How (and why) God works

With Christmas activities taking place every day, it’s easy to forget “the reason for the season.”

I find three ways to connect, learn and grow closer to Jesus, for whom the holiday was named.

All three are crucial.

Year round. Including in December.

Personal quiet time

I’m a morning person, the first one up in my household. Always have been. When our kids were young, my job started before they got up for school. Even today, I’m up before 6:30 a.m. – without an alarm.

I start the coffee. I feed the cats. I pour a cup of the morning brew. I sit down in my living room chair, the cup in one hand, the Bible in the other, and often a cat on my lap.

That’s the best part of my entire day. It’s dark. It’s quiet. It’s warm (thanks to the cat).

God often speaks to me there.

Today I read the first three chapters of 1 Peter. “Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit …” (1 Peter 3:8) In church yesterday our pastor talked about the deepest longings of our hearts. A magazine did a survey on that recently, he said, and the most common longings were happiness, money, a relationship, peace and joy.

My deepest longing, however, didn’t appear on the magazine’s list: unity. I wish with all my heart that we as Americans and as citizens of the world would learn to get along with each other. I’ve written about this many times.

Most of our deepest longings are selfish. Mine is for unity among all people. That’s selfish too, I suppose; I wish to be understood as well as I wish to understand you.

These thoughts ran through my mind in my quiet time this morning.

This happens frequently. A verse I read resonates, and my mind probes into it. What does it mean? What would it look like if we (I) truly lived this out?

Unity among believers is the last thing Jesus prayed for in the Garden of Gethsemane before He was crucified (John 17:20-24). Unity mattered to Jesus, too.

Many of you discredit the Christian faith because we Christians can’t get along with each other, much less with you. Our message to you is fragmented. Some so-called Christians mis-lead you.

This is why we must read the Bible for ourselves. What’s in there? I’m a journalist; I’m a cynic by nature. I’m not going to take your word for it. I will double-check you.

I will read it for myself.

Small group

Having said that, I can learn from you, and you from me. The best churches are organized with small groups of a dozen or so people who get together on a regular basis. My wife and I also attended Sunday School classes for many years. And we participate in Wednesday night men’s and women’s groups to study the Bible and issues of the day, with a Biblical perspective.

I have plenty to learn from you. You have insights into life that I don’t have. I’ve experienced things that I can share with you as well. As we get to know each other better, we discover that we aren’t as different as we thought we were.

We also can support each other through our struggles and trials of life. When someone in our group has a dying relative, others understand because they’ve been there. When someone new joins the group because he and his family just moved here, I can relate right away, because that’s my experience too. When someone talks Browns-Steelers … well, I have ties to both cities, actually.

All these issues can unify us. We connect at this level in a group setting.

The best groups challenge me to learn something new about myself, to step out in faith and do something, to help me understand a truth about God in a different or deeper way. It’s a safe place to be vulnerable. For guys, that’s not normal. And even in a couple of men’s groups I’m in, that doesn’t come easy.

But it’s necessary. I can learn things from you that I cannot learn on my own.

Preaching

Uh oh, here it comes. Yes, there’s a reason to attend a Sunday morning service every week.

The pastor, if he (or she) is inspired by the living God, has done his homework on his message for the day. As a general rule, the pastor dives deep into a verse or small section of the Bible. He offers insights and background that his training and study have taught him. And then he gives practical applications on how we can live out the truths that he is teaching us.

If this is the only Bible learning we do each week, we miss so much. Even if you hear one sermon a week for your entire life, you’ll miss reading most of the Bible. That’s why we must read the Bible on our own, and study it in small groups. We learn truths in different ways, and at different levels.

Real-world application

Does God speak to you when you are alone? Does He speak in your small groups? Is He speaking through your pastor?

I daresay that most of you who are critical of God or the church aren’t participating in it at all, but are criticizing as outsiders. We in America are good at that. We Christians are good at criticizing you too.

All of us would do so much better if we got to know each other better. Find out what makes each of us tick. How each of us thinks.

On Facebook I follow a prominent expert on poverty, who travels the country seeking to alleviate or even end poverty. She commented recently about a library forgiving fines.

Are library fines a poverty issue? Yes. She explained how she grew up in a home with more than 20 relatives. She avoided libraries because if she took a book home, it would get lost in such a crowded place. She missed out on all a library offers – chances to discover new ideas, improve reading skills, learn history and other subjects from those who have lived it – because she was afraid of getting punished for using a library.

I had no idea.

The point of a personal quiet time, small groups and weekly preaching is to learn and grow closer to God and to each other. Is poverty a God issue? Absolutely, yes. It’s easy to judge people who don’t pay their library fines as lazy or thieves – until we understand why.

Unity. My deepest longing. Which I realized in a sermon. Then meditated on in a personal quiet time. And read about online.

I’m trying to live it out. It’s a worthy goal.

This is how God works. Alone, in groups and in church. With real-world applications. It’s all good.

And it’s all necessary.

Bring on January

When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.

Matthew 6:3

 

I saw this meme making the rounds the other day, and it’s a good one. It seemed a little out of place on Giving Tuesday, however.

My response to one friend who posted that verse:

 

In other words, do in January what you do in December.

 

We Americans love to be generous around the holidays. We give thanks on Thanksgiving. For Christmas, we buy presents our relatives don’t need or probably even want, often with money we don’t have, just because that’s what the holiday is all about.

On Giving Tuesday – one day a year – we are reminded that there are other people in the world besides us. So, we are encouraged to throw money at them.

Can you tell that December is not my favorite time of the year?

I’m jaded.

Motive

It’s great that we give alms to the poor around the holidays. But what’s our motive? Is it to salve our conscience? Is it to keep up with the Joneses in a giving kind of way?

Or, is it that we’re doing something that we know deep in our hearts that we should do more often than once a year?

Many people have needs this time of year, certainly. The food pantry where I volunteer saw its busiest week of the year right before Thanksgiving. A couple of people asked if we were giving away turkeys (we weren’t, but we did give away extra meat, thanks to the generosity of our director.)

Many of us are lonely this time of year. We’ve lost loved ones, and we miss them during family times over the holidays. For them, some of the gifts we offer this month should be spiritual or even physical – our presence, I mean, even more than a present.

Everyone in my immediate family, including my parents, is still among us, so I have yet to experience this up close. But many of you understand this deeply.

Many agencies and companies are collecting toys and gifts for the needy for Christmas. That’s a good thing. I don’t want to downplay that.

I’m not one to jump on a bandwagon, that’s all. If the rest of you are donating to a cause, the cause doesn’t need my gifts too.

Like I said, I’m jaded.

In the dark

I just might wait until January, when most of you have put all this generosity behind you.

January is cold and dark. Winter has arrived in full force. Sub-freezing temperatures are the norm. There are no major holidays to look forward to. It’s back to the daily grind. Vacations are over.

And the needy are forgotten.

Hunger is not a once-a-year phenomenon. Neither is loneliness. Memories of our loved ones don’t fade after the calendar turns and we view December through the rear-view mirror.

Indeed, my mother-in-law’s birthday was in January. She passed away quite a few years ago. We don’t talk about that at home, but maybe we should. My in-laws’ photo still hangs on the dining room wall with other family photos, and it will remain there forever.

When Jesus talked about not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing, I think this is what He meant. When the bright lights of publicity are gone and no one is looking, will we continue to serve the needy in our communities then?

When January comes

The quote from Jesus at the beginning of this blog is an action statement from Jesus. In the same breath, He talks about motive.

Whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

Matthew 6:2

 

What is their reward? Praise by others. That’s all they get.

Praise by others lasts a day or two, and then we move on to another issue. That’s the way life on this Earth rolls.

 

… so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Matthew 6:4

 

This is why we give in January, as well as in December. It’s dark. We’ve moved on. No one is watching anymore.

But the living God sees. He knows what we’re up to. We can’t hide from Him. He knows the motive in our hearts.

Even in December, God knows what motivates us. Are we real, or are we just doing what we’re supposed to be doing?

I can’t answer that, because I can’t see your heart.

I volunteer occasionally with the American Red Cross. We don’t have to follow God to serve there. Motives vary among volunteers, I’m sure. The Red Cross is just glad when volunteers care enough to assist.

Rewards

Where does our reward come from, though? Is it from the Red Cross, or is it from the living God?

Our motive provides that answer.

Jesus said elsewhere in the Bible to store up treasures in heaven, and not on Earth. God is holding those rewards for us in heaven, even the secret rewards, and He will give them to us when we get there.

But we don’t have to wait for heaven to receive rewards from the living God. When I give in secret, God gives me a blessing right here, right now. Many of you understand this.

We give gifts because the living God gave us the best gift of all – Jesus, born on Christmas Day. It’s our feeble response to the gift of life and meaning that we have received.

That’s what Christmas is all about. Or supposed to be all about.

Where is your heart today?

Even more important, where will your heart be in January, when all the Christmas decorations have been put away for another year?

Does the Christmas spirit live on in you, year-round?

Just a thought.

Thankful for the big picture

Public praise, private critique.

Perhaps that’s a New Year’s resolution. Oops, wrong holiday.

But maybe not. Thanksgiving is a good time for public praise.

(Private critique will remain that. Social media aficionados, take note. Chill out and be more positive. End of rant.)

In my first full year of retirement from paid work, I jumped into three significant volunteer projects. All three are worth a little public praise.

After-school basketball

First – and no doubt, the toughest – is an after-school basketball ministry organized by the youth director at our church’s new Lorain, Ohio, campus (which hasn’t even opened yet).

boys pray

In the spring, Joe sought volunteers to help him reach neighborhood youth through basketball. I’ve played pickup ball – never in a league – and our three sons all played recreation basketball as children, so I’ve been around the game for a long time. I try to keep myself in somewhat decent shape, so I decided to give it a shot.

The church building is an old YMCA that is still being transformed into a church, but we’ve been using the big gym all along. We enter through a side door now while the rest of the building is under renovation.

Sometimes, I wonder why I’m there. How does a retired white guy from the suburbs connect with inner-city kids of multiple races and ethnicities?

The answer: Slowly.

As the weather turns cold, I’ve been taking one or several of them home after the hoops is done. That might be where “ministry” is beginning to form. I’m seeing a window into their lives outside of the formal basketball program.

Some of them are hungry. Some of them have broken families. Some have values that I’m not comfortable with.

I don’t judge. I’m just listening at this point. Not probing too much – I’m not aggressive that way.

But I’m thankful to connect with these young men (and the occasional woman who comes with them).

This is a long-term ministry. Hearts don’t change overnight. First, we have to connect. That’s not in my comfort zone. But this is the kind of thing that the living God is doing.

I don’t have to do this. Yet here I am. Thank you, Lord, for this opportunity to serve You.

Food pantry

wcws 2

Also this spring, I began volunteering at a food pantry in South Lorain. I’ve always had a soft heart for hunger issues – I’ve never been hungry in my life, literally. I’ve never had to worry about where my next meal is coming from. Many people can’t say that.

crop walk logo

In Saginaw, Mich., I was treasurer and off-and-on coordinator for the Saginaw CROP Hunger Walk, an annual walk that raises funds and awareness of hunger issues, for more than 20 years. We lived in Rockford, Ill., for a little over a year and I connected with the CROP Walk folks there too. Here in Elyria, the CROP Walk leaders have no passion for the ministry and I wasn’t up to the effort of trying to fire them up, so I looked for other opportunities.

Enter We Care We Share, a 12-year-old food pantry on a shoestring budget that serves thousands of needy residents every year.

The pantry’s volunteer coordinator attends the same church I do. He invited me (and others) to participate, since more volunteers were (and still are) needed.

He didn’t tell me he was going on vacation, so one Tuesday I just showed up. Didn’t know anyone there. Told them who I was and why I was there. They invited me to stay, so I did – for four hours that afternoon. Then, they invited me back.

So I came back. And I’ve been coming back, two afternoons a week, ever since.

We’re family. We laugh, pray together, rib each other, volunteer together, serve together, pitch in wherever needed. We’re on the front lines of fighting hunger. We hand out dozens of food boxes each day – non-perishable goods, meat, bread, fruits and vegetables – whatever Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Ohio delivers to us on Monday afternoons.

Young families just getting started. Senior citizens in poor health who can’t even carry their food box to their vehicle. Many adults with kids and grandkids in their household. Some say, “I wish they’d leave” – not to be mean, but to get out on their own and learn to support themselves, and to give the older adult a little peace. We are there during the transition.

Residents get evicted, and frequently change addresses. A few are homeless.

We serve them all, face to face.

As with the basketball kids, I can’t relate. I don’t have to do this.

I never want to take the material things of life for granted. God has given me a heart to serve folks down on life, struggling to make it.

There’s no quick fixes here, either.

All we can do is serve. And pray.

So that’s what we do.

I’m grateful for this opportunity.

Bible study group leader

Third, I was asked to be a group leader this fall for Bible Study Fellowship, an international in-depth Bible study that this year is studying Acts in the New Testament. I attended the 30-week class for the previous two years, and the leadership there thought enough of me to invite me to step up my involvement.

bsf photo

As with basketball and We Care We Share, BSF is a major time commitment. There is “homework” for each class member to do before we meet on Tuesday evenings.

I’m at a satellite class in Avon, Ohio – one of three satellites around the main program in Parma Heights, just past Cleveland International Airport from where I live.

The leaders of all four areas – about 40 of us total – gather at 6:30 a.m. Saturdays to go over the upcoming week’s lesson, and to receive leadership training. I set my alarm at 5 a.m. to ensure I get there on time.

I wouldn’t miss it for the world. We begin our time literally on our knees in prayer.

I’m shepherding a dozen guys in my class every week. I keep in touch when they miss. Some have health issues of their own or of family members, and some travel for work. We pray for each other.

This week, three guys attended who had missed two to four weeks each for various reasons, and all three said they missed our discussions. They want to come every week. Circumstances sometimes prevent that. Life happens.

Again, relationships take time. As a leader, I have to be pro-active. I’m learning as I go.

The big picture

2019 has been a year of beginnings for me, changes and challenges. The honeymoon periods soon will be over, if they aren’t already.

That’s when ministry will begin.

Time to take the next step. Next steps, actually.

Hope you’re as thankful for the big picture of your life as I am of mine.

Why faith matters, and the reason it often doesn’t

From right, Ren Dejun, Liao Qiang, Peng Ran and Ren Ruiting follow a hymnbook during a Sunday church service in Taipei, Taiwan.

That day (when Stephen was martyred) a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria … Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word.

Acts 8:1,4

 

A few minutes after I read those words in my morning devotion, I opened the local newspaper I subscribe to. I was stunned to read an article on religious persecution happening as we speak, and another article from this country explaining that most Americans don’t care about faith issues.

“Christian family details crackdown on church in China,” the Page A2 headline read.

Liao Qiang, 49, had to flee China with five family members, including his 23-year-old daughter, Ren Ruiting, after “living under constant surveillance for the past seven months after authorities detained them and dozens of other members of their prominent but not government-sanctioned church in December.”

China’s ruling Communist Party has carried out a widespread crackdown on all religious institutions in recent years – not just Christian churches, but institutions of all faiths. It has bulldozed churches and mosques, the article states, and incarcerated more than 1 million members of Islamic ethnic minorities in what are termed “re-education centers.”

Qiang and his family fled to nearby Taiwan, where they are free to worship as they choose. They attended a public worship service this week for the first time in seven months.

Persecution forces church growth

In the book of Acts and in China, persecution forced the church to scatter.

While the government leaders in both circumstances were trying to suppress faith, and especially Christianity (in Acts), the opposite happened. Faith spread.

Sometimes it takes persecution to grow our faith.

We often ask why bad things happen to good people. We wonder why we struggle in various parts of our lives. We wonder whether God has abandoned us.

Actually, God may be drawing us closer to Him through our struggles. We don’t really know what persecution is in this country – not to the point where believers are martyred or active churches are bulldozed.

Perhaps that day is coming.

Apathy kills the church

The other article I read in the local paper? On Page A5: “Poll: Americans tend to go it alone (Most don’t seek clerical advice)”

That poll blames technology for many Americans’ choice not to seek advice. Since we can Google information on literally any subject, this article says, we don’t see the need to seek advice from clergy (or anyone else, for that matter).

The poll also blames the sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church for reducing clergy interaction with that institution.

“At the same time,” the article concludes, “more Americans describe religion as unimportant in their lives, and church membership and service attendance have declined. Gallup polling shows about half of Americans said they attended religious services within the past week in the mid-1950s, while just about a third say they did now.”

Our response

What does faith mean, anyway? Is it worth dying for, as Stephen did? Is it worth being forced from home to parts unknown, as happened to the early New Testament Church and is still happening in China and other parts of the world today?

For U.S. residents, faith in God costs very little. Perhaps that’s the main reason why it doesn’t mean much to most of us.

Every so often I ask myself, “Do I have to hit rock bottom before I can find God?”

I’ve never done drugs or been arrested. I grew up in a stable home. I’ve always had at least a little money in the bank. I’ve always been healthy.

And yet …

When our family made an out-of-state move before my ninth-grade year, I discovered that I was missing something emotionally. I had a low self-esteem and nothing to lean on.

Eventually, I discovered that Jesus Christ could – and did – fill that void in my life.

So, in a sense, yes, I did hit rock bottom. Not outwardly, not materially, but spiritually, I did.

As with the early disciples and the family in China, I was forced to make a decision. My physical life wasn’t at stake, but my spiritual life was.

If something important to you is forcibly taken away, how would you respond?

When a loved one dies or an emergency strikes, how do you respond?

Do you blame God, or do you turn to Him?

That’s not a theoretical question.

Places where faith grows

Perhaps that’s why most people who accept Christ as their Lord and Savior do so as children. Young people – age 15 and younger – are still searching for meaning in life. Their values aren’t set yet. If you grow up in a Christian home you have a better chance to accept that faith yourself. There are exceptions, of course. And if you didn’t grow up in a Christian home, you can find such a faith in other places as well.

Perhaps a catastrophic event will force your hand. Perhaps that’s what it must take.

That’s why Christianity’s growth is explosive in China and Africa, but not the United States.

 

Christianity’s ‘explosive growth’ in China – and the official pushback

https://www.inkstonenews.com/china/christianity-protestant-church/article/2133812

Christianity is not illegal in China, but it has faced a long history of suppression and official distrust ever since missionaries began arriving with European and American merchants hundreds of years ago.

 

Christianity’s future lies in Africa

https://sojo.net/articles/christianitys-future-lies-africa

The continent (Africa) has become the epicenter in the fight against extreme poverty and inequality, housing over half of the world’s people who are living in the quicksand of extreme poverty. Conflict, corruption, illicit financial flows, gender-based violence, exploitation, the impacts of climate change, among other challenges, have long stunted Africa’s growth and suffocated human flourishing …

Less than 20 percent of evangelical pastors have received seminary training, which poses both a challenge and an opportunity … But a revitalized and more vibrant evangelical church that is increasingly committed to both evangelism and holistic transformation will be an essential force in overcoming these and other challenges.

Our impersonal, judgmental lives

Is the United States becoming a Third-World country? Extreme poverty, conflict, corruption, illicit financial flows, gender-based violence, exploitation, climate change … These topics dominate discussion boards today, don’t they?

But how much of these discussions are personal? We talk in the third person all the time. Most of us don’t know what extreme poverty looks like. Corruption: have we experienced it personally? Climate change? Illicit financial flows?

These issues matter, of course, but until they become personal, they remain debate topics and nothing more.

After all, Americans prefer to live alone. We can take care of ourselves, thank you very much.

Just don’t ask me to think deeply about any subject.

The good stuff is coming, oh yes

Are there rewards for following Jesus Christ with your whole heart?

Oh, yes.

The Christian life is no picnic on Earth. Great things happen, but suffering does too. We know this.

As Christians, however, we look beyond Earth. We’re here 70 or 80 years, give or take, and then we die. Guaranteed.

What then?

That’s when it gets good.

I’m studying the book of Revelation – the last book of the Bible – with three friends this summer. Near the beginning of the book, Jesus gives seven messages to various churches. Each discourse includes good things the church has done, bad things the church has done, a warning if the church doesn’t get its act together, and a reward if the church does change.

Without getting too theological, those messages apply to Christians today as well. If we “conquer,” as my translation (New Revised Standard) puts it, we will receive some awesome rewards.

Let’s look beyond ourselves, beyond Earth even, to see what’s in store for us.

 

“To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.”

Rev. 2:7

 

This is stunning. We first see the tree of life in the Garden of Eden, along with the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:9). After Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:6), God kicked the sinning couple out of the garden. Why? Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” … (Gen. 3:22)

The tree of life would have allowed Adam and Eve to never die. This is the way we were created, to live forever. But because we rebelled against the living God, our lives were shortened.

Until the very end of time. Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.” (Rev. 22:14)

Once we enter the city of God, we will live forever in paradise.

 

“Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death.”

Rev. 2:11

 

All of us will be harmed by the “first death,” which is the death of our physical bodies on this Earth. What is the second death? But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. (Rev. 21:8)

The second death, then, is separation from God. Permanently. We get to choose which “spiritual death” we will face – living in paradise with God, or separation from Him in the lake of fire.

There’s no third option, by the way.

 

“I will give a white stone, and on the white store is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.”

Rev. 2:17

 

Whoa. A new name. Given to each of us by the living God. That name will define who we are. We can only guess what this means, however. Gotquestions.org offers this explanation:

The best theory regarding the meaning of the white stone probably has to do with the ancient Roman custom of awarding white stones to the victors of athletic games. The winner of a contest was awarded a white stone with his name inscribed on it. This served as his “ticket” to a special awards banquet. According to this view, Jesus promises the overcomers entrance to the eternal victory celebration in heaven. The “new name” most likely refers to the Holy Spirit’s work of conforming believers to the holiness of Christ (see Romans 8:29; Colossians 3:10).

 

“To the one who conquers I will also give the morning star.”

Rev. 2:26

 

Who or what is the morning star? It’s Jesus Himself. “It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” (Rev. 22:16)

We will live with Jesus Christ, the morning star, forever.

 

“If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before his angels.”

Rev. 3:5

 

What is the book of life? This, along with books that describe our lives on Earth, will be opened on the Judgment Day. What happens if our names are not in the book of life? I saw the dead great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (Rev. 20:12, 15)

Instead, Jesus will confess our names before his Father and his angels. Our works aren’t good enough to stand on their own; we need Jesus to advocate for us on our Judgment Day.

He promised that He will do that for us. If we conquer.

 

“If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it. I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.”

Rev. 3:12

 

A pillar in the temple of God could refer to eternal life. The city of God is the “new Jerusalem,” which is described in Rev. 21:9-26. It will be a huge city, and beautiful beyond description. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Rev. 21:26)

These rewards are all related. And they are only for those of us who conquer.

 

“To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.”

Rev. 3:21

 

We will enjoy royal status. We will not be subjects, employees, homeless, malnourished or mistreated in any way. We will be forgiven, pure, holy and one with God.

The older I get, the closer I am to this day. When I get discouraged with the way things are going on Earth, all I have to do is look up. A better day is coming.

A day worth waiting for.

A day worth dying for.

A celebration for conquering.

 

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.

Romans 8:18-19

The prominent, the unknowns and the evil ones …

The New Testament begins with, of all things, a genealogy. Matthew, a former tax collector and one of Jesus’ 12 apostles, wrote his Gospel letter to a Jewish audience, to prove that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah.

In that vein, he began his genealogy with Abraham – who the Jews considered their father – and included David, since the Messiah was to come through David’s line.

As with any group of people, some of Jesus’ descendants were prominent, such as Isaac, Jacob, Solomon, Jehoshaphat and Josiah. Some are unknowns. (Even among Jesus’ 12 apostles, we know quite a bit about a few of them, and not much about most of them.)

A few in this list were downright evil, including Joram (Jehoram), Ahaz and Amon. Yet they were ancestors of the savior of the world.

Each of these men had a purpose. I used a resource on my bookshelf, “Everyone in the Bible” by William P. Barker, copyright 1966 (history doesn’t change), to bring this genealogical list to life.

 

Abraham: The patriarch who was the father of the people of God … Promised a land and descendants, Abraham lived most of his life without either, having to live on trust. God entered into a covenant with Abraham, assuring him that He kept His word. Finally, in his old age, a son called Isaac was born to Abraham and his wife, Sarah. Abraham’s supreme test of faith came when God … ordered Abraham to sacrifice the boy. Abraham obediently prepared to carry out the orders, but was stayed at the last minute when God intervened … Appropriately, his name in Hebrew means “father of a multitude,” and he is revered as the spiritual ancestor of all Jews and Christians. Genesis 11-25

Isaac: Isaac accepted Rebekah as his wife after a trusted family servant brought her from Abraham’s home country to be his bride, and became the father of the twins, Esau and Jacob … Isaac became wealthy during his sojourn with the Philistines, and they became jealous … Isaac, in his old age, blind and feeble, was tricked by Jacob into bestowing his final blessing on Jacob, the younger son, instead of Esau, the older and Isaac’s favorite. Genesis 17-35

Jacob: Jacob – known later as Israel – was the father of the 12 sons whose families became known as the tribes of Israel. Jacob’s name means “supplanter,” and literally from his birth onward he tried to supplant his older brother, Esau … Esau, of course, was furious at his scheming brother, and Jacob fled for his life. During his flight, at Bethel one night, Jacob experienced the vision of God’s angels descending on steps to him – his first awareness of God’s plans for him … Jacob, with the many members of his family and his large flocks, journeyed toward Palestine. Jacob, however, remembered his past injustices to Esau and worried about the reception Esau would give him. After dividing his following into two forces, so that one at least might escape if Esau attacked, Jacob found himself alone. That night he dreamed that he wrestled with an angel … Shortly after, Jacob met his brother Esau, and was relieved to find that Esau held no grudge. Jacob then settled down to the quiet life of a family patriarch. Genesis 25, 27-37, 42, 45-50

Judah: Jacob’s fourth son, Judah was the progenitor of the tribe known by his name. He was involved with his brothers in selling Joseph into slavery … In Egypt, Judah pleaded that Joseph release their youngest brother, Benjamin, even offering to take Benjamin’s place, when Joseph pretended to frame his brothers with charges of non-payment for grain. Judah later received the privileges of the oldest son after his older brothers, Reuben, Simeon and Levi, disgraced themselves. Genesis 29, 35, 37 38, 43, 44, 46, 49

Perez: Judah’s older twin son through his incestuous relations with Tamar, his daughter-in-law, Perez was an ancient clan chieftain in the powerful tribe of Judah … Nothing of his life, however, is known beyond his parentage. Genesis 38:29, 46:12

Hezron: Hezron was a grandson of Judah and a son of Perez, and, according to the genealogies of both Matthew and Luke, an ancestor of Jesus. Genesis 46:12

Aram (Ram): He is mainly remembered because he was an ancestor of both David and Jesus. Ruth 4:19

Amminadab: A member of the tribe of Levi, Amminadab was the father of Elisheba, Aaron’s wife. Exodus 6:23 Perhaps the same (person, this) Amminadab was an ancestor of David, according to Ruth’s genealogy. Ruth 4:19-20

Nahshon: Aaron’s brother-in-law and a descendant of Judah, Nahshon was a “prince” of Judah who was an ancestor of David and of Jesus. He was also known as Naashon, Naasson and Naason. Exodus 6:23, Numbers 1:7, 2:3, 7:12, 17, 10:14

Salmon: A descendant of Caleb … he was the reputed founder of the town of Bethlehem. Although there seems to be some confusion in the accounts between Salmon and Salma, careful study seems to indicate that they were the same person: the husband of Rahab, the father of Boaz who later married Ruth, and the ancestor of both David and Jesus. Ruth 4:20, 21

Boaz: A well-to-do landowner of the tribe of Judah near Bethlehem, Boaz took pity on a young Moabite widow named Ruth who was working in his fields. The tender story of Boaz’s kindness and Ruth’s loyalty is the plot of the Book of Ruth. Ruth

Obed: Ruth’s mother-in-law by her first marriage, Naomi, looked after the young Obed. Obed was fondly remembered as the father of Jesse, David’s father, and an ancestor of Jesus. Ruth 4

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Jesse: Jesse is best remembered as the father of the great King David. He was a prominent man, perhaps the leader, at Bethlehem, and the father of eight sons. During David’s outlaw days, Jesse and his wife were sent to relatives at Moab for safety. He was undoubtedly elderly by that time, and probably did not live to see his youngest son crowned as king of the united monarchy. Although in David’s day the term “son of Jesse” was spoken with a sneer, to call attention to David’s humble origins, in time it came to be used as a synonym for the expected Messiah. Ruth 4:17, 22; 1 Samuel 16, 17, 20, 22, 25

David: Israel’s most famous king, David was considered to be the ideal ruler and the prototype for the promised Messiah, in Jewish thinking … Sent to soothe the emotionally ill King Saul with his music, David rapidly advanced in Saul’s court until his popularity made Saul insanely jealous. David fled for his life, and became leader of a band of outlaws. After Saul’s death on Mount Gilboa, David returned home, was made the king of Hebron and waged a long but successful war against the Philistines … David made Jerusalem the religious center of the new nation by bringing the Ark of the Covenant into the capital … He extended the nation’s borders in all directions, and brought prosperity and prominence to his people. His later years were marred by a sordid affair with Bathsheba … Incest, murder, rebellion and plots within David’s own household turned his final days into ones of deep trial … Nevertheless, David’s deep trust in God, his sense of justice, and his personal attractiveness were apparent until nearly the end of his life. The nation fondly remembered his reign as its golden age. 1 and 2 Samuel

 

Solomon: David’s 10th son and his successor to the throne, Solomon came to power principally because of the intrigues of his mother, Bathsheba, during David’s senility … He introduced the system of forced labor gangs to furnish manpower for his ambitious building programs, and broke down the old system of tribal rule with his well-organized administrative districts … The great Temple was but one of his ambitious building projects. To finance all this opulence, Solomon taxed his subjects so oppressively that the nation simmered with revolt during his last days. Although his wisdom and piety were extolled by some Biblical writers, Solomon was a shrewd, overbearing, worldly, comfort-loving dictator. 1 Kings 1-14

Rehoboam: The stubborn, arrogant son of Solomon, Rehoboam succeeded Solomon as king of the nation in 937 B.C. … Rehoboam insisted on continuing Solomon’s policies. The northern tribes, never welded to the united kingdom, promptly seceded. Rehoboam, forced to retire in humiliation to Jerusalem, wanted to march against the 10 rebellious tribes, but was prevented by the prophet Shemaiah’s warnings and by Shishak of Egypt’s invasion. 1 Kings 11-12, 14-15

Abijah: Great-grandson of David, Abijah was the favorite son of Rehoboam. He ruled Judah for about two years at a time when Jeroboam had been king of the northern kingdom, Israel, for about 20 years. The Book of Kings states that Abijah continued all the sins of his ancestors. Chronicles, however, portrays him as a defender of the faith whose moment of glory came when he defeated Jeroboam’s larger army and captured three Israelite cities and great booty. 2 Chronicles 11-14, 1 Kings 14, 15

Asa: The king of Judah from about 918-877 B.C., Asa was one of the few rulers who tried to bring about some social and religious reforms. He was also an energetic builder, astute statesman and competent military leader. During most of his long reign, Judah enjoyed a breathing spell of prosperity, peace and morality. In his old age, however, Asa showed a lack of trust in the Lord by buying protection from the Syrian king, Ben-hadad, when Baasha, king of Israel, mobilized against Judah … Not long after, he contracted a painful foot disease, regarded as punishment for his failure to trust. 1 Kings 15-16, 22:41-46

Jehoshaphat: The king of Judah who was the son and successor of Asa, Jehoshaphat tried to be a model of piety and a guardian of the faith by sending teachers of the Law throughout the kingdom and closing down Baal shrines. Probably his biggest contribution was to stop the long-running feud between Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel. However, when Jehoshaphat married his son to Athaliah, daughter of Israel’s notorious Jezebel and Ahab, he unwittingly brought trouble … His 25-year reign was considered a high point in Judah’s history. 2 Chronicles 17-22

Joram (Jehoram): The son and successor of King Jehoshaphat of Judah. To seal an alliance between his father and Ahab, king of Israel, Jehoram was given the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, Athaliah, as his bride. Athaliah dominated her husband, persuading him to reintroduce and encourage Baal worship in Judah. Jehoram even stooped to murdering his six brothers when he was crowned king. During his sorry reign, Libnah and Edom broke away from Judah. He was so loathed by his subjects that when he died they refused him burial in the royal tombs. 2 Chronicles 21:1-16, 22:1-11

Uzziah: Amaziah’s son and successor as king of Judah, Uzziah became king at the age of 16 and ruled 52 years. During his long reign, he successfully defended Judah against the belligerent Ammonites, Philistines and Arabians, developed a strong standing army, and rebuilt the nation’s fortifications … In spite of the continuation of cults, contemporary historians gave Uzziah high marks for his religious devotion. He was so crippled with leprosy toward the end of his reign that he was forced to turn over the government to his son, Jotham. 2 Kings 15, 2 Chronicles 26

Jotham: A contemporary of the prophets Hosea, Isaiah and Micah, Jotham ruled as de facto king during the last years of King Uzziah’s life, when Uzziah was ill. After the death of his illustrious father Uzziah, Jotham succeeded to the throne of Judah and proved to be an able administrator. He subdued the Ammonites, built the upper gate of the Temple, and was highly regarded by Hebrew historians. 2 Kings 15

Ahaz: Eleventh king of Judah, Ahaz was Jotham’s son and Hezekiah’s father. His 16-year reign (about 735 B.C. to about 720 B.C.) was the backdrop for the prophet Isaiah’s great career. Ahaz preferred to play international politics rather than heed Isaiah’s sound advice … Inevitably, Ahaz and Judah came out as losers, paying expensive “presents” to larger powers. A superstitious dabbler in idolatrous cults, Ahaz left his country weakened morally and financially. 2 Kings 15-17

Hezekiah: The famous reform-minded king of Judah, Hezekiah … successfully led his country through the frightening days when Assyria was sweeping over the world in the eighth century B.C. … Hezekiah heeded the prophet Isaiah’s advice and stood fast. The Assyrian King Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem suddenly and miraculously ended when a plague decimated the Assyrian army. Even today, visitors to Jerusalem can see Hezekiah’s tunnel, the conduit through rock which brought water into the city during the siege – one of many projects initiated by the energetic king. After the glorious deliverance from the siege, Hezekiah launched a long-needed reform of morals and religion in the nation. 2 Kings 16, 18-21

Manasseh: The son and successor of King Hezekiah of Judah, Manasseh became king at age 12, upon his father’s death. An anti-reform group used the boy to stop the reforms in worship and morals begun by Hezekiah. For many years, Manasseh outdid himself to accommodate cults and please their adherents. He even practiced human sacrifice, using his own son. The prophets attributed the fall of Jerusalem to the cruelty and superstition that was allowed to flourish during most of Manasseh’s 55-year reign … According to the Chronicler, Manasseh was taken prisoner briefly by the Assyrians in his later years, finally realized his disobedience to God, and was allowed by God to return to Jerusalem, where he mended his ways before he died. 2 Kings 20, 21, 23, 24, 2 Chronicles 33:1-23

Amon: The king of Judah who succeeded Manasseh, Amon reigned two years in a dreary repeat of his father Manasseh’s immorality, luxury and corruption. He was assassinated in a palace intrigue (639 B.C.), and died unmourned. 2 Kings 21

Josiah: The king of Judah whose reform staved off the collapse of the kingdom for a few years, Josiah was the son and successor of the notorious King Amon. He was crowned when he was only 8, after his father’s assassination, and began his active rule when he was 18. At the suggestion of the high priest Hilkiah, Josiah ordered the Temple repaired. During the repairs, a lost book of the Law was discovered (what we call Deuteronomy). When this was read to the King, he ordered its requirements observed, and took active steps to clean up the mess in Judah. Josiah effectively closed down the dozens of local shrines … and centralized all worship in Jerusalem … He died as boldly as he lived: When Neco, the Egyptian pharaoh, invaded northern Palestine, Josiah recklessly jumped into battle and lost his life at Megiddo. 2 Kings 16-34

Jechoniah (Jehoiachin): The son of King Jehoiakim of Judah, Jehoiachin was the last king of Judah before Nebuchadnezzar snuffed out the valiant but faithless little nation. Succeeding a father who left the kingdom in a hopeless condition, 18-year-old Jehoiachin ruled only three months … (He) was imprisoned during Nebuchadnezzar’s entire reign. He was finally released when Evil-Merodach replaced Nebuchadnezzar, and was kept under house arrest in Babylon for the rest of his life. 2 Kings 24:6-15, Jeremiah 22, 24, 28.

Salathiel (Sheatiel): A descendant of David and a son of King Jeconiah, Shealtiel was best remembered as the father of Zerubbabel. Ezra 3:2, 8.

Zerubbabel: The man who led the first group of dispirited exiles back to Jerusalem from Babylon, Zerubbabel was the governor of Jerusalem in the dismal days at the close of the Exile. Zerubbabel directed the resumption of worship, the rebuilding of the altar, and the foundation construction for the new Temple. A descendant of David, he was a member of the royal family. 1 Chronicles 3:19, Ezra 2:2, 3:2, 8, 4:2, 3, 5:2, Nehemiah 7:7, 12:1, 47.

Abiud: Mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus (and not elsewhere) as the son of Zerubbabel. https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/abiud/

Eliakim: An ancestor of Jesus, Eliakim is included in Jesus’ family tree by both Matthew and Luke. Matthew 1:13, Luke 3:30

Azor: One of Jesus’ ancestors, Azor was listed in Matthew’s genealogy as a grandson of Zerubbabel. Matthew 1:13-14

Zadok: An important “chief of the people” after the Exile, this Zadok was one of the leaders in Jerusalem who joined Nehemiah in signing the covenant promising to keep the Law. Nehemiah 10:21

Achim: One of Joseph’s distant ancestors, Achim is mentioned only by Matthew in his genealogical table. Matthew 1:14

Eliud: One of Jesus’ ancestors, Eliud is listed in the genealogy of Joseph by Matthew. Matthew 1:14-15

Eleazar: He was listed in Jesus’ family tree by Matthew as a son of Eliud, and Joseph’s great-grandfather. Matthew 1:15

Matthan: One of Jesus’ ancestors, according to Matthew’s list, Matthan is listed as Joseph’s grandfather. He is undoubtedly the same man as “Matthat,” whom Luke names as Joseph’s grandfather. Matthew 1:15

Jacob (Heli): The father of Joseph, who was the husband of Mary the mother of Jesus, Heli was also believed to be an uncle of Mary. Luke 3:23

Joseph: The kindly carpenter of Nazareth who agreed to go ahead with wedding plans although he knew his betrothed, Mary, was to have a baby, this Joseph was Jesus’ earthly father. He was a conscientious Jew who adhered faithfully to the Law, but was considerate enough to plan to spare Mary the indignities required by the Law. When he learned the Divine origin of her unborn Child, he immediately trusted God’s promise and married Mary. After the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and the harrowing flight to Egypt to escape Herod’s slaughter of male babies, Joseph resettled his family at Nazareth and lived the quiet life of a village builder-repairman. He was the father of several other children, but apparently died before Jesus began His active ministry. Matthew 1:16-24, Luke 2:4-43

Jesus: Born at Bethlehem during the last years of Herod the Great, Jesus, at His birth, was acclaimed God’s Chosen One by shepherds … Luke 2:8-20

 

Repentance is a practice, and other truths

 

Nuggets of truth I learned in a year-long study through several Old Testament books:

 

  • God’s definition of success is to be faithful, and we do that by meditating on His word.
  • We are on God’s team. He is not on our team.
  • Sometimes, we don’t understand God’s directions. But He sees the big picture.
  • The Christian life is a marathon. Jesus has already finished the race, and returned to help us through it.
  • What are my gods? Where do I spend my time? What do I think about during the day, and at night? What do I worry about?
  • God sometimes empties us before He can fill us.
  • Kindness leads people to repentance.
  • Christ redeems us, even if we are foreigners (as Boaz did for Ruth).
  • What do we do with our idols when they don’t work? We often prop them up, and keep using them – to our destruction.
  • Repentance: Turn away from sin, turn to God.
  • We have to ask for deliverance continually. This is sanctification.
  • I need to lead with confidence where God has given me influence.
  • The Psalms are like a waterfall. Singular verses are good, but they aren’t a waterfall.
  • The Psalms have the power to realign our hearts to God. They are cracking the vault of my buried emotions.
  • God used both success and trouble to shape David’s life.
  • Do I want to let God write my story, or do I want to write it for Him?
  • Hopelessness is pervasive today. We look in all the wrong places for hope.
  • Am I looking for relief, or relationship?
  • David inquired of the Lord …
  • I don’t know God’s timing.
  • We are living our lives in the middle of God’s throne room. We get to join God in what He is doing.
  • Win or lose, I should worship God.
  • Do I reflect on how merciful God is in my life? What do I dream about? Probably about me, not God. He rested on the seventh day to reflect on what He’d created.
  • Israel is a great nation because it has a great God.
  • Am I willing to trade my plan for His, even if I don’t see it fulfilled?
  • Many of our battles are internal – lust, greed, pride, self-centeredness. But the victory has already been won.
  • Repentance is a practice. I have to get rid of sin. Otherwise, the pain stays.
  • Obedience brings blessing. Disobedience brings judgment.
  • Church attendance isn’t enough. A personal encounter with God changes lives.
  • Israel trusted in the ark of God, instead of the God of the ark.
  • God will not be mocked. He expects His people to live differently than everyone else does.
  • God intends us to build each other up, even if others hurt us – the way David respected Saul.
  • God rested on the seventh day – not just to rest, but to reflect on what He’d done.
  • When a prophet shows up, usually there’s a reason and it doesn’t go well.
  • We can choose to sin, but we cannot choose the consequences. Stop before it starts. The longer we wait, the harder it gets.
  • God is just. We blow off sin. God does not. (For example, when David took a census of Israel toward the end of his life, he wanted to celebrate Israel’s size, not God’s power. God’s judgment for that cost 70,000 people their lives.)
  • God limited places of worship to keep pagan practices out, but Solomon worshiped at high places of pagan gods.
  • The focus is not what I need, but who I need.
  • God’s gifts do not ensure that we use them wisely.
  • We do not create wisdom. We discover it.
  • Learn from the mistakes of others. We don’t have to experience everything to learn lessons.
  • Even when we are distant from God, we can call out to Him for forgiveness.
  • The central Temple building is no longer needed. Our bodies are God’s temple.
  • Solomon fulfilled the Temple obligation; that was not devotion.
  • Leaders are to execute justice and righteousness.
  • Each day presents new opportunities to trust God or go our own way.
  • Not all adversity is because of sin, but if we face adversity, a heart check is a good idea.
  • Pleasure is only for a moment. God is forever.

 

 

 

Science proves Jesus’ authority

“Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”

Matthew 7:21

 

We have a pretty good understanding of half of Jesus. Here in the United States, we understand His humanity fairly well.

The human Jesus

When Jesus says things like feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit those in prison, we can wrap our minds around that. A fair number of us do some of those things.

Jesus said, love your neighbor as yourself. Do to others as you would have them do to you. We quote these every so often (more so to get others to do to us, rather than us loving them, actually).

We compare ourselves with the Jesus who walked the Earth. He became one of us. We love the warm fuzzy Christmas story when Jesus was born.

Do we ever let Jesus grow up? We prefer Him as a baby, where we can hold Him in our hands, and tell Him what to do.

The other half of Jesus, however …

The divine Jesus

If you read the Bible at all – Old Testament as well as New Testament – you’ll discover rather quickly that Jesus also is divine. Jesus is God Himself.

This part of Jesus we have a hard time understanding.

I’ll give you just one proof of Jesus’ divinity. There are many others, I’m sure.

Before Jesus met the general public, He spent 40 days in the wilderness. This was an intense period with His Father, fasting and praying, learning and receiving the tools He would need to connect humans on Earth with God in heaven.

At the end of this period, Satan came to Jesus and tempted Him to sin three times. The third temptation went like this:

 

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,

and serve only him’.”

Matthew 4:8-10

 

I used to picture Jesus getting angry with Satan here, sending him to time-out like an unruly child.

I don’t think that’s the way it happened, though.

I think Jesus was laughing at Satan. Really.

Jesus the Creator

To put the temptation in perspective, listen to this 12-minute video from Louie Giglio, a pastor in Atlanta, Ga., who compared the earth, the sun and several stars to the size of a golf ball.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D37UtbViKRw

 

Jesus created those stars. The Bible makes that clear.

 

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in OUR image, according to OUR likeness …”

Genesis 1:26, emphasis added

 

God is one God, but He is plural. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three parts, one God. This is the divine side of Jesus. He is our Creator.

The apostle John understood this.

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and WITHOUT HIM NOT ONE THING CAME INTO BEING … And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory … full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-3, 14, emphasis added

 

Jesus, then, while born as a human baby on Earth, also was around before time began. He created all things.

Fully human, fully God.

Jesus created not only everything on Earth, He created our sun. He created our solar system. The Milky Way. Our galaxy. All the stars. All the galaxies, trillions of light years away and beyond.

God blows our minds

As Giglio describes very well, the vastness of God is beyond our comprehension.

If the Earth was a golf ball, he said in the video, the sun would be 15 feet in diameter. You could fit 960,000 golf balls inside the sun.

After describing several other stars, Giglio brought up Canis Majoris, the largest known star. If the Earth was a golf ball, he said, this star is the height of Mount Everest – almost six miles high. You could fit enough golf balls inside that star to cover the state of Texas – 22 inches deep.

Wrap your mind around that.

Watch the video. It’s awesome.

The tiny little powerless devil

Now, picture Jesus on top of a very high mountain with Satan, where Satan is offering “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” if only Jesus would worship him. That’s impressive, right?

Not to Jesus.

All Satan could offer Jesus was a golf ball – and even that only because Jesus gave it to him.

This is how much power God has.

Satan is barely a speck in the circle of life compared to the vastness of the universe that the living God made.

That’s why Jesus flicked Satan away like a fly on the wall. “Get away from me. You got nothing.”

I can picture Jesus saying that.

Jesus knows us intimately

And yet, this Jesus, who created the golf-ball-size Earth as well as the sun, stars, galaxies and all the vast universe, wants to have a relationship with you and I. We are just specks on that golf ball, and yet He cares about us.

If you let Giglio’s video run, he’ll take you to another part of the same talk, where he explains how small and detailed God is – down to the tiniest atom in our bodies, and parts of atoms that God (Jesus) also created.

It’s mind-blowing.

The God of vastness, the God of minute detail – this is who we worship.

What better time to discover this than Passion Week? That’s Christian jargon for the week Jesus was crucified and resurrected.

Jesus didn’t have to do that. He flicked Satan away, yet He didn’t kill him. He let Satan rule the golf ball. Then gave us humans a way out.

Satan still rules Earth, but only because God lets him. Satan’s time is short, and he knows it.

Attend church this weekend. Discover for yourself who the true God is.

Not the god of Earth. All he can offer you is a golf ball.

Worship the God of heaven. He offers you life.

 

Change inevitable

Some change is forced on us.

I was downsized from a job I held for 24 years. I was given a choice: Accept a buyout or a 40 percent pay cut along with an increased workload. My job was eliminated.

Some changes we choose.

I volunteer with an organization called We Care We Share in Lorain, Ohio. It offers a food pantry two afternoons a week. I learned from a friend that volunteers were needed there, so I showed up one day and began volunteering. I didn’t have to do that, but I chose to.

Some change is inevitable.

Some of the hairs on my head are turning gray. My eyes also change over time; I’m due for another check-up one of these days. I’ll probably need a new eyeglasses prescription. The joys of aging.

If there’s one constant in life, it’s that there’s nothing constant in life.

Moment by moment, we change

No two days are exactly alike. Change is the name of the game.

The car I drive is 23 years old. It’s still running pretty well, but the mechanic recommended $1,600 in repairs to keep it up to speed. I’m not sure the car is worth that, so we’ll probably replace it in the near future.

I’ve attended three funerals in the past two months. All were for senior citizens, thankfully, but still: People wear out, just like cars do.

There’s no anti-aging pill that lasts forever, much as science has tried to find one.

We make choices literally every minute of every day. To get up in the morning, or not. What to eat for breakfast. Or not. Whether to show up for work or an appointment on time. Or not. Whether to look for a new job, a new relationship, a new residence (including a new location sometimes) …

We bought a house a year and a half ago, after renting for 3.5 years. We did some remodeling in the kitchen last fall because my wife wanted to put her touch on our home. That’s certainly a good thing. But what to remodel and how to do it were choices we had to make – and you’d do it differently, I’m sure.

I won’t even get into politics. We all know the contrasts between our current president and the previous one.

Think big picture. We change presidents every four or eight years. Change is inevitable.

The U.S. Constitution is more than 200 years old, but even that has been expanded. And new laws are passed all the time, federally, at the state level and locally.

Change changes us

Hearts and minds change too, sometimes dramatically.

At my last job, I worked with adults with developmental disabilities. Some of those folks were born with their disabilities, but others received their mental and/or physical disabilities through trauma. One guy fell off a roof. Another was abused terribly as a child.

Even those born with disabilities can learn to overcome them, to a degree. Those folks can accomplish a lot more than we often give them credit for. Even if they can’t communicate well, they often see and understand quite a lot. And they can communicate – with sign language, facial expressions, nodding yes or no, and in other ways.

I left there because not all change is good. And some changes I felt were necessary weren’t happening.

Choices.

Some people quit smoking. Some people conquer a drug or alcohol addiction. These things aren’t easy, but they can be done.

It’s easier if we make the choice to avoid those substances before we even start. But we need strong grown-ups to lead their children away from those temptations, don’t we, since most addictions start when we are young.

Addictions are not inevitable. Broken families are not inevitable. Some of us are exposed to these things earlier than others of us are, but each of us is responsible for our own choices.

Fighting change, or embracing it

If life doesn’t go the way we’d like it to – and it won’t, sooner or later – we have choices to make. Dozens of my former co-workers got downsized at the same time I did. A few got jobs in other career fields right away, or a short time later. A couple of them retired. Some stayed with the company, with new responsibilities – and in some cases, a new location. I took the buyout and sat on my hands and knees for awhile until the buyout ended, then took a $9 an hour job while I figured out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

Same scenario, different choices.

Different results.

Many of my former co-workers are still in the same city. Some of us aren’t.

Here in northeast Ohio, Republic Steel and U.S. Steel factories are idle, the result of layoffs. One of those plants may resume production soon on a limited basis. General Motors Corp. just closed a factory in Lordstown, a little more than an hour’s drive from here, putting 1,435 workers in the unemployment line.

The cycle continues.

Change is inevitable. Sometimes we choose it, sometimes we don’t.

How we respond to change determines the course our lives will take.

We can fight change.

Or we can embrace it.

Even that is a choice.

The one constant

Are there any constants in life, besides change? Any at all?

Only one.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Hebrews 13:8

 

That’s it.

Whoever hears these sayings of mine and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.

Jesus speaking, in Matthew 7:24-25

 

No foundation on Earth lasts like that. All of them will eventually crumble, whether a physical building or a moral or spiritual truth that we base our lives upon.

Even as the winds of life  blow – and they certainly will – we have a foundation to fall back on.

That’s why I’m a Christian. When the storms of life threaten to carry me away (you know what I mean), I have a home base that will protect me.

I change, certainly. I learn and grow, hopefully. I am not the person I was 10 years ago, when I was downsized. Or even last year.

But even as my job situation fluctuated and my location changed, the God I worship did not change. He supports me when all else fails me.

Sometimes, we don’t discover how much we need a rock until change threatens to destroy us.

Climb on the rock. You’re never far from it, no matter who or where you are.

That’s your sanctuary in the storms of life.

A United Methodist divide

It’s not about you. It’s not about me.

All of life comes down to that.

And we just don’t get it.

The latest example: “Church delegates reject recognizing gay marriage,” according to a headline in today’s local newspaper.

The Associated Press reports:

 

The United Methodist Church, America’s second largest Protestant denomination, faces a likely surge in defections and acts of defiance after delegates at a crucial conference voted Tuesday to strengthen the faith’s divisive bans on same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBT clergy.

 

I have United Methodist friends – including ordained pastors – on both sides of this debate. It’s tough.

But it shouldn’t be.

The question is this:

Whom do you serve: the God of the Bible, or yourself?

We can’t change God’s law

“Neither do I condemn you,” Jesus told a woman caught in adultery (John 8:11). But Jesus didn’t stop there. He looked the woman directly in the eyes and gave her this admonition: “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

This is the definition of “love the sinner, hate the sin.”

The LGBT community and its supporters do not understand this. When Jesus told the adulterous woman “do not sin again,” he was not spewing hate. He was telling her: You are better than this. There’s a wonderful life out there for you. Go live it.

It’s not about you. It’s about Me, Jesus said.

Everything Jesus says in the Gospels – everything – points to himself. It’s not about the church. It’s not even about the law, since the church leaders had added so much to the Old Testament laws that no one could possibly keep them all. It’s not about feelings. It’s not about justifying sinful behavior.

God made us. He knows what’s best for us. We can’t change the rules, much as we try.

What is love?

Some United Methodists are circulating A Love Letter to LGBTQ United Methodists.

The letter concludes this way:

 

We will:

give you the space and support you need.
listen to you.
share your stories.
work to end the harm caused in the name of religion.
break the silence around gender and sexuality in religious communities.
center your experiences as LGBTQ United Methodists.
fight for justice.
work toward a justice that is deeply intersectional.
not leave anyone behind.
strive to be better allies.
apologize when we miss the mark.
build this future together.
be by your side.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSf88b_G-Efi2xsqA3nvVJkLxIIjj0lvzIw50mf8kQb2BMl44A/viewform?fbclid=IwAR2SjsJ_G9tKaNFm9GpdLfc4f6xjchyEl6ykhQmtmFb0yyy-ACldu7Y3s1k

 

 

The letter doesn’t quote Jesus Christ. It doesn’t even mention the Bible.

It does refer to God, like this:

 

You are …

a child of God.
beloved by God.
beautifully and wonderfully made by God.
the image of God.

 

Yes. Each person is all that, and more.

That section also includes these lines:

 

allowed to be imperfect.
allowed to ask for more than crumbs.
allowed to have a vision for the future.
allowed to speak that vision aloud.
allowed to fight to make that vision a reality.
allowed to take a breather.
allowed to prioritize self-care.

 

Where in the Bible are any of us, straight or LGBT, allowed those things?

Jesus said: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). We are not “allowed” to be imperfect. God has so much more of life than that for us.

“Allowed to take a breather?” From what? From God? From serving him? From pursuing righteousness?

Sexual sins are no worse than any other sin, yet every sin affects other people. The #MeToo movement bears this out.

Unconditional love

“…since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus …” (Romans 3:23-24)

But it’s not a gift until we accept it. I can offer you a dollar, but if you reject it, I’m left holding the dollar, and no gift is given.

What’s the point of “redemption in Christ Jesus” if we keep on sinning willfully?

“What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?” (Romans 6:1-2)

Sin is doing what God hates. Love is God forgiving us when we sin against him. We love each other by following God’s example.

It’s not about me. It’s not about you.

It’s entirely about God.

That’s why the United Methodist “Traditional Plan” was upheld. United Methodists have been debating the homosexual agenda for half a century, at least. Delegates repeatedly vote to uphold the language of the church’s statement of values and beliefs, by calling homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Supporters of the homosexual agenda haven’t taken “no” for an answer, and continually re-submit the issue. For half-a-century, the church has stood firm.

It’s not about the church. It’s about God.

The church sets policy, but can’t determine grace

If the United Methodist Church ever strikes that language from its doctrine, that wouldn’t make it “right.”

Our opinions don’t count. When we stand before the living God on our Judgment Day, God won’t use a sliding scale. He won’t change the rules for some.

“Be perfect,” he said.

Since none of us can do that, Jesus came to Earth to pay that sin penalty for us. That’s how we are justified – not by approving laws that defend our lifestyles.

It’s not about me. It’s not about you.

It’s about God.

Criticize me all you like because I don’t support the LGBT agenda. My views and opinions don’t matter. I’m not your judge.

United Methodist delegates set policy, but they don’t deliver grace. They don’t decide what’s sin and what isn’t sin.

Only the living God does that.

He didn’t ask our opinion, either.

The United Methodist Church might fracture over this decision. It wouldn’t be the first time a Christian denomination has split over doctrinal issues.

It hurts, because we should know better.

God loves us enough to not let us remain in our sin. He offers us a better way.

That’s what true love is.

We are loved as is, yes. But faith demands change.

“For whoever has died is freed from sin. … So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:7, 11).

Either the book of Romans is true, or it is not true.

We don’t get to decide that.

This is true love. It’s about overcoming sin, not justifying it.

It’s not about you. It’s not about me.

It’s about the living God.