Archive for August, 2009

“There is a time for everything,  and a season for every activity under heaven…He has made everything beautiful in its time (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 14).”

As Snoopy in Peanuts says when he begins to write, “It was a dark and stormy night.”  Last night’s rain in the wee hours was accompanied by a strong wind.  It was pleasant to listen to.  Rain has a known rhythm which has a calming effect.  So it’s a blessing when we want to sleep.

In the Bible, rain is representative of  God’s blessing amd care (Deuteronomy 11:14). I think what makes rain so comforting, whether we know it or not, is that it is a sign of God’s presence and care.  He is showing us that all is right with the world.  Rain comes in the change of seasons, and He is there during the change. In fact, He is its cause.

Jesus brought change to the lives of His disciples.  They were going about their daily lives when suddenly Jesus said to them, “Follow me.”  Their lives were changed forever.  Jesus brought in a new era, and He had a program for doing so.  The timing of His actions were no accident.  When his mother Mary suggested that the bride and groom at a wedding feast were out of wine, intimating that Jesus do something about it, Jesus told her, “My time has not yet come.”  But  Jesus listened to his mother and turned water into wine,  his first miracle, which was intended to create faith in his new followers (John 2:1-11).     

During times of change Jesus is there for us.  He is like the rain, which tells us we are not alone during new seasons of life.  With the change comes new opportunities.

The summer is over, and its time for a new rhythm.  But I am looking forward to the change because I see promise in it.   Jesus is orchestrating some coming changes and I see miracles coming.

“Oh, listen to the falling rain
pitter patter, pitter patter
Oh, oh, oh, listen to the falling rain
  pitter patter, pitter patter”*




*From Rhythm of the Rain by the Cascades


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Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him’ (John 14:6,7).”

Who are we?  That answer is somewhat complicated.   I suppose it depends on how you define one’s identity.  Gordon Mathews in his book Global Culture/Individual Identity defines identity as “the ongoing sense the self has of who it is, as conditioned through its ongoing interaction with others”.  Postmodernists according to Mathews believe we don’t have fixed identities, that they are “temporary attachments”(quoting Stuart Hall).

Who is Jesus? According to the Bible He has a fixed identity.  There is nothng about who He is that is conditioned by someone or something else, nor is His identity temporary.  The Gospel of John makes this clear.  Jesus is God and He is eternal (John 1:1).  Jesus is also is a human being who had a life on this earth (John 1:14).  He is both human and divine.  John the Baptist said Jesus is also  “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).   In other words, He is the One who sacrificed Himself to pay the debt we owed God for our rebellion against Him.

Because Jesus is who He is permanently, our identity doesn’t have to remain static.   We can change because of our interaction with Him.  If we receive Him, we “have the right  to become children of God – children born not of natural descent,  nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John1:12). 

The ball is in our court.  Jesus has done His part and its up to us to have a relationship with Him or not.  If we do,  God is our Father and this makes all the difference in the world as to who we are.

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Wake up, God!

“Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep?  Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever (Psalm 44:23).”

As a teacher, I get  summers off. It’s a great time to catch up on sleep I don’t get during the school year.  This summer has been even longer because I am unemployed at the moment.  But it is about time to get back to work.  I can’t sleep forever.

The Bible seems to have the same balanced view of sleep.  On the one hand, it says that it’s futile to lose sleep over our work and lives, that God gives us sleep (Psalm 127:2).  On the other hand, it takes a dim view of laziness and sleeping too much (Proverbs 24:33).  

Sometimes we sleep during what seems like inappropriate times.  Jesus slept on a boat during a bad storm (Matthew 8:24), while the apostle Peter slept hooked up to some chains and resting between two guards.  Most of us would be terrified in either situation.

But what about God?  Sometimes I think He is asleep at the wheel.  I look at my own situation or that of others and I wonder if God is taking a siesta.  I get really anxious and most of the time try to take matters into my own hands, sometimes with some very bad results.  

The thing is, the Bible says God is not like us, He doesn’t need sleep and He in fact watches over us all the time (Psalm 121:3,4).  My own impatience comes because I forget about God’s concept of time compared to mine.  I’m in a hurry for Him to rescue me, while to Him a thousand years are like one day or a night watch (Psalm 90:2-4).  He’s got His reasons for doing things in His own time.

Still, as a finite human I wish He would come through a little sooner occasionally. And I don’t think He really minds that I complain to Him about it.

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Heaven and hell?

Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true (Acts 17:11)”.

I walked by a store in town yesterday I had never noticed before.  The name of the place is “Heaven and Hell Tattoos and Piercing.”   For the life of me I cannot see anything heavenly about having a needle stuck in your skin or having metal stuck in your body parts.  But, I know I sound like an old fogey. 

What really interested me about the moniker of this store  was the use of the conjunction and.  I thought as I passed by that or was more appropriate.  You see, people can’t have it both ways.  They have to choose.  But I think one of the problems in the general population is that at cursory inspection they don’t believe either place exists and when they think heavily about it, people really hope hell doesn’t exist.   This is why the owner of this store could give it such a flippant name. 

Christians who know their Bible don’t banter too much about the existence of hell, but they do fight about its nature. I don’t really consider myself a theologian (although I have had extensive study in the subject), so I rely on ones I trust.   One I respect, J.I. Packer, says mainstream Christianity believes in a place of eternal punishment, while some within Christendom believe hell is a place where people are annihilated.  John Stott, who I respect also, believes in annihilationism.  I hate to disagree with Stott, but I do.  (I shook hands with John Stott when I was  a young Christian;  this initiated the same sensation newsman Chris Matthews experienced when he thought of Barack Obama: a thrill went up my leg.)  I am in agreement with R.C. Sproul, who describes hell as “an eternity before the righteous, ever- burning wrath of God”.

So perhaps the owner of “Heaven and Hell” may have stumbled onto some correct theology.  For Christians who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, the name of their store rings of truth.  But  I wasn’t wrong in preferring the use of or . For people who don’t follow Christ, whether they believe in the concepts of heaven or hell or not, they will have to make a final choice one day. 

Although I use commentaries from others, it’s always a good idea to do one’s own study first.   Here’s some reading which prompted my thinking: 

J.I Packer’s article: Evangelical Annihilationism in Review

R.C. Sproul’s article: Hell

John Shore’s blog: God can love me or send me to hell, but not both.

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 He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me (Psalm 18:17).”

The world seems full of hypocrisy, confusion and contradiction no matter what realm we are talking about.  Political groups will disrupt a meeting or take to the streets, but when the other side does it, they are “extremists”.   News networks clip 30 second sound bites, taking the speaker’s words out of context,  interpreting them to mean something the speaker did not intend.  People who hold positions of leadership in the church declare God doesn’t exist. And in our personal lives, we have to deal with people who subtly or not so subtly work behind the scenes to destroy our reputations when they themselves have characters of dubious quality.

The Bible contains many more illustrations of the corruption in this world.  Jesus was put on trial and crucified under the pretense that he was instigating an insurrection, when in fact it was his opponents who were stirring up crowds (Luke 23:4-20).  They later accused the apostle Paul of the same thing (Acts 24:5).  Before His suffering and death, Jesus confronted the religious leaders of His day who were caught up in nitpicking about nonessentials and neglecting higher character issues.  Jesus called them “sons of hell”, which was appropriate since all this confusion, hypocrisy and opposition to truth and righteousness has Satan as its source.  He’s been at it since the beginning, first confusing the issue with Adam and Eve and then trying to deceive Jesus into falling (Matthew 4). 

He is still going strong today in our societies and personal lives.  The difference now is that Satan is a defeated enemy through Jesus’s death and resurrection and we are commanded to resist him (I Peter 5:8; James 1:7).  But he still tries to win battles, although he has lost the war.  So we should resist him every every hour of every day in the name of Jesus and lead our families to do it, also.  To not do so invites havoc in our lives and in the lives of those we love.

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“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:15,16).”

Who would have thought it?  Benedict Arnold was a patriot, wounded twice during battles to help free his country from British tyranny during the American revolution. Yet he is mostly known for betraying his country by attempting to hand West Point over to the British for a large sum of money.  He didn’t succeed.

But why wasn’t  Benedict Arnold discovered?  The signs were there.  Arnold was brought up on misconduct charges as military commander of Philadephia and court-martialed.  However,  he was cleared.  So friends such as George Washington still were not suspicous.  But surely his wife knew?  It didn’t matter.  According to Cokie Roberts in the book Founding Mothers Peggy Shippen Arnold  was in on the betrayal. The signs were there with her, too.  She came from a family with British sympathies.   She helped deliver correspondence to and from the British, and apparently had rich tastes. And when her husband was discovered, she did such a great job of acting distraught over the betrayal that founding fathers such as Alexander Hamilton were convinced  she had nothing to do with it.

So the other patriots never caught on.   Benedict Arnold sold out, embittered by his treatment from his fellow Americans and seeking to enrich himself for his wife’s sake.  His name has become an epithet in America for anyone who is a traitor. 

Another famous name in history used to characterize a disloyal person today is Judas, surnamed Iscariot.  As is well known, Judas sold Jesus Christ out to Jewish leaders who wanted to kill Him.   Judas was one of Jesus’s closest confidantes.  He was one of the twelve disciples of Jesus and even had the responsibility of taking care of the group’s finances.  Judas participated in the Last Supper, and took communion with Jesus and the other disciples (Luke 22).  But, the only one who knew of Judas’s impending betrayal of Jesus was Jesus himself.  

However, the signs were there with Judas, also.  Earlier he had complained about the symbolic anointing of Jesus with expensive perfume, asking why it wasn’t sold and given to the poor.  The disciples should have known.  After all, they were around him for several years. But they were too self absorbed. When told by Jesus during the Last Supper that one them would turn him over to the Jews,  they could only question whether or not they themselves were the culprit and discuss who was the greatest among them.  They even fell asleep during Jesus’s agonizing prayer time in the Garden of Gethsemane.   Jesus went to the Cross without his friends.  Ultimately, like Benedict Arnold Judas didn’t succeed either, as Jesus rose from the dead.   

As one of my old bosses used to say, what can we learn from this?  

1)With friends like these, Jesus could have easily felt duped and ended up  in the pit of despair.  But he perservered and fulfilled His purpose despite His faulty friends.  So can we. 

2)Not only did Jesus persevere Himself, but He also hung in there with His traitorous pals .  (From the cross, He said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”) Eventually, all the disciples but Judas were anointed with the Holy Spirit, became changed people and were  used to build His kingdom. We can pray for the people who betray us, asking that God would bring them into a Spirit-filled relationship with Christ. 

3) If we are believers in Christ, we also have the Holy  Spirit. We don’t have to be self absorbed like the disciples were while Jesus was with them.  He can help us discern when we are dealing with people who are not looking out for our best interests, or those of Jesus,  and teach us to deal with them.

 Jesus surely knows what we are going through when we feel betrayed and deserted by people we trust.   And He can give us the grace to keep on going with ourselves and others.

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“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander (I Peter 3:15, 16).”

In the biblical epic movie Quo Vadis Marcus Vinicius is a handsome Roman commander who falls head over heels with Lygia, a beautiful daughter of a retired general.  Marcus learns she was originally a foreign princess taken as a hostage during a war and convinces Emperor Nero to give her to him.  What Marcus doesn’t know is that Lygia is a Christian. He discovers this when other Christians arrange her escape.  Marcus watches a Christian ceremony where Lygia is present and where the apostles Peter and Paul speak.  He then follows Lygia and her bodyguard out of the meeting.  During the melee to recover her Marcus is injured, and knocked unconsious. Lygia, who is attracted to Marcus despite his overbearing pursuit of her,  nurses him back to health in her hideaway. 

When he awakes Marcus can’t  grasp the beliefs of Lygia and her friends. First, Lygia’s bodyguard confesses to killing one of Marcus’s thugs and asks him for forgiveness.  Instead,  Marcus congratulates him.  In fact, he can’t understand why Lygia’s bodyguard didn’t kill him, too.  When told it is a sin in Christianity to kill, Marcus still doesn’t get it, suggesting that they should have.  As Marcus prepares to leave, he sets Lygia free. She then acknowledges her love for him and when he asks her to marry him, she agrees. 

At this point, Lygia’s beliefs confuse Marcus again.  She  asks him to let the apostle Paul “say words” over them.  Marcus believes Lygia has heard enough of his “words”.  Lygia asks if he heard Peter and Paul say anything wrong at the Christian gathering he observed.  Marcus says he heard an old man speak “riddles” and tells Lygia, ” Believe as they do and you’ll think a cow is a bull, and a bull is an ox and an ox is a goat.”  Marcus says that he’ll accept Lygia’s God if it makes her happy and offers to build a monument to Christ.  But when Lygia tells Marcus that one day she hopes “the image of Christ appears in your heart”, he tells her that his heart is only for her and that there is no room in it otherwise.  Lygia replies, “There will be. I always carry Him in mine with you.” Marcus tells her he won’t compete with any man and admonishes her to “get rid of him”.

Paul then appears and tries to explain the nature of  the love of God to Marcus, but he accuses God of being weak.  When Lygia pleads with Marcus to try to understand her beliefs, and not to force her to choose, he does just that.  Marcus accuses Paul of spreading poison, and asks Lygia if she’s coming. Lygia  tells Marcus she won’t go with him. Marcus threatens Paul and leaves.

Lygia and Paul did their best to explain their faith to Marcus, but he couldn’t or wouldn’t understand. When Marcus held to his belief system, Lygia held her ground. She obviously was familiar with Paul’s teaching “not to be yoked together with unbelievers” and followed it (II Corinthians 6:14).  Lygia did the right thing by refusing marriage to Marcus.  They couldn’t have been compatible.  Marcus  himself noted that in his view  the teachings of Peter and Paul distorted reality when he made his “cow is a bull.. bull is an ox, etc.” comment.  Marcus’s bull hitched to Lygia’s goat would have made functioning together in marriage impossible. 

A believer should always be ready to defend his or her faith.  While we can always pray for a positive response, it may not come.  The answer to rejection is not to team up with the unbeliever to bring them around.  It’s best to let them go their way and trust God to continue working in their heart.

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