Algebra to a Number

Trying to explain God’s grace to anyone–especially explaining it to myself–is like trying to explain algebra to a number.  How can a sinner like me ever understand the grace Christ freely gives us all at the cross?

Thankfully, I don’t have to understand how God could have grace for me.  I can just receive it.  By grace.

From his [Jesus’] fullness we all received grace upon grace. (John 1:16, WEB)

_____________________________________________________________

Photograph by Bitterjug (Mark Skipper), website http://bitterjug.com/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Advertisements

Why I read the Bible

As a kid, I wouldn’t read the Bible, because I had no idea why I would.  I didn’t think reading the Bible was really linked to salvation–in fact, pastors were always saying how it wasn’t.  I couldn’t write down an easy-to-follow checklist of what God wanted me to do, either.

I had memorized the Bible song: “The B-i-b-l-e, oh that’s the Book for me, I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-i-b-l-e.”  I had fun singing the song.

The Bible seemed like a collection of books that didn’t always work very well together, and I thought it was just way too confusing to try to sort out.  Of course, I would never actually have said that, because then God might have been mad at me.  But as long as I had a Bible, and I liked the Bible, and I was a Christian, I had to be doing all right, right?

Well, maybe if I would have seen it from another angle, I would have realized how totally stupid I was.

Suppose I walk into a new doctor’s office and say, “Wow, you’ve got a lot of medical books on your shelves.”

“Oh yeah,” he says.  “I’m a doctor all right.  I’ve had these books for years.  I even buy new ones every now and then.  And I get my name inscribed on them.”

“Uh . . ok,” I say.  “But, you have read them . . right?”

“Oh, bits and pieces, here and there,” he says.

“Bits and . . pieces?”

“The most common passages,” he says.  “Oh, and I’ve even underlined a few passages as my med professors read them to us.  Pretty impressive, huh?”

“But . . if you haven’t read the books . . how do you know you’re a doctor?  How do you know what to do as a doctor?”

“Oh, well, I went through med school,” he says.  “My professors really liked me.  I even earned all my stickers.”

“Well, what about your medical exam?” I ask shakily.  “Did you pass your medical exam?”

“Medical exam?” he asks blankly.  “What medical exam?”

“The medical exam all doctors are supposed to take!” I say.

“Really?  Maybe that was in a part of the book I didn’t get too.  Well, no biggie.  Did I tell you I made a puppet of Alexander Fleming while we were studying penicillin?  Oh–and I won a pencil one time for memorizing a sentence about prescription drugs.  I bet I can find it here somewhere . . . Oh, and I’ve got to show you those badges I got for my attendance . . .”

Would I want this man as my doctor?  Not on my life–literally.  And yet, that was the kind of “Christian” I was.

No matter how amazing the preacher, or how wonderful the Sunday school or Vacation Bible School or children’s church, there is no substitution for the Word of God.  That includes devotional books, that includes blogs–like mine.

I was like an animal at a petting zoo, sitting at the gate waiting to be fed, when there was a huge bale of hay right behind me.

I was emaciated by the time I began to read the Word of God, and it was not the fault of any church.  It was my fault, for expecting people to do what only God can: be God.

Only God can lead me to salvation.

Only God can forgive me.

Only God can create in me a new heart.

Only God can lead me without ever misleading me.

Only God is worthy of worship.

If you’re looking for an excuse not to go to church . . . this isn’t it.  God used church to build an elementary understanding in my mind of who God was.  God used church to draw me to Him.  God used church to lead me into salvation.  And God uses church in my life to encourage me, challenge me, correct me, and reveal new opportunities for me to serve.

The church makes sense to me now that I understand where everyone is getting their inspiration from: the Bible.

The Bible is God’s love language to us.  There is no substitution for that.  Have you ever gotten a letter from somebody you really loved?  Would you be happy to give that letter back and take one instead that talks about the letter you received?  Of course not.  We want the original letter before any other letters, not only because it is the clearest way to understand the person we love, but also because it is the way the person chose to write us.

God has given pastors, Sunday school teachers, Vacation Bible School coordinators, authors, songwriters, and so on, to draw in the lost.  But all missionaries are at our very best a big arrow pointing to Jesus Christ and how He has revealed Himself through His Word.

The end goal is for people to find Jesus and what He said, not to find us and what we say.  Because if people come to us to be fed, and we  either fail to point them to God’s Word or they fail to respond, they will always go away hungry.

I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. (John 6:47-48, NIV)

The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. (John 6:63, NIV)

More than a GPS

GPS: advise in my car that can (nearly) always tell me the right way to get from A to B–a treasure I have never stopped appreciating.  I need my GPS every single time I go someplace new (and sometimes I go to, uh, the same old places and perhaps get a little lost).

The Bible: advise for my life that can always tell me the right way to get from earth to Heaven–a treasure I will never stop appreciating, not for all eternity.  I need the Bible every single second of my life–and not just for directions.

I need my Bible for finding the path to Heaven, but that is only the beginning.  I need my Bible to discover friendship with God, to fill the emptiness in my soul, to experience God’s love for me.  What I read is that the path to Heaven is the very same path as friendship with God and the path of the greatest love of all: God’s!!!

The Bible is the only map ever written down that leads to Heaven, and the God of the Bible is the only Author who can make a map that leads to eternal life.  But reading God’s Word is about more than finding the path from earth to Heaven.  It’s about finding God’s friendship, fulfillment of our lives, and love that is waiting for us right now, this very second.

Are you ready to experience the love you have been waiting all your life to receive?  Follow the path to God written in His Word through the blood of His Son Christ Jesus, and you will find there is more than Heaven waiting at the end.  There is the greatest love of all.

Teach me how to live, O LORD. Lead me along the right path, for my enemies are waiting for me. (Psalm 27:11, NLT)

Show me your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. (Psalm 25:4, AKJV)

Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. (Psalm 119:35, ESV)

Do not stray onto the path of wicked people. Do not walk in the way of evil people. (Proverbs 4:14, GWT)

The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. (Proverbs 4:18, NIV)

Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my paths. (Psalm 119:105, Douay-Rheims)

You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (Psalm 16:11, NIV)

I am the Way,” replied Jesus, “and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6, Weymouth NT)

How many

How many kings, stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
How many Gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that has torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?
Only one did that for me.

–“How Many Kings”, DOWNHERE

“This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12, NASB)

_____________________________________________________________

Check DOWNHERE out.

Photograph by Ariaski (Roberto Arias), profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/roberto8080/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

No Secrets

There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, and there is nothing secret that will not become known and come to light.  (Luke 8:17, ISV)

There is nothing covered up that will not be exposed and nothing secret that will not be made known. (Luke 12:2, ISV)

_____________________________________________________________

Photograph by Max Wolfe, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/leeadlaf/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Published in: on October 29, 2011 at 1:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Why I Am a Christian

I serve a God who created me.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27, ESV)

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. (Psalm 139:13, NIV)

I serve a God who knows me.

O LORD, you have searched me, and known me. (Psalm 139:1, KJV2000)

I serve a God who wants me.

For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NLT)

I serve a God who recreates me.

Surely you have listened to him and have been taught by him, since truth is in Jesus. Regarding your former way of life, you were taught to strip off your old nature, which is being ruined by its deceptive desires, to be renewed in your mental attitude, and to clothe yourselves with the new nature, which was created according to God’s image in righteousness and true holiness.(Ephesians 4:21-24, ISV)

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17, NASB)

Swimming Frogs & a Sticky Lizard

I have always been afraid of hurting small and defenseless animals.

Girls camp, 1994, I think it was.  The outdoor swimming pool.

I don’t remember when we first noticed it, but there it was: a green, “elasticky” thing thrashing gracefully through the water.

“IT’S A FROG!” a girl shouted.

“IT’S GOING TO DIE!” I said.  “FROGS CAN’T LIVE IN CHLORINE!”

I turned to one of the braver girls.  “Pick it up!” I said.  “You have to get it out of the pool!”

“Ok,” she said.  She scooped the frog up and carried it to the side.

One frog saved.

This was only the beginning.

Frog after frog jumped into the water, and time after time, I swam to girls, begging them to pick the frog up and carry it to the side.  When one girl was through with helping the frogs, I’d go to another.  I pleaded with them until at last all the frogs were out of the swimming pool.

There was a question I got asked, a very reasonable question, actually:

“Why don’t you do it?”

How could I explain how terrified I was that I would mess up the rescue?  I’m afraid I’ll hurt it.  I’m afraid I’ll kill it.  I’m afraid it will die in my hands before I’m able to get it out of the water.

I hated outdoor swimming pools after that.

And I scorned myself for what a coward I was.  As badly as I had wanted to save those frogs, I had let my fear shut me down.  I was so afraid of messing things up, I wasn’t even able to try to help.

That was me until, years later, I met an itty bitty blue lizard named Risk.

I met the lizard in a place I would rather not meet lizards (or any small creatures, really): our garage.

This was not, unfortunately, completely strange.  Little animals have a knack for finding their way inside garages.  But as I looked longer at this tiny azure reptile, I realized something was wrong, for the simple fact that I was able to look longer.

Risk wasn’t running away.  He was trying very hard, in fact, but he wasn’t able.

I could see now the problem.  He had gotten entangled in a spider web and it was stuck to his tail, forcing him to stay on a leash of death.

I was almost paralyzed by the fear that I would hurt him.  I was afraid if I tried to help him, he would die, or his tail would be pulled off.

But, at last, working up my courage, I tried to rip the spiderweb away.  I dragged Risk by the sticky strand I had broken off until he was outside the door.  Then, with a few more valiant tugs on his part, he freed his tail from the web and ran away.

“Abstract” reenactment of Risk and I. Yes, Risk was blue. No, I did not get to hold him in my hand. But I think this picture shows how we felt about each other.

I felt like a hero, and if somebody had given me a cape, I probably would have put it on.  While no reporters came to snap photographs or interview me, I felt pretty famous just the same–not to the multitudes, but to one tiny blue lizard.

God used Risk in my life to show me the rescue is worth the risk.

Sometimes it’s hard to share my faith, especially one on one.  I’m afraid of being rejected.  Sometimes I’m afraid that when I tell people I follow Jesus, they’ll see the sin I still have in my life, and I’ll turn them away from God rather than towards Him.  Sometimes I’m afraid I won’t say the right words, do the right acts to show them they have a loving Savior ready to rescue them.

But that doesn’t mean I stop and wait for other people to do all the rescuing.  It doesn’t mean I give money to missionaries and tell them to do my witnessing for me.  It doesn’t mean I invite people to church to hear my pastor preach and stop there.  It doesn’t work that way.

God has given each and every one of His followers a mission field.  We are all called to give the Message of rescue through Jesus Christ to everyone hanging out in Satan’s poisonous lies and to everyone struggling to break free from Satan’s web of control.

The stakes are too high for us to be paralyzed by fear that we might fail.  Because the stakes are the souls of people everywhere.  Souls infinitely more precious than a tiny blue lizard.

Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live. (Galatians 1:4, NLT)

I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. (1 Corinthians 9:22, ESV)

For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes (Romans 1:16a, NLT)

_____________________________________________________________

Photograph by Tataquax

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Genesis 1:14a

And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night.” (Genesis 1:14a, ESV)

Atheists have a big problem with Genesis 1:14.  That’s because they don’t believe in God, but they say it’s because it doesn’t make sense that there could be light, evening and morning, before there were stars.  Going back to Genesis 1:3-5:

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

It isn’t surprising that atheists have trouble with this order.  What is surprising is how many Christians have trouble with this order.  Some Christians try to explain this order away by saying that Genesis 1 is told like a story, out of sequence.

I understand how, atheists, who don’t believe in God, wouldn’t believe in the order He created things.  But once a person believes in God . . what is hard about Genesis 1?

If I believe there is an all-knowing, all-powerful God–that is, a total boss of the universe–why would I have trouble believing He could create light before the sun and stars?  If God created the sun as a source of light, couldn’t He just as easily have created light without the source?

My human reasoning gets me messed up when I assume God has to do things the way I have to.  If I wanted to invent something–let’s say the paperclip–I would need metal to make it out of.  I can invent by using materials around me in new and clever ways, but I can’t actually create: that is, make something out of nothing.

One of the ways God is described is light (see 1 John 1:5).  God’s presence illuminates our lives because He is the creator and upholder of all things.  Colossians 1:17 says,

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (NIV)

What makes sense, then, is not that God would need stars to light up His night or the sun to light up His day, but rather that He could do it in any way He wished.

It could be that God was directly creating day and night up to this point, and that He now creates lights and the earth’s path of movement in such a way that it becomes the “mechanism” for the rest of the days and nights.

We are told that, one day, those who have faith in Jesus will not need to depend on this mechanism for warmth or light:

There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.  (Revelation 22:5, NIV)

_____________________________________________________________

Photograph by John Bowles, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/nerull/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Fish Tank

I was over visiting at a friend’s house for the first time for a group hangout.  I had to go to the bathroom, and the bathroom was in the basement, for some reason.  Anyway, the family’s kids took me down to the basement.

It was pretty much impossible not to notice the huge fish tank.  I have a particular aversion to fish.  I hate dead fish.  It creeps me out that they float upside-down.  If fish didn’t die, I wouldn’t mind them at all, but because they do, I stay away.

I was checking for dead fish, something I always do when I walk by a fish tank.  This tank looked particularly funny.  The tank was filthy, for one thing, so cloudy it was hard to see through.  The fish were gigantic, not like goldfish at all, and there was something in the way they were swimming that made me feel kind-of ill.

I asked something about them, and one of kids responded something like, “Oh, yeah, we’re not feeding them.”

I turned to look at her in shock.  Then I turned to stare at the tall canister of fish food sitting right beside the tank.

“Dad won’t let us feed them,” she explained.  “He wants to get rid of them.”

If I had felt kind-of ill before, I felt really ill now.  I went back upstairs and talked to the wife.  She said something like, “Yeah, isn’t that terrible?  I wish he would get rid of them some other way.”

I wanted to feed those fish so badly.  But I realized if I did that, I would only be prolonging their misery, since they weren’t going to be fed when I left.  Here was this huge, awkward tank with these giant fish who were slowly starving to death.

I left that house and I never went back.  I thought about those fish, and the sickening feeling I’d gotten, and the helplessness, too.  Who could help them, when their own owner wanted them dead?

What bothered me the most was what I’d seen them doing.  They were trying to find food.  One had tried going up towards the surface, hoping, still hoping, someone would open the plastic door and sprinkle food in, like they had been accustomed to for so long.  It was an ugly fish.  And ugly fish that had been conditioned to think there would be food up top.  An ugly fish that didn’t know it was ugly or too big and that its owner had decided it wasn’t wanted anymore.

That image stays with me still.  I think about that fish, and there was a time when I wondered if this wasn’t actually what our relationship with God is like.

Ruined by sin, we are ugly, gangly creatures.  And we are trapped on a planet that, although once was perfect, is now just as ruined as we are, because we are on it.  And we wonder . . . has God forgotten we are here?  Will He clean up after us anymore?  Has He left, taking His love with Him?  Are we left here to fend for ourselves, to slowly die lonely, sad deaths?

“I will in no way leave you, neither will I in any way forsake you.” (God, quoted in Hebrews 13:5b, WEB)

“I am not going to forsake you like orphans. I will come back to you.” (Jesus, quoted in John 14:18, ISV)

God doesn’t set a canister of His love on the other side of a glass tank.  Instead, He pours His love out on us.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. (1 John 4:9, NIV)

God is love. (1 John 4:16b, NIV)

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8, NIV)

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8, ESV)

The only person who wants us in a loveless tank is Satan.  The moment we receive Christ into our lives, we find a Master who not only feeds us with His love, but who died so He could forgive us and feed us love–a job nobody else wanted.

And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ. (2 Thessalonians 3:5, AKJV)

The Maze: Part 10, Death

The only thing that stood in between me and the door were these huge, ginormous, super tall, gigantic, humongous, really tall statues.

They were scary, scary, scary.  They were these tall statues of that Egyptian god that’s a dog or something.  I can’t remember if they had those Egyptian always-awake side-eyes or not.  But I was petrified they were animatrons.

I would not go forwards.  I was so close to the end.  I didn’t want to give up, but I was terrified.  My dad couldn’t wheel me anymore.  He tried to inspire me by saying something like, “Look, you can see the outside.”  And he was right.  The bright, sunny, warm, happy day was streaming into this last abysmal corridor of the maze.

There was an attendant nearby, and my mom went up to her and asked her if the statues moved.  Mom told her I had a terrible fear of animatrons.  The attendant said they did not move.  I watched people exit with no problems.  And I didn’t believe the attendant would lie when she had to see how scared I was.

Well.

I walked past those really tall, humongous, gigantic, super tall, ginormous, huge statues, and I was keeping a close eye on the one closest to me.  And right when I got to where, if I took one more frightened step, I would be right in front of it–that thing started walking towards me.

I’ve heard for a long time now that people fear public speaking more than death.

I’m not sure I believe that.

Death is a scary idea.

I have things that terrify me like everyone else (ok, maybe more than some people), but if I was truly forced to pick between death and one of them . . . I’m not sure I would pick death.  Maybe I would.  But the idea of really leaving my body, really going into eternity . . . that’s terrifying to me.

I don’t know myself without my body.  I have never seen my soul.  I don’t know what I would look like, or even if I could see myself.  I don’t know what Heaven is like and, even though I believe Jesus will keep my soul safe there . . . I am still scared.  There are so many unknowns about Heaven.  I don’t want to play a harp all day long.  And there are so many mysteries about God that are too great for me to understand.  What if I find out God hates me after all?

With all the what-ifs, all the fears, all the knowledge too big to fit into my tiny brain . . dying sounds awfully scary.  And yet I believe God, in His great grace, gave me an allegory for what death will be like for me in a little maze in California on a hot summer day when I was still a teenager and my life was an absolute shipwreck.

First . . there’s the scare.  Just like that statue that didn’t look like it could possibly move actually did move and came towards me, Death will come for me someday if Jesus does not return before then.

I will die.  At 28, I can tell I don’t have the same youth I had at 8.  I don’t figure that’s going to get better by 38 or 48 or 58 or 68 or 78 or 88 or 98 or 108.  And, on top of a ticking clock, there are all the diseases I could get, all the accidents that could happen to me, and always the possibility I could be killed.

I am pretty good at talking myself out of the idea of death.  I used to play video games because they somehow seemed “unchanging”, like maybe they might be around forever.

But that’s a no-go.

The Super Nintendo I got addicted to in 1993 or so isn’t just exactly the same as a Wii.

Even though a game can stay the “same” each time you play it and you can think of that as an eternal quality . . it also has no flexibility for change past what was written into its computer chip.  So sooner or later, I always had to switch out games.

(Besides that, eventually the game would plain old rot.  There is nothing eternal about the nature of technology.  You can ask the 8-track if you don’t believe me.)

Sitcoms try to promise that “unchanging” concept, too: families or friends on TV stay much the same through the years, often living in the same house or apartment.  But then the time comes when the actors go on to do different things or they retire or die, and the viewer soaking up all that make-believe for so many years must settle for reruns in an attempt to feel the same “happiness”.  That, too, doesn’t work, because, sooner or later, it gets old to watch the same episodes over and over and over.

Even if video games and sitcoms could last forever . . we don’t.  We have bodies cursed because of sin, and they aren’t going to last for hundreds of years, much less thousands or millions or billions or trillions or . .

Why am I saying all this?  Am I trying to celebrate Halloween or something?

Not at all.  I get that death is a scary topic–I get it very well.

I about needed a heart transplant–for my own heart to be taken out of my throat and put back in my chest.

Death is coming for all of us . . and, if that was all I had to say, I could be campaigning for October 31.

But I have news that’s so good, you can almost forget about death altogether: There IS an escape, an escape that all of us can take–an escape to the world of Light.

“Look, you can see the outside.”

There is a way past death, a way so far beyond death’s reach it can’t possibly hope to get us.  Just as that doorway was much too small for that statue to get out of, God’s gates are far too wise to allow even the least sin through.

Satan can never get us when we are safe in the love of God.

But how can we possibly get through God’s gates ourselves, if sin is not allowed?  It doesn’t do me any good to know there’s salvation beyond the boundaries I can reach with the chain of my sin anchored securely to Hell.

But Jesus broke that chain on the cross.  Jesus didn’t come only to show us the way to Heaven–if He had, there would still be no people in Heaven besides the Lord Himself.  Knowing the way to Heaven isn’t enough–we have to be freed from our sin to make it there.

That animatronic Egyptian dog statue couldn’t get me because it was on a set path of movement.  And it could not take one step further than the programming within it allowed.

In kind of the same way, Satan thought he had it all figured out.  He had a 100% chance of catching us in our sins.  But then Jesus made a path where Satan was not allowed–a path from our fallen world straight into Heaven!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Satan didn’t see it coming because it took God’s death to make that path possible.  And even if Satan had seen it coming, there was absolutely nothing he could have done–and nothing he can do, still today.

The path is open to all who want to take it, because Satan can’t place a blockade even the size of an ice cube in the path of an all-powerful God willing and able to purchase back His people from their sins, and to forgive them.

I ran screaming out of that maze, and let me tell you something, that animatronic stupid statue thing, it may have been tall, and it may have had big old long legs, but it could not catch me.  I ran faster than the gingerbread man out of that maze and onto the top of a stairwell.  The sun burst through my fear and my heart decided it didn’t have to beat 10 times a second anymore.

Death . . is real.  But eternity with God can be, too.

I am still scared of animatronic Egyptian dog statues.  And, way more than that, I am still scared of death.  But I don’t have to panic as my life unravels into death.  Instead, I can run to the Light, for there is my Savior.

 In Him was Life, and that Life was the Light of men.  The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overpowered it. (John 1:3-4, Weymouth NT)

Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:27-28, NIV)

Published in: on October 27, 2011 at 3:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,