In the beginning, God made it all. The light and the dark; the seas, the land and the plants that grew on it. The sun, the moon, the stars. The fish, the birds and the animals that move along the ground. And mankind, made in His image. There were evenings and mornings. And He saw that it was good.
God foreknew that His image-bearers would sin and He would need to save them.
In His perfect time, God made The Way. His sinless Son was mocked and belittled. He was whipped and beaten. He was nailed to a cross to suffer and die. He paid the horrible, bloody, agonizing penalty for every sin of every evening and morning. It was Friday. And God saw that it was Good.
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear…”
1 John 4:18a
I’m saddened by the course public discussion about the Corona virus and the measures being taken to slow its spread. Grieved, actually. Though not different than the qualities of public discourse overall, it pains me a bit more when it rears up about this issue, with its wide-reaching impact and importance. As debate about when and how to reopen our economy and how to shape our public lives is engaged, it appears that we have largely, once again, run ourselves into opposite corners, click-baited into them by headlines that confirm our cognitive biases. From here, the endeavor of hurling stones from one corner into the other ensues.
“Those that don’t support passing a 3T aid package don’t care about suffering Americans!”
“Mask-wearers are sheeple who have been conned by fear-mongering sensationalist media!”
These are the words of fear, not love. This is the activity of fear, not love.
Love (not fear)seeks after the truth, not confirmation of their opinion.
Love (not fear) reads the whole article – all of the nuances of an article (well-balanced or otherwise) can’t possibly be captured in the headline.
Love (not fear) vets the source of their information to ensure that they are getting the best view of the subject.
Love (not fear) watches for when a reporter’s personal view is seeping into a story (or is overtly present).
Love (not fear) doesn’t allow politicians and talk-show hosts to supplant the consensus of health and science experts as sources of truth on medical or scientific topics. (Nor does it forget that there are multiple facets to a health-related crisis and that experts in other fields should be heard to round out understanding and refine points of view. Nor does it forget the difference between outliers in a field and consensus in a field. While outliers can bring creative new approaches, they should be handled with extreme care. They are often outliers for good reason.)
Love (not fear) wears a face mask in public when health experts advise that it can reduce the probability of transmitting the disease to your neighbor.
Love (not fear) observes social distancing guidelines as much as possible in public places for the same reason.
Love (not fear) seeks the best and most effective ways to reopen the economy, so that their neighbors can get safely back to work, pay their bills and provide for their families.
Love (not fear) understands that there are differing opinions about which timelines and methods are best for doing this, and seeks to understand these varied points of view as part of discerning which path is indeed best.
Love (not fear) knows that their neighbors are hurting financially, mentally and physically and gives or serves as they are able to help alleviate these pains and sufferings.
Weaving together quotes of a famous one and The Famous One
John Calvin said, “There is no worse screen to block out the Spirit than confidence in our intelligence.”
Solomon said it like this in Proverbs 3:5: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”
Smarts. Intelligence. These are all good things. Surely it is better to be with them than without them. But wherever we find ourselves on any scale of intelligence matters far less than the role we assign to it. The key to putting our intelligence to its best use, regardless of how we may measure it, is by properly answering the question, “What goes first?”
Intelligence Goes First
One thing we can all agree on (can’t we)? God is smarter than us. Here are my answers to a quick test. See if yours are similar:
Has the intelligence to…
Create billions of galaxies each containing billions of stars
Create a planet perfectly suited for life
Program a perfect genetic code for all life on earth (DNA)
Still working on it
Divine a perfect plan and purpose for [insert your name here]’s life
Has it all under control
Still can’t quite figure out what it is though He’s told me what it is a hundred times (or more) by now
When we put our intelligence first in line, we limit ourselves to a mere fraction of what is available to us. We screen out a far greater intelligence contained in the Holy Spirit. It’s like racing on a bicycle instead of driving a Formula One racecar. It also closes out an eternal perspective. Our intellect can only deal with the things of this world. If we were only living for this world that might be fine, but we must remember that we are created in God’s image, and thus our existence will extend into eternity. That which seems wise to the world is often, if not always, foolish from an eternal perspective. So… we must adopt a different answer to our question…
Spirit Goes First
When we allow the Spirit to be the primary guide for our thoughts and actions, we are able to approach things intelligently, eternally, gloriously, in a way that fits into God’s grand plan. If we attach our intellect, at whatever level we have it, to the Spirit as it moves us, then we fully leverage God’s wisdom and allow our intellect to be one of the tools He uses to achieve glorious things through us.
Have the Spirit First and the Bigger Picture
Let’s not overlook a fundamental parameter to the “Spirit Goes First” plan—you have to have the Spirit! We secure this awesome Holy Spirit through a personal relationship with God, made possible by His grace, through faith in Jesus Christ. Faith in Jesus has to happen first before we can put the Spirit first. Without Jesus, we only have our intelligence to work with. If you’re not sure you have the Spirit, check out For God So Loves You to see how you can make it so. Faith in Jesus not only secures God’s smarts, it’s much bigger than that. Faith saves you for His Kingdom for all eternity. The Spirit’s wisdom is only a small slice of the benefits of faith.
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
This verse is often quoted and, by itself, has a pretty straightforward message—we are to . But the larger passage from which this verse is taken (Matt 25: 31-46) speaks about Jesus’ Second Coming and the criteria that will be used to open up the entry door to His Eternal Kingdom. So, there’s a lot more going on than just a nice sentiment. It warrants a closer look.
You Did [it] for Me
Jesus said in the preceding verses, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink… (Matt 25:35)” This can be a little confusing because we know that Jesus is God and is, thus, never in need of anything. Yet we know that Jesus, while fully God, was also fully human. So, He experienced the burdens associated with being flesh and bone, including hunger, thirst and loneliness. Therefore, He relates to those who are
The Least of These
The phrase “the least of these” is one we should consider with great care. We must understand that “the least” is a standard applied by our broken world that counts “the least” as the losers while it proclaims others as winners. This is not God’s standard. Reaching down with a helping hand is much different than reaching out with a helping hand. “Reaching down” implies, intentional or not, that we are of a higher position and those we help are of a lower status. Don’t fall into this trap! In comparison to God, we all fall so dreadfully short of His glory that each of us is to be counted among the ranks of the “least of these” along with every single other human being. Since we are all helpless “leasts,” saved only by accepting His free gift of grace through faith in Jesus, we should be about spreading the message of that infinite gift to all of the “co-leasts” around us.
The Bottom Line—This is Eternal Business
We learn from Jesus’s teaching that caring for the helpless, the hungry, the lonely and the suffering is an eternal privilege exercised by those with eternity in their hearts. We know that we are bringing a piece of eternity into this broken world by doing so. We can hear these precious words ringing in our hearts: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” (Matt 25:34)
Weaving together quotes from a famous one and The Famous One
St. Thomas Aquinas said, “If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever.”
Jesussaid it like this inMatthew 28:19: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
When you buy a new car, it is perfect. The outside finish has the new car sparkle and shine, the inside has the new car smell. There is one (and only one) way to preserve the car in this pristine condition. Park it in a climate-controlled garage, drape a protective tarp over it, and never drive it. Now if you’ve just purchased a cherry, all-original, ’57 Chevy Bel Air convertible you might do exactly this. But most often, cars are bought to be driven. This subjects them to the dings in the door, pebbles kicked up into the windshield, and the infamous double-dip cone becoming a single-dip cone in the back seat.
When a new ship is commissioned, it is perfect. It’s hull is perfectly smooth, the deck has an unblemished coat of non-slip epoxy, and the bridge has that new-bridge smell (whatever that smells like). If the captain’s highest aim was to preserve his ship he would keep it in port. He might take the additional precaution of keeping it in dry dock and not even putting it in the water. While maintaining his ship is important, it is never the highest aim of the captain to keep it pristine. The captain is to set sail to assigned ports of call, to deliver cargo or passengers to their destinations. Thus, the ship will soon loose its new-ship sheen, the shine will dull, the hull may be damaged, barnacles may jump on for the ride.
Followers of Jesus are captains. And Jesus commands us to shove off from the dock and set sail. Our cargo is the Good News. Our ship is our life’s testimony offered as a living sacrifice to Him. Along the way, we’ll strike the floating logs of indifference, we’ll be tossed on the swells of ridicule, or even run aground in persecution’s shallow waters. But when our battered vessel comes limping into port, Jesus will not chastise us for the damage, but will say something like this: “Well done, good and faithful captain.”
“Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinner(s), and purify your heart(s), you double-minded.” (parentheses added)
This verse starts out nice and sweet, reflecting the yearning of God to be near to you. But then, “Bam!” some not so nice stuff—accusations and a not-so-flattering assessment of your character.
This chapter in James is dealing with strife among the believers of Jesus. It was caused by fights and quarrels motivated by coveting what others have. All of this, James said, created, within the community of believers, enemies of God! James was painting a harsh picture. And then comes the verse above.
As a believer, you have to face the reality that you are, in your nature, a double-minded sinner. If it were not so, Jesus would not have had to come to earth and die on the cross for you. Now, Satan would have you believe that your sinful state is an irrevocable, hopeless situation. He loves to accuse and condemn (even though God has given Him no authority to do so). Flee from Satan’s message! Instead hear the loving message from God in this verse.
God wants you near. He longs to be in close fellowship with you all day, every day. The harsh stuff is in no way to intended to condemn or depress you. It is intended to provide His directions for drawing up close to Him. And as a bonus, He has given you the power to do the necessary work in His Holy Spirit. Think about this: do you think that His Spirit, which had the power to lift Jesus out of the grave alive, can wash your hands and purify your heart of those things that keep you distant from Him? I do!
So, do some prayerful self-reflection today. Ask the Holy Spirit for His hand-washing, heart-purifying help, and look forward to a wonderful day drawn near to God. (And repeat this often!)
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people”
In this passage, Paul centers his message on enlightenment. To get what Paul is driving at, we must start with the nature of light, which is at the root of the word, and the ways in which we can see it.
Presuming no visual impairment, our eyes can sense a band of radiation within a specific visible spectrum. This allows us to see the people and things around us. While this is the light we are most familiar with, it will not deliver the enlightenment that Paul is talking about, because it will only show us the physical things of this world. Paul wants us to experience a deeper, spiritual enlightenment which only comes from The Light, Jesus. This is our starting point to enlightenment—the True Light.
When we have The Light of Jesus residing within, our hearts can be enlightened, because eyes of our hearts are not limited to “seeing” as are our physical eyes. Paul carefully chooses his words to make this clear. Physical eyes see only the visible things around you. The eyes of your heart have a spiritual, eternal vision that knows Him and involves all of your senses at the very deepest level. Thus, they can “see” things that are not visible, but are nonetheless true, assured and known in the heart. This is the enlightenment that comes from knowing the hope to which He has called you, a hope only found in Him.
Here’s the cool thing about all of this: as an extension of this enlightenment, your physical eyes will actually begin to see things differently. Rather than seeing despair, pain, frustration and suffering, they will see opportunities to forgive, care, heal and love. The shopper that snatched that last product on the shelf right out from under your hands, will be seen as one who is worthy of forgiveness and grace. The dirty, cast-off homeless person on the street corner will now appear as a precious child of God worthy of your love and care.
The Light that shines out from within illuminates a very different picture than the light that comes in from the outside. It is the picture seen by an enlightened heart assured of the riches of His glorious inheritance, inspired to spread those riches around.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
When we think of renewing our minds, we usually frame the activity as an intellectual exercise. Reading, studying, or taking classes are usually details of a mind-renewing plan. Accumulating knowledge and critical thinking skills seem to be effective building blocks to constructing a renewed mind. While this is all true, the flaw in our thinking on this subject, is that this is all there is. And by the world’s standards, that’s true. But as people of faith, we must understand that our brain is not the only organ involved.
Anything that is added to our mind directly from an outside source, even if that source is the Bible or a powerful sermon, will not result in the mind renewal that God so desires for us. Everything must pass through our Spirit-indwelt heart first, before it is passed on to our minds for thought, decision-making, and action. It is the direct involvement of the heart that will deliver the ability to test and approve what God’s will is. The facts alone can’t do it.
In order to achieve the huge payoff—God’s good, pleasing and perfect will—heart and mind must be tightly woven together with the thread of His Spirit’s wisdom, guidance and love. Without this, conformance to the world’s pattern is the only possible outcome. With this, all of the transformative benefits found in His perfect will await you. Conform you must, but conform to eternity instead of the world. When you do, not only will you begin to transform yourself, but you will help chip away at the pattern of the world around you, replacing it with pieces of His good, pleasing and perfect will. Now that’s transformation!
Be a transformer—a world-transforming, eternity-conforming transformer—today!
“Jesus answered him, ‘It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Bartering with God. If we all are truly honest, we will remember times when we’ve done this.
“God, if you [fill in the blank], I’ll [fill in the blank].”
It usually happens in times of trial or struggle. If God will just get us out of this mess we’re in, we’ll vow to straighten up and never get ourselves into the same mess again.
Jesus led us by His powerful example with regard to testing God. Jesus was facing a battle greater than many we will ever face. After 40 days in the wilderness with nothing to eat, Satan shows up, with his remedy to Jesus’ hunger—he tells Jesus to use His superpowers! Then Satan ups the ante two more times with more temptations all designed to get Jesus to betray God. Jesus, of course, stands firm and does not give in to Satan’s plan.
Putting God to the test, is part of Satan’s plan for us too. He tells us to withhold praise until God does what we want. He tells us that God is a god of “if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” He tells us to test God’s promises by demanding that they be delivered on our terms instead of God’s.
The main flaw in Satan’s plan is that we don’t have anything to offer God. God doesn’t need anything. He’s God. So, the whole testing and bartering thing doesn’t work. And think about this: God’s gift of grace is the gift of His infinite love for us. First, it is of infinite value, therefore there is nothing of finite value we could barter for it. Second, God’s grace is a gift. There is nothing we need to barter for it.
So when you face temptations, particularly those associated with tough times, don’t test God, just trust Him.
“I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God.”
Do you publicly acknowledge Jesus before others? Sometimes we are reluctant to do this, for a variety of reasons. We may not feel it is our place. We may not want to experience the backlash of criticism that may come with it. We may not know exactly how to acknowledge Him. We may even face more significant consequences or even persecution for witnessing about Jesus.
Jesus knows this.
When Jesus was teaching His disciples in this passage, they would likely face severe penalties and they could even face death if they acknowledged Him publicly.
Jesus knew this.
Why would he teach, both then and now, that we should be willing to subject ourselves to this kind of unpleasantry?
Because Jesus is up to it.
You see, Jesus is the one being attacked when skeptics reject our testimony. Jesus is the one being scorned when we acknowledge Him as our Lord.
And He is up to it.
If we know Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we know He has already died for us and saved us for all eternity. Skeptics and critics, atheists and even aggressive objectors can’t kill Him (again) and take that away from us. No matter how hard they try or how convinced they are that we are crazy for believing in Him, He died for us. It’s done. We are eternally saved. So we can boldly proclaim Him, in love, whenever the opportunity presents itself. And we can know that He is already proclaiming us before the angels of God.