Thursday, October 31, 2013


Today is the fourth day in our 43rd week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures today are: Ezekiel 10-12; John 4; Psalm 83.

"You have feared the sword, and I will bring the sword upon you, declares the Lord God (Ezekiel 11:8 ESV)."

Today is Halloween--a day in which people have fun with fear.  Children dressed as ghosts, goblins, and witches wander the streets.  Teenagers play pranks on unsuspecting neighbors.  After the trick-or-treating is done, people settle in to watch a scary movie.  That might be all in good fun, but God's Word tells us that we need to be careful what we fear.

Proverbs 23:7 (KJV) says, "For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he"  In other words, we tend to become what we think about.  Whatever we focus our hearts on, that's what we develop inside ourselves.

There's a spiritual principle that says, "Like attracts like."  This means that goodness attracts more goodness.  Evil attracts more evil.  Suspicion and intrigue invite more of the same.  Gratitude and generosity open you to receive.  Jesus said, "All who draw the sword will die by the sword (Matthew 26:52 NIV)."  It's a universal principle.  There's fairness and reciprocity inherent in God's creation.  Through Ezekiel, God told the people of Jerusalem that since they feared the sword, that's exactly what they would get.  So be careful what you fear, because you tend to get what you're afraid of.

In the same way that you should be careful what you fear, you should also be careful what you say you're afraid of.  Would you tell your worst enemy what your darkest fears are?  Of course not--because you know they'd use your fears against you.  So why would you speak fear, even when you think you're alone?  The enemy of your soul is listening--and when you speak your fears, you've just given him a weapon to use against you.

It's better to be fearless.  2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV) says, "God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control."  1 John 4:18 (NIV) tells us, "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love."

Jesus has defeated the powers of sin, hell, death, and the devil.  If you're a Christian, then you ought to be fearless.  Don't let fear grip your soul.  Don't spend your time thinking and speaking about the things you fear.  Focus instead on Christ, and on His unfailing love.  Philippians 4:6-9 tells us:

 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What Kind of God do we Have?

Today is the third day in our 43rd week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures* today are Ezekiel 7-9; John 3.

When you read the OT passage today, and then turn to the NT scripture, it might make the reader ask, "What kind of God do we have, anyway?"  The Ezekiel passage speaks of a God of destruction, wreaking vengeance upon His own people.  In chapter 9, we see a vision in which God sends executioners throughout Jerusalem, putting idolaters to death:

1Then I heard him call out in a loud voice, “Bring near those who are appointed to execute judgment on the city, each with a weapon in his hand.” 2And I saw six men coming from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with a deadly weapon in his hand. With them was a man clothed in linen who had a writing kit at his side. They came in and stood beside the bronze altar.
3Now the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim, where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple. Then the Lord called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side4and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.”
5As I listened, he said to the others, “Follow him through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. 6Slaughter the old men, the young men and women, the mothers and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the old men who were in front of the temple.
7Then he said to them, “Defile the temple and fill the courts with the slain. Go!” So they went out and began killing throughout the city. 8While they were killing and I was left alone, I fell facedown, crying out, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! Are you going to destroy the entire remnant of Israel in this outpouring of your wrath on Jerusalem?”
9He answered me, “The sin of the people of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great; the land is full of bloodshed and the city is full of injustice. They say, ‘The Lord has forsaken the land; the Lord does not see.’10So I will not look on them with pity or spare them, but I will bring down on their own heads what they have done.”

Then, in John 3, it might seem to some that there's an entirely different kind of God, one who gives love and mercy.  Verses 16-17 say:

16For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

So, the reader may ask, "What kind of God do we have?  A God of wrath and destruction or one that loves the world so much that He will give His only Son to die so that we might be saved?"   We are likely to say, "God is both a God of vengeance, and a God of grace.  We see God's grace when He sends Jesus to save us from His vengeance."  

In his book Love Wins,** author Rob Bell writes:

Many have heard the gospel framed in terms of rescue.  God has to punish sinners, because God is holy, but Jesus has paid the price for our sin, and so we can have eternal life.  However true or untrue that is technically or theologically, what it can do is subtly teach people that Jesus rescues us from God.
Let's be very clear, then: we do not need to be rescued from God.  God is the one who rescues us from death, sin, and destruction.  God is the rescuer. 

While I do not endorse everything that Bell says in his book, I do think he makes a very good point here.  We need to understand that God is always a God of love and of grace.  

But, if that's true, then how do we deal with scriptures that talk about God bringing punishment on the wicked?  We need to understand that destruction isn't something that God does to people that He hates, any more than salvation is something that He gives to people that he loves more than others.  Instead, individuals choose destruction or salvation based on their inclination toward God's light or the darkness of the world.  John 3:18-21 says:

18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

In His constant love and mercy, God is always reaching out to redeem people.  The problem is that (contrary to Rob Bell's book) some people will never accept God's gift of grace.  Rejecting God's love, they become destructive forces in the world.  God is then left with a choice--either to allow those destructive people to obliterate everything around them, or to stop them.  At times, it may even take the annihilation of some people in order to stem the tide of their evil, and keep their disease from causing wholesale destruction.  God does not enjoy this kind of thing, but in His goodness He sometimes cuts the cancer out of the organism of humanity, in order to keep the disease from spreading everywhere.

Our problem is that we are like a patient who says to the surgeon, "You must be a bipolar kind of doctor, because with one hand you dispense medication that will heal me, and with the other hand you cut me!"  It's our lack of understanding that makes it seem like God is sometimes vengeful and sometimes gracious.  In reality, God is always loving and gracious--loving enough to save anyone who will believe and receive His Son, and gracious enough to give every sinner countless chances to turn to Him.

*Scriptures are taken from the NIV.
**Bell, Rob.  Love Wins, A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.  Harper Collins: New York.  2011.  

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

People Who Think That They're Gods

Today is the second day in our 43rd week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  Ezekiel 4-6; John 2; Psalm 82

Have you ever known somebody who thought they were a god?  These people are difficult to deal with, as they can't be taught, reasoned with, or counted on to have an open mind.  They believe that their opinion is the only opinion, and that, like E.F. Hutton, when they speak, everyone listens.

The psalmist Asaph wrote about such people in Psalm 82 (NIV), when he said:

1God presides in the great assembly;
he renders judgment among the “gods”:
2“How long will you defend the unjust
and show partiality to the wicked?
3Defend the weak and the fatherless;
uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
4Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
5“The ‘gods’ know nothing, they understand nothing.
They walk about in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
6“I said, ‘You are “gods”;
you are all sons of the Most High.’
7But you will die like mere mortals;
you will fall like every other ruler.”
8Rise up, O God, judge the earth,
for all the nations are your inheritance.

In the original Hebrew, these verses that mention "gods" are a bit troublesome.  Bible scholars disagree as to the exact meaning, because clearly, there is only one God.  The word elohim is what's referred to as a "singular plural," meaning that sometimes it takes a singular and sometimes a plural number.  The word "army" would be an English example of a singular plural--an army is one thing, but multiplicity is understood within it.  At times, elohim is translated as "God," and Christians understand that the multiplicity inside the singular refers to the Trinity.  At other times, it is simply rendered "gods."  To confuse things even more, sometimes elohim refers to angels, or "divine beings."

In this case, elohim refers to human rulers or judges, such as magistrates or members of the Jewish Sanhedrin.  It is impossible for elohim to mean "gods" or "angels" in this psalm, since verse 7 clearly states that these people are mortal.

In this psalm, Asaph pleads with God to judge the judges.  He comes against them for defending the unjust and showing partiality to the wicked.  He reminds them of their responsibility to work justice and righteousness and compassion on the earth.  Yet, their minds and hearts are far from God, so instead they walk in darkness.  A trickle-down theory applies here, in that the darkness of the judges creates a darkness over the whole land.  The psalmist reminds these wicked leaders that they are mortal, and that one day they will face the True Judge.

All of us have known people who believe that they are gods.  Some New Agers actually believe that they are divine beings in wrappers of flesh.  Other people simply put themselves in seats of judgment over people that they believe are beneath them.  Some of these folks work in government or in Hollywood, but others are right here in our own hometown...and they're in your community as well.  This psalm reminds us that they are mortal.  Meaning, of course, that their "reign" won't last forever.  It reminds us that they will stand before the Righteous Judge who will utter a just verdict.  

Monday, October 28, 2013

In the Beginning Was the Word

Today is the first day in our 43rd week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures this week are:

  •  Ezekiel 1-3; John 1
  •  Ezek 4-6; John 2; Psalm 82
  •  Ezek 7-9; John 3
  •  Ezek 10-12; John 4; Psalm 83
  •  Ezek 13-15; John 5; Psalm 136
Since my blog is called "Love the Word," how could I resist writing about John 1, when it comes up in our readings?  Verses 1-5 (NIV) say:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The God's Eye Nebula
In the beginning was the Logos, the Word.  The Word of God existed before it was spoken.  The active, dynamic, creative principle of God in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28) existed before God spoke the universe into being.  And the Word was more than just a principle--The Word was Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, perfect and beautiful.  He couldn't yet be called Jesus, since Jesus is the name of a carpenter from Nazareth who was born to Mary over two thousand years ago.  Before the Word was born into the human flesh called Jesus, He still existed.  He has existed from all eternity.  

Through the pre-incarnate Christ the world was made.  He possessed--or, rather, He was and is--life.  Not that he has life--that would be far too simple for us to say.  Instead, we understand that Christ is Life itself (John 14:6).  Meaning that everything that's alive, lives because of, in, and through Him.  And anyone who has eternal life possesses it through Christ. 

This unending life generates all the light in the cosmos.  Light doesn't come from the Sun or stars--it comes from Christ, who infused those heavenly bodies with the holy fire that produces light.  If they ceased to shine, there would still be light.  In fact, Revelation 21:23 says that one day the earth will not "need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp."

There are a lot of translations for the final phrase of verse 5:

  • The darkness can never extinguish it (NLT).
  • The darkness did not comprehend it (NASB).
  • The darkness has never put it out (ISV).
  • The darkness has not mastered it (NET).
  • The darkness did not overcome it (HCSB).
  • The darkness did not perceive it (YLT).

The Greek word in question is κατέλαβεν (katelaben).  It means, literally, to aggressively take hold of, to seize with eager self-interest, to overtake, or apprehend, or make one's own.  For that reason, I probably prefer the NET for this verse.  No matter how much it tries, the darkness can never grasp the light of Christ.  It can't grasp him intellectually.  It can't fathom His beauty.  It can't lay hold of him to control Him.  It can't defeat Him.  It can't dominate Him.

Verses 9-10, 14 (NIV) talk about the incarnation of Christ.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him...The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

I'm staggered by the incomprehensible magnitude of those few sentences.  The eternal glorious light, the life-giving principle of the universe, the truth and wisdom and word of God pitched his tent among us.  At this point, the Logos of God, the pre-existent Christ, became Jesus.  He shed garments of light and traded them for fragile skin that could sweat in the sun, get goosebumps in the cold, heal and love with a touch, and be torn by the torturer's scourge.

He did all this for us...and we didn't even recognize that it was Him.

Like the emperor who dressed as a pauper so he could walk unseen among his people, God took on human flesh.  For thirty-three years he visited us, and most people never realized it was God walking among them.

Because the darkness can't comprehend the light.  It can't even recognize it.

Yet, even though the darkness has so much trouble grasping the light, God loved the darkness anyway.  Enough to shed His light on the darkness and redeem it.  "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned (Isaiah 9:2 NIV)."  We find out how we can e saved by His light in John 1:11-13, which says:

He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Though He came to give light to everyone, not everyone will receive that light.  The Bible says that individuals must receive Him as their Savior.  They must believe in Him, by name, if they want the right to become children of God.  Everyone is the creation of God, born for the first time out of the water from the mother's womb, but not all people will become God's children who are born of the Spirit.  Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:5-7:

“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’"

This is why He came--so that you could be born again.  So that you could be saved.  If you haven't placed your trust in Jesus, I invite you to do so today.  If you're a believer, then I remind you to shed His light in a dark world--so that those who walk in darkness can see His great light.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Holy Fire

Today is the final day in our 42nd week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures* today are:  Jeremiah 50-51; 2 Peter 3.

Do you like fire?  I know it's a strange question, but some people absolutely LOVE fire.  Pyromaniacs have an obsession with fire, and can spend hours staring at hypnotizing flames.  Give them any excuse to burn something, and they're lighting a match.  Other people, on the other hand, are terrified of fire.  Pyrophobics aren't just afraid of flames if their houses are burning down--that would make sense.  They're afraid of warm cozy fireplaces, romantic candles, and cooking fires too.  Of course, most people realize that the experience you have at a campfire will depend greatly on whether or not you enjoy fire.  If you love fire, you'll have a grand old time.  If you're afraid of fire, it will be a terrible night for you.

Throughout the Bible, fire is used as a metaphor for God.  In many ways, God is like fire.  We talk about God's love being like warmth, and God's illuminating light that He sheds in our hearts.  Those who stand opposed to God get burned by Him, while those who love God want to snuggle up to His warmth.  Your experience of God differs, depending on your attitude toward Him.

Here are a few scriptures that depict God in fiery terms.

God appears to the Israelites as a pillar of fire (Exodus 13:21-23) that lit the way for desert travel.  In 14:24, "the LORD in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic."  Jeremiah says that God's word within him is like "a burning fire shut up in my bones (Jeremiah 20:9)."  Ezekiel sees God's glory as: 

"a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal...And the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. And the living creatures darted to and fro, like the appearance of a flash of lightning...And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him.  Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around.  Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. (Ezekiel 1:4, 13b-14, 26-28)."  

No doubt, this is related to the chariots of fire which whisk Elijah into heaven (2 Kings 2:11).  It's an amazing thing that God's loving fire can be an awe-inspiring and even fearful thing, while not being harmful to the faithful.  Moses experiences God as a bush that, while burning, is not consumed (Exodus 3:2).  When an angel touched Isaiah's lips with a live coal from the altar of heaven, instead of burning him, it cleanses him (Isaiah 6:6-7).

Yet, God's holy fire is not always so pleasant.  To the faithless, God says:

Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you. For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God (Deuteronomy 4:23-24).

Hebrews 12:29 says, "God is a consuming fire."  Exodus 15:7 says, "In the greatness of your majesty you threw down those who opposed you. You unleashed your burning anger; it consumed them like stubble."  Deuteronomy 6:15 says, "The LORD your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land."  In Mark 9, Jesus talks about people being thrown into hell, "where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. For everyone will be salted with fire (vv. 48-49)."  In Matthew 13:49-50, Jesus says, "So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."  One sobering image says:

And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name (Revelation 14:9-11).”

Revelation 21:8 also gives warning to those who live apart from God's grace: "But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”  I could spend all day examining scriptures that talk about God's holy fire, in a beautiful way and in a fearful way.  But I think these examples give you an idea about the ways in which fire is used throughout the Bible to depict God.

Today's scripture says that not only hell, but also "the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly (2 Peter 3:7)."  It also says that "the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!  But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (vv. 12b-13)."  God's holy fire will one day bring destruction of all things, but only so that He can put the universe back together again, remaking it in perfect beauty.  Remember, Jesus is the one who says, “Behold, I am making all things new (Revelation 21:5).”

So, in the end, there will be fire.  Of one kind or another.  Either warming, illuminating, protecting, inspiring fire--or terrifying, painful, and destructive fire.  And one way or another, that fire will be God's holy fire.  The difference isn't in the fire--it's in whether you love that fire or not.  Will you respect and, yes, even fear God enough to let His fire cleanse you as it cleansed Isaiah?  Or, is the presence of God abhorrent to you?  Do you reject the notion of a loving, forgiving God who wants the salvation of all people?  When God calls to you with His love, do you say, "I want nothing to do with you or your Kingdom?"  In that case, there will still be fire.  But that righteous fire will torment your soul, because God's holiness is the last thing that you desire.

In the end, there will be fire.  Holy fire.  The question is, how will you respond when God strikes His match?  Whether God's fire is pure heaven, or sheer hell, is up to you.

*Scriptures taken from the ESV.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Face of God

Today is the fourth day in our 42nd week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  Jeremiah 47-49; 2 Peter 2; Psalm 80.

This morning, I wanted to write about Psalm 80, but then I realized I've already written about it on this blog, back in 2011.  So today I'm going to simply re-post that article.  Hope you enjoy it.  Have a wonderful day!

Monday, June 20, 2011

“The Face of God”

What does God look like?  On the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo depicted God as a Caucasian grandfather with long gray beard.  Is this what God really looks like?  Three times in Psalm 80, the psalmist prays, “Cause your face to shine, and we shall be saved.”  Yes, we want to see God’s face.
In the Old Testament, God appeared in many forms, called theophanies.  A theophany is a tangible manifestation of God’s presence, like the burning bush (Exodus 3); pillar of fire and cloud (Exodus 13-14); and the fourth man in the fire (Daniel 3).  God walked with Adam in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8), and spoke with Moses as a man speaks to a friend (Exodus 33:11).  But God’s brief tangible visits could never truly let people see his heart of hearts.  It would take something greater than that.  The psalmist says that when God’s face shines, we are saved.  This can only be the face of Christ, for even Jesus’ name means, “God Saves.”
In John 14:9 (NIV), Jesus says, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”Hebrews 3:3 (NKJV) says that Jesus is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.”  To see Jesus is to see God Himself.
This past March, the History Channel showed a documentary entitled “The Real Face of Jesus,” in which graphic artist Ray Downing used images from the Shroud of Turin to digitally create a three-dimensional picture of the man who was buried in the cloth.  Whether this man was Jesus or not, I leave up to you.  But even if it were Jesus’ burial cloth and we could know what our Lord looked like by means of such technological recreation, we still would have only an image and not Jesus Himself.  It would not be an accurate way of getting to know who God truly is.  To know the living Jesus is to know God Himself. 
A handful of people have told me that in times of prayer, they have seen Jesus’ face—yet God doesn’t reveal His face clearly.  The apostle Paul says, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known (1 Corinthians 13:12 NKJV).”  One day, when we get to heaven, we will see God face to face.  But until then, there is only one way that we can clearly see the face of God each day. 
Genesis 1:27 (NKJV) says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”  Far from the heretical doctrine that says human beings are God, this verse tells us that we are made in God’s image.  This means that when God looks at us, He sees a bit of Himself; when you love one another, you are loving God as well (Matthew 25:40).  When others see you, do they see Jesus in you?  Does your face shine with God’s presence?  If you seek God’s heart more than anything else, then people may see in your face “the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6 NIV).”

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral

Today is the third day in our 42nd week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures* today are:  Jeremiah 43-44, 46; 2 Peter 1.

This morning, I'd like to pass on to you something that my United Methodist friends have shared with me--the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.  

When trying to grasp spiritual truth and apply it to our lives, Christians have four tools at their disposal: scripture, tradition, experience, and reason.  The United Methodist church says,  that its founder John "Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason. Scripture [however] is primary, revealing the Word of God 'so far as it is necessary for our salvation.'"**  In 2 Peter 1, the apostle calls on believers to use all four of these tools to aid in our spiritual growth.

Scripture:  In verse 19, Peter writes:
"We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts."  
Sometimes, scripture is difficult for us to understand, but God promises that if we pay attention to its light, the darkness of our minds will be illuminated.  Like the sunrise, His truth will enlighten our hearts.

Tradition:  Peter passes on to believers what he himself has seen and heard.  He asks them to trust his experiences on the Mount of Transfiguration, as proof of Jesus' lordship.  In verses 16-18, he says:
For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.  He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
Similarly, each of us has certain traditions that have been passed on to us.  These things aren't based on our own experiences, but on the experiences of others, whom we trust. 

Experience:  Peter says that our own experience will guide us, as we learn to live in God's grace.  The Christian life is a progressive journey, with one virtue added to another as we grow towards God.
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge;  and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness;  and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.  For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductivein your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (vv. 5-8). 
As you grow in Christian character the experiences that you've had along the way will give you a lens through which you can interpret your surroundings.  Also, believers need to develop such a relationship with God that He is no longer simply a concept or a tradition, but Someone with whom we have a relationship.  Our personal experience of God is a great guide during times of confusion.

Reason:  Peter begins his letter by praying, "Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord (v. 2)."  This knowledge helps us to interpret the things that the Bible has to say, and applies it to life in a tangible way.  My grandfather once told me something similar when he said, "Sometimes the best way you can discern God's will for your life is to use what He put between your two ears."  God has given us reason as a gift, and He expects us to use it.  "The knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord" means knowledge about Him, but it also means knowledge from him.  Don't neglect the gift of divine reason, as try to figure out God's purpose for your life.

Conservative theology
Liberal theology

Spiritual growth requires the believer to put each of these tools into practice.  When we neglect even one of these methods of understanding, we end up with a lopsided faith.  We've all known Christians who knew their Bible backwards and forwards, but who lacked reason, and therefore were entirely off-kilter.  Or we've seen believers who let their own personal reason or experience be the primary lens through which they tried to hear from God, while they ignored the testimony of scripture and tradition altogether.  Still others are guided so much by tradition that they aren't open to new experiences that God would have for them.  No, the Christian needs all four of these, working together, in order to develop a balanced spiritual understanding.  I pray that your walk with the Lord will be informed by scripture, tradition, experience, and reason.  And remember that...
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness....Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
(2 Peter 1:3, 10-11)

*Scriptures are taken from the NIV.
**^ United Methodist Church (2004). The book of discipline of the United Methodist ChurchNashville, TennesseeAbingdon Press. p. 77. ISBN 0-687-02373-4OCLC 58046917.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Eating Humble Pie

Today is the second day in our 42nd week, reading the Bible through together in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  Obadiah; Jeremiah 40-42; 1 Peter 5; Psalm 147.

The end of October is upon us, and Thanksgiving is just around the corner.  If you plan to host a Thanksgiving celebration, you would do well to begin planning now.  There are so many things to cook, from appetizers to dinner to dessert.  One of the things I like most about Thanksgiving are all the pies.

I'm excited about the pies this year, because something has changed in my taste buds since last year.  All of a sudden, I actually like pumpkin and sweet potato pies.  I never enjoyed them before, but recently I tried some, and was pleasantly surprised at the change.  

One pie that won't be on the menu this year will be Umble Pie.  That's right, I said Umble Pie.  According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, Umble Pie is a dish that dates back to the 1640s, and is made of umbles--the inner organs of deer and other animals.  It was a food that was only eaten by the poor, lower classes.  In those days, the word "humble" was pronounced without the "h" sound, so you can imagine how the words "umble" and "humble" got confused.  Today, we have forgotten all about Umble Pie, and when people are humiliated, they say they had to eat "humble pie."  

You probably wouldn't like to eat either kind of pie.  I don't particularly like it, either.  But 1 Peter 5:5b-7 says:

 All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,
“God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.”
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Clothing yourself with humility means having the good sense to cover up your own glory, because Christians should be all about God's glory instead. In the place of self-exaltation, we should be raising others to their feet.

In Jeremiah 42, the people went to the prophet to inquire of God.  They asked, "Should we remain where we are in the Holy Land, or should we seek refuge in Egypt?"  Jeremiah prayed and listened to the Lord for ten days.  God finally told them that if they remained where they were, God would bless them.  It was their choice, though--they weren't forced to stay.  However, if they chose to flee to Egypt, there they would die by the sword.  Why?  Because Egypt represented human striving and self-determination, and remaining in Israel indicated obedience and trust in God.  Egypt was pride; Israel was humility.  "God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble."  

"Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you," says Peter.  You can trust that if God says He will take care of you, then He will.  It takes humility to put God in charge of your life, and take yourself out of the driver's seat. The Israelites needed to learn this hard lesson, and maybe you do, too.  But if you can do it, if you can humble yourself, He will lift you up in due time.