Some of you who have been following this blog for a while may think we’re being redundant with this week’s word, since we covered the word Communion back in April. But, is communion the same thing as the Lord’s Supper? The church often uses those words interchangeably. For this post on the Lord’s Supper, I’d like to focus on the act that happened while Jesus was still on the earth, and how that relates to our other recent blog posts on logos and love.
What we call the Lord’s Supper (or sometimes the Last Supper) is the meal Jesus had with His disciples to celebrate the Passover feast, right before Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. The account of this can be found in all of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, though John’s account is different than the others. (I’ll let you do some reading if you want to find out how.)
So why is the Lord’s Supper important to us? In it, Jesus shared bread and wine with His disciples. Those elements symbolize Jesus’ body and blood, that His body would be broken for them (and us) and that His blood would be poured out in death for them (and us). Our Lord Jesus celebrated this meal with His disciples so they (and we) would have a symbolic way to remember His sacrifice for us.
Why did Jesus do this? He had to suffer and die for us because He alone is the logos (the Word) and a manifestation of true love. It was out of love for each one of us that Jesus performed the act of sharing the bread and wine at the Lord’s Supper, as a foretelling at the time of what His physical body would have to go through. Because Jesus is the true Word and Creator God, He was able to be that sacrifice for each one of us.
The Lord’s Supper isn’t just something that Christians do at church every now and then. It is an act of receiving God’s love for us and revering the sacrifice that Jesus made for each one of us so long ago, and the reason Jesus came to us in human form as we just celebrated in the Christmas season.
Most of you have probably either been in a situation or at least seen one on TV or in the movies where two people were talking about love and the moment of truth arrived where they find out who is willing to take that huge leap and utter those three magical words, “I love you”. I just watched a movie the other day where the woman was desperately trying to get her man to say it the whole movie, yet it was too late when he was finally able to bring himself to do it because she had already moved on with her life. The man, like many, was scared of what kind of lasting commitment those words would mean if he actually had to “walk the walk” instead of just talking about it.
I’ve been in the situation described above personally and if you have ever had a very serious relationship or marriage, you have too. We all know that there are certain benchmarks of every relationship where it passes from a casual stage to a much more serious one. Those benchmarks may not be the same for everyone, but I’d be willing to bet that being able to express both privately and publicly that you LOVE each other is the most common one. The reason why such a proclamation is taken so seriously has very little to do with the actual words, for it’s pretty easy to talk about love. The real challenge is living it out, especially when you know you have already tried as hard as you possibly can many times and have still failed miserably. All of a sudden, even uttering the words is intimidating because of how it has humbled you in the past.
When you really think about it, the concept of love absolutely SHOULD be intimidating. I mean, what else is there in the Bible that is directly synonymous with God? 1 John 4:16 says very clearly that “God is love”. It’s the only noun that God IS. We have many other adjectives to describe God’s character and attributes in Scripture, but love is something that pretty much sums up everything else. Since man can only partially understand God, His greatness as our Creator is intimidating to any that truly worship Him and seek to obey His commands. And since God is love, that makes love a very intimidating idea.
In Monday’s blog, Katie shared three of the various words for “love” from the Greek language and pointed out that the love attributed to God consistently in the New Testament is “agape”, a kind of self-sacrificing love. I think it’d be fair to say that it’s pretty easy and not so intimidating to use “love” to describe our feelings about things that aren’t going to require us to sacrifice much of ourselves. For example, I can say that I love the Pittsburgh Steelers, love my job, love ice cream, and love the season of autumn. All of these statements are true and don’t even require a passing thought in saying them because not much is really required of me in living them out. But when we talk about loving God or someone created in His image (by the way, that’s everybody), the uncertainty of what that will require in terms of sacrifice can be terrifying.
I believe that may have been what was going through Peter’s mind when Jesus, who had recently been resurrected, was speaking to him directly after appearing to all the disciples. The dialogue is recorded in John 21:15-22 and I encourage you to read it on your own. Peter was undoubtedly the most ashamed disciple when Jesus was crucified because he had denied knowing his Lord 3 times, and the most excited disciple upon his resurrection because it meant another chance at living out his bold claims of love for Jesus. However, his excitement didn’t come without a little trepidation.
Jesus asked Peter 3 times if he loved him and Peter’s affirmative responses and subsequent comments give us insight into his cautiousness at using such a big word to describe his feelings. In our translation, it appears as simple repetition because we have only the one word for the different types of “love”. But in the Greek, Jesus asks Peter the first two times if Peter loves (agape) him, and Peter responds both times that he does indeed love (philia) him (check out Katie’s blog from Monday if you don’t know the difference in the words for “love”). Do you understand what was happening? Jesus wanted to know if Peter loved him enough to sacrifice all for him to the very end. After all, Peter had made that very claim in the past (Matthew 26:33) before denying his Lord. Peter, now with much more hesitancy after his previous failures, simply responds that he loves Jesus as a friend and brother. When Jesus asks Peter a third time, he changes the word to “philia” and Peter repeats what he had already said twice.
The conversation that followed showed why Peter was not quite to the point of boldly proclaiming “agape” love. Jesus spoke about how Peter would be persecuted and martyred for his sake, and Peter’s reaction was to compare his future to that of John, another disciple. Peter was beginning to understand the magnitude of “agape” love, regarding both what Jesus was willing to do for him and what he was not yet sure he would be able to do for Jesus. The amazing thing about Christ is that he was God, meaning he already knew what was in Peter’s heart, yet he proceeded to ask him anyway. Furthermore, he did not blast Peter for his struggles but instead met Peter at the place where he was and lovingly challenged him.
Friends, Jesus is not requiring you to be perfect at “agape” love. In fact, the only perfect, self-sacrificing love there is comes from Christ. If you are constantly working hard to try to attain some standard of love apart from Christ, you will never be satisfied and will always find yourself failing. This kind of love is so BIG that it can’t be accomplished without the Holy Spirit, the Counselor that was sent by God after Christ (John 14 & 16), living and working in our hearts.
Are you at the point where Peter was at in your life right now? Are you terrified at the thought of having to love God or someone else and what kind of sacrifice it may require of you? If so, I would encourage you that your feelings are normal and legitimate considering what “agape” love really means. It’s much easier said than done. But I would also encourage you that Jesus is not evaluating you on how successfully or poorly you are able to DO “agape” love. If Peter’s story was any example for us, we see that Jesus simply asks for a willing heart. He didn’t stand there and make Peter apologize or hold his failures over his head, no matter how much the betrayal hurt Jesus. He knew Peter’s heart, and simply challenged him to self-examine his own commitment. Jesus knew that if Peter was willing to fully surrender his heart to him, everything else would follow. So, that’s my hope for me and for each of you. Rather than attempting to figure out how to DO “agape”, simply humble yourself before Christ, tell him your heart belongs to him, and ask him to lead you and show you what that love really means.
“If we get the love part wrong, what’s the point?”
The above is a favorite saying of Jason DeZurik, and it is really true. We need to love God and love others, and that’s what really matters in life.
But what is love, and why should we love others? As always, let’s turn to the Scriptures for an answer. I’d encourage you to read all of 1 John 4:7-21 for some more context, but I’ll pull out a couple highlights for you.
Why should we love? We love because it is from God, and because He loves us. 1 John 4:7a: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.” 1 John 4:10-11: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
What does love look like? Love has no fear, and it loves all people the same. 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:20-21: “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”
This would not be a complete writing, in my opinion, without sharing with you the three types of love there are in the Greek language. Biblical Greek has three words for love: eros, philia, and agape. Eros love is the romantic type of love, such as between a husband and wife. Philia love is brotherly love, or the loyal love between close friends. Agape love is a self-sacrificing, unconditional love. Which word for love do you think is used in the above passage of 1 John 4? It’s consistently the agape type of love.
God’s love is amazing because we have never experienced and will never experience anything like it on this earth. Think back (or maybe ahead) to your first love; it was probably more of a “puppy love” crush. Remember how giddy you were? Multiply that times one billion and that’s just a teeny tiny part of the love God has for you!
Especially in this Christmas season, we remember how God loved us so much that Jesus was willing to give up His place in heaven to come down to this dirty, smelly, sinful planet and adopt a body just like ours. Not only that, but Jesus knew that later in His life that same body would be ripped and torn and killed on a brutal torture device -- all because of his agape love for each one of us!
Now that is true love; and if we miss that love part, what’s the point?
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” –Matthew 2:1,2
What was the star that the Magi were following after the birth of Jesus? It is a minute detail within this very popular and important narrative that the author neglects to mention. I know that it is not the most important or significant detail in the entire Bible, nor is it a detail that should steal the attention away from the grander narrative of Christ’s birth and life. Nonetheless, it has fascinated me every time I come across a possible explanation for the identity of the star of Bethlehem. Proving its former existence and identity would make a strong case for the authenticity of the Christmas story. If it were proven to be nothing more than a myth, it would cause damage to the authenticity of the entire Gospel message.
The first possibility, and perhaps the most obvious in relation to the story, is that it may have been supernatural. There is evidence within the text that this was the case. For instance, the star appeared at a particular time and prevailed for the majority of their journey. After they visited Herod, it appeared that the star went ahead of them until it rested over the home of Jesus (Mt 2:9). How would it have rested over the child’s home had it not been supernatural?
Although this seems like an adequate explanation, I have always found other explanations quite intriguing. After all, Genesis tells us, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky…and let them serve as signs to mark season and days and years” (1:14). Could this have been one of the days that the stars were meant to indicate?
In 1603, Astronomer Royal Johannes Kepler observed a conjunction of stars. Saturn and Jupiter were en route to align with the constellation Pisces. He remembered a prediction by an ancient rabbi that the Messiah would appear after Saturn and Jupiter met in conjunction with Pisces. This event, according to his observations, would have taken place around 6 or 7 B. C. It is assumed that Jesus would have been born after these dates, but many scholars have speculated, and rightly so, that our current calendar does not perfectly coincide with the birth of Christ. The current calendar is probably off by a few years. There was doubt concerning Kepler’s observations, but in 1925 A.D. German scholar P. Schnabel analyzed ancient documents from Babylon that confirmed that this conjunction of stars did indeed occur in 7 B. C. (Werner Keller, The Bible as History, (New York: Bantam books, 1980) 361-362.
Another possibility is that the star was a supernova. Certain early church historians, Ignatius, Eusebius, etc., noted that ancient records testified to the birth of a “new star” that had appeared in the sky. Such an occurrence would indicate the event of either a nova (the birth of a new star) or a supernova (a star exploding). Either of these events would have emitted a great amount of light and could have been acknowledged as being a new star by the ancient observers. The new star was supposedly observed from around the world near the supposed time of Jesus’ birth. Morris claims that a comet, conjunction, or a supernatural guiding light would not have been confused as being a “star” by the Magi who were brilliant scholars in regards to astronomy. Note, however that a supernova would have been the destruction of an existing star opposed to the creation of a new one. (Henry Morris, The Biblical Basis for Modern Science, (Green Forrest, Arizona: Master Books, 2008) 166-167.
This topic is should not be taken dogmatically because the most important aspect of this star was that it existed. Thus far the most likely explanation given only the testimony of Scripture would be that the star was supernatural. Nonetheless, it is still likely that the star may have been entirely natural and ordained by God through his created order to announce the season of his Son. This possibility is quite exciting because evidence of the star’s existence would have been left behind in either ancient records or in the sky itself. Most importantly, the uniqueness of the star of Bethlehem drew strangers from a foreign land to the town of Bethlehem to worship a baby who they believed was royal, possibly divine. It was a baby who, like the star, was totally unique. Whatever the star was, it must have been magnificent.
One of the things that we know about Jesus from John 1, which Katie referenced in Monday's blog, is that he was "the true light that gives light to every man" (1:9). As Katie already pointed out, Jesus was referred to in this passage as the Logos, or the "Word". The concept of God being "light" is throughout the Bible, from beginning to end. In Genesis 1:3, God spoke light into existence. He did this 3 days before He created the sun, moon, and stars, and many thousands of years before Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. So the only answer to the question of where did the light come from is God Himself. Later, in Exodus, God appears to Moses as a burning bush emitting light and heat, but not burning up (Exodus 3:2). There are many more examples, culminating with a description of heaven in Revelation 21 that includes the fact that it does not need the sun or the moon for light because it is illuminated by the "glory of God" (v. 23). All of these verses and many more point to God as our light, but it wasn't until Jesus was born that the "true light" became flesh. Up until that point, all flesh had become wicked and been overcome by darkness. In Jesus, however, came the light which darkness has not overcome (John 1:5).
You may be wondering why I am choosing to write about the relationship between darkness and the Logos. This article will be posted on Thursday, December 20, exactly one day before the shortest day of the year, as far as light is concerned. Another way of describing December 21 would be "the darkest day of the year". In addition, most of us know by now that December 21 of this particular year has been predicted by Mayan calendars to be the end of the world, even though Scripture is clear that "no one knows about that day or hour" (Matthew 24:36). Even the idea that the world may end has become a form of darkness for many, because it incites fear for those who worry about the end times. So, with the darkest day of the year approaching, maybe we should think about what kind of hope and assurance the arrival of the Logos gives us.
It is not actually possible to measure darkness, since it is not a thing unto itself. You may have heard before that "darkness" is really only a term to describe the absence of light, and it physically makes sense when you think about it. You can turn all the lights off and close the blinds to make a room completely dark, but if even one tiny beam of light enters that room, it literally overcomes the darkness and allows for at least a little bit of sight. On the contrary, you cannot insert darkness into a very well-illuminated area and think it's going to make a difference. Therefore, it is safe to say that true physical light always overcomes true physical darkness.
But what about darkness in the spiritual sense? After all, Jesus was not needed to be a physical light in the world, for the sun, moon, and stars had already existed for many years before he came in the flesh. What was needed was a spiritual light to illuminate the darkness caused by the hearts of men. The nation of God's people, Israel, had been overcome by their own "dark" choices and the consequences God allowed them to face. They spent generations mired in slavery, captivity, and their own waywardness. The very people who were called to shine God's light to all had become trapped by darkness. We can say the same for us today. Just last week, 20 innocent children and several more adults were gunned down at school in Connecticut because of the overwhelming darkness in one man's life. Many have blamed the government because "God has been forbidden in schools", but what about the sex crimes that have taken place in the Roman Catholic Church and most recently in a mega-church in Oklahoma? Jesus told Nicodemus that "light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19). Guess what, friends? This has been true within the Church as much as outside of it.
The Lord challenged the Israelites in the Old Testament through the words of the prophet Isaiah. In Chapter 58, the Lord tells Isaiah to declare to His people how they have missed the point. He tells Isaiah that the people are practicing the ritual of fasting, expecting that doing so will earn them favor with God and access to His decisions. But there is a problem. While they are fasting every day, they are willfully continuing in their sinfulness. They think of themselves first and others second. They quarrel with one another. They exploit their workers. God is not pleased and even challenges them to use common sense and ask themselves why they would assume that this would be acceptable to God. Finally, the Lord calls them to action through Isaiah. "If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like noonday" (Isaiah 58:9b-10).
The challenge to the Israelites back then is the same challenge for us today. How do we, as the Church, live in such a way that we acknowledge that the Logos has come and brought light into our darkness? The answer is also the same. We must do away with divisions within the body, cease to oppress others in any way, and look to the needs of others above our own. The revelation of the Logos to us allows us to live in this way. And if we do, even the darkest day of the year will feel like joyous light, and the end of the world, no matter when it is, will be joyfully anticipated rather than feared. This is the hope and the light of Jesus, the Logos who overcame the darkness!
If you think this blog is going to be discussing logos as in the picture that represents something, you’re in for something different than expected. This week’s word is logos, but it’s a Biblical Greek word pronounced like LAH-gahs.
Logos is mentioned many times throughout the Greek New Testament, but the most prominent description is in John 1:1-18, known as the Prologue. If you go read that, you’ll see “Word” there in the English every time logos is used in the Greek. The best translation we have for logos is that it means “word.” But why is that important? And who or what is the logos mentioned in John 1?
John introduces Jesus to his readers as the logos, the word. By doing this, John is pointing them back to the Old Testament, which was they considered the Scriptures or the Word of God. Jesus came to earth to fulfill the prophecies and every aspect of the Old Testament, therefore He is portrayed as the Word itself.
In Genesis 1, God created the world through His spoken words. Jesus is the agent of creation, because all was created through Him (John 1:3). Therefore, the Word (logos) is Jesus and Jesus is the Word. Jesus was with God since before time.
In the world of Greek philosophy that was prevalent in Jesus’ time, the word logos referred to a bridge between an all-knowing God and the material universe that we live in. So for John to use logos as a name of Jesus, it shows that He is our connection to God.
So, by referring to Jesus as logos, John is engaging both the Jewish and Gentile (non-Jewish) audiences of his day. With that one word, he summed up Jesus and how He relates to their cultures, and His significance in the plan of the universe.
Think about how you look at Jesus. Do you consider Him to be your logos - the creator of the world, the only person who fulfilled the entire Old Testament, and the connection between us and God?
Have you ever heard the statement, "Common sense just isn't common enough anymore"? I have personally used this statement and heard it used many times. Typically, it is said when people are drawing attention to what they perceive as stupidity on the part of the majority of people. But what does the phrase "common sense" even mean? The words themselves imply that it is something universal, or at least exceedingly popular. This leads to a universal pursuit of something that is not universal! What I mean by this is that we are all driven by logic, but it's not the same kind of logic. When I face a difficult decision in my life, I could very easily be seeking the most "logical" conclusion and still not have it make sense to anyone but myself. Logic is our engineer, in the sense that it guides the entire train of our lives. But logic is not a universal concept. I believe that simply because of all the factors in our lives by which we develop OUR logic. If you want the things you do to make sense to everyone else, you're searching for something you will never find. Scripture will show us that logic can be both common and personal.
As Katie already described in Monday's blog, the Bible is a very logical and ordered book. I want to show you the same thing on a small scale. In Paul's letter to the Romans, it appears that he organized it with a purpose. The first 11 chapters have to do with the wickedness of all mankind and the grace that has been shown to us by God through Jesus Christ. They reveal to us how far we are from being able to live in complete righteousness and earn salvation for ourselves, but also teach us about God's love for us even when we were still caught up in sin and how that love has given us an opportunity to be in relationship with God through the sacrifice of Jesus. Then, starting in Chapter 12, Paul begins to explain the "so what" of everything he has explained to that point. The remaining chapters deal very specifically with how we are to treat others, including persecutors, governing authorities, weaker and stronger brothers, and other believers in general, because of the grace that we have received. So the entire Book of Romans really hinges on the beginning verses in Chapter 12, which we will look at in a minute. The "logic" in the composition and order of Romans is something that is very common. It would be hard for anyone to deny the logical progression of Paul's writing in this letter.
As I wrote earlier, logic is not only common, but also personal. Take a look at Romans 12:1. "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship" (NIV). Now, I quoted the NIV there because that is what we most often use. But in the original Greek writing of the New Testament, we see something a little different than what we see in the English. This is due mostly to the fact that most Greek words are broader than their English counterparts. In this verse, the word for "spiritual" is actually the Greek logikos, which can be translated as "rational, reasonable, logical, or spiritual". In other words, the response to the grace of God that Paul is talking about here is the only response that makes any sense! It's not something we do to be more spiritual, but rather to be more logical. I mean, you can see that our word "logic" is directly derived from this Greek word. Paul spends all this time in his letter making sure his audience understands the grace of God not just emotionally but logically as well, and then nails them with what it should mean for their lives. I see Paul writing these words with sort of a "no duh" look on his face. Many Christians back then were likely wondering how they could possibly repay God for what he had done, and their view of the law and what was required of them would have centered on sacrifices. But Paul is trying to get them to see that it's not about giving up dead animals. The only sensible thing to do in response to what God has done is surrender every area of our lives to him. But here's the question: Does that look the same for everyone?
And the answer to that question is "no". That's when logic is personal. Listen to the same verse in a different translation. "So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life - your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life - and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him" (Romans 12:1 [The Message]). You see, we all have different ordinary lives depending on our jobs, schedules, families, and passions. Because of this, God isn't looking for some kind of common, logical gift back to him. What he's looking for in all of us is a life fully-surrendered to him. That means that the driving force behind everything we do, including our routine daily activities, is the logical mindset that we are living for him because of what he has already done for us! It is up to individual persons to decide the specific applications of that mindset in their lives.
Clearly, we don't all use the same logic. Paul makes a distinction between the logic of the world and that of believers in the very next verse. "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing, and perfect will" (Romans 12:2 [NIV]). Friends, the world has logic and "common sense" that drives them. As believers, we use a different kind of logic that has been transformed by Christ, and honestly, we might as well expect the world to look at us like we're crazy and illogical. The only thing we need to focus on as individuals is whether or not we are living in obedience to God. I challenge you to survey your life and ask God to reveal to you the areas where you have illogically put yourself on the throne and not surrendered to him. Let your renewed logic be your engineer!
When looking at this blog topic, my first thought was, “Why am I writing about logic? What does that have to do with the Bible?” But then I started thinking about it a bit more logically (ha) and it made sense. Logic is a way in which we reason and understand things. Logic itself is not truth, but we learn truths through the use of logic.
The Bible is a very logical book, in the sense that it is very orderly. The overall book is divided into two testaments, Old and New. Each testament is divided up into smaller books. Each book is divided into chapters, and each chapter into verses. Each verse and chapter is made up of words and sentences that flow together in logical fashion. We are able to read it because of the logic of reading a word in a language. If the Bible weren’t in an orderly fashion, it would be much more difficult for us to study.
Logic is something that happens in our mind. We use our reason, given to us by God, to make sense of things. Mark 12:30 says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Notice that we are to love God with all of our mind - that’s where logic is. Logically, we have to know God and know about God before we can love Him. We can never fully comprehend God, since He is outside of our human thinking, but He does want us to make our best attempt to know Him with our minds, which is why He gave us the Bible that we can read and study.
God’s Word itself is also logical in many ways. It is clearly stated many times that if you obey God you will be blessed, and if you disobey God you will be cursed. That’s a pretty logical cause-and-effect situation. But, the problem with that logic is that we all disobey God, so left on our own we’d all be cursed. God’s law is very logical, and He spells out the punishment we’ll receive if we break it.
But fortunately, there is an illogical part of the Bible! That is God’s grace. We break the law so we deserve the logical punishment prescribed for that - death. It is highly illogical, yet so very wonderful, that we can receive God’s grace in spite of what we deserve. It doesn’t make sense to our human logic, but it does make sense in the context of our loving God.
Well, since Katie was in such a song-quoting mood in the opening of her blog on Monday, I thought I'd get in on that action. One of my favorite rock songs from a little more recent of a time than the one Katie quoted was "Renegade" by Styx. The song opens with the following words: "Oh mama, I'm in fear for my life from the long arm of the law". It goes on from there to talk about how this "renegade" has broken the law and has been running from it for a long time. His choices have put fear in his mind because he knows that he can only run away from them for so long before he will finally have to pay the penalty for breaking the laws to the very ones who made them. Webster defines a renegade as "anyone who chooses to live outside laws or conventions". Most of us would say that we are not renegades because we don't intentionally make that choice and because we generally don't even view ourselves as lawbreakers. But I assure you, friends, that we all fit into this category when it comes to both worldly laws and God's Law.
The biggest reason that we generally don't see ourselves as renegades is because we compare ourselves to those who either have lengthy criminal records or have committed more severe crimes than we have. But that is not what defines a lawbreaker. Just by the sheer meaning of the word itself, anyone who breaks even one law is then a "lawbreaker". Guess what I did today on the way to Toledo, OH for required work training with several other passengers in the vehicle I was driving? That's right, I decided to exceed the speed limit! Now, all the excuses and justifications are valid. I was going close enough to the speed limit that the cops likely wouldn't care. If I went slower while everyone else was going faster, it could actually be more of a factor in causing an accident. And finally, I was able to do it safely and get us to our destination a few minutes ahead of schedule. Yet, with all those things being said, I still broke the law and willingly chose to do so! The fact that I've never been sent to jail or done anything "major" does not change the reality that I am a lawbreaker. I would suspect most of you are as well.
The same is true when it comes to God's Law. Jesus' brother, James, wrote that "whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it" (2:10). God is completely holy and perfect. Therefore, His standard of righteousness is to NEVER stumble. Do you understand what that means? If you do, then you understand that it is hardly possible. But, as Katie shared on Monday, that's the main purpose of the Law - to show us just how far we are from achieving the standard of righteousness on our own (Romans 3:20). Fortunately, we don't have to live with the "Long Arm of the Law" chasing after us to make us pay. We need only to accept that God made it possible for us to be seen as righteous in His sight through the atonement of Jesus Christ. Grace sets us free when our lawbreaking would have doomed us.
The problem facing many of the early Christians in the first century was their temptation to still try to justify themselves by their ability to follow the Law even after they had already trusted Christ as their Savior. This temptation was perpetuated by false teachers who came to be known as "Judaizers". These were Jews who taught that Gentiles and Jews alike needed to follow the Jewish Law in order to be justified and establish a relationship with Christ. The Apostle Paul dealt with these teachers and their lies in his letter to the Galatians. He even goes so far as to say they have alienated themselves from Christ by trying to justify themselves rather than accepting the free justification through his blood (Galatians 5:4). Wow! Do you realize that is the danger we put ourselves in anytime we point out where someone else is lacking in righteousness according to the Law (or our version of it)? More importantly, do you realize this is the danger we put ourselves in anytime we compare ourselves to others based on our "righteousness"?
Paul deals pretty harshly with these people throughout Galatians 5 because he knows how critical it is to understand who and what has saved us. "Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law" (5:2-3). Paul was dealing specifically with circumcision here because that was the sign of the covenant between God and the Jews, from all the way back in Genesis. But he's not talking about anyone who is circumcised, as it is still a tradition in many cultures including ours. He's specifically talking to adult Gentile males who had not been circumcised at birth, due to it not being their custom, and who were being told they needed to have the procedure done to be right with God. Not only does Paul deal sternly with those who were possibly going to buy into that garbage, but he's even more stern with the ones who were causing them to abandon Christ's justification in favor of "obeying the law". In talking about the Judaizers who were preaching the falsehood, Paul says, "As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves"! (5:12)
Friends, Paul's point is clear. If we choose to live as though Christ's sacrifice were not sufficient to justify us, then we are also choosing to be held accountable as lawbreakers. And if we are held accountable as lawbreakers, we have no chance for salvation. Paul talks about emasculation because of its natural connection to the process of circumcision (hopefully I don't need to go into details). But the same is true in any way that we try to justify ourselves by deeds alone. If you decide that is how you are going to be justified rather than by Christ's blood, then what is stopping you from going ever further? What is stopping you from leaving everything and going out to live in the wilderness as an ascetic waiting for God to supply all your needs as you faithfully "suffer for Him"? I hope and pray that none of you have fallen or are in danger of falling into that trap. I, for one, am very thankful that I don't need to justify myself. I can freely try to live righteously in obedience and service to Christ without fear of failure, knowing that his blood has already covered my failures so that I can just get back up and keep pressing forward. That reality gives me great peace and I know it will do the same for you as you trust that Jesus has truly paid it all!
Not too long ago, someone attempted to rebut my assertion of creationism by saying that evolution occurs through “random mutation.” When they mentioned the word “random,” a thought came to my mind: “Is anything truly random?” The comprehensive theory of evolution greatly relies on the possibility that something was truly random. Only under such circumstances could God be discredited for creation. There are several scientific anomalies I would like to discuss in regards to randomness: The Big Bang (or the universe’s origins), abiogenesis (the materialistic origin of life), and random mutation (a supposed mechanism for evolution).
The premise for the Big Bang is that all of the universe’s building blocks were compacted into a point in the midst of nothingness. For whatever reason, this point expanded (the theory has been revised, it used to be called an explosion) and eventually evolved into everything in the universe (Douglas C. Giancoli. 2005. Physics. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall. 933). However, it is now theorized that the expansion of space was not random but part of an ongoing cycle dictated by rules and laws. These rules and laws have yet to be determined, but it is no longer supposed that the expansion of space was “random.”
Abiogenesis supposes that life came from non-life. This occurred according to chance. The environment gathered the correct composition of molecules, at the correct time, and synthesized the building blocks of life. Could this have happened by chance or would this need to be a part of another naturally occurring, ongoing cycle that is inevitable?
Random mutation, though not part of Darwin’s original Theory of Evolution, supposedly facilitates the process of evolution within living creatures. But is a random mutation truly random? Let’s consider, for a moment, the word “random.” When we hear the word “random,” we suppose it means “blind chance” or “without a guiding force.” If we define the word “random” in such a way, we are ignoring the truth. The truth is that the definition of “random” is that something is unpredictable. For instance, the exact location of an electron within an electron cloud of an atom is considered random because scientists have so far been unable to predict the location of individual electrons in motion. But is that because there is no reason for how electrons move or is it because we have not yet devised a mathematical formula that is able to accurately predict the location of an electron within a cloud?
Let’s sum this all up. Could the Big Bang have been a result of blind chance? No. If there was a Big Bang, it had to have operated according to preprogrammed laws and rules that complied with nature. Could abiogenesis have occurred according to blind chance? No. Because if natural laws for the formation of the universe existed, certainly preprogrammed natural laws would have to exist for life to come about. Otherwise, life would not just be pointless…it would be impossible! So if these two could not have been “blind chance”, could mutation? Even less so! A mutation is in no way random but is caused by dysfunction that occurs in the transmission, formation, and replication of genes. There are reasons that mutations happen, otherwise the scientific community is wasting its time in trying to learn how to cure genetically linked diseases! Think about it. (Hawking, Stephen “Life in the Universe.” 1996, (http://hawking.org. http://hawking.org.uk/index.php?option =com_content&view=article&id=65 [accessed July 16, 2011]).
So if these things are not random, what can we say? Nothing happens without a reason or purpose. I do not believe in the Big Bang, but if it happened its purpose was clearly to create a universe. I don’t believe in abiogenesis, but if abiogenesis did happen its purpose was to create life. I do not believe that random mutation is responsible for the creation of every species of animal, but if it is, its purpose was to create a hierarchy of life, laced with incredible diversity! Are you a result of random chance? Absolutely not! Order is the enemy of the atheist, despite their attempts to reconcile a world full of order to their disbelief in God.
The Bible tells us that even at the casting of lots (we would call it the rolling of dice) God determines the outcome (Proverbs 16:33). What does this tell us? It tells us that God created everything with such order that he has already known the number of days you will live on earth, the number of hairs on your head, the health and well-being of the tiniest life forms, and even the direction that the wind will be blowing at any particular place at any particular time. God is the one who ordains order. This can cause a theological divide, but the Bible clearly teaches God’s intimate working within his creation as he guides it to his desired end.
Randomness is a myth. Secularists try to reconcile a world of order with the possibility of disorderly origins. Unfortunately for their ideology, laws and guiding principles must first exist in order for chaos to be settled into an orderly state. Once order is established can we honestly say that anything happens based off of random chance?
There’s a song from back in the 1960s with a chorus that says, “I fought the law and the law won... I fought the law and the law won!” The song talks about a few things that the singer did wrong and got caught for - hence, he fought the law and the law won.
That’s definitely how it works for all of us as humans. I’m not just talking about human authorities such as police officers and other law enforcement, but how things work when you’re a part of the Kingdom of God as a Christian. We are always up against the law of God - the things He has told us to do and not to do. Just take a look through the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 and I’m sure you’ll find something you’re guilty of. And if you don’t, read through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 and you’ll see how He elaborates on the commandments to include thoughts and motivations, not just physical actions.
So what is God’s law? It encompasses everything that God has told us in the Bible that we should do or not do. Many of the laws in the Old Testament have been fulfilled through Jesus’ sacrifice, so we don’t need to practice them anymore. Included in this category is all of the ritual sacrifices that the people of Israel were required to perform. Jesus’ death on the cross is the only sacrifice that we need for our salvation now. There are over 600 laws in the Old Testament, but every one of them can be summed up with Jesus’ interaction with some Pharisees in Matthew 22:35-40:
One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
If you don’t love God with *all* your heart, soul, and mind, then you’re breaking God’s law. If we fight the law, the law always wins. But, law’s partner in crime so to speak is grace. The law shows us what we’ve done wrong and how we don’t deserve God’s love, but grace steps in and gives us forgiveness and life with God forever. Without having the law and realizing that we don’t deserve God’s favor, then grace would be meaningless. But because we have the law, God’s grace is that much more important and amazing.
I have a favorite way of describing my experience of going through seminary. I graduated from Winebrenner Theological Seminary in Findlay, OH in 2011, three years after leaving my comfort zone and everything I knew in my life in Harrisburg, PA and moving over 400 miles away. I don't know if most seminary students have their views of knowledge changed the way I did, but I would assume so. My experience was that the more I learned, the less I knew. By that, I mean that as I continued to grow in knowledge, I realized how little I actually knew compared to what was out there for me to learn. You see, I always thought I had a pretty good handle on knowledge because I simply compared myself to those around me. In comparison to my peers, I was very gifted at obtaining and retaining knowledge. As long as I knew more than just about everyone else around me, I erroneously began to think I had little left to learn.
That's when God brought me to seminary to humble me. While God did a lot of things in and through me during my time in seminary, the very FIRST thing that needed to happen in my heart was humility. I met peers who were not only my intellectual equals, but also challenged me to grow in knowledge of the truth through my personal relationship with Jesus. I met others who brought logical viewpoints that I had never considered before on subjects I thought I had settled in my mind. And last but not least, I met many wonderful professors, two of whom had very clearly forgotten more about Scripture and church history than I'll ever know. Our Hebrew professor was a man who regularly reads from the original Greek and Hebrew in his bible and has been studying it for nearly 50 years, yet still digs into at least one verse in each Testament every day. Our church history professor was a man who prepared with many notes, but could stand in front of the class for 2 hours and tell the story of the history of the church without ever referring to what he had prepared. He could do the same with world history. I learned pretty early in seminary that even if I study for half a century like those two men, I'll still just barely be scratching the surface of what is available in Scripture and through the Holy Spirit!
All of a sudden, just half of one verse in the Bible that I had learned years before took on a fresh meaning for me. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" (Proverbs 1:7a). Think about what that means. It means that no matter how much you know or how great your human mind is, you don't REALLY KNOW anything until you understand what it means to "fear the Lord". Now, some of you have probably been wondering ever since you read the title of this post what it could possibly mean. Fear is typically something we speak negatively of in our culture. It is typically applied to those things which we try to avoid. We generally fear things that we cannot control. For example, people don't really fear heights. I say that because nothing can really force you to go up high against your will. If you don't want to go skydiving or fly in an airplane or climb a tree, no one is going to force you. Instead, what we truly fear is gravity. Gravity is what we cannot control. Once we have ascended to great heights, gravity can force us to fall back to earth against our will! The same is true with the dark. People don't really fear darkness because it doesn't change what is there physically in the light. What it does is remove control over what you can see and know. Finally, people fear change not because the actual new ideas are always scary, but because people have less control over the things they do not know.
Hopefully, you see why the "fear of the Lord" is the only real, necessary, and healthy fear there is. God ultimately controls all things. The knowledge of human beings can master all sorts of other fears as we develop methods of controlling that which we otherwise could not. But we will NEVER be able to control the Sovereign God! No amount of education or efforts can produce enough knowledge to ascend beyond the Lord. The sooner we realize and accept that, the sooner we can open all sorts of pathways to true knowledge. Friends, knowledge can be an idol, but it can also be a very good thing if surrendered to that fear of the Lord. If we can somehow get to that point where we never forget who we are and who we are NOT, knowledge becomes very powerful. If we do not get to that point, knowledge and the pursuit of it is futile.
While this blog is not really about fear (maybe we'll do that someday down the road), Scripture is clear that we don't really have knowledge until we have fear of the Lord. I want to close this out by sharing another way that this concept should apply to our lives and our relationships with others, especially those with whom we disagree. God has really been speaking to me for a long time about James 1:19-20. "My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires". Have you ever thought about how often humans, especially Christians, justify our anger by saying something like "Jesus got angry sometimes so it's not a sin"? I know I've taken that stance. We get angry in discussions with others because we KNOW we are right. Our focus is on OUR knowledge. But if we pay attention and apply Proverbs 1:7 to our lives, we have no right to get angry with those who disagree with us, even when we know they are wrong! We are commanded to remember who we are (humans) and who we are not (the Lord). If our ultimate goal is to encourage righteousness in fellow believers and guide non-believers into a relationship with Christ where they can experience righteousness, James 1:20 is clear that "man's anger" will not do that. We justify our anger over the lies that people tell and believe because "Jesus got angry sometimes". Let me tell you, friends, that there is a huge difference between imperfect man getting angry and Jesus getting angry.
If we remember that our opinions, thoughts, and knowledge are nothing apart from the fear of the Lord, then humility becomes part of our character. And if humility becomes part of our character, we are less likely to get angry because someone doesn't see things the way we think they should. I hope that, for you and me in the next time we are in that type of situation, we will remember that we are not sovereign as God is and do not have ALL knowledge as He does. In keeping that appropriate fear of the Lord, any knowledge we do gain will serve His purposes and His alone!
One person I have been inspired by throughout my life is Thomas Edison. He was most known for being the person who gave widespread availability to the light bulb and electricity in general, though he invented numerous other things as well. When he was searching for what to use as the filament in the light bulb, he tried thousands of different materials. At one point during this process, Edison was asked if he was frustrated by his lack of results. Edison replied, “Results? Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward.”
How often do we look at life that way? Instead, we normally think that the only way to move forward is to gain more knowledge. If you don’t know the right answer yet, such as Edison not knowing what would be the best filament for the light bulb, we’re told that we haven’t achieved what we’re supposed to. After all, knowledge is power, right? Not necessarily.
I grew up going to a Christian school five days a week, Sunday School on Sundays, and church every weekend. Having religion class every day from preschool through the 12th grade meant I gained lots and lots of knowledge about the Bible. I was regularly quizzed and tested on that knowledge, as it was part of school for me. But what good is all that knowledge by itself? None.
Knowledge by itself is useless if you don’t have a way to put it to good use. Even if I knew every word of the Bible backwards and forwards, it would be totally useless if I didn’t truly know the person that it’s all about - Jesus Christ. Without having a personal relationship with Jesus, having the Holy Spirit in my heart, and allowing God to work in my life on a daily basis, the knowledge I can gain from the words of the Bible are meaningless. Once I have that relationship with God, all of the knowledge in the Bible becomes powerful in learning how to live out that relationship and sharing it with others.
We often fail at making a relationship with God the king of our lives. But every experience that happens to us and every choice that we make, even making 10,000 wrong ones, are not failure; instead, they are simply a step forward drawing us closer to the Truth.
What kind of knowledge do you have in your life?
I think the word "shaken", or maybe even "rattled", would be a great way to describe the way most of us spend our major holidays. Whether it's Thanksgiving, Christmas, or one of the other ones where we actually invite friends and family to travel and spend time with us, meals, preparations, and scheduling often take precedence over remembering the reasons why we celebrate. Perhaps there is no holiday more affected than Thanksgiving. Not only is it in the middle of the week, which gives most people less time to complete all that they need to DO before guests arrive, but it is also immediately followed by the biggest shopping day of the year, when people actually fight over material things because of discounts and availability. As you read this on Thanksgiving Day or in the days that follow, you may even find yourself rushing through it to head off to something else that needs your attention.
In addition to being "shaken" by our schedules and arrangements, we are also easily rattled by the trials that we face. While holidays are generally times of celebration, the hardships that we are facing are more than likely illuminated around the holiday seasons. It may be because you have fallen on hard financial times and simply cannot afford all the wonderful things that you generally enjoy this time of year. Maybe it's because this is the only time of the year where you have to deal with the irritations of your family members or have to hear about how well everything is going in their lives when you feel like yours is in shambles. Possibly, the holidays are more difficult because you have experienced the loss of a dear relationship or family member this year and the grieving process is not quite complete. Holidays have been tough for me for several years now because both of my brothers are married with kids and I am still single. I still see my family of origin sometimes on holidays, but more than anything I long for the day that I can celebrate with my own family and see the joy on my children's faces.
So as you can see, there are many things that cause us to be "shaken" emotionally, spiritually, and even physically around the holidays. But truly, we have reason NOT to be shaken! The Lord led me to 2 different Scripture passages in the last week that I thought I'd share with all of you. Check out Hebrews 12:28-29. "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'". The unknown author of Hebrews (many think it was Paul or Peter) had just got done explaining God's promise from the Old Testament to remove everything that can be shaken - created things - so that all that is remaining is that which cannot be shaken (vv. 26-27). The author explains to Jewish Christians who were facing intense persecution that we have so much to be thankful for and so much to worship God for because of the unshakable kingdom we are receiving. If you want to know more about that kingdom, check out our blogs from last week on "Kingdom of God". How this translates to our daily lives is that we also have many reasons to thank God no matter what trials or frustrations we are facing this time of year. God is still God and if we have accepted his son Jesus as Savior and follow him, we have access to an unshakable kingdom no matter what comes along to rattle us!
But how do we keep that focus and prevent ourselves from falling into the trap of the enemy that causes us to be ungrateful and possibly even angry toward God? Well, the answer is found in Colossians. Paul writes, "So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness" (Colossians 2:6-7). As you read those words in your mind, were you automatically placing emphasis on the strong action words like "live", "rooted and built up", and "strengthened"? I certainly was. Friends, it's impossible to spend the majority of our lives being easily rattled and then suddenly flip a switch when it's time to give thanks. The only way you can maintain an unshakable attitude giving glory to God is by being "rooted and built up" in Christ Jesus as Lord. Don't miss the AS LORD part there. We so often consider "Lord" to be a part of Jesus' name, but the reality is that until Judgment Day you still have the choice of whether or not to make him Lord of your life. If you make your trials, your plans, your family, your relationships, your frustrations, or anything else your Lord, you are guaranteed to be SHAKEN. Making Christ the Lord of our lives and allowing our roots to be built on that truth allows us to have joy in all of those other things and to remain unshaken by them. Paul emphasizes the importance of remaining in Christ in the very next verse, one which has been underlined in my Bible for a long time. "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ". Once again, we all know that we are surrounded by "hollow and deceptive philosophy" this time of year. We have the biggest day of the shopping year, a day when there is generally at least one story somewhere in the country where someone is literally KILLED over a desired item, just one day after we are taught to be thankful for what we already have. It's not our responsibility to change the philosophy of the world. If those twisted ways of thinking existed 2,000 years ago when Jesus and his disciples walked the earth, we cannot expect anything different. Our responsibility must be to maintain awareness of such philosophy, while remaining in Christ to keep ourselves from being deceived. If you think about all of the things I mentioned earlier that cause us to be rattled, you'll realize that every single one of them is basic to THIS WORLD. Let's remember that we are receiving an unshakable kingdom! As you celebrate this day with friends, family, or maybe even alone, allow yourself the time to remember all that you have to thank God for and set your roots in the truth of Christ Jesus as Lord. Have a happy Thanksgiving and DO NOT BE SHAKEN!
…God created the heavens…
I’m not much of a stargazer, myself, but every time I am out late at night, away from street lights and the clamor of the city, I marvel at the stars above. What a beautiful sight it is to see all of those twinkling lights far above the earth, like diamonds scattered throughout the sky (I hope that doesn’t infringe on the copyright for Twinkle Twinkle Little Star). There are so many stars in outer space that I am not even going to bother repeating the numbers I have heard, it is absolutely astonishing!
With as many stars as there are just in the visible sky, we wonder, “How big is the universe?” To give you an idea, let’s look at how far away certain bodies are from Earth. The distance from the Earth to the moon is 384,000 Km; this equals 1.28 light seconds. The distance from the Earth to the sun is 150,000,000 Km; which is about 8.3 light minutes. The distance from the earth to the next nearest star (Proxima Centauri) is 4.3 LIGHT YEARS away from the Earth (Giancoli, Douglas. 2005. Physics 6th edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. p. 915). If that does not astonish you enough, there are other stars that are BILLIONS of Light Years away! This is literally astronomical! Nobody can measure the true size of the universe. Some people believe that it is infinitely large. There is no beginning to it and there is no end. Outer space would be an endless stretch of blackness scattered with stars, planets, and galaxies. Others say that it is well contained and has boundaries. In either case the atheist must believe that the universe in one sense or another is eternal; it has no beginning and no end. The most popular secular theory seems to suggest that there are boundaries to the universe and that it continues in some sort of oscillating cycle (Morris, Henry. 2008. The Biblcal Basis for Modern Science. Green Forrest, Arkansas: Master Books. 136, 137).
Considering the implications of the Big Bang Theory, the universe would most likely have boundaries of some sort. Even so, the boundaries are suspected to be moving outward because the stars and galaxies also seem to be moving further apart! Certain scientists also believe that once the system reaches its climax, there will be a “Big Squish” that condenses all of matter into nothing again. The cycle resets itself.
I often hear atheists ask believers, “If you believe in an eternal God, why is it so hard to imagine an eternal universe?” I think that the question should be turned on its head; “If you believe in an eternal universe, why is it so hard to believe in an eternal God?” Think about it, God is a cognitive Creator, the universe is mindless. How can that which is mindless design a realm with such order?
Only an all-powerful God could have produced such a wonder as the universe, whether it has boundaries or if it is infinite. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” What is more, Genesis presents the creation of the stars as an afterthought, “He also made the stars” (1:16). In other words, despite its vastness, the creation of the universe was easy for God. So does the Bible teach that the universe is infinite or limited? I don’t know. But it does tell us that God is all-powerful, infinite, and eternal.
So, we’re doing “K” words on the blog this month, so this week’s word is apparently thanKful, with an emphasis on the K. :) But I am thankful to have another word to write about, so here goes!
This is the time of year when everyone is overwhelmed with thoughts of thankfulness. How many times have you already heard someone say something about being thankful, and what are you thankful for? It seems like for these couple weeks in November every year, we’re bombarded with thoughts and messages about being thankful. Sometimes it seems like it’s coming at us from everywhere, so much so that it’s easy to take it lightly and even get annoyed by hearing the same things over and over again. For me, by the time Thanksgiving is over, I’m thankful that all the overwhelming thankfulness is finally over!
But we do see thankfulness in Scripture, particularly regarding how we should pray, so that’s where I will head with this blog. Two texts that come to mind are Philippians 4:6-7 and 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.
Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” We see here that we should not be anxious about anything! In writing this, Paul is making the point that prayer is the opposite of anxiety. If we are anxious about something, we are trying to take care of it ourselves and worrying about it and stressing over it. But if we are praying to God about whatever it going on in our lives, that counters our anxiety and gives us an attitude filled with God’s peace. If we are thankful for what we have, we will not be anxious about what we do not have!
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” This passage states up front that we should be joyful always. Notice that last word there – “always.” This is a very important little word. Paul doesn’t tell us that we can only be joyful when we feel happy and things are going right. Paul doesn’t tell us that we only have to be joyful some of the time when it’s easy. No – Paul says be joyful always. Always. That means all the time, regardless of how life is going or what kind of mood we’re in. We even have to be joyful during the tough times in life when we’re struggling just to get through each day.
Remember that being thankful in joy is different than simply being happy. We are happy when things are going well for us and life is pretty easy. We are joyful and truly thankful when we trust God completely and drawing our strength from him – especially through the tough times of life. These times make us mature and complete in our walk with Christ, and they help us to truly be thankful for God and everything He has done for us.
In this season of Thanksgiving, enjoy the time you can spend with your family and friends. Enjoy the food that you will eat together. Take time to thank God for all of His blessings in your life and all that He has done for you. Have a joyful attitude in all circumstances, even during the stresses of the holidays. Pray often. Present your requests to God with thanksgiving, and he will give you peace beyond your understanding. And most importantly, just remember to be thanKful!
Sometimes in life, the unexpected happens and there is no way we could have been prepared. But, for many of the big things in life, we are expected to be making preparations to some extent. People rarely get married without a plan for where they are going to live, when they want to have kids, and how they are going to handle finances. Over a year's worth of preparations were made by each of our nation's two leading political parties in advance of last week's election. Students in high school are making post-graduation plans and preparing for them, and students in college are preparing for the real world once they receive their degrees and have to find jobs. Every level of government has plans and preparations for acts of terrorism and natural disasters. However, as I wrote at the start, there will always be things that happen so suddenly that we cannot prepare for them and there will always be times when we are not as prepared as we should be.
For the Jews, the kingdom of God was one of those things. The entire Old Testament was filled with prophecies that were designed to prepare them for the coming of God's kingdom in the person of the Messiah. However, they couldn't get out of the way of their own expectations. They expected the Christ to take the world by force and restore THEIR kingdom by reversing the authority that the Romans had over them, despite the prophecies from the Old Testament and Jesus' own words from the New Testament that stated he must suffer on our behalf to fulfill the will of God. Even John the Baptist, whose birth was miraculous in its own right, was sent to motivate the people to "prepare the way for the Lord" (Isaiah 40:3 and Matthew 3:3).
All of the preparations led up to one moment, the turning point for the entire story of Scripture. "After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 'The time has come', he said. 'The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!'" (Mark 1:14-15). Now, first of all, I think we must understand just how significant it is that Mark even uses the phrase "kingdom of God". If you look in Matthew 3:2 and 4:17, you'll see that Matthew records both John the Baptist and Jesus as calling it the "kingdom of heaven". Just so we're clear, I did look up the verses in the Greek, and the English translations are accurate. So, what makes one gospel writer record it differently than another? The answer lies in a deep tradition of the Jews to avoid even mentioning the sacred name of God. Matthew was a Jew writing to a predominantly Jewish audience, while Mark recorded his account of the gospel primarily for Gentiles. Since Jews felt it was unacceptable for sinful man to even mention God's holy name, they would choose to instead replace it with "heaven" to indicate where the kingdom is from. While that may seem a little ridiculous in our culture since everyone knows what you're saying anyway, it certainly made me think. Does the way we speak of God indicate a healthy fear of him? James tells us that praise and cursing should not come out of the same mouth (3:10). But do we really care? Personally, I just hurt somebody very close to me with words and actions yesterday, yet here I sit today with the privilege of writing a blog about the kingdom of God. Based on my sin and God's holiness, I really shouldn't be allowed to. But I want to tell you about the reason that I am allowed to move forward, which also happens to be the requirement for being a part of the kingdom of God.
Jesus preached for all to "repent and believe the good news". Many biblical interpreters have said that the phrase can be considered a summary of what is required for salvation. What I think is interesting is that the two parts of that phrase go hand-in-hand. To believe the good news of Christ is to follow him wherever he leads us. To follow him where he leads us is to repent. Now, you may be wondering why I say that if you aren't clear on the actual definition of the word "repent". It actually has very little to do with apologizing or feeling sorry as many assume. Think about it. In those passages where Jesus is recorded as preaching this and then calling the first disciples to join him, the disciples were all fishing when Jesus invited them to follow him. Did they need to apologize for fishing? The point is that to repent is to literally change our lives, to stop going the direction we were going and follow a different path. Friends, it is impossible to follow Jesus and join the kingdom of God without repentance. To follow him is to live in such a way that NO OTHER path makes any sense. For me and anyone else who has regrets over sinful choices, there is only one acceptable response - repentance. All we can do is honestly take inventory of our choices and the paths we took to get to those choices, and then make a decision to go a different direction. When I realize I have fallen into sinful choices, it's generally because I have not invested in my relationship with Christ. So, to repent for me means to turn back to the path where I invest more in that relationship. Repentance is something that happens both when we first choose to follow Christ and the kingdom of God as well as many times during the journey.
Jesus had the right to say that the kingdom of God was near because, unlike us, he was perfect and had knowledge of the Father's will. However, he said that it was "near", not "here". That's because this kingdom does not take by force. It can be all around you, but you are not a part of it until you repent and make the choice to become part of it. The Jews were not ready to give up the path that they wanted. Are you ready? The Bible tells us there will be a time when it won't matter who is ready. "At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:10-11). You can decide not to believe what the Bible says, but that doesn't mean it won't be right. It clearly states that EVERY knee will bow and EVERY tongue confess, not just those that are ready. Fortunately, that time hasn't come yet and anyone who has not been ready for God's call to follow him and become part of his kingdom still has a choice. Are you ready? If not, I hope you repent today and choose to follow a new path, the best path there is.
I hang around with Jason DeZurik a lot, both in person and online via Facebook and Twitter. So naturally, what came to my mind first when I started thinking about a blog on “kingdom of God”? His favorite saying lately: “We are not building an institution or a program. We are building the Kingdom of God. It is a mindset. It is a spiritual awakening. It is a lifestyle!"
I’ve been hearing him say that a lot (and post it on social networks), and it got me thinking... what Scriptures are there to back that up? What does the Bible say about the kingdom of God?
John 18:36 says, “Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.’”
Luke 17:20 says, “Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, ‘The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed.’”
Mark 1:15 says, “‘The time has come,’ [Jesus] said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’”
All of these words are quoted as coming from Jesus himself. In John 18:36, which is part of the narrative about Jesus on trial in front of Pontius Pilate, Jesus tells us that His kingdom is “from another place” (NIV). In the original Greek, the wording there means more like “not from this place.” Meaning it’s not from this place (earth), but it does exist here. If we are building the kingdom of God, then it does exist here on earth.
In Luke 17:20, Jesus explains that it can’t be easily seen, like an earthly king’s reign. An institution or program can be seen as a thing; a mindset or a spiritual awakening cannot be as easily seen.
In Mark 1:15, we see that the kingdom of God has come near. Some people believe that Jesus Himself is the kingdom; but nowhere in Scripture do we ever see that the kingdom left, such as when Jesus ascended into heaven. The kingdom goes on, even while Jesus is not bodily present with us.
So what is the kingdom of God? The concept is sort of elusive to many people today. I believe that it is a way of looking at the world, that everyone in the world has the opportunity to be a part of God’s kingdom by putting their faith in Jesus Christ. We show our faith to others by the fact that it is a lifestyle that Christians must live. In order to bring more people into the kingdom there needs to be a spiritual awakening in which people see our mindset through our lifestyle.
Are you living your lifestyle with the mindset that everyone can be a part of God’s kingdom?
A few months ago, I went to lunch at a popular local restaurant for the first time. The establishment is one of those places that everyone in town knows because it's right downtown on the main street, is privately owned, and has been here for years. I had heard a lot about the food and I had time one day, so I went to check it out. While I had heard a lot about the food, no one had really told me anything about the environment, which was quite surprising. I don't really know how to describe the inside of the restaurant other than to say it had an overwhelming "hippie" feel to it. Now, hopefully you understand that I am not saying there is anything wrong with that. I am simply trying to allow you to picture the environment. The furniture was rainbow-colored, there were peace signs everywhere, and various expressions of artistic flavor covered the walls. My perception became reality when my name was called to come to the counter to get my food. A woman, who I later discovered was one of the managers, called my name plainly the first time and then called me a second time as "King Logan". I walked to the counter smiling and said, "Really?" Her response was, "Yeah, aren't you the ruler of your universe?" Now, hindsight being 20/20, that was a perfect opportunity to share that Jesus is the King of not only my universe but THE universe and I missed that opportunity. But it was a great reminder for me that most people associate the word "king" with a sense of autonomy and power that means making your own rules and the ones that everyone under you has to follow.
I think that, if we look at Scripture, we see that this idea of kingship caused a lot of turmoil for a lot of people, especially those individuals who were fortunate enough (at least in the eyes of the world) to be given the position. I wrote several weeks ago about King Nebuchadnezzar, whose power and authority literally made him delusional to the point where he built a 90-foot tall idol to in effect declare that his kingdom would last forever. We also know about King Herod, who was eaten by worms. Many of the books of the Old Testament are full of the names of other kings whose power and corruption ultimately led to their demise.
What amazes me more than anything about the Israelites of the Old Testament is that they actually asked for this garbage! Take a look at 1 Samuel 8. It was written at a time in history when Israel was led by judges. All the other pagan nations around them had kings, but Israel had not needed a king because the Lord himself was their king. Now, that doesn't mean they didn't have leaders. The elders and judges led the people, but there was an understanding that they were merely servants of the Lord Almighty, who literally sustained the people AND fought for them in battle. If you're not familiar with the history in the Old Testament, it probably sounds weird to you that an invisible God could sustain and fight for His people. I don't have room here to describe all of the great stories in the Old Testament, but I urge you to read for yourself about how God dropped manna (which was described as being "bread-like") from heaven and provided quail when the people were hungry (Exodus 16), how He produced water from a rock when they were thirsty (Exodus 17), how He destroyed a whole enemy army at once with the Red Sea (Exodus 14) AFTER keeping that same army away from His people by using a thick cloud to block them for a whole night (Exodus 13), and how God brought down the entire city of Jericho through His people's praises (Joshua 6). Those were just to name a few, but there are many more stories of God's provision and protection.
But then we come to the story in 1 Samuel 8. Samuel was getting too old to lead the people and that traditionally meant that he would pass the title on down to his sons. But v. 3 tells us that his sons "turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice". So, with the Israelites kind of being out of options for a new judge, they decided they wanted to be "like all the other nations" and told Samuel to appoint a king "to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles" (v. 20). Let me just tell you, friends, that anytime we as God's people willfully choose something that makes us like those who do not follow God, we are falling for Satan's deception. It is the great trick of the devil to make us believe that we'd be better off being like the world rather than living as a consecrated people. Samuel took the request of the people to the Lord, who then assured him it was not Samuel they were rejecting, but the Lord as king (v. 7). The Lord told Samuel to warn the people of how the human king would reign over and oppress them, but the people didn't care. They demanded a king and that is what they got.
God gave His people what they wanted, and Saul was appointed as Israel's king. As promised, he began as a faithful man of God and was corrupted by his own need for power, which ultimately led to his choice to take his own life. After that was David, who was called "a man after God's own heart". David followed God, but was also led into sin by His own power and sense of entitlement. Later, Solomon was king and was possibly one of the wisest people who ever lived. Yet, even he was led astray by his many foreign wives and concubines. The Old Testament lists the stories and records of many more kings who were downright wicked and caused great harm to the beloved nation of Israel. Most of the wickedness was due to the fact that they became drunk with power and abandoned their faith in the true King of Kings in favor of their evil desires.
All of the centuries and centuries of wicked kings led Israel to a point when, for 400 years, God did not even speak to them. Do you think maybe He wanted them to learn their lesson? But then, while no one was expecting it and many were not ready, the King of Kings came to the earth in the flesh. The Christ came to the earth in the person of Jesus and revealed to both Jews and Gentiles what it meant to truly be KING. He was despised and rejected by many because he did not fit into their image of a king. Even his own disciples followed him because they believed he was there to kick butt and take names. The last thing they asked him before he disappeared into heaven was whether or not he was going to do what THEY EXPECTED (Acts 1:6). Make no mistake about it; Jesus could have conquered by force if that was what the Father called him to do. But it wasn't. The only way he could truly "fight our battle for us" was to defeat the one thing that threatened us way beyond what any man, nation, or revolt could - SIN. To defeat sin, he had to take on the fullness of God's wrath at the hands of humans, give up his last breath, and then rise from the depths of the grave three days later. Many assumed he couldn't have possibly been their great king as they watched him get "conquered" by their human enemies. They envisioned a society where they were the ones who held power over other nations and expected Jesus to lead them to that point. But, as Jesus said and demonstrated, you have to become a servant to be great. "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45).
So what do you expect from your king? If you are in a position of power or desire it, what is your assumption about what that will bring? By the time you read this, we will know who our president is for the next four years and many of you will be disappointed one way or another. Regardless of who is in power, do you want that person to lead by conquering the opposition and everything they stand for, which would only breed more dissension, or would you like to see our elected president lead by service even to those with whom he disagrees? If you want your leader to be more like Christ, the answer is obvious. We need to pray for all of our leaders to truly be servants. And when God chooses to bless us by putting us in positions of "kingship", we need to remember the example that was set for us by the true King of Kings!
Who is your king? In America today, we don’t necessarily have the concept of royalty, since our country is not ruled by a monarch such as a king or queen. So what exactly is a king - and why am I writing about it on this blog?
The dictionary defines a king as, among other things, “a male monarch of a major territorial unit,” “a paramount chief,“ or “one that holds a preeminent position.” A king who rules over a land definitely holds the preeminent position of leadership in that country and serves as their chief. Our United States president is preeminent to some extent, though the system of checks and balances prohibits him from abusing his position of power.
So who is the king of your life? Who holds a preeminent position in your life? Do you put yourself in that position, or do you allow someone else to hold that role?
As a Christian, Jesus should be our king. To follow Him as His disciple, Jesus needs to be our paramount chief, and hold the preeminent position in our lives. But that’s definitely easier said than done, since it’s so much easier for us to serve ourselves or other earthly people than God.
So why does Jesus deserve to be our king? God placed Him in that position, as we see in Philippians 2:9-11, Isaiah 52:13, and Daniel 7:14. God has given Jesus all authority and power, therefore He is definitely in a preeminent position! We see in Colossians 2:9-10 that “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.”
The Bible makes it very clear that Jesus Christ is in a position of authority, and as His followers we should worship Him as such. We need to make him the king of our entire lives. Everything in the entire earth belongs to God, and He truly is our glorious king. Psalm 24 says is better than I ever could, so I’ll leave you with that:
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it on the seas
and established it on the waters.
Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not trust in an idol
or swear by a false god.
They will receive blessing from the Lord
and vindication from God their Savior.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, God of Jacob.
Lift up your heads, you gates;
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
the Lord mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, you gates;
lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is he, this King of glory?
The Lord Almighty—
he is the King of glory.
As you all know, we are in the midst of a season right now in the United States of America that happens about once every four years, yet always seems to be labeled as "the most important in history". In fact, I just heard those very words today from someone very close to me who I love and respect. The season I am talking about, of course, is the season of election campaigns. Honestly, the election decisions rarely, if ever, live up to the hype that is created by those words. Elections are about intentions, agendas, plans, and policies. Tell me, when was the last time that any of those things by themselves had the power to institute real change in people? It certainly doesn't stop each and every candidate from telling you over and over again how they PROMISE to change or fix the existing problems.
We all have local and state elections to deal with, but the election that receives the most attention by a long shot regardless of where you are in the country is our national presidential election. I write to you today from Ohio, widely considered one of the most important "battleground" states in this election. We have only 9 days to go before the big day and I literally just came from a rally that was held at our local university by the challengers, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. Just weeks ago, President Barack Obama was just up the road 30 minutes or so holding his rally at a different university. We're all inundated with constant phone calls, letters, emails, and TV ads telling us which way we should vote and why. We're subjected to the art of spin by both sides, as well as their ability to manipulate records and statistics. The focus of the debates is more about who "wins" each one in the eyes of the public and media rather than who is honest and shows good character and leadership. Don't get me wrong. I didn't bring all of this up to talk about which direction our country should go in this election. I brought it up to point out the amount of attention that we and the media pay to these men and women who make the promises that we want to hear, but are rarely able to follow through beyond their campaigns!
As I continue to hear the promises that are being made, I'm constantly reminded of something a good friend of mine said around the time of the national conventions. He said that "true promises can only be made by those who have the actual ability to carry out those promises". My friend was frustrated as countless people at both conventions PROMISED that America would be restored to its prosperity if their guy is elected, because he knows that only God ultimately would have the ability to make that happen. Now, if Romney or Obama were the Savior and thus equal with God, there would be no problem with their promises. Since we know the Savior has already come in the flesh and departed from the flesh and now lives in us through the Holy Spirit, we know that the candidates are mere men who are promising things they do not ultimately control.
There was a time when someone who many thought was a mere man stood up and made a series of promises and aggravated those around him, but he actually made promises he could keep. I'm talking about Jesus Christ in the event recorded in Luke 4:14-30. Imagine walking into church on a Sunday that seems like every other and hearing some guy stand up and read Scripture and then claim to be the one who fulfills its prophecy. In our culture, we'd probably just laugh rather than actually get mad. But the people of Nazareth (the place where Jesus had been raised by the way) actually took offense to what he had to say because of their unbelief. Jesus went into the synagogue, just as he always did on the Sabbath, and read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He read about the prophet's promises of the One who would "preach good news to the poor, set prisoners free, return sight to the blind, release the oppressed, and proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Isaiah 61:1-2 and Luke 4:18-19). He then stood up and essentially said, "I'm that guy". Do you see now why the people in the synagogue (Jews who would have known the prophecies) reacted the way they did? They had known this guy and watched him grow up as a carpenter for 30 years, so he surely could not be God in the flesh! This "son of Joseph" had no business writing checks only God could cash! (v. 22)
The difference, of course, between Jesus' good news campaign and the promises made by our worldly politicians is that Jesus WAS God. The Jews did not believe that, so they were not able to join in the celebration of the promises Jesus made. He then responded by explaining from their own history in the Old Testament how God chooses to use Gentiles who are willing to believe to take part in His work rather than exclusively favoring the Jews, and challenged them to realize that their unbelief was setting them on a path to be sideline watchers in God's mission rather than players in the game (vv. 24-27). This made the people so mad that they literally tried to kill him immediately, albeit unsuccessfully (vv. 28-30). How ridiculous! You'd think they would be celebratory after hearing his wonderful promises. But their unwillingness to believe that Jesus truly was the Messiah clouded their entire picture of what was happening. Their stubbornness and unbelief caused them to miss the good news of the Jubilee!
Do you want to miss the Jubilee? Jesus promised a bunch of things in this event, culminating with his proclamation that his coming is the year of the Lord's favor (aka the Year of Jubilee as described in Katie's Monday blog and in the Old Testament passages she cited). This wasn't just a year that would come and go, however. The time of celebration was here to stay because the One who has power to keep God's promises had come. Friends, I challenge you to think about what this means for your life and how you are living the reality of it out. As Election Day 2012 is fast approaching, are you more focused on the results of a campaign filled with empty promises that are divorced from the real change that needs to take place in the hearts of the people or on the result of the promises made by the One who can affect that needed change? Don't be like the Jews. Recognize that jubilee will not come on November 7 regardless of who won the election. Jubilee HAS ALREADY COME to the whole earth because of the coming of Jesus Christ. We need only to trust and obey.