdain from those around them, and in some cases, torture and execution for holding on to their convictions, to make a way for us. More recent figures come to mind as well. Martin Luther, for instance, and a lot of other leaders of the church.

What about those 'veterans' of the faith who provided a way for you to know your Savior? That may be your parents or grandparents, or a teacher, or neighbor, Scout leader, friend or even someone you didn't know before that time. And somebody who first told them about the grace of God in Jesus Christ. And the one who told that person, all the way back to the first apostles.

Maybe we should stop to honor them as well. Without them in our lives, we might not be here.

Who can you thank God for?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

On the Shore of the Red Sea

Exodus is a very cool book: full of stories of God's power, his peoples' inability to understand him even though he made it plain, and some 'excellent adventures' to borrow the title of a slapstick movie. Plagues, miracles and wonders, new kinds of food, burning mountains, the whole panorama of the new and unusual.

One story that always gets me is what I call "Standoff at the Red Sea" in chapters 13 and 14. First, God puts the Israelites into what my military friends would call an indefensible position, stuck on a little stretch of beach between the mountains and the sea. The whole Egyptian army, out for revenge for all those plagues, is boiling down on top of them. The Israelites, of course, blame Moses for the whole thing (starting with, "I can't keep my campfire lit next to the ocean!") and he spends some time complaining to the LORD about them.

The LORD comes back with something nobody would have predicted: he opens up the Red Sea for them. They stand there gawping for awhile, then because the Cloud moves into and through this new channel, they go across too. Probably shaking in their sandals the whole way and stopping the kids from picking up seashells. Then, just to sew it all up into a nice package, the LORD lets the waters come back over the Egyptian army; that'll show 'em!

I've sat in that spot, between the mountains and the sea with something or other coming at me like a Mack truck, more times in my life than I can remember. It's almost gotten to the point of being routine, except the circumstances keep changing. And, yes, I spend my time complaining to God about it. And inevitably, something happens that I didn't know was out there and couldn't have engineered to save my life (which is sometimes the point!).

Sooner or later, we all face illness, job loss, death of a loved one, financial problems, housing problems, or a thousand other problems we can't solve. Thing is, the same LORD who knew what the Israelites were facing also knows what you're up to. He is just as faithful to deliver you as he was to deliver them. And he is just as capable at parting your Red Sea as he was theirs. Now, the solution may be just as hard to step into as theirs was, but you can usually tell it's from him because nobody else could have done it. It may not be the solution you'd have chosen, but it will fit his plans to a T.

And when you step forward into his solution, whatever it is, he may show you a really pretty shell to keep, just to remind you that he loves you.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


The Lovely Joanne and I have spent parts of our day off, the last couple of weeks, raking leaves. (It's that time of year!) We only have a few medium-sized trees in our yard, but the lady down the street has this enormous maple that has shed about 20 bags so far and still going strong.

So who cares about leaves? I mean, won't they just decompose and add to the soil? That's what they do in the forest, right? We could all save a lot of effort. True, but surburbia isn't a forest. We have this thing about green grass, and lots of it; and lawns that look like the top of a billiard table don't grow in the middle of a forest. Those take lots of water, fertilizer and sunlight, which means keeping the leaves off. Besides that, there are sidewalks and mail carriers and neighbors to consider. Wet leaves get slippery, and there's no sense getting your ankle twisted when there's all that snow to shovel this winter.

Those who have followed this series for long know there's a spiritual point in here somewhere. And you'd be right! The scriptures show that we should 'be careful where we walk' (Psa. 119:59, Prov. 14:15, etc). They also show that God directs our steps (Prov. 15:9, 20:24) and that we should also follow the example of Jesus himself (1 Pet. 2:21) and 'walk as he walked' (1 John 1:6-7). So one could argue that keeping 'spiritual slippery leaves off the sidewalk' would be a good course of action. Watching out for sin, and actively putting God's word into our minds would help us avoid the buildup of sin.

And keeping an eye out for the dead leaves of sin or wasteful habits building up in our lives would be helpful too. Consider a similar thought in Mark 4:18-19 in the parable of the Sower: "The seed that fell among the thorns represents others who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced."

Make no mistake: our best efforts to understand and follow God in his word do not create or maintain our salvation. But the mind of Christ, the person of the Holy Spirit
in us, helps us be aware of what's coming into our minds, and what's coming out of our mouths and in our actions. We ought to be responsive to that Spirit. We can have a truly fruitful spiritual life, and a happy one, or we can get lazy and let the leaves build up all over the place -- using leaves as the analogy for sin and unhealthy spiritual habits -- which leads to problems in our lives instead of the fruit God would have us bear.

God will sometimes get out the leaf rake of discipline (Heb 12:5-11) to help us see where we've slacked off in following Jesus. That just clears the way for more growth, even though at the time it's painful. If you want to meditate on that whole idea while you rake some leaves, I have a rake you can borrow.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

God, in His Own Words

Who is God? What is he like? We can speculate on and on, or we can read what God said about himself. Hmmm...what might work better?

In Exodus 3, God has confronted Moses from the burning bush, and says about himself "I am who I am" (verse 14, NIV). On first glance that might not tell us much. But let's think about it: "I am who I am" was a self-revealing statement of a God who had been pretty mysterious for the last several hundred years, but who was now determined to open up his chosen peoples' understanding of him. So what might it mean? It means, among other things:
--God is self-existent; he doesn't depend on anything
--God himself determines who he is and how he relates to us; he isn't bound by our preconceptions
--God is eternal; the verb here implies past, present and future tenses rolled into one
--Since God IS, it might be helpful for us to get to know him as he is.

This isn't the only place God reveals himself to Moses and to us. In chapter 34, God tells us something fundamental about himself: "Yahweh—Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth, 7 maintaining faithful love to a thousand [generations], forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin. But He will not leave [the guilty] unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers' wrongdoing on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation."

These descriptions (compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, rich in faithful love, rich in truth, etc) all show important aspects of who God is. God has freely chosen -- without being obligated to us by anything we have done -- to be compassionate and merciful to us. He is 'rich in faithful love' which has to do with his decision to be loyal, dependable, reliable and dedicated to his people. In spite of themselves.

This self-description is a good place for us to start in getting to know God. This explains why, for instance, he continued to pursue his chosen people Israel in spite of their constant rebellion, why he never gave up on them. And why, in expanding that relationship of unsolicited love (see Romans 5:8-10) to all humanity, he sent his Son into the world to save us pitiful creatures (John 3:16-17, 1 John 3:16).

There are lots of other points to discuss in this passage, like why God says he is compassionate and merciful, yet punishing sin. But for today, why not meditate on these words that describe the gracious God who created the universe and made you to be his child?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Atonement, Forgiveness and Rest

The book of Leviticus is one that most people avoid reading. It's seen as either boring, confusing, or way too gory -- all those sacrifices and the details of incense and which day of what month meant something.

But chapter 16 is interesting. The priest is told to go through an elaborate cleansing and sacrificial ritual before he can enter the holy place. A bull is slaughtered, and then a goat. Another goat is held while the sins of all the people are 'confessed' over it, then it is sent far away into the wilderness, never to return to the camp. At the end of the chapter, we're told that this is to make atonement (the Hebrew refers to 'covering') for the sins of all the people, once a year.

Lots of very cool parallels to our Savior, and to our salvation here. The high priest had to offer sacrifices for his own sins, so he would be seen as sinless before he could offer a sacrifice for the people. That's a picture, in advance, of Jesus being a sinless 'high priest' for us (see Hebrews 9 and Hebrews 10 for a detailed interpretation). Then the 'azazel' goat -- the 'goat of removal' is a good way of translating it -- carries the sins of the people away. In two different ways, sins are wiped out forever; once by blood sacrifice, again by removing them from the area. Those things are gone, forever, with no chance of return (see Psa. 103:12, "as far as the east is from the west"). Both operations are done by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

One more point is interesting: the people are told to fast from food and water for that day, and commanded not to work. And this one isn't a 'pilgrimage festival' -- the nation stayed at home for the day, not assembling at the central worship place.

What were the meanings of these things? Fasting is a symbol of repentance, which is turning to God and accepting his forgiveness through Jesus. What about not working, and not traveling? Simple: Jesus has done the work. We can add nothing to Jesus' work for our salvation, any more than the people could add to the work of the high priest in Israel.

In fact, we can do nothing to create, earn or qualify for our salvation. That has been a fact since the foundation of the world. Accepting salvation from God by faith isn't a work either; it's faith alone (Eph. 2:8). Salvation is from Jesus, not from our work, our rituals, our energy and enthusiasm, or our obedience. Jesus plus anything is the wrong formula for salvation. "Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone" was the cry of the Reformers 500 years ago. They were right -- and Leviticus 16 shows it.

Your sins are gone, never to return. You don't have to carry that guilt around any longer. Great news, isn't it?

Sunday, September 20, 2009


I just pulled a few weeds from the cracks in the driveway. That reminded me of the sins -- ideas, habits and reactions -- that creep into our lives when we're not looking.

Yes, our sins are forgiven by Jesus' sacrifice, and we are brought into the loving communion of the Trinity through his work (not ours!). But that's never an excuse to allow sin to come back into our lives and injure us -- and others. It's important for us to keep our eyes open to those things that threaten our relationship with God and with each other.

Hebrews 12:1 says (right after the list of the people of faith in chapter 11) "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us 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." The Greek adjective translated 'trips us up' means anything that would slow us down and take our energy. The metaphor here for Christian life is an endurance race, not a sprint; so it's important not to let sin creep in and take away even a little energy, as that will have serious consequences over 'the long run.'

Later on in Hebrews 12, verse 15 says "Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many." Now, that's interesting: the writer tells us two things -- to not let bitterness come in and poison the relationships between us; also the command to "look after each other." I think one of the most serious 'weeds' that gets into our lives is offense and unforgiveness -- bitterness -- between us.

If we're considering where to find sin our lives -- and we should -- then looking carefully for conflict, or the leftovers of conflict like resentment against someone else, is vital. Too often (really, once is too often) Christians simply withdraw from each other, cutting off contact and communication, rather than working things out. That weed always grows, never dying by itself, and it spreads seeds that also grow, "corrupting many." We have to go after that sin and pull it out by the roots before it affects our brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Like weeds, sin is serious stuff. We need to surrender it to God and ask him for the help we need to get rid of it. How about searching your life this week for those 'weeds' that hurt you and those close to you? And how about forgiving -- really, deeply letting go -- of someone else's sin against you?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Trust Jesus

Trust is a big deal for people. Marriage, for instance, is based on trust, not just on love. Or, for another example, would you give your wallet and keys to the next person you meet on the street? Why not? Probably because you don't trust they would take proper care of them.

Why should you trust God? What does he have for you? Well, he sent his Son to tell us about himself (John 14:9), to provide the only way to God (John 14:6) and to bring us life. John wrote at the end of his gospel, in 20:31, "But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name."

Belief is important in John's gospel; John uses the word over 75 times. That's nearly 4 times per chapter. Believing in Jesus means trusting him -- relying on him for what we can't do for ourselves. Including, first of all, saving ourselves from destruction as a result of our sins.

Do you trust him? That's the question. Do you trust that he really has died for you? Do you trust that he has given you life with him, a life without end? Do you trust that it is a gift from him to you? Or do you think it's something you can earn, if you're a good enough person? John records Jesus saying this, in 3:18 "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." See, we can believe that Jesus existed, but what's really important is believing what he said, and trusting that he meant it.

Trusting Jesus means you've already entered into the life he has for humanity: a life of knowing, being in relationship and living in the love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A life that will, after your physical existence is over, lead you into the presence of God forever. Not trusting Jesus, on the other hand, is a much harder road. Refusing to trust Jesus means choosing to miss out on everything he has for you. Not much of a choice. But then, God still leaves the choice up to you.

Which one do you choose?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

More than These

Jesus said some tough things -- things we don't always like to remember, or teach. Like when he said we have to hate our relatives if we want to be his disciples: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26, NIV) And being his disciple is what he has called all of us to do; so we should take his words seriously.

Hate, meaning really despise and be angry with? No, what Jesus said, in the lingo of the day, was that, in order to be his disciples, we have to love him so much that everything else fades into the background and doesn't mean anything to us, compared to him. The Message version reads this as "let go of" his family. So if you aren't willing to let go of even what is closest to you, you aren't really a disciple, because you're not paying enough attention to the Master.

Dallas Willard, in his classic book The Divine Conspiracy, explains this idea. He uses the analogy of a math teacher to his student: unless you learn addition and subtraction, fractions and decimals, no way are you going to learn algebra or trigonometry. If you don't have even the basics, how will you learn the real stuff?

Unless we are so focused on the Master that he is, without question, the most important issue in our lives, we won't really be discipled -- taught, instructed, led -- by him. Multi-tasking just isn't gonna make it with him. Being less than devoted won't work with Jesus. Focusing on temporary-life matters so much that eternal-life matters don't get much attention, means that Jesus doesn't matter as much as he should.

Okay, we still have to eat, and pay our taxes, and all that stuff. Living in a monastery isn't necessary for spiritual maturity. But here's a measure of focus: what's on your mind most often? For example, which thoughts are most frequent: ideas of self-protection and getting ahead, or hearing the Holy Spirit tell you how to love someone? Anger at someone who has offended you, or forgiveness and seeking God's wisdom in responding? Convinced of your own rightness, or seriously asking the Lord for correction?

Do you love Jesus more than these other people/things? I know I need to clean out some of the mental and emotional clutter, and focus on him, because I want to go deeper with the Master. Wanna go along?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


"In God we trust" has been a motto of the United States, by law, since 1956, and has been printed on all coins and currency since 1955. (Isn't it ironic that this motto appears on our money?)

Trust is "a reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc. of a person or thing" according to the dictionary. I think that if we really did trust in God, we'd rely less on the money.

Adam and Eve had a problem with trust. They didn't fully believe that God had given them everything they needed, or they wouldn't have believed the Serpent's argument that God was holding out on them. Their lack of trust was the root of their sin. Humanity ever since has lacked that same trust. Even though we seem hard-wired to want to believe in something greater than ourselves, when it comes to daily life we try to work things out by ourselves instead. Another way of saying that is that we don't really trust God to come through for us. And just about every sin you can name traces its way back to not trusting God to provide what's best for us.

I know some people who claim to trust God, but they seem to spend their time trying to manipulate him -- reciting verses from the Bible, claiming various promises, and figuring that their works somehow obligate God to come through with the new car or the job or whatever. As though God were a slot machine or a vending machine -- put enough coins in and something is bound to come out. But God is much wiser than we are, and he will give us what we really need, not what we think is best for us.

Isaiah 28:16 says this: "Look! I am placing a foundation stone in Jerusalem, a firm and tested stone. It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on. Whoever believes need never be shaken." That foundation stone is Christ himself -- for salvation, and for the faith to live every day (Gal. 2:20). God tells us to trust him, to build our lives on Jesus (see Matthew 7:24-27) and not on our own efforts.

It's easy to say you trust God. But your daily schedule and your bank book show what you really trust. Looking at mine, I know that I sure need to trust him more. I pray you're learning to rely totally on God, for everything.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Jesus: Present or Absent?

Did Jesus contradict himself? In Matthew 28:20 he says "I'll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age." Then in Acts 1:9, Luke records that "After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him."

How could he keep his promise to be with them "day after day after day" but no longer be visible? Acts 1:2 says he was with them visibly "until the day he was taken up to heaven" but that was "after giving his chosen apostles further instructions through the Holy Spirit." Now, that's interesting. He was visibly with them, teaching, but he taught through the Holy Spirit. Why?

Two reasons, I think. First, Luke records the Holy Spirit's work many times in the book of Acts, so he notes here that Jesus taught, but not just by his own words but "through the Holy Spirit." Was this something they could somehow sense? It's possible, but not likely -- we don't see any visible or audible signs of the Spirit until Acts 2:2-4. Instead, it's probably a note that the Spirit was there, already working to prepare them for what was shortly to follow.

Second, the Holy Spirit continued to teach and lead the apostles on through the New Testament record, both in Acts and in the epistles. But let's remember that God is one (Mark 12:29) not three separate beings who happen to be united. The Spirit is called "the Spirit of Christ" in Romans 8:9 and "the mind of Christ" in 1 Cor. 2:16. So the risen Son of God, Jesus, continued to be with them in the person of the Holy Spirit. And he was teaching them at this point in the same way -- not just with his audible words and his visible facial expression and gestures, but in the work of the Spirit.

How about us, today? Since we haven't seen him with our physical eyes, we 'see' Jesus through the eyes of the Spirit. 1 Cor. 2:10 says "But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets."

So Jesus is with us, "day by day by day" through the Spirit. That means a large part of being his disciples is seeing him, hearing him and following him through the Spirit. How do you do that? Something called the Spiritual Disciplines, (also called the Holy Habits) which help us hear and follow. We'll keep talking about those.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Change of Heart

"Okay, Pastor Mark, you're saying that I need to pray that other people will become aware of the salvation God has given them through Jesus, so their lives will be blessed and on top of that live in God's presence forever. Not a bad idea, I guess, but I don't even like my neighbors, and I'm really glad the noisy one down the street moved away. And some of my relatives -- oh, the stories I could tell you! So I don't even want to pray for them."

Shoot, you think that's unique to you? Hardly. But if God felt like that, would he have loved you? Hmmm...I know he wouldn't have loved me. But his Son (the perfect expression of God's love to us) came to die in our place, before we made a move -- see my old favorite, Romans 5:8.

God's purpose and passion is for everyone to know him face to face, forever. He wants that to be our passion too. Paul wrote to Timothy: "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. 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. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth." Paul defines that truth in verses 5 and 6: "For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time."

But, if you really don't feel like it, perhaps the first prayer is for a changed heart -- to learn to feel like it. Actually, it's to learn to feel like God feels, in the words of Jesus himself: "But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike." (Matthew 5:44-45).

In short, though you may not love your neighbors, Jesus does. If you don't love your neighbors, you need his love, not yours, to flow through you.

Yep, Jesus commanded us to pray for others. But sometimes we have to tell God, paraphrasing the man who wanted to believe and wasn't sure how (Mark 9:24) “I do love, but help me overcome my un-loving!”

God will answer that prayer
. Try it for a few months and let me know what happens.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Pray without Ceasing

Some friends of mine say that nobody comes to salvation through Jesus Christ without prayers -- lots and lots of prayers -- being sent up on their behalf. Is that true?

Well, Jesus has already done all the heavy lifting for us. We read in Hebrews 2:9 that "by God’s grace, Jesus tasted death for everyone." And in 1 Tim. 2:6, we see that Jesus "gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone." So that part is done. And how do we, and others, come to know this amazing grace? Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would convict the world of "sin, righteousness and judgment."

So God is perfectly capable of doing his work without our help. But how does he want us to feel and act toward our neighbors who may not know him yet? Do our prayers matter? In what way?

Jesus said in Matthew 5:44 "But I say, love [even] your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!" So loving our neighbors means praying for them. Even the guy who plays his music too loudly, or runs over our geraniums with his Jeep. How do we pray -- that they will reform, in order for us to be more comfortable? Rather, that they will come to know the love of God, who through his Son's death and resurrection has already brought them from death to life.

Jesus' command about love gave prayer as the first example of how to love someone. In prayer, we learn to care. When I'm praying for someone else's salvation and peace, for his or her sole benefit,
that prayer will change me, helping me to care for that neighbor as God already does. I'll be more likely to respond lovingly -- as God, through Jesus, already has responded -- in any interaction. Earnest, intentional prayer for them to know Christ's love will make me more likely to be the right example and, if it comes up, to give them the right words also. And to be able to thank God, with genuine love for them, when they accept the love he is offering them. Without that prayer, God's work will still be done for them -- but less of it will be done in me.

Jesus told us to pray for our neighbors. Somebody prayed
(maybe for years) for you to come to know salvation in Christ. Who are you going to pray for today? This week? This year? Without ceasing? --And how will all that prayer change you?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Why are you here?

Last week at summer camp, seprockies.org, one of my friends got to reflecting on life's purpose. I encouraged him to think what he wanted on his gravestone, because that's the last word we get.

How about you? What is your purpose in life? Do you know what God says about it? I find my purpose summarized in 2 Cor. 5:15 -- "He [Jesus Christ] died for all, so that those who live would not live to please themselves. But they should live to please him who gave his life for them and rose again from death." This is part of the Great Reversal talked about many times in scripture: that in Jesus, God has both offered and accepted a perfect human life to replace my sinful (even with the best of intentions) humanity. In Jesus, I have (in effect) died, so I don't have the death penalty for my sins hanging over me: "We are certain that if one person died for everyone else, then all of us have died" (2 Cor 5:14) In Jesus, God has offered me eternal life, so instead of just a temporary reality ending in death, I get to live with him forever in the ultimate reality of his presence.

So, what do I do in the meantime? God answers me through Paul, in that same chapter 5, verses 18 to 20: "And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, 'Come back to God!' "

My job is to speak on behalf of Jesus Christ in saying "Come back to the Father of all things and live with him forever." My calling is to show how God has taken care of the debt caused by our sin and fallenness by his Son, Jesus Christ, and that he welcomes all people into his eternal home. My joy is to talk about the unbelieveable-yet-true love God has offered us, and to show that love to everyone I meet, regardless how unloveable they are, because that is the same love God has shown to me.

Well, it's not just me. Every Christian gets this privilege. Every one of us gets to show and to tell somebody else about this outrageous offer God has made us. Who do you know that needs to hear about this news? How might you tell them about it? Would you use a story, or a song, or a picture, or modeling clay, or what? And if you're worried about whether it will work, are you willing to give it a shot anyway, and let God work out the results? He's really good at that -- after all, it worked for you!

What will your gravestone say? For that matter, what does your Facebook say right now? Or your face? No sense waiting until it's all over to say it...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Seen and Unseen

What's more real -- the things you can see, or the things you can't see? Most people think, well, for sure, it's what you can see. And feel, and taste, and smell and hear. But the vast majority of the light spectrum is not visible to humans, neither is the range of sound waves. I wonder about touch and taste and smell?

Paul writes a lot in Second Corinthians about what's real and what's not. He writes in terms of what is eternal versus what is only physical and temporary. He tells us that what is most real is what we don't (yet) see, because it will be revealed one day, and that it is eternal. For instance, in 1:9, telling about the way they were persecuted for the Gospel, he says " In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead." If Paul felt that physical life was the only life that mattered, he would have certainly despaired. But knowing that God had something more for him, he could hold on to hope even though physical life might be ending.

What's he basing that on? An absolute certainty of the promises of God. In chapter 1:3, "All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort." Through the story of their suffering in chapter 1, to the comparison between physical life and eternity (4:7 to 5:10) Paul is confident that all will be well because God will see us into the future safely no matter what we face today. Even while suffering some sort of 'thorn in the flesh,' he received the message that God's grace to him was more powerful than any other issue: "Each time he said, 'My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.' "

Today I have all sorts of needs: physical, emotional, financial, time pressure, and others. It's easy to look around and think the list of factors against me is impossible ever to overcome. But Paul's words keep coming back to help me. God's overwhelming power, and his grace -- his focus on delivering what is best for us no matter what troubles we think will defeat us -- will win in the end. Paul could call his troubles, which were far greater than mine, "momentary light affliction" in chapter 4. Maybe I should too.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Children ask a lot of "why" questions. Why does the sun come up in the morning? Why do birds eat worms? And so forth. Isn't it a shame we tend to lose our curiosity as we get older? Maybe we should get it back. It's a very useful trait.

I've spent a lot of time this last year studying the #1 question of all time: who God is. I think there are, roughly, three ways you could understand God and what he wants from us. They range from great strictness to complete looseness. Here are the first two:

If God is primarily concerned with whether people are doing wrong and then punishing them for it, you have a God of judgment and the primary job of his messengers is to tell people not to sin. If God is primarily concerned with accepting people, then he will overlook or excuse their sins and evil ideas, and the primary job of his messengers is telling people that he loves them and has decided not to care about their imperfections. Those are the two extremes.

There's a third option that addresses both of these: If God is primarily concerned with bringing people into a loving relationship with him, then he has found a way to deal with peoples' imperfections, weaknesses, sins and evil. The primary job of his messengers is telling people that God is passionately interested in a deep relationship with them, and that he has already handled the problem of evil in them and in the world.

This last one is the comprehensive message found in the Bible. It includes God's judgment against sin (overall, our rebelling against his love and instructions in an attempt to do it our own way) as well as his limitless love for us and desire to have relationship with us.

Here's the grand unifying theory, in two passages from the New Testament: "When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God." (Romans 5:6-11)

"For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

God's judgment against our sins, and his love for us, come together and are dealt with perfectly and completely in Jesus Christ, who was the perfect union of humanity with God. That means the Gospel is, truly, good news --
the best news you could ever hope for. And that message is what his messengers live for.

Why are you here?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


The picture many of us have of God is often one of a stern, harsh ruler, ready to 'take us out' at our next infraction. Some see the OT God as some sort of angry authority figure, balanced out by his really nice and loving son Jesus. The angry God sent the Son, the idea goes, to be punished because of us -- sort of like the vicarious 'whipping boy' employed by royalty when the prince messes up.

But we need to remember that God is one (Deut. 6:4, etc). So there is no difference between the God of the Hebrew scriptures and the God of the Greek New Testament. Whether we think of the Father or the Son, or the Holy Spirit, the passions and love and desires of God are the same.

Jesus referred to God as his Father. To do so in a personal sense was unheard of in Israel's thinking. Observant Jews of his day would not have dared claim God as a Father. But Jesus did!

He told us to pray to "Our Father" in a personal way (Matt. 6:9). So he was opening up that relationship of love and acceptance, tenderness and grace, on a personal level, for the first time.

The Father wants us to experience that relationship with him, not just learn about it in some sort of classroom way. Paul uses some OT verses to construct a new thought in 2 Cor 6:18: "And I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." The Father is serious about being our Father, and he wants us to accept our status as his children. He thinks of us as his children, and he wants us to think of him as Father.

Those of us who are fathers know how much we want to be Daddy to our kids. We desire to be close to our children emotionally, to have a deep relationship with them. That's just what the Father says to us also. His love for us was so strong that, before the universe existed, he knew he would have to sacrifice his own self, through the Son, to bring us into intimacy with him: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life"(John 3:16).

God has already made that move. We already belong to him as his children and he yearns for us to have that same intimacy with him. That relationship already exists, whether we see it or not. But the experience of it is up to us. How about it? Will you run into his arms and call him Daddy? It will change your life forever.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Union Carpenter

Jesus, son of God and son of man, was a carpenter by trade (Mark 6:3). I guess that makes sense, because the Logos was the builder of the universe (John 1:3) so maybe it made sense for him to be a builder when he was a human (John 1:14) also. But did you know he was a union carpenter?

Okay, not like a labor union. But he was the perfect union of God and humanity, and that's very important. It surprises me to realize that it took four centuries for the church to decide this question. But there are a lot of crucial issues hanging on the answer.

Here's the background: Jesus was obviously a man. But he claimed the title "Son of Man" from Daniel 7:13, which everyone of his day recognized as a claim of divinity. Matthew 1:22-23 says that he was Immanuel, God with us, fulfilling Isa. 7:14 and 8:8-10. Scripture gives the Messiah divine (meaning Godly) titles in Isa. 9:6. The early church recognized him as divine/authoritative/Lord/Savior, for instance in 1 Cor 8:6.

The argument arose over whether the Son of God was only divine, so that the human form he assumed was only an illusion; or whether he was only human, which kept God away from being polluted by flesh. There were good-sounding arguments for both sides, yet both sides also had scriptures contradicting them. But what became more and more clear was that Jesus had to be fully God and fully human, even though that sounds impossible to us.

Gregory of Nanzianzus wrote it this way: "What has not been assumed has not been restored; it is what is united with God that is saved." That is, if flesh had not been completely 'assumed,' or taken on, by Jesus, then flesh -- that's all of us -- could not have been saved. In 451 AD, the Council of Chalcedon decided that "Only God can save; only that which God has become is saved." So if Jesus the Messiah had not been fully God and fully human, salvation wouldn't have worked. Jesus had to be a 'union carpenter' as it were.

So by fully 'assuming' flesh, Jesus became our perfect representative before the Father; and the Father's perfect representative to humanity. Isn't that amazing? Because of Christ, our broken flesh is fully reconciled to the Father. Though we still have human weakness and sin, those don't exclude us from the Father's presence, because Immanuel (God with us) is our eternal advocate before the Father (Heb. 7:25), and his perfect death paid for all our sins. (And he's still Immanuel, God with us, by the way -- see Matthew 28:20.)

Can we fully understand that? Not really. But we can look with awe on the God who figured out how to do it, and thank him that he did it for us. And keep thanking God for a certain 'union carpenter', forever.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Start to Finish

Most of us like to have an example to follow, someone who has already gone before and knows the way. That is, unless you're one of those pioneer types that explored the North Pole on foot.

Hebrews 12:2 tells us that we have an example who was the pioneer. Speaking of enduring in the Christian life, the writer says "We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith." So as we look at the difficulties we face in life, we have an example to look to, of someone who had a much more difficult journey and has already gone ahead of us.

Much more than that, our pioneer completed the journey perfectly on our behalf. It's one thing to have an example to look to. But it doesn't help me to look to Kobe Bryant and imagine that I can slam-dunk the way he does! Nor, in that sense, does it help to look to Jesus' perfection and imagine that if I try extra hard, I will manage to measure up to his example of perfection!

The point being made here is that the perfect life-journey of Jesus himself wasn't just an example for us to follow. It's the story of the One who knew ahead of time that he would have to sacrifice ("Author, Pioneer, Captain, Founder" as this word is translated in different versions). Not only did he conceive that his infleshment would have to happen to bring humanity into oneness with God, he is the one who walked that journey himself, did it perfectly, and did it to full completion ("Finisher, Perfecter", in different versions). This might be similar to saying "the Alpha and Omega" as Jesus is described three times in Revelation.

The Greek here says "perfecter of the faith", not just "our faith." What does that mean? It means that faith itself is made perfect in Jesus Christ. Our measly human-effort faith only serves to identify us with his own perfect faith, which alone -- because it's perfect -- is acceptable before the Father. It means that his perfect journey --which alone is acceptable before the Father -- has already been made on our behalf. Our on-again, off-again human attempts at following Jesus identify us with his successful journey, and it's his perfect journey that we have faith in (surely not our own!).

How did he endure? Because he was fully human, and because he didn't ever use his divine powers for his own personal comfort, he had to use something powerful: "Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame." He knew that he would come out of the grave (Psalm 16:8-10) and rise to glory.

So he held on. And because we know he held on, we can hold on in the face of far less pain, persecution and shame than he endured. Because we know he was successful, we know that our salvation, in the end, is completely assured. So instead of looking to someone in the past, or trusting in our own measly efforts, we can keep our eyes on him -- who is our example, our captain, our guide and our guarantee of salvation.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Center of the universe

In the little town of Wallace, Idaho, there is a manhole cover with the label "The Center of the Universe." (When you make your pilgrimage to Wallace, be sure to have your picture taken by it!) Scientists say that the 'Big Bang' had no actual center, and all the galaxies are moving away from each other, which I don't understand but then I don't know a lot about physics.

One thing I have discovered from studying the Bible is that Jesus Christ, who was (and remains) the Son of God perfectly united with humanity, is the center of God's entire plan for humanity. His job of uniting us with the Father was planned from before the beginning of time, and his life, death, resurrection and ascension accomplished God's central purpose. So in that sense you could say Jesus, himself, is the center of the universe.

Consider John's opening comments in his gospel, John 1:1-3: "In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him." John says his whole purpose in writing was to point people to Jesus so that they would believe and have life, in chapter 20:31 .

The book of Hebrews has more to say: "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." The remainder of the book of Hebrews goes on to show that Jesus was greater than the prophets (1:1) the angels (1:4 - 2:9) Moses (3:1-6) the high priests of Israel (4:14 - 5:10) Abraham (by the figure of speech of Melchizedek, 7:1-10) and the whole priesthood and sacrificial system (7:11 - 8:6). He brought the new covenant (8:6-13) and superseded the entire old covenant system (chapters 9 and 10), which means he is greater than that system. The 'rest' described in chapter 4 is resting, in Christ, from our own works-oriented mentality. The faith described in chapter 11 is faith in what God would do through his Son, because "none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us"(11:39-40). Chapter 12 continues the focus on Jesus: "We do this [live an enduring Christian life] by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith"(verse 3). We have not come to anything in the past, it says, but to "Jesus, the one who mediates the new covenant between God and people" (verse 24) and "speaks from heaven" (verse 25, compare 1:3). And in 12:8-21, some of those themes are brought back as a conclusion to show that our lives and faith are all wrapped up in Jesus.

In Ephesians 1:4, Paul declares that "Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes."

If that weren't enough, we could look at Colossians 1:15-20, which may have been an early hymn of the church:
"15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
16 for through him God created everything
in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
Everything was created through him and for him.
17 He existed before anything else,
and he holds all creation together.
18 Christ is also the head of the church,
which is his body.
He is the beginning,
supreme over all who rise from the dead.
So he is first in everything.
19 For God in all his fullness
was pleased to live in Christ,
20 and through him God reconciled
everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
by means of Christ’s blood on the cross."

There is so much in the Bible, both the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament, referring to the plan of God as carried out by the Son of God, that it seems inescapable. Without Jesus, there is no 'plan of God'. But in Jesus, we are loved and fully accepted by God. He is certainly and without hesitation, the center of my own universe. Is he the center of yours? If not, isn't this a good time to re-think that?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


The Lovely Joanne and I have been working on the house again. This time it's the bathroom floor. There was a growing smell in the room, coming from moisture under the linoleum along the edge of the tub where things had become a bit grotty (that's English slang for "dirty, moldy, generally yucky"). I pulled out the linoleum, hoping just to replace it, but the more we looked, the more we found that needed fixing -- a classic "mushroom" project.

Remodeling usually goes like that. You may think it's a minor project, but you still have to explore what's rotten or weakened or broken, figure out what needs replacing and decide on new materials. That's all before you can even begin making the room a different shape or choosing new fixtures. And sometimes, you have to tear out everything and start all over.

Have you ever considered that this is what God is doing with us? In technical terms, we are 'reborn' or 'regenerated' when we come to see Jesus as our Savior, and surrender our lives to him. We are, in spiritual terms, a new creature, as 2 Cor 5:17 says: "This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!" But this isn't a fresh coat of paint -- there's a lot more work involved.

The ongoing process of remodeling continues for the rest of our lives. We will have times of testing. Romans 5:3 says "We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance." We will have times that we're concerned we may not come out alive, as Paul describes in 2 Cor. 1:8: "We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it." (He gives more detail of his personal trials on behalf of the gospel in 2 Cor 6:3-10.) But during that process, we also have solid building materials put into us -- for instance, the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). And we are 'built on Christ' as Col 2:7 says: Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness."

That's the process of living in Christ. As God's Spirit continues to remodel our thinking, our emotions and our habits, the old smell goes away and the 'fragrance of the knowledge of Christ' grows (2 Cor 2:14). In the end, when we meet God, all the old, fleshly stuff will be swept away for good, and 'our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies' as 1 Cor 15:53 says. Then the physical remodel will be complete, but the rest of eternity will be spent learning to know and love Father, Son and Holy Spirit more and more deeply.

Thanks to God, for his incalculable wisdom and grace in renewing us in the image of Christ!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


One of today's news items is something like "Stock Markets Soar on Recovery Hopes." People invest money in those markets hoping to make more money. Their hopes rise and fall along with the fortunes of the companies or funds they invest in. Some have made good money, while others have lost it all. Some have spent their whole lives trying to make more and more money, to the point of obsession.

The Bible has several messages about money. The first is to invest, first and most intensively, with God; to give to him in response to his generous gifts to you. The second is to treat money as something that is not given to you, but invested with you by God; so that you are the "steward" or the fund manager, and it's your job to use it wisely. The third is to be generous with it; not to hoard it for yourself, but to give to others as you can, and as you find them in need. All of these are based on one other principle: that God loves us and will take care of us, if only we will let him.

Jesus covered several of these principles in "The Sermon on the Mount" as some call his teachings in Matthew 5-7 (and some parallels in Luke). Especially in chapter 6, he brings out generosity (verses 1-4) by teaching that we shouldn't have our gifts limited to what will make us look good; dependence on God (verse 11) by reminding us to ask him for our daily needs; focusing on God, not our own financial security (verses 19-21), which would include giving generous offerings instead of just building up a bank account; and again, dependence on God (verses 24-31) by showing us how much God cares for us and looks after our welfare.

None of those teachings includes our being careless with what God has given us, or goofing off and making others carry us. So we shouldn't mistake his teachings about relying on God in faith with encouraging laziness or slacking.

The whole investment thing is a mystery to me. But I do know a couple of things about money. One is that God has taken care of me, umpteen times, using resources I didn't know existed. The other is that no matter how careful I am to save up money, at the end of my life I won't take any of it with me. I hope that the legacy I leave behind will be one of loving generosity to others, and a wise management of the resources God has given me. And complete reliance on God for all the things I can't control anyway -- because he is the one who does control it.

How about you?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


On the day of Pentecost, back about 30 AD, dramatic events grabbed the attention of people in Jerusalem. A bunch of men and women in a house, probably near the temple, suddenly heard a sound like a 'mighty windstorm' and saw what looked like fire sprouting out of each others' heads. They were 'filled with the Holy Spirit' and started speaking in foreign languages. All three of those signs -- the wind, the fire and the languages -- were outward signs of what was happening inwardly: they were being filled with the Spirit of God.

The outward sign of speaking in foreign tongues was repeated at least twice more in the book of Acts, although the wind and fire were not recorded again. What's it all mean? Peter, the most outspoken of the apostles, interprets it for us: "What you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel", referring to Joel chapter 2. Peter continues telling people that Jesus, whom many had heard about the last few weeks in Jerusalem, was the Messiah, and that they need to repent and be baptized in Jesus' name (Acts 2:14-40).

Some teach that we need to experience this moment ourselves, to make sure we really have God's grace and power. But the major point that day was that God had brought his message of salvation into the world, and that this message was in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. The dramatic signs of the Spirit's entrance were to create attention for God's new offer in Jesus Christ, not to create a new avenue of relating to God. Jesus himself was that new avenue.

On the other hand, let's not mistake this: the Holy Spirit is important! His job, as Jesus himself said (John 14:26, 15:26, 16:5-15) is to bring glory to Jesus, teach what he hears from God, convict people of sin (first of all, of not believing in Jesus) and teach about righteousness and judgment. The Spirit brings us into fellowship with Jesus and the Father (2 Cor. 13:14), helps us to focus our thoughts on godly things (Romans 8:5-6), pray (Romans 8:26) and be reassured that we belong to God (Romans 8:16). Without the Spirit, we would have none of these.

So as we celebrate Pentecost, we can be grateful that God himself has adopted us as his children (Eph. 1:4-5) and now lives in us (John 14:15-23). The fact that we care about that, and want to know God more and more, is evidence that the Holy Spirit lives in us. The fruits of the Spirit in our renewed lives, and the gifts he gives for the work of the church, are also ample evidence that he is busy among us. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gifts!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Gift for You

Most of us like receiving gifts, whether for a special day or (maybe especially) for a non-special day. Besides God's gift of salvation, given to everyone through Jesus Christ -- see Romans 5:12-19 as one powerful passage -- what is the best gift he could give us? Jesus said that the Father desires to give us Holy Spirit, in Luke 11:13 -- "So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?"

God keeps on giving. The Father sends us the Holy Spirit through the Son; the Holy Spirit, in turn, has specific gifts to give every one of us. In 1 Cor. 12, many gifts are listed: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues and interpretations, helps, administrations; and appointments to ministries such as apostles, prophets, and teachers.
(Other 'gift lists' are in Romans 12:6-8, Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Peter 4:9-11)

That means that God, who knows everything and everyone, has given you -- yes, you -- certain gifts or abilities. He wants each of us to understand which gifts we have and how we can put them to use in the world around us.

How do you know which gifts you have? There are several ways. You can take a 'gifts quiz' that helps point out areas of strength or passion. You can make a list of ways in which you've contributed in your family or community, or at work, and that list would start to show where your gifts are. Your friends and family could tell you if you have the list right, if they've seen you do things effectively (doing something well is a good indicator of a gift; it's like making it through the first round of American Idol, versus being booed off the stage).

And whatever gifts we have are to further the work of God, not for our personal gain. Paul says again in 1 Cor. 12:5, "
There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord." And to make sure we get the point, he follows these lists with 1 Cor 13, the Love Chapter; because loving is a lot more important than being important.

May God lead you to understand and to use the gifts he's given you, for his glory to increase.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Parakletos: Helping Alongside

Most of us have helped someone pick up something bulky or heavy. And when life itself is too heavy or awkward for us to handle alone, it's a blessing to have someone come alongside and help.

Jesus had been walking with the disciples for three years or so. He had been their teacher, encourager, and leader. He had taught them about the Father, about his work on the cross for our salvation, and many other topics. But he was about to leave them, and so he promised, in John 14:16, "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you."

Here, to describe the Holy Spirit, Jesus uses the word 'parakletos'. That's a Greek word with no exact equivalent in English, but its usages in Greek literature include 'advocate,' such as in a court of law; 'counselor;' and 'comforter'. Some translations use the word "Encourager" or "Helper" to describe the concept Jesus was using, and those are okay too.

Jesus also used the word "another" here -- and the Greek word he used means "another of the same kind" not "another thing, something different." So even though he had to leave, he wasn't going to leave them alone; in fact in verse 18, he says "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you."

Whenever the disciples got confused or afraid, they turned to Jesus for answers and help. Since he wasn't going to be with them bodily from then on, Jesus reassured them that the comfort, help and answers would still be with them. And as we read on in the New Testament, we see many times where the Holy Spirit spoke the mind of God to the church. We see the church gathering to pray and ask for assistance (Acts 1:14, 4:23-31, 12:12, 13:1-3, etc) and we see God answering their prayers by giving them understanding, instruction and encouragement by the Holy Spirit.

That same Holy Spirit lives in Christians today. We have Someone who will come alongside of us when life is too heavy, too bulky and too difficult for us (and that's pretty often, isn't it?). We are led, comforted, encouraged and instructed by His mind in us. We get to have the "mind of Christ" (2 Corinthians 2:16) so we can know "What would Jesus do?" and have the courage and faith to do it.

We don't have to travel the road alone, and we don't have to wonder if God will help us. He already has, and he always will: "...another Advocate, who will never leave you." Isn't that comforting, all by itself?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Flu

This H1N1 influenza, known commonly as the swine flu, has a lot of people worried, even scared. The Centers for Disease Control (US) has put out a lot of information on it, and the World Health Organization has mobilized to fight it. So what do we do? Wear a mask, stay home, shoot traveling salespeople who might be spreading it? (Obviously, at least one of these is an extreme, for the sake of humor.)

One of my colleagues suggested several points that we really can use, and I'm starting from his ideas here.

1. Strike a balance: don't panic, but don't ignore it either. Take prudent steps and then leave it in God's hands. Right now, there's no need to stay at home if you are well; but it would be prudent, when you go out, to avoid people who are coughing and sneezing -- the primary way this flu (like others) is spread. And if you or your child is sick, stay home.

2. Obey your mother's advice: cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing (with a hanky if you can) and then wash your hands. These two points are the main emphasis on the CDC's website. Wash your hands frequently, (I can hear my mom now, "You call those clean? Go back and start over!"). Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are also useful. Don't touch your mouth, nose or eyes -- that's how the virus gets into you.

3. Be a calming presence around others. We know of our Father's love and care for us, so we can be confident even when things don't look as good outwardly as we'd like. That calm will be a blessing to those who are fearful.

4. Ask God what you can do to help others, even if they fall ill. Christians love others as Christ loved us, following the command of Jesus in John 13:34. It's said that during the bubonic plague that hit the Roman Empire during the 2nd Century AD, Christians stayed behind to nurse the sick whose own family had abandoned them. Many of those who were struck with the illness became Christians due to the example of their care-givers. We today can love the sick in practical ways, even without exposing ourselves to the illness, and it transmits the love of Christ to them.

Now there's a thought: people can get sick from a germ being transmitted to them. They can get Jesus in their lives from his love being transmitted to them. Which do you think will last longer and have a better effect? Let's give the gift that keeps on giving!

p.s. If you use the internet, you can go to www.cdc.gov/H1n1 for more information. As of today, they'll tell you the same things: cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze, wash your hands often, don't touch your mouth, nose and eyes, and stay home if you're sick.

Monday, April 27, 2009


Out here between the mountains and the plains, we get blown at from every direction. The wind comes through, without warning, and does its work thinning out the trees and putting leaves back to where you just raked them from. And giving us clean air.

Can't see the wind, can you? But you can sure see what it's doing. That's what Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:8 -- "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.”

Jesus had just said to Nicodemus in verse 6 that "
Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life." It is the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit that gives us new spiritual life, makes us desire the things of God and helps us see life through spiritual eyes instead of our old human-oriented ones.

On our own, we don't want the things of God, but the Spirit brings a different mind-set to us. Paul explains this in Romans 8:5: "Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit." That's a change we can't create with human effort, and can't measure its occurrence, but we can see its effects in someone's life. I certainly have seen it! Perhaps so have you -- or others have seen it in you.

So as Paul continues, "But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you." Is this something you're still missing? Are you still helpless against everyday problems? Then you need the overwhelming power of the Holy Spirit, who alone can conquer sin in us. It's like having that fresh, clean Colorado air to breathe. It's free for the asking, because it's already been provided, free of charge, by God to his children. Need help with that? Let us know.