The Yeast that Makes Our Faith Rise

Of all the holidays I spent as a child, my favorite has to be Easter. At Easter, Mom and Grandma pulled out all the stops to prepare a seven-course feast. The first course was a homemade meatball soup, followed by generous helpings of either homemade manicotti or ravioli, Italian sausage, meatballs and rolled beef. The highlight of our Easter feast was dessert. However, instead of pie, cake, or Italian pastries, dessert meant consuming numerous loaves of Easter bread.

The production of this bread remains the most memorable of our family traditions. After making the dough, my mother would set it out on the dining room table and cover it with thick wool blankets to rise overnight. In the morning my dad, my brother and me would knead the dough. When we were finished mom would lay it out on the table, cover it and let it rise. This process was repeated until the dough had risen at least three times. After the third rise, Mom would separate the dough into loaves and bake them.

Now looking back, I realize that as a little boy I never made that connection between the rising of the Easter bread and the resurrection of Jesus. As the bread rose, so Christ arose. It was not until after I became a follower of Jesus that I realized that the resurrection is to our faith what yeast is to bread dough. The resurrection is the yeast that makes our faith rise.

God’s plan of salvation included several ingredients—the Virgin birth of Jesus, His sinless life and sacrificial death on the cross. However, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, all these ingredients would have been meaningless. The resurrection is to our faith what yeast is to bread dough. It is the ingredient that makes our faith come alive.

This message lies at the heart of what the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15.1-4:

 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, . . .

Sometimes life becomes so painful it can siphon away every remembrance of the fact of the resurrection. Whether its chronic or terminal illness, the loss of a job or the loss of a loved one, whether it’s the end of a relationship or the end one’s income, life will work to make us forget the grace of Jesus and the power of His resurrection.

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, the cares and sheer frenetics of this life can eclipse the truth we believe. We forget. When that happens friends are apt to give us long dissertations on the necessity of trusting Jesus. While what they say may be true, our heart, mind and soul crave bite-sized, chewable and easily digestible truth. Our attention span is too short to endure long-winded even impassioned exhortations to press on. As helpful these inspirational “pats on the back” may be, what we truly need is a short, pithy reminder of the facts of our faith.

We need our hope distilled into easily remembered bits – a sort of binary code for the soul. (Just give me the ones and zeroes for now, I’ll get around to the fuller stuff later on when my mind can handle more complex thought.) As if sensing both the likelihood of this spiritual attention-deficit disorder/amnesia, Paul gives the Corinthians a simple pneumonic designed to help them hold on to Jesus. And he does this by summarizing the Gospel in three short, pithy statements.:

  •  Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.
  • Christ was buried, again, according to the Scriptures.
  • Christ was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.

As I write this, my family and I are in the midst of turbulent waters. Our trust in Christ is being tested. Life is doing its worst in an attempt to erase from our memory every remembrance of His grace, goodness, power and mercy. Prayers have gone unanswered. It is a season where the sky has turned to brass and the pleasant rains have stopped. The drought is upon us and we long for the Lord to make us lie down in green pastures beside the still waters.

We feel so very much like Peter, who when he noticed the wind and the waves after having stepped out of the boat, began to sink. Perhaps the same is true for you. My family and I stepped out of the boat long ago without regret. But now the wind is up and the waves are high. Even so Jesus stands above them both as the Risen Lord of all creation. He is as He always is, the risen Savior beckoning us to keep on walking toward Him despite the wind and through the waves.

We are being kneaded like bread dough. Perhaps life is kneading you as well. Kneading is a violent process. It hurts. Yet in the end, dough must be kneaded or it will not rise. Faith must be tested, at times violently, or it will not mature. Jesus was kneaded by the torment of His accusers and ultimately by the violence of the cross. And yet for the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross scorning its shame. So then, it is my hope that with God’s help my family and I will one day lay down in green pastures beside still waters.

Until then, we will stand firm and hold fast to the promise, the hope, the assurance and the glorious majesty of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ which is at the heart of the Gospel:

  •  Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.
  • Christ was buried, again, according to the Scriptures.
  • Christ was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.

You think about that. And remember: He is risen!

Lest We Forget

Luke 22:14-16

And when the hour came, He reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And He said to them, ‘I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’

 When I lived in Canada, every November 11, our little town gathered in front of a memorial dedicated to the men and women who died in war. In Canada, November 11 is appropriately celebrated as Remembrance Day – the day when the armistice was signed ending World War 1 in 1918. The motto of Remembrance Day is a simple phrase: “Lest we forget.”

Why do we memorialize the night Jesus was betrayed?

Why do we remember Gethsemane with such solemnity?

Why encourage such serious reflection on the remembrance of Christ’s trial and crucifixion?

Three words. Lest we forget.

If the sacrifice of men and women who died in war is worthy of remembrance, how much more the suffering and death of Jesus Christ? If the sacrifice of men and women who died to preserve our liberty is worthy of remembrance, how much more the crucifixion suffering of Jesus Christ for our salvation?

Yes. Resurrection Sunday is coming. Yes. We know the joy that awaits us three days from now. But lest we forget, that was information the disciples who sat around the table in the upper room did not have.

Well, almost.

Three times before this night, Jesus told His disciples He would be rejected by the elders, chief priests and scribes and be killed, and on the third day He would be raised.

Apparently, they forgot. And if they forgot, who heard it straight from the mouth of Jesus, what makes us think we will fare any better at remembering what He said or what He did.

That’s why we memorialize the night Jesus was betrayed. That’s why we memorialize the events in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve said, “Not Your will, but our will be done.” In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus said, “Not My will, but Your will be done.” However, before Jesus prays Gethsemane, He has one last meal with the apostles in the Upper Room.

Luke 22:17-20

And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks he said, ‘Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.’

Jesus earnestly desired to eat this Passover with His disciples because it would be the last Passover celebrated under the Old Covenant. On the last night of His life, Jesus chose the Passover meal to inaugurate the New Covenant. With the use of two simple yet profound declarations, Jesus transformed the Passover meal from a remembrance of how God miraculously redeemed Israel from slavery in Egypt to the remembrance of His death as the atoning sacrifice that saves us forever from God’s wrath against us for our sin.

“This is My body, . . . .”

“This cup that is poured out for you . . . .”

Lest we forget. Every time we eat the bread and drink the cup we confess our faith in Jesus pierced for our transgressions.

Lest we forget. Every time we eat the bread and drink the cup we confess our faith in Jesus crushed for our iniquities.

Lest we forget. Every time we eat the bread and drink the cup we confess our faith in Jesus who bore the punishment that brought us peace.

Lest we forget. The Lord’s Supper is a covenant meal established by Jesus Christ whereupon every time we eat the bread and drink the cup we confess our faith in Him.

The moment Jesus breaks the bread He declares the New Covenant has begun. However, for a covenant to be legal and binding—in order for it to be in effect blood must be shed. Under the Old Covenant this meant an animal had to be sacrificed. The New Covenant requires a better sacrifice—better blood. The New Covenant may have begun when Jesus broke the bread, but it was not ratified—made legal and binding—until the next day when He is crucified and His blood is shed on the cross.

Under the Old Covenant, the Passover meal was a annual reminder of how God saved Israel from slavery in Egypt. It was also meant to create a longing in the hearts of the people for the arrival of the true Lamb of God, the One who would make an end of sacrifices for sins by taking away forever the sin of the world.

The Lord’s Supper is meant to create a similar longing in our hearts. We know that with the coming of Christ the kingdom of God is already here. However, until Christ returns, the kingdom is not yet fully here. We live in the overlap of the old age and the age to come.

And so, lest we forget, let us eat and drink proclaiming Christ’s death until He comes—until the Lamb of God returns as the Lion of Judah bringing with Him the full revelation, power, and majesty of the kingdom of God. Lest we forget. Let us continue to live by faith in who Jesus is and what He has done. Lest we forget. Let us continue to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Lest we forget. Let us stand firm in our hope in Jesus’ promise to bestow the benefits of His grace upon any one who holds out even a trembling hand to receive by faith the elements of the New Covenant.

In the words of a familiar and appropriate hymn:

King of my life, I crown Thee now, Thine shall the glory be;

Lest I forget Thy thorn-crowned brow, Lead me to Calvary.

Lest I forget Gethsemane; Lest I forget Thine agony;

Lest I forget Thy love for me, Lead me to Calvary.

May I be willing, Lord, to bear Daily my cross for Thee;

Even Thy cup of grief to share, Thou hast borne all for me.

Lest I forget Gethsemane; Lest I forget Thine agony;

Lest I forget Thy love for me, Lead me to Calvary.

Why do we memorialize the night Jesus was betrayed?

Why do we remember Gethsemane with such solemnity?

Why encourage such serious reflection on the remembrance of Christ’s trial and crucifixion?

Three words: Lest we forget.

You think about that.

Debridement as Sanctification

This past June I underwent sinus surgery both to repair a deviated septum and correct some serious structural issues affecting my ability to breathe clearly through my nose. The surgery lasted four hours and was successful. The ability to breathe more freely has not only increased my energy level, it has enabled me sleep through the night. As part of my recovery I had to make weekly visits to the doctor who performed the surgery. In addition to noting my progress the doctor performed a procedure known as debridement (di-‘brēd-ment) For the uninitiated, debridement is the surgical removal of lacerated, devitalized, or contaminated tissue. To call debridement an unpleasant experience would be to sully the word unpleasant. Even with topical anesthesia administered, the treatments were a painful, tear-inducing, nerve-piercing, teeth-jarring, color-inducing experience. And yet they were entirely necessary. For as the name suggests, there was much lacerated, devitalized and contaminated tissue to be removed. With every debridement the doctor hastened the healing process begun by the surgery he performed.

After my fifth debridement I asked my doctor how many more treatments I would need to endure. His answer did not comfort me. “It depends,” he said, “some people only need three or four. I have some patients who needed as many as eleven or twelve.”

“Are you telling me I may need eleven or twelve more treatments?! Does the CIA know about this procedure?”

He laughed. “Yes. And probably, but I couldn’t say—about the CIA, I mean.”

Summer became Fall and Fall became Winter. The debridement continued and with each treatment the doctor noted my progress with encouragement and satisfaction. I am healing well. I am making such good progress I can wait an entire month before needing another debridement. Hopefully, the day will come when I will no longer need debridement nor the prescription medication I take daily. Until then the debridement and daily prescription medication will continue so as to hasten healing and recovery.

It is at this point I am compelled to see in this process a metaphor of the Christian life. Once the surgery is completed, the recovery becomes paramount. For the Christian, the surgery performed is akin to a heart transplant. The LORD God who created us removes our old heart of stone and replaces it with a new heart of flesh. Moreover, He also puts His Spirit within us and it is by means of the Spirit that our new heart beats in rhythm with the cadence of God’s voice, (Ezekiel 36.26, 27). Where once we were out of step with God because we rejected Him, we are now kept in step with Him as we keep in step with His Holy Spirit. We obey God’s voice because we are a new creation. The old is gone. The new has come.

However, there is a problem. Despite the presence of a new heart we are still human. We are still prone to wander, still prone to disobey, still prone to sin against the God who saved us. The remnants of the old heart requires debridement. The surgery is complete. However, the healing and recovery required for the new heart to grow in strength and trust in God requires a lifetime of trust/obedience. The Bible refers to his process of healing and recovery as sanctification. Sanctification is the process by which we grow in holiness through daily repentance from our old way of life through daily obedience to the Spirit who teaches us how to live the new life God has given to us.

In the latter part of the first century, the apostle Paul wrote to Christians living in the Greek city of Corinth. Paul had planted a church there, spending some eighteen months living with them. The Corinthians struggled mightily to follow faithfully everything Paul taught them about Jesus. The Corinthians tried their best to follow Jesus, but they lived in a culture which tested their loyalty to Jesus every day. Paul knew the Corinthians well. Just as important, they knew Paul. They knew his passion for Christ. They knew his love for them. They knew his passion for their sanctification and growth in holiness.

Here is what he tells them in 2 Corinthians 6.16-18 (for the full context read the whole letter):

What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said; ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.’

The Corinthians are the temple of God. They are God’s children. This happened as the result of His sovereign, elective grace. They are all a new creation. He loved them before they knew Him. He loves them even now. And so what is to be their response to the love of God? The surgery is complete. The recovery has begun. And what is to be the evidence of their recovery?

The answer comes at the start of 2 Corinthians 7: “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”

Salvation is an act of God and God alone. Sanctification is a joint effort. We cooperate with the Spirit through daily repentance revealed by daily obedience to God. Think back to my weekly visits to the doctor for debridement. Repentance is the daily debridement of the vestiges of sin left behind after the initial surgery. This debridement is the work of the Spirit. Our part is to keep in step with Him through daily trust in the promises of God. Included among these promises is this truth: we are a new creation in Christ, He has made His dwelling in us and He is a Father to us.

This changes everything! We change because we have been changed. We love God because He has proven His love for us. We give Him everything because He gave us His One and only Son. The power of the gospel is such that everything we need to please God, everything we need to be loved by Him is the gift of His grace. Included among these is the faith to trust Jesus, the insight needed to understand His word, the strength to follow Him and the wisdom to know the difference between grace and law.

I need the daily debridement of the Spirit. Forasmuch as I love and trust Christ, the remnants of the old life still linger. These remnants require the surgical removal of lacerated, devitalized, and contaminated tissue left behind. Pride. Envy. Anger. Greed. Lust. Gluttony. Sloth. Name the sin. The path to holiness requires frequent debridement by the Holy Spirit. The debridement by the Spirit is helped by reading the Bible and prayer. It is also helped by the honest confession of where we have missed the mark of God’s desire for. It is further helped by seeking the company of other Christians who are themselves learning to trust Jesus every day.

Happily for us, the exhortation to cleanse ourselves daily is grounded in the truth God has already made us clean. The exhortation to grow in holiness is grounded in the truth that in Christ we are already holy. It is because we are God’s temple – both as individuals and as His church – we are to undergo the debridement of every defilement of body and spirit. This is how the Spirit brings holiness to completion in the fear of God. And this fear is grounded in the knowledge of His sovereign grace and majestic holiness.

So as the New Year approaches, one way to embrace the future grace of God is to cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit. The debridement of the Holy Spirit is painful, but we have God’s promise that His ultimate purpose is to bring holiness to completion in the fear of God.

You think about that and have a happy New Year.

Christmas

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened., which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

As often I read this text from Luke 2.15-20, I continue to be amazed by the hasty, ecstatic boldness with which the shepherds charge into Bethlehem to find Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus lying in a manger. Compare the visit of the shepherds with that of the wise men in Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 2.1-12). The reverent worship of the wise men is acoustic whereas the boisterous happiness of the shepherds is joy turned up to eleven. Whereas the wise men may have entered softly humming “Adestes Fideles,” the shepherds shatter the silence of that holy night loudly singing “Angels from the Realms of Glory!”

And perhaps that’s the reason why Luke includes the visit by the shepherds. Matthew’s wise men are right to worship in their dignified and reverential manner. Christ is the Messiah. He is worthy of such respectful esteem and quiet adoration. He deserves to be presented with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. He is just as deserving of the ebullient worship offered by common men with callused hands bearing shepherd’s staffs. It is perhaps an oversimplification, but the two accounts describe a Christ who can be worshiped by all: the well-groomed and the common man. Worship with a grosso voce (big voice) is as acceptable as worship with sotto voce (subdued voice).

Some of us can worship Jesus with gold, frankincense and myrrh. Some of us can worship him with callused hands only. No matter. Worship reflects the attitude of the heart toward the Christ who has been sent as Savior, Redeemer and Lord. The voice with which we worship Jesus matters less than the thoughts and intentions of our heart in response to this Good News: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.”

Luke includes the shepherds because although they are unlikely witnesses – they are witnesses nonetheless.[1] And having found Mary and Joseph and the baby, they tell them what they had seen and heard: how an angel of the Lord had appeared to them and told them of the baby’s birth and how suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying; “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.!”

This leads to the second thing that continues to catch my eye in this story is Mary’s response to these unexpected, enthusiastic visitors/worshipers/annunciators of Good News of great joy. Although Luke does not say, Mary must have been exhausted from the labor and delivery of her firstborn. Add to this, she gave birth in a stable of all places! How tired is she? Is she frightened? Anxious? Is she happy? Was she asleep? Her physical or emotional condition notwithstanding, it is her response to what the shepherds say which Luke describes as follows: “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” In other words, Mary contemplates the significance of this thing that has happened.

Some people celebrate Christmas like the angels. They announce the birth of Jesus at the top of their lungs. They greet His birth by singing, “Joy to the world! The Lord is come!” Some people celebrate Christmas like the shepherds. They go to the manger to see this thing that has happened, then return to their work “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”

And then there’s Mary.

If you are an introvert, you know exactly what is happening in Mary’s heart and mind. Every word spoken by the shepherds is cause for rumination, cogitation and deliberation. The Good News of Jesus’ birth confirms her faith in Him who is able to do “far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” Simultaneous with this realization is the awareness of her daily and future dependence on Him who created the universe by the power of His word.

So here is Christmas. Here is Good News. Here is the what C.S. Lewis called the Grand Miracle. Jesus is born. The Word is become flesh. God the ineffable who dwells in unapproachable light has come near. He is the Lord who has taken the form of a Servant to be the Savior. Shepherds announce his birth in joyous repetition of the angelic message. Mary ponders the news and treasures it in her heart.

So let us join them. So let us adore Him. So let us rejoice with them.

Christ is born! Christ is come! Salvation is here!

Hallelujah and Merry Christmas!

 

[1] Shepherds were on the lower rungs of the social order, somewhere between Samaritans and tax collectors. They were considered to be ceremonially unclean by the very religious establishment. They were also considered to be unreliable witnesses and were not used to testify in law courts.

Called to Trust in a Withdrawing God

There are times when a saint is called to trust in a withdrawing God. ‘Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God,’ (Isaiah 50.10). This requires a bold step of faith – to venture into God’s presence with the same temerity as Esther into Ahasuerus’s. Even when no smile lights His face, when no golden scepter is extended to summon us to come near, we must press forward with this noble resolution: ‘If I perish, I perish,’ (Esther 4.16).

The statement above is from The Christian in Complete Armour (I.32) by William Gurnall. Gurnall is a Puritan and he is describing the saint who has entered the season of perplexity.

To be perplexed is to be “called to trust in a withdrawing God.” It is a season the duration of which is determined neither by the size of our faith nor the severity of our affliction. It is a season whose Creator and Time-keeper is the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. The season of perplexity ends when God deems it should end. It is during such seasons we discover whether we are summer Christ-followers and sunshine believers in Him. However, it is not that we will be tempted to stop believing in God. On the contrary, as C.S. Lewis writes in A Grief Observed,

The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there is no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like after all. Deceive yourself no longer.’

To trust in a withdrawing God is to trust in the God who leads us through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. It is to trust in the God who withdrew His presence from His only begotten Son. It is to trust in the God who, as the Alpha and the Omega, is the Beginning and the End. It is to trust in the God who created all things by the word of His power and who by that same powerful word holds all things together.

But since we are so prone to forget these things in the season of perplexity, we have this assurance from the writer to the Hebrews. Speaking about Jesus, he writes:

“Since then we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” – Hebrews 4.14-15

The most startling discovery we can make in the season of perplexity is this: God is not really as we imagined Him. He is infinitely more than we could ever imagine Him. The hurdle we must overcome exists in our own heart because in order for us to make this discovery—and it’s more a revelation from the Holy Spirit than a discovery—is this: the catalyst for such moments of clarity is perplexity, or affliction, or persecution or some other kind of suffering we neither want nor anticipate. Even so, there is solace in knowing Christ can sympathize with our weaknesses because He has been tempted as we are yet is without sin.

It’s been said that God often withdraws from us in order to draw us to closer to Him. This inverse relationship is counter-intuitive. And it appears to be contrary to the gospel accounts of God coming near, the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us and all that. And yet if we are to believe the psalmist (and we should) then we must believe God knows when we sit down and when we rise up. He discerns our thoughts from afar. He searches out our path and our lying down; that He is acquainted with all our ways (cf. Psalm 139.2-3). We may be called to trust in a withdrawing God, even so, He is the God who, despite every appearance of withdrawal, is still intimately aware of every aspect of our daily lives.

This is why the writer to the Hebrews ends his description of Jesus as the great High Priest with this exhortation: “Let us with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need,” (Hebrews 4.16).

Let us be those who with confidence draw near.

We will not perish.

To the contrary, we will find Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

And He will lead us through.

You think about.

Good News for the Perplexed

This past August, I borrowed a friend’s pickup truck to help my daughter move into an apartment near her graduate school. I used the pickup to tow a trailer filled with her belongings some six hundred miles from our home in Ohio.

I have driven a pickup truck before. I have also pulled a trailer with a pickup. What I had not done, until this August, was back up a truck with a trailer attached. To the experienced driver, this is a piece of cake. To the neophyte (me) it is like trying to solve Rubik’s Cube. Such was my dilemma – and my adventure – as I pulled into the tiny parking lot in front of the apartment complex.

Everything is reversed when backing up a trailer. Left is right. Right is left. Turn the wheel the wrong way and the trailer will jackknife. My every attempt (and I lost count) to back up was met with shouts of “Left! No! The other left! No! Right! Turn the wheel to the right!” Needless to say, the more I tried to back up the more perplexed I became. The more perplexed I became the more difficult the task of backing up.

Sometimes life is as perplexing as trying to back up a truck with a trailer hitched to it. Everything is reversed. Right is left. Left is right. Up is down. Down is up. When I am perplexed I am uncomfortable. Humans do not like being uncomfortable. We prefer clarity to confusion; simplicity to stress. And yet it is only when we wrestle through our confusion we learn. It is under stress when we discover strength and resolve we did not realize we possessed. It is when we are perplexed we discover the depth of hope that is ours through trust in Jesus Christ.

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is in the New Testament. It’s found in 2 Corinthians 4.8, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair. . .” The apostle Paul experienced affliction, but God always provided a way out. He experienced perplexity, but he never came to his wit’s end. Affliction inspired him to trust the God who orchestrated his circumstances. Perplexity prompted him to seek out the Lord who led him into tight places. For the Christ-follower this is a learned skill. And the learning process is often painful requiring patience, trust and steadfastness.

As I write this, my family and I are in the midst of a perplexing situation. The details are unimportant. What is important is that we are learning daily to trust the Lord to lead us through uncertain, perplexing times. We are choosing to trust Him rather than yield to despair. We are not always successful. We are human. We have moods. There are days when we brood about the future and grow anxious. There are moments when the temptation to throw up our hands and give up is very great. Yet despite these moods, we stand firm. Now lest you marvel at our steadfastness, let me assure you that the strength to stand firm does not originate from within us. It is given to us by the One who has orchestrated our circumstances. It is imparted to us by the Lord who leads us into tight spaces. In our discomfort we are learning the power of His comforting grace. In our distress we are discovering the enduring strength of His steadfast love. In realizing our foolishness we are learning to trust more and more in His infinite wisdom.

So even though being perplexed is uncomfortable, it is not a bad thing. It is an opportunity to learn more patience, more trust and more steadfastness through faith in Jesus.

Eventually, and just before frustration set in, I managed to back the trailer to within a reasonable distance from the front door. As I got out of the truck – and noticing the trailer was a good thirty feet from the front door – I quipped, “They tell student pilots, ‘Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing.’”

All right. So the trailer was thirty feet from the front door. However, the trailer was undamaged. No other cars were damaged (and there were several in the lot). Of greater importance, my friend’s pickup truck was undamaged.

Here is some good news: No one emerges from a season of being perplexed having done everything to perfection.

Then again, God does not expect perfection.

He expects faithfulness.

And here’s some more good news: God gives us the faith to pursue faithfulness.

You think about that.

Jars of Clay Filled with the Surpassing Power of God

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

This passage, written by the apostle Paul is from 2 Corinthians 4.7-10. It is one of my favorite texts in the entire Bible—especially verse 8. The Revised English Bible translates perplexed, but not driven to despair as bewildered, but never at our wits’ end.

Have you ever been perplexed? I draw hope from verse 8 because it tells me that it’s all right to be perplexed. It’s all right to be bewildered. It’s all right to be confused by your circumstances. The key is not to allow perplexity drive you to despair. Do not let bewilderment drive you to hopelessness. Do not let confusion cloud your judgment such that it drives you away from the Lord who can resolve your confusion.

The saying goes, “Life is hard. But God is good.” However, and let’s be honest here, we Americans often reverse it to say, “Life is good. But God is hard.” Is He? Not according to Paul. And Paul knew how hard life could be (see 2 Corinthians 11.24-28). He also knew that the surpassing power to thrive in the hard places came from the God whose mercy filled him with hope so as not to lose heart.

The treasure Paul refers to is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. He is talking about the Gospel. In saying “we have this treasure in jars of clay” Paul exhorts the Corinthians to remember what they were before they turned to follow Jesus—”not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth,” (1 Corinthians 1.26). The Corinthians were not “perfect” when God called them. No one ever is. We’re all sinners. We’re all jars of clay. That’s the truth. It’s also what makes the Gospel such good news.

It’s why Paul can write . . .

. . . God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord, (1 Corinthians 1.27-31).

We have this treasure in jars of clay because God put it there. We did not choose Him. He chose us. He chose us so that the surpassing power might be from Him and not from us. The surpassing power of the gospel is nothing less than the surpassing power of the Holy Spirit. Just as the Spirit removes the veil from our hardened heart so that we can see the glory of God in the face of Christ, so too, the Spirit empowers us in our weakness to bear witness to Jesus Christ. It is only by the surpassing power of God that the revelation of His glory can be revealed by the gospel. Consider with amazement the fact God has chosen to display this surpassing power, this treasure—the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus (v. 6)—in men and women who are mere jars of clay. Our weakness is God’s opportunity to show Himself strong on our behalf.

It is because the surpassing power is from God we can be His witnesses through the hardships we experience as we follow Jesus. Paul did not call the Corinthians to seek out ways they could suffer for the Gospel. He simply reminded them that their weakness is God’s opportunity to show Himself strong on their behalf. We are not called to seek deliberately opportunities to suffer for Jesus’ sake. However, we should not be surprised when we do suffer. The truth is sometimes we will suffer for Jesus’ sake, and sometimes we will suffer simply because we live in a broken world. Either way, whatever the reason, we can endure because the surpassing power to do so comes from God and not from us. We may not like it, but endurance with praise, not escaping from pain is the evidence that the kingdom of God is here.

Earlier, in 2 Corinthians 1.8-10, Paul explained that the reason for his suffering— “was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril and He will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that He will deliver us again.” Paul’s evaluation of his present suffering in the light of his future hope explains why following Jesus requires both perseverance and self-denial—especially when we must suffer for the sake of Christ. While such suffering may sacrifice, we will never give up more than we have received (or will ever receive) in, through and from trust in Christ. Whatever we give up in the present—including life itself—pales in comparison to “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus,” (cf., Philippians 3.8).

This is the perfect lead in to verses 8 and 9—

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; (we are) perplexed, but not driven to despair; (we are) persecuted, but not forsaken; (we are) struck down, but not destroyed.”

The Malanga paraphrase goes something like this: “We are squeezed between a rock and a hard place but not left without an escape route; we are left without a clue but not left totally clueless; we are wrung out but not hung out to dry; we are knocked down but not knocked out.”

The point of all these contrasts is this: as long as we live in this present evil age it is endurance in the midst of hardship, not the immediate deliverance from trouble that unveils the surpassing power of God. Sometimes we are squeezed between a rock and a hard place for Jesus’ sake. But what happens when we are afflicted, perplexed, persecuted and struck down and it’s not for Jesus’ sake? What then? You don’t need a college diploma to know life can be very hard. We live in a fallen world. And a fallen world is often very unfair and cruelly unkind to Christ-followers. Sometimes it seems we Christians suffer more than non-Christians (read Psalm 73 for some perspective on that dilemma). However, when we have hope in Christ, we are equipped with the surpassing power of God. And so equipped we can be afflicted in every way, yet not be crushed; we can be perplexed, yet not be driven to despair; we can be persecuted, yet are confident we are not forsaken; and even when we are struck down we are not destroyed.

We may not feel very brave or very strong as we enter these trials. We may, like Paul, even come to the conclusion that we have received the death sentence. If so, it is important to remember that at his lowest point Paul clung to the revelation that these things happen so that we will learn to rely not our ourselves but on God who raises the dead. Our weakness is God’s opportunity to show Himself strong on our behalf. God uses the weak to unveil the glory of His surpassing power through their weakness. The power to endure comes from God through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit reminds us of our hope in Christ. The Spirit assures us that our faith is not in vain. The Spirit “comforts us in our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the same comfort with which we ourselves are comforted.”

Paul is not calling all Christians to suffer the same things. Nor is he saying that we should think of suffering as the only means to getting revelation from God. Nor is he saying we should those who suffer as possessing a higher order of spirituality than others. In the providence of God some believers live significantly more peaceful and healthier lives than others. So those who are not suffering should not seek to do so. They should seek to be faithful to God, banking their hope on His promises so that meeting the needs of others becomes more important than securing their own future.

The first question and answer from the Heidelberg Catechism is as follows:

What is your only comfort in life and death?

That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

To follow Jesus Christ in this life does not confer on us the ability to escape suffering. On the contrary, the Holy Spirit gives us the power to endure suffering for the sake of Christ and His church. The glory of godliness consists in this—the life of faith takes place within the context of the suffering of God’s people, who being “saved in hope” (Romans 8.17-25), live and endure by the power of the Spirit while they await the future consummation. Until then, God will use our weakness to reveal the glory of His surpassing power through our frailty.

You think about that.

Blessed are Those Who Doubt – A Sermon for Easter 2014

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.’

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’

 John 20.24-29 

Several years ago, while sitting in a taxi, stuck in London traffic, N.T. Wright, the former Bishop of Durham, had the following conversation with the taxi driver—

“So, what do you do for a living?” asked the cabbie.

“I am a bishop in the Church of England,” said Wright.          

‘Is that right?’ answered the cabbie. ‘I’m Roman Catholic myself.’ And then to show he was up on current events, he added, ‘You Church of England people are still having all that trouble about women bishops, aren’t you? The way I look at it, is this:’ he said, ‘if God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, all the rest is basically rock’n’roll.’ 

[From Resurrection & Rock’n’Roll, a sermon by N.T. Wright, Easter, 4 April 2010]

If Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, then God has won the decisive victory over the forces of darkness, and He will win the final victory that results. In course of time and human history, God will work out everything else. And since God has it all sorted out—all the rest is, well, basically rock’n’roll.

But what if you happen to be tone deaf? What if everyone else around you “gets it” except you? What if everyone else seems not only to know the tune, but the words, too. And they all seem to be having such a good time listening to music you just can’t quite seem to hear.

This is likely how Thomas felt when all the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” They heard the music, but Thomas could not. He may have wanted to sing the lyrics, but without seeing Jesus that wasn’t going to happen.

This may seem like an odd story for an Easter sermon, but something drew my attention to it. As important as it is, I am not drawn to this story because of Thomas’ confession, “My Lord and my God!” As important as it is, I am not drawn to this text so much because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and miraculously appears in the upper room in the same way he appeared to the disciples directly after his resurrection. As important as all these elements of the story are to our faith, I am drawn to this story is because of the grace Jesus Christ shows to Thomas.

John tells us Thomas was not there when Jesus appeared to the disciples on the evening of His resurrection. Despite the eyewitness accounts of Peter and John, despite the witness of the two disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus and despite the testimony of Mary Magdalene and the other women who saw Jesus on the morning of the resurrection, Thomas would not believe they saw Jesus alive. And he was emphatic about it.

“Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

That is a strong statement. In fact, it sounds like an ultimatum. And it’s all the more remarkable because it is spoken by someone who spent three years following Jesus from Capernaum to Jerusalem, from Galilee to Gethsemane. More to the point, as one of the apostles, Thomas would have heard Jesus talk about His death and resurrection on three separate occasions. So it is surprising to hear  Thomas say, “Unless I see . . . . I will never believe.”

History tends not to be kind to Thomas. “Doubting Thomas” he is called. But it is unfair to stick that label on him. It’s unfair because in John 11, when Jesus is making plans to visit the tomb of his friend Lazarus in the town of Bethany, the other apostles warn Jesus that if he goes there the Jews will stone Him. The only one of the twelve who shows any courage is Thomas. While the others warn Jesus not to go, Thomas stands up and says, “Let us also go with Him that we may die with Him.”

Now I ask you: Is that the kind of statement made by a man who is prone to doubt? Is that the kind of courage you’d expect from a doubting man? Is that the kind of fearless bravado you’d expect from someone prone to doubt? More often than not, a man given to doubt is the last one man willing to step up and risk his life when no one else will.

Yes, Thomas and the rest of the 11 did all run away when Jesus when he was arrested. But if you remember, they all ran away so that the Scripture could be fulfilled. As soon as the Shepherd was struck down the sheep all scattered, Thomas among them. The desertion of Jesus by Thomas and the rest had as much to do with the fulfillment of biblical prophecy as it did cowardice on their part.

So what do we make of Thomas’s ultimatum, er declaration, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe”? Is it an ultimatum spoken by a man wracked with doubt? Or is it the statement of a man who is still in the grip of grief?

Judging by his willingness to die with Jesus in Bethany, Thomas was a passionate man. Passionate people grieve passionately. And when passionate people grieve passionately they say passionate things. They say things such as, “Let us also go with Him that we may die with Him.” They may also issue absolute statements like, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Passionate people say passionate things because they are passionate. Thomas is a passionate man.

Thomas wants to believe Jesus is alive. More than anything he wants to believe what his friends are saying is true. And yet, why did Jesus appear to them and not to Thomas? Was he being punished because he was not with the others when Jesus appeared to them all on the night of His resurrection? Grief and pain can make a person believe things that are not true. But as we will soon find out, things are not what they seem.

How are to understand Thomas? What are we supposed to think about a man who walked with Jesus, who labored with Jesus, and who followed Jesus for three years – yet issues to what amounts to an ultimatum regarding his belief in the resurrection? What do we make of a man who is as passionate, as devoted and as willing to die for Jesus as was Thomas? What do we make of a man who wants to believe yet issues an ultimatum, that unless he sees Jesus, and His wounds, with his own eyes he will never believe?

Remember. Thomas is no late-comer to faith. He is a believer. He is a Christ follower. And yet he lays down these very specific terms. More curious is that no one in that room, no one among the disciples stands up to correct Thomas. No one accuses him of not having faith. No one criticizes him for issuing his ultimatum. No one reprimands him for his impudence. Perhaps no one says anything because they recognize his words are motivated more by grief than by doubt.

What would it take for you to believe Jesus is risen from the dead?

There may be some reading this post who believe Jesus rose from the dead. You accept the resurrection as an historical reality. No explanation is required. No proof is needed. Like me, you believe the testimony of the apostles. We believe the Bible when it tells us that Jesus Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

There may also be some reading this post who, at one time, believed in Jesus. And maybe there are some reading this who have never believed in Jesus. Perhaps you you’re reading because you are curious, you want to believe but there is this pain, there is some hurt, there is a scar from some wound inflicted long ago. It is hidden from others, yet it hurts. It hurts so much that when you hear people talk with vitality about Jesus, when you hear them talk with joy about this Christ who is risen, when you hear them talk with such certainty about His resurrection you want to believe, but like Thomas you are still gripped by grief. And maybe internally you have given God an ultimatum. You have decided that, like Thomas, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

And thus far God has not met your terms. You have not seen. You haven’t experienced the joy Thomas did. You want to, but you have not. If so, maybe today is the day that is your “eight days later.” Maybe today is the day, when Jesus will come and stand before you.

It is worth noting that eight days pass between the time Thomas makes his comment and Jesus appears a second time to the apostles and to Thomas. And he does so in the very exact same manner as he appeared to them on that first Easter Sunday.

“The doors being locked and Jesus came and stood among them,” (20.19, 26b)

Jesus just appeared. At that moment Thomas was aware something was different. Here is Jesus just as he demanded. Just as he insisted. Just as he ordered. Jesus showed up.

What do you suppose was going through Thomas’ mind at that moment? Do you think he was afraid of Jesus? Do you think he was preparing to be scolded by Jesus? Do you think he was afraid Jesus would smite him for his impudence? Whatever fear Thomas may have had, Jesus put him immediately at ease by His greeting: “Peace be with you.” Jesus greets him simply, calmly, lovingly, graciously. And then he does something incredible. He looks straight at Thomas and says, “Put your finger here and see My hands and put your hand and place it in My side. Do not continue disbelieving, let’s start believing and keep on believing.”

This is Grace. Jesus agreed to Thomas’s terms. He agreed to Thomas’s conditions. He agreed to Thomas’ demands. Jesus submitted Himself to Thomas’ ultimatum! This is Grace. Thomas had said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails and place my hand into His side I will never believe.” And here is Jesus saying, “All right Thomas. Here I am. Put your finger here and see My hands and put your hand and place it in My side. Do not continue disbelieving, let’s start believing and keep on believing.”

John does not tell us how Jesus knew the exact terms of Thomas’ ultimatum, nor does he tells us whether or not Thomas indeed put his finger into the mark of the nails or placed his hand into his side. What John does tell us is, Thomas answered Jesus and said, “My Lord and my God!” The moment Jesus appeared to him, Thomas was overwhelmed by grace. And his response was to confess his trust/obedience in Jesus Christ and call Him “My Lord and my God!”

So what will it take you to believe Jesus is risen from the dead? What are your terms for believing Jesus is alive?

Jesus graciously appeared to Thomas. Jesus did not rebuke. He did not scold. He did not correct. He simply appeared and met Thomas on his terms. And He did so lovingly, compassionately, peacefully and with grace. Disbelieving Thomas is not Believing Thomas. Grace is why He agreed to meet Thomas’ conditions. Grace is why He invited Thomas to make his own examination of the facts. “Go ahead,” says Jesus, “Make your examination. Poke. Prod. Test. It really is Me. I AM real. I AM genuine. I AM true. Do not continue disbelieving, but start believing and keep on believing.” Grace is why Jesus received Thomas’ worship.

So what are your terms for believing Jesus Christ is risen from the dead? What requirements must He meet before you will believe He died to rescue from your sins? What conditions must He meet in order for to make the same confession as Thomas?

Some of you have established your terms not because you doubt, not because you question the validity of whether Jesus is risen or not, not because you question the sincerity of your good friend who talks so passionately Jesus. On the contrary, perhaps the reason you want Jesus to prove Himself is because somewhere in your past God or someone you trust let you down. And it hurt. And you got angry and you’ve stayed angry all these years.

If that’s you, here is good news. The war between you and God ended on Good Friday. It ended when Jesus died on a cross that was placed on a hill overlooking the town garbage dump. It ended with the death of the Son of God and the sign and seal of that truce, the evidence of that treaty, the proof of that covenant of love and faithfulness and loyalty and of peace, is Jesus Christ who died then three days later was raised from the dead. Here is more good news: Jesus is alive. He says, “Peace be with you.” He offers you this invitation, “Make your examination. Poke. Prod. Test. It really is Me. I AM real. I AM genuine. I AM true. Do not continue disbelieving, but start believing and keep on believing.” I AM as Thomas confessed. I AM your Lord and God.

One more thing. Immediately after Thomas makes his confession Jesus says something very puzzling:

“Have you believed,” he asks Thomas, “because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Here is the amazing comfort offered to us by this comment: there is an old saying, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross,” meaning that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” In the same way, “The ground is level at the foot of the empty tomb.” Everyone who believes Jesus is risen from the dead is blessed. Everyone who puts their trust/obedience in Jesus is blessed. Everyone who relies and depends on Jesus to rescue them is blessed. Those who saw Jesus immediately after His resurrection are no more blessed than we who believe but have not seen Him with our eyes or placed our hands in His wounds.

We do not have to see Jesus Christ to believe He is risen. We do not have to see Jesus Christ to know He is alive. We do not have to see Jesus to be blessed by Him.History may give Thomas the label, Doubting Thomas, but we know better. And even if he did doubt, well there is grace for that, too. In fact, you might even say–

Blessed are those who doubt for they will receive grace to believe. Blessed are those who doubt for they will receive mercy to trust in Christ. Blessed are those who doubt for they will be blessed by God with faith to trust in Jesus now and forever.

Each year at Easter we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We rejoice and we say, “He is risen!” And as we who worship Him, Jesus issues the invitation to experience the wonderfully gracious, powerfully majestic, and awesomely peaceful moment when, like Thomas, Jesus stands before you and you say as he did, “My Lord and my God.”

After that, all the rest is basically rock’n’roll.

 You think about that.

 

 

 

 

When I Read the Bible I am Definitely Old School

Dear Travelers, 

First, a disclaimer. I am not opposed to i-Tech. I own an iPhone and an iPad. I am not put off by the current myriad of newfangled, whizz-bang gadgets and apps – except perhaps the plethora of Bible apps. And now, a second disclaimer. I have and do make frequent use of several Bible apps on my phone and laptop. So what is my problem? What ought do I have against such a wonderfully helpful, perfectly convenient, and marvelously handy tool as a Bible app?

Simply this: it lacks the sense of immanence communicated by the feel of holding a leather-bound Bible. There is something visceral about the aroma of paper imprinted with ink. The sterile stare of digitally created words cannot match the feel of paper in my hand as I turn from one page to the next. I like being able to underline meaningful words and verses. I like scribbling personal insights in the margin of my Bible. I smile when I consider the possibility that my children, perhaps even my grandchildren, will read my Bible and read my notes. Those notes measure the growth of my faith in the same way the pencil marks on our kitchen threshold were used to measure the growth of our children.

When I read the Bible on an electronic device the experience is one of rush and hurry, coolness and distance. The experience has no depth. The encounter with the Word leaves my soul as flat as the digitalized, pixelated text on my handheld screen. At least paper has texture. It has dimension. It is tactile and I like tactile. It’s the difference between watching a baseball game and feeling the impact of the ball in your glove or the sting of the bat in your hands. It just feels real.

2014-03-21 15.27.58When I pick up my worn, leather-bound translation of the Bible (ESV*), it’s as if I am visiting with an old friend. And I am. There is no rush. There is no hurry. There is a proper pace to the experience. The Bible read on an electronic device may create a connection but it does not create intimacy. How could it when the same device with which I read the Bible is also used to check email, surf the internet or play Angry Birds (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

In comparison with most forms of i-Technology, the Bible has a single-purpose: to be read. And it is in the reading we experience the Presence of The Author. It is by design that Scripture printed on pages made of paper is to be read slowly. References can be sought for without fear of losing battery life. Time can be taken to mull and to meditate, to ponder and to pray. And if necessary to underline a significant passage or write a note in the margin. When I read the Bible I am definitely old school.

However, it is not nostalgia that prompts me to read the Bible on paper. It is the expectation of encountering on every page the God who wrote it. When I read the Bible on a handheld device it is a matter of convenience. When I read the Bible on paper it is a moment for worship. The elaborate nature of that last statement notwithstanding, the point remains.

To open a Bible with frayed front and back covers, with pages grayed, worn and loose, one with margins filled with penciled notes and underlined passages; to open a Bible like that establishes the intimacy reading Scripture is supposed to create.

Here is a faithful friend. Here is the eternally true word from the Word who is both Eternal and True. Here is wisdom this world can neither match nor fathom. Here is Life offered by the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Here is God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit now present, now teaching, now correcting, now encouraging, now exhorting, now comforting, and always, always, always welcoming and inviting us further up and further in!

When I read the Bible I am definitely old school.

How about you?

 

I Resolve to Live Faithfully, Part 2

Dear Travelers,

Think of someone with whom you do not get along. It may be someone at work or school. It may be someone in your immediate family. It may even be someone in the church you attend. In fact, it what I am about to suggest will work better if it is someone in Covenant.

Have you thought about them?

Here’s what I suggest you do. Invite them over for dinner or dessert. Find a way to serve with them. Join their Bible study or community group. Or better yet invite them to join your Bible study or community group. The purpose of living in community is to humanize our brothers and sisters. As long as we keep our distance from those with whom we do get along, we never really learn to see them as someone for whom Jesus died. So get to know them. Listen to their story. Make the astonishing discovery that they have had some very serious challenges and yet the Lord stood by them. More importantly, they stood by the Lord. They chose to live faithfully by trusting in the faithfulness of God.

And learn from them.

If living faithfully means trusting in the faithfulness of God, then trusting in the faithfulness of God requires practicing what Jesus preaches in the company of others who practice what Jesus preaches.

In Philippians 4.2-3, the apostle Paul mentions two women, Euodia and Syntyche. Paul describes these women as having “labored side by side with me in the gospel,” (v. 3). However, something happened and a disagreement chilled their friendship. So concerned is Paul that they reconcile he urges them to work out their differences. For Euodia and Syntyche, living faithfully will mean forgiving one another just as God in Christ has forgiven them.

Practicing what Jesus preaches means learning to work out our own salvation as part of a community of other believers who are also practicing what Jesus preaches. The exact nature of the disagreement that divided Euodia and Syntyche is lost to history. This much is certain: the path toward reconciliation is paved by the decision to practice what Jesus preaches in the company of others who practice what Jesus preaches.

Just in case these two women could not reconcile on their own, Paul requested the help of a third party. The identity of the person Paul identifies as “true companion” is unknown. Some say it’s a fellow named Syzygus (lit., loyal yokefellow). Others believe it may have been Dr. Luke, the author of the gospel that bears his name as well as the Acts of the Apostles. Whoever the “true companion” was, Paul appealed to him to mediate and help Euodia and Syntyche reconcile.

Paul counted on all three to live faithfully. His appeal is grounded in the confident hope that when men and women live faithfully by trusting in the faithfulness of God they will practice what Jesus preaches; they will behave as mature followers of Jesus Christ. They will set aside their pride and seek reconciliation by considering others as more important than themselves (Philippians 2.3).

It’s not known whether or not Euodia and Syntyche reconciled. I like to think that they did. And I like to think that the person Paul calls “true companion” helped.

So let’s return to my opening statement. Think of someone with whom you do not get along. Whatever is the reason as to why you do not get along, can you envision the two of you reaching reconciliation? Is there a third party to whom you can appeal for help in reaching the point of forgiving one another just as God in Christ has forgiven you?

We tend to think of disciplines like living faithfully as requiring us to do great things, perform mighty deeds and aspire to heroic achievements. And while such exploits are sometimes the result of living faithfully, at its core, living faithfully means practicing what Jesus preaches. It means loving God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. It means learning to love your neighbor as yourself. Sometimes it means learning to ask for and receive forgiveness.

And sometimes it means learning to practice forgiveness and doing so as a daily discipline.

You think about that.