Decisions loom large
on the shifting horizon
with dreams taking flight.
Decisions loom large
on the shifting horizon
with dreams taking flight.
Fleming Rutledge states that, “The preaching of the cross is an announcement of a living reality that continues to transform human existence and human destiny more than two thousand years after it originally occurred”. I completely agree because the cross leads to the resurrection.
Sadly, however, it seems that large segments of Christianity do not.
Recently, I heard a startling statistic that over 40% of professing Christians in a prominent European country did not believe the resurrection of Jesus Christ actually happened. How can this be? Are churches actually teaching this to their congregants? If so, I find this highly disturbing and theologically irresponsible.
If the resurrection did not happen, then why did Jesus ask Mary of Magdalene not to cling to Him; after all, you can’t cling to a thought or a spirit, but you can cling to a physical body (cf. John 20:17). Or what about the record of Jesus inviting Thomas the twin to touch the nail prints in His hands and to put his hand into the gash in His side so that seeing and touching he could believe (cf. John 20:27). And finally, what about His expression of “Peace to you” followed by His patient response to the disciples’ fear of Him by saying:
“Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Luke 24:36-39, emphasis mine).
The resurrection did happen and it was a physical resurrection. Jesus was bodily raised from the dead; He even testified to it Himself.
Another thought for consideration is the Holy Spirit’s inspiration in the Apostle Paul regarding salvation found in Romans 10:9:
“That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
The word ‘Him’ is the Greek word αύτόϛ (autos) and it means: him. We would use this word something like this: “Go ask him.” Most likely, when we say that, we’re pointing to: him. We’re not pointing to an ideal or a thought or a spirit; we’re pointing to a human being, a human being in their totality, their total being. Thus, when Jesus was raised from the dead, it was the totality of Jesus; not an essence of Jesus or some ethereal vapor of Jesus, it was the total Jesus, body and all. So, Paul’s statement takes on salvific significance because he is indicating a faith in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. He’s not saying believe in an idea about resurrection; he is testifying to the totality of Jesus being resurrected. That is, he is testifying to the physical reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
So as we approach resurrection Sunday, let’s do so with complete confidence that when we trade traditional expressions of “He is risen,” followed by “He is risen indeed;” we are talking about the totality of Jesus—He is completely raised from the dead in complete victory over death, the satanic realm and even over false teachers of flimsy theology.
The resurrection is also the intersection of history; without the resurrection, there is no salvation; but with the resurrection, lives are not only saved from eternal death, but are being transformed into the likeness of Christ even now (Romans 6:5, Ephesians 4:22-24 and Colossians 2:9).
 The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2015, Kindle location 213. I highly recommend this book. It is very readable yet highly profound.
“It is finished,” said the broken, bruised and battered man; struggling to lift his bloodied body for quick gasps of air. Then He died. The horrible result of Roman crucifixion had claimed another victim. But this was no ordinary victim; this was “Immanuel, God with us” (Matthew 1:23). This, of course, was (and still is) Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
He had entered Jerusalem with celebration, the laying down of palm branches and the shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (John 12:13). Not even a week later, the same people were crying out, “Away with Him! Crucify Him” (John 19:15).
Hopefully you know the story, but even if you don’t, after three days and nights in the tomb, Jesus, much to the astonishment of not just humanity but the satanic realm as well, rose from the dead. Yes, I believe whole-heartedly in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s not some sick, psychological fantasy to appease grieving souls; the body was not stolen; nor is it some figure of speech. Jesus was tortured, crucified, buried three days and three nights, and, yes, rose from the dead. This same Jesus, God in the flesh, that entered humanity as an unborn baby in the womb of a young virgin allowed Himself to be mercilessly treated, even to point of death on a cross (Philippians 2:8).
Simply stated, because of the sin of humanity and the abject rebellion of humanity against God. Only a perfect atoning sacrifice would suffice. Nothing is more perfect than God. Therefore, God entered humanity in an astonishing way and exited His earthly life in an equally astonishing way: by being executed by the humanity He came to save.
Easter Sunday, perhaps more accurately referred to as Resurrection Sunday, is the acknowledgement of this miraculous resurrection event. The world of darkness celebrated the death of Jesus because it felt that this salvation business expressed by Jesus in the famous John 3:16 (and other places as well, of course) was now laid to rest. As the old adage goes, “Dead men tell no tales.” Salvation and hope was now a tale silenced in the dank and dark coldness of a sealed tomb; a sealed tomb under guard by Roman soldiers no less.
But brutal beatings resulting in death, sealed tombs, dank darkness and several feet of solid bedrock could not keep Jesus in the grave. At the right time, He broke loose from the shackles of death. At this very moment, Jesus showed His power over even death. Weather, physical laws and demonic strongholds could not withstand Jesus (Mark chapters 4-6), and now even death was firmly trampled under His feet. He had conquered the grave, proving that even all of hell couldn’t stop Him. He is, was, and will forever be King of kings and Lord of lords, the Captain of our salvation (Revelation 17:14 & Hebrews 2:10.
And we can partake of His eternal victory by simply expressing faith in Jesus by confessing with our mouth the Lord Jesus and believing in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead, then we will be saved (Romans 10:9)! This isn’t just good news, it is great news with eternal results. If you haven’t confessed Jesus yet, I invite you to do so and become a part of His kingdom both now and forever more. If you have confessed Jesus, how will you approach this time known as Holy Week? I ask, because I’m asking myself the same thing: what will I do to draw even closer to Jesus? What will I do to better understand the significance of His sacrifice on my behalf, a broken and sinful man?
I’m not sure yet, but I have some ideas. But what I do know now, is that when I think deeply about Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for me, I tear up and become speechless. Maybe you do to.
Over the years, I’ve heard many people say either from the pulpit or in conversation that worrying is a sin. The word ‘sin’ in and of itself, simply means missing the mark; as in an archer missing the bullseye with the arrow shot from his bow. Theologically, it can be rendered as intentional behavior that is outside the will of God (that’s my definition, anyway). Worrying, or anxiety, the word used in Philippians 4:6, is defined as “anxious care” (Wuest), or “disquieting perplexing care … and distracting thought in the wants and difficulties of life” (Henry), or to have “anxious or distracting care” (Bullinger).
Any of these definitions work for me, especially the distracting part. In fact, for professional worriers, distracting could also be obsessing. Descartes is credited with saying, “I think, therefore I am.” Somewhere in the long line of my lineage, some wannabe philosopher changed this a bit to say, “I think, therefore I worry.” Worrying is one of the primary threads sewn throughout the tapestry of my heritage. I’ve successfully taken distracting care into obsessing care; so much so that I’ve nearly suffered from panic attacks involving hyperventilating with a strong sense of paralysis. Maybe you can relate.
Worrying has taken a toll on my health and on my relationships. And now I’m being told that it’s a sin to boot. Now I’m worried about that.
But how do I stop? Well, let’s read Philippians 4:6-7 and then I’ll explain what I’m discovering works for me.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
As McGee points out, this passage starts with anxiety and ends with peace. But notice what’s in the middle—prayer. It’s interesting to note that the mood of the passage is present, active, imperative; this means that it is akin to a command and that it is an ever-present command. It’s not just a command to stop worrying, but it is also an ever-present antidote to the worrying. In other words, anxiety is always crouching and waiting to pounce on us; whether at work, or home or school or with the doctor, anxiety is an ever-present reality in this life of ours. But so is the antidote, prayer.
When we feel anxious, Scripture encourages us to specifically pray about our anxiety and ask for God’s help with it (this is basically the essence of the word ‘supplication’). And we do so with thanksgiving; we’re thankful that God not only willingly listens to our prayer, He actually invites us to pray about it; He welcomes it into His presence. Think of it as an always open invitation from God to lift our cares, concerns, and worries up to Him. I often think of placing the anxiety, whatever form it’s in, into His hands; then I pray that God will empower me to leave it there; to leave this anxiety in His hands and thereby lift it off of my shoulders and out of my guts and into His always open hands.
But just how is this operationalized; how is this put into action in everyday situations? It’s taken me years to figure this out, and I am not 100% anxiety-free by any stretch of the imagination; but here’s what I’ve been learning lately.
As we just explored, this passage of Scripture is active, present, imperative. Yeah, yeah, techy-speak, but what it means is that I can recite this section of Scripture as a prayer as often as I need to. And that’s what I’ve been doing lately. When the anxiousness begins threatening me again, I lift the anxious thinking and the specific situation with a specific request to God. Rarely does the situation change, but my internal well-being changes. Slowly, and somewhat strangely, I start sensing God’s peace. I can’t really explain it, and perhaps that’s part of why God’s peace “surpasses understanding;” but the sense of peace is very real and has staying power. My thoughts become freer, I’m able to focus on the present more clearly and my heart slows its palpitations. This calmer state then enables the guarding of my heart and mind through Christ Jesus. This means that when I’m not distracted or filled with anxious thoughts, I am more capable through the indwelling Holy Spirit to keep more anxiety out of my thinking. The stronghold of worry in my life is slowly being uprooted as I spend more time in God’s peace through the ongoing prayer of supplication with thanksgiving.
But now back to the sin part. I don’t think my propensity toward worry or anxiety is sinful; what I think is sinful is refusing to acknowledge it as contrary to God’s will for my life and the subsequent refusal to partake of God’s antidote for it, prayer. But as I become more adept at recognizing the anxiety and quicker to lift it up to God in prayer, the less likely my propensity will turn to sin, and the happier and healthier my life will become.
The first word in Psalm 103 is “bless.” The Hebrew word is barak and in the Septuagint, the Old Testament in the Greek language, it is eulogeo. Some Bible versions render these words as “praise,” but there are other Hebrew and Greek words for praise (hallelu, hallei, and yadah in the Hebrew; and epainos in the Greek). While the definitions are similar in nature, I think they are distinct enough to call out the differences; especially when the first line in Psalm 103 is:
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
The question this raises is how do we bless the Lord?
The essence of the word ‘bless’ is a bit complex. The meaning, according to various references, is centralized in the interior of our soul. Praise, however, is more centralized in the external expression in a worship service or some other outward demonstration of faith.
So what’s the big deal?
I think the big deal is, as Bullock states, “The person who praises must endow the vocabulary of praise with content. We can praise God without using the special language of praise, but we cannot long maintain the genuineness of that language without relating His being and works”. To bless God, then, is a recognition of specific works of God with an intentional expression of thankfulness for those specific works.
For instance, Psalm 103 gives some very specific works that we can intentionally express gratitude for. He forgives our iniquities and heals our diseases (v. 3). He redeems our lives from destruction (v. 4, and my personal favorite). He crowns us with loving kindness and tender mercies and satisfies us with good things (vv. 4-5). He’s merciful and slow to anger (v. 8); and on and on it goes in just this psalm alone.
I think the lesson in Psalm 103, and others like it, is that blessing God’s heart is our expressing thankful acknowledgement for specific things God has done for us. Such specific things can be reciting what we read in Scripture, or, more personally, deliverances God has done specific to our own lives. For example, I was facing a significant challenge at work but with the click of an email from someone else, the challenge dissipated away, leaving me stunned and inexpressibly grateful for His deliverance. He brought deliverance in a way that was completely unexpected. Another example is if one of my sons says he loves me, that warms my heart; but if he states something specific, like the way I help him with his homework or the times we spend together in the wilderness or on our bikes, I’m deeply blessed. Why? Because he shared a specific thing that brings blessing to his soul which then in turn brings blessing to mine. Why would our heavenly Father be any different?
Praise on the other hand, while a good thing, is often motivated by some external stimuli such as music or maybe a touching play or movie. Such stimuli may spark momentary thankfulness in a more general sense, but it often fades away as the stimuli fades away. Blessing God, though, is internally motivated and, because it’s in the depth of our souls, is not reliant on external stimuli and can be recalled at any moment throughout our day.
So while the differences may seem minor, I still think they are distinctive enough to understand. Besides, if the distinctions were unimportant to God, why would He go to such great care to use such distinctive words in Scripture?
 C. Hassell Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Poetic Books: Revised and Expanded, Moody Publishers, 1988; Kindle location 2850.
There’s a misconception about church. Actually, there are several misconceptions; but today I want to deal with just one of them: church as the Great Melting Pot.
The United States was once referred to as a Great Melting pot. The idea became popularized by a 1908 play called The Melting Pot. The idea is one of blending a lot of different cultures into one, unified society; hence, the United States. However, the metaphor is also a referent to a fondue. A fondue is basically a handful of chesses thrown into a pot that is slowly brought to a high temperature to melt the diverse cheeses into one, homogenous goo. Done correctly, the cheese will be supple and silky, perfect for dipping vegetables, meats, breads and other food items to coat them in the unctuous goodness. If done incorrectly, it will seize up into a hard ball of cheesy grossness. But the basic premise is taking diverse elements and converting them into an indistinguishable new element.
Granted, it may be seen as taking separate elements and unifying them, which is not always a bad idea; but it can also be viewed as wiping out the unique aspects of each element in an effort to distill them down into some other pre-subscribed form. In other words, taking a unique aspect and forcing it to become something it is not to fit a specific, pre-conceived mold.
Church is often viewed in this fashion; as a melting pot requiring unique individuals to become something they are not. As McIntosh and McMahan state, “Scripture does not support an ethnic or cultural exclusivism that retreats into an inwardly focused, self-serving existence” (Being the Church in a Multi-Ethnic Community: Why it Matters and How it Works, 2012, p. 179). The erroneous assumption is based on the false premise that typical church leadership wants all the congregants to be like them, whatever the “them” is. As one of the leaders in our church, I pity the person that’s like me because I know better than anyone the rough edges and character flaws the Lord is still working with me on. Yes, I’m still a work in progress even in my mid-fifties!
Scripture shows a different picture, however. Here’s an ultimate expression of church, it is a church engaged in worship. Check this out:
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Wow! What a thrilling scene. It’s astounding for many reasons. First, all cultures, nations and languages are represented. Second, it appears that all present can understand the different languages. Third, all the different languages apparently bring a melodious harmony fitting for worship around the throne of God. And, fourth, the focus of worship is Jesus.
That’s not a melting pot, ladies and gentlemen, that is a stew! Think about the best stew you ever ate. A carrot is still a carrot, an onion an onion, and a potato a potato; but they blend together not in a homogenous, indistinguishable goo; but into a flavorful expression of culinary goodness. Each element is easily distinguishable but is also a vital ingredient that, along with the other ingredients, contributes to a whole that surpasses anything each ingredient could do on its own.
So a church is community coming together with all of its faults, foibles and failures. We all bring our brokenness with us. But we also bring all of our uniqueness with us; all of that unique, individual beauty and gifting that God purposed for us even before our conception (see Psalm 139:13-16). God takes all our brokenness and all of our beauty and giftedness to build our communities into a stew where each element is easily distinguishable, but able to be so much more when paired together with others’ brokenness and beauty. Church isn’t perfect, but it also isn’t a homogenous goo of bland nothingness. It is instead a flavorful expression of God’s grace, mercy, patience and love for humanity.
Following is the commentary I mentioned in my last post. It is my take on Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee. I decided to go ahead and re-post it now because there’s so much rage in our country that we are in desperate need of calmed souls. Here it is:
A word of comfort to us, that, be the storm of trouble ever so loud, ever so strong, Jesus Christ can lay it with a word’s speaking.
It’d been a busy day, but now, finally, they were leaving the multitude behind and sailing off in a small cadre of boats. They were heading to the other side of the Sea of Galilee to hopefully get a little quiet time with their Master and perhaps some sound sleep. But not even half way into their journey “a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat so it was already filling.” Jesus was, of all things, asleep on a pillow in the stern of the boat.
This may be a familiar record to some; it’s from The Gospel of Mark, Chapter 4, verses 35-41 (it’s also found in Matthew and Luke). Apparently, even today, it is not unusual for the Sea of Galilee to all the sudden have storms sweep over its surface due to its somewhat funky geography; it is 700 feet below sea level and is surrounded by mountains that reach as high as 4,000 feet above sea level. When warm air from the lake rises to meet the cold air from the mountains it can sometimes produce sudden windstorms. Here is just such an occasion. The disciples, in our vernacular, are freaking out, while Jesus, however, is unmoved and blissfully sleeping.
Being too familiar with this record risks becoming jaded to it or blind to the reality of the situation. I’ve had the opportunity to white-water raft several times in my life. We go with a seasoned guide and always wear our life jackets. Still, there are times when hitting the rapids just right blasts a white wall of water right into my face and body. At the same time, I am of course, being soaked by cold water, being jostled by the turbulent river and smacking into my fellow raft mates as we all struggle to stay in the raft. And sometimes I fall out; that can be especially frightening. Most especially when trapped under the raft; but that’s another story for another time.
Through it all, the experience is exhilarating but at some points, terror does overtake the exhilaration, especially as the wall of water interrupts my ability to breathe or blinds my sight. The disciples in the boat were experiencing the same terror, but theirs wasn’t the kind of terror that would quickly dwindle as the rapid fell to their rear; their terror was a continual onslaught of strong winds and waves beating into their boat and into their faces; tearing their sails and tattering their clothes. If a wall of water smacked into one of their faces as he was trying to breathe, he could very well begin choking. If the water hit his eyes hard enough he could be rendered momentarily blind, just long enough to flip over the edge of the boat into the raging sea, most likely to a watery grave. Or he could blindly bump someone else off the boat to their watery demise. This was no summertime raft trip down the Deschutes or Rogue rivers. This was literally life and death.
No wonder they were so fearful; I would be as well, and most likely so would you.
Finally, they awoke Jesus.
Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the winds ceased and there was a great calm (v. 39, emphasis mine).
There’s more to the record of course, but you’ll just have to read it for yourself. As many times as I’ve read this record, I’ve never stopped to ponder the words: great calm. The word “great” comes from the Greek where we get our word mega. Mega, obviously means “great”, but a thesaurus will provide such synonyms as “mammoth”, “jumbo”, or “super”. The word “calm” comes from an unfamiliar Greek word that can also mean “tranquility” or “stillness”.
Putting ourselves back into the shoes of the disciples, we will undoubtedly notice the deafening cacophony of howling winds and roiling seas; and quite possibly the screams of terrified men. We’ll also feel the biting spray blowing like tiny darts flung off the tops of curling waves while our clothes whip against our bodies in slapping stings, leaving angry welts.
Piercing through this din is the voice of Jesus; somehow I don’t think his voice was high and squeaky with fear, but was deep and resonating—authority emanating from every fiber of His being. Suddenly what was chaotic cacophony is instantly super tranquil. All that is heard is the heaving chests of breathless men.
The juxtaposition of this record astounds my imagination: chaos to calm, rage to tranquility, terror to peace, all in an instant, and all at the voice of Jesus.
And as an exclamation point to this record, as soon as the boat finally makes land, they are immediately accosted by a violent man that is hopelessly tormented and untamable (see vv. 5:1-5). But when he encounters Jesus, his storms are equally calmed and he finishes the evening “sitting and clothed and in his right mind” (v. 15).
You see the similarities? The man went from raging insanity to being in his right mind; the storm went from chaos to calm. What is it that Jesus can do in the depths of our souls? It reminds of the lyrics from a song I can’t recall the name of that I think is from MercyMe; the line is something like this:
He calmed the raging sea/He can calm the rage in me.
There’s no great formula for entering this calm, or more aptly put, for having this calm enter into us. We simply invite Jesus into our heart as savior and Lord. If you’ve already done that, then lift your burden, your rage, up to the Him in prayer. It need be no more difficult than crying out in sincerity, “Jesus, I’m scared because _________________, please help me!” Or “I’m so angry and hurt because__________________, please calm this anger!” He may touch you with an unmistakable warmth or with chills, but He will touch you and lead you “beside the still waters” (Psalm 23:2).
Again, because He calmed the power of nature’s fury and the power of demonic fury (the man suffering from insanity), then He can certainly calm the storms in our souls as well.
I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; my flesh also will rest in hope. You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy.
—Psalm 16:8-9, 11
What victories this week had! As you may have read last week, I was facing some challenges. I’m grateful to report that those situations needing urgent diplomacy turned out successful in ways undeniably orchestrated by the Lord. Also, even though I didn’t ask for prayer last week, several of you reached out to offer up prayer on my behalf. I am truly humbled by that to the point of tears; I am grateful for your prayers because God moved in ways that brought much blessing and relief in the depths of my soul.
It also reminded me that often when I pray for others, I ask God to make Himself known to the person in ways that are undeniably God’s work. And, yes, I pray the same for myself. I don’t think it’s selfish to desire the observance of God’s work in our lives. Often seeing His active work in our lives brings comfort and affirmation in ways no different than when I as a father seek to bless my own children.
Other times, however, His activity on our behalf is the only thing that will produce positive outcomes. Such was the case this week. Only God could have orchestrated the timing of things that brought such great victory.
Seeing God’s work in our lives does indeed bring rejoicing, rest and hope as we read in Psalm 16. It also produces more of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives such as joy, peace, patience and gentleness (Galatians 5:22-23). But when God goes to work in ways that bring clear deliverance in otherwise dire straits, our faith is deepened and our confidence in God grows. This, then can become a catalyst for dynamic intercessory prayer for others with less faith that are facing hard times themselves.
The week also revealed that I still succumb periodically to fear when facing tough circumstances. It reminds me of Jesus asking His disciples why they were so fearful in the midst of a great storm on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:40). He goes on to say, “How is it you no faith?” Then He calms the storm (I blogged on this account a few years ago, but it’s on another web platform, maybe I’ll re-post it in the near future).
When I recognized my fear, I rebuked it and asked Janey to pray for me. Then I blogged about it and even more people prayed for me; now I can stand in the “times of refreshing that may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19) because He bared His mighty right arm on my behalf and moved the mountains that only He could move.
Thank you, Lord. And thank you for your prayers.
I’m struggling with what to write. This was a tough week for me. I don’t usually have tough weeks because I try not to internalize the wrong things. However, this week was a bit bumpy at work, Caleb’s struggling with being back at school and Janey’s adjusting to the opportunity of having more hours with her work. All of this means that the beginning of the year is less than stellar so far. Maybe you can relate.
But even in the every-day trials of life, we can find rest and solace in Jesus (see Matthew 11:28-30, John 14:27 and Colossians 3:12-16). Alongside this, I’m thankful I can be safe at home. Both Janey and I have experienced otherwise in our distant pasts, but with each other we are safe. Our home is a safety zone. We can relax, unwind, vent, cry if we need to—and just be ourselves.
In fact, even with a bumpy week we were still blessed to celebrate Caleb’s first Christmas concert (which included him performing a nice solo). We had a great snow storm all of Saturday, which brought great tobogganing; and we assembled a 550-piece jigsaw puzzle of Snoopy and Woodstock.
And tonight, it’s roast beef with horseradish sauce!
So, yes, it’s good to be home.
I’ve a taken a break from theological stuff and have following a “deep” and “profound” (wink-wink) haiku on my thoughts heading into the New Year. I call it: The Clash of Idealism with Reality.
…rich with promises. But first—
Tidy the garage!
I know, I have a weird sense of humor! But our garage, probably like yours, was the repository for all the package remains and present remnants in need of recycling. Now our recycle bin is packed full and we have 10 days to go until pick up!
That’s post-Christmas life in suburban America.