Category: Devotions

Was God Lonely?

rosko

You may remember an FM Disk Jockey named Rosko. Before FM radio became homogenized and commercialized, he had a free-form show on WNEW-FM in New York. He was free to make his own playlists, read poetry, and give monologs. One night, while playing the theme song from 2001 A Space Odyssey, he gave a monolog about why God created man. His theory:  God created man because he was lonely.

But I’d like to respectfully take issue with Rosko.

My reply springs out of what the Trinity is like.  When I first heard about the Trinity, God in three persons, it was presented as dry and abstract. It was a theological puzzle that was hard to either understand or explain.

But I have learned that a much better way of looking at the Trinity is to see it as a love story instead of an enigma.

The 3 members of the Trinity have always strongly loved each other.  Its three members —Father, Son and Holy Spirit, were more than happy with the love and fellowship they had amongst themselves since before the beginning of time. And they could have just stayed in that 3-way love story forever. There was no loneliness inside the Trinity!

But, wonderfully and amazingly, the love among the 3 members of the Trinity was so great that it overflowed into them deciding, out of their love, to create the universe — and us.

But despite that love we rebelled against God. Did God dump us? No, out of the abundance of love from this same triune God, came the decision to redeem us by sending God’s Son Jesus:

 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)

And showering even more love upon us, Jesus the Son blessed us by sending the Holy Spirit:

 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26.)

I could never please a lonely, needy God, but because his Son and Spirit live in me I am able to please our loving Father.

Surprising Flowers

Processed with MOLDIV

I expect to see daffodils in people’s gardens in early spring. They are welcoming signs of the change of seasons.

But this spring I saw something unexpected while walking in the woods across our street.

Wild daffodils in the middle of the woods.  

My surprise flower encounter led me to reflect on what is expected and unexpected in how God works in our lives.

When we watch how God works does it look like a garden that is well ordered, predictable, manicured, and under control?   Can there be surprises or unpredictability in the kingdom of God? Let’s check in with Paul:

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:25)

Personal testimony: My own life was struck by the Lord’s unpredictability. Back when I was a teenager and knew everything, I decided that Christianity was just a bunch of myths and fairy tales; I was too intelligent to believe such nonsense. But in my 20’s I was stunned to be knocked upside the head to see that Christ’s story is true.

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.   (1 Cor 1:21)

I heard this foolishness and suddenly it started to make sense to me.

Of course, Paul is being ironic in his use of the word “foolishness”. It’s only foolish from the perspective of modern rational logical scientific enlightened thinking.   But from God’s perspective becoming a Christian is the wisest thing that could possibly happen. Even though we can’t prove Christian faith beyond the shadow of a doubt, it is not unreasonable… Indeed, what stunned me was that there is evidence 1 that an individual who claimed to be God was executed, came back to life and was seen by many.

Dear readers, you are in one of two camps. You may already believe Jesus’ gospel is true and life-changing. Or you may be a skeptic as I was. Every day God challenges skeptical people…maybe you are being wooed today.

I refused to believe until Jesus showed me he is truth and love and said, “Come on in.” What about you?

1.  Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell

You’ve got to hit the red button

red button

Our worship service at The Chapel 1ended.

You can exit the sanctuary down the crowded main aisle. Or go out the side exit – that’s a nice shortcut.

On a recent Sunday, quite a few people, eying the shortcut, headed over to the side door.  But the door was locked.

A crowd began to build up and mill around. Some people got discouraged, gave up, and headed over towards the main exit. But — then — someone reached up to the left of the locked door and punched a red button. The door swung open! Those folks who waited now began to stream out.

When we are faced with temptation, we have a choice, just like the people by the door. Do we trust that there’s a way out — or do we give up?

It’s likely that this verse is familiar to you:

 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13).

But less familiar is the following verse:

Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. (1 Corinthians 10:14).

Note, an idol does not have to be an actual figure that we bow down to. Rather, it is anything we are tempted to make more important than Jesus. If we give in to temptation, we are worshiping an idol instead of Jesus. But we have a choice: we can flee from our tempting idol to something else.

I hereby confess one of my own idols: vastly overestimating what good politics can accomplish.

To worship my idol, I was spending way too much time watching MSNBC and Fox News. The former was enraged that our president was ruining our country. The latter was enraged that our wonderful president was being destroyed by his enemies. Both sides were making an idol out of how the correct politics would cure so much of what is wrong with our country.  I was getting sucked up into their anger; all their futile arguing was giving me agita; I gave in to the temptation to enter their vitriol instead of doing something worthwhile.

So, during Lent, I started a fast from those two networks. Lent ended several months ago but…my fast has not ended yet.  Sometimes I do miss the fights, and I am tempted to hear how the two sides are reacting to the latest Presidential tweet; but don’t think I am missing something of lasting value by not tuning in.

Now, if politics is the idol I am fleeing from, I need to flee to something else.

So, I have fled from politics to…. more of Jesus. This sounds spiritual, but it’s not only spiritual: On a visit for a routine checkup the nurse took my blood pressure—and, not knowing about my FOX/MSNBC fast, she said, “Your blood pressure is way down; have you started taking a drug for it?” Nope — it wasn’t a drug; it was what I stopped taking — exposure to angry arguments!

I encourage you to reflect on what your own idol might be. Yours might be politics, too; but it could be sex, money; or something else. When our idol tempts us — we know that God not only gives us a way out but also provides something to flee to.

When we hit our own red button, we’re turning from our idol to the satisfaction that only Jesus can provide.

  1. https://www.thechapel.org/

I’ll never Fall!

trip fall

 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Corinthians 10:12)

I went running in the woods in Tourne Park in Mountain Lakes recently.  The trail is narrow and rocky at many points, so I was extra careful with my footing in those places. When I reached a part that was a little wider and clearer I thought: “Good, I don’t need to be as careful here; I can let my mind wander. No problem.”

Suddenly I stumbled and fell forward and ended up flat on my face! I was tripped up by a hidden root.

My lips, hands, and knees hurt.

Inspecting my body, the only blood was from some scrapes on my knees. I was glad that falling on a trail is softer than falling in a road!

Only briefly deterred, I resumed my running.

Later, after my wife helped me clean my wounds, I reflected on vigilance.  Often, we are good at being vigilant when we know we should be watchful—say during a time of worry, stress and temptation.  But it’s easy to feel complacent when everything is going great; and to be less prayerful and alert.  That is the dangerous time when temptation trips us like a hidden root and we stumble!

How can we keep from stumbling?

We may think that standing firm depends primarily on keeping our guard up to the best of our ability. It depends on us. But the book of Jude says we need to rely on Jesus, who “is able to keep you from stumbling” (Jude 1:24)

We receive the power and ability to stand firm from the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Then, and only then, we get to enter Jesus’ glorious presence without fault and with great joy (Jude 1:25a and 1:24)

We would not dare to say this out loud: “I’m so mature and experienced—I’d never fall into sin like _____did — that could never happen to me.” But isn’t it easy for that smugly complacent and superior attitude to secretly sneak in — and then we start to act proudly with an overconfident attitude?

So, my fall in the woods leads to today’s warning: It’s precisely when I feel my most confident in life, that I most need to call on the name of the One who will keep me from falling on my face!

 

 

Unexpected Medal

silver medal shrunk

I ran a 5K race one morning near St. Clare’s Hospital in Denville last month. I like the age group competition in these races.  My days of being at the front of the pack are long in the past, so it’s fun to have rivalries with those who are my own (advanced) age.

After the race, I was disappointed.  I ran 2 ½ minutes slower than last year; last year I got no medal; so, I knew I had no chance to get a medal this year. I left before the winners were announced.

That afternoon, I looked up the results online. To my shock, I got the silver medal in my age group! (A friend who did stay for the awards later gave me my medal which you see in the picture.)

What an ironic outcome: my training was much weaker this year; yet I got a medal despite all that. So, the medal was quite a surprise and an unexpected gift.

Doesn’t that sound like grace? We get an unexpected free gift, as opposed to something we work so hard for and think we can earn!

Romans 6:23 ESV describes the best free gift.  For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And another of my favorite grace verses is:                                                                                                                       For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

At the race, I certainly could not boast about how hard and well trained my effort was. Or how I kicked the butt of some tough competitors in my age group. (Nope, a couple of them did not even enter the race that day.) So, the medal was an unexpected gift.

I can’t take credit for anything good I have ever done that could possibly get me into a favorable place with Jesus. Salvation through Jesus is a far better unexpected gift!

 

Wise Idiots

How do you like meeting someone who likes to let you know how wise they are? They are so far above the follies of ordinary folks; they never screw up. When they talk, do you want to roll your eyes because they sound so unreal, or do you start to take them seriously and feel inferior because you aren’t totally together like they are?

To answer this let’s explore what true wisdom is…

Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
    love her, and she will watch over you. (Proverbs 4:6)

In today’s Proverbs verse wisdom is personified as a woman. Note, though, how much the description parallels Jesus. In the revised verse below, see what happens when you swap He for she, and Jesus for wisdom:

 Do not forsake Jesus, and he will protect you;
    love him, and he will watch over you.

Solomon, who wrote most of the book of Proverbs, started with a precocious grasp of how valuable wisdom is—he asked for it above all other requests as he began his reign as king. But he went backwards — spending years doing foolish things—-being into polygamy big time, accumulating riches, etc. So as an old man, as Solomon reflected and wrote Proverbs, he would know ways that he had been an idiot (or a fool as the Bible puts it) …Now, in view of his past follies, he could give an authentic warning against falling into his same trap.

True wisdom means I am learning to see that the Lord is wise — and to see how easy it is for me to be an idiot! (And how wonderful it is that when I do mess up and act like an idiot, our Lord mercifully forgives me of my idiocy when I repent).

Look at this verse—is it a threat or a promise?

 For your ways are in full view of the Lord,
    and he examines all your paths. (Proverbs 5:21)

If  I am seriously following Jesus, then the verse is a wonderful promise that
he will lovingly watch over me. On any given day: which of my choices were crappy and wasteful? Which were sound? It’s the kindness of Jesus that shows this to me.

Jesus woos me, as opposed to saying, “You better obey or be crushed.” His attitude is not harsh, even though his discipline can temporarily sting. By nature, I don’t enjoy being contradicted, yet I am learning to be more welcoming of Christ’s correction.

Because when Jesus gives me a course correction: This cretin has less crud and more of Christ!

christ is wisdom personified

Did you take the right fork?

  Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. (Psalm 25:4)

paths-2

What a wonderful path in that pastoral scene! It’s a delightful walk, and it would be obvious if we started to wonder off the path into the brambles.

Not so obvious was when my wife and I were hiking with another couple through the woods in Harriman Park in New York State and got seriously off course. We had no idea that we were taking the wrong path when we came to the fork. By the time we came to a clearing which overlooked the New York Thruway, we realized we were miles from where we were supposed to be.  Eventually, though, we got back —- without a searching party having to be sent out.

Today we’ll talk about a trap for our Christian walk that is similar — where you think you are on the right path—you are not deliberately disobeying —- but you have made a wrong turn.

Today’s menace is called moralism.  It’s the idea that the Bible is mainly a list of moral principles and rules that it depends on our own best efforts to follow. When these efforts appear to be going well, we start to think that this shows how wise and good we are being, instead of how amazingly sustaining and empowering the Lord is!

We subtly give ourselves the credit for how well we are doing—we are such experts at doing the right thing!  And a feeling starts to sneak in that we are just a little special, being a little superior to those who are not doing quite as well as we are.

Moralism also has the opposite danger: when we realize we are not so good at following the principles and rules after all; and we know darn well that we are falling far short — then, instead of feeling superior, we start to feel like a piece of filth.

True wisdom, empowered by the Lord, enables us to keep clear of the twin pitfalls of moralism. This wisdom knows to focus on the Lord and who the Lord is before we try to follow his paths.

Our Lord:  Awesome, majestic, holy, just, loving, powerful. Totally worthy of our worship! If we have an encounter with almighty God — and with his son Jesus— and with his Spirit which he has sent to live in us—then we know that we are empowered to live wisely before him.

What loving compassion our almighty Lord has, who knows how often we mess up by wandering off his path. He offers us repentance — we can turn away from being too arrogant or from being too beat up.

Any time I wander into in the brambles, I just need reminding of this truth:

 I can’t even begin to live out the principles in the Bible, without first having a persistent prayerful personal encounter with the Lord that calls on his power.