Wednesday, October 15, 2014

God in a Box





If you look back on the blog post for August 27 of this year, entitled “The List,” there is a picture of one full column of my actual vacation list. The heading for the second column (which you cannot see) is labeled “VACATION BOX.”

The Vacation Box is a plastic tote which holds many of the items I regularly take on vacation like extra fishing line, a spare pair of sunglasses, a filet knife, a rain suit, and other items. Many of these items are permanently stored in the Vacation Box. Since these items do not entirely fill it, the Vacation Box also doubles as my suitcase, carrying clothes, toiletries, and other items.

It’s very handy to have everything one needs in a big rectangular bucket.

Well, I recently had occasion to enjoy a mini-vacation in the Brainerd area. The forecast included rain, wind, and cold, so I diligently packed quilted flannel shirts, flannel-lined jeans, (My fondness for all things flannel is not a secret—particularly if it is plaid flannel.) warm socks, and a rain suit.

I had planned to depart on Wednesday at 10:00 a.m., but there were bills to pay, garbage to take out, and seemingly endless scores of minor details that absolutely, positively had to be done before I left.

Finally, at 1:20 p.m., I plopped my exasperated self in the driver’s seat of my truck with my boat in tow and the back of the truck loaded with a mini charcoal grill, a heater, an inflatable bed, a bucket of camping kitchen utensils, rods, reels, my tackle box, a folding chair, and numerous other items.

Before I turned the key, I prayed out loud, thanking the LORD for the opportunity to enjoy this time, asking for safe travel, and that He keep my family safe while I was gone. I ended the prayer with, “And, LORD, if there is anything which I have forgotten which I need, please bring it to my attention now.”

I paused.

There was no voice from heaven. The LORD was silent.

“Amen,” I said, and drove away.

Four hours later, at 185 miles from home, with only about 30 miles to go to my final destination, I stopped for one of those “necessary” breaks and purchased some dish soap. As I put it in the back of the truck, I did hear a voice:

“Where’s the Vacation Box?”

It was my own voice, and it was very shortly answered by the very same voice saying,

“Right next to the door where you left it.”

All my warm clothes, my toothpaste, my toothbrush, my filet knife, my sharpening steel, my, my, my…

And my blood pressure pills, too! (You can insert your own punch-line after that sentence.)

Why had the LORD not answered my prayer? Why had He let me drive away without all that stuff I needed? How could He let me ruin my vacation like that? All I had was the clothes on my back! What If I got wet? What would I do?

As it turns out, a pharmacy in Brainerd was easily able to contact my local pharmacy and provide me with a five-day supply of my prescriptions at a reasonable cost. Likewise, the Brainerd Salvation Army Thrift Store provided a very nice dark blue corduroy shirt (Okay--not plaid flannel, but at $3.95, who’s complaining?) a white T-shirt, and a like-new pair of brown denim jeans. (What’s wrong with brown denim?) A big-box store had warm socks on sale, and toothpaste and a toothbrush certainly didn’t break the bank.

My vacation was not ruined. I had a wonderful time in God’s creation and truly did not suffer at all. I even caught some fish.

On the drive home, I realized Jesus had conducted His entire ministry with nothing more than the clothes on His back and that which His Father had provided in exactly the right amounts and at exactly the right times.

There was no suitcase at the foot of the cross--only my sin.

God had indeed answered my prayer. I had specifically asked to be told if there was anything I needed which I had forgotten.  I didn’t actually need any of that stuff in that box because that box could never, ever contain all of God’s love, grace, mercy, blessings, and power.

Today’s Praise

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the oceans dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

(The above is verse three of “The Love of God” by Frederick Lehman, written in 1917. Lehman said these words were found penciled on the wall of a patient’s room in an insane asylum after he had been carried to his grave.)

 

 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Hardwired





All your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the peace of your children. (Isaiah 54:13 ESV)

Pretty much every item made by human beings has a tag or a label or something on it that tells who made it.

My watch says “Casio” on it, the microwave next to the Kenmore stove is a Sharp, and the refrigerator is a Magic Chef. (I have no evidence of this last machine ever performing any sort of magic whatsoever.)

So, do we bear the name of our Creator on our souls?

I recently came across a mention of a study called, “Hardwired to Connect” in a book by Chuck Colson called “The Faith.”

When I looked it up, I found  the full name of the study was “Hardwired to Connect: The New Scientific Case for Authoritative Communities” It was conducted by the Commission on Children at Risk, a team of 33 pediatricians, research scientists, mental health specialists, and youth service professionals. The co-sponsors were Dartmouth Medical School, YMCA of the USA, and the Institute for American Values. The results were published in 2003.

What that study found was that human beings are, indeed, hardwired from birth to form relationships. And, it’s not just on a behavioral level. The study found physical effects on gene transcription and the development of brain circuitry. The very core of our biology and our chemistry drives us to form deep, nurturing, and lasting relationships with other human beings.

With good relationships, children are physically better able to cope with stress and to establish and maintain good and lasting relationships as adolescents and adults. Likewise, a lack of deep trusting relationships as a child was linked to higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression, attention deficit, conduct disorders, thoughts of suicide, and other problems which are becoming more and more common in our society.

And, the study found that spiritual and religious development was actually good for children. The study found that across races and cultures, children are predisposed to seek out spiritual and moral meaning. Children who find it enjoy stronger immune systems, more positive attitudes about life, reduced risk of injury, less drug abuse, and a host of other benefits. (Given that information, isn’t it odd that so much effort is being expended by so many groups to free our children from religion?)

Yes, all of those appliances in my kitchen have their maker’s names on them and every one of them came with an Owner’s Manual, so the findings of Hardwired to Connect come as no surprise at all to those of us who have read the owner’s manual our Creator wrote.

Today’s Praise

But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. (Luke 18:16 ESV)

 

 

 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Pot Blessing



 
I am a huge fan of the church potluck. 

Actually, I have taken to calling them “pot blessings” because, as a Christian, I no longer buy the concept of “luck.”  I believe God does not believe in coincidence. (But that’s a subject for a different post.)

Anyway, I recently had occasion to study 1 Corinthians 11: 17:22 and it certainly made me wonder about its connection to the pot blessing:

But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. (ESV)

The early Christians were in the habit of holding “love feasts” or agape. (Yes, that’s the same word we now use to refer to genuine, selfless Christian love.)

This agape feast began from the very foundations of the early church. It included a meal, followed by the Lord’s Supper. In the culture of the day, sitting down and eating with another person was a sign of trust and fellowship. (Hence the disapproval by the Pharisees when Jesus ate with “sinners” as referred to numerous times in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.)

So, the agape feast was understandably a natural outpouring of Christian love in those early days when the Holy Spirit was moving in power over thousands of people.

Unfortunately, it rapidly went wrong, as Paul’s vehement words for the Corinthians attest. Most Bible scholars date Paul’s writing of this letter at about 57-59 AD, or less than thirty years after Jesus died on the cross and rose again.

Despite abuses, the practice continued for a long, long time—presumably in the manner intended with the focus on fellowship, sharing, and Jesus.

Saint Ignatius of Antioch, a student of John the Apostle, refers to the practice in his writings. So did Pliny the Younger about 70 years after Jesus. Hippolytus of Rome, (170-235AD) also mentions them, as does Tertullian (160-225 AD).  By the middle of the third century, the connection of the meal to the Lord’s Supper had faded away, but agape feasts were still being held.

Sometime between 363 and 364 AD, the Council of Laodecia forbade the use of churches for agape feasts, but they did not fall into complete disuse until shortly after 692 AD when the Trullan Council declared that those who held love feasts in churches should be excommunicated. (The same council declared that honey and milk should not be offered on the altar.)

It wasn’t until about a thousand years later that several small Protestant denominations, in an effort to return to the practices of the early church, revived the agape feast. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, brought the practice to America after his conversion in 1735.

Now, the case can be made that the common pot blessing held in church basements all across this country are not technically, historically, or Biblically connected to the agape feasts of the early church. Certainly, the current practice is not connected to the Lord’s Supper. (Although I did find a pastor on one website who jokingly referred to the three sacraments of baptism, communion, and potluck.)

Nonetheless, although we may not be consciously attempting to duplicate what took place at the time of the apostles, I think a blue graniteware roaster full of scalloped potatoes and ham next to a quivering mound of red Jell-O with bananas hovering in it speaks volumes about love.

Today’s Praise

I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 8:11 NIV)

 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Being the Light


 

The question recently came up at a Bible Study I attended as to whether Christians really are being the light Jesus called us to be.

There was a moment of silence as we all pondered that question.

Eventually, a discussion arose and there were mentions of how the media portrays Christians and its general unwillingness to portray followers of Jesus in a positive light, so most people really don’t know what those being Christ’s hands and feet are truly doing.

While that’s true, it’s also important to remember that one of the principles Christians adhere to is:

"So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” (Matthew 6:2 NIV)

So, our giving and our work is intentionally outside the spotlight—as it should be.

At the same time, that makes it easy to believe Christians really don’t do much to help others.

That’s simply not true.

Internet searches to try and nail down exactly how many dollars are given in Jesus’ name or how many lives are benefitted by people being His hands and feet don’t bring forth raw data very readily at all.

Only when I pulled up a list of America’s top 50 charities did I find that the vast majority are either Christian now or were when they originated—but that information doesn’t reveal itself until you start digging into the history and the mission statements of the individual charities.

When I started really digging into it, I found charities like Compassion International, Food for the Hungry, World Vision, Samaritans Purse, and many, many others that feed millions and millions of starving children all over the world. And, they don’t stop there. Those same organizations cure disease, bring clean drinking water, shelter and clothe people, educate and house the needy, fight injustice, lift people up, fight abuse and violence, offer disaster relief, and help in thousands of ways all around the world, seemingly without end.

And those four organizations are just a tiny fraction of the organizations out there being the light. There are thousands more.

Dr. Alex McFarland, a Christian author and religion and culture expert, points out that the majority of the hospitals and school systems (including America's ivy league schools) – were all originally founded by churches and Christians.

Sure, people calling themselves “Christians” have done some pretty lousy things over the span of human history, (The Crusades and The Inquisitions come to mind.) but let us not forget that the Abolition of Slavery was a Christian movement and that Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership of the Civil Rights Movement was based on his Christian beliefs.

And, when it comes right down to it, the real light that shines from Jesus isn’t about mass-market numbers anyway. There are no billboards that say, “Have Salvation Your Way!” or “You Deserve Eternal Life Today.”

Jesus died for everyone on that cross, but souls come to Him one at a time, on a personal level.

It could be from our own witness, from the joy and love evident in all we do and say, from preaching in your local church, from the pages of the Bible, and even from what goes forth over the airwaves of a Christian radio station.

Yes, there are polls and research that say we don’t know enough about God’s Word and we could certainly give a lot more of our time and financial support to the cause of Christ, and they are true.

We can and should so better.

But, take heart my friends. Jesus is alive and well. The light does still shine in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

Today’s Praise

He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. (Titus 2:14 NLT)

 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Why Evil?




 

One of the most common arguments from atheists is that all of the evil, pain, and suffering in the world proves that God does not exist because a loving, omnipotent God would not allow these things to exist.

Many apologetics have addressed this and the best explanation (as stated in the movie “God’s Not Dead) comes down to two words: Free will.

A loving God would not create a race of robots who had no choice in obeying Him. We are given free will precisely because if we were not, we would be nothing but machines programmed to do only what is right and good.

Our obedience to God would be meaningless because we would have no choice.

Sin and evil therefore exist for the same reason God put that tree in the garden: so we have a choice.

As a result, all of the evil in the world falls squarely at our feet--because we choose it.  

But the argument often stops there, falling far short of the real fullness of its meaning.

And that’s because if we had no free will, love would not exist.

Imagine that you get up every morning, click on your computer or turn on your smart phone, and the machine before you boldly announces, “I love you.”

That would be meaningless. These machines have no capacity for love. They are inanimate objects capable of doing only what they have been programmed to do.

And when it all comes down to it, sin entered the world because Adam and Eve chose pride and selfishness over love. Eve knew what God had said about eating from that tree and I believe Adam did too.

But when they wanted to be like God--to know the difference between good and evil, they put themselves ahead of God. They didn’t want to be like God, they wanted to be their own gods. They wanted to decide what was right and wrong, not God. And that’s the opposite of love because perfect love never puts “me” first.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. (1 Corinthians 13: 4-6 ESV)

And in that night before the crucifixion, when Jesus was praying in the garden (Does anyone else see the “coincidence” that this scene takes place in a garden?) on His knees, sweating blood because He absolutely knew what was about to happen to Him, God in the flesh did not choose pride or selfishness, but submitted Himself to have all the sin of the world leveled against Him when it was you and I who deserved it.

"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." (Luke 22:42 NIV)

Yes, Jesus chose love in that moment.

And in that moment when all the past, present, and future free will choices of everybody who would ever be hung in the balance, the God of the Universe, of His own free will, chose not His own life--but ­ours.

Today’s Praise

That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19 KJV)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Slaves



“Day Well Done” comes on Kinship Christian radio at 10:30 p.m. and is characterized by music outside the mainstream and some deep Christian thinking at right about the same time my brain is shutting down for the night.

Recently, announcer Jim Park was talking about what it meant to be a slave in Jesus’ day.

Unlike what we think of as slavery in this day, back then slavery was a paid position that included not only laborers but also personal advisors, businessmen, teachers, personal advisors and other positions of prominence. Slaves did not live in shacks out back, but in the home with the family.  Roman laws required slave owners to provide food, shelter, and clothing. There were penalties for mistreatment of  slaves and they were often trusted friends and companions.

And, a slave could save up his wages to buy not only his freedom, but also coveted Roman citizenship. Or, a master could adopt a slave as son, granting him full legal status under Roman law.

It was a much different system than the slavery practiced just prior to Abolition or the slavery of the Jews in Egypt.

As Park pointed out, it was our perception of slavery that led translators of the King James Version to use the word “servant” where “slave” had been used.

I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. (Romans 6:19 KJV)

The ESV presents that same verse like this:

I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

Knowing the difference in the historical context sheds a whole new light on other verses as well:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6: 19-20 ESV) –emphasis added.

Then, there’s also:

Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God's slaves. (1 Peter 2:16 NIV)

But, we do not remain as God’s slaves:

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36 ESV)

And:

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8: 15-17 ESV)

So, thanks to Mr. Park for that insight into Scripture, although I’m not sure we came to the same conclusions … because I fell asleep before I heard the end of the program.

Today’s Praise

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8: 20-21 ESV)

 

 

 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Power of God


 

It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens. Jeremiah 10:12 ESV

The power of God is amazing, awesome, and inconceivable.

Scientists tell us that all things in the universe are made up of molecules; which are made up of atoms; which are made up of protons, electrons, and neutrons; which are made up of quarks and gluons.  Nobody has ever seen even a picture of a quark because the smallest ones are calculated to be 500,000,000,000 times smaller than the most powerful electron microscope in the world can see.

At the same time, scientists calculate the size of the known universe at 93 billion light years. In round numbers, a light-year is about six trillion miles.

The Milky Way Galaxy is a measly 120,000 light years across, which is still a thousand trillion times larger than Earth. Stated another way, Earth is a million, million, million times smaller than the Milky Way.

Granted, all of that is absolutely inconceivable to our minds. (The math involved alone gives me a headache.)

But not to God.

Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?” (Job 26:14 ESV)

Not only does God understand all of that, He spoke it all into being. By His understanding, He stretched out the heavens. He established the world by His wisdom and the earth by His power.

It’s a good thing to ponder both when my problems seem insurmountable and when I think I’ve really got something figured out. It puts things in perspective.

Bible.org records the following about one of our most legendary presidents: William Beebe, the naturalist, used to tell this story about Teddy Roosevelt. At Sagamore Hill, after an evening of talk, the two would go out on the lawn and search the skies for a certain spot of star-like light near the lower left-hand corner of the Great Square of Pegasus. Then Roosevelt would recite: “That is the Spiral Galaxy in Andromeda. It is as large as our Milky Way. It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It consists of one hundred billion suns, each larger than our sun.” Then Roosevelt would grin and say, “Now I think we are small enough! Let’s go to bed.”

By the way, Teddy Roosevelt never had a college degree. (And, as long as we’re talking about being humble, that little factoid is something I read inside the cap of a bottle of iced tea.)

Today’s Praise

By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. (1 Corinthians 6:14 NIV)

 

 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The List



I have just returned from ten days of vacation in Itasca County.

It was a grand and glorious time for me and I was greatly blessed by tall pines, beautiful lakes, and memorable sunsets. There was plenty of “beauty so brilliant I could hardly take it in.” (Thanks to Sarah Groves’ for that phrase from her song “You are the Sun.”)

One of the things I have learned to do prior to vacation is to make a list of things to take along, AND to review that list upon returning home. That cuts down on taking along unnecessary stuff next year.

As I reviewed this year’s list, I got to thinking about the stuff I took along but never had to use, including:
Nyquil®
Band-Aids®
Triple anti-biotic ointment
Pepto-Bismol®
Car repair tools
Life jackets.

With the exception of the life jackets, all of those items are things that were not on the list at some point, but were added over the years because of experiences when one or more of those items was very much needed and I did not have it. I’m sure you can understand how a sixty-mile round trip late at night to fetch Pepto-Bismol® can seriously detract from the enjoyment of one’s vacation.

So, just because I didn’t use any of those items this year, I’m certainly not going to delete them from the list. The space they take up is negligible compared to the benefits they provide if they are needed.

It’s also abundantly clear that not having used them was reason for thanks and praise to our great and loving God. (Especially the life jackets!)

Not having used those items is evidence of answered prayer for protection from harm, danger, equipment failure, and illness. Thank you, LORD!

And that got me to thinking about all the things that don’t happen to us on a daily basis. When was the last time any of us woke up and thanked God that we didn’t come down with a summer cold while we slept? Or that the car didn’t break down yesterday?

We have so much to be grateful for, it’s impossible to comprehend it all at once.

My deepest gratitude is for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and His triumph over death when he rose from the dead and paid for an eternal home with the Father.

Come to think of it, none of those items or anything like them will ever be needed there in the city where the streets are made of gold and the river of the water of life flows from the throne.

And someday, when I stand on the banks of that river, I am very sure there will not be a list in my back pocket with “life jackets” checked off.

Today’s Praise
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Paraclete


 

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, (John 14:16ESV)

John Donne, a 17th-century cleric, is credited with the phrase “No man is an island.”

It’s true. Despite those who would wish to secede from society and go live on a mountaintop or a desert island somewhere, we all need each other—not just for our physical well-being, but for our emotional and spiritual health as well.

I’m sure many of you have heard of a condition called, “Failure to Thrive.” Many years ago, it was found that babies who were not held and touched were less healthy and grew more slowly than babies that were picked up and cuddled and spoken to lovingly.

Our spiritual life is no different. We cannot go it alone.  Yes, other believers are essential in our spiritual life, but because we battle against rulers and authorities and spiritual forces, we also need help from God. Only then can our souls thrive.

The verse above is the ESV version, but if you compare other versions, there is a wide variety of words used to translate “another Helper” including Comforter, Advocate, and Counselor. The Douay-Rheims version uses the word “Paraclete.”

“Paraclete” is a Greek word which is formed from “para” (meaning to be close beside) and “kaleo” (meaning to be called.) So, the literal meaning is for someone who was called to be close by your side. It was used to refer to a legal advocate, someone giving evidence that stands up in court, and also a comforter, a helper, a counselor, and an intercessor.

But, there’s another use of the word.

In ancient Greece, each soldier was paired with a paraclete. The two were inseparable in battle. They fought back-to-back, each watching out for the other so that no enemy could sneak up on the pair. Neither would ever be given a different mission than the other. They were a team that could not be split apart. In battle, neither one would ever leave or abandon the other, even if it meant certain death.

I couldn’t find anything in my studies to confirm it, but I would not be at all surprised if that’s where the phrase, “I got your back” came from.

I don’t know about you, but the thought of the Holy Spirit swinging the sword of truth back-to-back with me as my own paraclete in the daily spiritual battle gives me great encouragement and peace.

Today’s Praise

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6 NIV)