Tuesday, September 27, 2011


We need rest; that's a basic rule of human life, isn't it?  We excuse ourselves for working all the time by saying "The Lord put me on earth to accomplish a certain number of things, and right now I'm so far behind I will never die!"  But God never meant for us to live without rest.  And the physical rest he gave the Israelites in Exodus 20:8-11 (a drastic change from generations of slavery in Egypt) was meant to lead them, and us, toward the true eternal rest.

I'm reading through the Gospels again, and was struck this morning by how Jesus discusses rest.  In Matthew 11:25-30 Jesus has just been talking about John the Baptist, "the one the prophets said would come" and sighing over the people who hadn't responded to his teaching and miracles.  Then he points to the Father's revelation in Jesus himself, and encourages us to come to him to find rest.  When Jesus said "if you're carrying heavy burdens" he wasn't just talking about physical loads.  The religious leaders of his day "crush[ed] people with unbearable religious demands" (Matthew 23) instead of freeing them to love God.  (A little like the Egyptians, who told the Israelites in Ex. 5:6-9 to make bricks without having straw provided, and God delivered them from that toil too.)  But Jesus doesn't give us here a looser set of rules for keeping the Sabbath -- instead, he offers us himself as the source of rest.  That is continued as Matthew stacks two more Sabbath-principle incidents in 12:1-21 to show how the leaders of his day misunderstood God. 

Why did Jesus do this?  For multiple reasons.  First, he was here to "reveal the Father" (Mat. 11:27) to his disciples.  Next, in that revelation of the Father, through Jesus, we find that the heart of God is not about getting more performance out of us but about resting in his Son.  Because we are "in Christ" we are able to rest in the perfection of Jesus' obedience to the Father, instead of trying to perform well enough which we never will anyway.  In fact, if we insist on trying to show God how obedient we can be, we will miss the point of trusting in his Son altogether. 

Every day I think about the work I believe I have to do, and all the plans I'd like to see come together, and it's easy to get burdened and stressed.  But when I realize that the work itself gets done by Jesus, and only through me, not because of me, then I can learn to rest, at least some, and let him work.  Do you know how to rest in him?  If not, let's talk. 

What then is the reason for responding in faith, in a life of obedience?  Paul talks about that in Romans 5 and 6, and we'll unpack that a little at another time.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lights, Bible, Action!

A lot of people have trouble understanding the Bible.  It's a big book -- 1200 pages or so.  It's easy to get bogged down in the lists of people and places we don't know.  So how do we understand it?  Here's an idea:  imagine the entire Bible as a single movie.  There is a long list in Wikipedia of movies based on the Bible, but most of them take just one story or sequence or idea. How would we create a movie on the whole Bible?

We'd have to decide the central theme first.  Most people read and understand the Bible chronologically, and that's okay, but it takes a long time to get to the point and you can miss the main ideas in trying to keep the chronology straight.  My favorite idea, courtesy of Dr. Gary Deddo, is to portray the Bible as a "whodunit," a mystery.  That's really a pretty good description of the Bible -- there are lots of characters, conflicts, twists and turns of plot, surprises, and many times when you wonder what this scene has to do with the story. But when the truth is revealed, you can say "Aha!  Now I get it!" as you see all the pieces fall into place.

The central theme of the Bible is God, through the Son, creating the universe and humanity for a never-ending relationship of love.  How did God create everything?  Through the Son (John 1:1-3, Heb. 1:2).  What happened to humanity?  We decided not to trust God and left that relationship of love (Gen. 3:1-8).  How did God win us back, proving his love for us without any doubt?  Through the Son, whom we know as Jesus, coming to live among us (John 1:14, Heb. 1:1-2), giving his life for us (John 3:16-17, Rom. 5:1-10) and moving us back into a relationship of love with God (2 Cor. 5:15-21).  How will it all end up?  When Jesus returns in glory and the entire creation is restored to fellowship with him (Phi. 2:10-11, Rev. 21:1-7).  So, the central character in our movie has to be the Son of God.  The entire story revolves around him. 

So, just for fun, how about outlining a script of the Bible's story?  The question is, how would you begin your version of this movie -- with Genesis 1?  John 1?  Hebrews 1?  Revelation 21? The story of Israel? The birth of the Messiah?  The end of the story in Revelation?  Really, you can begin the movie anywhere you want, just so you focus on the central character. That's what the Gospel is really about.

And how about you?  Do you understand it?  Have you realized how God has planned to love you, from before he made the earth (Eph. 1:3-5) and is right now pursuing you as the one who loves you more than anyone else?  Right now is the time for you to face that awesome truth -- that security and peace beyond all others -- and dive headlong into his love!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Joyce Powell, 1933-2011

My dear mother-in-law, Joyce Powell, recently passed from this life into eternity in God's arms, after a long and fruitful life and a long struggle with several different physical ailments.  We will all miss her terribly. 

Here are two photos of Joyce from several years ago, enjoying The Lovely Joanne's birthday party on the beach -- a favorite place for them both.  She took great joy in seeing her daughter's happiness.  Joyce and Stuart, her husband of 55 years, often traveled to America on business and to see their beloved Joanne (and to give their son-in-law a hard time).  After Stuart retired, and Joyce became unable to travel, Joanne did the traveling for the business.  The advantage in that was that the travel included visiting clients in England, then spending time with her parents in the north.  I got to go too, from time to time, as we tried to honor them by spending time with them.

Joyce was known by many for her practical wisdom.  Her daughter says she had more common sense in her pinky finger than most people possess altogether, and I think she's right.  Joyce could take just about any stain out of just about any fabric, and could pack a suitcase so when you took the clothes out, there were no wrinkles.  She had a system and a reason for just about everything. 

Many people found Joyce's wisdom about life -- not just laundry -- helpful and encouraging.  She always had a kind word for everyone.  And her humility, her clear understanding of her own strengths and weaknesses, helped create that wisdom and a gentleness with others who were struggling.  She often reminded people of the blessings they had from God which we so often overlook in our trials, as a way to help gain perspective and keep a balance. 

Joyce was always good for a laugh.  One of our funniest memories of her, was her inability to choose just one item in an unfamiliar restaurant menu, since they all sounded so good.  After finally ordering and being served, she always thought your plate looked better than what she had ordered!  One year, Joanne and I found an extension fork (for toasting marshmallows in a fireplace, I think) and gave it to her for Christmas as a "tithing fork" so it was more convenient for her to get a bit of what was on your plate too.  She laughed uproariously -- and never used it.  But she was always up for preparing food for us and anyone else who happened by.  One had to be persistent to get away from their home and still be hungry!  

For some reason, she took a shine to me the first time we met, and it wasn't long before she was suggesting, in her own quiet way, that her daughter pay more attention to me.  I never really felt worthy of her approval or affection, but it was one of my great joys that she had given it. 

It's a comfort for Joanne and me, as well as Stuart, to be absolutely sure we will see her again.  She is secure with her Savior, awaiting the resurrection of the body (1 Cor. 15) -- of which Jesus is the Pioneer, the first of "a great harvest" (verse 20).  But to be honest, we miss her something awful, and the days just aren't the same without her.  It will be wonderful to see her again, along with my own mother, who died in 1975, and a whole lot of others we all miss.  Until then, we wait, with our hope in Jesus, for his return in glory.  God speed that day!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Relationship First, Location Later

"If you die tonight, do you know for sure that you will go to heaven?"  That's a standard opening question for a lot of evangelicals when they want to talk with someone about God, Jesus and salvation.  For some people, that's an engaging question.  The problem is, that's really not the center of what salvation is.

It's true that Jesus said "There is more than enough room in my Father’s home...I am going to prepare a place for you...I will come and get you...you will always be with me where I am" (John 14:2-3).  But there is a lot more to salvation than mere location.  John's gospel uses a lot of space talking about how our own being -- how it is we exist -- is caught up in Christ, knowing who he is and relating to him, and through him, being caught up in the Father. See for example John chapters 5 (eternal life is to know the Father and the Son), 6 (feeding on Jesus, not just on physical bread, in order to remain 'in him'), 7 (come to Jesus and drink spiritually of him), 10 (entering life through the Messiah), 14-17 (beginning to open up the inner workings of the triune life of God) and so forth.  Being "in Christ" or "united with Christ" (Phil. 2:1) is about inner change and growth, not moving from one place to another.  (And if we only change locations, we always end up taking ourselves -- including all our old habits -- with us anyway!)

By way of analogy, would I have said to The Amazing Joanne, "let's get married, so that when we die, we can be buried side by side!"  No, marriage -- like salvation -- is moving from one state of relationship to another, and growing in intimacy.  Not that God does not know us, but that we didn't know God, and we come to know him better as we walk together for the rest of our lives.  So then, what will it be like to be "always be with him where he is?"  It will mean being able to know God perfectly rather than in the limited way we do now.  To love him perfectly -- and to love others perfectly -- not in the limited way we do as humans.

So why do we focus on the 'heaven' bit?  Probably because we can imagine it as better than this physical life.  We want to have that new body (see this post for more) and feel nothing but joy forever.  Well, what's true is that life everlasting, in the presence of the Father through the Son by the Spirit, enjoying that relationship perfectly, will be more fulfilling than we can know or imagine.  Let's not reduce it to merely walking on the beach or eating good food without gaining weight, forever and ever. 

Do you have that connection with God?  Knowing him and being sure that he loves and accepts you through his Son?  If not, let's get started so you can begin enjoying it now -- and then, forever!