The Great Calm

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:

The Great Calm

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.

─Matthew Henry

 

great_calmIt’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.

Fight Familiarity

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).

Great…Calm

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.

 

Victory and Praise

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.

Deity of Jesus, Part 4: The Wider Sacrifice

Today is the last installment of my four-part series on exploring the deity of Jesus Christ. J.17-5.jpgIt began four weeks ago, in reaction to the apparent lack of understanding of professing Christians in grasping Jesus as Emanuel, God with us; and the springboard was John 17:5:

And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5, NKJV).[1]

Obviously, this series has not been an exhaustive study, because I think it requires several lifetimes to begin grasping something so monumental. But you must start somewhere and this series is my attempt at ‘somewhere.’

Exchange of Glory

Pastor Jeremy Treat, Ph.D., in a recent article, connected John 17:5 as a “loving Trinitarian exchange of glory” at the cross where “we see the wisdom of the Father, the grace of the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit.”[2] I think this is a significant understanding of the verse because it implies that Jesus, the Creator, the Preexistent One, is allowing Himself to be treated in shameful and unjust fashions knowing that the end will result in glorification of God via the coming resurrection and the outpouring of salvation via the coming new birth in the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ earthly punishment will culminate with death on a cross through the horrible process of scourging followed by the crucifixion. What kind of God would do this? But Jesus endured in part because of His eternal vision of the ultimate result of such a gruesome sacrifice (cf. Php. 2:8 & Heb. 12:2-3); namely the salvation of humanity.

Only for a moment we need to put ourselves into the shoes of Jesus (cf. Mt. 5:14). While we are not being forced to do this, I think John 17:5 invites us to due to its intriguing concept.

The Wider Sacrifice

At some point in Eternity Past Jesus enjoyed a perfect existence in the Eternal Community (see my post from December 11, 2016). Within the Eternal Community, everything was well and beautiful beyond our understanding and expression and there was no threat to disrupting this bliss; except for His own willingness to step away from it and into humanity as the agent of salvation. All that was beautiful, comfortable and perfect was set aside so that Jesus could come and reside among us (cf. Phil. 2:1-5 and Jo. 1:1-18). So while the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross is very tangible to the believer, we now need to stop and consider the sacrifice of Jesus at the moment of conception in Mary’s womb. Is this the point in time when Jesus “changed His situation?” I tend to think so because Jesus’ sacrifice did not begin in the Garden of Gethsemane; it began much earlier. His sacrifice began at the moment He left the Eternal Community, entering into Mary’s womb so that someday, those that call on His Name, may be saved and thereby destined to eternal glory forevermore with Jesus Christ. His great sacrifice began upon exiting the Eternal Community and, I would suggest, did not conclude until He ascended back into glory (cf. Mk. 16:19, Lk. 24:51 and Ac. 1:9). In other words, His entire life was, among many other things, a continued expression of sacrifice; a sacrifice that we cannot fully comprehend but are invited to at least try to comprehend what we can. Such effort on our part can only expand our faith while also perhaps humbling us a little more as well.

What I have hoped to inspire through this exploration is a deepening of our love and appreciation for Jesus Christ and all that He has done for us. Jesus is God and as such, carries all the powers associated with God. He could have easily eradicated the “human problem” through any means of annihilation but chose instead to come into our depraved condition to lead us out of it and into His glorious Kingdom. Only through Jesus Christ can we be eternally saved and only Jesus Christ could have been the agent of this salvation (cf. Jo. 14:6, Ac. 16:29-31 and Ro. 10:9-10).

Finally, I close with the words of McCready:

Knowing the Son of God has entered into our world in Jesus of Nazareth is transformative knowledge. If it is true, we who believe it can never be the same again. Such belief is not merely a matter of our intellect—it must affect our thoughts, words and actions as well. That Christ is the preexistent Son of God is the basis for believing God has loved us and given himself to us and for us without reservation.”[3]

 While a lengthy quote, I could not have summed it up any better. It is a joy to push the intellect deeper into the things of God, but the real gain is a further grasping of all that God has done for us through His Son, Jesus Christ. Such an exercise only deepens my own love for my Lord and Savior and increasing my desire to make Him known to others. I hope it does the same for you as well. May blessings be yours now and into 2017.

[1] New King James Version Study Bible, (Nashville, TN: Tommy Nelson, Inc., 1997), p. 1799.

[2] Jeremy Treat, “The Glory of the Cross,” Christianity Today, October 2013, p. 58.

[3] Douglas McCready, He Came Down From Heaven: The preexistence of Christ and the Christian faith (Dower’s Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2005), p 308.

Deity of Jesus Part 3: Leaving the Eternal Community

Only when the time was right did Jesus come to earth in incarnate form. I return again to McCready where he reminds the reader that of the Godhead—Father, Son, Holy Spirit—“only the Son has changed his situation in such a way that the term preexistence is helpful.”[1] This is an astounding thought that Jesus “changed his situation.” Changing His situation was a sacrifice that is staggering to comprehend.

Expanding Understanding

The lofty and somewhat circular language is purposeful in reminding us that there are some aspects of God that we just can’t explain because they are beyond the scope of our intellect; the created cannot ever fully explain the Creator (cf. Is. 55:8 & Ro. 9:20-21). For instance, how can something exist before existence? What form was the pre-incarnate Christ in? Did His form change once Earth and Man were created (I ask this since there’s a strong possibility that “the angel of the Lord” was the pre-incarnate Christ)? All of these questions are fascinating and worth further exploration if for no other reason but deepening our love for Jesus and what He accomplished on our behalf.

But now I return to the significance of John 17:5 and grasping that Christ was indeed preexistent. Being preexistent means that He was God and He was no less God in His Incarnation. Therefore, Jesus being God in the form of man is Him truly coming into our world from a beyond-our-understanding-existence. Crabb, similarly struggling with trying to grasp the significance of Christ’s departure from His previous existence, once captured what he thought a conversation was like between Father and Son prior to the incarnation:

‘Father, what you ask is painful beyond description to even contemplate. I cannot imagine what the actual experience will be like of not seeing your face. And yet I am delighted with your plan. It will give me the chance to let people see how wonderful you are. The joy of seeing you glorified makes it worth it all. There is no other way?’

‘No.’[2]

The Eternal Community

Imagine the emotional upheaval Jesus went through to comply with the necessity of taking on the form of a Man. He had indescribable joy in what Crabb refers to as the “Eternal Community.”[3] Along with this joy is perfect harmony with the Father and the Holy Spirit; there was nothing disruptive, painful, or evil. That all changed when Jesus entered the world of Man. Here He was treated in shameful and unspeakable ways. Even today no name draws so much elation or hatred as the Name of Jesus Christ.

So often, and rightly, we recognize Jesus for the incredible sacrifice He gave on our behalf while on the earth, mostly focused on the Passion Week. We cite with pomp and ceremony what Jesus endured at the hands of men. Rarely, however, do we ever hear about the sacrifice Jesus made in leaving His ‘Eternal Community’ to enter humanity on our behalf. Not only that, but He entered humanity in the most vulnerable way: an embryo in the womb. I suggest this because we don’t really understand what Jesus sacrificed by leaving His eternal dwelling, so rather than trying to gain a further understanding of that it so we can teach it to others, we avoid it altogether. I don’t say this to be harsh toward anyone, I have spent much time in the pulpit myself, and I would definitely be intimidated by teaching something that is beyond my understanding; I don’t want to look or sound foolish, but even more, I would not want to say anything theologically inaccurate or dishonoring to Jesus. Still, people need to better understand that Jesus’ sacrifice began long before the Passion Week.

[1]Douglas McCready, He Came Down From Heaven: The preexistence of Christ and the Christian faith (Dower’s Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2005), pp. 12-13.

[2] Larry Crabb, Connecting: A radical new vision (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 1997), p. 59.

[3] Ibid., p. 58.

Exploring the Deity of Jesus, Part 2

john-1

As we explored last week in Part 1 of Exploring the Deity of Jesus (actually titled Jesus and the Startling Stat, John 17:5 clearly speaks to the preexistence of Jesus Christ. Preexistence itself is a difficult concept to grasp. Since humans have a finite beginning we grope for some sort of previous knowledge or anchor[1] to hang the concept of preexistence from. The most likely and accessible anchor of previous knowledge is that of deity; only a deity or divine being could preexist. What’s more astounding is thinking of the word “world” in John 17:5 to mean “universe” as Mounts attests in his definition of the Greek word kosmos (see footnote #5 from last week). Jesus existed before the universe, which of course means that He existed before anything else ever did. Thinking deeply about this eventually derails our train of logic. Jesus is not below logic but rather the opposite, He defies logic, He transcends it, we could even say that logic resides in Jesus since all things come from Jesus (cf. John 1:3 and Colossians 1:17).

Such thinking either troubles or excites the mind that previously held Jesus as not being God. It was hugely exciting for me; and it still is, but why?

Still Exciting

As briefly explored above, only one “thing” or “power” could be in existence before anything else, and that is God. Nothing and no one created God; He has always been and always will be.  God is infinite. Lewis states that, “If anything is to exist at all, then the Original Thing must be, not a principle nor a generality, much less an ‘ideal’ or a ‘value,’ but an utterly concrete fact.”[2]

Here is where some struggle while others celebrate accepting God as a “concrete fact.” If we are to accept God as such a fact, then we now have a choice to accept Jesus on the same basis or not. Accepting Jesus on the same basis is to proclaim accepting His deity; or stated another way, accepting that Jesus Christ was indeed God in the flesh as Scripture attests to (cf. Is. 7:14 & Mt. 1:23).

After “discovering” this verse, I went back to the Wierwille book to see how he handled it. I was not surprised to find that he did not explore John 17:5 at all. Finding this verse absent in that work was the final exclamation point I needed to verify that I had indeed fallen for a great deception and that it was now time to finally move into accepting and even embracing the deity of Jesus Christ as a concrete fact.  Since then I have put a lot of energy into doing the best I can to properly teach Jesus to any I have opportunity to speak to, this includes to my children, pulpit messages, and coffee shop conversations.

Several other verses also attest to the preexistence of Jesus Christ. The more familiar prologue of the Fourth Gospel is the one most people refer to:

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:1-4a & 14, NKJV).

 McCready states that this lengthy introduction from the Gospel of John insists that,

 Jesus’ origin and nature are incomprehensible if seen solely in terms of this world. Only when we read it in the light of his pre-incarnate deity does Jesus’ story make sense. … Christ’s preexistence requires that it identify the Word with Jesus, which the prologue does.[3]

 The prologue of John is thick with theological significance. Walvoord comments on the first three verses of John 1 thusly, “If Christ is eternal, it also is obvious that He is the uncaused cause, the self-existent One. As the Creator of all things, He Himself must be uncreated.”[4] Johnson states that,

 The prologue in this case gives explicit expression to the constant assumption behind the deeds and words of Jesus: he acts and speaks as the incarnate expression of God’s speech. As word gives body to thought, so does Jesus give visible expression in the world to the invisible power and presence of God.[5]

 So while the human mind may struggle with the somewhat ethereal concept of preexistence, that is, existence before anything else existed; the same human mind can easily grasp the existence of another human being. The human being is “concrete” in that he is tangible, physical, and visceral; thus, Jesus as the Incarnate God now presents to humanity a tangible example of the “invisible power and presence of God.” Jesus not only embodies or personifies God, He is God.

Another interesting fact that McCready points out is how similar John 1:1 is to Genesis 1:1.[6] I had not thought about this connector before, but I find it profound because in John 1, as indicated above, we see Jesus preexistent and we see Him linked to the Word of God by in fact being the Word that became flesh. Here I’m tempted to dive into more quotes and references, but will instead attempt to coalesce this into my own thinking; after all, this started with my own journey of faith upon realizing my own gross theological error regarding the truth of Jesus Christ.

My Own Words

Only one being can be preexistent and that is God. Scripture clearly establishes that Jesus Himself was preexistent. Therefore, Jesus being preexistent makes Him God. He is God from before the beginning of the world, or of the universe, so He is in fact God and preexistent before time. I say this because I have heard many teachings state that God is either above or outside of time or perhaps both. But the concept of time seems to have been instilled more for Man than for anything else. We see time first expressed in Genesis by way of measuring the lights in the sky (cf. Gen. 1:5). I find this relevant because Jesus existed in some pre-incarnate/preexistent form even before time. The finite human brain cannot comprehend what existed before existence, but one thing we know from Scripture is that whatever it was, Jesus was there. In fact, the opening verses of John 1 indicate that all things were made through Him; so not only was He there but He was also apparently the initiator of it.

While it may sound somewhat confusing and a little circular, the point I’m trying to make is that Jesus was, is, and always will be; He is the same yesterday, today, and forever; He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end (cf. Heb. 13: 8 and Rev. 1:11 & 22:13). He is not a god in time, but the God of time and all that came before it and all that will come after it.

In Part 3 next we’ll look a little more closely at the Incarnate Jesus.

 

[1] David P. Ausubel, The Acquisition and Retention of Knowledge: A cognitive view (Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000), pp. 8 & 101.

[2] C. S. Lewis, Miracles (New York, NY: Macmillian, 1960), p. 87.

[3] Douglas McCready, He Came Down From Heaven: The preexistence of Christ and the Christian faith (Dower’s Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2005), p. 140.

[4]John F. Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord (Chicago, IL: The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1969), p. 28.

[5] Luke Timothy Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament, 3rd ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010), Kindle loc. 8014.

[6] McCready, p. 141.

 

 

 

I’m Accepted and the Big Decision

I received notice last Thursday that I have been accepted into the Doctor of Ministry program in Corban University’s School of Ministry! My areas of study will be Christian Theology and Apologetics. I’m quite excited by this because it helps to move me just a little closer to my dream second career. Yes, even in my early (actually, mid-) fifties, I still have dreams. No, not of retirement on some remote beach or hidden cabin in Montana (even though each has its own appeal!), but to enter academia.

 

Where It Began

This all began about thirty minutes before my Master’s Degree commencement ceremony last April. Two of my professors asked me to consider very seriously submitting an application to the program for 2017. I noted their suggestion and figured that 2017 meant the beginning of the academic year in August, more than a year away. Well, as it happens, the doctorate academic year doesn’t begin in August, it begins in January; like the January that’s less than two months from now.

I didn’t know this until I received an email in late September from one of the professors, the Director of the School of Ministry, confirming the invitation to submit an application in time for the beginning of the year. Then a week later I received an official letter repeating the invitation once again.

Was God trying to tell me something?  I wasn’t sure even though I have a longing to

pile_of_books

Yep, theology books!

continue pursuing such study. As weird as it may sound, I consider study to be a form of worship; that’s why I put so much effort into to getting the best grades possible.  And in seeking opportunities to share (or teach) what I’m learning. I love it! God is fathomless and yet we still have the privilege and, frankly, the responsibility to seek after our infinite God.

 

Another thought pattern guiding this decision is how to best pass on what I’ve learned. How can I leave the best legacy possible or, colloquially speaking, how can I best pass the torch onto the next generation?

Interestingly, the answer is found in Numbers chapter 11. Granted, the children of Israel were not in good standing with God at this time, but God still had mercy on them and on Moses—he appointed to Moses a body of seventy leaders (elders) to assist with leading the people.

 

Old Testament Learning in 2016

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord [that He would feed them], and he gathered the seventy men of the elders of the people and placed them around the tabernacle. Then the Lord came down in the cloud, and spoke to him and took of the Spirit that was upon him, and placed the same upon the seventy elders

—Numbers 11:24-25a

Hamilton has an interesting commentary on this, one I had not noticed before:

“It is as if Moses has more than enough ‘Spirit’ to share. His own portion of Spirit is not thereby reduced, any more than one candle loses any of its flame when it lights another candle.”[1]

This quote really stuck with me. First off, I’ve been told that if I want to become a pastor that it will be difficult because of my age. Now that smacks of age discrimination and besides, if God really calls me to it, it will happen. And I’ve had a few scoffers about my decision to pursue a Doctorate. Still, that’s where Janey and I feel God is leading us. Plus, God could use that vehicle for passing onto others what I’m learning. But I’m not yet passing the torch, or am I? Truth be told, I am not really ready to pass my torch to anyone yet. That phrase bothers me and seems more like capitulating to the idea that I have no more to contribute for advancing God’s Kingdom.

But, we learn something different from the Book of Numbers. God gives opportunities to share our torches. As the quote suggests, I can keep my torch lit but at the same time share it with others. Perhaps this is the vision of teaching and the idea of passing, or rather, sharing our torches before the time comes when we really do hand it onto others to run the races set before them.

So as I’m heading toward what the world calls the twilight of life, maybe I’m really heading to the limelight. No, not the limelight of stages, movie sets, or fame; but to the limelight of God’s call on my life. Maybe I’m not yet in the fast lane for God but more in the middle lane. Could it be that God will be using the Doctorate studies to shift my life into a fast lane?

As the old phrase goes, “Only time will tell.” But I intend to make the best of the time God is giving me, because I know better than anyone that God owes me nothing; yet, He still showers grace, mercy and opportunities on me and my family.

[1] Victor P. Hamilton, Handbook on the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, 2 ed. (2005). Grand Rapids: Baker Books, p. 324.

Vulnerable Furniture

We had Spring Cleaning yesterday. I know, we’re heading into winter, but we need to weed stuff out of the house in the last vestiges of good weather. One of the things carted off was an old cabinet thing of my Grandpa’s. It was ugly, beat up, and only marginally functional; but it was Grandpa’s.

All day Janey and I toiled over boxes of stuff (actually, junk), old pictures in broken frames and a bazillion Lego pieces. But looming off in the fringes of darkness was…the cabinet!

“Soooooo is this going to go to the Goodwill,” asked Janey.

“Uh…I gotta go finish off this other box.”

Beyond just the cabinet is that for some reason I’ve been feeling a bit odd, a bit, well, vulnerable. I don’t really know why. I’m happy with work. Janey and I are doing great. But I think it’s that we’re on the verge of making a big decision, one that will ripple significantly through our lives for the foreseeable future. It brings with it long-term commitment and dreams; dreams of a second career and more advancement of God’s Kingdom on earth.

The decision entails risk but so many good things never happen because the risk is feared and therefore avoided. Right now, depending on how things go, we’re planning on going for it, risk and all. We both firmly believe God is leading us into this direction. Still, butterflies are flittering around in the old stomach region and they always bring with them a fluttering sense of vulnerability.

 

And The Point…

But what’s this have to do with the beat up, old cabinet? Well, perhaps because the cabinet symbolizes in some weird psychological way a safer time in my life. A time when others made the big decisions and I just came along for the ride. If things worked out, great; if they didn’t, it wasn’t my fault and I didn’t have to fix it.

Oddly, though, the Apostle Paul never instructs us to hold onto the past. Instead, he said reach for the future and forget the past.

Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead. I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

—Philippians 3:13-14

Janey even said something like that, but it was after I decided she could take it to Goodwill.

Horizon.jpg

Ever looming horizon. 

When she got home she said she was proud of me for letting go of the past to make more room for our future. And it’s interesting, while Paul says that there’s one thing that he does; that one thing actually has two components to it: he forgets the past while reaching forward. So I guess in a way, the old cabinet also symbolizes letting go of a material thing to instead reach forward to the goal God has set in front of us. Hopefully someone who loves to refinish old beat up stuff will pick it up. But meanwhile, Janey and I will continue pressing forward toward a new goal, a new horizon, a new journey.

Part 2: Daniel and Prayer

daniel_2Last week we explored several biblical characteristics just by exploring Daniel’s prayer life. These characteristics include deep knowledge of Scripture, avoidance of compromise, faithfulness that is expressed in the “sub-characteristics” of courage (heroism), commitment through perseverance in spite of cultural threats, thankfulness and obedience to live a life honorable to God.

We also see that, “[B]urdened for his countrymen, Daniel began to pray.”[1] His prayers were not self-centric but instead he prayed for his countrymen. I imagine that at times he prayed for himself, such as when he was placed in the lions’ den, but the focus of Daniel Chapter 9 is his prayer for the people of Israel and the city of Jerusalem. Only in Chapter 9 does Daniel refer to the Lord as Yahweh, which occurs seven times.[2] Wood states that this is significant because Yahweh “depicts God as the gracious, covenant-keeping God of Israel, who is willing to reveal to man and hear man when he prays.”[3] Daniel is therefore indicating that he is expecting that God hears him and will indeed answer him. In other words, he is not praying a half-hearted prayer to a god that he sees as aloof or impotent but instead, he’s praying to the God of universe. He understands that “God bound Himself to us, and we are to obey Him. Our obedience brings a blessing, and our disobedience brings a curse.”[4] However, Daniel also clearly understands that his people have definitely sinned against God and have strayed far from the blessing of God and are in the midst of a curse by way of the exile.

Therefore, his burden for his people is so great that before he prays he fasts with sackcloth and ashes (verse 3). “In the Old Testament, fasting, sackcloth, and ashes are indications of grief and self-abasement in the context of calamity or loss experienced or threatened, or of wrongdoing committed.”[5] What we see is a very serious Daniel suffering a genuine burden for the sins of his people. He engages in the activities of verse three to not just acknowledge the greatness of the burden, but to also prepare his heart to come before Yahweh on behalf of his people.

When he finally approaches Yahweh, he doesn’t begin by just diving into his requests or supplications. Instead, he approaches Yahweh by first clearly acknowledging the Lord is a “great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him, and with those who keep His commandments” (verse 4). Then he moves into confession that his people have “sinned and committed iniquity” and that they “have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments. Neither have we heeded Your servants and prophets” (verses 5-6a). Daniel is not mincing words; he is intercessing for his people by honestly confessing the truth of their sin of abandoning God through abject disobedience and rejection of God’s precepts and the messages of his prophets. He eventually humbly asks God to forgive his people and spare the city of Jerusalem in verses 16-19.

While Nelson suggests he is inclined “to view that the prayer is a later interpolation”[6] I am inclined to agree with many other commentaries that it was part of the original rendering. This prayer is from the very heart of Daniel and it so moved God’s heart that Daniel is met presumably face to face with the Archangel Gabriel; in fact, “Daniel had not even finished his time of prayer (verse 20) before the angel made his appearance.”[7]

There is much more to be said about the prayer itself, but I want to summarize the additional characteristics that were not discussed above.

We have seen that Daniel had a genuine burden for others; he was others-centric and prayed with a fervent heart for their deliverance. We also see serious acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty and that he desires to bless his people. A sub-characteristic of this is the expectation that God is good and merciful and does want to bless his people. In other words, it is not just acknowledging that God can bless his people, but that he will bless his people in their obedience and faithfulness.

Additionally we see Daniel preparing himself via fasting, sackcloth and ashes. He did not enter into this prayer “just off the cuff” but genuinely prepared his heart and mind to approach the true God. And, finally, we see Daniel boldly expressing the sins of his people; he is not watering down the seriousness but is instead starkly stating the sins of his people and asking God to pour mercy and forgiveness onto the people and to spare Jerusalem.

A final word is that Daniel exhibited all of these characteristics while in exile. He was not in the comfort of his birthplace or frequenting his beloved temple, but he was in exile far away from his homeland. This speaks very clearly that godly character is not dependent on the environment but blooms from the fertile soil of faith held deep in Daniel’s soul.  May we be inspired by the depth of Daniel’s faith, the breadth of his godly character and the richness of his prayer life so that we, to, can become people that move the heart of God toward mercy and forgiveness for the lost and seeking souls.

[1] Leon Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), p. 234.

[2] Wood, pp. 234-5.

[3] Wood, p. 235.

[4] Donovan L. Graham, Teaching Redemptively: Bringing Grace and Truth into Your Classroom (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Design Publications, 2009), Kindle loc. 1623.

[5] John E. Goldingay, Daniel: Word Biblical Commentary, Gen. Eds. David A. Hubbard & Glenn W. Barker (Dallas: Word Books Publisher, 1989), p. 253.

[6] William B. Nelson, Daniel: Understanding the Bible Commentary Series, Gen. Eds. W. Ward Gasque, Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. & Robert K. Johnson (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2012), p. 222.

[7] Gaebelein, p. 111.

Daniel: An Example of Prayer

We discussed prayer in our small group the other night. That got me thinking about danielbiblical examples of those that prayed mightily. There are many examples, of course; Jesus being the preeminent example. But a somewhat obscure example is what I was drawn to. That example is Daniel.

One of my professors stated that “his [Daniel’s] prayer should inform how we pray.”[1] This phrase caught my attention because I spend much time in prayer myself. I do not profess to be any sort of mighty intercessor, but I am called and drawn to pray not just for myself or my family, but also for my specific church and our members and “attenders.” I also pray for the advancing of the gospel of Christ and for the forgiveness of our nation. I often feel a burden to pray, but at times I fight against a sense of futility in prayer because I am not seeing the answers I am expecting to see. Thus, the above quote inspired me to delve into this prayer in more detail, and in so doing I discovered key characteristics that built Daniel into a mighty man of prayer that moved the heart of God.

Daniel was “prompted to pray because he was reading Scripture.”[2] Archer states that Daniel was “a diligent student of Scripture who built his prayer life on the Word of God.”[3] Berrigan states that “Amid great darkness, Daniel opens the scroll. Thus once more an important principle is illustrated. This: while time lasts, scripture is never to be thought, or dealt with, as lying inert on a page. No, it is … a prodigious energy. It flares up in our face; it brings to bear upon our sorry human scene the very truth of God.”[4] Daniel held God’s Word in the highest regard, clearly displaying that he understood that, “You [God] have magnified Your word above all Your name” (Psa. 138:2b, NKJV).

Because he knew Scripture so well he was able to pray along the lines of the truth he had learned from the Word of God. In other words, Daniel’s prayers aligned with the truth he knew from Scripture which meant that his prayers were in alignment with the very heart of God from which Scripture originally flowed out of.

What is also interesting is Daniel’s praying is visible throughout the Book of Daniel. A significant precursor to the great prayer of Chapter 9 is the events of Chapter 6.

In Chapter 6 we see Daniel excelling above all the other satraps and governors (cf. vv. 2-3). This angered these men so they sought a way to tarnish his reputation in the eyes of King Darius. However, “these men said, ‘We shall not find any charge against this Daniel unless we find it against him concerning the law of his God’” (v. 5).  The charge they built to trap Daniel was his evidently well-known habit toward prayer. So King Darius was cajoled into signing a decree that his subjects should only pray to him and any violators would be thrown into the den of lions (vv. 6-9). Daniel was aware of this decree, so now not only was he in exile he was now facing a capital crime by continuing to engage in prayer. “Under such catastrophe, existence itself is shaken”[5] but still Daniel responds by continuing his practice of praying three times a day “as was his custom since early days” (v. 10b) knowing very well that if he is caught he will suffer dire, if not fatal, consequences.

This is stunning because it is likely he could have continued to pray minus the outward expression of prayer, but apparently Daniel found that compromising because instead he continues his outward expression of prayer by opening his windows, facing Jerusalem and kneeling three times a day. Scripture also informs us that Daniel, even under the threat of committing a capital offense, still gives thanks to God (v. 10).  “Such heroism does not develop overnight, nor is it created in a vacuum. It is the mature fruit of lives and characters that have been forged by experience, … and by faithfulness and obedience.”[6]

We know that by the grace of God Daniel survived the lions’ den while those that plotted against Daniel met their demise by the very means they intended for Daniel (not unlike Haman in the Book of Esther, about another heroic character and another somewhat humorous expression of God’s poetic justice). Daniel’s survival entices King Darius to honor the God of Daniel and then we see Daniel move into more visions and more prominence in the Persian culture, which, of course, leads us to the prayer of Chapter 9. But we’ll look at that next week.

 

[1] Quote from Professor Mark Jacobson, Corban University.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Gleason Archer, “Daniel,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Frank Gaebelein, Gen. Ed., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985), p. 107.

[4] Daniel Berrigan, Daniel: Under Siege of the Divine (Farmington: The Plough Publishing House, 1998), pp. 155-6.

[5] Berrigan, p. 4.

[6] Sinclair B. Ferguson, Daniel: The Communicator’s Commentary, Gen. Ed. Lloyd Ogilvie (Wasco: Word Books Publisher, 1988), p. 27.

Pine Cones and Simplicity

Pine Cone

Here comes the Pine Cone fleet! 

Spending time in the wilderness always resets my life a bit. It’s not always relaxing but I usually come away with either a clearer understanding of something or experience something brand new. Last Thursday morning was a combination of both.

 

Thursday Morning with Caleb

I was having my early morning quiet time while sitting on the bank of the Metolious River; Caleb, our ten year old son, was with me. I was busily praying and journaling when I noticed him tossing pine cones into the water. Their buoyancy fascinated him as did the quickness of them being carried away by the current. In no time, he was gathering armfuls of them, throwing them in at the same time and then following them by running down the bank as they floated away. Watching him I wrote in my journal:

“Caleb is playing a pine cone fleet game. He tosses them into the water and watches them ‘race’ through the channel and through a vegetation tunnel and out the other side if they don’t get stuck.”

He was having great fun just collecting, tossing, racing and watching pine cones flowing away in the river. I marveled at the simplicity of it. As most American kids his age, he has a computer with some appropriate games on it, he has a Wii U loaded with Lego City Undercover and we recently got him a smart phone (the Weather.com app is his favorite). So the kid is definitely “gadgetized,” but on this Thursday morning he was unplugged and loving every second of it.

 

“Light Bulb”

I was struck by the simplicity of his game. It wasn’t complex, the parts were easy to find and already assembled, and there was only one rule: which ever pine cone got to the finish line first, won! Simple, basic and fun.

His simple pine cone game got me thinking about faith, especially faith in Christ. How easy it is to complicate it, losing sight of the basic elements of our faith. We over-complicate God’s grace and mercy and certainly over-complicate salvation. We lose sight of the significance of the resurrection and of the ascension.  It reminds of 2 Corinthians 11:3:

But I am afraid that, even as the serpent beguiled Eve by his cunning, your minds may be corrupted and led away from the simplicity of [your sincere and] pure devotion to Christ. Amplified Bible (AMP)

While I greatly enjoy deep theological discussions and writings, I can’t let the seriousness of such discussions distract me from the simple truths. Truths such as it is “by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:9), and that “in Him we live and move and have our being: (Acts 17:28), or the biggie that Paul and Silas expressed to the Philippian jailer: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

These are simple, yet profound truths. They are the pine cones in the current of our lives. And the one “rule” to this is faith. There are no set of complexities we must accomplish first and we don’t have to assemble it because it is fully assembled in Christ. We just need faith; yes, even the faith of a child (Matthew 18:1-5 and Mark 10:14-15).