Sunday, July 14, 2024

Faith Walking in a Secular World

 "...let every good and true Christian understand that wherever truth may be found, it belongs to the Master."                                                 Augustine

Saturday, July 13, 2024

Sanctification by Grace

 The walk of faith is not a guilt trip.

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Humility Thought For The Day

 "It is better to know some of the questions than all 

of the answers."              James Thurber

Monday, July 1, 2024

Celebrating Freedom

 July….  Independence Day!  Fellowship, fun, and fireworks….

 

On July 4, 1776, the leaders of our nation-to-be took a major step not simply toward independence of the thirteen British colonies in North America, but more importantly, toward a government that would view all human beings as having value.  The Revolutionary War made the Declaration of Independence a reality, and the thirteen colonies became free.  And so freedom has become synonymous with independence in American culture.  It is interesting that independence and freedom are not synonymous in Scripture. 

 

The celebration of Independence Day carries a potent reminder to believers that our lives of faith are not all about—or even mostly about—independence.  In fact, the Bible reminds us that an independent attitude can have disastrous results.  The archangel Lucifer was not content to remain dependent upon the LORD but rather decided to strive with God, to become like Him.  After Lucifer was expelled from heaven, he came as a serpent to tempt Eve, offering her the fruit that would make her wise like God.  If she were wise like God, she could be independent!  The American dream is older than America….And so Eve, and then Adam, took the fruit and ate.  Their choosing a way independent from the LORD immediately led to fear and shame.  And like Lucifer was expelled from heaven, Adam and Eve were evicted from the Garden of Eden.  All of heaven wept, and all of God’s glorious creation has suffered ever since.

 

The “self-made man” that we often admire looks great through the lens of independence, but does not fare so well through the lens of Biblical truth.  The Bible is clear that it is God who has made us and not we ourselves (as proclaimed in the Book of Common Prayer).  He gives us every breath we take, and He is the genuine source of provision and protection.  We are called to trust in the LORD with all of our heart and lean not on our own understanding and to depend upon the Father for our daily bread.  We are called to glorify our Maker and by faith welcome the indwelling Holy Spirit who will enable us to be conformed to the character of Christ and transform us as He allows us to behold His glory.

 

The spirit of independence—which chants such mantras as “when you want something done right, do it yourself”—can wreak havoc in our relationships as well.  The Apostle Paul teaches us that as believers, we become members of one body—the body of Christ.  We cannot be independent any more than the parts of our physical bodies can be independent from one another.

 

Freedom, on the other hand, is a more Biblical concept, though again it differs significantly from the  world’s concept of freedom.  The Good News of the Gospel proclaims freedom from slavery to our sin nature and from the penalty and power of sin as set forth in God’s Law as recorded by Moses in the Old Testament.  We need no longer to be bound by sin and the fear and shame that follows.  But here is the irony about the freedom that the Bible proclaims: We can experience the freedom offered by God only if and as we relinquish our sin nature-driven desire to live independently from Him.  It is only as we become bond-servants of Christ, abiding in Him as the vine, that we can experience genuine freedom as well as peace and joy as we bear fruit for His glory.  And all of this is possible only as we recognize our need for the indwelling Holy Spirit and depend upon Him to complete the work He has begun in us.

 

And so while our celebration of Independence as a nation is quite appropriate, our July 4th activities also invite us to consider that as bond-servants of Christ, we choose—moment by moment--dependence upon Him rather than independence from Him.  And from that solid and safe foundation, we can rejoice in the eternal freedoms our Lord and Savior has won for us: His atonement for our sins on the cross has freed us from slavery to sin, and from the power and penalty of sin.  We walk free from the opinions and expectations of others, even (and sometimes especially) ourselves.  Praise God, indeed!

 

 

 

 

Saturday, June 1, 2024

A Lamp to My Feet, A Light to My Path

 In the middle of the 20th Century, what we now know as the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the hilly desert region of Qumran and other locations.  From 1947 to 1956, approximately 900 manuscripts, dating from 250 BC to AD 68 were brought out from eleven desert caves after being hidden for two thousand years.  Scholars debate the identity of the scribes who left this treasure trove of documents; it is commonly believed that they were from a Jewish sect known as the Essenes, but we don’t know.  The scope and significance of such discoveries cannot be overestimated.  These documents represent our oldest copies of Biblical manuscripts.

 

Before the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, the oldest manuscripts scholars had to work with were texts from several centuries later.  The Masoretes were Jewish rabbinical scholars who made it their business to preserve and copy the Hebrew Scriptures completely and accurately.  The oldest complete copy of the Masoretic Text known to exist is the Leningrad Codex, dated to AD 1008.  It is this text that had served as the basis for most of the current translations.

 

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls aroused more than academic interest.  With the appearance of Old Testament texts a thousand years older than the Masoretic texts, there was reason to wonder if the Bibles in circulation were as accurate as they could be.  Add to that the existence of the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures widely used by the early church, there was good reason for confusion and concern regarding which Biblical texts available to us were the least corrupted and most trustworthy.

 

Our Bibles today are still based for the most part on the Masoretic Text.  Extensive comparison studies of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Masoretic texts, and the Septuagint have revealed a truly remarkable harmony among these texts.  Despite the thousand-year time span, different sources, and questions of translation, these documents are astonishingly consistent with one another.  Although there are differences, and scholars continue to analyze and compare the texts in pursuit of the most accurate texts to use in translating Holy Scripture into modern languages, the differences are minor.  The Dead Sea Scrolls confirm to a very large degree the faithful transmission of Scripture from the time they were written until the Masoretic Text was completed.  And so we know, for example, that the creation account in Genesis Chapter 1 that we read in our Bibles is a careful translation of the same text that the Jews were using 500 years before Christ.  This brings me to the conclusion that not only did the Lord inspire His Word, He has also protected It.

 

Again, the history and reliability of our Biblical texts are of far more than academic interest.  They are not an intellectual curiosity.  God’s Word is the foundation for our faith and faith life, and its reliability is crucial.  The Dead Sea Scrolls offer a wonderful opportunity for multiple avenues of investigation, but I would argue that the most profitable of those avenues is that which has given us reason for confidence in our Scriptures.  The Jewish scribes responsible for them, and then the Masoretes who followed a millennium later, have mightily blessed us by their respect for the Scriptures and their diligence in copying them for subsequent generations.

 

The Scriptures that we hold in our hands are courtesy of those who valued God’s Word to the highest degree.  May we demonstrate our gratitude by following their example: may we treat God’s Word with reverence; but even more, may we take advantage of their gift by studying it and inviting the Holy Spirit to use it to conform our characters to Christ’s and to be progressively transformed into partners in His Kingdom’s work….

 

 

 

 

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness

 

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

The Power of Healthy Relationships

 

"You find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it."

                                                                         A.A. Milne, via Winnie the Pooh


 


Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Thought For The Day

May we enjoy the dance as we follow our Lord and Master, even when we miss some steps along the way....

Friday, April 5, 2024

Challenge For The Day

 Spiritual fitness requires us to exercise our "NO" muscle.  We can only say "YES!" to God if we learn to say "NO," at appropriate times, to ourselves and others.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Get. A. Head.

 A theme that runs through our culture is that of getting ahead.  We are told to attend to our school work and study hard so that we can get ahead.  Many work long hours in order to get ahead in their career of choice.  Athletes train hard in order to get ahead of the competition.  And truth be told, I like the feeling of getting ahead on my week’s housework.  But at the same time, there is often compromise: if we can’t get ahead, at least we can feel okay if we keep up.

 As broken, fallen creatures, it isn’t so easy to feel good or even okay about ourselves.  Even in our most pretentious moments, we know deep down that we are not as good as we try to look.  That’s what this getting ahead or keeping up thing is about: feeling good about ourselves.  It is important to recognize that as we look to get ahead or keep up, we are—consciously or unconsciously—comparing ourselves to others.  If we are getting ahead, we are winning!  And if we are keeping up, we are at least not losing….  But comparing ourselves to others in order to boost our ego means that we are putting our emotional well-being into the hands of others.  And since those others are also looking to get ahead/keep up to feel good or okay about themselves, they are hardly trustworthy with our all-too-fragile emotional stability.

 

I would like to suggest that we trade in a getting ahead mindset for a getting a head mindset: to use what we know from Scripture to determine how to think about ourselves.  Please consider what we learn from the following passages:

 

Genesis 1:26; 2:7; 2:18, 22-25—God has made us in His image in the most personal way, with His own breath, for relationship with Him and others, and for significant work.

 

Matthew 1:20-21--God sent His own Son to save His people from their sins, the very sins that make it hard for us to feel good about ourselves.  

 

Romans 5:8—God loves us and values us so much that He died to cover our sins even as we were in our helpless, sinful, and least attractive state.

 

Ephesians 2:10—God has created us for significant work, planned personally by Him.

 

Matthew 20:20-28—While status in the world is about position and power, status in God’s eyes is about love and service.

 

Luke 22:24-26—Competition has no place in determining our position before God almighty.

 

Philippians 1:6 and Colossians 2:10—The Lord has promised to complete the work of sanctification that He has begun in us; and that work is so certain that it can be proclaimed as completed!

 

Romans 8:16-17—We are children of God and heirs of His kingdom.  

 

John 8:12-14—Jesus—God Incarnate!—was unrecognized and rejected by others, most particularly the religious professionals of His day.

 

 

 

Revelation 22:1-5—Believers can look forward to the day when they will see God face to face, worshipping Him and reigning with Him for all eternity.

 

As I consider what we have in Christ—our identity, value, and future—it is hard to imagine why we would bother to try to find these things in a counterfeit.  But our sin nature, and with it our desire to do life independent of God, remains with us.  We must make the choice, moment by moment, day by day, to look entirely to Christ for all that we are and are becoming.

 

And then as we find our identity and value in Christ, as Christ found His identity and value in His Father, we will be able to enter into genuine, intimate relationship, to love and be loved.

 

 

Friday, March 1, 2024

March The Lion and the Lamb

 We all know the old adage: “March—In like a lion, out like a lamb.”  Or, sometimes, vice versa.  And while the weather of March can make for some interesting conversations, I think the echoes of Biblical truth in the adage are far more significant.  

 

The weather adage is a way to emphasize the drastic change that March brings.  Winter to Spring; powerful to mild.  The lion and lamb metaphors in the Bible refer to the two natures of Christ that are both eternal and simultaneous.   He is the Lion of Judah.  The I AM.  He is also the Lamb of God, meek and lowly, sacrificed for the sins of the world.  He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  He was, is, and will always be both the Lion and the Lamb.

 

In our fallen world and in our minds, lions and lambs do not go together.  They are entirely incompatible.  Lions eat lambs.  Lambs are terrified of lions.  Christ as both Lion and Lamb is a sign to us that He has, inconceivably, done the impossible!  The Creator of the world is also its Redeemer.  The lion and lamb metaphor in the Bible enables us to imagine and visualize the miracle.  Before the fall, it is conceivable (depending upon your theology) that there were no predatory relationships among the newly-created animals.  But when Adam and Eve made their fateful choice, the entire creation fell with them.  God clothed them with the skins of animals who were sacrificed to provide Adam and Eve with material protection.  And all heaven wept.

 

The fall has generated a dog eat dog world of fear and shame.  Whatever your position on evolution, survival of the fittest has became all too commonplace in our world.  The strong use and abuse the weak for their own benefit.  The rich become richer while the poor become poorer.  Lions eat lambs.

 

But. God.  Jesus as Lion is not merely the King of the jungle; He is King of all creation, all the universe.  And as Lamb, He “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant…. He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  (Philippians 2:7-8).  Jesus as the perfect Lamb became the fulfillment of the Old Testament sacrificial system for sin, dying once and for all.

 

The weather is not the most remarkable feature of March.  We are in the season of Lent, preparing to commemorate the death of the Lamb of God and celebrate the resurrection of the Lion of Judah.  This is an ideal time to ponder with gratitude our Lord, the Lion and the Lamb.  It is also a good time to turn our face in the same direction, to use whatever power the Lion gives us to serve Him: “Go; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.”  (Luke 10:3).  As we do so, may we look for the day when lions and lambs will dwell in peace (Isaiah 65:25).

 

 

 

Friday, February 2, 2024

A Question of Timing

 February has arrived, and we find ourselves in the “Love Month.”  As I have thought about this, I find it puzzling that February has become associated with love in general and romantic love in particular.  I know no one who declares February as his/her favorite month, but many people hold love in the highest regard.  At least in our part of the world, flowers are available only if you want to purchase hothouse grown or imported varieties.  Taking a romantic walk on the beach or in a garden has little appeal in February.  February may be the Love Month, but it is easy to understand why most weddings are celebrated in the summer months.

 

And so I did some research about the history of Valentine’s Day.  I expected to find that February was somehow associated with a St. Valentine.  But there is a good bit of debate as to what historical figure is really connected with our celebration of Valentine’s Day, and the association with February is even less clear.

 

If I ran the world, would I move Valentine’s Day to a warmer and fuzzier month?  Although Valentine’s Day is largely a secular holiday, I think I can make a good Biblical case to keep it right where it is.  God’s love is unconditional and remains consistent and passionate regardless of circumstances.  And He calls us to love with His love.  Regardless of cold temperatures, grey skies, trying circumstances, and “unlovable” people, we are to love.  The love God lavishes upon us and calls us to share is not the sentimental (and sometimes insincere) love that is commonly expressed on Valentine’s Day.  God’s love pursues the “target” and works for his/her good; it expresses acceptance and grace; it offers second chances. 

 

Valentine’s Day in February is a helpful reminder to us that love is not about easy, or comfortable.  It is also an encouragement to rejoice in our Lord’s love for us and to invite the Holy Spirit to enable us to bear His fruit of love not only on Valentine’s Day, not only in February, but every day and every month.  Indeed, this unbelieving and hurting world desperately needs to see God’s love in us, among us and through us.