Category: Theology

Water in the Desert

small bub spring

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
   and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
   and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
   and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
   the thirsty ground bubbling springs
 (Isaiah 35 :5-7a)

Do you ever feel a certain unease even when things are going well? Somehow there is something missing, just knowing life should be more than this.

In today’s passage, Isaiah wrote to his fellow Israelites who were being exiled, but who would later be allowed to return to their homeland. His powerful poetry shows marvelous things that God has done, is doing, and will do.

Not only did Isaiah speak to his Jewish compatriots, but as prophet he gave a preview of what Jesus would do at the cross and will do when he returns.

Yes, a major part of Isaiah’s promise has already been fulfilled …  but much remains to be completed. We call this the already and the not yet. Understanding the difference between these helps keep us from two misunderstandings of how God is working today.

Misunderstanding # 1. We overestimate how much of our problems and ills God will heal now…….and get disheartened because he has not lived up to all our expectations. We expect our best life now, so we get embittered when we lose a job or have declining health or family feuds. We focus on what has not gotten fixed and are discouraged because God seems so slow at answering our prayers.

Misunderstanding # 2 Is underestimating how much the Lord wants to do now. We get so discouraged by what happened in #1 that we neglect how God is on the move now and does care for us. We forget that God says: “Fear not, I am with you.”

Even though there is no guarantee that all our burning sand will be cooled in this lifetime, it is guaranteed that God transforms how we react to the heat we face in this life. Our tongue does start to shout for joy.

And we warmly anticipate that one day our Lord Jesus will return and the rest of the “not yet” will become “now”.

 

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

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!

 

God is Love…. Is God only Love?

In love a throne will be established;
    in faithfulness a man will sit on it—
    one from the house of David—
one who in judging seeks justice
    and speeds the cause of righteousness (Isaiah 16:5)

Today’s Old Testament passage is a prophetic preview by Isaiah of what Jesus is really like.   First and foremost, and very thankfully for us, his throne is established in love. That is huge, because of how we often mess up—-it’s Christ’s love that overlooks our many foul-ups. I’m thankful for that – I know how often I mess up.

But Jesus is not only love. Because, at the same time, Jesus is also righteous and just—qualities that are almost as important as God’s love. As I encounter the enthroned Jesus, he wants me to be not only loving but empowered to live a righteous and just life. If God were only love, we could do what was right in our own eyes and God would say “No problem …. whatever”.

Scripture says that God does not overlook what is unjust and unrighteous. But, really, aren’t we the same?  When we see something that is not just, don’t we want it set right?  Even a child knows when to say, “No fair!”

A bamboozling big bank bigshot is too big to jail, but a dishonest underling is sent to prison for a long time. A whistleblower gets fired for exposing how their company is ripping off people. What injustices! If God were only love, these types of rip-offs would never be set right.

But we have a God who does want to set things right! And as we follow the Lord, then in our own areas of influence, we keep pursuing righteousness and justice empowered by love. Living that way, we can overcome evil significantly, but not yet totally.

Scripture teaches that the day will come when God will say “No more.” A world where righteousness and justice fully prevail will arrive.  Imagine that day — no more rip-offs, no more deception, no more favoritism. God will get rid of the garbage.  We look in hope to that promised day when all evil will be wiped out forever.

 

 
 
 

 

 

Jesus Is Enough

jesus is enough

Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord. (Leviticus 18:5)

This Leviticus verse is a typical Old Testament command.  Very direct. But doable? Unfortunately, throughout the Old Testament, people’s obedience was too poor to be able to live up to this directive. They would try and fail. Try and fail. Over and over.

But there is one great Old Testament character, Abraham, who shows us a different and better way :

 So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:6,9)

This truth started with Abraham 4,000 years ago. Then 2,000 years later, Paul showed how we can get that same credit. We get it through faith in Jesus Christ—if I believe God through Christ, that gives me a turbocharged deposit of righteousness credited to my own account.

That free deposit is the exact opposite of the default mode that I work in: a voice inside me asks whether I am doing “enough” good deeds. How easy it is to drift into the bogus view that being a Christian means that we must do more and more and more and more—- rather than having simple faith. When I get caught up in the “more and more” mentality, sometimes it is so exhausting that I am tempted to say, “Why bother?”

Paul knew how impossible it is to keep the commands on our own. We must die to our futile attempts at law keeping.

 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God (Galatians 2:19)

If “do more and more and more” Christianity is my law, I must die to that law so that Christ may live in me.

Then, I can discern what it means to live by faith in exactly the body, time, and environment that I have been placed into. I can then walk in the freedom of being set free to do good things because of the faith Christ has given to me and the power of Christ working in me.

What a delightful difference – – – instead of struggling to do “enough” good deeds as a slave to the law, I can now cheerfully do just the good that Christ tells me to.

Living by grace instead of law is a wonderful way to live! Today, dwell on this beautiful paradox: we are simultaneously personally bankrupt and fully empowered to have an abundant life through Christ.

Not So Small After All

magnifying_glass

Today’s post was inspired at a recent meeting of our Writers group 1 where our leader supplied us a list of prompts of a single word or very short phrases to be a seed for an entire blog post.   I chose “magnifying glass”. After quickly writing a draft in our meeting, I have refined it at home, so that you can read my final post. 

Recently, I had to read a label on one of our major appliances. It was printed in a microscopic font and was totally unreadable. So, I needed to use a magnifying glass to read what it said.

Sometimes, God can seem as microscopic to me as the wording on that label.

A given day may seem boring and listless.
If so, I must be missing something.
Sometimes my God is too small.

Then I remembered a verse in the King James Bible:   

O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together. (Psalm 43:3) 

Does God need our magnification?
No, not at all. God is still great whether or not I acknowledge it.

But God surely does desire that I see him as great. So, when I magnify the Lord I am simply being enabled to see what is already there! When that happens, I begin to have an experience of God’s greatness. And a big part of that experience is to see how God’s greatness exists totally outside of anything he does for me.

For it is so easy for me to make the gospel be all about me—-thinking that God is only great to the extent that he does stuff for me and gives me nice blessings; it’s almost like I think God is supposed to cater to me like a wonderful supernatural butler!

Paradoxically, the more I experience how God is great outside of me, the more I understand what God does do for all of us. He really invites us to walk in union with his Son. As the Son shines in us, we get to participate in what God’s purposes are—we cooperate in making the Lord’s prayer come true: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”   Join in! 

  1. http://njcwg.blogspot.com/