Thursday, November 30, 2006

Rebuke, Truth, Confession, Forgiveness

I don't know how carefully Tyndale (the folks who publish the One Year Bible) try to make each day's readings fit together, but days like today make me think it's not just coincidence:

Proverbs 28.23: He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with the tongue

1 John 1.7-9: If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Well, maybe it is. The proverbs do talk a lot about wise living - about doing what's right rather than what's simply expedient (note that favor comes "afterward" - the NIV has "in the end": it's what's good in the long run). And 1 John talks a lot about the truth. When I was in college, over 30 years ago now, someone told me that the Greek word for "truth" was the same word translated "reality". So John is talking about living according to the truth - that is, living according to reality. And if that's not wise living, I don't know what is.

Anyway, this passage from 1 John is a great one to live by. If I want to be cleansed from all sin, from all unrighteousness, then it looks like the thing to do is
  • walk in the light
  • not deny that I have sin
  • confess my sins
What does it mean to walk in the light? For one thing, when information comes my way, do I welcome it, or do I get mad and defensive? Do I take it as an opportunity to change my thinking, my habits and practices, or do I make it out to be an insult or a personal attack?

If I walk in the light and accept new information - in particular if I accept reproof graciously, that will help others to feel safe in giving me the rebukes that I need.

Then I can confess my sins and find forgiveness.

The temptation, of course, is to seek excuses rather than forgiveness. Of course forgiveness is better, because in my heart of hearts I know I'm actually guilty.

I wanted to mention one other temptation: sometimes when I remember this verse, I somehow think it means "if we feel bad enough about our sins for long enough, he will forgive...." This of course is nonsense. It's good to recognize sin for what it is, but the truth is that forgiveness (and cleansing) come when I confess.

And wouldn't that be nice - to be both forgiven and made clean!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The end of the world is coming... so what?

Peter tells us in his second letter that the heavens and the earth will be destroyed by fire. He warns us about scoffers who will come in the last days.

But let's say that we do get some detailed information about what's coming up next; so what? Peter tells us about that, too:
The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.
from 2 Peter 3.10-13
In other words, the "So what?" is this:
  • Live holy and godly lives
  • Look forward to the day of God
  • speed its coming (whatever that means)
  • Look forward to a new heaven and a new earth (the home of righteousness)
. That last one reminds me of something we read a few weeks ago, about people longing for a better country, and about God's feeling toward them: he's proud to be called their God.

Why is that? Why is he so excited by people longing for the heavenly country, the heavenly kingdom? I think it's something to do with faith. When we believe him (about the new heavens, a heavenly country, rewards for the righteous, etc.) it gives him glory and honor. So if I look forward to that heavenly country, if I obey God because I believe what he says, if I give to the poor because I figure I'm lending to the Lord, if I dream kingdom dreams, heavenly dreams, rather than dreaming only of a bigger house or a fancier car... then I honor him in my heart and bring pleasure to him. And how cool is that?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Drinking while Babylon's Invaded

I guess the original phrase was "fiddling while Rome burned" but this happened some centuries before that. Belshazzar, the last king of the Babylonian Empire, threw a big party - there were a thousand guests - on the last evening of his life. You may remember the story: a hand appears, mysterious words appear on the wall, Daniel interprets them. And
That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom at the age of sixty-two.
Daniel 5.30-31
The really surprising thing here, to me at least, is that this guy was having a banquet as his kingdom was slipping away. What was that about? Were his communications and control systems so broken-down that he had no idea about the invaders already well inside his territory?

Or did he realize that he was "rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic" so to speak -- knew he was sunk and decided to have a party so as to go out with a bang?

The text doesn't tell us. To me, Belshazzar's party looks like irresponsible arrogance: either he's overconfident and disastrously so, or he doesn't care enough about his life and his kingdom.

But it occurs to me, as I read this passage thousands of years later, that maybe the kingdom was already lost, and maybe Belshazzar already knew that his cause was hopeless. Maybe the force was so overwhelming that fighting would have been useless anyway.

And maybe he knew exactly how far away Darius's forces were, and when they'd arrive -- but threw a party anyway. He rewarded Daniel for decoding the mysterious message on the wall (the short version being: "You blew it, and now you're losing the kingdom") without further comment; that's consistent with this idea.

The day will come for each one of us -- the "last square" as Lewis Smedes calls the last day of his life. I hope that for you and for me, the assessment will be better than "weighed on the scales and found wanting."

What must we do to avoid that? The text doesn't tell us that either, though we might glean a few hints from it. Belshazzar apparently reigned over two years (8.1 refers to "the third year of King Belshazzar's reign") but there is nothing about any of his accomplishments. He apparently didn't keep very close track of his staff, as the queen had to introduce Daniel to him (5.10).

I'm going to guess that Belshazzar was found wanting because he basically didn't do anything -- didn't like staff meetings so didn't hold them, didn't like travel so he didn't keep track of the border defenses, and so on. He shirked his responsibilities, in other words. So to avoid his judgment, the word that comes to mind is "diligence." Or as we read in Hebrews a few weeks back,
And we want each one of you to show the same earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope until the end, that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
Hebrews 6.11-12

posted 11/29

Monday, November 27, 2006

Make every effort...

Today's New Testament reading includes this exhortation from 2 Peter 1:
[M]ake every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.
2 Peter 1.5-7
Peter is telling us here to practice goodness, to grow in knowledge, and so on. Paul prays some of these things for us, but Peter is saying that we don't just pray for these and forget it; rather, we should make every effort to move in the direction that God wants us to grow in.

The phrase "make every effort" sounded familiar, and sure enough there are several other places in the New Testament where we're told to "make every effort...":
  • ... to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with him (2 Peter 3.14)
  • ... to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12.14)
  • ... to enter that rest, so that no one will fail by following their example of disobedience (Hebrews 4.11)
  • ... to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Ephesians 4.3)
  • ... to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification (Romans 14.19)
  • ... to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. (Luke 13.24)

Well, I'm not sure how useful that was. But back to today's passage. Right after this exhortation to add knowledge to faith and so on, Peter tells us that if we're growing in these qualities, we'll be useful and fruitful. Recently I heard in a sermon the idea that our job now is to go along with what the Spirit is doing in our lives -- basically to cooperate with, rather than resist, the Holy Spirit. I think this is part of how we grow in all those qualities. Yes, we can study the Scriptures, but we must also ask the Spirit to reveal to us their true meaning. As for goodness, self-control, and so on... those sound to me like fruit of the Spirit.

So cooperate with the Spirit. And become fruitful and useful.

Sounds like a plan!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

A perfect turkey - and next year's plan

The kids do not like stuffing, and we probably shouldn't eat it, so...

So I saw something in the paper ... no, it was instructions I heard on NPR for roasting a turkey. I've brined and butterflied a chicken before, for a recipe involving chicken and potatoes.
  1. Dissolve:
    • 1 c kosher salt
    • ½ c sugar
    in 2 qts water. Immerse bird and refrigerate about an hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 500°F with rack in lower middle position.
  3. Take a broiler pan, and line the bottom with foil. Spray with PAM™ or similar.
  4. Remove chicken from brine; rinse thoroughly
  5. Butterfly the chicken. Flatten breastbone. Position it on broiler-pan top and pat dry
  6. Peel
    • about 1kg potatoes
    and slice 3-5mm thick.
  7. Toss sliced potatoes with
    • 1 T olive oil
    • ½ t salt
    • a little pepper
    in a medium bowl
  8. Spread the potatoes evenly in the broiler-pan bottom
  9. Rub the chicken with
    • ½ T olive oil
    • pepper
  10. Place chicken, on broiler-top, atop the broiler-pan bottom (and potatoes)
  11. Roast chicken about 20 minutes, 'til spotty brown.
  12. Rotate pan. When an instant-read thermometer shows 160°F in thickest part of breast, and skin is deep brown (another 20-25 minutes maybe) you're done roasting
  13. Remove chicken to cutting board
  14. Remove broiler-pan top and blot excess oil from potatoes. Invert on (another!) board and peel the foil off the potatoes carefully.
The original recipe had some stuff about seasoned butter, which I never use.

What I did this year was... took a 23# (!) turkey, removed the backbone, and tried to flatten it onto the broiler pan. But I ran into two problems:
  • No mallet, and I hadn't thought of (or read about) using a rolling pin to flatten the bird. So it didn't get flattened.
  • The bird was too big for the broiler-pan! It dripped onto the oven floor.
Skipped brining the bird (too big!) and also skipped the dressing/stuffing.

I ended up roasting it about 4½ hours, starting at 450°F and immediately dropping the temp to about 350°F. I don't have an instant-read thermometer but pulled the bird out when the thickest part of the breast read a shade under 170°F. I did cover the breast with foil for about half the roasting time.

The bird came out just about perfect.

The plan for next year

Let's get about a 14# bird. I'll brine it (it'll actually fit in a pot that fits in the fridge) and actually flatten it. Maybe I'll run the oven at 450°F the whole time like the NPR recipe said, not dropping the temp to 350° at all.

And I'll make a quart of gravy instead of just two cups.

And I think I'll double the green bean casserole recipe too. For the uninitiated:
Combine in a casserole:
  • 2 (15-oz) cans French style sliced green beans
  • 1 can (10 oz?) cream of mushroom soup undiluted
  • half a small can of French fried onions
and bake at 350°F for a while, covered or not.

About 15 minutes before serving, remove cover (if you covered it in the first place) and sprinkle the rest of the fried onions atop the bean/soup mixture.

Remove from oven and serve hot

Like I said, I probably want to double that casserole recipe.

What Does God Want?

Today's New Testament reading includes 1 Peter 5, which has this great verse in it:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you at the proper time
1 Peter 5.6
There's stuff before and after this verse, and many Sunday School students memorize them: clothe yourself with humility - that's good, and cast your care upon him because he cares for you - that's also good.

But the part I'm excited about here is the little phrase I have highlighted above (in an awful color, I admit) -- that God wants to exalt us (the NIV says "lift you up in due time"); he does not want to crush or humiliate us.

Isn't that cool? The idea that God wants to lift us up, that he wants to exalt us -- that sounds like good news to me. And something to be thankful for.

Because there are lots of people who want to put you down. Sometimes the "lots of people" even includes yourself, doesn't it? But not God. He wants to lift you up.

It reminds me of when Jesus said, "Don't take the best place at the table; take a lower position, and then the host will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.'" (Luke 14.10) I don't think Jesus was talking only about parties here on earth.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Ha! I'm back!

I sent my article in to Linux Journal almost two hours ago, so I'm back! It was three weeks ago that I took a short(?) break from these daily essays so I could write that article, and it's now done. I'll tell you all about it if it's accepted for publication.

Well, today's reading covers chapter 1 and about half of chapter 2 of the book of Daniel. Some years ago, when I decided that my former employer, particularly the boss, was behaving immorally and unethically, I contemplated leaving that company. I mentioned this to my friend Randy, who pointed out that Daniel worked for a corrupt boss, too. Good point, that.

King Nebuchadnezzar was egotistical, violent, and an idolater, but Daniel served him faithfully. It's interesting to note where Daniel draws the line, and where he doesn't. The Israelites are given food and wine from the king's table (1.5), and Daniel doesn't want to eat the rich stuff which he feels would defile him.
But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.
Daniel 1.8
What exactly was the defilement Daniel was trying to avoid? Perhaps he was a Nazirite, sworn to avoid drinking wine? Did the food include bacon or prawns? The text doesn't say. Perhaps Daniel wanted to distance himself from Jehoiachin, a king of Judah who ate regularly at the table of the king of Babylon (2 Kings 25.29)?

Whatever the reason, Daniel drew a line there. But the text doesn't tell us anything about the matter of the astrologers. Daniel is numbered among the "wise men" (2.13), that is, among the magicians, enchanters, astrologers (2.10). In tomorrow's reading, it appears that Daniel is made head over all these "wise men" - the astrologers, magicians, enchangers, diviners all report to him! And nothing in the text suggests that Daniel tries to reform the curriculum of instruction, engage the astrologers in debate about the true nature of events, or anything like this.

Well, my wife and daughter are back from their evening out, and it's about my bedtime. More tomorrow!

Friday, November 24, 2006

For husbands only

Gentlemen, I have today found a secret way for us to unblock our prayers. Our tipster is the apostle Peter:
Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.
1 Peter 3:7
I like it -- if I do this, nothing will hinder my prayers. What am I supposed to do here?

Looks like I'm to
  • be considerate as I live with my wife, and
  • treat her with respect
    • as the weaker partner and
    • as a fellow heir of the gift of life.
Be considerate: I think I know what that means. Treat her with respect: Ditto. I try.

As the weaker partner? Now there's a puzzle. In our case, I seem to be mostly in better health, but that's not the case with all couples. Some women are larger and in better shape than their husbands.

Does it mean in terms of temperament and activity level? I think some women are more active and assertive than their husbands. One possible answer comes from Sarah Sumner in her book Men and Women in the Church: that women are vulnerable in a way men are not -- sexually. A man can force himself on a woman in that way, but the reverse is just about impossible.

And she's a fellow-heir of the gift of life. Her ultimate significance is spiritual; she's a child of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, just as I am, so she should get respect by virtue of her relationship to the King, the Lord.

Finally, what does that first part of the verse mean: "Husbands, in the same way..."? In the same way as what?

As Jesus! He is our example:
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
1 Peter 2:23
Even when insulted and made to suffer, Jesus entrusted himself to his father in heaven. That's our example, and if you've been married for any length of time, you've been on both the giving and receiving end of trouble. Am I right?

So what's the connection? When I don't respond rightly to trouble, it's because I'm not entrusting myself to the just judge.

What then do I need? I need faith, to trust myself to the just judge and not react. I need to remember to be considerate, to remember my wife's spiritual nature and significance, to respect her.

And then -- prayers will get through without hindrance. Yes!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

stop me if i repeat myself...

  • trees on the sidewalk strip in front of my house, and the way their leaves move in the wind
  • colorful leaves and the patterns their shadows make
  • cookbooks
  • a working oven
  • turkeys
  • sweet potatoes and green bean casserole
  • French fried onion rings in a can
  • pumpkin pie
  • kind and generous neighbors
  • hot coffee to drink in the morning
  • places to display my kids' artwork in the living room
  • our clothes washer and dryer
  • our dishwasher, which my wife picked up at a yard sale for $45
  • Linux distributions that make our desktop computers run smoothly
  • Hyperthreading that nearly doubles our effective MIPS
  • books and shelves to put them on
  • The variety of translations of the Bible, and reference materials (concordances, dictionaries, etc.)
  • Online Bible resources
  • google
  • the teachers at my kids' school
  • Caltrain and VTA
  • Doctors at Menlo Medical Clinic
  • effective medicines

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Ever wish you were an angel?

Wouldn't it be cool to be an angel? Some of them stand in the presence of God himself. Most of them, the good ones anyway, don't seem to sin. They can appear and disappear. But today's reading from 1 Peter says we have something they don't: salvation. This verse is talking about being saved, the goal of our faith. God told the prophets something about this salvation, but...
It was revealed to them [the prophets] that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.
1 Peter 1:12 [italics added]
Isn't that interesting? Angels long to look into things that have been proclaimed to us. We have experienced things that angels in some sense don't "get."

Peter is very excited about this "salvation" deal; the whole first chapter is all about it. It is really good news. Let me see if I can sum it up here:
  • He gave us new birth into a living hope (3)
    By the way, do you remember the subtitle of the first "Star Wars" movie (Episode IV)? "A New Hope," right? Isn't that what the world needs today?
  • Imperishable, enduring inheritance (4)
  • Shielded by God's power (5)
  • Rejoicing possible even in trials (6)
  • Our faith is more valuable than gold and will bring glory etc. (7)
  • Our souls are being saved (9)
  • The prophets were serving us! and we receive stuff that angels wish they could see (12)
  • More grace is coming to us (13)
  • Holiness is possible (16)
  • We were redeemed with something far more valuable than gold (18-19)
  • Jesus was revealed for our sake!
  • We've been born again (23)
See what I mean? How would it be if I could remember and think about those things all day long? What would my life be like? How would life be, for me and for those around me, if I were able to keep this list in mind as I talked with people and listened to them?

How would it be if you and I really lived like people born anew into a living hope? Would we not be truly distinctive creatures? People around us have a vain hope, or none; we have a sure hope, a living hope, an imperishable inheritance.

What do we do with all that?
  • Rejoice in sufferings (6),
  • prepare our minds for action (13),
  • be self-controlled (13),
  • fix our hope on coming grace (13),
  • avoid evil desires (14),
  • be holy (15),
  • live as strangers on earth (17),
  • love one another (22).
A difficult list -- impossible without help from God. But as we keep in mind the first list, the good news, and fix our hearts on that (i.e., we live as aliens here on earth) and ask God for help, the other things start to feel possible.

May the Lord help you and me to rejoice and to fix our hope on that salvation, and to live as we ought. And not envy the angels.

Some things to be thankful for

A few years ago, we were in a small group (our church calls them "home groups" now, whether or not they meet in someone's home) where we did "spiritual formation" exercises. One exercise related to thankfulness. The idea was to write down things you're thankful for... for 10 minutes or something like this.

Seeing that we're coming up on Thanksgiving, I thought I'd give it a shot again.
  1. A roof over my head
  2. A loving, faithful, energetic, spiritual and sexy wife
  3. Lovely children who are nicer and kinder and smarter and more beautiful and more spiritual than we had any right to expect
  4. Laughter and music and creativity in my house
  5. Gainful employment
  6. Interesting work to do there -- things to learn, code to write, issues to fix
  7. Wonderful colleagues
  8. A church family with solid teaching, great sermons, stimulating fellowship
  9. Faithful and affectionate dog
  10. Crisp fall days
  11. Delicious food from my kitchen
  12. My wife and daughter who just returned from a visit to the dentist!
Going to stop here; more later. Happy thanksgiving!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Somebody better tell this guy that he can name it and claim it

What are the things I wish for? For the company's stock price to go up? Sure. That we can get a good price on those airplane tickets for our next vacation? You bet! For world peace, a cure for cancer and AIDS/HIV? Well, let's be realistic. So I was reading in James chapter 4:
You have not because you ask not. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
James 4.2-3
Another translation says "on your lusts." Now my first reaction when I read a passage like this is to say, "the name-it claim-it crowd ought to read this." But what about me? Isn't it James himself who says "if you don't actually do it, you're like the guy who forgot what the mirror showed him"? ... Yep, 1.23-24.

The things I wish or hope for, and hence much of my unspoken prayer life, do fall into the category of "so I can spend what I get on my pleasures." I hope the mutual funds do well and my employer's stock to go up so that I can retire early and spend more time lying around. Well, to be perfectly honest, it's not just for lying around, but also for meeting with other guys for prayer and fellowship, to finish some of those projects that I never got around to finishing, etc. But wouldn't it be nice to throw a few lamb chops and some eggplant on the grill, and to pop the cork on that 1999 Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape? To "eat, drink, and be merry" (Luke 12.19)? How dumb!

What do I want? What do I dream of? And why?

Friday, November 17, 2006

If I have a new heart, and God's Spirit in me, then why is it still hard?

Here's a great promise from the book of Ezekiel, one I first heard about when Juan Carlos Ortiz spoke at our church, some time in the 1980s I think. He asked us, "How many of you wish you were nicer, that you were a more patient person, a kinder person?" Of course we all raised our hands.

So he then asked, with mock exasperation, "Why you are not like that?" This got some laughs. From there he somehow got to the point that we need help from God; we need him to do something supernatural in us. And he told us to turn to the book of Ezekiel. Now I used to think of Ezekiel as being cryptic and depressing, which it largely still is to me, especially "cryptic". Why, for example, are we told about the measurements of the heavenly temple in chapters 40-48? But anyway, here is one place where Ezekiel gives us good news of great joy (to coin a phrase):
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
Ezekiel 36.25-27
How cool is that? To just always do what God wants, and to just do it naturally because the Spirit of God becomes my Spirit of God... sounds great! Sign me up!

Alas, it's not quite that easy. The Apostle Paul knew that quite well (he did write Romans 7, about the ongoing frustrating struggle to do what God wants).

So what did Ezekiel mean? Or what did the Lord mean when he said that through Ezekiel?

Here's something I heard some time ago, which still seems reasonable to me. In our natural state, we're hostile toward God. God invites us into relationship with him, softens our hearts, and sends his spirit to live inside us. At some point, our hearts become "neutral" toward him - that is, we are no longer hostile to God, and we have the possibility of doing things his way.

The rest of our lives on earth, we can learn to listen to him, learn to see things his way, love what he loves, and so on.

For most of us, that takes all our lives, and it's not an "ever upward" kind of thing. Three steps forward, two steps back -- sometimes it seems like just one step forward, and two steps back.

But the promise is still exciting. We can approach that blessed state asymptotically I suppose. We can get help - from the Helper, as Jesus called him.

Sounds pretty good to me!

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Today's Old Testament reading, from the book of Ezekiel, includes something I quoted about a week ago, but with something added:
“Son of man, say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what you are saying: Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?

“Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’”
Ezekiel 33:10-11
As in the previous passage, we see that the Lord takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but this time he says explicitly that he'd rather they “turn from their ways and live.”

What generosity! What mercy! Does this mean that if Hitler or Stalin had turned from his ways at the end, the Lord would have forgiven him? I think yes. Which is truly awesome in my view.

Here's something else: In the Old Testament, this line of thought appears only twice, and only in the book of Ezekiel: "I take no pleasure in the death of <someone>" and "Why will you die?" (not necessarily in that order). What strikes me is that in Ezekiel's day, there was apparently a common belief that God did enjoy the death of some.

How about in our day? What wrong ideas do we have about God? Do we underestimate his mercy toward others? Do we forget that he knows our thoughts and intentions, or that he declares the end from the beginning? I know that I sometimes do.

The last thing I want to say about this passage is: Look at what comes just before the message to the people. They say they're wasting away because of their sins. So God's message (to turn from evil) is sent to people who already feel weighed down by their own sin. In other words, he says, "You don't have to keep sinning and die; you can turn and live!"

And that offer stands today, too, so I don't really have to continue in my secret thoughts (no, I'm not going to tell you...), my bad habits, my guilty pleasures etc.; I can turn away from them, and pursue the path of life. Good news.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Don't just do one

I used to hang out with a group called the Navigators. In those days you could always tell a Nav by the little packet of cards they carried. These were Bible verses that we would review from time to time -- I have a verse-pack in my pocket right now in fact, and having those verses in my head (if not my heart) has been very helpful to me over the decades.

The Navs had a bunch of these cards pre-printed by topic: there was the "Beginning with Christ" pack to start with, then the Topical Memory System... and there were a bunch of others. Each card had a topic or title written at the top, and the passage (sometimes just one verse, sometimes a bit more) below. The topic at the top of the card usually had something to do with the passage, but occasionally it was a total miss. Today's New Testament reading includes this passage. What do you think verse 15 is talking about?
14Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. 16See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son.
Hebrews 12:14-16

Is it talking about bitterness, as Ephesians says, "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice"? Well, maybe, but it doesn't really fit; we have
  • live in peace
  • be holy — without holiness you won't see the Lord
  • don't miss the grace of God
  • (something about a "bitter root" that may defile many)
  • avoid sexual immorality
  • don't be godless like Esau, selling birthright for food (or pride)
I'm going to go out on a limb (though I think it quite sturdy) and say that the "bitter root" stuff in verse 15 is talking about worshiping false gods. The words 'bitter" and "root" don't appear close to each other very often in the Bible; one place is Deuteronomy 29:18, which says:
Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison.
Aha! The most likely interpretation of the phrase "bitter root" in Hebrews 12 is that it's an allusion to this Deuteronomy 29 passage; readers of the book of Hebrews would have been very familiar with it. And they also would have been familiar with the history of idolatry -- that it spreads in a community, defiling many.

So I think this is right, and that the title on the little card was wrong. What do I take from this? Well, as good as it is to memorize passages of Scripture, the benefit is greatly reduced when it's an isolated sentence and you don't know what it's talking about. People memorize John 3:16, but how many of us know 3:15? 3:17? Do most of us know what the chapter is talking about?

I think that if you're going to memorize a verse, it's most effective to take a good look at what the surrounding verses are about -- even better to study and meditate on an entire paragraph or chapter.

And as for this particular verse, it's good to be very careful to avoid worshiping false gods: money, prestige, "stuff," sensual pleasures, etc. -- and to be able to say "no" to them. Not that these are bad in themselves, but we have to be careful to be masters of them, not mastered by them. How to make sure?

To break the power of a potential idol, we can repudiate its power: if money is the issue, give some away (to the needy, to a gospel ministry). If prestige is the issue, deliberately forgo the opportunity to promote yourself; don't take credit for something you did; do something to bless someone but do it in secret. And so on. Counter-cultural? You bet!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

"The world was not worthy of them."

Today's reading, from Hebrews 11-12, includes the faith "Hall of Fame", but the part that caught my attention was this:
They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated -- the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.
Hebrews 11.37-39
The world was not worthy of them. So where am I on this? I can't imagine standing before the Lord at the end of my life and hearing, "The world was not worthy of you."

Man! That's even better than Well done, good and faithful servant, which is pretty darned powerful itself.

What would I be willing to go through for that? What should I be willing to go through for that?

And, as the nagging little voice says, how do I know what's really going to happen? Those (excuse me) butt-heads that flew airplanes into the World Trade Center -- what were they thinking? That the world wasn't worthy of them? Did they think they were going to get a reward for killing thousands of innocent victims in the WTC?

We want to be sure we're following the right Spirit. But we do want to follow him, lest we waste our lives in meaningless pursuits. As John says, let us test the spirits....


Sunday night our girls were up late, working on their paintings. Jenny's was a picture of a school restroom -- I forgot to ask her what she called it -- "dirtiness" maybe? -- and Sheri's was of Riomaggiore, as seen from the sea. I slid the hall door closed and climbed -ouch- into bed. The air cleaner's buzz masked most sounds, but I occasionally heard a musical laugh from the living room.

How wonderful it is that our girls enjoy each other! How did we ever get so lucky? To have so much laughter and song and art and dance, theology and math and literature and all kinds of things that they're interested in, all in our home.

We do have our challenges - when some are in tears (of vexation or pain or whatever) - we don't always get along. But Sunday night - that was golden. That joyful sound, drifting through the hallway... my girls enjoying each other and their work, my wife breathing softly beside me, and in spite of the beginning of a cold, my tender side, my broken toe, and the very real challenges we face (but we don't have to think about every minute of every day), I felt like the happiest man on earth.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Is this talking to us?

How relevant is the Bible to our lives today? True, its newest parts were written nearly two millennia ago, and nearly half a world away. But the themes are as current as the morning paper.
By your wisdom and understanding
you have gained wealth for yourself
and amassed gold and silver
in your treasuries.
By your great skill in trading
you have increased your wealth,
and because of your wealth
your heart has grown proud.
Ezekiel 28:4-5
Who does this remind you of? To me it sounds like it's talking about these United States. Wealth? Yep. Trading skill? Yep. Proud? Well... yes we are.

A recent survey of high school science students from around the world showed that American students were more confident in their scientific abilities than most. However, this confidence was misplaced; they were less knowledgeable and less skillful than most in actually doing science.

Does this hubris reflect their parents' attitudes, the media, our educational system? Probably yes, but the point is that some of our political and military leaders display the same pride and arrogance.

Since we know that God opposes the proud (1 Peter 5), we as a nation are asking for trouble. And when I harbor and/or display this sort of attitude, so am I.

May the Lord help us to walk humbly with him!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Dreaming of...?

We had lunch with some long-time friends today, a couple who have served with the church or a campus Christian organization for decades. They described their typical week and commented that among the various challenges ministering to students is that, as Jesus said two millennia ago, "the laborers are few" (Matthew 9.38). In connection with that, the comment came up that "Kingdom dreams have been displaced by other dreams," about which more later.

They asked about my blog, and I told them what I've been trying to do here (when I'm not writing for Linux Journal) - writing a short essay about something from the One Year Bible - and I mentioned that most days there is something pretty exciting in the reading.

Well, that is especially true today. In the 11th chapter of Hebrews, we read about quite a few people who...
... admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country--a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
from Hebrews 11.13-16
Let me take that last sentence and state it positively:

God is proud to be called their God.

I find that absolutely astonishing. And look at the reason! Is it because they are great people? Because they had great courage, great virtue, sacrificial love? Well, they probably did, but that's not the reason.

The reason is, they believed in the heavenly country. More than that, they longed for it.

Do I want God to be proud to be called my God? How much do I believe in the heavenly country? My dreams... are they dreams about the heavenly kingdom, about how that heavenly kingdom can come to earth? Or are there dreams about financial security and worldly success?

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. And in my life too.

A broken toe??

Yeah, I had climbed onto the counter (you read that right) and was trying to step down... and missed. Got the wind knocked out of me, and my foot was sore. We had friends over for lunch, and I didn't look at my foot (I wear socks around the house these days) until after lunch and a nap. Whoa, the 4th toe was bent at a strange angle, and there was a black and blue area in that quarter of the foot. I went over to the Palo Alto Clinic's Urgent Care facility, where they took a look at it.

The doctor said it looked like a fracture, "because you usually don't get that much bruising unless you have a fracture." Anyway they don't do much for toe fractures -- unlike for a finger fracture. He asked about the pain in my rib cage, to see if there was a cracked rib. "We don't do anything for those either," he said, unless it punctures a lung or something. Probably there's no crack, he said.

After a while, Jeff in X-Ray took me over to the machine, and the doctor came in too. They took a picture, and I overheard someone say, "Medicine should always be like this." Or maybe I have the order wrong. Anyway, it was a fracture. They told me to sit up (easier said than done because of my tender ribcage) and the doctor explained that
"the anaesthesia doesn't always work, and it takes two needle sticks." He said, "Are you man enough to have me pull your toe and straighten it?"

I said, "I guess we'll see."

Well, he pulled, and it hurt, and it looks a lot less goofy now. They took a few more X-rays. Afterwards, Jeff showed me the pictures, and the "before" picture definitely shows a fracture. The "after" picture looks a lot better. They gave me this rigid-soled thing that's not really a shoe (great, rain in tomorrow's forecast too -- tomorrow sounds like a telecommuting day). Four weeks of taking it easy on the toe. Ibuprofen or Acetominophen for pain. Followup with my regular doctor.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Believe and be saved

I have to confront someone about something, and I have to do it soon. I don't really want to do it; I'm a little frightened about how he will react, I'm not sure whether it'll do any good, and so on. So today's reading from Hebrews is well timed.
Do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while,
“He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.”
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.
from Hebrews 10:35-39
It's encouraging and exciting to me that people in those days had need of these same words that I need today; they too faced the temptation to shrink back. Were they like me in sometimes preferring comfort -- something Morley (The Man in the Mirror) calls "the beautiful, wrinkle-free life" -- over spiritual growth?

But what is going on here? Is this saying that if I shrink back, God will be displeased and therefore destroy me? I don't think so. But if I make a habit of shrinking back from growth, then I'll end up shrinking back from life itself, and that's what will lead me down the path of death and destruction. Because really, when I shrink back from an opportunity to grow, what am I saying about my core beliefs, my mental map?

I guess I'm saying something else is more important than growth, which at least in my case means "more important than following God" -- in particular, indulging my fears, pandering to them if you will. An alternate, more current phrasing way to put this would be, "Staying in my comfort zone is more important than following God."

Gaaa! I don't want to be that guy.

Fortunately, there's help. As someone has pointed out, the most frequent command in the Scriptures is "Be not afraid," and the frequent reason given is "for I am with you," the "I" being the Lord. Isaiah 41:10 comes to mind: “Do not fear, for I am with you.” A few chapters later, the Lord says through Isaiah, “I, even I, am he who comforts you. Who are you that you fear mortal men... that you forget the Lord your maker...?” (from Isaiah 51:12-13)

He is with me. Can I remember that today?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Faith and Prudence

"There I was with no food in the 'fridge and no money for rent. I thought God had given me a mission to care for these kids...." Pat (a pseudonym) was voluntarily unemployed, having taken big risks for God, and things were not looking so good.

Jesus said, "Consider the lilies of the field; they neither toil nor spin..." (Matthew 6:28). Does that mean that if I get a vision from God of something he wants me to do for others, that I should quit my job and pursue that vision?

Today's reading from the Proverbs brought that story, and that question to mind:
The prudent see danger and take refuge,
but the simple keep going and suffer for it.
Proverbs 27:12
Do financial ruin, or even just eviction and hunger, constitute danger? If so, did Pat "keep going and suffer"?

I don't know. But I think that people have different levels of tolerance for risk. I'm toward the low end of the spectrum; I have a hard time imagining myself ever doing something like that. Pat obviously has a higher tolerance than I do for that sort of thing.

Pat probably isn't sure whether I'm just prudent or devoid of faith. I wasn't sure whether Pat is filled with faith or lacking in prudence.

I'll tell you what happened next in "Pat"'s story. A big check came in the next day, Pat's tax-free foundation was established, and the ministry is thriving today. So did Pat read the Lord correctly? What do you think?

That was a trick question. If we say "it worked out all right, so it must have been God's will," we're falling into a trap of mistaking blessing for approval. In other words, the rich are blessed by God and the poor are their own victims.

The correct answer is, "I don't know." Was Pat a little too careless with her personal finances? I don't know. Would God have provided for her ministry if she had put it on hold to pay her rent? Maybe, or maybe not.

Was God honoring the prayer and actions prompted by Pat's faith? Was it because Pat walked right up to the edge that God decided to act? Maybe, maybe not.

As Lewis says, "Nobody is ever told what would have happened." I am glad Pat did what she did, and I'm sure the kids are too. I don't see myself doing anything like that any time soon, though; I would really need to be sure.

God doesn't guarantee the outcome, but he promises to be with us. And perhaps that's better.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

He will appear

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
Verse 27 is in the "Topical Memory System" from the Navigators, to say that death is a one-time thing and that judgment awaits afterward. But the author mentions this in passing, as though it were common knowledge; the real point is the promise in the next verse: that he will appear... to bring salvation.

This is one of those things -- is it a paradox? I've heard that we need salvation from the penalty of sin, the power of sin, the presence of sin. Jesus paid the penalty for sin, so that those who belong to him are saved from it. It seems to take a lifetime to be freed from the power of sin, in what often seems like a "Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back" (to steal the title from Swindoll's book) kind of process. And the presence of sin -- well, we'll be stuck with that for a long time.

But to think that Jesus will come and save us from both the power and presence of sin -- now there's something to look forward to.

updated 2006-11-20, 2007-10-24

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Hammer -- Not

This beautiful passage from Ezekiel came up in today's reading:
Cast away from you all the sins you have committed, and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit, for why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies, declares the Lord Almighty. Therefore repent and live!
Ezekiel 18.31-32
You know, you see these cartoons of the gods sitting in the clouds, looking for somebody to zap. Or with a hammer, looking for somebody to pound for having fun (of some kind or another).

Could there be a more distorted view of God? He takes no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies. Not of Hitler, Stalin, Dahmer, or (soon) Saddam.

Now that's merciful.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

To be a friend...

What does it mean to be a good friend, to bring pleasantness to a friend's life? Today's reading contains one answer:

Proverbs 27.9: Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one's friend springs from his earnest counsel.

Is there some earnest counsel I'm called to offer today? Or some I need to seek?

When I receive earnest counsel, how do I handle it? Do I offer counsel kindly and sensitively?

Monday, November 06, 2006

"I'll pray for you..."

How often have we heard, or said that? And how much follow-through has there been? Honestly, it varies, right? Today's reading in Hebrews 7 is about a high priest who prays for us faithfully. The usual priests grow old and die,
but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
Hebrews 7.24-25
It's exciting to see how fired up the author is about Jesus's priesthood, and to think of what that means to me today. Some of those old songs, though really corny, are really true -- "Shadows dispelling with joy I am telling he made all the darkness depart" -- or he can if we turn to him. When I think about stooopid things I've done in the past -- and not just dumb things, but rude, selfish, arrogant, insensitive things (and I don't have to go very far back in the past either), and about how those are forgiven and forgotten, and how the great high priest is praying for me, then, well, when I remember it, life is good!

But how often I forget. "Help me Lord, for you are good all the time, but I am weak and easily distracted."

actually written 11/7 but I was so excited about 7.25 I felt I had to write about it...

Diversity: an essay from April 2000

"Red and yellow, black and white / They are precious in his sight..."

Many of us sang this song as children, and many of us believe that, as Jesus accepts everyone regardless of race or socio-economic status, so should we. Why, then, is our church family at <our_church_name> not more diverse? Why is it that our efforts to incorporate different kinds of people - as distinct from our mission and service projects - don't seem to get very far? There are two fundamental reasons for this: first, a cultural gap that makes some of our visitors feel that "I don't really belong here"; and second, a lack of commitment among our church family to overcoming this gap.

Living in Japan for several years has given us a sense of what it means to feel like aliens and strangers; we literally were aliens and strangers over there. But the experience also gave us new eyes; coming back to the United States, and coming back to <our_church_name>, we had a little taste of what it might be like for someone from another race or social class - from another culture - to come for the first time. The big thing that struck us was...

Language. By this I mean the way we speak to each other and also the vocabulary, metaphors, and stories that we hear from our speakers. Lerner and Lowe's "My Fair Lady" may have slightly overstated its case, but our language does give away our social class. Conversations in the hallways and breezeways and classrooms are generally (and obviously) among highly-educated, well-to-do folks. We use big words and talk about taking our mothers to Europe or rebuilding our houses. And there is nothing wrong with that -- that's what's really happening in our lives and that's just the way we talk. But people with less money and especially with less education tend to feel intimidated and out of place there.

Speakers in our adult classes, our fellowship groups, sometimes send out the assumption that we all have a lot of money or education. One speaker urged the husbands in our fellowship group to take our wives to Monterey for a weekend several times a year. Another, giving an example of how his wife could be assertive without attacking, quoted her as saying, "When you spend $5,000 on a new computer, I feel scared." It was a great example, and certainly didn't send out the assumption that everybody else had that kind of money to spend on gadgets, but someone who's never had even $1,000 to spend on a computer might feel out of place.

So our language can be a barrier to visitors from other social classes. And our attitudes can, too.

James tells us not to show partiality to the rich and powerful - and why does he tell us that? Because it's natural to defer to them! It's just as natural to want to be with people with similar lifestyles and similar temperaments and similar houses. We all have blind spots; naturally I don't see my own, but I have seen a few others. When I was buying my house, one dear friend commented that I was moving into an "integrated" neighborhood. True enough -- but since I'm of Korean descent, wherever I move around here automatically becomes integrated. Someone I used to know (who no longer lives in the area) saw "there are hardly any black people" as a nice thing about our church.

I live in the affordable section of Redwood City (Fair Oaks is the "default" for our kids). We're starting a small group Bible study in our home, and a couple who live not five minutes from here, in Atherton, refuse to even consider our group; instead, they're looking for one in Atherton or Menlo Park.

Should diversity be a non-objective for us at <our_church_name>? The cultural barriers will never go away, so should we just say "well, that's something we're not really very good at"? Although diversity need perhaps not be the #1 priority, I believe that the scripture tells us that it must be a priority.

Jesus's new commandment, to love one another as he loved us, is not qualified; "by this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another of the same social class" is not what he said. He told us that when giving a banquet, not to invite only those who could afford to invite us back in return. There are many more scriptures on this, but I'd like to close with a comment from our pastor in Kobe.

In Japan, the stereotype goes, everyone thinks alike. Ask someone a question about, say, their eating habits, and the answer may begin "We Japanese..." Something that many Japanese people find shocking, even scandalous, is that Kobe Bible Fellowship has people from Japan, and several foreign countries (at least Indonesia, Burma, Switzerland, England, Australia, USA), and they all get along. "How can this be?" they ask. It's because we follow Jesus. He is our peace.

And if the church of Jesus Christ in the US can bring together a socially, economically, racially diverse group of people, if we can be a force for reconciliation, then that miracle will be a testimony to the power of God, and glory will accrue to the name of Jesus Christ.

Disclaimer: I'm not generally a proponent of diversity or "economic democracy." Some years ago, someone from an Asian country took over a Swensen's, and my guess is that business went downhill. Because they were Asian? No, because there was a strong odor in the place (they burned incense or something) and their posture and gestures didn't convey an attitude of helpfulness or service -- they acted like they didn't care if you got ice cream or not. And although I have sympathy for kids who don't have English as their first language, neither do I believe in "bilingual education" or "separate but equal" classes taught in some non-English language for years on end :^<

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Provoked by a fool?

Some time ago, I heard about Dawkins's book calling God a delusion -- apparently even non-religious commentators think his rhetoric egregious. On another occasion, I saw Hitchens's anti-God book at Borders, and read a few paragraphs. And have I mentioned Pinker's ranting?

These fellows are no doubt brilliant in their fields (I have two of Pinker's books on my shelf and one in my headboard; I have read and enjoyed Hitchens's writing in the Atlantic). But when it comes to calling all religious people deluded, or saying God doesn't exist? I've said such silly things myself, when I was young and foolish, and what I've read of Pinker's rants and Hitchens's book makes me feel somewhat embarrassed for them. They are far more articulate than I ever was or will be, but their arguments are no less dumb.

Both Psalm 14:1 and Psalm 53:1 tell us, The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God."

Which is why, when I heard Richard Dawkins on the radio the other day, I was annoyed. I didn't start wondering about my faith, but I had to repress the urge to bang my head against the wall. And when I saw this verse I was happy to note that the Bible is as timely as what's on the radio:
Stone is heavy and sand a burden,
but provocation by a fool is heavier than both.
Proverbs 27:3
The other thing about this verse is that it's a warning for those of us who haven't stopped saying foolish things... to be aware that we can provoke people. Not a good thing.

Lord, help me today to walk with you; save me from my own folly, and help me to be a blessing to those around me, rather than provoking them.

actually written 2007-10-05

Saturday, November 04, 2006

just a short note this morning

So Hebrews 6 has this impossible passage about thistles and thorns. I have read several explanations and I still don't get it, so instead I'll jot down a few notes about verses 10-12.
God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.
Hebrews 6.10-12
So there are two things I get from here. First, that "helping his people" is very important to God. Sure, feeding the poor and healing the sick and giving the good news to the lost -- those are important. But so are acts of service to the church.

Second: workaholism bad, laziness bad, diligence good.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Taking a break

I have a writing assignment! Actually I got it back in September and somehow managed to completely miss the fact that there was a due date attached to it :^(

Said due date flew by about 4 weeks ago without my even noticing it. Editor wrote to ask if I was still planning to send it. So I've got some catching up to do.

Fortunately or un, I still have my day job, so while working on that article for Linux Journal, I'm going to take a break from writing a daily essay here. I should be back in a couple of weeks.

But don't let that stop you from reading the One Year Bible; when I return, I'll just pick up on the reading for whatever day that turns out to be.

A great high priest

There is a great line in today's reading from Hebrews 5. In contrast to Jesus, the great high priest from yesterday's reading, this line is talking about human priests that are still here on earth:
He can deal gently with the ignorant and the wayward, since he himself is beset by weakness
Hebrews 5.2
I love this because it's such a great example of what I should be like.

When I encounter someone who is... well, who's like me in having certain weaknesses, the temptation is to be annoyed or impatient -- those are my weaknesses. But to be like a good high priest (not a bad high priest like Annas and Caiaphas were) I want to be aware of my weaknesses, rather than yielding to them. A good high priest is aware that he's beset (but not defeated) by his weaknesses.

I wanted to say something about one other part of this chapter. This is talking about Jesus:
Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him...
Hebrews 5.8-9
Now what does this mean? How could Jesus be other than perfect? I mean, how could he be "made perfect"?

Well, a few nights ago, the elder teen reminded me that the word translated "perfect" carries the meaning of "complete" or "full." In other words, there wasn't anything wrong with him before he was "made perfect." but he hadn't yet gone through all the experiences he was destined for. Only after those experiences could the writer say that Jesus "was tempted in all things as we were" (4.15). And it is good news that he was, because he can sympathize with our weaknesses - though not as a human high priest who has also fallen, but as the great high priest who has passed through the heavens.

And he's also the source of our eternal salvation.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

No wasted motion

As I look at the clouds this morning, and think of sunsets and waterfalls I've marveled at before, it seems to me that God is extravagant in his creation; he's made a world full of beauty and majesty. But today's reading from chapter 4 of Hebrews suggests that although God may be extravagant, he doesn't waste anything.
It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience. Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before:
Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day.
Hebrews 4.6-8
Notice that last part: God would not have spoken about another day, if Joshua had already given them rest.

The main point of the passage, of course, is that the Sabbath (here a proxy for the Law of Moses) was not the last word in how God relates to Man. If the Sabbath had been sufficient, the author says, God would not have brought up another day, "Today," in which he warns about a different rest than the Sabbath-day rest, and this is a very important point. It's why Paul tells us in Colossians that it's OK to treat all days alike.

But a secondary point is this: God isn't wasteful. He doesn't mention another rest if the first one is enough. He may be extravagant, but he doesn't do anything unless he thinks it's worth something. Yes, I'm extrapolating, but I also think I'm right. :^)

OK, I've arrived at the office so I'd better get to work. The last thing I want to say about the passage is this:

God gave his only begotten son, to save us from the penalty and power of sin. This may have been extravagant, but it was not wasteful. In other words, God considered sinful, broken, corrupt people like us to be worth it.

And all I can say about that is: Wow.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

What today?

Today's New Testament reading, from Hebrews chapter 3, contains this quote from the Old Testament:
So, as the Holy Spirit says:
Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion,
during the time of testing in the desert ...
Hebrews 3.7-8
I love this part! First, the focus is on what we do today: basically "Don't harden your hearts." Don't resist. Compared to other things you could imagine, hard commands like "Love one another as I have loved you" -- that's hard -- this one doesn't seem nearly so difficult. The job basically is not to resist his voice.

I heard that recently, and it seemed right, but I wasn't sure where it came from. Well, there's "Do not put out the Spirit's fire" from 1 Thessalonians, and James also tells us to submit ourselves to God. Anyway, now I know.

Specifically, the author warns us against having a "sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God" (3.12), which fits right into the flow of this letter. Chapter 2 began with "We must pay careful attention... lest we drift away" (which sounds like it was written especially for me) and chapter 3 begins with an exhortation to "fix your thoughts on Jesus." He continues:
But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.
Hebrews 3.13
What kind of encouragement do we need to give each other? The kind that will prevent our hearts from drifting away, that encourages us to fix our thoughts on Jesus, that encourages us toward faith, toward God, and away from sin.

Something I try to remember along these lines, though I often forget, is to ask, "What do you suppose God is doing here?" or "What do hear God saying to you?" This can be tricky, because people sometimes think you're saying something you're not. But it helps if they already know that you care about them. Which God does too!