Category: Theology

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/

The Great Escape

escape from the fowler

 Praise be to the Lord,
     who has not let us be torn by their teeth.
  We have escaped like a bird
     from the fowler’s snare;
 the snare has been broken,
     and we have escaped.
  Our help is in the name of the Lord,
     the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 124:6-8)

What kind of help has our Lord given us? He gives us two kinds of help in this passage.

First, God freed us from the fowler’s snare. This snare stands for being trapped by sin and death. We need help!

Jesus is our rescuer. Once and for all, Jesus sets us free from the snare of sin and death when we repent and believe in him for salvation.

Second, the Psalmist also gives praise to the Lord that he “has not let us be torn by their teeth.”  Here, the “they” is enemies who attack.  This can refer to actual human enemies, to demonic forces, and to the junky things that happen to us just because we live in a fallen world.

Does this mean that God protects us from all tearing in this life? No. But no matter how much things do get rotten in our present life, our hope cannot be torn away from us. We keep our hope that our final destiny is with the Lord. We remain in union with Christ.

Here the apostle Paul is in great difficulty but not torn:

 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4:7-9) 

Paul compares our bodies to jars of clay. That sure highlights our weakness, contrasting our tiny power with God’s mighty power. When calamitous stuff seems overwhelming, God is constant. That’s the full meaning of our help being in the name of the Lord.  We’d be in despair if it all depended on what we can do—but what a relief that our powerful God gives us the hope we need to persevere!

What does it really mean to have more of Jesus?

ball pub

 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. (Colossians 2:9-10)

Does having more of Jesus mean getting all pumped up emotionally? That easily happens when we go to a retreat, mission trip, etc. Our balloon is soaring higher and higher.   But then —– we return home.

I remember one time driving to work the day after a 3-day retreat and someone did not think I was driving up the entry ramp to the Interstate fast enough. So, they gave me a long blast on their horn! Yes, after our return, somehow the realities and stresses of everyday life have not changed…soon we are swamped by them again and then we become like that picture of the deflated balloon.

How, then, can we have a more robust view of more of Jesus?

I think we need an encounter with our God of fire and holiness.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-29)

Our God is a consuming fire. Should we be terrified about this? Am I throwing fire and brimstone at you?

Let’s look at what the Prophet Isaiah said after a frightening encounter with God.

 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5) 

Does this experience make Isaiah pull back in fear or give up? No, he next learns that God forgives him. And then see what happens next in verse 8:

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”   And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” 

What if we too start at a place of “woe is me” and then become able to say, “forgive and cleanse me Jesus” and then “I want more of what you want?”

Then, we are empowered to be used and sent. As I often have said in my blog posts, this does not mean we must be doing wonderful and spectacular things for the Lord. The sending can be to tasks that appear to be ordinary.

These ordinary tasks begin to change what we want, care for, think we need, get annoyed at, etc.

So, even when the realities and stresses of everyday life have not changed, Christ is changing our way of reacting to them.  It’s these little changes that add up over time to a changed, maturing character that really does have more of Jesus.