Calling Again

Ephesians 4:1-2 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love

Every call has two players, the caller and the called.  It did not take us long to fall in love with caller ID.  Suddenly, the advantage we always had at the door via the peephole, was now ours at the phone.  Do I really want to answer this call and listen to a recorded message tell me to hold until a real person is inclined to show up?  Let me think.  No.  It is very important who, if indeed it is a who, is on the initiating end of the call.

Paul summoned the Ephesian Christians to a walk of faith that would often set them at odds with the culture around them.  What was the motivation for these people to walk such a difficult road?  If the call issued from some pulseless, heartless, mindless entity, be it force or fiction, who wouldn’t hang up?

But Paul had spent the entire first half of his letter gushing “to the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:6,12,14).  He reminded them of their walk in faith in which this glorious Savior revealed the deadness of their spirit because of sin.  Then he whisked them away, not to the mountaintop, but to heaven itself to view the wonder of what God had done for them in Christ.  Ephesians 2:4-7  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ- by grace you have been saved- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

No one less than the Creator of all things, the Lord of the universe, the holy, living, immutable God of glory has called.  Who will answer?

What a wonderful Savior he is!  (more to come)

Calling

Ephesians 4:1-2 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love

“The calling which has called you” is a fascinating phrase.  What else would a ‘calling’ do if not call?  This calling, notes Paul, is directed to ‘you,’ the church.

It would not be fair to say that the church of my childhood failed to teach the Christian life as a calling.  After all, I only listened when I wasn’t distracted.  They may have taught it very well.  But what I distinctly remember was that the word ‘calling’ was usually reserved for preachers.  That is what they always wanted to know about a prospective pastor, was he ‘called.’  I came to understand that being called was the opposite of doing it because you wanted to.  ‘Calling’ was virtuous, ‘wanting’ was self-serving and nigh to being struck by lightening.  I have since modified my own understanding of this calling.  There are days when I wonder how they could have dreamed that anybody would want this.  There are thankfully many other days when I wonder how anybody could not want this.  ‘Wanting’ isn’t the issue.  ‘Calling’ is the issue.

Such a use of the word ‘calling’ is accurate, for Paul would write of his calling as an apostle.  There is truly a calling to specific vocation in Christian ministry.  But it is obvious from the two verses above that the calling to specific vocation falls in the larger context of another calling, a calling which is fundamental to even being a Christian at all.  The significance of this cannot be overstated.  For our calling as followers of Christ impacts every vocation at every moment.  If we are his, then we are his everywhere and his all the time.  There are bi-vocational preachers, but there are no bi-vocational followers of Christ.  There are only those who reject him, those who follow him, and those who are fooling themselves.

More to come…

What a Savior!

The Unity of the Spirit

Ephesians 4:3 ...being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

The “unity of the Spirit” indicates a unity that is created by the Holy Spirit himself.  Ephesians 4:3 calls upon the body of Christ to preserve it, not to create it.  We can’t create it.  We can nurture and guard it wherever we find it.

The effort to gather all Christians in the same place and call it unity is artificial at best, deceptive at worst.  God has provided for the gathering of his people under the authoritative Word of his prophets and apostles.  But he does not gather his people on earth for us to remain in a gathered state.  Our final, enduring gathering is pictured for us throughout the Scriptures.  But the church militant, the church in the world, only gets a glimpse of it now.  Our little gatherings are but a brief reminder of what awaits us at journey’s end.  These gatherings on earth stir our hope and bolster our faith.  Then, out we go again, for the church militant is meant to be just that, militant, scattered about God’s world, sowing the seed of truth, laboring over that which comes to life, in joyful anticipation of the final fruit of Christian unity, heaven.

If this is true, then we ought not waste our time trying create a single church of the many.  We ought to be planting new ones.  It is a mistake for parents to have as their goal to forever keep their children within reach, to have them always near, always worshiping where and how they worship.  The proper goal of a parent is release.  An independent and prospering child ought to be a deep satisfaction to any parent.

Again, if this be true, it is a wrong-headed goal for a church to only get bigger and to always have more.  The right goal is the advance of the Kingdom of God and the right means is making disciples of Jesus.  If ‘bigger’ and ‘more’ serve those ends, good.  But a pile of seed in one place for too long is not good.  At last, it will begin to stink.  If the natural work of a disciple of Jesus is to make another disciple, then it seems that the natural work of a congregation of believers is make other congregations of believers.

I have been told that they will not un-invent the car and that people will go to church where they want to.  I believe it.  That’s part of the problem.  People go to church where they want instead of where they should.  “Churched” people go where they want.  Disciples go where they should.  And if need be, they start new gatherings wherever they find themselves in order that they may be faithful to one who who died to redeem them.

“Sir, you are about to tear down everything we have worked so hard to build!”  Well, what if I told you that everything you have built will be torn down anyway.  It is, as they say, only a matter of time.  And the time may be short.  But every new disciple of Jesus will live forever.  Jesus will see to that, if we will see to the obedience of our faith, scattering the seed, far or near, or better, both.  A unified church is not all of us in one building.  It is all of us obeying the voice of the Holy Spirit who is speaking through the sure Word of God and then doing as he bids, going where he sends.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

Nevertheless

Psalm 73:23-24 Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.  You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you shall receive me to glory.

The psalmist’s faith had to grow up and become a ‘nevertheless’ faith.  He had swallowed the line of the prosperity preachers and the hook was beginning to cause serious pain.  The line is that God always seeks your prosperity in this world, and what is more, prosperity as you define it.  The hook is that sooner or later trouble comes to everyone.  So what does it mean if you plead and plead with God but the trouble is never removed?  Your lack of faith?  His lack of power?  Or does it mean that really you don’t belong to him?  That would have to be the logical conclusion of a theology that says God always wants you well, safe, and plentifully supplied.  If then you are not well, in danger, and lacking, then the fault must lie with you or him or else you aren’t his after all.

The psalmist’s immature faith had taken a double whammy.  Not only was he hurting without relief, but the wicked were prospering without reservation.  How can this be?  He was slipping away from his faith because it didn’t make sense.

Two errors were in play.  The psalmist misunderstood his suffering.  Both the psalmist and the wicked misunderstood their prosperity.  It all began to resolve itself in worship.  The psalmist was in no danger even though he suffered.  The wicked were in great danger even though they prospered.  In worship, God revealed to him both how things played out for the wicked and how things really were for him.

The wicked were the ones in a slippery place and, when they slipped, no one would  be there to catch them.  The psalmist, in spite of his troubles, walked with God.  “Nevertheless” is always in the vocabulary of a growing faith.  Remember the three Hebrew stalwarts in the third chapter of Daniel?  Faced with a fiery furnace and a furious king, they told him in Daniel 3:17 that Yahweh was quite able to deliver them.  But don’t stop there.  Daniel 3:18 begins, “but if not.”  That’s kind of like ‘nevertheless.’  Both phrases look at a bad thing through the eyes of a faithful God and conclude that it is better to have nothing with him than everything without him.  That is truly a God-honoring conclusion.

No wonder the psalmist’s renewed faith could exclaim, “Whom have I in heaven but you?  And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:25-26)

What a wonderful Savior he is!

The Triumph of Mumbo Jumbo

Psalm 110:7 The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.

I have a habit, for good or ill, of perusing headlines on news digest pages.  I do occasionally read the stories behind the headlines, but the headlines are a fascination in and of themselves.  Whatever the pith of the story, the headlines appear to jump on and ride off in four directions at once.  Whatever else bothers our generation, self-contradiction does not appear to be a worry.

It is sad to watch the eclipse of reason in a nation or a person.  That blessed but increasingly rare commodity of common sense gets farther away as we abandon timeless truth.  So much of prophecy, after all, is only common sense with divine application.  Prophecy simply states that if you leave point A and head directly toward point B, turning neither to the right nor to the left, you will at last get where you are going.  The supernatural element in prophecy goes like this.  “I have seen point B and you don’t want to go there.  Turn.  Now.”

The current president of Harvard University, Drew Faust, said in her installation address, “Truth is an aspiration, not a possession.”  She was further distancing herself and her university from its heritage, a heritage that unswervingly believed in divine truth.  This is where our culture is.  Truth that was once certain became relative.  Now truth is reduced to mere aspiration.  We are exactly where Paul said we would be.  “Always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7)  If we are not at point B, we are surely in the vicinity and the ETA is near at hand.

If Mumbo Jumbo was an animal, I think it would be an elephant.  It would not triumph by its dexterity or brilliance, and surely not by its reason.  Mumbo Jumbo would triumph by its sheer size and weight.  Indeed, the room is nearly full of Mumbo Jumbo now.  But its triumph is limited, and by biblical standards, short lived.

Proverbs 6:12-15 A worthless person, a wicked man, goes about with crooked speech, winks with his eyes, signals with his feet, points with his finger, with perverted heart devises evil, continually sowing discord; therefore calamity will come upon him suddenly; in a moment he will be broken beyond healing.

By contrast, God says, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”

What a wonderful Savior he is!

The Feast of the Resurrection of Christ

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You observe days and months and seasons and years.  I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.  Galatians 4:10-11

Easter’s older and better name is the Feast of the Resurrection of Christ.  Easter was a pagan festival.  The Feast of the Resurrection of Christ can come no earlier than March 22 and won’t do that again until 2285.  I hope to be at another feast by then.  It can come no later than April 25.  That will happen again in 2038.  I have two chances of attending that Feast of the Resurrection, slim and none.  And Slim just may be out of town.

Easter is a movable feast, that is, it won’t stay still.  I would love to explain to you how the date of Easter moves from year to year.  As soon as I figure it out, I will.  It has something to do with the Paschal Full Moon which may differ from the actual full moon by up to two days.  How you have a full moon that is not a full moon is an interesting question in itself, isn’t it?

Paul chided the Galatian Christians (the Colossians too, 2:16f) for their adherence to a calendar of supposed sacred events and days.  He went so far as to say that this made him afraid for them.  He felt that his preaching of Christ and the cross and Christian freedom had been useless.  The Galatians seemed to be happier trying to please God through religious ritual and observance than through celebrating their freedom in Christ and pursuing a genuine spiritual fruitfulness in life.

Paul’s fear is neither old nor distant.  We like the way its always been done.  Repetition gets easier as it goes along and it offers a comfort all its own.  In a world where life changes as frequently as the ocean tides, rehearsing things we already know may provide emotional stability.

So, if ritual and repetition comfort us, why is Paul afraid for us?  Paul knew the content of the Old Testament and he knew the Gospel.  What he found there warned him that such comfort may be false and therefore dangerous.  To what or whom will you trust the welfare of your soul?  The Galatians wanted to trust a calendar of days (sabbath), months (new moons), seasons (recurring festivals) and years (jubilee years).  Paul wanted them to trust Christ alone.

The Biblical evidence of the danger is strong.  In Isaiah 1, the people were keeping all the festivals and special days.  They were performing all the rituals.  Their hands were even lifted high in prayer.  But God was not listening.  He wanted an honest, heart to heart talk with his children.  What they were doing was all show.  “Come,” God said, “Let’s argue this out.” (1:18)

Jesus said the Gospel was like new wine, far too powerful to put in old wine-skins. (Matthew 9:14-17)  He didn’t follow the accepted path with all its sacred repetitions.  Jesus had been challenged by men who might have acknowledged his leadership if he would only bless what they were already doing.  But Jesus pointed out that what they were already doing was the problem.  He didn’t come to bless it but to break it up, to start something new, to start something so radical that only the cross could secure it and so powerful that even the grave could not hold it back.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be crammed into a calendar, an event, or an observance.  Even the commands of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, those great and God-ordained observances of the Christian life, are not containers of grace, as if the powerful grace of God could be canned, placed upon a shelf, and pulled out when the calendar says its OK.  No, they are windows, God’s windows on a scene so vast, so magnificent that it boggles the mind, breaks the heart, and bends the knee in worship and adoration.

Paul was afraid.  I too am afraid. I am afraid for Christians who comfort themselves by how things have always been done and who shackle themselves to a calendar of Christmases and Easters, Advents and Lenten seasons, Pentecost and saint’s days, a calendar which some of our spiritual forefathers rejected at great cost.  They rejected it because it appears that Paul rejected it, also at great cost.

I am indeed afraid for Christians who are content to live by man-made traditions, but I am not in the least afraid for the Gospel.  It is still the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.  And this Gospel will break every chain of every child who truly wants to be free.  Praise be to God for the thief on the cross who had no chance to look through either of those mighty windows of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Yet he found all that his nearly spent life needed in the face, in the words, in the person of Jesus, the Christ of God.

I can’t explain how Easter moves on the calendar from year to year, but I am glad that it does.  It keeps us alert.  I hope that one year very soon it will show up in July.  Would the cross and the resurrection be worth celebrating then?

What a wonderful Savior he is!

Half Truth

Genesis 3:4-5  But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

A half truth is a piece of truth married to a lie.  The children of this marriage are not only evil but hard to recognize as such.

The deceiver began by sowing a seed of doubt regarding God’s word.  Eve must have believed that it doesn’t hurt to talk.  But it did.  Eve knew what God had said, but then she listened to other voices.  Knowledge of God’s word does not insure obedience any more than knowing the speed limit insures that you will not exceed it.

It is a short walk from entertaining doubts to embracing lies.  The half truth seems so reasonable.  “You will know good and evil.”  That was true enough.  “You will be like God.”  It takes more than knowledge to be like him.

Things happened as God said they would, not Satan.  They knew the difference between good and evil, but they also knew which one they had done.  They were not like God at all.  So the hiding began, from each other and from God.  So it continues today.

Here is a quick study for anyone who will take the time.  John 8:44, the devil will always lie.  Romans 3:23, man alone will always sin.  Hebrews 6:18, God will always tell the truth.  1 John 1:9, Jesus will always save a confessing sinner.

The Bible is not a twelve step plan for successful living.  It is a one way plan for redemption.  No book on earth speaks more frankly about sin.  On nearly every page, sin is there in its unvarnished ugliness.  Alongside the sin, the Bible speaks of love, grace, sacrifice, mercy, truth, and righteousness.  We are not told of sin to belittle us, but to redeem us, to cleanse us, and to restore us.

This is no half truth.  It will happen as God said, not Satan, not man.  If God said it is sin, then sin it is.  If God said he would forgive, then forgiveness is there for the asking.  But there is no way around it.  We have to start talking to him… and, oh, how we need to listen!

James 4:8  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

What a Savior!

Reader’s Guide

Matthew 21:42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures; ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone‘…”

Occasionally, I have read something only to finish and then realize that I haven’t a clue what I just read.  Usually it is the result of distraction.  The reading function is on autopilot but the mind is elsewhere.  At other times, it is the result of my failure to comprehend or the writer’s failure to communicate.

However, when Jesus confronted religious leaders with the question ‘have you never read,’ it was a direct challenge to their spiritual blindness and the greatest gift they would ever be offered.  These men had not only read Scripture, they had studied and pondered Scripture.  Yet for all their opportunity and for all their effort, they had missed the single greatest thing the Scriptures had been given to show.  They could not recognize the Son of God.

We must not condemn them lest we condemn ourselves.  His own intimate disciples needed his help.  Luke 24:45-46 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer…”  Sometimes Christians ask, “Why can’t people see?”  We shouldn’t have to ask.  We should know.  No one sees until God helps them see.  1 Corinthians 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

John reminded the church in 1 John 2:20, “But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you have all knowledge.”  So, if we do see, it is no ground for pride but for thanksgiving.  The knowledge of Christ, the significance of his death and resurrection, and the offer of his grace are not ours by virtue of some innate brilliance on our part.  They are ours because God has been so kind as to not let us perish in our blindness.  Salvation truly is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

Delightful

Psalm 119:14 In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches.

If this could be said of us, what a testimony it would be!  In all ages humanity has been prone to put a premium on wealth.  Yet the psalmist found in the testimonies of God all that riches pretend to offer.

Riches satisfy pride, but they cannot satisfy the soul.  Riches garner admiration from people, but they cannot gain approval from God.  Riches make us feel secure about tomorrow, but they cannot make tomorrow come.  Riches may blind opinion and bribe the judge, but they cannot bear away the guilt of sin.

Mark 8:36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?  We know the answer.  We only need to admit it and embrace it.  When we do, we will be free to embrace this.

1 John 2:1-2 But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

What a Savior!

Pigs Don’t Wear Pearls

Matthew 7:6 Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

With the possible exception of Arnold Ziffle of Hootersville, Tennessee, pigs don’t wear pearls.  Perhaps they will sniff them.  Then they will trample them in the mire.  This trampling isn’t meanness, just meaninglessness.  The bottom line of value for a pig is food.  Therefore, pearls don’t matter.

Matthew 7:6 is a piece of the high humor of heaven that conveys a needed truth.  It is the other side of the coin of judgment.  Matthew 7:1-5 tells the disciples of Jesus what they are not to do in judgment, that is, condemn.  The last word on every person’s life belongs to a sovereign God who knows and sees all.  Matthew 7:6 tells the disciples what they must do in judgment, that is, discern.

Discernment begins with a clear knowledge of what is valuable.  The bottom line of value is different for a disciple of Jesus than for others.  In Matthew 13:45-46, Jesus compared the kingdom of God to a priceless pearl and the disciple of Jesus to a merchant who sold all that he had to gain it.  We must learn to discern our own hearts.  You know what you’ve been trusting when the disappointment hits.  Be glad for this.  You may now shed another idol and remember how valuable is his gift of “a kingdom which cannot be shaken.” (Hebrews 12:25-29)

But discernment must also grow to understand that what is priceless to you is not priceless to all.  Indeed, the kingdom of God has no value for some and for some it is a hindrance that should be trampled.  “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves,” Jesus told his disciples.  There are wolves out there.

We are commanded to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.  But God himself has told us that there is an end to opportunity.  And for some it comes long before death or the end of history.  God “gave them over” (Romans 1:24, 26, 28) to experience what they valued most.  It is a great gift to know when to speak.  It is also a great gift to know when to shut up.

Proverbs 9:7-8  Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.  Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.

John 3:16.  What a wonderful Savior he is!