Happy New Year, 2019! In my ‘walk with God’ one of the things I look forward to is discerning how to approach the new year with the church. It’s good to have a ‘framework’ of some kind, a plan, if you will, of how we can corporately move through this spiritual journey.
Because we are committed to God’s Word we follow a specified reading plan week by week so we can ‘be on the same page’ as a community. It works well for people with busy lives because missing a Sunday or two doesn’t leave anyone behind in the journey.
To help make the reading more applicable to our everyday lives I provide an ‘assignment,’ so that as we read we are ‘looking for something.’ The idea here is to make reading that which one has read before have more purpose this time through, so the mind doesn’t shut down thinking it has ‘been there – done that.’ In 2018, for example, we were looking for ways the Bible reveals not only a Living God, but for how He stirs up in us a Living Faith.
For 2019 the assignment is to intentionally focus on Epiphany, the revelation of Ah Ha moments in our lives. To Discover the Wonder, as God leads us, personally, and as we read the Bible.
Think of it this way: have you noticed that when you read the Bible there are certain verses, statements of some kind, that seem to jump off the page? Do you find that you sometimes underline certain ones as especially impactful? We know that this is how God ‘speaks’ to us, and then we ponder what He really said and what it actually means to us personally. It’s very wonderful.
Wonderful means ‘full of wonder.’ God wants us to be not just exchanging air all day long, but to be engaging with Him and His creation! He wants us to be ‘on mission,’ not just plodding along. He wants us to be ‘dependent upon Him,’ not so self-sufficient that we think we need nothing, until some crisis happens that we know we can’t handle by ourselves! ‘Giving up’ is not God’s desire for us. He wants us to ‘run to Him’ and ‘enjoy His Presence’ in our lives.
All of this (and much more) leads to the Plan for 2019, that as we read we seek to Discover the Wonder that God has for us. Not just reading so many pages a day or week, but actually discovering new things in and about God’s Kingdom, and about God Himself, and about our own Souls!
Eugene Peterson has said that “the Self is the Soul minus God.” Ponder that one for awhile and I promise you will Discover some Wonder!
Jan 6 is the Day of Epiphany, celebrating when the Magi visited the baby Jesus and realized He was, indeed, God come in the flesh. This ‘realization’ is what we now call ‘an epiphany.’ A knowing, given to us by God, thus supernatural.
As we grow we experience numerous epiphanies. Things we didn’t understand become more clear. Like algebra!
I experienced a strong epiphany a few years ago while reading through Ecclesiastes. I didn’t like the Book, and I felt guilty about it. It’s God’s Word, right? Obviously I was in error, but I couldn’t shake how I felt about the word Vanity and how it was used over and over. A newer translation used the word Meaningless, which only made me feel worse. I was having a crisis trying to understand how or why God would speak that way about life.
Finally I decided to do more research and discovered additional ‘meanings’ for the original Hebrew word translated Vanity and Meaningless. First came Vapor, which kind of softened things a bit, understanding the issues of life are like a vapor. But then came the epiphany, the revelation, the ah HA! Another translation of that word can be Temporary. Get it? Is the veil lifting? This life is not vain or meaningless, but temporary. Our hardships are….temporary. Our frustrations, hurts, etc., are temporary.
I won’t take the time here to develop this more, but you should. It’s amazing how the Book of Ecclesiastes will come alive to you with new meaning and understanding when you put ‘temporary’ in all the places it now has ‘vanity’ or ‘meaningless.’ It will absolutely change how you feel about God!
The most recent epiphany has come to me while studying the Book of Daniel, and all the other Bible ‘places’ you will be taken when trying to understand this amazing prophecy. It connects directly to my own personhood, in that I’m now dealing with a diagnosis of cancer.
The subject that comes up for Bible students is the study of the End Times. It’s interesting that so many write so much about what they know so little. We can’t help it. We are so intrigued just pondering the End Times that we put forth all kinds of speculations, all quoting various Scriptures to try to validate what we think is happening. In these current times we have all sorts of Doctrinal explanations of what the Bible speaks about the End Times, albeit guarded by the realization we may not have it correct!
Combine the Bible study with one’s own mortality and the End Times get personal. Do I get three-score and ten, or four-score because I’m ‘strong’? The older we get the closer to our personal End, so the End Times become even more applicable to us, and raise all sorts of questions. Some people don’t want to talk about it at all, and others can’t stop talking about it, but this is a big deal!
I remember getting the Summary from my doctor after my annual physical, and at the end, after all the lab results and comments, was an intriguing ‘mortality index.’ It gave a percentage estimate of years of life left, something like 90% to live 15 yrs., or such. I can remember thinking this was an odd thing to include, and gave it little mind. Now that I have a cancer it becomes more important to me. I’m no longer immortal! What now? Now, you see, my own, personal End Times come into more focus, and more conversation with others. The things ‘we don’t talk about’ start coming up, as do the concerns, as do the fears.
I don’t like fear. I don’t like being fear-based when approaching something. I also don’t like anger, and I’ve learned that anger is a secondary emotion, the primary emotion being fear, although this is often hidden. Thus, what makes you angry has a fear component, such that if you could eliminate or minimize the fear then the anger could resolve before you did something unfortunate.
How can this apply to one’s mortality, much less the Biblical issues with the End Times?
Epiphany! Ah Ha! Here’s the deal! (and any other way you can be enlightened)
When the Bible speaks of the end, what is it saying? End to what? End of whom? What is ending? Times, seasons, ages, periods, etc.
The thing is, truly, what is happening is that something is ending. Over. Done with. And all the wrangling about it doesn’t change the fact. All the anger doesn’t make it different, although whatever was feared is probably done with too!
Because, you see, something comes NEXT. For us Christians, what comes next is wonderful. Amazing. Exciting. Eternal. The so-called ‘end’ is just a segue [seg-wey] to the next! And the next is supernatural. Words can’t really speak about it very well, but ‘after’ the End Times, the Next Time begins, with God Almighty victorious, and with YOU a part of His doings.
Blow the trumpet. Make a joyful noise. Rejoice and be glad, not confused and sorrowful, because Jesus is Lord and He loves you. His ‘what’s next?’ for you is pretty spectacular, and not to be feared, but to be welcomed, because He knows best! The End Times include the end to suffering, to tears, to all sorts of lack. The End Times include the end of the enemy of our souls, by what happens NEXT. Heaven, in fact, is NEXT, which, come on, is pretty cool!
Being ‘insensitive’ is one thing, but being ‘desensitized’ is another thing indeed. Both bring along a host of complications for healthy living, but the latter can be disastrous!
Think for a moment what it means to be desensitized. It includes being ‘not sensitive,’ numb, un-aware, apathetic, dull, paralyzed, and stunned, to name just a few.
Now try to apply some spiritual understanding and recall some Biblical warnings.
There are many more, but you get the idea. God wants us to remain alert and focused on Him! The ‘world,’ we are told, is currently the playground of Satan, and he wants us to reject God and uses Deception as a primary weapon, to desensitize us spiritually!
Why? Because the Devil knows that if we will just focus on ourselves and our own worldly pleasures that he can get us. One of the Devil’s greatest devices to get our focus off of God Almighty is what we think of as ‘wisdom,’ namely, OUR wisdom. You see, if WE think something is right and true, regardless of what God says, then the door is open for every other kind of deception.
As soon as The Bible, God’s Word, is relegated to anything other than absolute TRUTH, we lose our compass! We replace it with our own wisdom and our own idea of truth! Like a fish on a hook we are easily landed into the Devil’s boat! There we lie, flopping around, gasping for air, unable to escape.
How many times have we been numbed to something God would have us pay attention to? How many times have we been paralyzed, unable to respond to His call? How badly has this world dulled our senses … our spiritual senses … to the things God wants for us?
Apathy leads to a slow death. To say “I just don’t care anymore” is really saying “I care about something else more!” The Bible urges us to fan the flames of faith again, and not let the fire of the Holy Spirit die out in our inner man. Once we begin to cool we begin that fall down a slippery slope, with our enemy cheering us on downward!
God’s promises are so much better!
When I was young there was a fascination among some for magic. It was fantastic stuff. Amazing stuff. Church leaders didn’t even teach much against it since most of it was so seemingly harmless. And then the Church came alive to what was happening, and good teaching came out about the evils of the magic arts, the deception therein, and the warnings to leave that stuff alone.
We don’t hear much about magic in these days, but what we do have is a fascination now with Zombies! You see it everywhere. Do you know what a Zombie is, or where it came from?
A zombie (Haitian French: zombi, Haitian Creole: zonbi) is a fictional undead being created through the reanimation of a human corpse. Zombies are most commonly found in horror and fantasy genre works. The term comes from Haitian folklore, where a zombie is a dead body reanimated through various methods, most commonly magic.
We now call Zombies “the walking dead”. We make movies about them because we have become desensitized to the whole demonic realm.
The Black Arts have merely re-branded. The Devil just shows up in a different set of clothes, leaving his red suit for this fascination with the un-dead.
Much of what Zombie fascination has to do with, in all the TV and movies and such, is answering the question “How does one become a Zombie?” So, being a bit honest with the viewer, the plot reveals that one doesn’t WANT to become a Zombie, and the way to avoid that … listen carefully … ”conversion”, is to keep running away! As the story unfolds, though, so many become ‘converted’ that they too become Zombies, leading of course to the next episode.
Conversion by association!
1 Cor 15:33 says it so well: “Bad company corrupts good character.” Look at the KJV translation: Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.
Deception, you see, is a very crafty game! The enemy doesn’t deceive openly, in the light, but in the dark! When we become dull, apathetic, un-caring, numb, etc., we are being ‘desensitized’ to his ways and weakened to the point of capture! Wake up! Come alive! Rebuke the Devil and focus on your Savior, Jesus Christ! And, for your sake, turn off all that Zombie stuff!
Ok, I realize that’s a bold statement for anyone to make. Suggesting that God actually spoke a thing, directly to a human, may upset some, or at least puzzle them. We can, however, look to the Bible to see if such a ‘word from the Lord’ lines up with Scripture. Knowing that God cannot lie gives us confidence that whatever man has to say about a thing must line up with what God has already said. In those seemingly gray areas that the Bible isn’t clear we can at least discern the Spirit of such a ‘word’.
We are told to ‘test’ such ‘words’, which is exactly the process I spoke above. Is the ‘word’ for me, or just for global society? Does this ‘word’ require anything of me? Is it personal?
So, go ahead, test this ‘word’ using both the Bible and your discernment, but be prepared in case God is speaking! It may be He is speaking to a global audience, but it is also possible, very possible, He is speaking directly to YOU!
During a pretty normal week I was going about my life, living hours of regular stuff, interspersed with moments of sheer wonder! My life is like that. Lots of church stuff, family stuff, some business stuff and too much yard maintenance. I enjoy some daily devotions and prayer, but not enough. I say ‘not enough’ because when I am purposing myself to be ‘spiritual’, God always shows up and blesses me, and then the phone rings or my cell phone beeps at me. These are real ‘wonder killers’. You know what I mean.
Then things began to change. Troubles began to pile up. Not just interruptions, but actual problems began to manifest and demand attention. If busyness happens because I initiate some things, well, that’s kind of ok because I’m thinking I’m in charge. But when things happen outside of my control, messing up my day, causing pain or confusion, well, that’s not ok. After all, I’m a man of education, of experience, of faith! I’m a child of God! I know stuff, and I’m successful, and I don’t like it when things go wrong, or bad, or, especially, painful to me or my loved ones!
So, on this day when my world was being attacked by all sorts of issues, and my ‘normal’ ways of dealing with them were not working very well, meaning that I wasn’t able to stop it all, even by praying a prayer and have it all ‘right’ again, I paused to … ask God for help.
I suppose a lot of our prayers are like this. The history of Israel is certainly proof that when in trouble men call upon God to deliver them from whatever bondage they find themselves in, but when life is good the people quit seeking Him, and, well, stuff happens to draw them back to Him again. Right?
Now, back to that ‘week’ I was having. After a time of verbalizing to God how upset I was, about the stuff upsetting me, I knew it was time to be quiet. (Those of you who know me will no doubt chuckle at that thought, of me being quiet, but it does happen!) I resolved to try, again, to ‘let go and let God’.
The simplicity of this concept is very attractive to me. The best theology I know of is the theology that draws a person to Jesus, so I pondered how to ‘get more of God’. A song goes “More love, more power, more of You in my life…” and certainly speaks to what I was desiring. I know I need more of God’s love, not FOR me but for others FROM me. I definitely want more of God’s power, in my life and in YOUR life! And, of course, I agree with the lyrics and want more of God in my life.
So, that was my simple prayer: “I want more of You, God.”
(Drum roll) Perhaps your prayers are like mine in that they are not immediately answered. But when they are, what then? You see, this is exactly how it happened, and how the Lord spoke this ‘word’ to me, and to this very moment still has me upended, or should I say set aright!
I said: “I want more of You, God.”
And the Lord said to me: “I want more of YOU, Skip.”
That was it. No lecture. No in-depth teaching. Just a simple request BY GOD ALMIGHTY!
I’m sure you can take it from here. You can apply this to your life, or discard it altogether. Either way … God is speaking to you as well, asking each you to respond to His Voice. Why? Because He loves you. Because He listens to you so often asking Him for this or that, and now asks YOU to give to Him!
Go ahead. “Get under the spout where the Glory’s pouring out.” You won’t regret it!
Have you ever thought about the ‘power of story’?
‘Story’ is how the ancients have communicated throughout history. Good and bad, right and wrong, and everything in between ‘recorded’ by ‘story.’
It seems to me that the power of story is being lost, cheapened, if you will, by the instant communications we have today. Depth is lost because we don’t have the time to go deep. Richness is lost because we only want the scintillation of the moment, moving so quickly to the next one we miss the real point of the current one.
Our Bible is, after all, a story. Plot lines and characters and everything else you can imagine are in God’s story book for us. In fact, this story has a bunch of stuff you CAN’T imagine, which makes the mystery and the intrigue and the wonder of it all so amazing as it all unfolds for us, right there on the pages! Our minds can’t help but ‘go there,’ when we read God’s story.
Take a minute right now and try to comprehend the story of our creation as told to us in Genesis. So many questions pop up. Who made us? How were we made? When were we made? Why were we made? Is the story really real, or just a human made delusion of the ancients? Was there a real Garden of Eden? Who was the serpent, if he wasn’t a snake? Was he just a snake? Was it really an apple they ate? Who else was in the Garden? Was anyone watching it all? Who? How many were watching? Where did they come from? What’s the point of this story?
Talk about a serial-made-for-life, or a made-for-life-serial. Either way, this one is fantastic from the get-go, and best followed from the beginning, although you can pick it up in any episode and it’s still fantastic. You don’t need a DVR because you have a Bible and can re-visit any part of the show at any time you wish. It would be nice if we could switch on the closed-captions and get a running commentary of what was unfolding, because we can’t quite keep up. Know what I mean?
You see, from one perspective this Bible is the Story of God, and from another view it is the story of man and his, man’s, response to what God is up to. Isn’t it amazing that this God Story, the one He wrote since He is the Creator, is so analyzed and argued by man, the creation? Even though we have Romans 1 to tell us this fact, that things are backwards in our thinking, we continue running along…..backwards. (laugh here)
Why is it that a really good story, one like A Few Good Men from modern times, or Tom Sawyer from a bit earlier, can be watched or read, over and over, with excitement and joy and even learning of some kind each time, and yet God’s Story, the Bible, sits on the shelf of so many homes? Put on the DVD of Hunt For Red October, or Jason Bourne, or even Sense And Sensibilities and I can watch for hours, again, even though I know the lines!!!
Is it because we don’t really think about what we are reading when we read the Bible? Perhaps we don’t really believe it. Perhaps we say to ourselves “Oh yeah, I know that one….” and move along without sincerely pondering what we just read. Perhaps it’s because what we just read in the Bible is so fantastic, so amazing, so almost other-worldly that we can’t process it!
Some of us have the habit of going to the end of a book and trying to see if we want to invest the time in getting there. Is it worth it? Let’s just read the Summary, if you will, and decide from that if the details merit further reading. Ok, news flash! At the end of The Book, God restores His Creation, re-creating what He wanted at the beginning, defeating all His enemies, placing His creation, man, with Him in Glory. The reader is left with a pretty simple question: “Will I be there?”
The answer to that one is, thankfully, in the pages prior, starting with Genesis… Go for it! It’s a fantastic read.
John McCain died today, and the news has been, properly, honoring and remembering him and his incredible life. It’s made me think about how ‘good’ we can be if we choose to do so. Senator McCain was far from perfect. He endured a failed marriage and more than a few infidelities along his way to growing into the ‘mentor of character’ so many attribute to him today.
We are choosing, now, to remember the ‘best’ of John McCain. We are choosing to look at his real accomplishments, not his failures or shortcomings. His differences with his political colleagues, his notable temper, whatever else the smear-mags could dig up….none of that is what has defined him. It’s been his character. His life-long service. His devotion to family and country. His goodness!
Perhaps we could be encouraged by this man’s life. Perhaps we could see that we too have failures and shortcomings, but that our Father in Heaven, God Almighty, through Jesus Christ and by the Power of His Holy Spirit, looks at ‘our’ character through a crimson lens, the blood of Jesus. He ‘sees’ us as cleansed and pure and righteous and holy….all the things we would never claim. God sees goodness.
The Lord looks at our heart, so see if we are repentant, humbled by our mistakes, and seeking that grace called forgiveness that He so freely offers us. My human nature is to defend myself; to try to say that I’m right because of how I feel and think. But when the I AM shows up everything is put right, including me. Can you see it? Can you see how the puny “I’m” has to give way to the majestic I AM ?
As we honor John McCain, looking beyond his human weaknesses, let us honor God, and look straight into His incredible strength, and hear Him tell us again “I love you, and I will never leave you.”
Christianity has strayed, at times, far from the teachings, life, and Love of Christ. We all know this. We need to always ask ourselves if we are really ‘following the Way’, and make the course corrections in our lives, so that the Blessings of Christ can be abundantly poured upon us.
Is it complicated? Does it require great academic understanding of the Scriptures, knowledge of ancient languages, and submission to human authorities we might question? Is that Christ?
I am amazed at how people don’t want to read the Bible because they think it is too complicated, too controversial, or too boring. The Bible is, after all, God’s Word to us and He certainly wants us to read it and be set free from the bondage of sin. Is it possible the Bible really IS readable by anyone, or everyone? Of course it is. I believe the Bible is meant to be read, over and over, because it consistently speaks to us. God knows exactly where we are and what’s going on in our lives and what we need to ‘hear’, and that’s why with EVERY reading of the Bible His voice comes to our inner man and speaks to what we need, individually and specifically. It’s truly amazing!
For example, I just read Romans 11-13 as part of our Church reading schedule. I’ve read the book of Romans many times, and yet with recent reading something popped out at me I hadn’t ‘seen’ before. Each of the 3 Chapters can be titled, or summarized, in a word: Mercy, Sacrifice, and Authority. Each of these words capture a main point of the Chapter and certainly don’t replace all the other words and ways God might speak to you. Subsequent readings might change the title summaries. Exciting stuff!
However, for THIS reading look what happens when you think of God’s mercy as a sacrifice of authority, or God’s authority sacrificed with mercy. Or God’s sacrifice of mercy, or His sacrifice of authority. Or His authority to sacrifice mercy, or His authority to mercifully sacrifice!
You get the point. These three words, no matter how read or arranged, speak of God’s LOVE for us, poured out upon us.
As we try to obey just two simple ‘words of Jesus’, the ‘love God and love one another’ commands, we cannot help but run into mercy, sacrifice, and authority!
How simple following Christ really is! His love for us was surely demonstrated by His sacrifice for us. His mercy surely saves us from the penalty due us because of our sins. His authority surely causes every knee to bow before the King of Kings, Who has defeated every foe. Etc.
Read it. Connect the dots. Let the Holy Spirit speak to you the revelation of the mystery, Christ in you, the hope of Glory!
About 11:30 this morning, between the storm clouds, came a burst of sunshine so inviting I had to go for a 4-mile hike around the wetlands and forests near here. It’s a special Blessing to be able to take advantage of such things.
Another Blessing is the great benefit that hiking provides- the time to think- and to be alone with one’s self. After a mile or so the mind can get rid of all the normal day-stuff to process and explore more important things.
Let’s examine the Wonder of Discovery. First, let’s think about what Discovery is. It’s much more than just learning something new or experiencing something for the first time. In the simplest terms, Discovery means to dis-cover something. To remove the cover; to un-hide; to see deeper, etc.
The great explorers of days past, like Columbus or Lewis & Clark, dis-covering the new continents, ‘worlds’ to them, were filled with awe as they pushed on. Whatever hardships they endured were the victories of the discovery, as they not only overcame, but triumphed in seeing and being a part of something so new, un-dis-covered, if you will. The excitement builds, emotions peak, things become awesome…full of ‘wonder’. (awe; surprise; marvel)
And so, in this Wonder of Discovery, I not only ‘learn’ something, but actually ‘experience’ the thing, adding to the mental addition that a piece of knowledge gives, but also the emotional and even spiritual dis-covering.
But wait! It gets better. The Wonder of Discovery leads us to a higher place, that spiritual place so difficult to explain but which I’m sure the explorers of old surely confronted:
The Discovery of Wonder
Once something is un-covered, and whatever lies beneath begins to reveal, one doesn’t throw the cover back on! One doesn’t run from, but to! The Wonder happens. Wonder is awesome, isn’t it? Wonder drives us, if we are free enough to let it happen. A touch of fear may grip some of us, because of the unknown becoming known, but the excitement builds and the mind marvels, and even the pores open and the body demands more oxygen as the endorphins explode within us. We might now say it becomes Wonder-full!
I think Wonder is a God thing, which is the main point. Wonder is God revealing Himself to us, the dis-covering of science or nature or His being and nature. If we can just take the time to Discover the Wonder. It’s happening all around us, all the time, covered by the world and our busy lives of earth-dwelling. God gives us His Word so that we can uncover and discover His Wonders. The Bible will come alive to you if you pursue the Wonder it reveals, and not just the history or geography or whatever else keeps it ‘covered’.
When slaves are set Free they rejoice. They dance and sing and praise and go all crazy because of being no longer captive, bound up, limited and…enslaved. Freedom is the greatest Wonder for a slave to imagine. God sent us Jesus Christ so we can be set free, and He leads us to Discover the Wonder of relationship with Him.
Using the calendar to remember key dates is surely a part of our everyday lives, so it’s not unusual that it would help us in our life of faith. However, Church Calendars are not a big part of most Evangelicals faith and practice, although a solid part of both Protestantism and Catholicism through the centuries, as a way to “remember Me” as taught by Jesus Christ. Jewish calendars are based upon the many feasts and festivals the Lord commanded, again so His people would ‘remember’ what He did for them! We Christians concentrate, of course, on the Christian, or Church calendar, although we fully agree that understanding what the Lord did throughout Jewish history is part of Biblical teaching and therefore ‘sacred.’ We believe the entire Bible is Holy, and necessary for the practice of our faith.
The Lectionary is a calendar of the Church Year put together by Denominational leaders so that congregations across the country, and world, can be in unity, reading the same Biblical texts and remembering the same historical developments at the same time of year. The Pastors who ‘preach’ from the Lectionary benefit by having much of the textural research done for them so they can tailor the message to their own congregations. This is all good, I think, and pray that these sermons can bring life and peace to the Body of Christ.
While I do not use the Lectionary to develop sermons I do think ‘following’ the Church Calendar is beneficial to us, for reasons stated above. We need to remember Christ, and we benefit greatly by remembering the history leading up to His Advent here, His life here, His resurrection victory, and certainly what lies ahead , about which we have so many opinions and so little understanding! 🙂
The next weeks, leading to Easter (Resurrection Sunday) are the most concentrated dates on the Christian Calendar for the entire year. Our entire understanding of The Gospel rests upon the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Who makes it possible for our salvation and eternity with God Almighty. Our Doctrines of Grace, Liberty, Atonement, Forgiveness, Sacrifice, Salvation, etc., are complimented with the fulfillment of so much Biblical Prophecy about The Christ as Messiah found in the Old Testament!
Therefore, I ask you to concentrate on these next week’s by remembering Christ and His Love for you. Here are the key dates we will follow, whether formally or informally, providing you with both remembrance and a way to focus your devotions:
Feb 14, Ash Wednesday (and so it begins)
Feb 18, 1st Sunday in Lent (fasting, prayer, renewed devotion)
Mar 25, Palm Sunday (Celebration)
Mar 29, Maundy Thursday (foot washing) (last supper)
Mar 30, Good Friday (Why ‘good’?)
April 1st, Easter Sunday, Resurrection Sunday (Victory in Jesus)