August 31, 2013
For this week, please enjoy my thoughts in pictures at “Sketches from Skeltons”. http://lindaskelton.blogspot.ca/2013/09/houseboating-together-again.html
We emerged with kids and grands from our houseboat vacation yesterday with goods in tow and dispersed to head to our separate homes to dig into routines new and old. Jim, Rachel and I will be a few more days visiting other family before returning to get Rachel to her plane and off to Bible school in Texas! All sorts of thoughts and emotions swirling about these days but none coming to settle in words for now…
Perhaps an older post from last summer would be appropriate, especially in light of the fact that we sold ‘Chase Me’ just days before heading out on this week’s vacation. Gratitude is a welcome prescription for times like these. I commend it to you:
I woke this morning to the sweetly reminiscent smell of creosote—reminiscent of all my childhood years lived in close proximity to the historic Weston Canal, having to cross the Canal bridge with its creosote laden piers many times a week— for mail, for church, for the baseball field, for school day lunches, for just about everything of importance…ah yes, the smell of creosote. We are moored at the dock on Vancouver Island where we purchased our boat.
I wake to the scent of creosote, the dancing of reflected light on the V-birth ceiling, the subtle slap of water on the bow. No gnats in the night, no stifling stillness. It has been a good sleep. Eggs, bacon and bagel fried on deck to order. Brilliant sun, rising breeze, clear blue skies… the town awakes beyond the shelter of the harbor.
I'm reflecting this morning on the power of gratitude— to free us from the gremlins of bad dreams, bad moods and plain old self centered quagmires, to keep us from the discontent which so readily spawns a subtle idolatry of craving 'more', and to deepen our confidence and hope in the unseen which is our true inheritance.
Gratitude resets our thinking to the realities beyond the felt and seen.When I wake disgruntled from some inane dream there is no better antidote than giving thanks. This morning it is easy, beginning with the smell of creosote and the dance of light's reflections… But more than this, once I run out of tangible sensory things, a conscious gratitude takes me beyond the seen and felt to my true inheritance. These are the unseen realities that will keep us from cravings that will ruin us.
As we blew into port yesterday, bouncing in a bit of turbulent water created by competing tides and wind I was reading about 'winds of doctrine' (Eph.4:14)besetting the church in our day, 'varied and strange teachings' (Heb.13:9) that have become commonplace in churches, replacing grace, replacing sound teaching, replacing the Gospel. The author suggests that our modern quest for tangible 'spiritual' experiences is not unlike Esau's demand for pottage now to quell his appetite. In so demanding he 'sold his birthright for a single meal'(Heb.12:16)
Basing his book on his own experiences and his own years of comparing Scripture with current practices, he makes many wise observations, but that is the stuff of a future book review.(The Other Side of the River—Reeves) As I turned back to Scripture myself I was struck by the passage in Hebrews comparing the Israelites' experience of God with what we have been given. It begins: "For you have not come to what may be touched." (Heb.12:18) Mount Sinai was all about the tangible—blazing fire, darkness and gloom, whirlwind, trumpet blast, and audible words. What was the people's response? It scared them to death and they begged not to hear or see, but to be given a mediator between themselves and God.
And this Mediator is precisely what we have in Christ. He is the image of God's glory, revealed to us. He is our high priest, our mediator, the One by whom we have access to God—the God who 'knows what you need before you ask Him'. The passage in Hebrews goes on to describe in lofty language our inheritance—"the city of the living God", the heavenly Jerusalem, myriads of angels, "the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven", and to God, the Judge of all, and to "the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant"…(Heb.12:22-24) We have all this. But how much of it is visible here and now?
How difficult it is to wean our souls from wanting more than we perceive that we have, from wanting that which we can see and hear and feel. But surely gratitude is a first step in that direction. And that is how this passage winds up. First it reminds us that what is unseen is also unshakeable. When all else is destroyed, (as will be these bodies and all their senses,) the unseen Kingdom of God will remain…"Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire." (Heb.12:28)
So as I sit and smell the creosote, and feel the warmth of sun and freshness of a sea breeze, I will give thanks and then keep on giving thanks till I have gotten beyond the tangible to that which is unseen but forever sure—my place among the righteous made perfect in the heavenlies with Christ Jesus, the Captain of my Soul.
P.S. Thanks for checking in here, even when I’m late posting ( :
August 23, 2013
We are getting ready this week for a family houseboat adventure, the likes of which we have not had since our firstborn graduated and was on the brink of leaving home…Fitting conclusion to a round of graduations. This time the kids are initiating and organizing the event! In view of the opportunity to have grandkids about to tell stories to, I was re-reading Jonah’s story with a view to telling it to Chase…It’s such a classic children’s Bible story…but really, it’s so much more.
I’d just barely started the story when I was struck by the preposterousness of this statement:
“Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.”
Now, maybe there’s something I don’t know about Tarshish, but really, is there anywhere we can get ourselves to where the LORD is not present? And would we really want to? Sounds like Hell to me. But I guess it all depends…Jonah really didn’t want to do what God had chosen him to do. After all, he was called to warn his enemies of impending doom. Why warn them? He would rather see them destroyed! But knowing God as he did--this gracious God, who is “merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster”…(4:2) well, Jonah had a bad feeling about this. God was likely to let the Ninevites off the hook and Jonah didn’t want any part of it! The alternative was to try to part company with the God of the universe, his Boss. He tried.
Adam and Eve could have told him this wouldn’t work. God comes seeking. “Where are you?” giving us the chance to acknowledge what we’re doing in trying to hide from a God who sees everything, and what we’ve done that has made us want to hide! He draws the confession from us so that fellowship can be restored. He is gracious. Jonah knew this, but wasn’t willing for that grace to extend beyond himself, so…he ran and tried to shut out the presence of God by going to sleep in the hold of a ship bound faraway...
David too, had spent his time in the joyless camp of doing his own thing in conscious defiance of God’s commandments. The pleasures of his sin were short lived it seems: “day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” Ps.32:4 This too was a mercy of God. It led David to admission of his sin and a longing for the joy of God’s presence to be restored. “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice…Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence… Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” Ps.50:12
Ahhh that’s just what Jonah needed, a willing spirit, willing to do what God had chosen him to do. Willing to go to Ninevah and preach and give his enemies a ‘heads-up’ so they could escape destruction and discover God’s mercies…
David could have saved Jonah the effort of trying to escape God’s presence. He knew what Jonah was about to find out. Consider his Psalm 139. Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me. (Ps.139:7-10)
Humanly speaking, if I’d been Jonah’s mother, I’d have despaired that God could ever use him, sighing at the reality of man’s free will. How is God going to have his way with that boy when he’s determined not to listen? Well, but God is God and His will prevailed. Granted, Jonah did get to the coast. He bought the ticket and got on board the Tarshish-bound ship. He maybe even thought he was ‘home-free!’. But no. Not so long as God was in pursuit. The God who made the heavens and the earth and all that is in them—the sea and ‘the great sea creatures’…this God was watching. This God knew what Jonah needed, a heart-change. He could have let him get away and live out his days in the misery of having chosen his own way, but He intervened, for Jonah’s sake and for the Ninevites’ sakes.
Before Jonah would make peace with His God there had to be a storm, a fearing for life itself. A surrender of his escape plans. “Throw me overboard”. And a commodious fish to house him while he rethought things….“When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you…” Jonah 2:7. He remembered God’s steadfast love—that love that doesn’t give up on shaping us to be what He intends, that will not let us go, no matter how uncomfortable the chase gets. Jonah knew God to be his only hope and in his distress he cried out to God. Done with running, he cried ‘uncle’, or should I say, “Lord!”.
Only then did God direct the fish to regurgitate its unpalatable load on the beach, for a chance to make good on his desperate vows, to demonstrate with his life and his message that ‘salvation comes from the LORD!’
Once again God gave Jonah his marching orders: “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.”
This time Jonah obeyed, despite his personal objections. He fulfilled his calling, begrudgingly. We know the rest of the story. We know Jonah’s heart wasn’t in his mission. Nevertheless, God accomplished His purposes through Jonah’s life. There’s encouragement here. This is more than a whale of a tale for grandkids to know.
It’s for anyone who’s been reluctant to follow God’s directions,
for anyone who’s felt quite useless in His hands for whatever reasons,
for anyone who’s doubted that God can soften a hardened will and direct a life’s destiny despite bad choices and wrong attitudes.
Our God is merciful and slow to grow angry. He loves steadily and is eager to suspend judgment, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance—even His own reluctant children. But He’s not opposed to using means, even storms and fish. We can be glad of that; He is a God who pursues us for our own best good and His greatest glory.
As I write here tonight, I’m remembering our first old sailboat. I christened it: Wings of Dawn, taken from Psalm 139 and the double meaning found in my middle name also being Dawn. It was replaced four years ago by a trimmer vessel, one we named in honor of the birth of our first grandchild, Chase. We called the boat: Chase Me and made many happy memories on board. Well, we sold that boat today; but I’m reflecting on an aspect of its name I hadn’t thought of until now. Aren’t you glad we have a God who is more than willing to chase us down, when we are unwilling, when we are surly, when we are a hazard to ourselves and everyone around us… He pursues, and persuades, and transforms our hearts, making us willing to do His bidding. Salvation truly is from Him.
“But as for me, I will look to the LORD;
I will wait for the God of my salvation;
my God will hear me.” (Micah 7:7)
In Your presence is fullness of joy…Ps.16:11 Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Mt.28:20 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Phil.4:4 Be to me a rock of habitation to which I may continually come; You have given commandment to save me, for You are my rock and my fortress. Ps.71:3
“Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.” –sailors bound for Tarshish with Jonah (Jonah1:6)
“How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” —David Ps.139:17
“Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD.” Ps.32:10
August 17, 2013
Yes indeed, after a record-breaking stretch of pure sunshine, with scarcely a drop of rain through all of July and into the first weeks of August, the rains have returned. For the first time in ten years tonight’s Blackberry Festival street party was rained out We were there, forking down our annual blackberry cheesecake as the sprinkles started and jostling our way through umbrellas and soggy others in hasty retreat under a steady summer’s shower within the hour…Ah well, perfect illustration of my chosen text. I found it this morning while digging through Ezekiel—the words to that very old hymn I haven’t heard sung in years: “There shall be showers of blessing” (Do you know it?). They just popped off the page in the most unlikely of places. So that’s where those lyrics came from!
I had taken a detour from Ezekiel because I find it heavy reading. I’ve visited Psalms, and Colossians and let’s see, Timothy and Corinthians…anything to avoid picking up where I left off in Ezekiel. But this morning I returned to Ezekiel with a fresh tool in hand, a COMA plan, something I was introduced to this week while reviewing a nifty new Bible study guide called WALK:How to Apply the Bible. Coma is not what you’re meant to go into as your eyes glaze over amidst passages pronouncing oncoming doom and gloom. COMA is actually an acronym meant to remind me of helpful steps to take when reading any Bible passage. Let me share it with you in hopes I’ll get it down right.
C is for Context. Context is not everything, but almost! It is, in my opinion, one of the most neglected rules in Bible reading and study. It’s so tempting to scoop up a line or two that says just what I want to say (or hear) and paste it onto my situation as a promise of happily ever after… while completely disregarding the context, the attached condition, the original recipient of this promise, or even the actual meaning of the passage as made clear by what follows. In snapping up happy phrases in this way, we miss out on so much more.
Take for example the #1 verse for graduates: “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jer.29:11) Very nice, reassuring. Happily-ever-after here we come! But don’t miss the context! Israel is heading off into 70 years of captivity, not a rosy future! It will take this long before they are ready to pray and seek God with all their hearts. Then He will come to their rescue, delivering them from their captors, restoring them to their own land. Ironically, there were plenty of prophets in their day glad to tell them happy things—don’t worry, you won’t be taken away to Babylon, everything’s good… and this verse falls plunk in the middle of a passage declaring otherwise. They would indeed suffer, but the Lord would bring them through to repentance and deliverance. The wider context is far more valuable than a vague ungrounded ‘happy’ promise…
But where was I? Ah yes, Ezekiel. Sometimes in reading Ezekiel I feel as though I were out back trying to turn old weed-ridden turf into a garden bed. In the instance I’m thinking of, the plot had apparently been a previous owner’s personal dump. There were rusting bolts and mysterious hunks of iron and crusty wires. There was an old purse and lots of plastic garbage that had not yet succumbed to rotting. I even found, believe it or not, a piece of petrified wood, looking every bit like a stick but hard as rock!. That rivaled my other best ‘finds’-- a series of quaint old bottles, surprising little beauties--an old ink bottle, a slim perfume(?) bottle, a chubby white glass bottle—all treasures I eventually emptied of mud and scrubbed up to make useful.
Digging through old prophecies is sometimes like this for me. Seems like just tough slogging without much that feels ‘useful’ or pertinent to me, then out pops a verse that shines and makes it worth the digging. Ezekiel 34 is like this.
Ezekiel was the prophet who was with the people of Israel at the start of their captivity in Babylon. They haven’t yet humbled themselves or repented. Thus Ezekiel’s job…tough slogging. Chapter 33 presents Ezekiel as watchman, doomed if he doesn’t warn his countryman of coming judgment (7-9). The people are ‘rotting away’ because of their sins(10). Judgment has come upon them. They are being called to repent but it rolls off their backs like another country love song(32). Bleak stuff. Chapter 34 commences with God’s railing accusations against Israel’s leaders. They’re abusive profiteers, not the shepherds they are meant to be. This is the historical and immediate context. I’ve got it, and I don’t want to read anymore doom or gloom…this is oppressive. God is dead serious about sin.
The O in the COMA formula is for Observations. Things like: God is dead serious about sin. Got that.
God gets angry when his people are not led and fed well. and look at what He intends to do! Look at all the I WILL’s… and even a “Behold, I, I myself will…” God is coming to the rescue on no uncertain terms! “I will search for my sheep… I will seek them out…I will rescue them… I will bring them out and gather them…I will bring them to their own land. I will feed them…I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep and I will make them lie down. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak. And UH-OH, I will destroy the fat and the strong, feeding them in justice! I will judge between sheep and sheep, rams and male goats…
Observations may include looking for themes, repeating words or ideas, truths about God, or anything striking. Well, this chapter just keeps getting sweeter. Pretty soon, with God as shepherd, the wild beasts are banished from the land and the people are all safe in the wilderness and may ‘sleep in the woods’. I love that. Sounds like a camping trip with no threat of bears in the park, (or bears wrecking fruit trees and stealing the harvest!). I have an inkling what a wonderful feeling this would be, as we are watching plums and pears and apples ripen right now, never knowing if/when they will be ravaged by night or if we will get to enjoy them…
There is lots here to observe, but the verse that jumped out at me is the one where God promises to make his people a blessing and to send rain in season—’showers of blessing’(34:26). The rain will make the fruit trees and gardens flourish. There will be no more famine, no more fear, no more captivity and they will ‘know that I am the LORD their God with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, …my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God,’ declares the Lord GOD.(34:31) So, the hymn writer wasn’t must making this phrase up ( : There shall be showers of blessing!
But I’d better be moving on here to the M in COMA. The M is for MESSAGE. What is the message God is communicating through this passage, not only to the original audience (the context) but to me. Is there a timeless principle that transcends time and place? In other words, yes, the original audience is Israel in captivity and God did indeed deliver them and plant them in their own land, not once but twice. There is in our day the nation of Israel because God has kept His promises. But more than that, the greater promise was to give them ‘one shepherd’ to take care of them, one in the line of David… They looked ahead to this promised One. We look back to the birth of Jesus, the One who would say, “I am the good shepherd.” The One who would gather both Jews and us non-Jews into His fold. The One who most importantly would become as one of us, a sheep, led to the slaughter defenseless—because a good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.(Jn.10:11)
These are all part of this passage’s message. But in a more general sense what stands out for me is that God is the One I’m dependent on for showers of refreshing rain, for fruitfulness, and even for the discipline that leads to repentance so that the blessings may follow. I am just a sheep in His pasture, completely dependent on Him for sustenance, protection, and productivity. The credit is all His! He’s the shepherd. My part is to respond to His prompting. To repent when I’m made aware of sin and perhaps even to soak up the rain He sends so that He can produce the kind of fruit He’s after!
Which has led me to the A in COMA? The author proposing this ‘formula’ is a Pastor intent on seeing his flock live out the Word they are taking in. So A is for APPLICATION. It’s not enough to come up with ambiguous insights. He says I’ve got to boil them down to something personal and specific that I can write down on paper, pray about and act on! Hmm… this is clearly my weak spot. I will gladly scrutinize contexts, examine details, glean principles, and wax eloquent but how will my ponderings be galvanized into solid action? How will I take these ‘finds’ from my digging and turn them into life-beautifying treasures?
Now that is something to ponder…and pray about!
Will you join me?
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…Eph.1:3
The acronym COMA is elaborated on in: Walk: How to Apply the Bible (James L. Nicodem, Moody Press, 2013, 132pp), the fourth and final book in his excellent Bible Savvy series! For reviews of all four see my book review blog (“A Few Good Books”) at: http://thestackofdawn.blogspot.ca
Showers of Blessing
There shall be showers of blessing:
This is the promise of love;
There shall be seasons refreshing,
Sent from the Savior above.
Showers of blessing,
Showers of blessing we need:
Mercy-drops round us are falling,
But for the showers we plead.
There shall be showers of blessing,
Precious reviving again;
Over the hills and the valleys,
Sound of abundance of rain.
There shall be showers of blessing;
Send them upon us, O Lord;
Grant to us now a refreshing,
Come, and now honor Thy Word.
There shall be showers of blessing:
Oh, that today they might fall,
Now as to God we’re confessing,
Now as on Jesus we call!
There shall be showers of blessing,
If we but trust and obey;
There shall be seasons refreshing,
If we let God have His way.
--Daniel Whittle, 1883
August 10, 2013
Just start moving the fingers over the keyboard… yes, there we go. Sitting here a little tuckered out this a.m. from much cycling yesterday, I’m trying to pull my thoughts together in one place, and get them in print. Always a little daunting despite my love of written words that come out ‘just right’. I finished a good read this summer*, one I’ve been been ‘saving’ to savor ever since encountering its author in his first novel several summers ago.
It was entertaining and thought provoking at the same time--the kind of fiction I love best--and an ideal summer read really, set against a backdrop of fly-fishing. Waiting at the ferry terminal last night for an overdue ferry I got to watch a fellow-waiter wade in and send his line whistling across the water--fly-fishing. I was reading. Peaceful backdrop.
Well, I finally got down to writing a review, really more of a critique, of the book this week which you can see here, if you’re interested, but I haven’t quite finished thinking about it. Something was missing. It wasn’t really a fishing tale, or an environmental plea, though these elements swam along beside the central theme. It was the story of a spiritual journey. Young Gus, the avid fly-fisherman is growing up and coming to terms with the beliefs handed down to him—discarding some, adapting others, and sampling from the spiritual smorgasbord he discovers after leaving home.
The rest of my comments will be ‘spoilers’ I’m afraid. While I loved that the storyline made a case for faith in an unseen God who created this great big beautiful world with all its pristine fishing streams, it also implied that any route to God will do. We each must find our own way, what ‘fits’ for us. Very accepting. Very ‘nice’. Politically correct, I suppose, (otherwise the Sierra Club would likely not have published it!) So I find myself in the afterglow of this brilliantly told tale fishing for words to supply what was missing, to give Gus a sure foundation not deflectable by every current of ‘spirituality’ that crosses his boots.
The missing factors are two: The Son of God and the Word of God. While it’s true that all of creation proclaims there is a God and He is awesome, it does not connect the dots that bring us to know Him personally and live for His glory. Neither the night-sky nor the rippling course of a trout stream can do this. Nor is God found through mystical experiences induced by long walks alone without food or water, any more than in long moments spent soaking in ‘worship’ music till our minds are suspended and our soul’s pores are open wide. Experiences that give a vague but reassuring impression that God is real and present do not equal ‘knowing God’.
The book’s author got this part right:
"I wanted to know my soul. I wanted to befriend Whoever it had been that walked with me on the road, yesterday dawn. But when I stuck my feet in the source-spring I could feel too well the limits of my own unguided yearnings. I would never make it. Not alone. I would never make it to the real source of things unless or until Ol' Nameless chose to come and find me fishing….
"It's a damned tough business sitting around trying to force yourself to force God to force feed you a revelation or vision or spiritual assistant or something." p.246, The River Why, Duncan
True spirituality is not born in mysticism or based on warm feelings or nudges or visions or signs. The knowledge of God is not a mystery hidden for the mystic few. It once was a mystery, but no more. (Rom.16:25,26). The path to God is not a trail we each must blaze on our own hunches and haunches. He is not one thing to me, another to my New Age friend, and something quite other to the fly-fishing, pot-smoking hippie across the street. God Almighty does not come in user-friendly variations to suit the customer in need of love and purpose! He is God and has revealed to us all that we need in order to know Him-- in His Son and in His Word. Non-negotiables. Unfortunately, neither of these mediums is politically correct. Handing out Bibles in the town parade is not cool. Using the name of Jesus in any meaningful way is offensive. These are things belonging to those ‘churchy’ types. Sad.
But how much have things changed? In the Garden there was God, walking and talking with His ultimate Creations, Adam and his lovely soul-mate, Eve. One basic instruction: Don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. One basic temptation: You’ll be as gods, knowing good and evil. One hidden flaw: They would indeed know evil, but not as God knows it. He knows it as a cancer surgeon knows cancer. They would know it as a cancer victim knows it. Big difference.** But that was the hidden consequence of taking and eating. They took and ate with misguided self-confidence (‘We can chart our own destiny. Who needs rules?!) and instead of finding a better life, something inside actually died. Relationship with God was severed. Sin does that. Severs relationships. Destroys life. Look around you, in you, beside you. You’ll see its effects. I do.
So we’re descended from this garden pair, wanting to define our gods, to be our own gods, to live how we want to live and still know love and purpose like we had in the Garden. This messy stew is called by the tidy name of ‘moral relativity’. What’s good for you may not be good for me. Let’s each find our own gods. Don’t push your truth on me. So spiritual journeyers surround us on pilgrimage each to his own mecca while the Word of God is relegated to some out of the way shelf or drawer and the Son of God is just too narrow, to controversial, too radical to talk about.
Such behavior is understandable for those who do not have the Word of God and have not been introduced to the Word Incarnate. But strangely it has become common practice among those who would identify themselves as ‘believers’. Strange indeed. Or maybe not. If like Adam and Eve we prefer to live by our own wisdom, not any hard and fast limitations, I suppose it makes sense. How could such an archaic bunch of words as contained in the Bible pertain to me today in my modern lifestyle? Too restrictive. Too ‘old school’. Nevermind, I’ll make my own choices. Somehow it’ll all work out. And we forget the lesson Adam and Eve learned the hard way. There is a way that seems good, but it’s not. Sin, by definition, destroys what it promises to deliver.
And when we neglect to study well the Word of God, we fail to perceive the true character of God. He is love and He is holy. He is grace and He is truth. We may choose to ignore the ‘harshness’ of God toward sin in the Old Testament preferring to focus on the Jesus of the New Testament who went about doing good and healing everybody and loving sinners. We may sidestep the issues of sin and holiness and see in Jesus only a lifestyle to try to emulate. If so, we have missed the Gospel, the message that liberates us from forever trying to find a way back to the garden on our own.
Love and Justice, Grace and Truth are inseparably linked even in Jesus. Sin is forever the impediment to finding God. His love does not negate His Justice. We deserve death, whether He loves us or not. Therefore, He provided Jesus.
Jesus was not tolerant of sin either, though He loved the sinner. He railed against self-made paths to being right with God! Then He suffered the horrors of crucifixion, an undeniable testament to the seriousness of man’s sinful state! He made Himself the way back to the Garden. ‘Take and eat, this my body, given for you.’ (Lk.22:19) Here at last, the solution for the rebellious ‘taking and eating’ of forbidden fruit in Eden. Jesus’ own body,** His blood shed, (Jn.6:53,54) our only chance at finding life, love and purpose that will last an immortal lifetime.
And that’s what I want Gus to know. Now that he has come to believe there is a God who makes all things beautiful and longs to be known, a God who is drawing Him to this knowledge…it’s imperative that he open God’s book, God’s autobiography, and find out who this God truly is and what He most wants Gus to know. Otherwise, he may miss Jesus. He may miss the Gospel. He may spend a lot of years feeling good about being so spiritually attuned to nature only to arrive at this deathbed short of that one-of-a-kind Life that is only found in trading my sin for Jesus’ blood, my impertinent longing for god-ship for the worship of the Only One who is worthy.
Peter’s Spirit-inspired words put it best: “Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead--by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. Acts 4:10-12
It’s a pretty narrow viewpoint alright, a narrow path. But the destination is Life as it was intended to be! Life beyond our wildest imaginings. And a freedom we had not imagined at the end of such a narrow way. “If the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed!” Jn.8:36
There’s an orchard of trees out there-- all sorts of alternate roads to ‘spirituality’ and ‘experiencing God’, but only one Tree of Life, one Cross, one Word of God. And that’s I guess what I wanted to say to Gus and affirm to myself here today. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Pursuing the knowledge of Him through the revelation given in the Word is the only surefire way to really live!
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith… Phil.3:8,9
If you’re looking for some summer reading that will point you to the supremacy of Jesus Christ over all other options, consider Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Dwell long with me on these good words. Here’s the real thing; accept no substitutes. “Therefore…as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Col.2:6,7)
‘for in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in Him, who it the head of all rule and authority.’ (Col.2:9)
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. Jn.17:3
And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. I Jn.5:11,12
"Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.
For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Mt.7:13,14
*The River Why by James David Duncan, Bantam/Sierra Club, 1983.
**I’m indebted for this idea to James Nicodem, author of a nifty brand-new four-some of books designed to increase “Bible Savvy’ among laypersons. They are an excellent little set. Reviews coming soon to a blog near you! This picture of the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin was in the first in the series: Epic:The Storyline of the Bible. (I recommend it! See review here.)
August 3, 2013
Once-upon-a-humid North Dakota afternoon on a gently sloping coulee bank two young lovers exchanged words that ushered in a whole new life for both of them. Their destinies were joined that day when the young girl responded to the eager young man’s proposal of marriage with the words: “I’d be delighted”.
That was thirty years ago. Just months afterward there would be a formal exchange of vows and the two would drive off into the sunset with all their earthly goods tucked into a quaint hand built ‘doghouse’ on the back of an antique VW truck. They had hopes and plans tucked in too, but really they were blissfully unaware and unconcerned with all that awaited them down the road. It was enough that they were together.
Blizzards, Babies, Births and Deaths, Homes hither and yon, Miles and miles of travel, Years and years of growing up, for them and their brood ensued…then with a flip of the calendar on another humid summer’s day thirty years hence they sat staring at the last month of life as they had known it. The last child was leaving home shortly and what would be next they could only wonder. There was no real game plan this time. Their destinies to date had exceeded their hopes and dreams. They were in need of fresh vision for the remaining years… Where does one go to get vision? How do dreams hatch?
I’ve been pondering these things lately. What is it that gives the day-to-day a sense of purpose? We will make meals and eat and do dishes, sleep and get up, clean house and ride bikes, work and get paid. This is survival. But what is our vision for the future? Why are we doing all this?
I read again this week Paul’s testimony before King Agrippa (Acts 26). His life was winding down. The book of Acts is now nearly complete. Paul was on trial, he said, for his hope in God’s promise of resurrection. He had lived to attain this Resurrection from the dead himself—forgetting what was behind, pressing ever forward, as he puts it, ‘for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus’ (Phil.3:11-14)
He was telling his story to the king. There had been a time when he was convinced he ought to do things that were actually quite contrary to what God had in mind. He was on the road toward doing them when KAZAM! God intervened. A blinding light from heaven. A voice of introduction: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Instructions. A brief job resume. And Saul became Paul, a changed man with a vision that would last his whole life through. A vision that would carry him through “hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger” (II Cor.6:4,5) and much more! A vision so strong that he could say “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24) He never took credit for his work, or boasted of the great job he was doing. He considered it a stewardship which he carried out in the strength that God provided (Eph.3:7) “For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (I Cor.9:16)
But this purposeful life began with a calling—God had interrupted Paul’s misdirected zeal with a revelation of Himself and a declaration of His purposes for Paul’s life—I have appeared to you for a purpose: to appoint you as a servant and witness of what I’ve done and will do for you. I am sending you to open the Gentiles’ eyes that they may turn from darkness to light, from Satan’s power to God, and be forgiven, and join the company of the redeemed by faith. (Acts 26:15-18 paraphrased)
This purposeful life necessitated a willingness on Paul’s part. He had to respond in obedience to God’s call: “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” This ‘I’d- be- delighted’ sort of response kicked off a whole new destiny for Paul. God’s enabling followed on the heels of Paul’s acceptance of his mission, “To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great…” and the result was the life and teachings of Paul that continue to enrich and encourage believers down through history. All because he was ‘obedient to the heavenly vision.’
On the basis of this obedience he invited believers of his day: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (I Cor.11:1) We may not have a heavenly vision. But we do have a calling. This is it. This is the big picture when I lose my bearings and wonder what life will yet hold for us now that there is no brood under our roof to nurture. I am invited to follow Christ’s example—who laid down His rights in order to carry out the Father’s will, obedient to death, faithful to the one who appointed him, glad to do the Father’s bidding, always. “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.” Jn.4:34 This attitude of willingness to do whatever God puts before me seems key to following my true destiny, with or without a ‘heavenly vision’.
It wasn’t so much about the vision anyway, but about meeting Jesus! Long ago at many times and in many ways God spoke to his messengers, the prophets, in visions, through donkeys, in dreams in the night, thundering from mountain tops, in burning bushes. (Heb.1:1) It was terrifying. For all but the prophet who heard it, it was a second-hand way of hearing from God. Some still seek these dramatic exchanges. But in reality we have been entrusted with something more sure than any vision in the night. We have the living and abiding words of Scripture, a sure and unerring revelation of God’s nature and purposes, a sufficient guide for life and godliness, and yes, for understanding his purposes for our lives at every juncture. (see: II Pet.1:19-21; II Tim.3:14-17) I am thankful. I am not left without compass or guidebook.
But more than that, I am not left in need of a prophet, a dramatic vision, or an utterance from Heaven in order to perceive my destiny. Hebrews reminds us God has spoken ultimately to us ‘in these last days’ by His Son (Heb.1:1), the Word made flesh, sent on our behalf to represent God to us and to offer Himself a sacrifice for us. Because of Him we can approach God, be indwelt by His Spirit, hear His voice internally and know His will, all without being destroyed!
The whole book of Hebrews is a declaration of the supremacy of the Son, the apostle (sent one) and high priest (our go-between) of our confession. He is the Author and Finisher of our faith. Knowing Him is our calling. Looking to Him is all the vision that we need (Heb.12:1,2). Yes, He is still the Way, the Truth and the Life. To do His will is still my delight and my destiny. And He is fully capable of intervening, as per Paul’s testimony (Acts 26:9) , if I should be convinced of ‘many things I ought to do’ which aren’t in keeping with His mission for my life.
Yes, I’d be delighted to journey with this Jesus for the rest of my life, even if I can’t see ‘round the next bend in the road. Since when should I care, as long as we’re together.
Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him…Heb.3:1
“I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” Ps.40:8
Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of [his] good pleasure. Phil.2:12,13
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. Heb.13:20,21
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works… Heb.10:19-24