Category Archives: Scripture

Mighty To Save

G. K. Chesterton says in Orthodoxy that Original Sin is the only tenet of the Christian faith that can actually be proven – one only needs to read the newspapers.

We know the world is broken, sick, in need of deliverance.  We know it and we feel it.  I have had the opportunity in the last few weeks to discover what the Bible means by “bowels of compassion.”  I have been so anxious for two members of my family that at times I have been nearly sick with it.  I have laid this at the Father’s feet almost daily, committing myself to trust Him, but that does not make the experience less painful.

When Jesus was on His knees before the Father at Gethsemane, He knew how the story would play out.  He had told His disciples that He would die and rise again after three days.  He faced His suffering with the full knowledge that His death was temporary, that the grave could not restrain Him, that He would be as full of joy on Sunday as He was full of sorrow on Thursday night.

In spite of this, Jesus sweat blood and begged to be released from His “cup”.  It was painful to even anticipate the suffering of the cross.  He knew the beautiful redemptive plan unfolding, yet His humanity bound Him to that moment that I knew so well a few weeks ago – the moment when you see something dreadful immediately before you, but no way to avoid it.  It’s like being tied to the railroad tracks as the train approaches.

And the cup did not pass from Him.  Nor did He shrink from it.  With sublime courage, He faced false accusations with truth,  mockery with the dignity of silence, and the whole prolonged ordeal with dogged perseverance.   The reward of His Passion is described by Paul in Philippians 2:9-11: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (ESV).

Jesus’ death and resurrection buys our redemption.  It is accepted as atonement on our behalf, and we are, in the words Ephesians, “accepted in beloved.”  We are received in Christ with Whom the Father is well pleased.  But Philippians promises us something more than this.  The same Jesus who bore our sins upon the Cross has earned the right to judge sin.  Having offered the perfect sacrifice for sin, He has authority to judge those who refuse to receive it, and to judge the very brokenness of the world that He came to heal.  In Revelation 5, it is the Lamb-who-was-slain Who is worthy to break open the scroll of God’s judgment.

We are far less comfortable with the judging Jesus than we are with the gentle Jesus, but let us think on this:  IT IS THE SAME SAVIOR.  Christ restores the Eden that Adam lost when sin first entered the world.  According to I Corinthians 15, Christ makes alive again that which is dead through Adam’s Fall.  He will restore that which has been lost and heal that which has been broken.

Whatever is wrong with the world, we know this: Christ will redeem it or He will judge it, but either way, He will perfect it.

In this way, the Cross provides us with justice.  It offers peace with God and peace with each other for those willing to walk in grace and forgiveness.  For those who have been wronged, the Cross provides us with a qualified judge Who knows what it is to be wronged, and who will surely have compassion on those who find no vindication in this life.  If Christ was willing to go to Calvary to satisfy the righteous demands of God’s justice, we should never doubt that He cares about what is fair and just in our own lives.  The call to Christians to forgive is not a call to deny justice; it is a call to receive Christ’s death on the Cross as the payment for sin just as God receives it.  By doing so, I place all that is owed me in the hands of Christ, and I ask Him to repair the damage done by those who hurt me.  It is His to bear the cost of sin, and His to redeem the consequences.

As Easter approaches, I am praying for a resurrection of sorts for those I love – to see the death of a relationship swallowed up in the victory of life and love.  God is faithful, and no one can pluck us out of the Father’s hand.  As the sun comes up on the first day of the week, let us think about the earthquake that woke up Jerusalem two thousand years ago, and let us hear in the turmoil the hammer of God striking away the seal on an empty tomb.

 

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Radiance

I’ve been working solo on Beth Moore’s video study, David:  A Heart Like His.  The lesson I watched last night examined the characteristics of praise.

My first lesson on praise came when I was in the sixth grade.  Of course, I didn’t realize it was a praise lesson then, but I learned from it all the same.  That was my first year of middle school, and it didn’t go well.  I was quickly singled out as the “weird” student, and it went downhill from there.  Now that I am an educator, I can look back and see classic signs of distress:  my grades plummeted, my appearance became slovenly at times, I had no friends, and I frequently begged to stay home from school.  I have a very laid back and toned-down personality, so depression is not easy to spot, if that’s what it was.  I’m not even sure I could diagnose it now.  I do know that there were mornings when I didn’t want to get out bed.  My homework was often left undone because I didn’t want think about school when I was at home.  Don’t think I failed at everything, but my good memories of that year are few and far between.

The way that I found to cope was through the cassette player in our family car.  It was 1986, and we had Sandi Patty’s Let There Be Praise.  I can distinctly remember mornings when I couldn’t bear the idea of going to school, but I could bear the thought of getting up and going to the car.  So, I would make a deliberate decision to get dressed and walk out to the car, so that I could listen to Sandi Patty.  We had a half hour drive to my high school, so I had thirty minutes to listen to songs like “Let There Be Praise” and “Shepherd of My Heart.”  I’m sure my Dad was sick of that tape, but he never complained.

Reading over what I’ve written, I’m a little skeptical.  Surely, it wasn’t as bad as what I’ve remembered.  I do remember some good things from that year, but there truly were mornings that were every bit as difficult as what I’ve described.  And I learned something from them.  The only way to face hard things is with singing.  It’s why so many martyrs, whose suffering is beyond comparison with ours, went to their deaths singing hymns.  Was it joyous singing?  I don’t know, but it was triumphant.  It was victorious for the simple reason that God inhabits the praise of his people.  His presence comes down to us and dwells with us in the songs that we sing in worship.

When David first moved the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, the Lord told him that he could not build the temple.  Instead, David prepared for the work of building that his son would accomplish, and one of his preparations was the organization of temple worship.  Since the task of helping in worship belonged to the Levites, David chose the clan of the Kohathites to lead temple praise.  Their original job had been to carry the furniture of the tabernacle as the Israelites wandered through the wilderness and into the Promised Land.  In Numbers 4:4, God says to Moses, “This is the service of the sons of Kohath in the tent of meeting: the most holy things.”  When the ark was moved to Jerusalem, this service was at an end.  There was no more need to carry things, but David made them “bearers of the presence” in another sense.  God inhabits the praise of His people, and so, as the Kohathites led temple singing, they were once again lifting up God’s presence before the nation.  When Jehoshaphat went to battle with his choir, it was the Kohathites he placed at the front of his army, praising God all the way to battle, only to find that God had slain their enemies before they arrived (see 2 Chronicles 20).

I learned last night that one of the Hebrew words for praise is hallel.  It means “bright” or “shining”, and it conveys a sense of radiance.  It is also the root of the word hallelujah.  When we offer our hallelujahs to God, we declare that He is radiant, glorious.  We declare that his glory shines over the misery of our circumstances.  We invite him to come and be present in our circumstances, knowing that no darkness can withstand the blazing light of His goodness.

““Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.  Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory  . . .” Rev 19:6-7 (ESV).

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Promises, Not Resolutions

I have to admit that we are coming upon one of my favorite times of the year.  I know that some people get the after-Christmas blues, but that has never been my experience.  The stress of the holidays is over, and we start a brand new year.

January always feels like a very fresh month.  I have fresh calendars full of weeks I haven’t used yet.  The days are oh-so-slowly beginning to lengthen, and now that Daylight Savings Time starts in early March, that really does mean something.  The stores have loaded up their sales tables with merchandise from 2011 to make room for new things in 2012.  Even the bareness of the outdoors, stripped of leaves, flowers and Christmas decorations, has a kind of freshness about it.  Gardeners and farmers have already been preparing for planting in the spring, and the trees are hibernating to prepare for fresh coats of leaves in late March and early April.

Seasons of rest are always seasons of anticipations.  As much as we grieve for things we left behind in 2011 — jobs that we lost or left, family members that passed away, all the changes that mark the progress of our lives — January 1 is the moment that we turn around and face forward to the possibilities of the New Year.  I know what I want out of the next twelve months.  Right now, I have a dissertation sitting on my own 2011 “clearance table.”  I’ve got one more chapter to submit to the committee and a conclusion, and I will be done.  My year of possibilities hopefully includes graduation, and the prospect of moving forward in my career.  And with the dissertation no longer hanging over my head, I begin to dream more emphatically of other projects and interests.

There is something about a New Year that encourages optimism.  After all, whatever disappointments we experienced last year belong to last year.  I am convinced that, while God’s mercies are new every morning, He is an observer of times and seasons.  Landmarks are important, and that includes special days that are landmarks on the calendar.  We can make resolutions every morning and pray for mercy to fulfill them, but New Year’s Day is an invitation to revisit the promises that God has made to us, the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit has invited us to claim as our very own.  “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord,” and He declared it to people who had every reason to believe they had fouled up those plans beyond repair (Jer. 29:11).  But they hadn’t, because they were God’s plans, and God always gets what He wants in the end.

We can approach 2012 joyously and fearlessly, not because we have resolved to be better people, but because God has resolved that we shall be better people.  “He who began a good work in you,” writes the apostle, “will bring it to perfection at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil.1:6).  Until then, my best hope is co-operation and obedience.  So, as the clock strikes midnight, I will be meditating on God’s promises and not my own intentions, and I will certainly be trusting to His faithfulness and not to my own consistency.

Happy New Year!

 

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Approval

Yes, I’ve been off the blog for a while.  In my defense, I’ve been writing a dissertation, which finally looks to be going somewhere.

I came across an interesting quote last night as I was doing some research.  Months ago, while writing about Edmund Spenser, I found an allusion to Mary Magdalene in The Faerie Queene that nobody seems to have written about before, and I’ve been trying to figure out what Mary Magdalene is doing in this particular place in the narrative. So, I did what one usually should do when a Protestant from this historical period does something unusual with Scripture.  I checked the Geneva Bible.

The Geneva Bible (1560) was the most popular English translation of its day.  Even after the KJV was published (1611), people continued to use the Geneva Bible, partly for the marginal notes that explained the text and added cross-references.  In a sense, the Geneva Bible was a study Bible, and it was used for personal and family devotions.

John 20 is the only place in the gospels where we read about Mary’s encounter with Jesus at the tomb – the one where she laments that someone has taken her Lord, and she doesn’t know where to find him. When she realizes that she is speaking to a risen and living Jesus, she immediately grabs hold of Him, only to have Jesus tell her that she must not hold onto Him, as He has not yet ascended to His Father.  The Geneva Bible adds this note:  “Because she was too much addicted to the corporal presence, Christ teacheth her to lift up her mind by faith into heaven, where only after His ascension he remaineth, & where we sit with Him at the right hand of the Father.”

I have to say, this set off some fireworks in my brain.  We often think about our salvation in terms of Christ dying for us, and rightly so, since there is no forgiveness of sins without the atoning sacrifice (Heb. 9:22).  But my research into Reformation teaching has shown me a different emphasis.  Luther and Calvin frequently spoke of the sufficiency or righteousness of Christ.  His sacrifice is important as the way that this righteousness is transferred to us.  When I stand before God, I will be saved, not just because Jesus died, but because His death has given me a righteousness without which God cannot find me acceptable.

For this reason, just as I remember the cross and empty tomb, it is equally important that I think of heaven when I think of Christ.  He occupies the place of ultimate approval — at the right hand of God.  Those who are “in Christ,” those who share the rewards of His suffering, also occupy this place of approval as Christ represents us and intercedes for us to His Father.  For this reason, Jesus says to Mary, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (Jn. 20:17, ESV).  To call Him our God and Father is a privilege that Christ gives us through His own good standing, the approval that God gives Christ is extended over you and me as a holy covering.

For this reason, Paul states, “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34, ESV).  I think believers cannot hear this enough.  We constantly reproach ourselves (usually with good reason), and our adversary, Satan, is always the accuser of the brethren.  But Christ does not accuse us.  He is as gracious to us as He was to the adulterous women when He sent her accusers packing and refused to lift so much as a pebble Himself.  He stands between us and judgment, then His Spirit gives us the power to go and sin no more.

I wonder, when we confess our sins to God (as indeed we must), how would it change our prayers if we were not trying to earn approval or acceptance?  Christ has won approval for us.  Rather, we must seek God’s grace to mend the broken places in us, and the power and the filling of the Spirit to transform our deepest longings and ambitions.  It is for freedom that Christ set us free (Gal. 5:1).

 

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The Wisdom of God

Our ladies group finished our study of Ecclesiastes last night, and I have to admit that I’m relieved.  We’ve had fun with the study, but this is surely one intimidating book to teach.  It’s  full of hard questions and tough topics, and it requires a lot of cross-referencing to other books of the Bible.  There’s not a single aspect of the human experience that Solomon (a.k.a. Mr. Sunshine) can’t sum up with the line, “This too is meaningless!”

One comes to the end of Ecclesiastes wondering if, after all, there really is any use in human reason or logic.  The answer is yes, of course.  We can do our work wisely and well.  We can use our tongues and our good sense to get along with other people and help the communities that we live in.  We can use our time on earth to do our duty:  honor God and live according to His commandments.  Even in this, however, we are limited.  Solomon raises huge questions about oppression, injustice, pain and death.  Sometimes, these come from human  folly.  Sometimes, the most heinous suffering comes from nothing other than the human failure to act wisely.

A breakthrough (for me) came when I saw the definition of wisdom in Easton’s Bible Dictionary.  Specifically, Easton’s defines wisdom as a matter of morality rather than intellect.   Anyone who has endured a college philosophy class knows that there is no harder word for an academic to define than the word “wisdom” (unless it’s the word “truth”).  Perhaps, the reason for this is that we have been trying to define wisdom as an intellectual property when we should have been speaking of it as a virtue.  The validity of this may be easily tested:  is a foolish act and a wicked act the same thing?  I wouldn’t bet on the answer always being “yes”, but I’m guessing that it would be most of the time.

What really rocked my thinking on the subject was one of the references Easton’s recommended on wisdom, I Cor. 1:24:  “But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God” (NLT).  According to this verse, if we want to truly define wisdom, we cannot describe what it is.  We must describe who it is.  Christ, as God in human flesh, is wisdom.  Further, Galatians 3:27 states that when we became believers we “put on Christ.”  Putting on Christ is New Testament speak for holiness.

So here is what unfolded:  Wisdom is a virtue that Christ personifies.  To put on Christ-likeness is to put on wisdom, as one would put on a garment.  Therefore, to pursue holiness and to pursue wisdom is the same thing.  Both holiness and wisdom are terms that describe a life lived rightly and lived well.

I think this reading will stand in the light of 2 Peter 1:3:  “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence” (NLT).  It is knowledge of God that equips us to live godly (holy) lives, and the application of that knowledge may be properly called wisdom.

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An Exercise in Irony

I have been plugging away at teaching composition courses this summer, and I am now on the second week of a course in research and argumentation.   For the class I am currently teaching, the topic is technology, and how it is transforming the world around us.  We kicked off the course last week by viewing the PBS special, Digital_Nation.

What we know for certain is that technology is not just changing what we think about (everything from instant news to an explosion of pornography), it is also changing how we think.  We are becoming more visual and more vocal now that anyone with a computer has a tool of mass communication.   We have also rapidly adapted to getting information in bits and bytes.  With more information to think about, we have ever less time to think deeply.

What we don’t know for certain is how exactly this is going to change us as a society.  The Jasmine Revolution suggests that the internet has the power to transform political realities in the same way that Gutenberg’s printing press facilitated the Protestant Reformation.  Among the potentially positive effects is that political apathy will decline as young people recognize the empowerment technology offers when it is used wisely.

Digital_Nation also exposes what the producers might consider the darker side of technology — video game addiction, for example, or sexting.  Yet I can’t help thinking that these are not so much the darker side of technology, as they are new expressions of the darker side of human nature.   There is the tendency to construct fantasies for ourselves and to cling to them desperately,  and the pride that wants to define and enlarge ourselves as individuals at the expense  of community.  Above all else, there is the repeated denial of dependence – the insistence that we are completely in control even when we are not.

The most striking example of this in Digital_Nation was the discussion of multitasking that came at the beginning of the program.  The interviewers asked students at MIT how good they were at multitasking.  Everyone insisted that they were effective multitaskers, and most students expressed indignation at the refusal of professors to recognize that they were perfectly capable of performing tasks online while taking in lectures.  Yet, the brain scans performed by scientists offered undeniable proof that multitasking doesn’t work.  The brain is  not designed to do more than one thing at a time.  We have plenty of devices designed to boost our productivity, but the more we use them, the less productive we become.

The problem with discussing how technology changes us is that we are so immersed in it on a daily basis that we find it hard to step back and think about how our relationships have changed since they became digital, or how our work changed when we began to work with word processors instead of pens and notebooks. Even this discussion, an online post rather than a conversation around a dinner table, is an exercise in irony.  Still, I think that there are two things I can take away from Digital_Nation.

The first is to never take for granted my mastery over the tools I use.  The repeated insistence of tech users that they were in complete control even when they were obviously not begs a reference to Psalm 19:12, “How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults” (NLT).  Perhaps, we will be wiser in our use of technology if we pay attention to the feedback of others around us.  (Such as when my mother sarcastically refers to my laptop as “Anne’s beloved.”)  Or, perhaps, we might look to lesson two.

Lesson two is to recognize that our one-task-at-a-time brains are the invention of an all-wise God.  Rather than seeing our inability to multitask as a limitation, we should be grateful that God has given it to us as a safety net.  We are told by Jesus that our words and actions have deep roots in the thought life (Mt. 12:34).  We are also commanded in Scripture to meditate on God’s Word (see Psalms 1, 19, and 119).  God has designed us to make Him the single focus of our lives.  If we meditate on Scripture and interact with Him more persistently than we IM the people on our buddy list (I Thess. 5:17), we are going to have victory over the things that distract us spiritually and destroy our fruitfulness.  Why?  Because we can’t multitask spiritually.  A mind that is turned toward God can’t be turned toward sin and addiction at the same time.  God has made it physically impossible.  He has wired us for success if we only embrace the spiritual discipline of God-centeredness.

This is why Paul characterizes victory over sin as “taking captive every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) and the “renewing of the mind” (Rom. 12:2).  Technology has no power to overthrow the God-centered mind.  Rather, those who obey the first commandment to love God with all their minds are in a position to take technology captive to the eternal purposes of God’s kingdom, and that’s something worth plugging into.

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God’s Pleasures

My last post discussed the problems with Solomon’s pursuit of pleasure in Ecclesiastes 2.  I had a great moment Monday night as I was preparing to teach this lesson to my Wed. night Bible study.  I had one of those moments that come sometimes to teachers of Scripture when you think the lesson is going to be about one thing, but it takes a left turn and goes somewhere else.  When that happens, it is almost always because the Holy Spirit has taken the wheel and pointed you to the lesson He wants to teach rather than the one that you want to teach.

I thought I was going to teach a lesson on “good” pleasures.  Whereas, Solomon’s pleasures were all about his own power and importance, I was going to find the New Testament verses that tell us how to find God-pleasing pleasures.  After all, I love to quote Ps. 16:11, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”  And haven’t C.S. Lewis and John Piper both written about a Christian hedonism that sees the glory of God in the joyful lives of His people?  Well, yes.  And I still think they’re on to something.

The problem is that, when I looked up NT references to “pleasure”, the results were disconcerting.  Far from describing the pleasures of the Christian life, every place in the NT that speaks of human pleasure does so in a negative context.  I’m talking about passages like 2 Thess. 2 that tells how those who choose pleasure over truth will be given over to a strong delusion.  Or James 5 which pronounces the judgment of God on those who live in luxury at the expense of the poor.   I mean, these are some verses that are seriously down on pleasure.

On the other hand, all the verses that present pleasure in a positive context talk about God’s pleasure or that God is pleased to do something.  Sometimes, it depends on the translation you are looking at (and I looked at several), but there seems to be something synonymous in the original Greek (which I haven’t studied) between what God wills and what gives Him pleasure.  Naturally, if God is omnipotent, He wills and does as He pleases.
There is some food for thought in that.  What gives God pleasure?  Are we somehow being left out in the cold by a sovereign God who pursues His own pleasures while condemning ours?

That’s where the lesson got really good because here is the list of pleasures I found:

Revelation 4:11 — We were created for God’s pleasure.  Why do I exist?  Because long before the world began (see Eph. 1), God thought of me, and the idea of me gave Him pleasure, so here I am.

Luke 10:21 — God is pleased to reveal Himself to His people.  Those who come to him with the faith of a child receive a revelation of God’s person that is hidden from those who are wise in their own opinions.

Luke 12:32-34 — It is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom.  Not just a kingdom, but the kingdom, as in The Only Kingdom That Matters.  Solomon’s rich and mighty kingdom vanished.  Archeologists sit around their dirt holes and argue over whether or not it was ever actually there.  But God gives His people an eternal kingdom, and it is His pleasure to give.

Ephesians 1:5-11 — For His own good pleasure, God has adopted us and given us an inheritance.

1 Peter 2:19-20 — God takes pleasure in our patient endurance.  Not in our suffering, mind you, but in faith-filled endurance that overcomes that suffering.

Hebrews 11:6 — God is pleased with our faith, and without faith, it is impossible to please Him.  Specifically, He wants a faith that trusts Him to reward our pursuit of Him.

Philippians 2:13 — God receives pleasure from the results of His work in us as we learn to will and act in ways that honor Him.

All this left me wondering:  If God made me for His own pleasure, what is it about me that gives Him pleasure?  I know better than to think that it is my frequent bad attitude or sniping over whatever circumstance I’m in.  I know what God thinks of that!  But what is it I do that is pleasurable to Him?   I don’t just mean my good choices, but when I do the sort of work that He created me as an individual to do.  When does God look over my shoulder in enjoyment at what I’m engaged in?

I’m going to spend some time thinking about this because – whatever it is – I want to do more of it.

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The Vanity of Pleasures

This week in our small group Bible study, we’ll be looking at Ecclesiastes  2.

“So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me.  And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil.  Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”

Eccl 2:9-11 (ESV)

Two things stand out to me about Solomon’s pursuit of pleasure.  The first is that he tied pleasure to success.  The verses that precede this are a list of all the ways Solomon sought to please himself – gardens, fountains, wine, women, a private orchestra.  And he sums it up by saying, “So I became great and surpassed all who were before me . . .”  In other words, he who dies with the most toys wins.  All the grandeur of his palace and all the pleasures of his (overstocked) harem were meant to promote Solomon’s greatness as a king.  Yes, it was fun, but it was also about public image as the biggest man in the kingdom.  The problem was that Solomon got no satisfaction whatsoever out of the pleasure his “toys” gave him or the bigshot image he was able to project.

The second thing I see is a sense of entitlement — “and this was my reward for all my toil.”  Solomon has a point that work should have rewards, and certainly there should be enjoyment in the fruit of our labors as Solomon states later in the book.    The problem is that this can be used to excuse all kinds of destructive behavior.  I wonder how many honest or good people have fallen into pits of sin by thinking that the system owed them one.  “I’ve done so much for them, isn’t it my turn to be happy?”  Or the ever-growing number of politicians who seem to think that power and success entitle them to do whatever they want.  How many important men have we seen on the news looking completely shell-shocked that they didn’t get away with whatever they thought they were powerful enough to do?

It seems to me that these two motives behind Solomon’s pursuit of pleasure are part of the reason why it didn’t work.  Pleasure as a way of showing off success is going to be really shallow pleasure.  Why?  Because it’s not about having fun.  It’s about looking like you’re having fun.  It’s about looking like you’re having more fun than the next guy, whether you really are or not.  Perhaps, the celebrities we see continuously in the news for their excessive merry-making really are having a blast.  Maybe they are getting a high that’s high enough to make the sudden crashes and hangovers seem worthwhile.  But I suspect it has a lot more to do with showing the world that they have the money and mojo to live like the dickens and get away with it.  I’m no psychologist, but you have to wonder if the point of the party isn’t as much about being a “freaking rock star from Mars,” as it is about actually getting some enjoyment from life.

Likewise, pleasure by entitlement strikes me as a tricky thing at best.  After all, some of the best things in life are the things that no one deserves.  Like sunsets, the love of small children, birthday presents, and the frozen watermelon lemonade they let me sample at the coffee shop today.  Feelings of entitlement have a way of poisoning things like these.  Part of the pleasure of life lies in the happiness you get that you didn’t plan for, didn’t expect, and feel blessed to have received.  On the other hand, who wants to be continually keeping score about whether or not you got what (you think) you deserved.  That is surely the path to bitterness and resentment – the two most joy-killing feelings in the world.

Scripture suggests another kind of pleasure:  “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11).  In whose presence?  In God’s presence.  And they are forever pleasures – the kind that don’t fade away or get used up.  He’s the one with the glory and the fame, and He’s the one who is worthy.  For you and me, it is enough to be wherever He is – to live in His presence.  That’s where the life really is.

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The Arc of His Mercy

We are studying tonight at Barnes & Noble in Johnson City, and this is the view from the patio outside:

Check out this arch:

No fragment of a rainbow this.  It was a complete arch and with vivid hues.  The pictures don’t do it justice, especially since I couldn’t get the whole arch in one frame.

You can kind of see from the last picture that there was a double rainbow, with another arch (less bright) just visible at the top.

So there you have it.  God has been painting this evening.  Or rather, playing with His optical illusions and reminding us that what emerges from a storm is often just a matter of perspective.

Christians often describe the chaos and disasters of life as “storms” that pass over us.  It is important to remember that, as believers, we don’t look for silver linings in our clouds.  Some things that happen to us are thoroughly bad.  There is no silver lining to divorce, death, bankruptcy, child abuse or many other evil things that occur in a broken world.  What we do look for are “rainbows” – the multi-hued loveliness that appears when God’s presence shines on the darkness in our lives.  The white light of his glory breaks upon our tears, and a whole spectrum of colors shine in brilliant contrast to the clouds covering us.  Such beauty reminds us that the question, “Why did this happen to me?”, frequently evokes an answer that finds no expression in words.  In the presence of God, we walk in a light of truth that often cannot be articulated.

When God showed Noah the first rainbow, He offered it as a dazzling symbol of His mercy.  It is the bow of his wrath, unstrung and resting.  It reminds us that God’s promises to us never expire.  He is faithful to them for all eternity.  So, as we gaze in admiration on the beauty of the Lord’s character as well as His creation, let us remember the words of the psalmist:

The Lord is merciful and gracious,

slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

He will not always chide,

nor will he keep his anger forever.

He does not deal with us according to our sins,

nor repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;

as far as the east is from the west,

so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

As a father shows compassion to his children,

so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.

Psalms 103:8-13 (ESV)

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Happy Easter!

I always love when Easter comes late in April.  By that time, the mountains are awake for Spring.  Mother Nature, ever the stately old lady, needs proper time to dress herself.  She never has her best things out in March.

Everyone I know in Appalachia has to deal emotionally with the advent of autumn.  Some who suffer from chronic depression especially struggle when the leaves fall, and they face months of barren trees.  Because the Appalachian Mountains are one large deciduous forest, the leaves are the glory of the hills. When they fall, the place feels like it has become “ichabod” – the glory has departed (1 Sam 4:21).

A glimpse of Fall near the Tennessee/North Carolina state line:

A somewhat bleaker landscape.

Mother copes with the dinginess of winter by pointing out that cold weather is peak time for stargazing, and that you can see more stars when the leaves aren’t blocking the view.  She doesn’t use binoculars or a telescope; she just likes to stand outside and look at them.

My take is a little different.  Our mountain roads come with a hundred and one lovely vistas.  These too are sometimes obstructed by the leaves of the trees closest to the road.  Literally, you can’t see the mountains for the leaves!  When the leaves fall, it’s worth driving the mountains in winter to see the unexpected views.

Even so, I find winter a little dreary in the hills.  The mountains, stripped of foliage, are grand, but not always beautiful.  What finally reconciled me to winter was reading about that season as a “rest” period for the trees.  They are massive factories – recycling air, producing food, and constantly processing the chemical changes necessary to keep such a large plant alive.  Photosynthesis can really take it out of you.  It isn’t just that the cold weather denies the tree the opportunity to flourish; the tree needs several months of inactivity in order to thrive during the rest of the year.

Our own seasons are much like this.  We look upon death as a ghastly specter haunting our futures.  I don’t know anyone who joyfully anticipates old age and demise.  And yet our own Last Fall is a necessary transition – so necessary that Jesus Himself did not shrink from death, but bore out His humanity to a bitter end.  “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again” (John 10:17 ESV).  He died deliberately, intentionally to fulfill a purpose.  For our salvation, He set aside life and then took it up again.

AND THEN TOOK IT UP AGAIN!  Not for us the empty sorrow of those who see this life as all we have. “Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19, ESV).  It is fitting for many reasons that we should have Easter in the Spring, but largely that we should not forget the purpose of Spring itself.  The whole season bears witness to a truth that every culture on earth has recognized.  Death does not overcome life.  There is something immortal in every man or woman that the grave is not strong enough to swallow up.  As Christians, we know that the true hope of this is found in Christ whose death paid for our sins, and whose resurrection conquered the curse of death that sin brought into the world:  “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor 15:22, ESV)

If our faith is in Christ, Who is the resurrection and life, our own rebirth is as sure as the Spring.  This was enough to make even the serious and scholarly apostle break forth into song:

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 Cor 15:55-57 (ESV)

Happy Easter!

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