Monday, December 24, 2012

New Beginnings


It is apparent at this point that we all have made it through the end of the world…whew. :-) We can now count on “business as usual”.  For the Mayans, they consider this a time of “new beginnings.”  I think this is an appropriate theme for today.  We are going to consider some "new beginnings."  This time of year, people focus on the birth of Jesus.  Today, we care going to consider how Jesus got here…that is, His lineage.  Now, this is not for everyone…some folks would just as soon read Leviticus as go through the genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3. But, genealogies are important, and we should spend some time discerning some of the important pieces of information from them…particularly Matthew’s.  Matthew was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, a Jewish tax collector by trade…and probably not a friend of Simon the Zealot before they both became acquainted with Jesus.  His gospel, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is one of four eyewitness accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus, and it is written primarily to the Jewish people…but it is for all of us to understand.  This is exemplified in part by the fact that Jesus’ family tree begins with Abraham, the father of Israel, the nation of the Jews.  Matthew opens his gospel with a careful account of the birth of Jesus Christ and the events that accompanied it.  The virgin birth of Jesus, by Mary, through the Holy Spirit is a central doctrine for those who are Christians.  We know that Jesus was born in the flesh, but His was a situation that was surrounded with questions and concerns. 

Genealogies were very important for the Jews, for without them they could not prove their tribal allegiances or their rights to inheritances.  Anyone who would be claiming to be “Son of David” would have to prove it.  It was necessary for Jesus to establish His rights to David’s throne.  So, this list of names is a vital part of the gospel record.  It is also significant that the genealogy shows that Jesus is indeed a part of history…it is truly "His-story." All of Jewish history prepared the way for His birth.  God, in His providence, accomplished His great purpose in bringing His Son into the world.  The genealogy also illustrates God’s wonderful grace.  It is unusual to find the names of women in Jewish genealogies, especially since names and inheritances came through the fathers.  Yet, in this list, there are four references to women from Old Testament history…Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba.  Each of these women would seem to represent some form of marital irregularity, but each one was vindicated by God’s blessings for their faith.  (Not that a child being born to a betrothed virgin is irregular :-)...we can certainly see the reason for the connection). What it signifies is that Jesus came through human heritage…and although that heritage was imperfect, He was perfect.  It also reveals that it would require more than human pedigree to make Jesus the heir to David’s throne.  This is why His divine heredity is so critical.

Finally, the fact that Matthew omits some names from his genealogy shows that he is not as interested in a chronology, but a theology of Jesus’ ancestry.  In vv.16, 18, Matthew makes it clear that Jesus’ birth was different from that of any other Jewish boy named in the genealogy.  He points out that Joseph did not “beget” Jesus, but that Joseph was “the husband of Mary of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.”  It is important to note that betrothal was significant to the Jewish people at that time, being equivalent to…that is, having the same authority as…marriage.  The significant exception was that the man and woman did not live together.  The man and woman were recognized as husband and wife, and at the end of their betrothal period, the marriage was fulfilled.  If somehow a betrothed woman became pregnant, it was considered adultery.  But, the Lord revealed the truth by His angel to Joseph so that he would not punish or divorce Mary when he discovered that she was with child (fulfills Is. 7:14).

Jesus was the most unique of all children ever born.  Being eternal God (John 1:1, 14), He existed before Mary and Joseph or any of His earthly ancestors.  If Jesus had been conceived and born just as any other baby, then He could not be God.  It was necessary for Him to enter this world through an earthly mother without the need of an earthly father.  So, by a miracle of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary, a virgin (Luke 1:26-38).  Some philosophers, and even some religious leaders, have sought to discredit this virgin birth, yet it is Biblically accounted, true, understood and accepted by faith and foundational to Christianity.  Jesus came to mankind to be Savior…Jehovah is Salvation, Christ…God’s anointed One and Immanuel, which describes who He is…God with us.  Jesus Christ God’s Son Savior.

Dr. Len Broughton was a medical doctor before God’s call came for him to be a minister. As a medical student, he rejected the virgin birth of Christ. Later on, he began to practice medicine out in a country town. One Sunday, he decided to go to a church meeting. The doctor would say shortly thereafter, "that country preacher knocked more skepticism out of me in half an hour than that which I had received during all of my years at medical school." This is how he did it. In his sermon, he said, "if there is anyone here troubled about the mystery of God becoming man, I want to take you back to the first chapter of Genesis and the first verse. The opening words are… 'In the beginning, God…'". I felt like he was looking directly at me when he said, "let me ask you this: Do you believe that God was in the beginning? Do you believe that before the beginning began that God was?" I said to myself, "yes, I do believe that." He proceeded, "if you believe that God was ahead of the beginning, you believe the only mysterious thing in the universe." Dr Broughton considered, "if I can believe that, God knows that I can believe anything else the Bible says. I had gone to school and traveled through the mysteries of reproduction and cell formation. I now believed the One supreme mystery of the mysterious universe… 'In the beginning, God'…and the greater mystery included all lesser mysteries."

What has happened in recent decades? People have quit believing “the mystery.” The philosophies and theories of man have more so become the standard by which men measure themselves. (And we see how well this has been working in our society).  I thank God that He saw fit to introduce “the mystery within the mystery”…the birth of His Son, born of a virgin. We are all part of a grand genealogy that began with our father Adam and flowed through Abraham, David and down to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It was all intentional…it was all critical for us. Far be it from us not to accept God’s mystery as it is…the mystery of birth, the mystery of His life. Praise the Lord for a day when we can magnify the precious life that God has given us.

Blessings, Don

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A House Decided


One of the greatest things that we can do as human beings is spend time with family.  Besides husbands and wives, no place is it more important than parents spending time with their children.  Sports has always been an important part of my life…and I am thankful that it has become such for my son.  I enjoy our times playing Madden football, although I can barely hang with him…and this is with him playing on the “all-pro” level and me on “pro.”  Even more than this, I enjoy going to football games of the real life variety.  My own times with my dad were important.  He loves to tell fish stories, but the thing is…most of his are true.  One story he reminds me of on a regular basis…and I can verify as true…is one time, when I was about Ian’s age, we were raking in the perch on a lake, and I getting bored from the lack of sport.  Deciding to exercise some “ingenuity”…I started pulling some foam rubber off of my seat cushion and proceeded to catch even more fish.  True story.  We had fun.  Families are supposed to do so. 

Another story of a different sort…it was a Sunday morning and a father sat in his recliner reading the newspaper.  He said to his son, who was reading the comics section, “It’s time to put down the comics and get ready for Sunday school.”  “But, Daddy, aren’t you going to go with me?”  “No, I am not going, but I want you to hurry up and get ready.”  “Dad, did you go to Sunday school when you were a boy like me?” “Yes,” replied the dad, “I went every Sunday.”  Walking away sadly, the son said, “I bet it won’t do me any good either.”  Unfortunately, this story is played out in too many homes.  One Old Testament father said…”Not so in my house.”  How important it is for fathers and mothers to be…not only the leaders of the family…but, the spiritual leaders of their families.  It is God’s plan…one we must take seriously.   

God’s leader following Moses is Joshua.  And Joshua makes it clear to anyone would listen to him as to his allegiance (24:15).  He could not be neutral, nor could he be divided in his mind. He makes a decision to serve the Lord, the God of Israel, when many others are chasing after the idols of the day.  If the people, like Joshua, are going to serve the Lord, it is because they are going to respect Him, obey Him and worship Him only.  This would mean giving up any idols that are going to keep him from his goal…and to challenge his family to fix their hearts on the Lord, devoting their lives to Him.  All of this comes at a price…it comes from having hearts focused in the right manner and on the right things.  It is to be focused on being Jesus to one another…on living grace and love with one another.  It is a yearning to develop a heart that “wants to” worship the Lord and not simply settle on some “have to” worship Him.  Like the young man in the story, our young people will know if our hearts are fixed in the right direction, because the truth of the matter is that our kids are…by and large…going to grow up to be  “very much like us.” 

Being a wise spiritual leader, Joshua knows that people are going to worship something or someone…whether they realize it or not.  This is because humans are incurable religious…we are going to devote ourselves to something.  And if the Jews did not worship the true God, they would end up worshipping the false gods of the wicked nations in Canaan.  Joshua’s point – you can’t do both!  In v.21, they affirm to Joshua at this time that they want to worship and serve only the Lord God of Israel…and they gave their reasons.  Joshua also understands that it is easy for people to promise obedience to the Lord, but that it is quite something else actually to do it.  His strong words are meant to curb their overconfidence and make them consider their own hearts. Then Joshua said, "You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the LORD." "Yes, we are witnesses," they replied.  "Now then," said Joshua, "throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel." And the people said to Joshua, "We will serve the LORD our God and obey him" (vv. 22-24).  The Lord never wanted Israel to be “a house divided,” but, as Joshua proclaims…”a house decided” concerning the Lord.

“Build me a son, Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid; one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.  Build me a son whose wishes will not take the place of his deeds; a son who will know you…and that to know himself is the foundation of the store of knowledge.  Build me a son whose heart will be clear, whose goal will be high, a son who will master himself before he seeks to master other men; one who reach into his future, yet never forget his past.  And after all of these things are his, add, I pray, enough of a sense of humor, so that he may always be serious, yet never take himself too seriously.  Give him humility so that he may always remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, and the meekness of true strength.  Then I, his father, will dare to whisper, ‘I have not lived in vain.’”  General Douglas MacArthur

I pray that my daughter will grow into a woman who values the thoughts and opinions of people she respects, but also, one who knows her own mind, and trusts herself sufficiently that she feels able to take an unpopular stand. I hope she is always sure enough of her own value that she won't rely exclusively on the approval of others, or define herself by who she knows or what she wears. I pray that my daughter will recognize and respond to the feelings of others around her -- especially those in need of compassion.  I pray that she will always value people over things, deeds over words, and the voice of her own conscience over the consensus of the crowd.  I pray that she remains loyal to her family, and to her friends -- that she is open to new friendships, but that she never takes her old ones for granted. I hope she will be for her brothers (as I pray they will be, for her) someone they can always turn to, who knows them and loves them with unconditional love. And I hope she will always feel that there is no problem so large, no deed so terrible, that she cannot share it with her father and with me.  – Joyce Maynard
Conclusion:  Application -- Determine to lead your house for the Lord.

“Believing children” do not just happen…they are developed, grown.  If we want our children to be devoted to the Lord, then we must first be devoted to the Lord and his ways ourselves.  In a world that offers more distractions than ever in order to keep this from happening, it is going to require some serious commitment, not to mention some sacrifices in order to make this happen.  We decided before our children came into existence that our primary task was to train them to be Godly, spiritual people…that it was a matter of eternity.  We knew that many other things were going to be important…but not matters of eternity.  Our commitment to spiritual concerns had to be the primary focus.  We have a great responsibility to our children, and grandchildren, to please the Lord, to help our family and friends to remain unstained from the idols of this world.  It does not matter that several thousand years separate us from Joshua’s time…because the principles remain the same.  We should take a cue from him and seriously, spiritually determine that our families will seek to serve the Lord.  And it is not always the big things, like Sunday school and worship that will make the greatest difference.  It is a daily family devotional time.  It is a trip to the fishing hole or the football game…the trip to the mall or lunch at an eatery. It is preparing ourselves to be the best spiritual parenting people that we can be.

Blessings, Don

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Points of Light


I believe that shots of the earth like the one below...that show the lights of populated areas...are remarkable.  This is the first one that I have seen that is a composite of the whole earth.  Enjoy!

Blessings, Don

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Peace of the Action


As seen in this portion of the Ephesian letter (2:11-22), Paul is working with the Gentiles.  Most of the Ephesian believers are Gentile converts, yet they understand that much of God’s program in the Old Covenant involves the Jews.  The Jews are not kind to the Gentiles.  Many of the Jews believe that the Gentiles need to become Jews first before they can be acceptable to God and to them.  God made the difference between the Jews and Gentiles from the time of Abraham…not that the Jews might boast in how great they were, but in order to be a blessing and a help to the Gentiles.  The Jews might have been different nationally, ritually…but morally, they are the same as the Gentiles.

Before they came to Christ, the Gentile Ephesians worshipped Diana (or Artemis).  Some of them believed they could worship Diana and Christ…and that it would all be the same.  Paul says – no way!  The Jews were a “special nation”…but not so the Gentiles.  They did not have a covenant for themselves.  They were aliens and strangers and the Jews never let them forget it.  The Gentiles’ philosophies, religions were empty and powerless to help men face life and death.  They were, as a whole, without God.  The nations had many gods (see Paul in Athens, Acts 17), but they didn’t know the One True God.  The Gentiles were included in God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3)…and this ultimately would culminate in their having hope through Christ Jesus. 

Although the Jews, Gentiles might have different purposes, these differences are erased in Christ’s reconciliation or “bringing them together again.”  There is not a significant problem for the church until Peter is sent to the Gentiles (Acts 10).  Then there is enmity (Acts 11-15).  Are the Gentiles supposed to become “Jewish Christians”?  No.  The enmity was taken away.  The law that separated the Jews and Gentiles is taken down…Christ destroys the wall and makes peace.  The big picture is what really needs to be considered.  Not only did the Gentiles need to be reconciled to the Jews, but both Jews and Gentiles need to be reconciled to God!  It is not a question of a Gentile becoming a Jew in order to become a Christian, but the Jew admitting he is a sinner like the Gentile.  Jews and Gentiles both have access to the same God through the new covenant brought by Christ Jesus.  Israel was God’s chosen nation, but they rejected their redeemer and suffered the consequences.  The kingdom was taken from them and given to “a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof…” (Matthew 21:43).  The new nation is “spiritual Israel”, the church.  Sin divides mankind, but Christ unites people by His Spirit.  All believers, regardless of national background, belong to a “holy nation” with citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3).  God does not dwell in a house made with hands, in temples or church buildings…but He lives in the lives of His believers (1 Corinthians 6:19), who are His temple (1 Corinthians 3:19). What a glorious plan in order to bring “oneness” and “peace.”

Joel Jongkind shares this -- In the latter part of the gospels, the disciples were in quite a state when they were gathered in the upper room. Their Lord and friend had been crucified, and the authorities were after them. They sat and wondered what to do next. Some of them were ready to go back home. And suddenly, Jesus was with them, and they heard His wonderful words, "Peace be with you."' Sometimes we too doubt and worry; sometimes we have a feeling of anguish in our hearts. We sit and wonder, or we lie in bed and worry, and we pray about it, or we go to church to worship, or we pick up the Bible and read those wonderful words, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28 NKJV) Or we hear Jesus' words, "Peace be with you."  The word "peace" has been used a great deal over the years. Every time we turn on the television, we hear people “talking about peace” in places where there are wars and uprisings: in the Middle East, in Syria in particular lately, and in a number of African countries as well. There are a lot of negotiations, but there does not seem to be a lasting peace.  Before one war is over, another one has started. There seems to be no end to it, and we have learned nothing from history; there is no lasting peace. But inner peace is for all of us to have and to hold through faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord. We know that the triune God -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- is our source of lasting peace, and then, it does not matter what might happen in our lives, for we can be at peace through faith, and we will have peace in our hearts.”

It is interesting to note that religious history is not a record of man starting with many gods (idolatry) and gradually discovering the One True God.  Rather, it is the sad story of man knowing the truth about God and deliberately turning away from it.  God called the Jews beginning with Abraham that through them, He might reveal Himself as the One True God.  Israel was to be a light to the Gentiles, but their light burned dimly.  Today, we…spiritual Israel, the church…are not all that unlike the Jews and Gentiles as it relates to our ideals, philosophies and the like.  We all come from different places, have different backgrounds.  The message of grace and reconciliation is just as important today as it has always been…maybe it is even more important as it relates to one another, given the great differences between people…especially those in our fellowship.  But, the goal is not any different for us than it was for early believers.  In spite of our differences, we find ways to submit our spirits to the Spirit of God and when we do so, we are able to be at peace with God and with one another.  And this has value beyond what any of us can really truly appreciate individually…but it is good. Keep working at allowing the “peace of Christ to dwell in your hearts.”

Blessings, Don

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Holy, Holy, Holy


“Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, early in the morning, our song shall rise to Thee; Holy, Holy, Holy, merciful and mighty, God overall and blest eternally.”  How true it is – God is holy, and as we have seen previously, He expects His people to be holy.  This seems to be something of a lost virtue over the past few decades…but, it is no less important in relationship to living a Godly life than it has ever been.  In fact, it is my contention that this is a significantly important reason as to why our society is in the shape that it is today…and it is not going to get healthy any time soon.  And yet, this also changes nothing as it relates to our responsibility to be God’s people, who value and live in relationship to purity and morality.  I truly believe we see the words of Jesus in Matthew chapters 7 and chapters 24-25 coming to bear more so all of the time.  That which is going to separate those who are on the wide and narrow roads, or separate the sheep and the goats…and we are talking about religious people…is the difference between whether said people live holy, servant lives and remain as unstained by the world as possible.

In Leviticus 24, it is revealed that there were two sections in the tabernacle…the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies.  In the Holy Place was located three pieces of furniture – the golden altar of incense, table of showbread, and the golden lampstand. Since there were no windows in the tabernacle, it was necessary to have light in the holy place so that the priests were able to see as they were ministering in there.  The lampstand provided the light.  Each morning and evening when the high priest burned incense on the golden altar, he was to care for the lights on the lampstand to be certain that they would continue to burn.  The lampstand…with the oil…symbolized the Word of God, the light that God provided for His people in this dark world.  God’s people couldn't see effectively without it then and they cannot today either. The lampstand also provided light so that the priest could burn incense on the golden altar…this symbolized the prayers of God’s people going up to Him (Psalms 141:2).  In a like manner, apart from the Scriptures, we cannot pray effectively. The lampstand also symbolized the nation of Israel, called to be God’s shining light to a dark world. Unfortunately, the priesthood became wicked and failed to maintain the nation’s light before the Lord.  Still, the people needed to bring oil so the lights could be kept burning in the holy place.

Loaves of bread were put on the golden table every Sabbath…and then the old bread was given to the priests to eat.  What do they symbolize?  The table was called, “the table of showbread,” and the loaves were called “the showbread”, which can be translated, “the bread of presence.” God was present with his people and they were able to be in His presence in the tabernacle.  It assured God’s people that He was concerned about the “practical matters” in their lives. No matter where the Jews were in the camp, they needed to remind themselves that their people were represented (12 loaves for 12 tribes) in the holy place on the golden table (Colossians 3:1). Also, the loaves reminded the priest that his ministry was for real people.  Being somewhat isolated in the tabernacle day after day, the priests could easily get out of touch with the people that they represented before God.

The final matter in this chapter is of a more serious concern.  The Jews knew the third commandment, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”  So fearful were they of breaking it, that they substituted the name “Adonai” for “Jehovah,” when they would read the Scriptures.  Here is the account of a man who has blasphemed, who used the name of God in vain.  There was a consequence…there was a punishment to pay…and it was death. Obedience to the Law was a very serious matter.  To respect a name was to respect the person who would bear that name, and the opposite was also true…and their highest respect was to belong to the Lord. Moses sought the will of the Lord in the matter. He was humble enough to admit that he did not know everything, and he asked the Lord concerning what to do in this situation. The Lord’s decision was handed down to the transgressor…as the lex talionis, “law of retaliation” was in effect (Exodus 21:22-25).  It showed respect for the law, life and humans made after the image of God. For the guilty one, the punishment was carried out.  The law, at this time, was an expression of God’s justice and compassion, because it helped to restrain personal revenge in a society where there was no police force or large judicial system.  It is challenging for us to understand, nonetheless.

It is important to understand a principle that does not really get much respect today, unfortunately, so it is difficult for us to understand it.  God’s “proper” name, Yahweh, was and is a sacred and holy name.  His name is to be respected by His people Israel…and it was so.  The power of God’s name was evident, just as Jesus’ is during the time of the first century (and beyond).  Those who would call on the name of the Lord had life, just as those who misused the name would be punished with death. In this regard, nothing that God has said that is holy has changed – it is still holy.  The consequences of blaspheming by using the name of God may have changed, but not the respect all should have for God’s Holy Name…although, those who blaspheme the name and will of the Lord by living ungodly lives will face the consequences of their attitudes and actions.  We must give God’s name the respect that He deserves as our Creator and Sustainer. It is quite evident that our world abuses God’s name and ignores His power to its own destruction.  And I will say this – this also has never changed.  We must call on His name to empower us, as seen in the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed (holy, but beyond this really -- ultimate respect) be your name.”  We must regularly remind ourselves that we need to rely, not upon ourselves, but upon the Lord God in His holiness, understanding. When we do…He makes us holy, mature.

Blessings, Don

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Passing from Death to Life, Part 2


Mike Wilkins tells this story -- In Donald Miller’s book “Blue Like Jazz,” he has a chapter called “Love: How to Really Love Other People."  He was at a lecture by Greg Spencer that talked about the metaphors that we use around (amongst other things) relationships. We talk about how we value people, invest in people, how we say people are priceless, or that a relationship is bankrupt. All these metaphors are economic ones. “And that’s when it hit me -- the problem with Christian culture is we think of love as a commodity. We use it like money. Professor Spencer was right, and not only was he right, I felt as though he had cured me, as though he had let me out of my cage. I could see it very clearly…if somebody is doing something for us, offering us something, be it gifts, time, popularity, or what have you, we feel they have value, we feel they are worth something to us, and perhaps, we feel they are priceless. This was the thing that had smelled so rotten all these years. I used love like money. The church used love like money. With love, we withheld affirmation from the people who did not agree with us, but we lavishly financed the ones who did.” There are always going to be those situations in our lives where it feels like we are going to use love “as a commodity,” rather than allow love to transform us. We cannot withhold love from our friends, or from those with whom we disagree. We learn and grow in relationship to allowing the Spirit, in love, to help us to learn to disagree agreeably…to move on and to grow.  In this, we mature in Christ.  I think that this is the concept that John shares in his first letter. In 3:11ff, love isn’t just a commodity, but it is who we are – we are producers.

I my previous message, I talked about how the Christian is supposed “to pass from death to life” in the Ephesian letter.  It is a personal, spiritual journey…we go from living in the flesh to resurrected, spiritual beings for Jesus. So…is that all there is to it?  Does this take place in a vacuum…or, is there more to the story?  John says…yes, there is.  So, here we go. He starts us off by talking about the children of our “first parents,” Adam and Eve.  Cain and Abel had the same parents, but they approached life from completely different perspectives. They both had the same opportunities – they both brought sacrifices to God…both acted, but one had a heart that was thankful, while the other had a heart that was indifferent.  Abel’s offering was “by faith”…Cain’s, however, was not. And instead of listening to God concerning His heart problem, Cain listened to the voice of the evil one. Instead of repenting, he was filled with jealousy and hatred toward his righteous brother, whom he plotted against and destroyed. Cain’s attitude represents the system of this world…serve self…look out for number 1…trample on those who keep you from goals #1, 2.

When people in the world come face to face with the truth of Jesus Christ, it forces them to go in one of two directions – repentance and submission to Christ…or defiance and antagonism. In effect, hatred is the destruction of the spirit, according to John and has the same effectual quality as “murder”…which is not a good thing, obviously. This is where the world resides, but it doesn’t have to be this way…what is the answer? It is found in “passing from death to life,” which John equates to “living according to love”.  It is a living out of the resurrected life that we talked about last week…it is about living in the Spirit, walking in newness of life, and so on. We cannot stay in the angst of hatred, jealousy and living according to the flesh – this is “to stay dead.” John says that “true love” means loving in deed and truth.  We are no longer simply to talk about meeting needs or loving others…we must find ways to do it. One of the reasons that sinners were so attracted to Jesus is that they were certain that He would love them in a sincere and unbiased way.

What kind of love would it take to come down from heaven to be among men?  What kind of love would it take to struggle through the Garden of Gethsemane…to die on a cross and be raised from the dead to eternity? This is a costly love, a sacrificial love…it is unconditional. When believers choose to live in this committed, sacrificial way of love, there are some tremendous benefits. The first is assurance. If we love, our understanding of God’s truth grows and we can enjoy hearts filled with loving confidence before God, and confidence in our salvation. Another blessing is answered prayer. Because of our confidence toward God, we can ask of God…and He can answer. Love proves that we are living in the will of God. In addition, our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ cannot be divorced from our prayer lives.  Living in the right, loving relationship with our brothers and sisters enables our prayers to be answered.  A final blessing is abiding.  From the upper room to the garden, Jesus illustrated this principle, comparing His followers to branches in a vine (which we are going to get to in a couple of weeks). If we abide in Christ…obeying His Word…living holy lives…then the fruit of the Spirit of love is going to become evident in our lives. 

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?  Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:14-18 NIV). As the saying goes, “All it takes in order for evil to succeed is for ‘the good’ to do nothing.”  One might think I am talking about politics…no, but the everyday living of the Christian life. As Randy Harris shares, “What happens when people make themselves available to the work of the Spirit? (To use a band/choir analogy), He helps us to hit or sing the right notes.  We can trust our instinct to be right most of the time…this is spiritual maturity." Love is not indifferent…as it was with Cain, but is proactive…as it was with Abel.  Love is not static, but dynamic.  Love is a verb, much more so than a noun when it comes to our lives. Love is not apathetic (notice there is only one letter difference between “apathetic” and “pathetic”), but it is passionate…it cares enough to encourage, to confront, to bless. We live in a culture, not only where people…including many believers…are apathetic, don’t care, but where people expect things to come to them -- but this is not the way of Christ. We can’t expect that it is always going to be “someone else’s responsibility” as it relates to being Jesus to the world or to the brethren. There are way too many folks who live a “consumer Christianity”…who treat it like a “commodity”, rather than a “producer lifestyle.” Once again, James has a word for us, “Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22 NIV). Be a producer.

Blessings, Don

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Passing from Death to Life


An expression used by folks to describe the full extent of life as we know it is, “from the womb to the tomb”…which is sort of quaint, I guess…something like “a homer for Gomer” (from Hosea, of course :-).  The point of the former saying is that we all have a physical beginning and ending. I guess this is a message that only a mortician could fully appreciate, but we can all learn a thing or two about death and life. In this second chapter of his Ephesian letter (2:1-10), Paul shares a different perspective – here, he says that the believer in Christ is raised from the dead and seated on the throne.  By the grace of God, a precious miracle takes place, and people are given an opportunity to have life…and live, not only physically (from the womb to the tomb), but also eternally (from the graveyard to a heavenly dwelling).  The only reason this is even the remotest possibility is because of what has taken place through Jesus, the Son of God. Peter Larson shares this, "Despite our efforts to keep him out, God intrudes. The life of Jesus is bracketed by two impossibilities: a virgin's womb and an empty tomb. Jesus entered our world through a door marked 'No Entrance' and left through a door marked 'No Exit.'" As our Lord, Jesus Christ was raised from the dead and exalted to be with the Father in heaven, so every Christian will also share in the same experience.  This should be the goal of every human.

Paul begins this section indicating the characteristics that describe an “unsaved person.”  First, they are "dead"…spiritually.  They are unable to understand or appreciate spiritual things.  Why?  It is because of sin (Romans 3:23).  This describes every person before they come to life, spiritually, in Christ. What is striking is how certain people respond to such statements concerning the viability of their spiritual existence. They will say, either “I am not a bad person,” or “I am not that bad.  So, there is a self-deception that goes on with unbelievers or those who have fallen away. Paul does give us some good news…there is a solution – resurrection!  Those who are dead can be brought back to life.  This is certainly not of anyone’s own doing, but is the work of God. In order to get to this point, the “spiritually dead” must recognize some things – spiritual death is the result of sin…and sin is the result of disobedience to the will of God.  So, whether folks like it or not…they have been bad. There are three forces at work…the world system, the flesh (pride, lusts, etc.) and the devil. They are all working against us, seeking to keep us at odds with God. We simply can’t change our own nature or overcome the flesh, the world or the devil on our own…we must have help and this can only come from God, from His Spirit. And all of this is not to say that the unsaved person only does evil, or that he or she is incapable of doing good.  But, no one can do anything in order to be saved, or meet God’s holiness without His help.

Let’s consider some other things that Paul has to share -- God’s nature is love (v.4). This is a primary attribute, and when it is related to sinners, it becomes grace and mercy.  This makes it possible for anyone and everyone to be saved. In His love, grace and mercy, Father God allowed His own Son, Jesus Christ, to die on a cross in order to bring us salvation.  In this was displayed God’s hatred for sin and His love for sinners. Also, in this, He quickens us (v.5)…that is, He makes us alive when we were once dead in our sins.  He accomplishes spiritual resurrection by the power of His Spirit through His Word. He exalts us (v.6).  We are not “spiritually” raised from the dead to be left in the graveyard.  If we are united with him while we live, we will be united for eternity with him when we are raised eternally from the dead.  He keeps us (vv.7-9).  He keeps us for eternity…it is His eternal purpose.  We who are in Christ are all saved by God’s grace through faith.  Some have asked, “Is this the faith of Christ or our faith?”  Yes.  For a long time, many believers were conditioned to view many passages as an “either or”…that it had to be one or the other…rather than a “both and” which makes more “spiritual” and realistic sense.  Nonetheless, we must understand, salvation is not our work…it is God's -- this is what Paul says.  Yet, so many people have known in my life have said things like, “well, I hope I have been good enough, or have done enough…”  This is trying to "work for" or "to earn" our salvation.  It is never going to be enough, because God’s work in His Son, Jesus…and our acceptance of it, and response to it. Salvation is His gift to us. The elements of belief, repentance, confession, baptism, spiritual living are all a part of this process. Then, God wants to work in us to glorify Him.  He wants to make us what He wants us to be…more like His Son. For some, conversion is it – nothing else follows (so it is questionable as to whether there has been a conversion truly take place).  Yet, it is only to be just the beginning of doing good works. As I shared concerning Lazarus not long ago – Jesus said, “get him loose from those grave clothes and let him go”.  We can’t stay in grave clothes, but live as citizens of heaven!  Believers work because they are saved!  We do good because of our salvation.  Our goal in life is to glorify God.

Every human that has ever lived deserved to die on the cross of shame…including you and me.  Every person is deserving of death because of sin – no exceptions. It was our cross…and Jesus took our place.  We would die if not for Jesus’ sacrificial substitution. It really makes so much sense!  How could we choose the counterfeit “gifts” of the world system…the false hope of self-service…the deception of the flesh? We have all of the blessings in the universe right in front of us…all we have to do is reach out and grasp them!  Reach out and hold on to eternal life. Because of the loving grace and mercy of the Father, we have the opportunity to choose life!  As Paul shares in 4:1ff, we all have the challenge to “live worthy of the calling we have received.”  And so we can with the help of our Lord and His Spirit.
Blessings, Don

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Going Deep into the Universe


This is the deepest picture of the universe ever taken in visible light.  It was done with the Hubble Space Telescope's ACS camera and is of an eXtreme Deep Field (obviously) or XDF.  Some of the oldest galaxies ever seen are in this image.  I marvel at all of the colors in God's creation.  Enjoy!

Blessings, Don

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Open the Eyes of My Heart


The late newspaper publisher, William Randolph Hearst, invested a fortune collecting art treasures from around the world.  One day Mr. Hearst found a description of some valuable items that he felt that he must own.  So, he sent out an agent to find the treasure.  After months of searching, the agent reported that he had finally found the treasures.  Where were they?  They were in Mr. Hearst’s warehouse!  Hearst had been frantically searching and spending money for treasures that he already owned.  Had he read his catalogue, he would have saved himself a lot of money and trouble.  How often is it that we humans do much the same thing (?)…but more so with regard to spiritual realities.  We look for ways to relieve stress, anxiety, worry, fear, anger, sorrow…and the answer is easily within reach…but, yet seems so far away.  Sometimes, I wish life wasn’t so complicated…that the answers were always easily within reach, but they are not.  We don’t always have the answers we want…in fact, we may have a lot of questions from time to time.  The Lord can help us with these questions, so we pray.  We have to trust in the Lord.  We have to rest in Him and in His Spirit.

In communicating with the Ephesian Christians (1:15-23), Paul prays for them.  He knows that they need prayer…just as we also need prayer.  Sometimes, this seems like it is the only solution for us…yet, it is a good one.  Paul desires that the Ephesian believers not take for granted the blessings they have in Christ.  He reminds them, and us, of the elevated position that we have in Christ.  The atheist claims there is no God for us to know, and the agnostic does not know if there is a God for us to know.  But, Paul had met God personally in Jesus Christ, and he says that man can only truly know God…through Christ.  Under the old law, willful ignorance of God led mankind to corruption and condemnation.  Ignorance led to idolatry, which led to indecency and immorality.  It has been this way since the fall in the Garden of Eden.  Conversely, we who believe in the Lord must grow in our knowledge of God…as our Creator, Sustainer, Governor, Savior and Judge…as well as Father, Friend and Guide.  The better that we know Him, the more fulfilling He will be for us. 

Paul reminds Timothy that the believer has a holy calling (2 Timothy 1:9).  As believers, we are called out of the darkness and into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).  Some philosophies offer no hope…but, Paul wants believers to understand the great hope that is our because of our calling in Christ Jesus.  Our hope in Christ assures us of a great future!  It is not as the world says -- “hope so,” which is wishful thinking…but it is truly blessed assurance.  Hope encourages us to be pure, faithful, obedient…looking that one day, we shall be with Him.  Paul wants us to trust in the Lord so that he can open the eyes of our hearts…to give us enlightenment to see the spiritual realities around us.  And Paul is referring to God’s inheritance in us (not ours in Christ).  It is remarkable that God sees us as part of His great wealth!  This is something.  One day, God will get glory from His church at Christ’s return. 

According to this Good News, Paul challenges Christians’ faith to be vibrant, strong.  He enlists a number of words in order to get his point across – power (dynamic), work (energy), mighty and strong.  He is saying that this divine, dynamic, and eternal energy is available to us.  We Christians need such power for several reasons.  By nature, we are too weak to appreciate and appropriate God’s wealth; “The Spirit (indeed) is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).  The enemy seeks to rob us of spiritual wealth…and we allow him to do a pretty good job at times.  Yet, God’s personal power living in us…His Spirit…enables us to use His wealth.  As chapter 6 indicates, we are in a spiritual war against terror, evil.  We can never defeat the evil one with our power…but, only through the power of God’s Spirit and in His Word!  God’s full power was seen in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ…this was His great plan.  Jesus Christ is Savior, but He is also Sovereign – the ruler, authority over all…even His (and our) enemies.  We must trust in this.

Paul goes on to share that because we are believers, we are in the church, Christ’s body – He is the Head.  This is the significant and undeniable connection between Christ, Christians (Ephesians 4:4-5).  Christ is our spiritual Head…and the head controls the body.  And we are members of His body, united together in one Spirit.  And this is why…it is not ever a question (at least for me) as to whether or not I am going to be with or a part of the body, whenever it assembles.  If Christ is truly “the head,” then there should be no ambiguity.  I am (part of) the body…now, how am I going to do (be) my part?  That is truly the question.  We live in a culture where it is much about what “I want”, not what “what can I do to serve” and strengthen the body.  We need to get back to the purpose for our existence.

It is imperative that we live with our spiritual eyes wide open…enlightened, and our enlightenment is going to come from Jesus Christ, and His Spirit.  He will illuminate our natural minds so that we can see spiritual realities.  If we are willing to submit to His will, He will help us to understand the great wealth that we have in God and through His Word, through prayer and through fellowship with the saints.  The Lord also gives us wisdom to understand it.  When we are faced with a decision…that decision should be evident if we are in tune with God’s purposes and power.  It is not a decision as to whether we fellowship…we do it!  Or, to give…we do it.  Or to fulfill our responsibilities…we do it!  And this is not a burden, but a blessing.  We must live out our enlightenment…our salvation!  We have been called…not to be ordinary, but enlightened people.  We must live with the eyes of our hearts opened…as special people with a special purpose, and seek to make a difference in this world.

Blessings, Don

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Walking with the Spirit (Considering Galatians), Pt. 7


Well...better late than never...and it was almost "never." (Not really...but, if one procrastinates or is distracted long enough, it might seem like it :-).  However, on to the concluding message from Paul's letter to the Galatians.   Paul has spoken about the connection of living spiritually versus living according to the flesh in chapter 5.  Paul continues with this theme in chapter 6...and instead of sounding combative, he has a much more conciliatory tone, as at the end of chapter 5.  Apparently some have asked the question, "How do we deal those Judaizers (or Gentile Christians, for that matter) who repent of the attitudes and activities of the flesh?"  Paul may be thinking about Jesus' message in the Sermon on the Mount, regarding approaching all matters of discerning judgment with humility and love.  He offers an interesting expression, "you who are spiritual should restore him gently."  But, for those of the Spirit, this must be done with humility...and I believe that he is speaking with regard to the contrast between pride and humility.  If those who are "spiritual" are not careful, they will be tempted to be unspiritual, that is prideful, concerning how they go about their business.  Once again, Paul appeals to in "the law of Christ," and this, as it is in this letter, runs opposed to the Law of Moses.  We must not be prideful or arrogant as it relates to helping others who are in need, or else, we may do more harm than good. 

We must not overvalue ourselves, neither should we undervalue ourselves, in relationship to principle of living the Christian walk and serving others.  We cannot fool the Lord who is able to evaluate matters accurately with regard to our spiritual walk (vv.7-8).  Living according to the flesh will keep us distracted and hinder us from being the servants that God not only wants, but requires for us to be.  God has gifted each of His children in a unique way to serve Him...and all believers need to fulfill their service to Him...and especially to those who belong to the body of Christ.  I believe this is the principle behind Paul's unusual statement in v.6. regarding instructing and instruction -- if we have been blessed, we need to be a blessing.  If we can maintain our spiritual walk as we should...taking time to rest, recuperate as we need...we will not only be a blessing, but we will receive blessings.

In the final eight verses of this letter, Paul apparently takes control of the steering wheel, so to speak.  He writes with his own hand, rather than have his amanuensis (secretary) compose for him, as has been the case throughout the letter.  Paul claims no professional ability as it relates to his writing, and indeed, seems to be poking fun at himself (v.11).  Basically, this section is a recapitulation of everything he has shared up to this point.  He does not want the free believers in the Galatian churches...primarliy be influenced by those who would claim that circumcision (as well as the rest of the principles of the Law) is essential in order to be acceptable to God.  The key, once again, is not concerning matters that bind us humans...the Law, the flesh...but it is concerning the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, where all of these other matters find their place and are laid to rest.  The Law was not sufficient, but being a "new creation" in Jesus is.  The Galatian believers must come back to investigating and appropriating the spiritual matters that they once believed...and not allow themselves to be held captive by doctrines and other matters that are going to take them away from spirituality, and ultimately, eternity.  And finally, if anyone would be of a mind to question Paul's credibility (as did some "believers" in Corinth) in writing these matters, he reminds them that he bears scars...physical and emotional...on Jesus' behalf.  These marks for Jesus are of a far greater benefit in proving Paul's conviction for truth, perhaps, than anything he could say.  Nonetheless, the two walk hand in hand.  Paul concludes by appealing to the grace of Jesus Christ for their spirits, a wonderful expression of peace and hope.

Once again, nothing is gained for us today in making the same mistakes as a significant portion of the early believers.  Although, I believe that we could concur with the wise sage, Solomon, who shared that "there is nothing new under the sun" in this regard.  We must learn and understand that Laws and regulations are not going to produce spirituality in us, but indeed, they take away from it.  They hinder our ability to walk as free persons in Christ in much the same way as the flesh also hinders the spiritual walk (and Paul has connected the two).  This does not mean that we must not be people of principle...we should be so.  But, we must appeal to the same law that Paul appeals to in this letter...the law of love...the law that Jesus Himself commended during His last few days on earth (John 13:34-35, 15:12, etc.).  Then, in turn, all other principles gain their proper perspective and place in relationship to the whole of the Christian walk.  And as Paul says, early on in the letter, it is this perspective that will make the difference...then and to whether churches grow and prosper or decay and decline. 

I hope this series has been a blessing to you...have a great day.

Blessings, Don

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Calendar That Tells the Future


You might think that I am talking about the Mayan calendar, but would be wrong. J However, if a person wants to enter a world of disorder and bewilderment, one needs to study the development of the modern calendar.  Here is the story, in brief -- in 47 BC, Julius Caesar ordered an astronomer named Sosigenes to straighten out a confused calendar...and he did so with moderate success.  Pope Gregory XIII (1502-85) commissioned the calendar that we use today, which is a revision of the Julian calendar.  When Great Britain and its colonies adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752, September 3rd became September 14th.  Eleven days disappeared from British history.  As the result, 20 year old George Washington found his birth date moved from February 11th to February 22nd (and I am particularly grateful for this, so that good old George and I can share a birthday).

Yet, today, calendars are a normal part of our daily lives…maybe even more so than ever.  For the Jews under the old covenant, they didn’t really have a calendar…they were content with each day as a gift from God.  God gave Israel a calendar that was tied to the rhythm of the seasons and the history of the nation.  It summarized not only what God had done in the past, but anticipated what God would do for them in the future.  In Leviticus 23, the seven “feasts” as they are called, are not necessarily concerned with “eating,” but are meant simply to be “appointed times.”  These were given by the Lord to His people and they had to faithfully celebrate them.

Weekly Sabbath…God Orders Our Times (23:1-3).
The weekly Sabbath isn’t one of the annual feasts (Exodus 20:8-11), but it is an important day for the Jewish people and they are expected to honor it.  God gives the Sabbath (which means “rest”) to Israel for several reasons.  For one thing, it provides needed rest and refreshment for the people, the animals and the land.  It also reminds the Jews that God is the Creator.  It is a special sign between God and His covenant people.  Other peoples might work on the seventh day, and treat it like any other day, but the Israelites are to rest on the seventh day…and thereby give witness that they belong to the Lord.  Today, believers are not commanded to remember a Sabbath Day (Colossians 2:16-17), but, as I shared in doing a series concerning the Sabbath, it is still very important for us to recognize the spiritual principle and value a time or out of seven rest .

Passover…Christ Died for Our Sins (23:4-5).
The Passover is Israel’s feast commemorating deliverance from Egypt.  The first-born of Israel’s children and animals, were spared by the Destroying Angel if, by faith, those families had the blood of a lamb on their doorposts…but those without the blood, as well as the Egyptians, were not spared.  The lamb is symbolic of Jesus Christ…the substitute…who shed His blood on the cross for a world of lost sinners (that would be us) -- (John 1:29, 1 Peter 1:19-20).  The Passover Lamb has to be spotless…perfect, just as Jesus was perfect – he had no blemish or sin.  We must trust in Jesus Christ obediently in order to “feast” on Him through His Word (John 6:1ff) and find the strength we need to walk the Christian walk.  Only those who have been purchased by the blood of Jesus are born into God’s family and, therefore, can experience eternal life.

Unleavened Bread…Separation from Sin (23:6-8).
For seven days following the Passover, the Jews eat only unleavened bread with their meals.  They carefully cleanse all of the yeast from their homes.  In many places in Scripture, leaven is equated with sin.  The putting away of leaven illustrates the cleansing of one’s life though grace, faith, the blood, baptism and the Holy Spirit (not necessarily in that order :-).  We must be aware of sin, as it can creep into our lives like leaven.  A little bit of it can begin a wholesale corruption of the inner person.  It is necessary for us to get rid of the “leaven” from our lives…the “old self.”  The leaven of malice, hypocrisy, gossip, worry…and whatever else was our old self...must be cleansed away.  It is the responsibility of Christian leaders to be on guard to help keep lives, the church free from sin.

First Fruits…Christ Is Raised from the Dead (23:9-14). 
The day after the Sabbath that follows the Passover, the priest takes the first sheaf of barley from the field and waves it as an offering before the Lord.  It is a token that the first and the best of crops belong to God, and it is done before Israel reaps the harvest for itself.  It is also an expression of gratitude to the Lord for providing the harvest and supplying daily bread. The Jews do not eat of the harvest until the first fruits have been given to the Lord…it is an old covenant Matthew 6:33 (Seek ye first the kingdom of God…).  Jesus is God’s first fruits of resurrection.  Because Jesus was first raised from the dead, therefore all of those who belong to Him also will be raised from the dead.  We need to make certain that the Lord gets what is best from our lives (as Abel did)…and not that which is not the best, or the leftovers (indicative of Cain).  This can be with regard to our time, possessions, resources….and indicates that seeking Jesus as Lord is a serious matter of priorities.

Pentecost…The Birthday of the Church (23:15-21).
This is also called “the Feast of Weeks”.  It is celebrated seven weeks (7x7+1) after first fruits…therefore, the word “Pentecost” means 50th.  Here the priest waves two loaves of bread…and thirteen different animal sacrifices are offered before the Lord.  All of these are ultimately fulfilled in Jesus, the one offering on the cross.  The fulfillment of Pentecost is seen in Acts 2, when 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes and unites believers, Jews and Gentiles (thus the symbolism of the two loaves).  God’s people cannot function properly in this world apart from the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  It is through the Spirit that believers are baptized into the body of Christ and empowered to witness and to serve.

Trumpets…The Calling of God’s people (23:23-25).
The final three feasts were celebrated in the seventh month.  Numbers 10:10 says that the priests are to blow the silver trumpets for three occasions – to call the people together, to announce war, and to announce special appointed times.  The Feast of Trumpets is held on the first day of the seventh month, and it brings in the New Year (Rosh Hashanah).  God gives His people opportunities for new beginnings (thankfully).  Yet, unlike our New Year’s celebrations, the Jews use their New Year’s Day for prayer, meditation and confession -- it is a spiritual renewal time.  The ultimate point to understand concerning trumpets is that one day, all of God’s people will be gathered together at the sound of the final trumpet.  It is a day which we must anticipate.

The Day of Atonement…forgiveness (23:20-32).
I discussed the Day of Atonement in a previous message…but here the emphasis is made concerning people fasting, praying, confessing sin and abstaining from all work.  The key to the Day of Atonement is the covering of the people’s sin – two goats…one sacrificed…and one the (e)scape goat.  This anticipates one future day when their sins would be taken away by Jesus Christ on the cross.  Just as Jesus forgives our sins, so we must live this great grace virtue and forgive others who have offended us.

Tabernacles…the Joy of the Lord (23:33-44).
The Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths) reminds Israel of God’s blessings of the past.  God led his people out of Egyptian bondage, cared for them in the wilderness (thus the booths or tabernacles) and brought them to the Promised Land.  This feast is also called “Ingathering,” because it corresponds to the completion of the harvest.  Like Thanksgiving Day in our country, it is a time of feasting, rejoicing and giving thanks to God for His bountiful gifts.  The Feast of Tabernacles also pictures the future kingdom of God when all of His people make the final journey home (Promised Land).  What a glorious time it will be.  Jesus focuses on two traditions during the Feast of Tabernacles -- Living Water (water poured ceremonially, see John 7:38), and Light of the World (lighted candlesticks, see John 8:12)…very important symbols describing the work of the Savior.

As we look at the feasts (appointed times) of long ago, we can see things in common with our own experience.  Themes such as…rest, obedience to Christ and the Word, awareness of and repenting of sin, proper priorities in keeping God first, understanding the work of the Holy Spirit and allowing Him to do so, commitment to renewal, the need for forgiveness, and thankfulness for what God has done and will do one day.  The Old Testament provides for us a calendar that gives us an amazing perspective concerning how we should live as people of the new covenant.  We must apply these virtues to our lives.  When we are seeking to live according to God’s time and plan, He makes a great difference for us…and we are also able to do the same for others.

Blessings, Don

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Flare of Fire


Close-up photos of the sun by the Solar Dynamics Observatory are always stunning to me.  This image makes it appear that the sun is exploding, (which, in all likelihood, it will do someday)...but this eruption of a solar filament, while striking, is not too unusual. 

Blessings, Don

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Jesus' Gifts to Us...Our Gifts to Him


Tim Smith shares Jesus’ day, childhood education started at age five as young boys went to the synagogue school to learn Hebrew and memorize the Torah. By the time of his bar mitzvah at age 13, a typical Jewish young man had memorized all of the Old Testament.  Those who showed great promise were encouraged to continue their education and were further encouraged to extend their training by spending time (ages 17-20) with a rabbi in a multi-year experience.  The student would choose a rabbi and ask to become his student. Because of the great interpretive diversity amongst the rabbis, the decision to ask to be a rabbi’s disciple and receive religious training from him was not made lightly.  Some rabbis interpreted the Scriptures literally. Others focused on the spirit of the Torah, while still other rabbis had different areas of emphasis, like purity laws. These diverse approaches often led to very different interpretations and applications of Scripture pertaining to issues of daily life.  Since a rabbi’s interpretation of God’s Word was forever binding on his disciples, great care had to be taken by the disciple in choosing a rabbi and his teaching to make sure it was something he could identify with and live out for the rest of his life.  As this is what took place with first century rabbis…Jesus is no different, as a “rabbi” or “teacher”.  It was a matter of tradition for the culture of that time.  As Jesus teaches His disciples, it is a critically important matter…and in these last days that Jesus is with his disciples, He wants them to begin to grasp the true matters of spirituality that will shape them forever.

Jesus makes some important connections in John 14 (vv.12-31) that might otherwise seem like important, albeit separate, principles.  Here He talks about prayer, love, obedience, the Holy Spirit, peace, comfort.  If God is going to answer our prayers and give us peace in our hearts, there are certain conditions that we must meet…and these conditions bring blessings.  We say that we are “believers,” but we must also live like we “believe.”  This is the essence of faith, hope and love.  Love and obedience are a part of effective praying and believing.  Our prayers will not have the effect we hope for, if our lives are not characterized by faith and love.  We do not obey the Lord simply because we want our prayers answered…but we do obey because we love Him. And this is not burdensome, as we have made it at times.  Jesus tells us that if we love Him we will keep His commandments, and the thrust of Jesus life and mission are captured in this same overall context (14:21).  “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this…that he lay down his life for his friends” (15:12-13).  And going back a bit, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (13:34-35).  It is interesting to me that I have heard Jesus’ “commands” interpreted as many things over the years, but rarely what Jesus actually says they are…as seen in context.  We are to live out our obedience to our “Rabbi” according to His way.  This is not to say that there are no other matters of importance, but…that they are subservient to Jesus’ primary focus for His people.

What Jesus does understand is that none of this is going to be possible for them (or us) without the help of the Spirit of truth.  The Holy Spirit will guide them and help them to live what it is that they believe.  He is called the Comforter here, which means He literally is “called alongside to assist”…He is our Encourager.  And all of this does not mean that He works instead of us, rather that He works in and through us.  It is the Spirit of God who inspires the Word of God, but who also illuminates the Word of God in our spirits and lives so that we can understand it.  The Spirit of Truth uses the Word of truth to guide us into the will and the work of God (Ephesians 6:17).  If we want the Holy Spirit to be at work in us, then we must seek to glorify Christ, and not ourselves.  The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to believers (Acts 2:38-39, Romans 8:1ff, etc.).  We can be filled with Him if we are living like and for Jesus, but we can also quench His work in our lives, if we are living to please ourselves, the flesh.  The Spirit doesn’t directly tell us what to do, because the Lord did not make us robots…but, He does guide us indirectly if we are willing to listen to His “still, small voice.”  This will not necessarily happen easily…if we are too busy to slow down, and stop to listen to His leading, we may not “hear” Him.  The Spirit works out the will of the Father in our lives and we become more like our “Rabbi”, our “Teacher”, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  And we will bear good, spiritual fruit for the Lord.  One of these fruit is “peace.”  We do not have to be concerned about the worries and cares of this world if we have the Spirit’s peace in our own spirits.  The opposite of peace is worry, strife, and discontentment.  It seems like many people, including many believers, seem to experience these characteristics in their lives much more so than “peace.”  But, if we truly strive to be living faithfully, productively as Jesus’ people…being ”faithful until death” (Revelation 2:10)…growing and producing fruit, then we will be blessed, and He will come again one day to take us home to be with Him (14:1ff, v.19).

Dr. Neil Anderson tells this story...a young pilot had just passed the point of no return when the weather changed for the worse. Visibility dropped to a matter of feet as fog descended to the earth. Putting total trust in the cockpit instruments was a new experience to him, for the ink was still wet on the certificate verifying that he was qualified for instrument flying.  The landing worried him the most. His destination was a crowded metropolitan airport he wasn't familiar with. In a few minutes he would be in radio contact with the tower. Until then, he was alone with his thoughts. His instructor had practically forced him to memorize the rule book. He didn't care for it at the time, but now he was thankful.  Finally he heard the voice of the air traffic controller. "I'm going to put you on a holding pattern," the controller radioed. Great! thought the pilot. However, he knew that his safe landing was in the hands of this person. He had to draw upon his previous instructions and training, and trust the voice of an air traffic controller he couldn't see. Aware that this was no time for pride, he informed the controller, "This is not a seasoned pro up here. I would appreciate any help you could give me."  "You've got it!" he heard back.  For the next 45 minutes, the controller gently guided the pilot through the blinding fog. As course and altitude corrections came periodically, the young pilot realized the controller was guiding him around obstacles and away from potential collisions. With the words of the rule book firmly placed in his mind, and with the gentle voice of the controller, he landed safely at last.  The Holy Spirit guides us through the maze of life much like that air traffic controller. The controller assumed that the young pilot understood the instructions of the flight manual. His guidance was based on that. Such is the case with the Holy Spirit: He can guide us if we have a knowledge of God's Word and His will established in our minds.

Our lives will have meaning and make sense if we are not only interpreting God’s message to us correctly, but also, if we are willing to live it according to His will and for His glory.  If we understand that the thrust of our lives and mission are concerning allowing God’s Spirit to guide us to be more like His Son and living out His will and fruit in our lives, we are going to gain and grow in our spiritual walk. 

Blessings, Don