Glory Be!

 

I am fascinated by the creative power of words. As a communicator I believe in being as precise and clear as possible about the words we choose.

Some words we use only to speak of heavenly things. And if you’re like me, these words can feel hollow, often-repeated and familiar on the tongue, yet lacking that earthly, tangible context to anchor their meaning.

Glorify is just such a word.

Glorify (doxázō)…to cause the dignity and worth of some person or thing to become manifest and acknowledged.

BlueLetterBible.com

Jesus Introduced Us to Glory

Glorify is found 64 times in the Bible, yet its first appearance coincides with the birth of Jesus:

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen.

Luke 2:20

The shepherds heard God’s promise spoken to them by angels: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11). They acted on what they heard and went immediately to Bethlehem in search of the Christ child. When they found him, they witnessed to those gathered, including Mary, about what they had seen and heard.

Isn’t it interesting that this first experience of glory did not result from seeing an angel for what was surely the first time in the shepherds’ lives? It came from recognizing God at work in their lives.

Glory is our natural response to experiencing God.

 

The Son Lives to Glorify the Father

Jesus performed signs and wonders throughout His earthly ministry in order to glorify God: “It is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”(John 11:4)

  • The paralyzed man: When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God….The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel. (Matthew 15:31)
  • A woman with a disabling spirit: And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. (Luke 13:13)
  • One leper out of ten: One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, glorifying God in a loud voice. (Luke 17:15)
  • The blind beggar:  And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, glorifying God. (Luke 18:43)

The Father Glorifies the Son

Following the miracles, John is the only one of the gospel writers who continues to pursue glory. The next cycle occurs as God empowers Jesus’ words and actions to in turn glorify His Son; that is, to reveal His dignity and worth to people so that it becomes clear, undeniable and acknowledged.

“If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me.”

John 8:54

Jesus’ ultimate glory, of course, comes in His work on the cross.

“Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him.”

John 13:31

We Glorify Father and Son through the Holy Spirit

And here’s the cool part. Jesus invites us in on this glory gig. As we are reconciled to God by believing in Jesus and His sacrifice for our sins, we become an instrument of God’s Spirit, completing the cycle of glory, so to speak, that others might come to see and know the Father and the Son.

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

John 15:8

All of the remaining references to glory…in John, Acts, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and throughout the letters to the early church, are focused on being witnesses, heavenly windows, through which others can glimpse the light of God’s glory in a world filled with darkness.

The final citation, in 1 Peter: 4:11, puts a fine point on it:

If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

I hope you have a GLORIOUS day!

 

No More Mr. Nice Guy

A friend of mine wore a T-shirt one day with a big Buddha on the back.

“Why Buddha?” I asked.

“I love Buddha. Don’t you like Buddha?”

“Hmmm. I love Jesus.”

“I love Jesus–and Buddha,” he replied jovially.

There is an inclination today to place people in one of two buckets: religious or not. After that the specific flavor of religion seems unimportant, a matter of cultural exposure, family tradition or personal preference.

Yet, as I’ve spent time in the Bible, especially as I’ve focused on Jesus’ own words, I’ve been surprised by how explicitly and deliberately He sets Himself apart from other “great teachers.”

The Choice is Yours

A thoughtful reading of the red-letter Bible (versions in which red is used to denote the words Jesus spoke) points to only two possible conclusions:

  1. Jesus was an insane heretic, deluded by an epic god complex
  2. He is who He says He is: God in human form.

…No room for Mr. Nice Guy. Jesus consistently says that everything He did was through God’s power, to glorify His Name, and He calls God His Father. If His source turns out to be untrue, then it calls into question the trustworthiness of all that He said and did. Just imagine how we would react to someone other than Jesus who made a claim like the following:

“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father living in me who is doing His work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.” (John 14: 9-11)

A Life-Changing Decision

This is a life-changing, but deeply personal decision. Some folks, like Philip, make it immediately upon encountering Jesus. Philip was so affected by Jesus that he went directly to Nathanael, a scholar and Jewish leader, and boldly declared:

“We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (John 1:48-49)

Nathanael, on the other hand, didn’t believe Jesus until he experienced His omniscience in a profoundly personal way. Jesus spoke cryptically of seeing Nathanael under the fig tree before Philip even came to him. While it’s not a meaningful observation to the reader, it clearly moves Nathanael at his core. We don’t hear from him again until the final chapter of John. He’s there with the apostles when the resurrected Jesus appears on the shore, filling their nets for a symbolic final meal together. Nathanael’s decision to act on the truth lead him deeper into relationship, allowing him to experience an even greater revelation of Jesus’ divine nature and purpose.

We also see people in the Bible who make a different decision. Judas Iscariot is the most infamous example. A member of Jesus’ inner circle throughout His three-year earthly ministry, Judas witnessed His miracles, heard His teachings, enjoyed the physical nearness of His presence, yet ultimately rejected Jesus as the Christ.

Another interesting example is Pilate, whose words belie his inner struggle:

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. (John 18: 37-38)

Unfortunately for Pilate he doesn’t stick around for the answer. Later, when the Jewish leaders inform Pilate of Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God, he becomes fearful and approaches Jesus once more, asking where He came from, but this time Jesus gives him no answer. (John 19: 9)

When we fail to act on the truth we’ve been given, we move away from relationship and receive less truth.

Throughout the New Testament we see Jesus call people–from His closest companions to those He has just met–to decide for themselves:

  • To the man blind from birth: “Do you believe in the Son of Man…You have now seen Him; in fact, He is the one speaking with you.” (John 9:35-41)
  • To the Samaritan woman at the well: She said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am He.” (John 4: 25-26)
  • To His closest friends: “But what about you?” [Jesus] asked. “Who do you say I am?”Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” (Mark 8: 29)
  • To those in Doubt: Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.  If you really know Me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him.” (John 14: 5-6)

Jesus also invites you and me to “come and see.” He calls us to make that same radical, life-changing decision about who He is. Our very lives depend on our response, not because what He taught is “better than” what other great teachers had to offer, but because what He did is greater than what any other human being could do, since we all are sinful by nature. He took our place–condemned to die–so that we might live.

The truth of Jesus is as simple as that…and as divinely complex and mysteriously beautiful:

If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

Romans 10:9

I AM…

Whether you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior as a youth or are just now getting to know Him, it is good–and important–to know what Jesus says about who He is:

“I, the one speaking to you—I am He,’ the promised Messiah, the Christ.” (John 4:26)

“I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.” (John 8: 23-24)

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8: 12)

“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in Me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in Me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples.” (John 15: 5-8)

The Promised One, The Son of God

[The Son of Man] is the one speaking with you. (John 9: 35-37)

Do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, “You are blaspheming,” because I said, “I am the Son of God? If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me and I in Him.” (John 10:36-38)

“My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6: 40)

“Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; He can do only what he sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19)

On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them. (John 14: 15-21)

These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. (John 14:24)

Still Not Sure? Take Heart.

If you’re not sure what you think of Jesus, that’s okay; just commit to take action to do something about it. Find a church (or a new one if need be). Join a Bible study. Start a Bible study with some friends who are further along in their walks. And pray for God to open your heart and mind, and draw you near to Him.

He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

 

 

 

We have an Enemy

I am preparing to publish my first book. It attacks an entrenched spiritual stronghold that is a stumbling block for many people in their relationship with God. During this process God has prepared me to anticipate (and experience) some seasons of intense spiritual warfare.

Talking about spiritual warfare is risky because many people don’t want to think about, let alone focus on, this uncomfortable reality. Yet Jesus warned us often about the nature of our enemy and of the struggle. He wouldn’t be called “Our Savior” if there was no life-threatening danger from which to save us.

Even if you’re feeling skeptical right now, come along with me for the next few minutes as we learn how to walk in victory through times of trial.

Know the Battle

Before victory is possible–spiritual or otherwise–we first must recognize that we’re in a battle. We may be bit players, but we are part of the eternal, epic struggle of which Paul ominously wrote:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Ephesians 6:12

Prepare for Attack

Military strategists seek to know their enemy so they can anticipate when and where he is most likely to strike. Without turning our eyes from Jesus it is good to understand the nature of our enemy.

When Jesus was baptized, launching His public ministry, He experienced an intense spiritual high as the voice of God proclaimed:

“This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3:17

The very next sentence reads:

Then Jesus was led up into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil.

Matthew 4:1

God’s Spirit subjected Jesus to temptation? Why would He do this if He was pleased with Jesus? Isn’t temptation the business of sinners? While only God knows, scripture reveals that every day of Jesus’ ministry He faced temptations similar to those in His desert encounter. Perhaps God was equipping, refining and strengthening Him to endure and overcome such attacks.

Likewise we can expect that any steps we take toward God will be opposed. In our weak human nature we grow battle weary quickly, but we can endure if we remember that God does not ask us to fight, rather He asks us to trust in Him:

This is what the LORD says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.’

2 Chronicles 20:15

How beautiful: All we are asked to do is be mindful of who God is, how strong, how powerful, how omnipotent. It changes our experience entirely when we view our trials as opportunities to live in minute-by-minute awareness of and dependence on our Sovereign God.

God’s nature is diametrically opposed to that of our enemy. Jesus is light (John 8:12), life and truth (John 14:6); He came that we may have abundant life (John 10:10). Our enemy is darkness, absent of truth and bent on robbing us of the life the Lord desires for us.

He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him

John 8:44

A War Story

I’d like to share an example of spiritual warfare from my personal experience so perhaps you’ll more readily spot it in your own life. As I began the process of writing my book in earnest God planted a seed in my heart to prepare me for opposition. Here is how I recognized it:

  1. First was timing — the opposition, intended to create anxiety and distraction, began as I moved from the research to writing phase for my book. Writing of course requires a clear, focused mind.
  2. Each of the trials was legal in nature, emanating from “rulers” and “authorities”–which was unique in my life as I am a very law-abiding person.
  3. Next was the persistent nature of the attacks. This was not a single incident, but four escalating situations.
  4. Finally, there was the victory in Christ. Each challenge evaporated as unexpectedly as it had appeared.

This situation was notable both for its oddity and intensity. It happened while I was attending a writer’s conference in Concord, N.C.

I had had dinner with a friend and colleague the first night. In the course of our conversation she had helped identify a key message that would become an anchor to my book. I was ecstatic about the God-inspired revelation as I dropped her off at her hotel and headed less than a mile down the road toward my own.

I noted a police car on my right and checked my speed instinctively. I was creeping along in heavy traffic so I had no cause for worry, yet something in my gut said otherwise. That’s when I noticed the lights flashing in my rearview mirror.

Someone had told me that it’s a good idea to pull off busy roads during traffic stops out of respect for the safety of the officer, so I eased into the lefthand turn lane, intending to pull onto the quiet side road. As I waited for the light to turn I saw the shadow of the towering police officer from the corner of my eye. I put my window down; he said I had no registration sticker and requested my license and registration.

In my nervousness I handed him an outdated registration card. As he walked back toward his vehicle I located the current one and held it out the window. He ignored my offer.

After he had confirmed that my registration was current he returned to my window, I thought to release me. Instead he started questioning me harshly about why I had pulled left rather than right in the first place. Aware only of my intention I was confused by his questions and was growing increasingly fearful of his aggressiveness.

As his line of questioning dead-ended he asked me if I had had anything to drink that evening. I answered honestly that I had had a glass of wine with dinner. He ordered me to step out and follow him to the rear of my vehicle, where–right there on that busy highway, with fellow conference attendees likely passing by–I was subjected to my first-ever roadside sobriety test.

By now I was downright terrified; it was becoming clear that this officer’s intent was to find some violation for which to arrest me. I began praying fervently for God to deliver me.

I passed the test. Undeterred he ordered me to take a breathalyzer–or be taken to jail. He said sarcastically, “If you’ve only had a glass of wine you have nothing to worry about.” After I blew into the straw he sent me back to my car to wait. After a few excruciating minutes he returned to my window a final time. Without a conciliatory word or apology he released me.

I was still shaking as I unlocked the door to my hotel room and collapsed on my knees in thanksgiving for God’s protection. As I showered the Spirit brought the earlier verse from Ephesians to mind, and in light of the trials that had preceded it, I recognized what was happening with new clarity.

While God allowed me to suffer such attacks for several months, He was faithful to His promise to provide a way out in every situation, sometimes quite miraculously. (Read With the God of 1 Percent the Odds are Ever in Your Favor.)

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

Wage War

So how do we do stand against an enemy we can’t see in a battle we can’t fully comprehend? Paul follows his warning (above) with these specific instructions:

Therefore put on the full armor of God so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

  • Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist,
  • with the breastplate of righteousness in place,
  • and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
  • In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
  • Take the helmet of salvation
  • and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
  • And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.

With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Ephesians 6:13-18)

This is a rich, exhaustive directive that deserves more time than we have remaining today. In short, when I sense that the opposition I’m facing is spiritual in nature, I review this passage and focus on the areas the Lord emphasizes to me.

In this situation it was to stand firm with the belt of truth — as I knew I had done nothing wrong — and to pray in the Spirit with all kinds of prayers and requests. I can assure you I was praying all kinds of prayers during those long minutes!

Walk in Victory

When we accept the invitation to follow Jesus we are not promised freedom from pain, suffering or trial. We are promised that God will be with us through it all, and that we will be given His armor and the confidence of knowing the war already has been won for us by Christ Jesus.

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:4-5

 

Read more about how the enemy speaks death into the lives of believers in The Voice of ED — Revealed.

 

Seeing Is Believing

I’ve been camped out recently in the well-known story of Jesus healing a man who was born blind. One of the problems with such ubiquity is it can make the amazing look commonplace:

“Oh you know, that story when Jesus gave sight to the blind man”

…like that happens every day.

Blind Since Birth

The significance of the miracle was not lost on John; he goes to great lengths to record several eyewitness accounts in order to verify that the man was indeed born blind:

  1. Neighbors: “The neighbors and those who had previously seen that he was blind said, ‘Is this not he who sat and begged?’ Some said, ‘This is he.’ Others said, ‘He is like him.'” (John 9: 8-9)
  2. His Parents: “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind.” (John 9:20)
  3. Pharisees: The religious elite, who were intent on discounting the miracle, actually use the fact of his blindness to disparage his credibility: “They answered him, ‘You were completely born in sin.'” (John 9:34)

The most powerful witness comes from the man himself:

  • He responds to his neighbors in verse 9 with, “I am he.”
  • The neighbors take him to the Pharisees and “he said to them, ‘He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.’” (John 9:14-15)
  • Even faced with the Pharisees’ wrath the man remains steadfast saying, “I know one thing: I was blind, but now I see.” (John 9:25)

Modern Miracle

Since the world began it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of someone born blind.

John 9:32

Even some 2000 years later, giving sight to those born blind is still quite a miracle, meriting such headlines as, “Canadian man born blind sees for the first time at age 68.”

And we now know there is more involved than restoring physical function to the eyes. What we see must be connected to our other sensory experiences in order for a person to develop a reliable perception of the world around him.

This was a problem articulated by William Molyneux back in the 1600s, whose wife was blind. Molyneux’s problem, as it is became known, asks if a person born blind who gains sight would be able to distinguish a similar sized sphere from a cube by sight alone. The short answer is no.

The most widely documented case is that of Michael May, an interesting character in his own right because he competed as a downhill skier and worked for the CIA, among other notable accomplishments, all before gaining his sight in 2000. Yet even when his eyes — which were damaged in a chemical explosion at age three — were repaired, he faced ongoing challenges with visual processing:

May still has no intuitive grasp of depth perception. As people walk away from him he perceives them as literally shrinking in size. He has problems distinguishing male from female faces and recognizing emotional expressions on unfamiliar faces.

His brain lacked the full picture of the world to be able to describe its beauty. This made it difficult for him to lead a normal daily life. Michael’s early blindness benefited him so far; he developed very precise senses of hearing and touch. (Wikipedia)

In Mark 8:24, we read of a blind man  in Bethsaida whom Jesus healed; his initial report echoes this gap, “I see men as trees, walking.”

Yet here the man appears to have been given full physical and perceptual acuity immediately.

Hear No Evil

As the Pharisees reject first the timing of this man’s healing (on the Sabbath), then the spiritual qualification of the healer (We know that this Man is a sinner), and ultimately the spiritual fitness of the recipient (You were completely born in sin), the man adroitly and accurately shifts the focus from his vision problem to their hearing problem:

As the Pharisees continued to press him he answered them, “I told you already, and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become His disciples?”

Then they insulted him and said, “You are His disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples. We know that God has spoken to Moses. As for this fellow, we do not know where He is from.”

The man answered, “Well, here is an amazing thing! You do not know where He is from, and yet He opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. But if anyone is a worshipper of God and does His will He hears him.

Since the world began it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of someone born blind. If this Man were not from God he could do nothing.”

They answered him, “You were completely born in sin. Are you teaching us?” And they threw him out.

This exchange is fascinating and worth parsing:

The Pharisees claim they’re in the right because they listen only to the one true God whom they know through what He spoke to Moses.

But the man sees right through them, countering that if Jesus were not from God He would not be able to give him sight because God wouldn’t have listened to Him. Moses heard God, but God hears Jesus, the man points out; this implies a deeper, far more intimate relationship.

To put a finer point on it he adds that this type of healing has never even been heard of before. This is a unique and powerful act, achievable only by one who has God’s ear.

Now I See

At the beginning of the story we see a man considered to be blind because of his sin challenged by Pharisees who are considered to have great vision because of their holiness. By the end of the encounter Jesus has turned everything upside down, as the one thought to be blind is revealed to have great vision, while those thought to be sighted are in fact willfully, persistently, spiritually blind:

Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when He found him He said, “Do you believe in the Son of God?”

He answered, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?”

Jesus said to him, “You have seen Him, and it is He who speaks with you.”

Then he said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshipped Him.

Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, that those who do not see may see and that those who see may become blind.”

Some Pharisees who were with Him heard these words and said to Him, “Are we also blind?”

Jesus said:

If you were blind you would have no sin. But now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.

John 9:41

Seeing Things Differently

More than 40 Greek words mean to see; four are used in this story. And, John deploys them progressively to move the story itself from darkness toward light:

In verse 1 Jesus passes by and sees a man blind from birth. The word here is eídō, which means mechanical, passive or casual vision. Basically Jesus was aware of the man’s presence.

Throughout the heart of the story the word blepō refers to the man’s sight; this connotes the seeing and perceiving we do every day.

In verse 8 the neighbors “had previously seen that he was blind.” Here the word used is theōreō, which means “been a spectator to;” it signifies earnest, continued inspection.

As the story concludes Jesus reveals his glory to the man whose spiritual vision is now clear:

Jesus said to him, “You have seen Him, and it is He who speaks with you.” (John 9:37)

Here the word is horáō, which means to gaze with wide-open eyes as at something remarkable.

What a beautiful literary parallel John offers to our own faith walks.

Seeing the Light

As we see and respond to the truths God reveals in our own lives, we are given more truth. When we reject truth we move toward spiritual darkness; standing still is not an option. (See the parable of the talents, Psalm 43:3, Ephesians 4:17-22, among others)

How do we apply this story to our own lives as we seek to enhance our spiritual vision?

  1. Reflect God’s Light — God hears Jesus and He hears us. As the formerly blind man said, “If anyone is a worshipper of God and does His will He hears him.” (John 9:31) We do God’s will as we lean on His word and serve others.
  2. Shine before All — Make no judgment about who is blind and who sees, rather let your light shine before all (Matthew 5:16). This humbly acknowledges that spiritual vision is not easily discerned by our human senses.
  3. Seek the Light of Truth — Be alert to God’s truth when it is revealed in your life and be faithful to act on it to continually move toward light and away from darkness.
  4. Worship the Light Giver — When Jesus told the man who He was, the man responded instinctively with worship. We who call ourselves Christians are blessed to know the source of our light. Let us greet each new day with thanksgiving for this great gift of sight!

Learn More

What People Cured of Blindness See,” The New Yorker, August 28, 2014.

Man with restored sight provides new insight into how vision develops,” UW Today, University of Washington, April 15, 2015.

Recovery from Blindness,” Wikipedia.

 

God Intends Good

Joseph was dealt a bad hand in life by most standards: Betrayed by his own brothers, sold into slavery, taken far from home with little hope of returning, falsely accused of rape, wrongly imprisoned and then, heaping insult on top of injury, forgotten by the cupbearer he helped free who promised to seek clemency on his behalf.

When our worst-case scenarios happen we are forced to confront the question of evil head-on: “If God is good why doesn’t He do something about the evil in the world?”

As we wrestle with this question, as I have for the past several months (read Unforgiven for the back story), peace can be found in these Biblical truths.

Truth #1: We have an enemy.

If this were not so we would have no need for a Savior.

In fact, our Savior warns that our enemy “comes to steal, kill and destroy.” (John 10:9) You know he is at work wherever you find broken hearts, broken bodies, broken spirits, broken relationships, broken trust, broken confidence…and broken lives.

Joseph experienced all of these, yet God did not rescue him as we might expect a loving God to do:

  • God did not lift Joseph from the pit.
  • He did not smite the traders who enslaved him.
  • He did not expose the lies of Pharaoh’s wife to spare him prison.
  • He did not whisper to the cupbearer of his promise to intercede with Pharaoh on Joseph’s behalf.

In fact, the only thing Scripture tells us God did was this:

The Lord was with Joseph.

Genesis 39:2, 5, 21

Terrible things happen as collateral damage in a fallen world, and even worse, as intentional acts by people fully given over to evil. Looking evil in the eye is terrifying and can cause us to quickly lose heart. Jesus knew this:

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

Truth #2: Where the Spirit of Love is there is Freedom.

So why does God allow evil in the first place? In His omniscience He addressed this problem right up front; it can be found in Chapter 3 of Genesis, and it’s called The Fall.

I hear your heels tapping. I realize that in the face of tragedy it seems inadequate to point to what you may consider to be “a folk tale about the first man and woman” as the source of universal truth (because we all know Adam and Eve predated the pen and paper, not to mention the advent of social media, so how could their story be preserved or true?)

And yet, no other explanation will do.

The only way I can get my head around it is to employ a parenting paradigm. Whether you have children or not, imagine with me that you created a home with your children in mind. Even before you birthed them, you designed it with and for love of them, so they could spend a lifetime discovering and delighting in it all, and thus experience your boundless, unconditional love for them.

Perfect. Or so it seems. Yet, no matter how wonderful it is, if you do not offer your children the ability to leave, they are no more than slaves. There is simply no getting around this. And if they are not free, then whatever affection exists between you is not love.

Love is a decision and it must be reciprocal: freely given and freely received. Any break in that infinite cycle cannot be love, and ultimately, it cannot be good.

So as a loving parent you open the door and give your children the freedom to go. Of course, you hope they can see what you see: that there is absolutely no reason or need for them to depart from the safety and beauty and comfort you offer them.

Yet, the universal and individual story of humanity is that we are rebels at heart. As soon as we see the door open we walk right through, without exception. And that is where we now find ourselves, east of Eden.

 

Truth #3: Jesus suffered the worst-case scenario in your place.

God knows what our hearts are prone to forget: the ultimate worst-case scenario is to continue our separation from Him for eternity.

Jesus’ suffering and agony on the cross were physical, but even more so they were spiritual. As He took on your sins and mine, He stepped into the abyss, experiencing the ultimate, infinite agony of eternal separation from God for you and for me. In so doing, he opened a path for us to return home again, forever.

When we accept Jesus’ offer of salvation no earthly scenario, no matter how evil, has the power to deliver the true worst-case scenario to our lives:

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

Romans 8:31-39

Truth #4: God is Sufficient

Throughout everything Joseph suffered he experienced the presence of the Lord, and he endured. As he learned to lean on the Lord in all things, God began a good work in him, using what others intended to break him to remake him, turning the precocious, boastful young man into a humble, wise and obedient servant of the Lord. God’s sufficiency in Joseph’s life is apparent in his reconciliation with his brothers:

Then the brothers went in person to him, threw themselves on the ground before him and said, “We’ll be your slaves.”

Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid. Do I act for God? Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now—life for many people.

Genesis 50:20

Unless we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus we will fall into despair when we fall into the pit in our own lives. In such times we must remember that God doesn’t fix broken things; He creates entirely new and more glorious ones, intended to save not just us — but if we allow Him to use our suffering — many others as well:

 

 

Unforgiven

God has been speaking into my life a lot lately about forgiveness.

I’ve been fascinated by what I’m learning, yet reluctant to tackle it here because there is so much I now realize I don’t know. So instead I simply invite you to journey along with me.

Unforgivable?

It all started when I attended a local roundtable where I heard a man speak candidly of his loss and immense suffering as a victim of childhood sexual abuse by a priest, a man his own mother trusted to shepherd her son to a life of service to the Lord. Instead the priest repeatedly and violently violated his promise by raping this little 10-year-old boy for more than two years.

In his testimony the survivor, now in his 60s, makes a point to say that he believes there are some “unforgivable” sins, including acts like this one, committed against innocent and powerless children. I want to agree.

For days after hearing him speak I wrestled with the question of where God was when this little boy cried out for rescue and deliverance. Why did He allow such incredible suffering to continue for so long? Is it really possible for a heart and soul as wounded as this one to find forgiveness?

Forgiving the Unforgivable

As I wrestled with these questions answers began to roll in over the airwaves of my favorite podcasts. The first was the story of Virginia Prodan, now an author and attorney, who grew up an abused and neglected child in the Communist regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu.

In her book, Saving My Assassin, she details how her search for truth in the world of Communist lies led her on a harrowing, yet miraculous journey to become a lawyer who defended Christians against persecution. Her faithfulness to this task resulted in her being terrorized, tortured and placed under house arrest without enough food to feed her family. Yet Ms. Prodan never stopped praying for forgiveness of her enemies, a practice that culminated in her witnessing to a man sent to assassinate her. Twenty years later she discovered that the assassin had become a Christian pastor who led his family to the Lord.

A few days later I was introduced to the story of Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch follower of Jesus who hid her Jewish countrymen from the Nazis. A neighbor turned her in, and her family was sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp where her father died within two weeks and her sister also later died. Corrie too suffered greatly during her imprisonment. When she was released, however, she forgave her betrayer as well as her torturers, and continued throughout her life to be a powerful witness for Christ.

Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.
– Corrie Ten Boom

And then at church I heard the testimony of a woman whose only daughter was killed by a distracted driver, who to date has not expressed remorse, nor suffered consequences for his actions. Despite his flagrant disregard the girl’s mother not only forgave him, but prays deeply and sincerely for his redemption.

Together these stories capture the situations that come to my mind when I think of  “unforgivable acts.” It doesn’t take much imagination to sympathize with how these women must have felt or to sense how remote forgiveness would seem in their shoes.

Are they simply better people than the rest of us or is something more at work here?

7 x 70 = ?

Most of us are at least familiar with Peter’s question, recorded in Matthew 18, about the limits of forgiveness:

Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”

Jesus then speaks to the “heart problem” by telling a parable that compares the Kingdom of God to a king whose servant owes a great debt that he cannot pay. The king orders the man sold into slavery. When the man begs for mercy the king doesn’t just spare his life or work out extended payment terms, he wipes out the debt entirely, an extravagant gift that the servant neither asked for nor deserved.

Yet, given the opportunity to pay it forward this same servant shows no mercy to a fellow servant who owes him a small debt in comparison. When the rest of the servants get wind of his wickedness they are outraged and alert the King.

Then the master called the servant in. “You wicked servant,” he said, “I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?”

In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart. (Matthew 18:32-35)

On the surface the lesson is simply that we are to forgive as God forgave us. But then I heard an interview with Dr. Bruce Wilkerson, and purchased his book, The Freedom Factor: Finding Peace by Forgiving Others…and Yourself.

Dr. Wilkerson says that’s only half the story; the other half is that if we do not forgive we open ourselves up to spiritual attack and “torture.” (And guess whom he quotes on the very first page of his book):

Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness.

-Corrie Ten Boom

My inclination is to believe that God calls us to forgiveness because He knows torture is the inevitable byproduct of an unforgiving heart; He knows it is an open door to Satan. But I am afraid in this case I may be sugar-coating a warning that is much more direct and dire:

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Matthew 6: 14-15

Dr. Wilkerson explains it like this:

Wait, what? Was Jesus saying, ‘If you don’t forgive the accountant that embezzled money from your business, or forgive your spouse for having an affair, you’re going to forfeit your eternal forgiveness and be condemned to hell’?

No. That’s not what He was saying. Eternal salvation from our sins comes from Christ’s death on our behalf. It is not related to any work that we do — including forgiving others….The consequence of unforgiveness is torment before we die….According to Jesus, when we fail to forgive, God has stopped forgiving us.

He adds, “When God decrees a discipline contract against you or me because of our unforgiveness, it’s serious. He removes His peace from us as part of the discipline process intended to turn us back to Him so that we humble ourselves and choose to forgive and end the contract against us. We are made susceptible to many unwanted things in our life because that protection is no longer in place.

And not only do we have the difficult task of coping with such painful torments, but we also forfeit so many blessings that could be ours. There could be a whole life of His joy, love, and peace, just waiting for our open hearts, but finding no way in.

A Work in Progress

This is a post without out a neat, clever or happy ending. This is challenging stuff.

I heard at the roundtable, and later read in his book, about immense suffering in the life of the sexual abuse survivor. And I heard about peace, joy and abundant blessings in the lives of the forgiving women.

Yet, I’ve never suffered anything close to what these amazing survivors did. I’ve not confronted such unveiled evil or lost someone I love by the hatred or negligence of another. In fact, I find myself struggling to forgive from my heart for much smaller grievances.

But, I also know that when I am on the other end of the equation — the sinner in need of forgiveness — the burden of the things I’ve done brings me to my knees. It is in such moments that I am most aware of and grateful for God’s gift of grace.

Without forgiveness and redemption all of us, sooner or later, would be undone by our own dark hearts.

The type of extravagant forgiveness demonstrated in these examples, and so many others, is beyond human will; it is an act of the Spirit. It requires inviting God in to do the work in our hearts needed to forgive another and experience for ourselves the freedom it offers.

So why is this gift that is so infinitely valuable to receive so infinitely difficult to give?

As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:12

Manna for Today

I love writing this blog. It is an important part of my faith walk. Each week I pray that God will put a topic on my heart, and each week for more than a year now He has been faithful to do so.

Often as I unpack the topic He has given me, new truths emerge that deepen my faith. The workings of the Spirit through this weekly act of worship truly bless my life (and I pray yours too).

But that’s not what makes it a faith walk. If you know me, you know patience is not a virtue I possess (or really aspire to). I hate waiting! I like to work fast and ahead of schedule. If I had my way I would have posts drafted through at least the end of the year.

Therefore wait for me,” declares the Lord, “for the day I will stand up to testify.”

Zephaniah 3:8

And yet I have had to learn to wait on the Lord every week to receive my topic, no shortcuts. That’s not to say I haven’t tried, but when I do I come up blank. Literally. Either I have no idea what to write, or if I have a topic I am unable to develop it. I get this feeling in my gut when I land on God’s idea; it’s assurance mixed with adrenalin, and as it forms it generates overwhelming energy that pushes me irresistibly to my keyboard. Then I write with urgency, clarity and an acute focus on what God would have me say. It’s in these moments that I am reminded how grateful I am not to be the one in charge here…or elsewhere in my life.

…to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us

Ephesians 3:20

DAILY Bread

The image God has brought to my mind over and over again as I wrestle with this blog is that of manna. He used manna to provide for the Israelites on an as-needed basis, one day at a time.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.

Exodus 16:4

When I think of manna I imagine it looking like tiny Communion wafers. communion-wafers-2

It turns out this is no coincidence. Dependence on God for our daily bread does have literal significanceGod wants us to trust Him to provide for our physical needs.

This daily dependence is difficult for a rebellious-minded people like us, what God called being a “stiff-necked” people. We want to be in control, and thus we seek to stockpile what we can to give ourselves the illusion that we are capable of meeting our own needs:

Some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell.

Exodus 16:20

God wouldn’t tolerate that from the Israelites, nor will He tolerate it from us; and this is for our own good. For whatever it is we look to — other than Him — to provide our security, well-being and abundance will lead us to a place of want, scarcity and unquenchable hunger and thirst.

Bread of LIFE

Instead, God offers us spiritual sustenance and abundance through daily dependence on his son, Jesus:

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:19

For it was Jesus who promised:

I am the bread of life;

he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.

John 6:35

beth-moore-believing-god-lifeway-books

Walking in faith each day means trusting these five statements of faith, articulated so beautifully by Beth Moore in her study, “Believing God“:

  1. God is who He says He is.
  2. God can do what He says He can do.
  3. I am who God says I am.
  4. I can do all things through Christ.
  5. God’s word is alive and active in me.

How does it look to live these promises, in my blog and in our daily rhythms of life?

I’m still learning the answers myself, but here is what I’ve learned over the past year through my blog:

  • Wait on the Lord. God is faithful and He is capable. He will give me what I need.
  • God’s timing is perfect. I like to publish my blogs on Thursday afternoons, but sometimes that doesn’t work out. I am learning to trust that God has a purpose in His timing. Perhaps a message is meant to reach one person in a specific time of need.
  • God’s metrics are eternal. While I fight the temptation to obsess over my blog’s metrics, seeking to validate if it matters to anyone at all, God sees it differently. My blog exists for His glory, to reflect His light into the lives of others. And it is one of an infinite number of ways He is about this work daily. His grand plan is to save as many souls as possible and there is no worldly metric for that.
  • My work is to trust and obey. Each of us is given an assignment by God that allows us to participate in His salvation story. What Mordecai told Queen Esther also is true for each of us (paraphrased):

For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise from another place…but you have come to your position for such a time as this.

Esther 4:14

Face Time with God

One of my closest friends has a new man in her life: Jesus.

They’ve known each other a long time, but recently they’ve taken things to a new level. They’re chatting often, from the moment she wakes up to over her  coffee and on long walks. A few weeks ago she told Him she was ready to set aside “Dear Lord” in favor of a name that reflected their new status as friends.

What’s in a Name?

Moses had a similar experience in his own walk with God. In his case the Lord showed up unannounced and asked Moses to return to Egypt on an urgent assignment: “Tell Pharaoh to set the Israelites free.” (Exodus 9:1)

Well, imagine a friend you hadn’t seen in 40 years showed up one day and asked a huge favor of you. If you were even willing to consider it, it wouldn’t be for someone you referred to as “Sir” or “Mister.” It would be for someone very dear to you, someone whose name was as familiar as your own. I believe that was the heart behind Moses’ reply:

“Suppose I go to the People of Israel and I tell them, ‘The God of your fathers sent me to you’; and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ What do I tell them?”

God said to Moses,

“I-AM-WHO-I-AM.

Tell the People of Israel,

‘I-AM sent me to you.’”

Exodus 3:14; MSG

YHVH or Hayah, the great I AM.

Exodus 3:14 is a life verse for me because, as a lover of words, I’ve always been captivated by how God used two of the most common-to-the-point-of-being-mundane words to capture — as fully as humanly possible — the earth-shaking truth that this God is the one true God, the only self-existent, living and active God.

When God visited Moses He called him by name; twice in fact: “Moses, Moses” (Exodus 3:4). I am touched by how God always calls us by name when He calls us into service; and sometimes twice when the ask is really big, as it was with Moses as well as Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Martha, Simon and Saul.

Certainly this is a God who understands deeply the need to be known by name.

“Father”

In addition to Hayah God has many names throughout the Old Testament, based on His many attributes; a few of these include:

  • Elohim (all powerful, plural noun for God, used uniquely in the Old Testament to reflect God’s triune nature )
  • El Shaddai (Lord God Almighty)
  • El Elyon (The Most High God)
  • Adonai (Lord, Master)
  • El Olam (The Everlasting God)
  • Jehovah Jireh (The Lord Will Provide)
  • Jehovah Sabaoth (The Lord of Hosts)

But, a few hundred years later when Jesus shows up, things take a distinctly new turn.

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples. He said to them:

When you pray, say: ‘Father’

Luke 11: 1-2

In Jewish culture, even up to this day, God’s name is considered too powerful and revered to be written, and so it will appear as “G-d”; from that perspective then, the notion of calling God Father, one of the most personal and intimate terms of endearment, is bold to the point of being revolutionary.

Paul, who in his first encounter with God called out instinctively, ““Who are you, Lord?” reminds us often of Christ’s invitation into relationship:

Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

Galatians 4:6

 

…The Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

Romans 8:15

When we call God our Father we acknowledge that the omniscient, all-powerful creator of the universe is something even more wondrous: a deeply relational being, a protective, wise and perfect parent who loves us unconditionally, even when we rebel against His loving authority. (Romans 5:8)

Putting a Face with a Name

My friend has one other stumbling block in her new-found relationship:

“I can’t see His face.”

And this is coming from the ultimate people person. She draws energy from engaging with others. She was born in a big family; she has a big family; and in a subconscious manifestation of this trait, she has filled her home with faces; virtually every piece of artwork hanging on her walls, whether abstract, dimensional or wrought from metal, features a face.

So her need is real. Here again, she and Moses have a lot in common:

Then Moses said,

“Now show me your glory.”

Exodus 33: 19

Throughout the Old Testament people share in this desire to see their unseen God:

Lift up the light of Your countenance upon us, O LORD! Psalm 4:6

Make Your face to shine upon Your servant. Psalm 31:16

Cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved. Psalm 80:19

Seek His face continually. Psalm 105:4

Make Your face shine upon Your servant Psalm 119:35

Do not hide Your face from me in the day of my distress Psalm 102:2

Like Father, Like Son

In the final days of his earthly ministry Jesus spoke to this need very directly:

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me you will know my Father as well.

From now on you do know him and have seen him.

John 14:6

I imagine Jesus pointing to his own face as he said these words, in the same way my second son, who is the spitting image of his father too, sometimes mugs when he wants to say, “You see this face? Then you’ve seen my Dad too.”

It was Phillip who mustered up the courage to speak the words on the minds of the rest of the group:

“Lord, show us the Father and that Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.will be enough for us.”

Jesus’ response pierces my heart, as it surely did Philip’s: 

Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. 

How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? (John 14:9)

Imago Dei

Since we are not contemporaries with Jesus in his earthly body, what does that mean for us? Growing up in Catholic school I acquired quite a collection of holy cards, and have always held onto an image of Jesus that resembles these:

But there is one final piece to this answer that cannot be overlooked:

And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created them.

Genesis 1:27

The Hebrew word for “His image,” tselem, means an illusion or resemblance. God created us as reflection of Himself.

So as my friend, and each of us, seek a closer walk with the Lord, we will see Him ever more clearly as we see His love shine in the faces of one another.

Face of Jesus
Photo Credit: Pinterest Jesus Faces https://www.pinterest.com/sunfellow/jesus-faces/

Footnote:

A friend of mine who read this post recently reminded me of a story from her own life when she similarly prayed to see God’s face. Several years ago, while she and her family were vacationing in Costa Rica, she fell off a four-wheeler and landed on her back. Plagued with a history of back issues she was terrified. As her family scrambled to find help she began praying in earnest for calm and peace saying, “Show me your face, Jesus, just show me your face and I won’t be afraid.”

A little while later she found herself in the office of a Spanish-speaking physician, unsure of how they would communicate her injury or treatment. As she looked up at him she saw a picture on the wall behind his shoulder; it was of the face of Jesus. Her heart filled to overflowing as she pointed to it and asked emphatically, “Jesus? Is that Jesus?” He turned around and then turned back to her, smiling and quietly affirmed the answer reverberating in her heart by simply nodding, “Yes.”

What a powerful reminder that prayer is a simple and effective way to overcome stumbling blocks in our walk with the Lord. Don’t be afraid to ask God to reveal Himself to you in whatever way you need to experience Him. And then keep your eyes open, for He is faithful to hear the cries of those who call upon His name in faith.

The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.

Psalm 145:18

 

 

Blessed Assurance

I sat beside a friend recently as she waited to learn if a wrong she had done would lead to jail time or a lesser consequence. She’s not the first person I’ve know to face legal judgment recently, and as I’ve been exposed to this microcosm I’ve realized how closely it resembles the views I’ve held about salvation for most of my life.

I grew up in a religious family; we never missed church on Sundays (check that box). Starting at a young age I was taught to serve others (another check). And I did my best to avoid committing a mortal sin… although it was unclear if all those little sins could glob together on my soul as one big, sticky, black mark.

Come on Heaven, No Whammies!

In my mind salvation played out something like this: After 80 or so years of living I would be called before the heavenly throne. God would then review my life — sins and good deeds balanced on a scale — and determine if I had lived a life worth saving or should be condemned for eternity for my wrongdoings.

His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

Matthew 3:12

I loved God, and I knew He loved me. So I struggled to reconcile how a good God could issue an eternal death sentence for a short life here on earth, no matter how failed. As I matured I began to look more broadly at the world and question who among us deserved eternal damnation? Most of the worst people had suffered greatly; behind their stories of evil was a story of brokenness….Did God take that into account?

It felt like a spiritual game of whammy, and it scared me.Whammy.gif

With no assurance I worked hard to build my spiritual resume. I controlled what I could and strived to be good enough; yet sometimes late at night I would be gripped by fear of going to hell.

How could a loving God condemn me for doing my best?

That was the question that plagued me. I found myself tempted to blame God; after all, He created us humans. If He made us flawed and sinful, then how could He be surprised when we behaved accordingly?

Good for Goodness’ Sake

As I reflect on the younger me and how I lived out my faith under this paradigm I know that even my good works were tainted by self-interest. Sure I wanted to help others, but I also wanted to become worthy in God’s eyes. If I served another in order to gain something for myself was that good at all?

The other thing this outlook created was a lot of judgment. Without understanding the heavenly standard for righteousness I was left with a comparative one: “Certainly I am better than that one.” “I never miss church like they do.”

If salvation relied on a quota system I was determined to finish in the top quartile.

For God So Loved the World

I cannot say for certain that God waited 40 years to answer me; He may have been trying all along and I just wasn’t listening. But then again, He did allow the Israelites to wander lost for exactly that long, so maybe it was divine timing.

Regardless, when I reached my forties God opened up two paths to truth on this question: The first came through a young pastor at our church who listened to my questions, fears and doubts without judgment. He offered me insight and resources in a gentle manner that allowed me the freedom to discover and discern the answers for myself.

And then a neighbor invited me to Bible Study Fellowship.* There I began to see God’s Word come alive, creating vital connections between Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and my personal salvation. Passages like these took on rich, new meaning:

  • “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. (Mark 10:1)
  • For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. (John 3:17)
  • It is finished. (John 19:30)
  • If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
  • He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

God so loved the world that he sent his only son

that all who believe in him might not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

One Way to Be Saved

Slowly the truths I had heard all my life began the long journey from my ears to my heart and mind: Indeed, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, not in that “no-other-religion-is-good-enough” way that the world seeks to characterize it. It is richer than that: Jesus loves us so much that He offers a free invitation to eternal life that allows us the freedom to choose:

To accept this gift of grace is to say “yes,” to Jesus’ offer to cover our sinfulness in His righteousness. When I stand before God Jesus will be by my side, and He will testify that my sin, my debt, has been paid by His sacrifice.

To reject this gift is to choose to be your own god, to live for yourself and your desires, to stand or fall on your own merits. I heard it suggested recently that no one in hell asks to leave. Perhaps this perpetual, self-determined rejection is the road to hell. (Read The Rich Man and Lazarus with this idea in mind, and you will see that the rich man never does ask to join Lazarus in heaven, he simply seeks to continue to be served as he was in life.)

So if all I need to do in order to be saved is accept Jesus’ gift of grace, then why worry about sin or even about doing good? (James thoroughly unpacks this question.)  In my life it has come down to three things:

  1. Gratitude. As I gain a fuller understanding of what God did for me I have a deep desire to express my gratitude in whatever small measure I can. Loving others is the one thing Jesus asked us to do and the only acceptable offering we have to give.
  2. Gospel = Good News. When I discover something that makes my life better I feel compelled to share it with others. So how could I possibly keep this a secret? After all it is infinitely better than the secret of Dawn + hydrogen peroxide, the best-stain remover on the planet, and I must have told at least 100 people about that! As we live to be His hands and feet in the world we do so in the hope that they will see the good that we do and give glory to God. (Matthew 5:16)
  3. Love. And the last of these is the greatest and underpins the rest. As we come to know Him better and love Him more fully, our desire is to give more of ourselves to Him: He must become greater; I must become less. (John 3:30)

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul

and with all your mind and with all your strength.

Mark 12:30

 

 

* A brief plug: BSF International is a unique, powerful bible study that serves both men and women, skeptic and scholar. Even if you’ve never opened a Bible consider visiting a welcome class this fall!

Lessons from HIStory

I love words and word plays. And I like to think that God — with divine tongue planted firmly in divine cheek — enjoys them too, and uses them to playfully hide truths in plain sight for us to discover and enjoy.

On Easter I explored the double entendre of Son Rise. Today I want to take a step back in historyor HIStory.

Don’t Know Much about HIStory

Growing up I knew the Old Testament as a collection of fairy tales intended to teach me something about God. Adam and Eve were the first prince and princess, who faced a Gepettodiabolical snake, rather than the typical, fire-breathing dragon. Noah and his ark were gas station giveaways that my grandfather collected for me. And Jonah’s story bore an eery resemblance to Gepetto’s in my mind.

It wasn’t until I became a mom that I began to learn other stories of the Bible, true confessions here: from “Veggie Tales.”

For me, Bob the Tomato ranksBob the Tomato_zpsf4taxwt1 right up there with Billy Graham among the great, modern-day evangelists. Even now when I read the book of Esther I picture her as a wispy asparagus; and Daniel will always be a cucumber in my mind, which makes it less shocking that the lions didn’t devour him.

When I joined Bible Study Fellowship my second study was of the Books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). It unpacked both the historical context and the consistent character of God throughout Scripture. Still I struggled to reconcile the God of the Israelites with the one Jesus taught us to call Father.

ONE Story

More recently I’ve gained a perspective of the 66 books of the Bible as One story, written on human hearts by One author, who is consistent in His character, His glory and His love for us. It is a story told in a four-part narrative arc:

  1. Creation
  2. The Fall
  3. Redemption
  4. Restoration

Check out Ed Stetzer’s, “The Big Story of Creation” for a scholarly interpretation, but here is my perspective; consider it “The Bible for Dummies,” with a credit to my buddy, Bob  Bob the Tomato_zpsf4taxwt1 , of course:

  • Creation — Adam was our first attempt to live in relationship with God; Jesus is the “new Adam” who taught us that the one true God is much better at being God than we are. The wages of Adam’s sin were death, in the form of animals sacrificed to atone for and cover his sin (Genesis 3:21), as well as his own death. Jesus is the perfect sacrifice who gave Himself so that we all might stand clean and blameless before a holy God and enjoy eternal life.
  • The Fall — The first one happened in the garden, but most of the Old Testament chronicles an endless cycle of failure and redemption between God and the people He created to know and love Him. In Kings and Chronicles God answers the Israelites’ request for a human king whom they can see and touch. The kings’ names change, but the stories all end the same; while some were more corrupt than others, they all fall short, because “the human heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” (Jeremiah 17:9)
  • Redemption — The prophets foretell the coming of a righteous king. But through the lens of the injustice, oppression and political corruption that people are suffering at the time, they expect a different kind of king, and many continue looking for love in all the wrong places.

“A curse will come upon the sinful man who promises to give a male from his flock, but gives an animal that is not perfect to the Lord. For I am a great King,” says the Lord of All. “And My name is feared among the nations.”

Malachi 1:14

These are the final words God speaks in the Old Testament through the prophet Malachi. The problem of reconciling man’s sin with God’s holiness has found no remedy throughout 39 books of covenants, commandments, sacrifices and warnings, an effort that can be summed up as “the law and the prophets.”

Like the prophet, Hosea, and his harlot wife, Gomer, humans’ response to God’s perfect love is deceit, betrayal, abandonment and heartbreak, and so far, nothing has succeeded in creating a lasting unity.

HIStory in the Making

The New Testament begins by catching us up (in the event we snuck out for popcorn during the 400-year intermission). Matthew connects the dots from Abraham down through a line of liars (Jacob), murderers (David), prostitutes (Tamar) and a sundry collection of other sinners who comprise the genealogy of the promised Christ, the Messiah Jesus.

Following his birth Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, returns to Egypt, where Joseph, the Prince of Egypt, foreshadowed the messiah king. The similarities between Jesus and Joseph are striking; both were loved by their fathers, rejected by their “brethern,” sold for silver, and both suffered to save the lives of many.  (Explore the comparisons further.)

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done,

the saving of many lives.

Genesis 50:20

Discovering parallels like this between the Old and New Testaments is exciting and infinite. In fact, back in the 1950s a statistician applied the model of probability to demonstrate the likelihood of one man, Jesus, fulfilling Old Testament prophecy. When applied to just eight of the hundreds of Old Testament prophecies, the likelihood was:

1 in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

Read “The Odds of Eight Messianic Prophecies Coming True” for more on this.

On the road to Emmaus following his resurrection Jesus walked with two disciples, and in two hours unpacked the one HIStory told throughout Scripture:

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in ALL the Scriptures concerning himself.

Luke 24: 27

Narrators to “The End”

I used to think that if I had been an apostle it would have been easier to have faith. I wished I was like Peter, who had the opportunity to be with Jesus in the flesh, and who had the knowledge to proclaim:

You are the Messiah,

the son of the Living God.

Matthew 16:16

What I have learned is that we actually enjoy a greater unfolding of truth than the apostles were privy to; they had the Old Testament, but they were part of the New Testament in the making.

Our lives today are fulfillment of the promise of redemption, enriched by the wisdom, knowledge and comfort of God’s spirit. Humans haven’t changed one bit; we’re still a sinful, selfish lot, fueled by pride, bent on self-destruction, prone to wander from the truth we’ve been given. But now we carry the good news that:

This is not the end.

God is making all things new; He has made a way for all of us to be part of His restoration of creation, a much better story than what history suggests we are capable of creating for ourselves:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Romans 10:9

We began as the damsel in distress, the future bride of the hero, desperately in need of rescue despite our virulent resistance to it. Now following His triumph, we have a new role too, that of narrator. God asks us to share HIStory so that all may hear it, and to retell it with loving urgency to those who may have heard it, but haven’t yet accepted it as their own:

The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9

The end of HIStory is a glorious, magnificent, unimaginably happy one. No spoiler alert needed; this is how the Bible concludes in Revelation 22:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.

On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

No longer will there be any curse.

The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.

They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.

There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.

And they will reign for ever and ever.