Devotions

REST: Matthew 11:29

QUESTIONS? I think I’ve hit most or all of your questions. If I missed one or if you have another, let me know. In the meantime …

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Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” – Matthew 11:29

The word that grabs me in today’s verse is rest.

One of my favorite verses in all of scripture is the verse just before today’s verse. Here Jesus talks about rest too, saying, “Come to me all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

I often recommend this “come to me” passage for funerals, especially after a friend has had a long, hard journey. Imagine a loved one who’s battled long and hard with cancer. Often we come to a place where death is a welcome release – a sad, but holy, final victory. The weary burdens are over, and God has finally given this friend rest.

This passage is a message of comfort and hope for the one who is now departed. Why? Because it speaks of a new reality for this loved one who is now finding rest in the arms of her Savior.

It can also be a powerful message of comfort and hope for the family members who are experiencing a whelming loss. In the current torrents of grief, they usually aren’t experiencing rest quite yet. But in Jesus’ invitation to “come to me,” there is a living hope for the rest that will come for their weary souls. Hope promises an eventual rest … even in this life, as we learn to hand our loved ones over to God for their eternal rest.  

So … what do you need rest from in your life?

I literally just left our Tuesday night prayer class with Pastor Bill Fleming. The topic tonight was preparing to pray. It was learning to still our hearts and minds so that God – through that still small voice – could begin to speak rest into our weary hearts. (Have you ever desired that peace and rest?)

Pastor Bill used an image that grabbed me. He said, “Imagine that you’re driving a big truck. It can’t just stop instantaneously. You have to allow an adequate distance to brake.” I loved that … but then he said something I thought was profound. He said, “And the heavier the load, the greater distance you need to slow down.”

Part of prayer – and part of finding rest – is giving ourselves first an adequate time, space, and distance to slow down. To breathe out the grief and to breathe in the hope.

Are you breathing? Are you resting? Are you trusting? Are you hoping?

One way to do this is revealed in today’s verse. Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you.” When farmers historically trained a new, young ox, they’d usually yoke them to old, experienced ox. The young ox would buck and rush and try to pull away. The old ox would slow the youngster down. The old ox would teach him a slow, steady, long-lasting pace. The old ox would teach him to yield to the hand of the master.

Jesus wants to walk beside you, showing you a long-lasting pace, teaching you to yield to the hand of the master. Come to him, and he will teach you rest.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who’s been carrying

a heavier load lately;

I guess I need to allow

for some time and distance

to slow down

Question: What can you tell me about the Book of Enoch?

Enoch

Last week’s discussion of what and why which books are in the Bible – as well as the discussions on the genealogy of Adam (and Cain, Abel, and Seth) – prompted this question …

What can you tell me about the Book of Enoch? Why isn’t this Hebrew literature in the Bible? And yet, why would it be in the Bible if Enoch is the son of Cain?

First, yes, Cain had a son named Enoch. But that’s not the Enoch of the Book of Enoch!

There’s another Enoch. He also is in the line of Adam, but he’s in the lineage through Adam’s son Seth. He’s the great-great-great-great-grandson of Adam and the great-grandfather of Noah. He’s the one who “5:24 walked with God and then we no more” – as in, he went for a walk with God while on earth and wound up in heaven.

But … it’s really not the Book of this Enoch either! The Book of Enoch may be “attributed” to Enoch – but it was written closer to 2000 years after Enoch lived. It was written in the 200s BC. It was written after the closing of the Old Testament canon. So although it was literature by a Hebrew, it wasn’t “Hebrew Literature.” And it certainly isn’t “Hebrew Scripture” – they don’t count it, and we don’t count it either. (Just because someone, maybe 2000 years later, signed the name “Enoch” doesn’t mean it’s from Enoch or is Biblical. It’s just like if 250 years later I sign the name “John Hancock” to the bottom of a piece of paper, it doesn’t mean it’s from John Hancock and it certainly doesn’t make it part of the Declaration of Independence or the American historical record.)

And even more so, was it really even written by a Hebrew? The Book of Enoch – or really 1 Enoch – exists only in its fullest form in the ancient Ethiopian language. Which means that Enoch may not even be Hebrew! For generations, Jews had certainly been scattered by conquering armies throughout parts of Asia (think Babylon), Europe (think Turkey, Greece, and Rome), and Africa (think Egypt and, yes, Ethiopia). So, the Book of Enoch simply gives us a glimpse of what one lone person (probably Jewish, though maybe Ethiopian, or Jewish-Ethiopian) was thinking in the 2nd Century BC.

So what is the Book of Enoch? It is an ancient work that talks about themes related to Judaism. Historically it talks about the origins of “Biblical” giants and the fall of angels (and hence the origin of demons, also). Theologically, this supposed great-grandfather of Noah talks about why the Flood was morally imperative. And apocalyptically, it talks prophetically about the Messiah and his thousand-year reign. In places Enoch lines up with parts of the Old Testament; in other places, it seems to create new beliefs and traditions not contained in either Scripture or Jewish tradition.

Some advocate for the authority of this book, though, because it is actually quoted in the New Testament! In Jude, a one chapter book, the reference is in verses 14-15: “14 It was also about these that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, ‘See, the Lord is coming with ten thousands of his holy ones, 15 to execute judgment on all, and to convict everyone of all the deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.’” Now, does this mean that all of Enoch is Scriptural, or simply that this one phrase either illustrated a point or contained some truth? No one, for example, contends that the writings of Epimenides are scriptural, even though Paul quoted this Greek philosopher in Titus 1:12. This reference is probably more like a pastor’s illustration in a sermon; for example, it doesn’t mean that the singing group The Captain and Tennille are profound religious thinkers just because a pastor says, “Love will keep us together.”

There are many books – from both the Old and New Testament eras – that people claim should be in Scripture. Why? Some have good motives: They simply want to discover deeper (secret) knowledge. Some are from bad motives: They want to promote confusion and distrust. They want to say the framers of the Biblical Canon had impure motives – picking, for example, “books” that solidified their power and casting off books that contained deeper truths. We live in an age that likes conspiracy theories. The true history of the formation of the canons is important but really pretty dry. They simply formalized what the faithful had been reading as authoritative for hundreds of years.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who likes

exciting theories,

but prefers boring

historical truth

Question: What is the Wednesday Prayer Service like?

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What can you tell me about our Wednesday prayer service?

Thank you for asking!

Here’s the best quick answer:

Since we’ve adopted a new prayer focus about 20 months ago, we’ve watched the whole church experience spiritual growth, relational health, biblical depth, stewardship growth, and even numerical growth (though numbers have never been our goal).

We have about 20 people who are part of our prayer group … though only about ten can come on any given Wednesday.

What do we do in a quick hour – 7:15 to 8:15pm?

  • We spend about 15% of the time worshiping very simply to start. We center our hearts.
  • We spend about 15% of the time praying for general needs – needs you’ve let us know about in the congregation and personal needs in our own families.
  • We spend about 5% of the time praying for spiritual needs in another country. (Video driven, here’s a recent example.)
  • We spend about 15% of the time praying for that week’s specific ministry focus – a week or two ago, we prayed for health in marriages and faith in families.  
  • And most of all, we spend about 50% of the time praying for each staff member by name and for their specific requests for (mostly) ministry (but for our lives and families too).And, as I said, in the twenty months since we’ve adopted this new prayer focus of praying for our staff, their ministries, and their needs, we’ve watched the whole church experience spiritual growth, relational health, biblical depth, stewardship growth, and more!

I write this for many reasons, but the main two are 1) because someone asked, and 2) it’s Lent … and maybe this is a good spiritual time to try a night of prayer.

A member of Church Council has personally seen the fruit of all our prayer blessing their own particular area of ministry, and said, “Though I’m very busy (trust me: “even busier” than the rest of us truly are), I am determined to come at least once a month … because I’ve seen the power.”

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who likes seeing power

and who really needs to keep

catching the wind of this power

because with an increasingly

messy world, the needs are

continually ramping up

Question: If God Commands ‘No Graven Images’, Why Crucifixes?

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If God commands us not to make graven images, why do some churches use crucifixes?

You’re absolutely right. No graven images is commandment number two! Exodus 20:4 says, “You shall not make for yourself an idol or a likeness (or a graven image, to use the Old English) of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below…”

If we stop reading there, we should perhaps ban crucifixes. But we always need to remember the context – the verses and chapters around the passage.

Just a few pages after this commandment – Exodus 25:17-19 – God commands the Israelites to do precisely what it appears that he just commanded them not to do – create a graven image of something from heaven, or more precisely, two graven images of two angels. These two graven images of angels were to be affixed to the top of the Ark of the Covenant. These two graven images (statues) were to be depicted as bowing over the Mercy Seat, the place where God’s presence would meet the people of Israel on earth.

Question: Was God violating his own commandment? No! Again we need context for Exodus 20:4 … and that comes in verse 5! Read it in context: “You shall not make for yourself an idol or a likeness (or a graven image, to use the Old English) of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below…; you shall not bow down before them or serve them.” In context, it tells why we don’t make graven images. It not about the image or likeness or statue or crucifixion, it’s all about bowing down or worshipping anything other than God! God is saying, Don’t make a statue to worship; worship me!

And in context, what did the Israelites do just a few more chapters later? They made a stupid statue to bow down to and worship! Do remember this? Exodus 32:1-4 … “When the people saw that Moses was delayed in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us….” Aaron replied, “Take off the golden earrings … and bring them to me.” So all the people … brought them to Aaron. He received their offering, and … made a molten calf … [and] cried out, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.”

So here’s the first point: The problem is not the graven image. The problem is any form of wrong worship! And I will joyfully say that 99.99999% of Christians who have ever worshiped before a crucifix have worshiped the Savior who did die on the cross, and not the figurine that is glue to a cross! In fact for many, the crucifix helps them focus more fully on God-the-Son’s love and sacrifice. In other words, it aids their worship of the true God; it doesn’t become the object of their worship.

Second, as my understanding of Christian history goes, it was actually a Lutheran – Martin Luther himself – who was first to popularize not having the crucifix in the church but rather an empty cross. As I understand it, Luther reasoned that while the crucifix certainly helped us focus on the Good Friday sacrifice, a non-crucifix might help us remember this message: “The empty cross testifies that the Christ who died sacrificially for us has now risen!” (I like both.)

Third, while the true focus needs to be on not worshiping a wrong image, there’s still a problem with making graven images. Let’s focus on making an image of God-the-Father. Any picture or statue that we try to make is God – no matter how glorious we make it – will absolutely be less than what God really is. Meaning: Our pictures of God limit God. We make him smaller. No matter how hard we try, we make him less.

One of the most profound things that I’ve learned in ministry is that the most common form of idol is the one in our minds. These idols are the ways we like to “picture” God. We say, “I like to think of God as _________,” and then we fill in the blank with something that is our image of God, whether it agrees with Scripture or not. By doing so, we do what? We make a caricature of God. Others say, “Well, my God would never _______,” and again they fill in the blank by telling the Sovereign Lord who God has to be. And do you see it? We don’t have melt gold earrings to sculpt a false image of God. Most of us have, are, or will sculpt false images in our mind. Most us have been, are, or will be guilty of “creating God in our own image” or “telling God who God has to be.”

The danger is not in a good or bad crucifix; the problem is generally in our minds. Are we submitting to who God says he is, or are we making him fit to what we want him to be.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who used to tell

God who I thought

he should be …

and my life got messy;

I started submitting to

who God said he was,

and my life began to be

filled with love, joy, peace,

patience, kindness,

generosity, faithfulness,

gentleness, and self-control

(It works better when

He’s in control!!!)

Question: What the meaning of “Today you’ll be with me in paradise,” if …

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While sharing the peace on Sunday, a youth hit me with a good question!

If Jesus didn’t rise until the third day, why did he say to the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise”?

I tried to answer quickly. It didn’t work! (Way to go, young man, not letting a good question pass without a good answer.) So then I thought … devotion!

My traditional answer to these types of questions have always been: God’s heavenly clock ticks differently than our earthly clock.

What does that mean? By the human clock, we tend to read that the criminal died on Good Friday and – based on the word “today” – went to heaven on Good Friday. Relatively instantaneously, right? But Jesus didn’t. He didn’t rise until the third day (and didn’t ascend until the fortieth day). Hence the good question: How could they be together “today”?

But what if God’s heavenly clock ticks differently than our earthly clock? Scripture tells us that “with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Pet 3:8). That forces us to ask: Was Jesus talking in terms of “today” being a literal human 24-hours or was he referring to something bigger?

I like to put it like this: When we die, we immediately enter God’s time. Or perhaps, more precisely, when we die, we quit counting in terms of earthly time. We close our eyes on earth and wake up in heaven. It’s much like falling asleep on a bus: We close our eyes in one place and wake up two hours and a hundred miles later in a different time and place. Furthermore, when the criminal died on the cross, not only did he enter God’s time, but he entered into God’s very presence – indeed, “to be absent from the body [is] to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:8). So, we could say, that in the grand sweep of eternity, they were together “today” – the time lapse between their passings was virtually a moment and a twinkling of an eye.

Now, that answer satisfies me. But if that answer doesn’t satisfy you, then perhaps there’s another way to explain this: Ancient writings – like the Bible – generally didn’t have punctuation marks. Thus, you can keep the words in the same order … and come up with some very different meanings. So let me give you two different readings of this passage that could explain this puzzle.

The traditional translation of Luke 23:43 is …

I say to you,

“Today, you shall be with me in paradise.”

What if it should read like this …

I say to you today,

“You shall be with me in paradise.”

Do you see the difference? Where does “today” fit into the sentence? In other words, could it be …

Today (on this cross) I say to,

“You shall (one day) be with me in paradise.”

Conclusion: I loved this honest, faith-filled pondering by a youth!! But the fact that this isn’t a historic “gotcha” question reveals that the Church historically hasn’t seen a conundrum in this! For me, it’s simple: When we die we enter God’s time and God’s presence. And thanks be to God we’ll be with him forever!

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who is thankful

that we have strong youth

asking good questions!

Question: Is my not tithing causing my financial challenges?

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A month or so ago a friend wrote to ask a question. A little context: It has been a very hard time financially. Family illness. Crippling medical bills (on top of spouse not being able to work.) Job losses and now underemployment. And then this conversation (and question) …

I have a question about tithing. My best friend says that me not tithing 10% is the cause of the job issues I have been experiencing. I am giving about 3%. If I were to tithe 10% it would come down to deciding whether to pay the mortgage or eat. I am not trying to be dramatic, but this is my reality. I do not live extravagantly. I would gladly tithe 10% but I need to know that I can afford food shelter, and gas to get to work, before I can. I am wrong for thinking this? This has worried me since he said it. Does God understand our individual situations, and take them to account? 

Is me not tithing the cause of my job issues I’ve been experiencing? My answer would be “no.” No!! (“Though there are very faithful people who believe this,” says the pastor who doesn’t want to totally throw a good friend under the bus!)

Obedience definitely leads to blessing. But it’s a mistake to expect things like financial blessing in return for our actions. (That’s treating God like a genie in a bottle.) And … it’s a bigger mistake to seek physical (or monetary) blessings as a due reward for faithfulness. (That’s treating God like a vending machine.) As an example of this principle, Jesus, the Apostles, and centuries of martyrs surely didn’t get many physical blessings – instead they often reaped physical loss (death).

What obedience does is bring spiritual blessing.

What does that mean? Among other things, obedience aligns our heart with God’s will for our lives. And when our lives are aligned with God, blessings tend to happen – though not always physical or material rewards (again, see the martyrs). The greatest spiritual blessings that we generally find is internal peace, even in a world of conflict. We’re likely to find transcendent (and even unexplainable) joy even when our circumstances are challenging. Have you ever experienced a hope that even grief and loss can’t conquer? That’s the blessing that comes from obedience.

Another manifest blessing of obedience is integrity. We live in such a world of sin that integrity is increasingly rare … therefore, it is beautiful. And then – and this is important – then sometimes tangible blessings flow because people value us for living with integrity, for working hard as a matter of integrity, for serving with character rather than selfish motives, and these humans reward us for this. Simply put, reliable workers tend to reap human blessings.

But … that’s not always the case. Sometimes Christians can also get judged and lose opportunities because we look and act different than the rest of world. Sometimes we’re labeled as “judgmental.” And sometimes rather than finding tangible blessings, Christian obedience can also make us outcasts. But, let’s stick with the general rule! Generally, obedience and integrity tend to bless us in practical ways. Much of the book of Proverbs is about this – practical wisdom for practical blessings. (And by the way, generally obedience and character blesses our inward heart a hundred times more than our outward circumstances. Good character is its own personal reward.)

As far as tithing, Christians should not view giving as a kind of legalistic law. In fact, if Christians want to play legalistic games, we’d do better to look at Jesus’ call to the rich young ruler – “go and sell all that you own (100%) and come follow me.” That’s really where Jesus says the blessing comes from. The real blessing is living entirely for Christ – hard to do, but each step provides its own spiritual reward.

The tithe, then, is generally a matter of simple obedience. It’s practiced trust in God, in a very practical way. It makes no earthly sense to willingly give up our money. It’s ours, after all! We need it. We deserve it. Giving, however, breaks our self-centeredness, and by cramping our earthly lifestyle, even a little bit, it begins to transfer our dependence on self and the world – for security, happiness, etc. – to God and his generosity. And he can be trusted.

Finally, God wants you to be a good steward. He wants food on your table and a roof over your head. And in this season, with all the challenges, your 3% is actually generous. It’s an act of faith! I see that … and if I see it, God sees it! (Indeed, as compared to most Christians, you’re 3% is generous. Thank you!)

I hope your best friend is in a season of joyful and generous giving! If he’s not doing it legalistically or expecting a reward in return, then his act of obedience in his circumstances will spiritually bless him. Just remember it’s not a contest! And it’s not legalistic! You are literally doing the best you can, and generous act of obedience is shaping your heart, faith, and character, whether you see the spiritual fruit of it yet or not.

In sum, giving is healing because it literally does break our dependence on self and world, and bolsters our faith as we learn practically that God is faithful!

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who’s seen

provision in spite of

trials and has learned

to trust God more

and more

(I think you’re

learning that too?)

Question: What’s the Difference between Lutherans and Catholics?

Same or Different

A teen asks …

What’s the difference between Lutherans and Catholics?

Let me start this – the first of several parts – with a helpful story …

In the first church that I served, we worked very closely with the local Episcopal Church – in fact, at one point, the two church jointly hired one youth minister! As the two churches were strategizing how to share the position, I sat at lunch with the local Episcopal priest and our new youth ministers. (It was actually a husband and wife team.) They asked us, “What’s the difference between Lutherans and Episcopalians?

Being young, inclusive, and wanting to celebrate our unity, I said, “Basically very little … except in the way we structure our denomination.”

Now, the structure is indeed very different. (And to answer today’s question, this mirrors an important difference with the Roman Catholic Church too.) To oversimplify the issue, Episcopalians (and Catholics) have a hierarchical structure; our Luther polity is more flat. Let me explain …

  • In a sense, Episcopal priests are ordained (at least in a hierarchical sense) “above” the lay people (the members of the church), and similarly, bishops are consecrated “above” the priests. (The same is generally true in the Catholic Church. It is hierarchical. Bishops above Priests, Cardinals above Bishops, and a Pope above them all.) On the other hand, the Lutheran church is more “flat.” Lutheran pastors are “set apart,” not set “above.” Lutheran pastors certainly have a valuable role within the community of faith, but so does every member of the church. Believing that each member has a sacred role in the life of the congregation, Luther called this “the priesthood of all believers.”
  • Because the Episcopal Church is more hierarchical, many sacred acts of the church are performed by the Bishop and the Diocese rather than the local church and the individual congregation. For example, in the Episcopal tradition, acts of membership (including confirmations) are performed only once or twice a year when the bishop can attend a congregation’s worship. The bishop helps usher people into membership in the wider church and not just into the congregation. (I assume this is true in Catholic churches too.) In the Lutheran Church, acts of membership and confirmation are congregational matters.
  • In terms of church ownership, the same basic principal again applies. Episcopal churches are in a hierarchical structure; therefore, all of the church property ultimately belongs upward to the diocese and the denomination. The Lutheran Church is much more congregational. The congregation (and its property) belong to the individual church and its members. This distinction has mattered significantly in the last fifteen years. In recent times, many Lutheran and Episcopal congregations have taken (and are still taking) theological stands to abide more closely to a traditional understanding of the Scriptures. As a result, many congregations (like Spirit of Joy) have left their old national denomination and joined more traditional church bodies. When this happens, Lutheran congregations generally leave and keep their own property. (It belongs to them.) When Episcopal congregations change affiliations, they leave without their property. (It belonged to the Diocese).

So, anyway, I was sitting with the Episcopal priest and our new youth directors who asked, “What’s the difference between Lutherans and Episcopalians?” Being young, inclusive, and wanting to celebrate our unity, I said, “Theologically, we’re really about the same, the only real difference is ecclesiological – how we ‘do church’.”

Immediately, the Episcopal priest bristled angrily. “The ecclesial differences are theological!”

“Oh. Sorry!”

Now, the differences between most Protestants and Romans Catholics is way bigger than one devotion can contain! So on and off over the next few weeks, I’ll focus on what distinguishes Protestants (including Lutherans) and Catholics. (And I use that word “distinguishes” intentionally as I view both traditions as “distinguished”! We all Christian! Thus, we’re all brothers and sisters.)

Nevertheless, you asked. So in terms of that priest’s statement – the ecclesial differences are theological – then what I just said about the differences between Lutherans and Episcopalians is also a theological difference between Lutherans and Catholics. Most all of us know, for example, about the Roman Catholic ecclesiological structure. The Pope is the Pontifex Maximus (the Supreme Pontiff), the Holy Father, the head of the church. Below him are the College of Cardinals. Below them are Archbishops, Bishops, and then Priests. There are also other orders of Brothers and Sisters, monks and nuns. And how the Roman Catholic Church is structured is deeply theological.

For example, the foundation of this Catholic Doctrine traces back, in part, to Matthew 16. Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They say, “Some say John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the Prophets.” “But who do you say that I am?” And Simon is the first to get it! He says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” And Jesus says, “I tell you that you are [renamed] Peter [which by the way means “the rock”], and on this rock I will build my church.”

Catholics see Peter as the Rock! Peter was the undisputed first leader of the Christian Church. Thus, Peter was in a sense the first Pope. And with that belief in place, the first leader (first Pope) led to the second leader … which led to the third “Pope” … which has led to an unbroken chain of authoritative faith that stretches into our present day. Similarly, Catholics believe that there is an unbroken chain of the chief leaders (Popes consecrating Cardinals who consecrate Bishops) who have laid their hands on and consecrate Priests. This is called “the Historic Episcopate” (from which the word Episcopal derives). Through this, it is believed that each newly ordained priest’s authority stretches all the way back to Peter … and thus, of course, to Jesus and this Matthew 16:18 statement of “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”

Most Protestants (including Lutherans) have a different reading of this important passage in Matthew. We would ask, “What is the true rock upon which the church is built?” Is it a person – Peter? Or isn’t the church really built on the eternal rock of Peter’s confession? In other words, are we saved by a historic line of witnesses linked to Peter, or are we saved by our connection to the truth first proclaimed by Peter that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God? I’m a good Protestant. I am extremely thankful for an unbroken line of witnesses; nevertheless, I think Jesus-who-is-Son-of-God-and-Messiah is the real rock upon which the church is built!

There are many other distinguishing features between distinguished Catholics and Protestants. I honestly like to focus much more on similarities! In fact, I think that will be my next reflection on this topic: What unites Protestants and Catholics! (That’s infinitely more important!) Nevertheless, you did ask, “What are the difference?” So, I’ll keep on writing reflections (but always under the understanding of “since we all believe in Jesus – crucified, died, and risen – we’re all brothers and sisters in Christ).”

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who in the name

of unity, didn’t respect (or

celebrate) valid differences,

thus bristling an Episcopal

priest by inadvertantly

trivializing important

elements of his theology.

Thus through this,

I hope you hear me

celebrating another

tradition, while boldly

celebrating mine too!

Question: What Can You Tell Me About the Trinity?

Trinity

What can you tell me about the Trinity? I really don’t understand it.

The Trinity can be hard to understand. World-renowned theologians have tried to help people make sense of this wonderful Truth for millennia … and in some ways, the Trinity is still a mystery!

Often we talk about the profound and complex in terms of illustrations and analogies, trying to make the complicated be understandable. (That’s basically what Jesus did with his parables: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like …”) So as I was writing my first essay on the Trinity in Seminary, I was looking for an analogy, an image when I heard a radio preacher tell a story about his childhood. He said that his father was a small town preacher, and in the summer, when this radio preacher, then a young man during the depression, was off from school, his father would involve him in everything he did. If Dad would visit a shut-in from the church, the son would come along with the father. If Dad went fishing, the son would joyfully come along too.”

Then, said the radio preacher, “When Dad and I would come home from our day, we’d sit at the supper table, regaling mom with the adventures of our day.” Sounds like an episode of the old Andy Griffith Show, doesn’t it – with Aunt Bee in the role of this preacher’s mom. But can’t you just imagine that wonderful mom at the supper table, loving the bond between these two men her life – father and son.

And I suddenly thought, that’s not a bad analogy for the Trinity – the Father, the Son, and the One-who-Celebrates-Their-Love (the Spirit)! THREE distinct “persons” who are ONE family. (In other words, simultaneously three and one.)

Now, let’s be clear: When we call Father, Son, and Holy Spirit “persons,” as in “the three persons of the Trinity,” we surely don’t confuse our awesome Creator with us lowly human “persons.” But our human vocabulary totally lacks a better word than “person.” The Spirit, for example, is not just a disembodied force. The Spirit is truly “personal” – as personal as any human person that you know. The Spirit is individual and unique. The Spirit thinks, feels, loves, forgives, and can be grieved. Sure, the Spirit doesn’t have a human body – or I should say, thankful the Spirit doesn’t have this frail body of death – but otherwise, the Spirit is everything a person is … except so much more!! “Person” is as close as we can come to unique, individual, thinking, feeling, loving, and forgiving; just add, in your thinking, “and so much more”!

So, according to our analogy, the Trinity is THREE distinct “person” in ONE eternal “family.” Now, every analogy breaks down at some point, but focus on the part of this that works. And it works because the image of family is rooted in relationship, love, and commitment.

Interestingly, the word “Trinity” is not used in the Bible. Nevertheless, we see the Trinity moving, active, and together from foundations of Scripture and the first moments of creation!

  • The first words of Scripture – Genesis 1:1-3 – tell us, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God [the Father] said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” That’s two of the three.
  • So where does Jesus-the-Son come in? In parallel fashion, the first words of the Gospel – John 1:1-3 – tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” That’s three of the three – God-the-Father, God-the-Spirit, and Jesus-the-Son-who-is-the-Word. (And lest we missed the connection of Jesus with Son and Word, John 1:14 confirms the link, saying, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”)
  • Genesis 1:26 confirms the eternal, pre-creation nature of a “plural Godhead,” saying, “God [Elohim, the Father] said, ‘Let us make humankind in our’” Thus, the Trinity made humankind as “persons” – unique and individual; capable of loving and forgiving; created for enduring relationship.

If you want to understand how the Trinity “works” today, in this New Testament era, Scripture actually offers us a picture. First, in our analogy of a family, each person has a different role. Mom’s role, for example, is different than Dad’s role. Each is vital and important, but each is different. In the “Family of the Trinity,” Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each have different “roles.” Here’s a Scriptural picture …

  • Who sits on the Throne? God-the-Father. We call Him a King. He is also the Judge. And there’s authority in the Father’s role.
  • Who sits at the right hand of the Father? Jesus-the-Son. And what is the Son’s role? He came to earth to conquer sin and death, now He sits “beside” the Judge, at his right hand, interceding for those He has saved – us!
  • So where is the Holy Spirit in this Scriptural “picture”? He’s here! He was let loose on Pentecost. He is ministering to us daily – teaching, encouraging, convicting, helping us pray, etc.

Now, that’s a Scriptural picture … because God knows we need to wrap our minds around a tangible image. However, all analogies eventually break down at some point and all simplifications of an infinite God eventually box God in. Nevertheless, I still tried another analogy in my first seminary essay on the Trinity. I said, “Some people think of the Trinity like Neapolitan ice cream – three flavors in one box. And,” I said, “we can reach in and scoop out just the flavors we want – just the chocolate and vanilla, but no strawberry. But,” I contended, “that’s not the way it is with the Trinity. Father/Son/Holy Spirit are so inextricably connected that it’s more like a swirl! If you scoop in to get ONE, you always get all THREE.”

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who got this response

from his theology professor

to this last analogy, “Not bad,

but linking God to anything

as cold as ice cream is

totally insufficient.”

Oh well!

 

 

Question: What Should a Christian Think about the Coronavirus?

Fear

The media is shouting “pandemic.” A big American city has already declared a state of emergency. What should a Christian think about the Coronavirus?

I’m not a scientist, so I’m not going to pretend to diagnose how this virus will play out on a medical scale. I’d rather talk about a related spiritual issue: Fear.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was famous for telling Americans that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Me? I’m much less “afraid” of the Coronavirus than I am of a world of panicked reactions to this disease. I’m concerned for what fear could do a cities, states, nations … and economies. Out of fear, schools could start closing and businesses could at least slow down. People may lose jobs and wages. The supply chain could be interrupted. Shelves could go empty. Stocks could tumble. Economies could teeter. It could be like a chain of dominoes, each ramping up greater and greater fear. Yes, we should obviously have a healthy respect for a serious virus, but could it be that an outsized fear actually creates “man-made disaster” – a crisis of our own making?

I’ve long contended that what is at the root of all dread is ultimately a fear of … death. Why are people afraid of spiders and snakes? Because they might bite us and we might … die! Why are people afraid of heights? Because we might fall and we might … die! Why are people afraid to speak in public? Because we’re afraid of being embarrassed, which is a subtle form of death. Dying a hundred little deaths can thoroughly quench one’s spirit and rob us of life.

How many end-of-the-world scenarios can you think of in your lifetime?

  • Nuclear War – a generation of school children hid under their desks
  • The “Population Bomb” – our world can support no more than a billion lives! (We now have 7 billion.)
  • The “Big One” – California’s going to fall into the Pacific.
  • Y2K – We’re going to be thrown back into the dark ages.
  • Halle Bopp/Comets – A comet strike will wipe out half the world’s population.
  • Climate Change – “We only have 12 more years of life on this planet!”
  • Mayan Calendar – The Mayan’s knew the world wouldn’t last past 2013.
  • Ebola – This was a virus with truly scary mortality rates.
  • Robots – They’ll start acting on their own and take over the world.
  • Aliens – They’re coming!
  • Terrorists – Beware!
  • Solar Flares – Could wipe out all transistors and send us back to the dark ages.
  • Hadron Collider – the Cern super collider could create its own black hole swallowing the earth.
  • Coronavirus – (What’s the worst you’ve heard so far?!)

None of us wants to die, but should Christians be as afraid of the future as a world that does not know God?

In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, scripture tells us, “Dear brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about what will happen to the believers who have died, so that you will not grieve like those who have no hope.

You see the Apostle’s point, right?

  • His first point: All humans grieve – believers and unbelievers alike. We grieve because we’ve loved. We grieve because there’s a hole in our soul.
  • But – his second point – Christians needn’t grieve like the rest of the world! Yes, when trials come, each of us will definitely have one eye on our loss, but we should also have our other eye on the resurrection! The world is grieves without hope. We grieve with the confidence that as hard as this is, something better’s coming! (Think about this: Isn’t grief hard enough with hope? Can you imagine life without it?)

Or to state this another way:

When we have hope, fear doesn’t have to control us.

And that’s how, I believe, Christians should approach any doomsday scenario – including the Coronavirus. We should have a healthy respect for its virulence … but we shouldn’t be swallowed in fear! Historically, Christians have run TO disasters, helping, rather than AWAY FROM them. Why? Because we’re the ones who know that the worst that the world can do to us is send us to heaven a few days early! “To be absent from the body [is] to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).

And so And, you know, it really wouldn’t hurt to start praying:

  • Pray for the calming of a spreading virus and the calming of a potential panic.
  • Pray for scientific research and medical solutions.
  • Pray for the most vulnerable – just as with the flu, it’s the elderly, the babies, those with compromised immune systems, etc., who will be most affected by a potentially deadly virus.
  • Pray for fear and panic to not overtake our nation or our world.
  • Which means … pray again for the most vulnerable – if the economy slows down or panic sets in, it will again effect most fully those who are most vulnerable, in this case the poor.
  • Pray for each of us believers to have more and more faith instead of fear!
  • Pray that each of us believers might be salt and light in a dark and scary world.
  • Pray for how you and I might always run toward any potential trials in our world instead of shrinking in fear.
  • And pray always for the most vulnerable across the globe – whether they’re in the path of swarming locusts, facing persecution, hiding from abusers, suffering from depression, battling against cancer, struggling with faith, or in danger from a virus,.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who sat with a

group of youth recently.

When asked their favorite

verse, many said – Joshua 1:9

Be strong and courageous;

do not be frightened or

dismayed, for the Lord 

your God is with you

wherever you go.

Question: Could We Be Living in a Simulation?

Simulation

Could it be that we’re living in some sort of a simulation, kind of like The Matrix?

Thankfully, one of you didn’t ask that question!!

Rather one of our young members had a friend tell him that he believed that we’re living in a simulation. This young person said, “How do I witness to him?” And then he made some of his own suggestions that I thought were rather profound.

He thought his approach would be something like this … Agreement! (Of sorts.)

He thought he would point his friend to the common agreement that there is something much bigger than us. And this entity has created what we call “our reality.” Now, “you may call our reality a simulation with a master programmer; I call our reality Kingdoms under the lordship of a different kind of Master. But – commonality – we both admit that we’re little pieces and something that’s so much bigger.”

But perhaps here’s where we differ …

Your Simulator (the “person” or being) could be good or could be bad, or could be indifferent, and you probably won’t know until the end of the simulation. My Simulator (God) is overwhelmingly good, and I know this because he gave his Son to die for me.

If this is just a Simulation, then there’s probably not an enduring purpose to your life or your actions. But Scripture tells me that I have a very personal God who created me, knows me, loves me, and has a purpose for my life.

Indeed, if your world is just a Simulation with seven billion people, you’re likely just a very insignificant piece in basically a big, meaningless game. In other words, you’re a pawn. My God tells me that I’m a prince rather than a pawn; indeed, I’m a prince because I’m the child of The King.

If this is just a Simulation, then there’s really no good or evil. It’s just a game. But in your heart, you know there’s good and you know there’s evil and we all deeply desire to know that our lives matter.

Furthermore, if this is just a Simulation, then my life is ultimately hopeless. All the Simulator has to do is hit the Game-Over button and all that we call “real” is gone. My life is full of hope! And the struggles of this life (“our present reality”) will ultimately give way to a greater reality when I one day go to meet the creator who loves and forgives me.

So if you believe there’s a reality bigger than us, why don’t you want to believe in God rather than an unknown Simulator? Is it perhaps because you don’t want to be constrained by God’s Principles, Laws, and Ethics? Is it perhaps because you’d rather have the “freedom” to “do what you want”? Doing what we want and defining our standards for right and wrong sounds good, and there can definitely be short-term “gains” to the unchecked pursuit of personal pleasure. But you see the costs of this libertinism when other people’s equally selfish pursuits start hurting upon you – a spouse who searches for greener pastures, a parent who leaves without care or responsibility, a co-worker who climbs over us for personal gain, a friend who betrays us to curry favor with another …

The “freedom” you’re searching for will ultimately and inevitably lead to the bondages of hopelessness, purposelessness, and irrelevance. It necessarily leads to selfishness, arrogance, ingratitude, anger, and betrayal. God’s Laws aren’t designed to confine us, but to free us! They call us to love rather than hate. To forgive rather than fester. To hope rather than doubt. To check ourselves rather than hurt others. Jesus says, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

If you want to call this a simulation, fine. But know that the Simulator is a God who loves you, forgives you, and has a glorious purpose for you far beyond what you call “reality.” Trust, indeed, that your life has a purpose!

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who wasn’t

programmed to

write this

(I write as an act

of freedom and

worship)