Saturday, July 25, 2020

A Language Beyond Hearing and Sight

"Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see."

                                                                                         Mark Twain

Monday, July 6, 2020

The Beginning and the End

In the beginning, God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—created the heavens and the earth, land and sea, sun and moon, vegetation of all kinds, and a multiplicity of creatures.  It was good.  Then, He made man—male and female—in His image.  And it was very good.  It was very good until man chose to use his God-given free will to defy God and try to become his own master.  God’s glorious creation fell.  At the time, God promised redemption, but it would be a long time coming.  God and man, Part One.

In the fullness of time, God the Father sent His only begotten Son Jesus to earth, in human flesh: God incarnate.  Jesus spent three years proclaiming that He—the Son of Man mentioned by the prophet Daniel—had come to initiate the redemption of the fallen world.  At the end of those three years of public ministry, Jesus offered Himself as a sacrifice for the sin of Adam and Eve and their descendants.  The Apostle Paul describes it this way: “But the free gift is not like the transgression.  For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many.”  (Romans 5:15).

The incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of God’s promise of redemption after Adam and Eve fell.  But just as the story of creation and the fall involved both God and man, so does the story of redemption.  Our redemption has been purchased by the blood of Christ.  But.  Man—each man, each woman—has a role to play in the redemption story.  We can access the redemption paid for and offered by Christ only by faith.  We must make the choice to make Christ our Lord and Savior, to recognize that His way is better than ours.  This is, in essence, an invitation to return to the Garden of Eden and make our choice: to abide in Christ or to pursue our own way…. God and man, Part Two.

Jesus Christ is indeed the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.  He is our beginning: He created each of us, forming our inner parts in our mothers’ wombs.  He is also our end: He will be our Savior, or our Judge.  

The moment we choose to become bond-servants of Christ, to be saved by faith in His grace, we begin our path toward heaven.  We can rest in that salvation, depending on Christ’s faithfulness even as we struggle with our sin nature.  Again, the Apostle Paul assures us that He will perfect the work He has begun in us (Philippians 1:6).  Paul also exhorts us to partner with His Holy Spirit: “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”  (Philippians 2:12-13).  This is one of the New Testament’s great mysteries.  At the very least, it is an invitation to pursue Christ as our Omega, our eternal end, choosing moment by moment to make Him our Lord and Savior.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Struggle in a Life of Faith

"We can't do away with a sense of struggle in the Christian life.  Struggle is biblical, and authentic desire is often rooted in struggle....Struggle, in fact, is prerequisite to surrender because it necessarily signals that a battle has raged before the raising of a white flag."

                                                                            Jen Pollock Michel
                                                                            Teach Us to Want

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The Masked Man and the Masked Woman

We are living in an entirely unexpected time.  Masks have become a required component of our public wardrobe.  I don’t know anyone who likes, or wants, to wear a mask.  But the whole mask thing gives us a good bit to ponder.

The invasion of the Covid virus has generated a good bit of controversy as to how seriously we need to take it.  Some see it as no more than a bad flu, though the mainstream view is to take it far more seriously.  Along with the diverse opinions about the virus itself and how to best respond to its presence, there are diverse opinions about masks.  On the one hand, some people regard mask wearing as personal protection and then extend that perspective to regard mask wearing as a symbol of fear, and optional.  On the other hand, others view masks as a necessary and appropriate means of participating in community health.  Regardless of your perspective on the matter, wearing a mask carries with it a good bit of Biblical support.

Medical professionals have made it quite clear that the purpose of the wearing a mask is not to protect ourselves nearly as much as it is to protect others from our own virus particles should we be housing any.  And from that viewpoint, Christians have a vested interest in mask wearing.  It is now what love looks like.  In his letter to the Philippian church, the Apostle Paul tells his readers to regard others as more important than themselves.  We believers now have a unique opportunity to choose to wear an uncomfortable and stifling mask as a way of caring for others; more particularly, our mask wearing honors our Lord’s regard for the weak and vulnerable.  And if we apply Romans 14 to this situation, we would use our freedom in Christ to regard the weak from a position of humility rather than superiority.  

There is yet another Christian aspect to mask-wearing.  Since the point of wearing a mask is to help us keep our germs to ourselves, a mask can be a symbol of our taking responsibility for our “stuff” and not inflicting it on others.  In a world of blame and shame, of the good offense as the best defense philosophy, taking responsibility for our germs—literal and metaphorical—is also a most appropriate and powerful way to love others.

But even though wearing a mask can be a contemporary way to demonstrate love, there is still a part of mask wearing that bothers me.  God is the God of truth, and when Christ walked on earth as God Incarnate, He strongly denounced any form of hypocrisy, pretense, and self-righteousness.  The Gospels are full of accounts involving the redemption of ragged sinners, misfits, and outcasts.  The woman wishing to be healed by merely touching Christ’s robe encountered a Lord who rejected her desire to be anonymous, wishing instead to initiate a genuine, personal, real relationship with her.  Wearing a mask carries a historical connotation of hiding something, of pretense, of not being completely honest and transparent: everything that Christianity is not.

So, what can we do about the inherent tension in wearing a mask?  There is no one perfect, universal answer.  I would suggest that a good part of practicing Christianity as we wear a mask involves our thought-life as much as anything else.  If you are like me, I fumble to get my mask secured well enough behind my ears to not slip off, and I become hot and claustrophobic quickly.  It is easy to get cranky!  But if I set my mind to the association between wearing a mask and loving others, I will be in a much better position to treat others with patience and kindness as I wear my mask and deal with those around me.  And if I remain mindful that my mask is for safety purposes and not a screen to hide behind, I can intentionally be genuine and authentic in my words and behaviors.

There is no doubt that this is a time of uncertainty, anxiety, and suffering.  But it is also an opportunity to love others, and in doing so, to invite the Holy Spirit to conform our character to that of Christ in order to love better and more deeply.  May we wear our masks to God’s glory.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Temporal Trials VS. Eternal Truth

In these days of Coronavirus lockdown, time has taken on new dimensions in our household.  Without the rhythms of everyday life out in the world, we are finding it quite easy to lose track of time.  The uniformity of our day-to-day lives that is associated with our virus-imposed seclusion has created a sense of suspended animation that seems quite contrary to linear time.  As the world continues to fight Covid-19 and restrictions remain in place, it is easy to feel that life will never change.  

But the good news is that eternity has nothing to do with Covid-19; the virus has no place there.  The Apostle Paul tells us at the end of I Corinthians 13 that only three things remain: faith, hope, and love.  And while Coronavirus news may dominate our lives at the moment, we would be well served by considering that when all is said and done, it is faith, hope, and love that will define our reality.  At the moment, I would like to take a brief look at faith.

The author of Hebrews describes faith as the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  It is a settled and secure position that rests on a firm foundation.  The world offers many possible alternative faith foundations: government, science, the intrinsic goodness of people, community, and a generalized spirituality are popular examples.  But the Bible tells us that reliance on such worldly powers will certainly and eventually lead to disappointment rather than fulfillment.  

If we want a faith that will in truth provide the unseen things that we hope for, we must choose our foundation carefully.  In the Gospels of Matthew (Chapter 7) and Luke (Chapter 6), Jesus uses the analogy of the foundation of a home to teach his listeners the importance of an unmovable spiritual foundation: Just as it is important to build a home upon a deep, strong foundation, it is vital to build our spiritual foundation on a solid and immovable base.  In the spiritual realm, it is truly a matter of eternal life and death.  What we believe is what we will have to cling to when storms and trials come.  C.S. Lewis has this to say: “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.  It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box.  But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice.  Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?”  

While science, government, and the good will of people and community may well be used by God and may help in the midst of this pandemic, they have little to offer in regard to eternity.  If we want to live by eternal values, we must build our faith upon the only truly trustworthy foundation.  We must indeed be sure that our foundation will resist the worst of storms, that our rope will hold us as we dangle from it.  The Apostle Paul makes this observation:

Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  But if there is no resurrection of the dead not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith is in vain.  Moreover, we are even found to be false witnesses of Go, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in dead in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. 

It is of the utmost importance that we build our faith on a real, unshakable foundation.  How can we be sure?  We return to the words of Paul:

But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep….thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 

The bedrock truth of Christ crucified and Christ risen becomes the foundation of our faith.  We can bet our eternal kingdom on it!  

And once we have our firm eternal foundation of faith in place, we can live in the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen in the here and now.  Even though we continue to battle an unseen virus among us, there are other unseen realities of an eternal nature that deserve our attention as well.  Here are just a few:

John 14:2—"In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.  If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”

John 16:33—"These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
Philippians 1:6—For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

As we find ourselves living in unprecedented times, we will need to find our hope and confidence, choose the foundation of our faith, every day, moment by moment.  May we choose wisely and encourage others to do so as well!

Friday, April 10, 2020

Good Friday in a Pandemic

Good Friday.  A day set aside by the Christian church to commemorate the death of Jesus Christ and to remember the sacrifice that He made on the cross in order to redeem us sinners.  For centuries, believers all over the globe have gathered in groups small and large to solemnly celebrate this most significant event.  But now, in the midst of a pandemic, believers are not gathering in groups.  There are very few church services proceeding according to tradition.  But Good Friday is here nonetheless, and this day reminds us that even the darkest of days fall within God's redemptive plan.  But beyond that, Covid-19 bears a striking resemblance to the events of Good Friday in one particular regard.

While many of those struck by the Coronavirus have no or few symptoms, others struggle with it for days if not weeks.  Still others find themselves hospitalized, and some of those require extreme medical intervention: their lungs are so ravaged by the virus that they need a ventilator to do what they cannot do for themselves: Breathe.

Christ died on the cross in order to save a sin-sick world, doing what we cannot do for ourselves: Pay the penalty for our sin.  But while only a small percentage of Coronavirus victims require a ventilator, our sin nature is 100% fatal--for body, soul, and spirit--without the intervention of a Savior.

As we negotiate a "new normal" amidst this pandemic, most sectors of humanity are battling to mitigate suffering and save lives.  We do for people what they cannot do for themselves.  In the end, though, we will all face death in some form or fashion (unless the Lord returns!).  Our sin yields   death to our bodies.  But thanks be to God!  By the death of Christ, He has paid the ransom to rescue us from our sin.  Our souls and spirits will be united with Him for eternity, and we can look forward to receiving new, imperishable bodies.

May Good Friday be good indeed in our hearts and prayers on this holy day.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Encouragement In Anxious Days

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”
                                             J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Thought For The Day

"He who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God only."

                                                                                               C.S. Lewis
                                                                                                The Weight of Glory


Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Pandemic Ponderings, #1

These are challenging times, indeed.  The threat or reality of the Coronavirus has changed our lives in real time.  I have read it and heard it many times over the past weeks, but it is worth repeating: God is still here, and He loves us.  As we and those around us struggle and suffer, it is easy to doubt God’s love and even His very existence.  

We are fallen people in a fallen world.  That is our choice, not God’s.  And since He desires most of all a real-deal-of-our-own-free-will relationship with us, He will not suspend the consequences of humankind’s willful independence from Him.  To be sure, our loving and merciful Lord intervenes at times, but the fallen world, and its inhabitants, remain; evil, sin, sickness, and death continue.  And God hates it.  

Since God has chosen to respect our free will in favor of genuine relationship, He manifests His goodness and love by means of redemption.  Christians look forward to our eventual redemption when God accepts Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for our sins, and we are welcomed into heaven.  But redemption is who God is—it is part of His nature and character.  So while we wait for our eventual complete redemption, we can depend on His working His redemptive purposes in us and through us as we go about our lives in the here and now.

Please consider with me the power of the following passages:

Romans 8:28—And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Ephesians 5:3-5—And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;  and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;  and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Many folks have observed that these are uncharted times.  That may be true for us, but it is most definitely not true for the Lord.  We can depend on His omniscient, sovereign work of redemption in us, through us, and on our behalf.  He’s got this.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Thought for Today, This Week, and This Month

"In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”


Friday, February 7, 2020

The Not-So-Basics of Body Life

God is a God of relationship.  He is the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in relationship within the Godhead.  We are created in His image, for relationship, with Him and with one another.  The middle chapters of Genesis record God calling Abraham to become the father of many nations and to become the father of His people, the nation of Israel.  The Old Testament Law reflects God’s love for His people and His desire for them to love one another well.  As they fail to do that, we read later in the Old Testament about God scolding His people through His prophets for oppressing the weak and vulnerable.  

The New Testament underscores God as a relational God as the Father sends the Son to live among us, to save us, and to show us what the love of God looks like in the warp and woof of daily life.  Jesus walked in and among sinners, welcoming the weak and needy.  He also trained and empowered His disciples to serve others even as He was serving them.  He sent them out in pairs because ministry is hard, and we need one another as we go about fulfilling the Lord’s purpose for us.

“One another” verses in the New Testament are varied and plentiful, illustrating the importance of nurturing life among members of the body of Christ.  It is only as we practice these one another passages that we grow strong in faith, become who the Lord created us to be, and fulfill His purposes for us, both individually and corporately.  Like it or now, we are so dependent on relationship that we are not able to fulfill God’s purposes for our personal, individual life without practicing and experiencing the one anothers.

There is one “one another” passage I would like to bring to our attention.  In his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul writes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.”  (Galatians 6:2).  And then, in completing his thought, Paul admonishes his readers—just three verses later: “For each one will bear his own load.”  (Galatians 6:5).

The apparent inconsistency in our English translations is resolved when we investigate the actual Greek words that Paul used.  The word for burden in Verse 2 carries the connotation of a particularly heavy and difficult burden, while the word for load in Verse 5 carries the connotation of an expected responsibility.  And so we understand that Paul is exhorting believers to take responsibility for themselves and also help brothers and sisters who are struggling with unusually difficult loads.  This seems quite reasonable, and we tend to nod at this truth and move on.

But even though we can readily understand this passage, I am less sure that we follow Paul’s instructions as well as he would like.  It is simply not that easy to always distinguish reasonable personal responsibility from an unreasonably difficult load.  Indeed, there is a good bit of subjective judgement involved for all concerned.  What is unbearable or overwhelming for one person may be routine for someone else.  And, when we add other factors—perceptions of expectations, personality, life experience—it becomes even more complex.  Do we persevere, or ask for help? Conversely, do we encourage a brother/sister to persevere, or do we offer to help?

There is no formula or flow chart to answer these questions.  I would like to suggest that we consider a “both and” approach rather than an “either or.”  In other words, we can honor Paul’s words even in the uncertainty that attends them. We can encourage a struggling brother and sister to persevere in faith even as we do what we can to help with their load.  And, we can ask for help even as we walk in faith through a challenging time.  

In order to do this, we must develop an essential Godly characteristic: humility.  In our contemporary American culture, it is easy to want to do it ourselves, on our own strength.  Coupled with our prideful sin nature, it can be exceedingly difficult to ask for help.  Our pride fuels self-focus so that we can miss the needs of others.  And when we do see a need, our pride and self-reliance can make it difficult to see someone in need of help without feeling somehow superior.  And when our offers to help fuel our pride and elevate our opinions of ourselves, we move far away from Paul’s intent.  Finally, as we cultivate a spirit of humility, we become more able to be genuine in our need and in needing the needs of others, which brings us back to relationship building.  Although we may never achieve the perfect balance of personal responsibility and burden sharing, humbly and actively exercising both proclaims the love of Christ to the world and blesses His body—us—with ever deepening relationships.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Time and the New Year

January, 2020!  A new year.  Again.  A new year inevitably raises the question of what we will do with this new year that the Lord has given us.  The tradition of New Year’s Resolutions reflects this attitude for Christians and non-Christians alike.  Truly, time is a gift.

As usual, though, I am reluctant to embrace the New Year’s Resolution routine, and to be honest, I am not fond of To Do lists of any kind.  That said, time remains a gift, and the question of what we do with the time the Lord has given us remains.

I would suggest that a wonderful way to begin this new year is to focus on the One who is the Beginning and the End.  Our eternal Lord, who reigns over all and is not bound by time, has given us days, seasons, and years in a rhythm that sustains us, refreshes us, and propels us forward.  Our God is the God of new as well as old.  He is also the Lord of renewal.  As we come out of the busy and tiring holiday season and waken to chilly mornings, usually cloudy skies, and a new year, we need the renewal in this new year that only the Lord can give.

Please consider with me the following passages:

Lamentations 3:22-23—The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.

Psalm 51:10—Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Isaiah 40:31—Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.

Isaiah 43:19—Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it?  I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.

Colossians 3:5-11—Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.  For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them.  But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.  Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices,  and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.

Psalm 33:3—Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully with a shout of joy.

Jeremiah 31:31—Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.”

Isaiah 65:17—For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be remembered or come to mind.

Ezekial 11:19—And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them.  And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.

Luke 22:20—And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.”

II Corinthians 5:17—Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

II Corinthians 3:4-5—Such confidence we have through Christ toward God.  Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Colossians 3:10—and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.

Hebrews 9:15—For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.

Romans 6:40—Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

II Peter 3:13—But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.

Revelation 21:1—Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.   And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.

Revelation 21:5--And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”

First and foremost, our Lord is the Lord of all, and it is He who makes all things new.  As we walk (or run) into this new year, may we remember that it is the Lord who bestows upon us His mercies day by day.  It is He who cleanses, refreshes, and renews our hearts, transforming our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh as we turn away from our sin.  All praise to our God!  Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ initiated His new covenant with us by the shedding of His blood, so that in Him we are new, renewed, conformed to Him, and equipped to be His servants.  And as we walk in newness of life in Christ, may we walk in faith and in the confidence that the Lord is making us new even as He will make all things new.