Winning the Match

I have had my struggles with God over the years. Actually, as I think about it – these tiffs were really His struggles with me. By nature, I am stubborn and fearful. I don’t like stepping into new situations, or putting my reputation and plans at risk. The problem is – the Lord seems to delight in putting us into those situations. That is why I find the story of Jacob at Peniel so engaging.

Jacob had sailed through a lot of rough water after he cheated Esau out of his birthright. Isaac had to command Jacob to flee to Pandanaram (a region of Syria) to escape his brother’s anger. It was there he met Laban, his uncle, who deceived the deceiver into working seven years to marry Leah (his older daughter) when Jacob thought he was marrying his younger daughter, Rachel. After Jacob complained, the shrewd Laban informed Jacob he had to work another seven years to marry her.

Once married to Rachel, Jacob hatched a scheme to cheat Laban out of the wages he should have paid him. Jacob soon became much wealthier than Laban with large flocks of sheep and goats, servants, camels and donkeys. Because Laban and his sons were furious at losing much of their fortune to Jacob, he had to flee again, this time back to his father, Isaac.

Laban and his band soon caught up with them on the way and would have done them some serious harm except for God’s intervention. Jacob and Laban exchanged some angry words, but all ended well, with the two parties setting up some stones as a boundary neither one would maliciously cross. Both groups had a meal together and, on the next day, Laban blessed his daughters, kissed them and their children, and returned home with his men.

“And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him” (Genesis 32:1). The Bible does not exactly say why they met him – just that they did. What we do know is this meeting must have changed Jacob. He stopped running from Esau and sent a message asking for a meeting. Jacob’s servants quickly returned with the news that Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men.

Jacob was terrified. After dividing his band into two groups for protection, he prayed to Yahweh for the first time since Bethel, many years before. He acknowledged his unworthiness and begged God to deliver him and his family from the hand of his angry brother. Jacob also “reminded” God (actually he was reminding himself) of His promise to bless him and his descendants.

Jacob then divided up his livestock in to several herds and put each into the care of some servants. He instructed the servants to drive each individual herd over the river Jabbok, leaving a space between each group. Leah, Rachael, and his children crossed the river also, bringing up the rear of the procession.

“And Jacob was left alone” (Genesis 32:24). Jacob was left in a lonely place. It was night. He no longer had his possessions. His family was not around. He wasn’t even sure if they were safe. All he knew was he was where God wanted him to be.

Then the “man” came. I have heard it often preached that Jacob wrestled with the man. It was the other way around at the start – the man (actually an angel – Hosea 12:4) wrestled with Jacob. The angel initiated the encounter. He had Jacob where He wanted him and they wrestled until dawn. Eventually, the angel realized he could not overcome Jacob’s strong will so the angel put Jacob’s hip out of joint.

Then the fight changed. Up to that point, it was Jacob who was trying to get away. After the hip incident, it was the angel. The angel had been wrestling with Jacob – now Jacob was wrestling with the angel. The angel had to ask (or command?) Jacob to let him go. Jacob’s response?

“I will not let thee go except you bless me.”

The Lord finally heard what He needed to hear from Jacob. The man who had spent his life running – from Esau, from Laban, and from Him– could no longer run any more. The self-sufficient cheat became the beggar.

So who won the fight?

Jacob did. The angel changed Jacob’s name from Jacob (“Supplanter”) to Israel (“God Prevails”.) The angel told Jacob “As a prince thou hast power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.”

How did he win?

Jacob won by surrendering. He prevailed by yielding. He overcame by submitting. He gained power with God by deeply and truly realizing his need.

It is the same with us. While we may not be deceivers running from an angry brother or a furious uncle, the same God has a plan for each of us. That plan is a part of God’s master plan for the world. Our part in His plan will not be as pivotal in history as Jacob’s, but it will be pivotal for somebody, or a group of somebodies, somewhere.

As with Jacob, God’s plan for you will face resistance and, like Jacob, the fiercest resistance may come from you.

And that’s when God sends His “angel” who will not let you go until you win by yielding to His will instead of yours. Unlike Jacob, however, we can walk away from the fight by avoiding prayer, neglecting the Word, or staying away from church – trying to “plug our ears” to God’s call. Please remember – that “angel” can still land some disabling blows to your plans, your psyche, your will, or even your body to bring you back into the match. He loves you (and those He has planned for you to reach) too much to let the match end before you win by letting Him win in your life.

For more details read: (Genesis 27:1 – 32:32)









What Happened at the Tomb?

In this post, as part of the “What Happened at” series, I want to take a brief look at what happened during the three days the body of Jesus was in the tomb.

A lot of attention was given to Jesus’ burial in the Gospels. You might call it a record of the “chain of custody” of His body until His resurrection – proving He really had died, was really buried according to Jewish tradition, and that His body could not have been stolen. Here is the story, put together from all four Gospels. . .

Joseph of Arimathaea – a wealthy man and an “honorable counsellor” – had not approved of the Sanhedrin’s council to kill Jesus. Although a “secret disciple” up to this point, he was not afraid to ask Pilate for the body of Jesus after He had died on the cross. Pilate was surprised that Jesus was already dead and sent some soldiers to check. After the soldiers pierced Jesus’s side, they returned and confirmed that he was dead and Pilate released the body.

Joseph then removed Jesus’ body from the cross, wrapped it in linen and, with the women who followed Jesus, went to the place he would bury Him. Another secret disciple, the Pharisee Nicodemus, met Joseph at the tomb. Together, they quickly wrapped the body in fine linen with a mixture of aloes and myrrh to preserve the body until the women could return after the Sabbath. Then Joseph laid Jesus’ body in his own tomb – a new tomb that had been carved out of the rock. When they were finished, they rolled a huge stone over the entrance of the sepulcher. After Mary and “the other Mary” watched them close the tomb with the body inside, everyone hurried to their homes for the Sabbath. Once at home, Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” prepared the rest of the spices needed to finish the burial ritual when they returned to the tomb on the first day of the week.

Shortly after Joseph left Pilate, the Jewish rulers approached him with their concerns that Jesus’ disciples might try to steal the body since Jesus had predicted that He would rise from the dead. They asked for the tomb to be sealed and a detail of guards be deployed at the tomb to be sure that did not happen. Pilate agreed, sealed the tomb, and set the watch.

While all of this was happening, the soul of Jesus was in “paradise” – along with the soul of one of the thieves who was crucified with Him (Luke 23:43). Scholars are not sure what paradise is, but the word is of Persian origin and means a garden – a kind of game preserve. The word alludes to the beauty of Eden, the very first garden (in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the word is actually used in reference to Eden.)

As pleasant as it was, it was not a vacation. The Bible said that, while there, Jesus preached to the spirits that were in prison (1 Peter 3:17-20). This is an unusual passage because it is the only place that gives a description of anything that happened while the body of Jesus was in the tomb before He was resurrected. The Bible gives us no clue as to the mechanics of the event. It only tells us who (Jesus), what He did (preached, declared), and to whom He directed the action (the spirits in prison).

Who were these spirits? We know it was not a “second chance” for those who died in their sins. Hebrews 9:27 and other Scriptures makes it very clear that once a man dies, judgment is the only next step. In 1 Peter 3:20 we see these are specific spirits, not spirits in general. They were the spirits who were disobedient while God was being patient during the preaching of Noah. These are most likely the spirits who did not stay within their limits of their authority, left their dwelling place, and co-habited with the “daughters of men” at that time (Genesis 6:12; Jude 6; 2 Peter 2:4,5).

Jesus Himself references this time in the grave after He reveals Himself, in His glorified state, to the apostle John in Revelation 1:17-18. John writes:

And, when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: — I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.

So – what happened during those three days the body of Jesus was in the tomb? Jesus, the Second Adam, after having lived a sinless life, while being tempted just like you and I, overcame sin. By His death He overcame sin’s penalty and broke the power of sin over all who believe in Him. This victory is what He declared to the spirits in prison as He brandished the keys that He had won – showing His authority over death and the grave.

Satan, that “Prince of Darkness grim” – although still powerful enough to work his mischief – is now a defeated foe. As Luther wrote, because of Jesus’ victory – “We tremble not for him – his rage we can endure – for lo, his doom is sure – one little word shall fell him.”

Scriptures on Jesus’ burial: Matthew 27:57-61; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42

What Happened at the Cross?

What happened at the cross?  Easy answer – a lot.

Many books have been written and have yet to be written on all that was accomplished on the cross where Christ was crucified. It was the most significant event in human history.  The effects of what happened on those bloody pieces of wood echo throughout eternity.  I could not start to commence to begin to plumb the depths of Christ’s sacrifice in this puny post, but please allow me to hit some highlights.

Your sins were atoned for.  In the Old Testament, the word for “atonement” (kapar – Hebrew) could also mean “covering.” The blood of the bulls and goats sacrificed according to the law of the Old Testament were able to cover sins, but the blood of Christ is able to cleanse them – to erase them like they never existed (1 John 1:5-10).  Because of the blood that Christ shed at the cross, your conscience can be purged of guilt (Colossians 2:14; Hebrews 9:11-15), and you can be sanctified – holy before a perfectly holy God (Hebrews 10:10). 

The door to fellowship with God was opened. In the Old Testament there was a tent structure, and then two later permanent structures, that were erected where the Israelites could meet with God.  They each had three distinct parts: the Outer Court (where any one could enter at any time to offer various offerings), the Holy Place (where only the priests would burn incense and offer bread on the Table of Shewbread), and the third section which was called the Holy of Holies.  This section was separated from the Holy Place by a veil – a symbol of sinful man’s separation from God (Hebrews 9:7-8). Only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies once a year (Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement) with the blood of a spotless lamb to make atonement for the nation of Israel. On the day Christ was crucified, the veil (layers of cloth 6 inches thick) was torn from top to bottom.  The writer of Hebrews tells us that this was a picture of Christ opening the door to the Holy of Holies through His flesh – giving us the opportunity to commune with the living God at any time (Hebrews 10:19-25).

Victory over sin was made possible.  Since the time of the fall humans have been under sin’s oppressive yoke. When Christ died on the cross, the opportunity to be free of sin was provided. The “body of sin” was destroyed, the “old man” was crucified, and sin lost its dominion over us (Romans 6: 5-14).  We were crucified with Him – crucified to the world and the world was crucified to us.  What was once a symbol of a horrible death became life to all who believe in Him (Galatians 6:14).

The wall separating Jew and Gentile was removed. There is no more any distinction between Jewish sinners and Gentile sinners, white sinners and black sinners, rich sinners and poor sinners, or “great sinners” and “minor sinners.”  The way is open to all.  As the saying goes, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross” (Ephesians 2: 11-22).

Satan was given his “pink slip.”  Until the cross, Satan held sway over every person’s life through sin and death.   Just a few days before He was crucified, Jesus made a startling statement:

Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes. Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.

John 12: 30-32 (KJV)

At that time, wasn’t Jesus the one who was going to be cast out and judged? True, He would be crucified a few days after He spoke those words, but His crucifixion – by providing freedom from the guilt and power of sin – was actually a judgment on Satan and the worldwide rebellion against God that he had led.  The writer of Hebrews makes it even clearer:

Therefore, since [these His] children share in flesh and blood [the physical nature of mankind], He Himself in a similar manner also shared in the same [physical nature, but without sin], so that through [experiencing] death He might make powerless (ineffective, impotent) him who had the power of death—that is, the devil— and [that He] might free all those who through [the haunting] fear of death were held in slavery throughout their lives.

Hebrews 2: 14,15 (AMP)

Through His death, Jesus rendered the devil powerless and idle in our lives – in other words, unemployed.  Once we receive, by faith, the free gift of the salvation He purchased for us, Satan can no longer keep us enslaved by the fear of death.

That was what happened at the cross. As I said in my last post – what happened to Him there – happened for you. All He purchased there for you can be yours by surrendering your life to Him, trusting Him to save you from sin. Believe me, if you do, your life will never be the same.

The Gospel accounts of the crucifixion: Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 18:28 – 19:42

What Happened At Gethsemane?

I know Passion Week and Easter are long past – but I am posting this now because it is always important to look at what happened to the people who were participants in that central week of human history.

         It is important because what happened to them all happened for you.

The events that happened in the days before Christ was crucified were significant.  We know this because all four Gospels devote a lot of attention (about one-third of their chapters) to that week.  One of those events took place at Gethsemane (“oil press” – Aramaic) – a garden, or a small farm – at the foot of the Mount of Olives.  Jesus had come there often before with His disciples when they visited the area (Luke 22:29), probably to escape the crowds for the peace and quiet they needed for fellowship and prayer.

That night, though, it was a place of agonizing testing and decision for both Jesus and those who were with Him. 

Unfortunately, the disciples did not do so well. They just had their Passover with Jesus and He had to reprove them for fighting for position during their last gathering together. Once they arrived at Gethsemane, Jesus called Peter, James and John to come apart with Him to pray.  They came apart but also went to sleep.  One of the disciples, Judas, soon arrived with soldiers and betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.  In the ensuing ruckus, Peter cut off the ear of the High Priest’s servant. As Jesus was led away, all the disciples fled the other direction, with the exception of John and Peter – who “followed afar off.” Eventually Peter, while warming himself at the fire at the house of the man seeking to kill his Teacher, denied the Lord three times before morning broke. 

On the other hand, what was happening with Jesus? As soon as He arrived at the garden Jesus found a place to pray.  The first part of His prayer was a request – if it was possible, could His Father allow “this cup to pass?”  Many times, in both the Old and New Testament, when God is pictured as giving a cup to a person or group of people, it is the cup of His wrath (Psalm 75:8; Isaiah 51:17-22; Jeremiah 25:15-28; Revelation 14:10; 16-19; Lamentations 4:21).  This is the cup Jesus was requesting to pass, if it was at all possible. 

Why was the only man who never sinned required to drink this cup? The answer – it was the reason He came. Jesus had to drink it because God was causing all of the sin ever committed by every human to “meet” on His head (Isaiah 53: 4-6; 10-11).  Just as the High Priest would lay his hands on the scapegoat to bear the sins of Israel, so God was laying the guilt of all humanity – past, present, and future – on Christ (Leviticus 16: 7 – 10). This wrath, this guilt, separated Christ from the fellowship He had enjoyed with the Father since eternity past.  It caused such agony that Jesus started sweating great drops of blood – even before the cross! (Luke 22:39-44; Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34)

In His agony, Jesus prayed even harder. This time it was a prayer of surrender – “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done.”  This was not the first time He had prayed this prayer – doing His Father’s will was Jesus’ lifestyle (John 5:30; 6:38; Romans 15:3; Philippians 2:3; Hebrews 10:7-9).  It was the theme of his life – but it was much, much harder this time. 

So, what happened at Gethsemane?  Jesus surrendered His will to the will of His Father.  It was there He entered the process of laying down His life to bear the sins of Judas, who would betray Him, as well as the sins of His sleeping disciples.  He was accepting the guilt of all of history’s greatest villains as well as ours (the lesser villains.) It is there that He also began to bear the unpleasant fruits of all that sin – our griefs, our anguish, and our afflictions. 

In Gethsemane Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath so that same God could offer you the cup of His salvation (Psalm 116:12,13). Christ became sin for you so that you might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Start drinking today – and keep drinking every day – from that sweet cup that Jesus bought for you by drinking His bitter one!

To read more about Gethsemane – Matthew 26:36-56; Mark 14:32–54; John 18:1-14; Luke 22:39-58


I grew up around math aficionados – a father and brother who were engineers, a sister who was trained as an accountant (also married to a scientist), and my late wife – who was a nurse and was very good with numbers. I was the misfit.  I could add, multiply, divide and subtract easily, but when it came to equations – it was hopeless.  I was so bad that, when my kids hit middle and high school, they begged me not to help them with their math homework!  

            It might be said that life is full of equations.  Not just the algebra, geometry, and calculus that help us understand, and interact with, the physical world – but also the complicated equations we need to work on in the more intangible parts of our lives.  Relationships, family, politics, business, work, entertainment – and a multitude of other areas – all have “equations” that present themselves to us on a daily basis.  They are multi-faceted and require careful steps. Rarely are they simple, and it is very easy to get distracted.   

            How we try to solve these equations reveals who we are. Are we simple, or cunning? Honest or dishonest?   Most importantly – are we godly or ungodly?

            What does it mean to be godly? I think the word has been sometimes defined as “pious.” For a clearer definition, let’s look at the opposite – how the Bible defines “ungodly” (rasa – Hebrew and translated as “ungodly” eight times in the Old Testament.)

The wicked [rasa – Hebrew], through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God:

God is not in all his thoughts [plans].

Psalm 10:4 (KJV) – brackets mine

            An ungodly person may look like he respects God while, at the same time, not include Him in making his plans (i.e. solving his “equations” – 2 Timothy 3:5).  He may confess there is a God, but behaves like He does not exist. He does not factor in God’s Word as he lives his daily life. 

A godly man, on the other hand is the opposite. Whatever “equation” of life he faces, God is factored in. Actually He is more than just factored in – His way, His Word, and His providence define the equations of a godly person’s life.  In Psalm 119 :133 – A godly man invites God to establish his steps in His Word.  You could even say that all of Psalm 119 – with its emphasis on God’s Word, statutes, law, commandments, and ways – describes a godly person’s attitude to all of the daily “equations” of life.  A godly man or woman will not be perfect – but when they fail God – they will feel it quickly and deeply.  Getting things right with God and others – and correcting that “equation” – will become a top priority (2 Corinthians 7:8-12.) 

This is why Psalm 1 tells us not to follow the counsel of the ungodly (rasa) but instead delight ourselves in God’s law, and meditate on it day and night.  If we do, we will be like a tree that has been transplanted to a nourishing spot by a river (Psalm 1:1-3).  If we don’t, we become like the chaff – driven away with the wind – good for nothing but the fire.

Living godly in an ungodly world sounds daunting, but the grace of God through Christ is more than able to help us. If we allow Him to, His grace trains us to be godly – just like a parent trains their child.

For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

1 Thessalonians 2:8-12 (KJV)

            Also, the Bible tells us that, through our relationship with the resurrected Christ, God has given to us everything that we need to live our life by God’s “equations:”

Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

1 Peter 1:2 – 4 (KJV)

            By His divine power God has given us “[absolutely] everything necessary for [a dynamic spiritual] life and godliness” and “His precious and magnificent promises [of inexpressible value]” (AMP).  It is His divine power that makes it possible for us to share in His divine nature – the way He feels and acts.  This power working in us, through His word, helps us work out those equations in our fallen natures until we take on – more and more – His image in every area of our lives.  This is what godliness is all about. 

More Scriptures on godliness to explore: Psalm 4:2,3; 32:5,6; 2 Corinthians 1:12-14; 7:8-12; 1 Timothy 2:1-4; 2:8-11; 3:16; 4: 6-11; 6:1-4; 6:6 – 11; 2 Timothy 3: 1-5; 10-12; Titus 1:1-4; 2 Peter 1:2-9; 2 Peter 3:10-13

Abundantly Available

To the chief Musician for the sons of Korah, A Song upon Alamoth.

God is our refuge and strength,

a very present help in trouble.

Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed,

and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;

Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled,

though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.

Psalm 46:1-3 (KJV)

Background: 2 Samuel 8:1- 18; 1 Chronicles 18:1-17

            This is a psalm attributed to the “Sons of Korah” and, in the Reese chronological Bible, it is placed after David secures the kingdom of Israel and re-possesses the land promised to Abraham. The nation of Israel, having just won these victories over surrounding enemies and secured their land, took this pause in their nation’s history to stand back and see their God for who He was – “a very present help in time of trouble.” That same phrase could be translated as an “abundantly available help” in times of distress.

            There is an important truth here.  Times of trouble are times we want to avoid.  We do not want to drift into times of want, danger, or sickness. Yet this psalm implies that God is very, if not more, available during these times than the easy times.  This is because that times of distress open up opportunities to know God in ways we could not know Him otherwise. The apostle James approaches this idea from a different angle:

Consider it nothing but joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you fall into various trials. Be assured that the testing of your faith [through experience] produces endurance [leading to spiritual maturity, and inner peace]. And let endurance have its perfect result and do a thorough work, so that you may be perfect and completely developed [in your faith], lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4 (AMP)

            If we were to assign a color to any of our trials we would probably pick drab, dark, and ugly colors. But James chose an unusual word (“various” – poikilos – Greek) to describe them. Vine’s Expository Dictionary defines this word as meaning “party-colored.” Our trials are not colored dark brown, olive green, battleship gray, or even disgusting “Milk of Magnesia” pink – but rather the cheery colors of bright red, shining yellow, and vibrant green!  They are times of beauty, not ugliness.

Let me explain. We can only see colors because they only reflect a certain wavelength on the spectrum of pure light.  John tells us that God is light – containing no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).  When we are hit with one of these many-colored trials, they give us an opportunity to see a “wavelength” of God’s “spectrum,” a side of His character or an aspect of His power, that we would not have experienced before.  In this way they help us grow in grace and the knowledge of Him!

            “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.” During our time as missionaries, we went through several earthquakes – some quite serious and deadly.  The most frightening thing about an earthquake is that there is no place to hide or to escape it.  Everything starts moving, you feel like you are standing on jiggling, swaying, jello. All you can do is try to avoid a building crushing you.  One time, a huge earthquake hit an hour or two after a national pastor and I had just passed through a mountain pass on a bus.  The mountains literally moved! Several landslides occurred on that pass pushing some buses off the mountain and isolating those who survived for weeks.  They are something to be feared unless you have an “abundantly available help”!

            The psalm goes on to describe another terrifying sight. “Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.”  Though I never witnessed or experienced a tsunami (videos of them are scary enough) we did witness the outer edges of a storm surge.  There is something terrifying about the sea when it is whipped up and reaches out beyond its borders with such power that it washes away everything in its path.  

            Most people don’t have to face earthquakes, tsunamis, or floods – but there are other kinds of disasters that can terrify us just as much. Uncertain times, civil unrest, family problems, explosive politics, and financial uncertainty can send us reeling with fear or crush us with despair. When this Psalm was written, Israel had just captured Jerusalem and subdued the enemies that had threatened to destroy them for generations.  As they looked back they recognized they had won for only one reason – the Lord was their shelter (for protection) and strength (force to defend themselves).

            If He was their refuge and strength in all they went through – He can be yours as well.  If He made Himself “abundantly available” to them in their distress – He will do the same for you. Take some time to pause at this Selah in Psalm 46 and consider what aspect of His character God is trying to show you through the “color” of the trials you are passing through now. It may be a dramatic color like fire engine red, or a subtler pastel blue.  Whatever the distress or tight space you are going through, remember this – He is allowing you to go through that experience for the purpose of knowing Him better.  There are aspects of His power, His person, and His love that can only be seen through that “color” of trial you are going through now.  Remember – He is abundantly available to you to accomplish His perfect purposes in your life. Count it all joy!

My Father’s World

One of my favorite songs is one made famous by Louis Armstrong – “What a Wonderful World.” Among other things, it speaks of trees of green, red roses, skies of blue, clouds of white, the bright blessed day, and the dark sacred night.  Although the song does not credit God outright for these blessings, it magnifies what theologians call “common grace” – the grace that God bestows on every man woman and child in this world whether just or unjust (Matthew 5:45).  It is the grace that supplies beauty, pleasure, and life to every person on earth whether they love God, hate Him, or even deny that He exists.  

We hear of this same grace in the hymn (another favorite), “This is My Father’s World,” written toward the end of the 19th century by Maltbie Davenport Babcock – a minister from Lockport, New York.  Living close to the beauty of Niagara Falls and Lake Ontario, he would often take walks with his wife to “go out and see the Father’s world.”  Like the song made famous by Mr. Armstrong, it talks about rocks and trees, skies and seas, the songs of birds, and the morning’s light. He declares that all of what some call “nature” is really “Creation” and it spoke to him everywhere of God’s power, wisdom, and mercy.

 Unlike “What a Wonderful World,” this hymn, so bright with the beauties of God’s creation, ends with an acknowledgment of the darkness that can dim the glory of its message in our lives:

This is my Father’s world:
O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the Ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world:
Why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King: let the heavens ring!
God reigns; let earth be glad!

This verse has struck a chord in my heart over the past four months.  As I see the evils of recent movements that seek to erase the influence of God’s laws from our society increasing in strength, I have wondered if there is any hope for those of us who seek to stand with what is just and true.  

The good news is that there is hope! The people who hold the economic and political power in our world are only there by God’s permission and for His purposes.  Since this is true, we can rest on the fact that they will answer to Him about how they use or abuse that power.

Even so, this does not mean that we will escape the consequences of their bad decisions.  We may, or may not, suffer from their oppression. Of one thing we can be sure, God intends to show them – through you and me – the same grace that He has shown to us.

In the first paragraph of this post I referenced Matthew 5:45. Let’s look, for a moment, at the context of that verse:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48 (ESV)

 This does not mean that we should not defend ourselves or our families.  It also does not mean that we should give up lawful political speech or action against laws and practices that are evil or unjust. We should still be praying against the things the “mob” are trying to foist upon us while, at the same time, praying for the well-being of that same “mob.” We should not return hatred for their animosity toward us.  We should be looking for opportunities to do good for any of our relatives and acquaintances who “cancel” us or treat us wrongly.  Although they speak evil of us and to us – we should speak kindly to them and about them – even while arguing against their agendas. Resting in the truth that this is “My Father’s World” frees us from fear or the desire for vengeance. Truly believing that God “is the ruler yet” enables us to treat our enemies with the same grace that God has shown to us. 

 There is a saying – “You may be the only Bible somebody reads.” Our Father has shown His grace to the world – the just and the unjust – through His creation.  He commands us to do the same.  God speaks to men through His wonderful world, but He wants to sing through you. Loving our enemies gives Him that chance.

Waking Up

Sleep is a necessary thing and Scripture speaks positively about it at times (Psalm 127:2), but mostly negatively (Proverbs 6:9,10) because it can keep us from duties about which we should be busy. It can become an easy alternative to the unpleasant things in life.

Two things happen when we sleep.  First, we are dulled to what is really going on around us.  We become unaware of present dangers while we slumber. Thieves can come or enemies may approach while we sleep. 

We also dream while we sleep.  At the same time we are unaware of the real world, we enter a world that is not real, constructed only by our minds.  It often is a crazy world, but sometimes very pleasant. It may be a world where we are able to do things we can’t do in real life – like fly through the air, or swim underwater for hours at a time without taking a breath. 

Spiritual sleep has both of these qualities.  Slumber, as a metaphor, represents a dullness to the danger of the battle in which we are involved, as well as the needs of the harvest in which we are to labor.  The noise of the battle rouses us once in a while and we grumble, rollover, and go back to sleep – not realizing the inroads our enemy is making into our society, our families, and our lives.  Our spiritual alarm clock goes off to alert us to the work that needs to be done, and we hit the snooze button, again, again, and again. 

And we do all of this while thinking that we are amazing super-Christians because we show up to church every Sunday, only doing what others expect of us, and believe we are accomplishing great things for God.  It is easy to live in this spiritual dream-world.

The Corinthian church had many problems, but they thought they were doing pretty good (1 Corinthians 4:8-13). Division was rampant and rank immorality was accepted. They had fallen into a deep sleep and Paul wrote an epistle to wake them up. This stupor was not due to fatigue, but a kind of spiritual drunkenness.  It was an “after-Thanksgiving dinner” stupor – born more of over-indulgence than overwork.

Paul tied up all of his rebukes to the Corinthians in the 15th chapter of that epistle. In that chapter he reminded them of a fact that makes the Gospel the Gospel – the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.

A false doctrine had arisen among the Corinthians that a general resurrection of the dead was never going to happen.  Paul corrected them, saying the resurrected Christ was the “first fruits” – to be followed by those who believed in Him.  He said if there was no resurrection then our faith is in vain, and the suffering we go through because of our faith is also in vain. He wrote: 

If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die.

Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.

1 Corinthians 15: 32 – 34 (KJV)

If there is no resurrection – there is no judgment.  Death would be the end – so we might as well as live it up now. 

That is why Paul pauses in the middle of his defense of the resurrection and commands the Corinthians to rouse themselves and live their lives with the resurrection in sight.  The ESV puts verse 34 this way:

Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.

Paul lived this way himself.  In another letter, he shared the goal of his life with the Philippians:

For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

Philippians 3: 8b – 12 (ESV)

I remember a dream I had a long time ago.  I dreamt I had heard the trumpet of God and was rising to meet Christ in the air. I was very happy, but my happiness soon turned to a kind of nervousness.  I realized I was going to soon come face to face with Christ Himself.  Even though I knew I was redeemed by His blood and was going to heaven, the thought of having my life and my works evaluated by Him – one on one and face to face – was sobering, to say the least. 

That is exactly what Paul was telling the Corinthians – “Sober up, don’t let the pleasure-drunk society in which you are living lull you to sleep – Remember there is a resurrection coming!”

This is why the increasing hostility of Western culture to Christianity is a blessing in disguise.  The Church always thrives when confronted with adversaries because it wakes us up. Earthly enemies rouse us to the spiritual war that has been raging around us and opens our eyes again to the whitened harvest. Best of all, we begin to see ourselves as we should be – pilgrims stretching ourselves toward the high calling of God in Christ Jesus – the resurrection to come. 

Welcome to the Re-Model !

When I noticed that I was getting a lot of people stopping by on “Musings” but not going any farther than the “About” page – I decided to look at my site on my computer, my tablet, and my phone. It was then I realized that all you have been seeing is a picture of Jesus sitting on a rock talking to His disciples. That is fine (I loved the picture) but the menu icon at the bottom of the picture only had an “About” link on it! It might not have been obvious to new visitors that you needed to scroll down to see the posts – so I made some changes. On the other hand, they may have seen who the blogger was and decided not to go any farther. If that’s the case, I guess I can’t blame them.

I hope you like the changes and I also hope you like the posts! They are here to encourage you as you seek to follow Jesus in the 21st century. If you like the posts, please click the “Follow” button (it is found on the lower right of your screen) to be notified of future posts, and also share your favorite posts on social media.

A Hero’s Tale

Legend tells us that, when Claudius II was emperor of Rome, he was looking for a way to improve and enlarge his army. He felt that unmarried men made better soldiers than those with wives and families. That is why he outlawed marriage for young men – his crop of potential soldiers.

There was a problem, however. There was a young church leader who did not agree with the emperor’s judgment. He thought it was unjust. This young man defied Claudius’ decree and continued to perform marriages in secret for young lovers. When that young man’s courageous actions were eventually discovered, he was arrested and put to death. That young man’s name was Valentine – and it is in his honor that we celebrate Valentine’s Day.

This legend is one of several that surrounds the life and death of Valentine. When it comes to a figure like this who lived so long ago, and about whom so little was recorded, it is hard to sort out fact from fiction. There are, however, several themes in the stories that are consistent – he loved God, he loved people, he was placed in prison for his obedience to God, and he was martyred for his testimony.

Today we, like Valentine, are living in a time when men are coming up with “better ideas” than what God commands – especially in the area of gender identity, love, and marriage. The enacting of transgender bathroom decrees and the legalizing of gay “marriage” are just two items in a long list of the “Emperor’s New Ideas” that have come along in the last decade or so. The problem is – these ideas do not just stay in the legal books. They are not content to collect dust in the law library. They seep out into our workplaces, communities, and schools. They end up redefining who we are, what a family is, and what love is all about.  They criminalize the truth. 

Valentine was a man who knew what was true. He was willing to stand for what was true, even if he stood alone. He stood against the prevailing worldview that truth was whatever the emperor said it was. We know little about his upbringing, but we know that he knew Christ. His mind had been renewed by God’s word. As a result, he saw the world as God saw it.

In these days of societal “gender dysphoria,” when a person could lose his job or be “cancelled” for using the politically incorrect pronoun, it is important to be like Valentine and see the world like God sees it.  The book of Genesis tells us:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Genesis 1:27

            Gender is a fact of Divine creation not a product of human invention.  Although we live in a society where gender is seen to be malleable, it really is not – and it is a cruel joke to pretend that it is. We are who God has made us to be. Better yet, He is more than willing to bestow the grace, through Christ, to fully be that person. 

Over the years I have had the privilege of knowing people like co-workers, and even a college roommate, who were members of the LGBTQ community (and a couple of ones who have left that lifestyle.) They are smart, hard-working people who deserved the same respect and rights as anyone else – but it does not mean that I have to approve of their lifestyle, or legitimize it by condoning same-sex marriage. The problem today is the “Empire,” as in the time of Valentine, is trying to force a new normal upon us. There is a constant and subtle pressure to believe what is not true.

Millions of valentines are produced around Valentine’s Day. They are made out of candy, lace and acres of red paper. Real valentines – men and women like Valentine of old – are produced through the work of God’s Spirit, though His Word, in their hearts. We need to be sure we are those people. If things keep going the way they are going, our country is going to need all the Valentines it can get.