Grace & Peace

CBCE283969-2The trouble with thinking

I am a fan of William Barclay’s Notes on the New Testament, have been for more than thirty years. He has an astute awareness of human nature and a keen mind that connects things most people miss. I have read him enough times to know that I do not agree with all of his theology. Yet I admire the way he thinks and presents his thoughts. We live in a very polarized world, and not just politically. Yes, Congress votes party lines even when personal conscience might say to vote otherwise. The media seem to have a belief structure and help us to be aware when someone thinks differently. Outliers are rapidly identified and shunned and it rarely seems to matter that people are thinking. Sometimes that means they are THINKING. We all too readily conclude that thinking means people have decided.

God forbid anyone decide anything different from what I have already decided. That would make them wrong. One of the reasons I enjoy Barclay’s notes is that he is clearly thinking as he writes. We have become so polarized that differing thoughts separate friends and families and, it seems, churches. If someone says or does one thing that challenges us, we separate. It just seems to me that love ought to be stronger than that. Now I am just thinking here.

In his Daily Bible Study notes on John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” Barclay says, “The tremendous thing about this text is that it shows us God is acting, not for His own sake, but for ours. It was not to satisfy His desire for power that God acted. It was not to bring into being a universe brought to heel. It was to satisfy His love. God is not an absolute monarch who treats each man as a subject to be reduced to an abject obedience. God is a Father who cannot be happy until His wandering children have come home.”

A little later in the gospel though there is quite a challenge to the thinking that God loves no matter what. At first it even seems to be a contradiction, and if I were not a thinking man, I might have ceased reading before I had thought through what was being said. The next verse in John 3 reads, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” And all of this is spoken in the midst of a very intense conversation with Nicodemus about salvation. If all of God’s love were simply unconditional and irrevocably enacted for the whole world, then we would all be saved no matter what we said, thought, or did. And so it is at this point in the thinking and presentation of the gospel writer.

But the thinking is not yet complete. So now I can either think along with my savior or I can make up my mind that I have discerned what is true and will no longer listen to any thought to the contrary. If I believe I have heard enough and want no more of thinking, I will simply highlight and underline all those Biblical texts that support my position and agree with teachers who agree with me. Any and all who think otherwise are simply wrong and not really worthy of my attention. Should I step foot in a church where the leader begins teaching something that is contrary to what I have decided, I can simply stop listening or leave. We almost never would admit that what has really happened is that we have stopped thinking and determined that our decisions about an issue or a topic are more valuable to us than the person helping us think.

In just two short chapters, by chapter 5, John begins to share the thought of Jesus as a judge; he talks of separation, of sheep and goats, and all of this is clearly a contradiction to the thought that Jesus did not come to condemn, and there is no condemnation in Jesus, and everyone gets saved no matter what. A thinking person then says, now what do I believe? So I confess, actually thinking can be a bit of a mess. More to follow…



Grace & Peace

EUWYCOBR4B“If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” John 14:23

 

The people we live with often shape us in ways we hardly recognize until we begin looking back. In my early days I of course lived with my parents and shared a room with my brother. The earliest formative memories were of catching frogs at the lake, getting food from the dumpster, going to church and then grandmas, playing with my brother Rick. After High School it was a bit of a blur for a while. I lived with my aunt, and then a college roommate who came to the room I believe just to throw up, then a summer on the streets, a magician, a professional tennis player, some friends from Campus Crusade for Christ, and then Brenda for the next 37 years. I had no expectation that any of the living arrangement had any permanency until I got married.

 

After a short while I realized that a permanent living partner would take a bit of understanding and some changes, maybe even some work on my part. Most of the changes started on the fly, suggestions in conversations we had, several suggestions repeated several times. Over the years, I have changed a whole lot and am thankful to have someone alongside who always had my best interest in mind.

 

When Jesus chooses to take up residence in our lives, we can begin with assurance that He always has our best interest in mind and He intends this new living arrangement to be permanent. The yes and no of the Holy Spirit are meant to guide us to maturity, like a good parent trying to help us along. Of course, like any relationship, we can assume we know better what works for us than another. What I have learned though is that it is not always about what works better for me that matters. In fact, often that is the very edge pushing me to grow. I must learn to get past what works the best for me and figure out what works best for another.

 

For God to choose to make a home in us is an honor. Let us honor Him with faithful obedience and follow after his good guidance.



Grace & Peace

iStock_000029031468SmallRunning a Race

“Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” Hebrews 12:1

I went to a really small high school, so you never had to be much of an athlete to make the team. I ran track one year because I was fast. I started quickly and ran out of steam quickly. In our second week of meets, one of the legs for the 1600 meter relay race got sick and the coach told me I was running the leg. Like always, I started fast, this time though I hit a wall and ended very, very slowly, almost walking, batons were passing me right and left. Paul chooses to use the word marathon for the race we run as a Christian. That is, we are running a very long race and perseverance is the key: not starting fast, not looking good, just never stopping.

I now know that the training for a marathon is significantly different from training for 100 meter dash, and running the race is exhausting. To run the spiritual marathon of being a Christian requires a number of practices.

First, we need to recognize that we run this race with the greats of faith history: Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Sarah, Rebekkah, Rachel, and Rahab. These examples of faith can strengthen our resolve to move forward.

Second, we must learn to throw off the things that hinder us. There is no sense even trying to run a marathon carrying a fifty-pound bag of cement. There are obvious behaviors and attitudes that must be transformed if we expect to ever get anywhere at all in the race God marked for us.

Third, we must persevere. We sometimes grow impatient with ourselves for not simply becoming what we need to be immediately. We make the mistake of thinking that spiritual transformation unto holiness is like a drive thru when it is far from that. There are some attitudes and behaviors that require tremendous perseverance to change, many rises and falls precede the ultimate victory. What we do know is that God has the best in mind for us and HE will not expect something of us without giving us the resources to make it so.

And finally, we should fix our eyes on Jesus. Becoming Christlike is the ultimate goal for all believers. There are two predominant images of Christ in the New Testament: the lamb that was slain and the Lion of Judah. Jesus on the cross and Jesus on the white horse, Jesus the suffering servant and Jesus the victorious King. When God calls us to become Christlike, which Jesus do we see? The writer to the Hebrews clarifies: “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2 He sees both images, both the cross and the throne. And here is the key for us. The cross is first. It always is. For us to live in glory, we must finish this marathon of life. Glory is just across the finish line. Who lives with you?



Grace & Peace

6R7KCXBEEEShadow boxes

Do you remember shadow boxes growing up? Those school projects that were all imagination. I once made a shadow box with characters that could move by using a Popsicle stick and a slot in the bottom of the box. They were fun to make and then fun to present, but they never really lasted very long after the project was over. I don’t have a single one now, only the memory.

The Bible likens our lives to a sort of shadow box. What we experience now can be a whole lot of fun, and we get to run to and fro, but in the end, none of this is really meant to last and one day only the memory will be left. Paul says this life is “a shadow of the things that are to come, the reality is found in Christ.” Colossians 2:17 We all need to have a substance behind our lives, an assurance that the one holding the Popsicle stick will not just ram me into a tree.

I have been reading Isaiah this year and recently realized there is a huge difference between being a sinner and being wicked. It seems God calls the sinner to repentance and reserves wrath for the wicked. So what is the difference? Sinners can and do choose to repent; they ask God to help them change their ways. The wicked seek no help from the Lord, so no quarter is given. They are on their own and so simply accumulate wrath upon wrath. All the wicked work for is but a shadow, not the substance of life. Sinners who repent have hope and our hope is in the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.