Fruit

 

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.  James 1:22 (NIV)

 

In the gospels, we get a few descriptions of the Jesus’ relationship with his family.  His mother, Mary, knew from the beginning that Jesus would be different.  The angel Gabriel told her Jesus was the son of God.  She knew Jesus was conceived while she was still a virgin.  God had sent people from a foreign country to welcome Jesus when he was a child. God led Joseph to protect Jesus by taking him to Egypt when Herod the Great wanted to kill him.  Mary relied on Jesus to resolve family problems, like when the wedding party ran out of wine at the wedding in Cana.  She didn’t know that Jesus would resolve the problem by turning water into wine, but she knew Jesus was her oldest son and he would do something.  (John 2:1-11)

 

We don’t know what Jesus younger brothers and sisters thought about him.  In talking about a time at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, John says his brothers didn’t believe in him. (John 7:3).    I suppose that’s not so hard to understand, they had spent their lives thinking of Jesus as their big brother and it was hard to think of him in any other way.  We know that Jesus’ brother James, the person who wrote this letter, did become a believer at some point.   James must have been hanging out in the crowd when Jesus was teaching – or he later talked to someone who took pretty good notes – because we find in James’ letter a good summary of what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount.  Take a minute and read James Chapter 1 to put this verse into context (www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+1&version=NIV).

 

In this section of his letter, it seems James is thinking about Jesus’ parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, and Luke 8:4-15).  James reminds people to “humbly accept the word of God that has been planted in their hearts, which has the power to save their souls.” (James 1:21) Then, he reminds them they need to go beyond just hearing the word.  They also must do what it says.  Back to the parable of the sower.  All of the people in the parable heard the word, which is represented by the seed falling on the ground.  But only a few people provided the good soil where the seed could grow, which would have been demonstrated when they did what it said.

 

It is important to know the “listeners” James is addressing in his letter were church folks.  They were meeting on the first day of the week to worship and break bread together.  They were good people doing all the right things.

 

When I read the letter, I like to think, “I’m glad I’m not part of that group.  James isn’t talking to me.”  Then, I think about what I do in response to my faith.  I go to church.  That’s listening.  I have a Christian radio station on in the car.  That’s listening.  I listen to podcasts of great Bible teachers.  OK, that’s obviously listening.  I lead a Bible study once a week.  That’s listening and a little talking.  It turns out I spend a lot of time letting God throw seeds on me.  So, how can I tell when the seed has begun to grow?  James tell us that too.  He gives three examples of what it will look like when the seed begins to bear fruit, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” (James 1:27 (NLT)).

 

What?  I thought living out my faith would be more – I don’t know – dramatic than that.  If I want to be a real believer, shouldn’t I be slaying dragons and fighting giants?  James would say, “OK.  But do that after you have mastered the basics: caring for widows, caring for orphans, and living in the kingdom of God.  When you feel like you have those things down, you can move on to dragons and giants.”

 

I have written a lot lately about living in the kingdom of God.  Here are a few links: thedigitaldisciple.net/the-pop-culture-commentary/, thedigitaldisciple.net/this/, thedigitaldisciple.net/choices/, thedigitaldisciple.net/the-desires-of-your-heart/.

 

How can we apply James’ admonition to care for widows and orphans?  The people James was writing to knew plenty of widows and orphans.  Women in that culture were generally young when they married, and their husbands were older.  It was not unusual for a woman to outlive her husband.  Becoming a widow could be financially devastating if there were no family to help care for her.  Orphans, too, were common.  When a child lost both her parents, there were no social nets in place to help.

 

Most of us probably don’t know many widows and orphans.  But you likely know people who make up the widows and orphans for our culture, they are the singe moms and children with absent parents.  Also, if you get to know organizations like World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse and Back2Back Ministries, they will give you opportunities to care for widows and orphans all over the world.  Your involvement can be simple, like packing a box for Operation Christmas Child or sponsoring a child through World Vision.  It can be more involved, like going on a mission tip or helping a single mom start a business to support herself and her family.

 

This Christmas season is a great time to get started.  Find a place where you can volunteer or donate food and clothing.  Maybe you can mentor kids after school.  Want to give a gift that keeps on giving?  Get the World Vision catalog and buy a goat for a fatherless family in Africa.  When you drop off your box at the food bank, stop and listen, that’s not thunder in the distance, that is a giant falling. When you walk to the mail box to send the check for the child you are sponsoring, watch the horizon for the vanquished dragon flying away.  You’re bearing fruit.

 

Press On!

David

 

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The Pop Culture Commentary

 

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  Galatians 2:20 (NIV)

 

If there were a popular culture commentary for the Bible, the illustration for this verse would be the genre of body snatcher movies.  I haven’t seen enough body snatcher movies to point you to a particular title as the best example.  You probably have never thought there was a need for a pop culture commentary and you don’t want to talk about body snatcher movies this close to Halloween.  But, before you click on to the video of the cat catching a dinosaur, let me explain.

 

Think of the common theme of most body snatcher movies.  People are going along living normal lives and something takes them out and moves into their body.  The person may look the same on the outside, but they act differently.  To make body snatcher movies scary, the “snatchees” usually try to maim or kill other people whose bodies haven’t been snatched.  Therefore, the goal of the unsnatched is 1) avoid being snatched and 2) avoid the snatchers.  The movie’s resolution usually includes mayhem.

 

I imagine the idea of people dying and coming back to life was no less scary to people in Paul’s time than it is to us.  It must have seemed strange to them that Paul would present the idea as a good thing.  And, especially strange that he would claim that is what happened to him and he would like the same thing to happen to everyone.  Paul is suggesting that people seek out the body snatcher and allow themselves to be snatched.

 

The big difference between the world that Paul envisions and the dystopian world of the body snatcher movies is the conduct of the “snatchees.”  Instead of the snatchees trying to maim and kill other people, they begin to act like Jesus.  Now imagine that.  No really, take a minute while you sip your coffee and imagine that.  Imagine a world where your good friend dies and comes back to life.  Now, instead of trying to eat your brain like in the dystopian movies, she loves you unconditionally.  You begin to follow her around to see what other strange things she does.  You catch her caring for sick people and feeding hungry people.  This is really strange because before she was snatched, she was never without hand sanitizer and poor people made her uncomfortable.  She begins to think differently, she talks differently, sometimes it’s subtle and sometimes not.

 

You see, in the world Paul envisions, the body snatcher is God.  When people decide to follow Jesus, they die and come back to life as Jesus.  In the movie version, you would have a utopian society.  All these little Jesuses living in the world: men, women, every race, color and nationality working together to restore the world.  Instead of ending with mayhem, this movie ends in with heaven on earth.  That’s not such a far-fetched idea.  I understand that the word “Christian,” which was first used to describe the believers in Antioch, means “little Christs.”  My guess is that the label came from those outside the church and not from within it.  You can imagine their surprise when their friends started listening to this Paul guy and, the next thing they know, there friends start acting like Jesus.  They warned their other friends, “Don’t hang out with that Paul guy or you will become a little Christ.”  They didn’t mean it as a compliment.

 

As you might imagine, the movie version of the utopian body snatcher world is much better than the real version.  Paul’s goal was that he, and all believers, would die to themselves and be like Jesus.  The problem is, we die figuratively and not literally.  Instead of going away completely and letting Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, take over our bodies, we continue to live in our body and fight for control.  Paul talks about that in other places.  He laments that he is always doing things he doesn’t want to do and he doesn’t do the things he would like to do.  He warns others of the same thing when he tells them to stop living like they used to live and to let God change them into the people God intends them to become.

 

Are you snatched by God?  Don’t fight the changes.  Seek them.  Be sensitive to where God is trying to change how you think, talk, and treat people and, rather than fighting, cooperate.

 

Press On!

David

 

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This

 

I can do all this through him who gives me strength.  Philippians 4:13 (NIV)

 

Many of you are familiar with the more common translation of this verse, “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.”  That translation has been pulled out of context and used to support endeavors ranging from good and righteous to completely absurd.  After all, if I can do all things through him who gives me strength, I should be able to grow a full head of hair and run a four-minute mile.  If you know me, stop laughing.  You get my point.  When Paul wrote these words to the church in Philippi, he was not envisioning that believers were about to become the next generation of super heroes.  But, if you just bought a T-shirt with this verse on it to train for your first marathon, don’t throw it away yet.  Paul’s words are much more encouraging than simply “naming and claiming” you will finish your 26.2 miles in under five hours.

 

There are references in Paul’s letter to the Philippians indicating that he wrote it from prison, probably when he was under house arrest in Rome around 61 AD.  In this section of the letter, he has just thanked the Philippians for the gift they sent to help take care of his needs.  He goes on to make this remarkable statement, “for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

 

The Philippians would have been familiar what Paul had been through for the five years or so before he wrote this letter.  In case you’re not, I’ll give a quick review.  Around 57 AD, he had finished his final missionary journey and returned to Jerusalem.  While there, Jews from the province of Asia recognized him and accused him of taking gentiles into the Temple.  That caused a huge riot in Jerusalem from which he was “rescued” by a Roman centurion who promptly placed him under arrest.

 

Immediately following his arrest in Jerusalem, a group of men vowed they would not eat until they killed Paul.  The centurion heard of the plot and moved Paul from Jerusalem to Caesarea under a heavy guard.  Paul spent over two years in prison in Caesarea while the current governor tried to decide what to do with him.  When a new governor came to Caesarea, he heard Paul’s case and decided to send Paul back to Jerusalem, where Paul would have faced certain death.  Paul asked for his case to be heard by Caesar and the governor sent him off to Rome.  The trip to Rome took over a year because the first ship he and the centurion boarded was caught in a storm and wrecked in Malta.  When he finally made it to Rome, he was placed under house arrest and waited for a trial.  When Paul wrote this letter, he had not been a free man from the time he was arrested in Jerusalem five years earlier.

 

In spite of all that had happened, Paul doesn’t dwell on the hard times.  Instead, he says, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”  And we ask, “Paul, how did you do it?  How did you find contentment in such difficult circumstances?”

 

Paul’s reply is our verse today. “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”  Paul knew trouble.  He knew hunger, hardship, suffering, loneliness and betrayal.  But more importantly, Paul knew Jesus.  He didn’t just read about Jesus, think about Jesus, or believe Jesus was a good person and wise teacher.  Jesus gave Paul a peace that passes understanding, which we also call contentment.  (www.thedigitaldisciple.net/the-peace-that-passes-understanding/)  Through the good times and bad times over the 30 years since Paul first met Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul found his peace and contentment in his friend and savior, Jesus.

 

What is your “this”?  As you look back over the last five years, have you encountered a string of trials and hardships?  Are you facing problems now?  Write them down. At the end of the list, write, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”  As you go through the week, when you face problems and difficulties, instead of saying, “How will I ever get through this?”  say, “I can do even this through him who gives me strength.”

 

Press On!

David

 

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Choices

 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)

 

These two verses always seemed straight forward to me.  If we seek God’s direction in all our decisions, he will make our paths straight.  This seemed simple enough and I moved on to the next verse.

 

I never thought about what it meant to have “straight paths” because I assumed I knew.  In my mind, straight paths meant walking on God’s enchanted path and having the ability to make hard moral choices.  You know, staying on the “straight and narrow.”  If I was faced with a decision whether something was right or wrong, I reached into my bag of answers and pulled one out.  Life was simple that way. I didn’t realize that I was developing a moral condition known as “hardening of the categories.”  I stopped asking what God had to say about moral decisions and started taking the easier approach of leaning on my own understanding.

 

A few years ago, I was working with a group of people to understand God’s direction in a moral decision we were addressing.  Instead of reaching into my bag of answers, I decided to start fresh and trust in the Lord by digging into the Bible and reading what other people had to say.  In the end, I found my “canned” answer was mostly right.  But, I was left with an uneasy feeling that the world wasn’t as simple as my bag of answers made it.

 

My guess is that you have a bag of answers like mine.  When you look inside, you may find categories, like: Republican, Democrat, Liberal, Conservative, Protestant, Catholic, New Earth, Old Earth, Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, etc.  Some of the categories are very personal and reflect our upbringing and life experiences.  Some come from our political or religious affiliations.

 

I came to see that I made many decisions according to my categories.  And now, It seemed God was calling me to leave behind my categories and adopt his.  That was the source of my uneasiness.  I had developed what I believed were good, solid Christian categories and I didn’t want to go back and re-examine them.  I risked finding out that my categories were built on the different ideologies I described above and not on what God has said in his word.  I didn’t know what people would think if I changed my long-held opinions about things.

 

The light began to go on as I looked again at Jesus’ teaching.  He said again and again, “You all have the wrong categories. God doesn’t look at the world the way you look at it.  You won’t get into the kingdom of God relying on your own understanding.”  When asked to choose between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and he chose neither.  When asked to choose between the Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles, and he chose all three.  When asked to choose between God and civil responsibilities, like paying taxes, he chose both.  The people he chose as his closest friends were rejected by mainstream society.  People in positions of power found that Jesus made them uncomfortable.

 

If we are going to follow Jesus, trust God and lean not on our own understanding, we too will reject our culture’s categories when they don’t line up with God’s categories.  We will be unable to choose between the options our culture is offering.  They will be uncomfortable when we reject their options and give God’s answer instead.  Here’s a way to try this as you go through your week.  As you are reading Facebook today, listening to the news, or talking to your friends, ask yourself what choices you are being asked to make.  In choosing, are you relying on God’s word or on your own understanding?  Endure the discomfort and see how God will change your heart.

 

Press On!

David

 

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The Desires of Your Heart

 

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalms 37:4 (NIV)

 

This is a beautiful promise.  Sadly, though, we may read it the wrong way.  Our culture has adopted the view that stuff is the best measure of success.  For many of us, this verse is the spiritual equivalent of the bumper sticker: He who dies with the most toys wins.

 

I have fallen into that trap on occasion.  Maybe you have too.  The idea has been given the name “prosperity gospel” and there are a group of people within the church who have turned the idea into one of their central message.  Where our culture promotes the view that stuff is the measure of success, these folks have taken the position that stuff is the measure of faithfulness.  If you want a big house and new car and you don’t have one, the problem is you are not faithful enough.  After all, if God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, surely, he could free up a little of his capital and throw a fortune your way if only you were one of his true followers.  When the folks who preach the prosperity gospel use this verse, they rephrase it just a little: Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you everything your heart desires.  You picture the words on a poster, written in calligraphy, under a pile of stuff.

 

The prosperity gospel interpretation of this verse bothered me for a long time.  It wasn’t consistent with how I understood the Bible and how I had seen God work.  But, my explanation of the verse was always long and complicated.  Then, one day, I ran across a simple way to explain it: the verse doesn’t promise stuff, it promises desires.  The verse says, if you delight yourself in the Lord, He will give you your deepest desires.  Or, if I delight myself in the Lord, he will lead me to desire for myself that which he desires for me.

 

That understanding of the promise was helpful because I know what God desires for me.  I talked about this last week.  God wants me to love him with all my heart, soul and mind and to love my neighbor as myself.  So, if I reconstruct this verse with that background, the promise is, if I take delight in the Lord, he will give me a desire to love him and love my neighbor.

 

Take time this week to read and pray about this verse.  Ask God to lead you to desire those things for yourself that he desires for you.

 

Press On!

David

Love Story

 

I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. (Psalms 119:11 (NIV))

 

What was your first thought when you read this verse?  It may reveal your approach to faith and to your relationship with God.

One place we could start when we talk about this verse is the idea of “hiding” the word in your heart.  I have talked in other posts about the importance of regular Bible reading.  So, I won’t use this time to repeat that message.  Instead, let’s focus today on the second half of the verse, “that I might not sin against you.”  This is the part that will give insight into your approach to faith and your relationship with God.

Do you think of the Bible as a rule book?  The Jews of Jesus’ time did.  That isn’t meant to be a criticism.  They were good God-fearing people who wanted very much to please God.  They believed following all the rules was the way to God’s heart.  People who were very good at following the rules looked down on those who did were not good at following the rules.  In Jesus time, those people were the scribes and Pharisees, the experts in the religious law.  If you read the gospels, you know that Jesus’ harshest message was to that group of people.  He was angry that they had taken God’s message and turned it into a rule book that neither they nor anyone else could follow.

Jesus message was different.  Which is why the religious leaders, who made their living from teaching people to follow the rules, hated him. It is also why the folks who saw that it was impossible to follow all the rules loved him.  Jesus told the people that the Bible was not a rule book, it is a love story.  As people began to understand his message, it changed how they thought about the Bible and about God. They learned from Jesus that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was not a heavenly referee who watched them playing the game of life from the sidelines and blew his whistle and called a sin every time someone broke a rule.  God was their loving father who created them and wanted them to know him.  Yes, their relationship with God had been broken by sin.  But, the way back was through confessing the failure and not through following the rules.

At one time, I too thought the Bible had a complete list of all God’s rules and regulations.  I wanted to hide God’s word in my heart so that I might not sin against him by breaking the rules.  Even though I believed that I was saved by grace, I put a lot of emphasis on following the rules because I also thought of God as a heavenly referee.  But, the more I read the Bible the more I caught the profound simplicity of Jesus’ message.  We find a great example of this when Jesus was approached by the Pharisees and asked what he believed was the most important rule out of all the rules God had given them.  It is helpful to know that the Pharisees had identified over 600 rules that people needed to follow and from which Jesus could choose.  The exchange is recorded in the gospel of Matthew.  The Pharisees went to Jesus and asked him, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV))

If we look at today’s verse through this different understanding of the Bible, you can see how the verse gives insight into how you see God and the Bible.  If the Bible is a rule book, you want to hide it in your heart so that you won’t break the rules and make God mad at you.  If the Bible is a love story, you want to hide it in your heart because it tells you how much God cares for you.  Because you know God cares for you, you want to live your life in a way that pleases him.  You see that the two greatest rules are not rules at all, but the call to have a loving relationship with God and those he created.

When I was new in the faith, I thought it was important to study the Bible to uncover its intricate complexity.  Over time, I have come to see instead the Bible’s wonderful simplicity. The Bible is not a list of complicated rules.  It is a detailed answer to the question, “How do I love God with all my heart, soul and mind and love my neighbor myself?”

 

Press On!

David

The Eternal – Part 2

 

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18 (NIV))

Last week, we talked about the importance of deciding what is eternal.  My search started by looking at the evidence for believing that stuff is eternal.  I found that it took as much faith to believe there is no God as it did to believe in God.  I was stuck in the middle with too little faith to move in either direction.  I became a believer because I was at the right place at the right time.  I had decided that, even if I wasn’t ready to decide about “religion,” going to church was a good habit.  So, I went.  At the end of each service, the minister would ask people to come forward if they wanted to accept Jesus as their savior.  One Sunday, I felt the urging to respond and my life has never been the same.

My “accidental” conversion didn’t take away my questions.  Though, I found that my search for answers had helped me refine the questions that science or religion would need to answer.  When I looked at Jesus’ claims again, his answers seemed to be a more satisfying response and required no more faith than believing the scientific explanations.  For example, believing that God created the universe made as much sense as believing the universe had created itself.  Believing God created life made as much sense as believing life sprung spontaneously from the chaos of the self-created universe.  And, believing God gave us the moral laws made as much sense as believing the moral law is just one more piece of our evolution from one-celled organisms to complex societies.  I had decided that God is eternal, that he has always existed and will always exist.

As I said last week, this discussion of the eternal is important when you dig into this week’s verse.  In Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, he talks about the trials that he and the other Christian leaders had experienced.  It is a theme he returns to several times in the letter.  He sets up those descriptions with this explanation for why the hardships had not caused him to give up:

Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV))

Paul is saying that our view of the eternal should determine how we respond to life’s day-to-day trials and hardships.  Let’s take three examples from our discussion of the eternal.  The first view is that matter is eternal.  Could we take Paul’s view of our hardships if we believed only in an eternal universe in which life happened by accident?  I don’t see how we could.  We couldn’t say that our hardships and momentary trials are achieving for us an eternal glory.  We would need to acknowledge instead that, if matter is eternal, the future isn’t very bright.  Our bodies will run down and die just as the universe will eventually run down and die.  What we do today doesn’t matter and has no purpose.  I have heard folks try to mask this reality by saying things like, “The Universe willed it to happen.”  Like the universe has a consciousness and the ability to manipulate people and events.  Unfortunately, if someone denies the existence of the spiritual world, saying the universe willed something to happen is like saying your refrigerator willed something to happen.  The first way sounds very grand and mystical, but it has the same meaning as the second.  If matter is eternal, there is no basis for hope in the future because we can see already that the universe will end badly.

Many people take another approach. Rather than deciding whether God or stuff is eternal, we allow our day-to-day experiences to shape our thinking about what is eternal.  This is the land of perpetual indecision where I found myself when my search for the eternal had stalled.  If we have a good day and things happen that we like, we believe there may be a god or some greater power watching over us.  Though, we don’t have a good definition of what that god or higher power might be.  If we have a bad day and bad things happen, we believe there is no god, or at least no god we want to know or trust.  We become a ship that has slipped its moorings.  Instead of remaining steady in the storm of life, we are tossed about by waves of doubt, trials, and hardships.

By fixing our eyes on the eternal God, we tie our ship to a pier that will not move as we ride out the storm of life. Our connection to God is the source of the “peace that passes understanding” Paul talks about in his letter to the Philippians.  We can have great hope if we follow Paul’s admonition to fix our eyes on the eternal.  When we view the world through the lens of belief in an eternal God who created us and redeemed us, we understand that what we see and experience now will pass away and that which is now unseen, the kingdom where God reigns, will continue forever and we will be there with Him.

 

 

Press On!

David

The Eternal

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:18 (NIV)

[You may receive an e-mail with this update, which is an edited version of the post from August 12.  I am adjusting blog posts to line up with Facebook posts.  After next week, the timing will be the same.  For the record, I like this version better.]

We need a little pre-work before we jump into the verse this week.  This verse falls at the end of several passages where Paul talks about the trials and hardships that he and the other Apostles had faced.  He explains to the Corinthians that they endured the hardships by focusing on the eternal.  Paul doesn’t spend a lot of time explaining why focusing on the eternal is important.  So, let’s start with that question.  When dealing with our daily trials and hardships, why it is important to decide what is eternal?

Taking the 50,000-foot view, there are two possible answers to the question of what is eternal: God or stuff.  I was a college student when I began to think seriously about this question.  I didn’t think it was possible to know if God existed, so I began considering the world from the position that physical matter has always existed and will always existed.  I wasn’t ready to live in Stuff is Eternal, but I wanted to visit for a while to see what it was like.  Let’s go there together for a few minutes.

Early on in my visit, I found there are some big problems that the folks living in Stuff is Eternal needed to solve for their view of the world to make sense.  These are three problems that perplexed me.  First, the “big bang” theory (the explanation for the current state of the universe and not the television show) is a big problem for them.  According to the theory, the universe had a starting point 16 billion years ago and has been expanding outward since.  For the big bang theory to work, the stuff in the universe needs to stop expanding and contract so that the big bang can repeat itself and continue to do so in an ever-repeating cycle.  The problem is, there doesn’t seem to be enough matter in the universe for gravity to slow the expansion and cause a collapse.  This realization has led to the search for “dark matter” which will provide the additional gravitational pull needed to stop the expansion.  It has also led to other explanations for how matter has come to exist.  Do the folks living in Stuff is Eternal have any proof dark matter exists?  No, but I would need to believe it exists if I wanted to live in Stuff is Eternal because it is necessary to support their view of the universe.

The existence of life is a problem in Stuff is Eternal.  The view until a thousand or so years ago was that life was created by God or the gods.  No one considered where life may have come from if there is no God.  At first, the folks living in Stuff is Eternal thought the answer was easy, life happened by some happy accident when the right collection of chemicals got together in what they called a “primordial soup.”  Life began as a simple one-celled something that reproduced itself and evolved over time into the vast array of plants and animals we find on Earth today.  That seemed like a good response until they found out how difficult it is for life to “happen.”  Whether life first “happened” on Earth or someplace else and was eventually transported to Earth by a meteor or alien space craft, they have found the odds against life simply happening are astronomical.  No matter, the folks living in Life is Eternal told me, if I wanted to live there, I needed to believe that life just happened.

Finally, regardless of how people came to exist, there is no dispute that people have a strong belief about what is morally right and wrong.  It is right to tell the truth and wrong to kill people, for example.  The folks living in Stuff is Eternal believe in moral right and wrong so strongly they have developed laws to reflect their views of morality and punish people who don’t agree with them.  This was the biggest reason I couldn’t live in Stuff is Eternal.  I am not smart enough to weigh in on the contraction of the universe or on the origin of life.  But, I lived with moral decisions every day.  I learned that in Stuff is Eternal, what people consider “moral laws” aren’t really laws at all.  They are practices that have developed over time to protect human existence.  They have agreed as a group to enforce their moral beliefs on everyone for the sake of preserving their view of how life should be.  This wasn’t even a matter of believing in some unseen thing or occurrence, it is a dressed-up version of a brute force, might-makes-right morality.

I decided after a while that I couldn’t live in Stuff is Eternal, because it would take as much faith in the unseen and unprovable to live in Stuff is Eternal as it did to live in a world where God is eternal.  Was it a “leap of faith” to believe God created the heavens and the Earth and God was the creator of life?  Yes.  But, no more than believing the universe will continue to exist and life created itself.

I was, stuck. I began by thinking it took too much faith in the unprovable to believe in God and found that it would take too much faith in the unprovable to live in Stuff is Eternal as an Atheist.

Next week, I will tell you how this has resolved and why Paul believes it is important.  I hope telling about my visit to Stuff is Eternal will help you or someone you know who is living there now.  For next week, I will leave you with a question to consider, “What do you believe has always existed, God or stuff?”

Press On!

David

Light

 

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. Psalms 119:105 (NIV)

I was backpacking in the Smokey Mountains and I had walked away from the campsite to check out the trail we would be on the following day.  The sun went down faster than I had expected and I found myself in the woods as darkness fell.  Luckily, I had taken a small flashlight with me and I knew the direction I should be walking.  The flashlight didn’t illuminate the entire forest, but it provided enough light for me to see the trail in front of me and I made it back to camp.  The next day, when we continued the hike, I saw again where I had been the night before.  This time, I saw the trail and the glorious surroundings I had not seen the night before.

Later, I heard someone teach on today’s verse and it reminded me of my hiking experience.  The teacher explained that this verse refers to a small handheld oil lamp.  It would cast a  pool of light like a candle.  If someone used it to get around at night, it would provide just enough light to see where your feet would fall along the path.  You would see the next step, but you would never see more than a step or two ahead.  His point, that was illustrated to me with a modern version of the oil lamp, is that God often works in the same way with us.  As we walk along the path of our life, He is there with us providing a light for our feet and a light for the path.  Usually, it is enough to illuminate the next step and, when we take the step we see, the light will fall on the next step.  We way move though life that way, a step at a time illuminated by God’s word and direction.  When we look back, we see the path clearly with the surroundings illuminated and we understand the purpose of the twists and turns we have taken.

How should we live if God’s word is a lamp that helps us see the path of life?  These are a few ways I have thought about this verse.

Trim your lamp and keep it burning.  Take time each day for prayer and Bible reading.  Remember that the race of faith is a marathon and not a sprint.  It takes diligence and discipline over time.

Keep your lamp full.  In the flashlight example, I would say, keep your batteries charged.  Again, this includes time for Bible reading and prayer.  But, it also includes time for worship, teaching and being with other believers.

Ask others to help you in difficult times and help others when they need it.  Sometimes your lamp may not be enough light in a very dark place.  In the same way, you can provide light for others through their dark and difficult times.

Take the time to look back and reflect on where you have been.  You will see the path you have traveled and the full view you may have missed at the time.

Use your lamp of faith to illuminate your path this week and take the time to look back and reflect on where God has led you.

 

Press On!

David

Speak

 

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer. Psalms 19:14 (NASB)

 

I have spent most of my life doing public speaking of one kind or another.  Early on I came across today’s verse and it became the short prayer I pray before I take the stage.  Over the years I had forgotten that the verse comes at the end of Psalm 19.  You have probably heard or read this Psalm.  Here it is:

 

Psalms 19 (NIV)

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;

the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

2 Day after day they pour forth speech;

night after night they reveal knowledge.

3 They have no speech, they use no words;

no sound is heard from them.

4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,

their words to the ends of the world.

In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.

5 It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,

like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

6 It rises at one end of the heavens

and makes its circuit to the other;

nothing is deprived of its warmth.

 

7 The law of the Lord is perfect,

refreshing the soul.

The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,

making wise the simple.

8 The precepts of the Lord are right,

giving joy to the heart.

The commands of the Lord are radiant,

giving light to the eyes.

9 The fear of the Lord is pure,

enduring forever.

The decrees of the Lord are firm,

and all of them are righteous.

10 They are more precious than gold,

than much pure gold;

they are sweeter than honey,

than honey from the honeycomb.

11 By them your servant is warned;

in keeping them there is great reward.

 

12 But who can discern their own errors?

Forgive my hidden faults.

13 Keep your servant also from willful sins;

may they not rule over me.

Then I will be blameless,

innocent of great transgression.

14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart

be pleasing in your sight,

Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

 

This Psalm tracks the path of faith that many of us have traveled.  I grew up in a place where you can see the stars at night.  Oh, I see stars now.  But, it they are the handful of really bright ones that can punch through the background light produced by a city of a million people.  As a boy, I remember seeing the Milky Way stretch into the night sky and meteors flash in a brilliant ending as they entered the atmosphere.  I remember thinking about the size of the universe and how majestic it appeared.  I can imagine the effect was even greater for the person who wrote this Psalm living in the desert with no artificial light to mask the view of the night sky.  But, as the Psalmist tells us, we can see the majestic display and the clockwork that allowed the writer to time the days, months, seasons and years.  We can admire the creation, but we cannot know the creator simply by looking at the night sky.

 

The psalmist goes on to remind that the God who made the magnificent universe and set it into order has also made us and gave us the potential for order in our lives.  One big difference is, unlike the stars and planets, people have a free will.  The sun can’t decide not to rise (or as the science-minded person would remind me, the earth can’t decide to stop turning and stop revolving around the sun).  The sun didn’t learn about light and the earth didn’t learn about gravity.  They just do what they were made to do.

 

We, on the other hand, can choose to follow the path created for us.  That isn’t a mistake or a flaw in God’s creation, it is His intent.  That’s where God’s word come in.  We see in verses 7 through 11 that’s God’s law is good for refreshing our soul and making us wise.  God’s word endures forever.  It is sweet to us when we follow it and warns us when we don’t.  We are wired to respond to the Bible, to hear God’s wisdom and respond to His teaching.  If we take the time to read His word, God will use it to change our lives.

 

The psalmist doesn’t stop there.  We see the universe and it gives us an idea of the greatness of the God who created it.  In the same way, I might see a painting or a piece of art or grand architecture and have an appreciation for the brilliance of the one who made it.  God’s word will tell me what He has done and what he expects.  In the same way, I might read about the one who painted the masterpiece or built the monument.  That would give me insight into who they are and what they know about art or architecture.  It might even help be become a better artist or architect.  But, I would only know about the person, I wouldn’t know the person.

 

That leads us to the final section of this Psalm.  The writer recognizes the same problem.  We can see God’s greatness in His creation and we can see his standards and expectations in his word.  But, to be the people God made us to be, we must go even further.  We must know God.  The creator of the universe.  The one who set everything in order also wants to us to know Him and allow Him to set our lives in order.  But, unlike the stars and planets, we need to exercise our free will and ask God to keep us spinning, to check our orbit, and to teach us about the gravity that holds us to Him.  If we do, we will become blameless and innocent of great transgression.

 

What began as a simple prayer before I speak is really the conclusion of this short psalm telling us how to live in a way that pleases God.  The challenge for me, as I begin each day and each encounter, is to ask God to make the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart acceptable in His sight.  Make that your conscious effort this week too.

 

Press On!

David