Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Baker’s Dozen from 2014

As we head into 2015, and as a way to recap this past year of The Faith Log, here is a baker’s dozen of the most popular posts I wrote in 2014. Presented in no particular order.
  1. Faith Without Love is Dead
  2. Happiness and Holiness
  3. Problems of an Unexamined Faith
  4. The Focus of the Heart Upon God
  5. The Gospel of Reconciliation
  6. Anointed with the Holy Spirit and with Power
  7. The Father Who Dwells in Me Does the Works
  8. Paradigms and Soda Straws
  9. Radical: A Life Rooted in Jesus
  10. Grafted Into the Chosen People
  11. God’s Chosen People — the Church
  12. Eternal Life is Knowing God Through Christ
  13. Random Thoughts
By the way, if you would like to receive new posts from The Faith Log in your email box, you can sign up for it here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Appointed Time Has Come

You will arise and have compassion on Zion,
    for it is time to show favor to her;
    the appointed time has come.
For her stones are dear to your servants;
    her very dust moves them to pity.
The nations will fear the name of the LORD,
    all the kings of the earth will revere your glory.
For the LORD will rebuild Zion
    and appear in his glory.
(Psalm 102:13-16 NIV)
The appointed time has come, the time of God’s favor and compassion on Zion. This is the song of Christmas and the pursuit of the wise. It is the benediction of Zechariah: “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets” (Luke 1:68-70).

It is the magnificent praise offered by Mary: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior … He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever” (Luke 1:46-47, 54-55).

It is the wonderment of the angels: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord … Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:10-11, 14 NIV).

It is the thanksgiving of Simeon, who lived in expectation of seeing the Messiah, as he was promised by the Holy Spirit: “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word. For my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).

It is the testimony of Anna, who inhabited prayer all her life and witnessed the fulfillment of what had been promised to Simeon. She, too, saw the Messiah: “And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).

It is the quest of the Magi, pagan star-gazers who came seeking the Messiah: “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2).

The appointed time of God’s favor is the ministry of the Lord Jesus Himself. “Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14-15). And in the synagogue, Jesus stood and read from Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then He sat down to teach and declared: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:17-19, 21 NIV). Through the Cross and the Resurrection, Jesus Messiah won the victory and established His kingdom forever.

The appointed time has come, the time of God’s favor and compassion on Zion — and on the rest of the world — and it begins at Christmas.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Ox, the Donkey and the Manger

The ox knows its master,
    The donkey its owner’s manger,
But Israel does not know,
    My people do not understand.
(Isaiah 1:3)
We often find the ox and the donkey depicted in manger scenes and Christmas cards and carols and pageants. But one place we do not find them is in the story of Jesus’ birth that is presented in the New Testament.

What we do have in the New Testament nativity story, however, is the manger. A manger is a feeding trough for animals, so it would make sense that there would be at least an animal or two present that was common to Bethlehem at that time.

This was not lost on the Church Fathers. The tradition of the ox and ass in the manger scene goes back to the early Church, at least as far as Origen (about AD 184-253). In his thirteenth homily on the Gospel of Luke, Origen finds great significance in the manger in relation to Isaiah 1:3.
That was the manger of which the inspired prophet said, “The ox knows his owner and the ass his master's manger.” The ox is a clean animal, the ass an unclean animal. “The ass knows his master’s manger.” The people of Israel did not know their Lord’s manger, but an unclean animal from among the Gentiles did. Scripture says, “Israel, indeed, did not know me, and my people did not understand me.” Let us understand the manger. Let us endeavor to recognize the Lord and to be worthy of knowing him, and of taking on not only his birth and the resurrection of his flesh, but also his celebrated second coming in majesty, to whom is glory and power for ages of ages. Amen. (The Fathers of the Church: Origen, Homilies on Luke. Translated by Joseph T. Lienhard, S. J. p. 55)
The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew (aka, The Infancy Gospel of Matthew), an apocryphal book dating back to about the ninth century, if not earlier, also relates the manger of the nativity with the ox and ass in Isaiah’s prophecy:
And on the third day after the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, the most blessed Mary went forth out of the cave, and entering a stable, placed the child in the stall, and the ox and the ass adored Him. Then was fulfilled that which was said by Isaiah the prophet, saying: The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib. The very animals, therefore, the ox and the ass, having Him in their midst, incessantly adored Him. (Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 8, The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, Chapter 14).
The ox and ass are certainly not out of place at the manger scene, and they have an important lesson for us, as Origen exhorts us in his homily:
Let us understand the manger. Let us endeavor to recognize the Lord and to be worthy of knowing him, and of taking on not only his birth and the resurrection of his flesh, but also his celebrated second coming in majesty, to whom is glory and power for ages of ages. Amen.
The ox and ass, then, help us to recognize and adore the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Monday, December 22, 2014

According to Your Word

Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
“In the beginning,” according to the book of Genesis, “God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). He spoke, and whatever He spoke came to be, and He saw that it was good. The author of Hebrews tells us, “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3).

“In the beginning,” according to the Gospel of John, “was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:-3).

One day God spoke His word, through the angel Gabriel, to a young woman named Mary, a virgin who was promised in marriage to a man named Joseph: “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” (Luke 1:28).

When Mary saw the angel, she was very apprehensive, and she had no idea what to make of the angel’s greeting. So then the angel said,
Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end. (vv. 29-33)
Then Mary asked a very significant question: “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” (v. 34). It wasn’t that she did not believe. It was simply that she did not understand. So the angel answered:
The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible. (vv. 35-37)
The Holy Spirit would “overshadow” Mary. Like the Spirit of God brooding over the surface of the deep at creation (Genesis 1:2). Both the Hebrew and Greek words for “spirit” can also mean “breath” or “wind.” We may think of the Holy Spirit as the “Holy Breath” of God. Like the breath God puffed into Adam’s nostrils, and Adam became a living soul (Genesis 2:7). Or the breath the Lord Jesus puffed on the disciples in the upper room after His resurrection from the dead, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). We may also think of the Holy Spirit as the divine “breath” or “wind” that carried the Old Testament prophets along so that they were able to speak words from God (2 Peter 1:21). For “all Scripture is God-breathed,” Paul tells us (2 Timothy 3:16 NIV).

This same Holy Spirit would come upon Mary, brooding and breathing and blowing, and the Word who was with God in the beginning, and by whom all things were created, would become flesh and receive humanity from her and be born into the world.

Mary consented to the Word that was spoken by God through the angelic visitor, yielding herself to the Father, to the Word and to the Holy Spirit. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).

Now the Father speaks that same Word to us through the Holy Spirit and reveals the Lord Jesus Christ, who has triumphed over the world through the Cross and the Resurrection. And the Word Himself speaks and says, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Let us, then, say with the Virgin Mary, “Let it be to me according to your word.”

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Early and Latter Rains

Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. (James 5:7-8)
The early rains James speaks of are the autumn rains that soften and prepare the ground for sowing seed. The latter rains are the spring rains that mature and prepare the crops for harvest. The farmer knows how to wait because he has an expectation that there will be fruit and that the harvest will be well worth it.

For us, the “early rain” has come, two thousand years ago in a manger in Bethlehem. And the seed has been sown: the gospel of Jesus the Messiah and the kingdom of God has been preached to the nations. Now we wait for the “latter rain,” when King Jesus returns to gather in the harvest, and set all things right in the world.

James writes to scattered Jews who have embraced Jesus as Messiah and are following Him. They have faced many trials and have been mistreated. He encourages them to persevere through these difficulties (1:2-4) but also to endure them without grumbling or holding grudges, for Messiah comes to judge and put everything in order (5:9). The patience James enjoins is not an idle waiting through long, dull periods but about bearing through suffering and persecution with wisdom and maturity (see James 3:13-18), and without taking matters into their own hands, for the Lord Jesus will reveal to them the fullness of His mercy and compassion.
Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. (James 5:10-11 NIV)
“Be patient,” James says, just as the farmer is who waits for the early and latter rains — there will be a joyful harvest at the end of it all when the Lord Jesus returns and the kingdom of God is in full fruit, fully revealed. “Establish your hearts,” he says, “for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” To be established in heart is to stand firm without wavering, not put off by difficulties. This requires a faith that is focused on Lord Jesus, because faith creates a positive expectation for the final outcome, and with that we can bear patiently and endure.

We live between the early and latter rains in this Advent season of the world, waiting for the fulfillment of what was begun at Christmas. Though there are many difficulties and persecutions the innocent and the righteous are presently suffering, the Lord will come and the harvest He brings will be exceedingly abundantly beyond all we can ask or imagine.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Darkness is Passing Away

The darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining. (1 John 2:8)
The letter First John is about walking in light and walking in love and how these reveal eternal life. Light answers to darkness, love answers to hate and fear, and life answers to death and destruction. All three — light, love and life — are found in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospel of John tells us, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5 NIV). Indeed, Jesus is “the true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world” (John 1:9 NIV). At the beginning of the epistle of John, he identifies Jesus as “that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us” (1 John 1:2).

The true light is already shining in the world because Jesus the Messiah has come. And where there is light, darkness can no longer endure but must pass away. Darkness cannot overcome the light because darkness is nothing more than the absence of light.

The true light is still shining in the world because the Lord Jesus has gathered for Himself a people of His own. Paul reminds all those who believe in the Lord Jesus that God, who has “rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light” (Colossians 1:12 NIV). And, “You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:5 NIV). So the darkness is passing away because the true light is already shining through Christ and His body, which is the Church. But now let us look at how that light shines:
Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining. He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. (1 John 2:8-10)
The light that conquers the darkness of evil triumphs by love. The “new commandment” John writes about is the one Jesus gave to the disciples: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). If we are full of hate, we are living in darkness. But when we overcome hate by love, the light of Christ shines brightly through us and the darkness must pass away. Paul speaks similarly, in his letter to the Jesus followers at Rome, about how the light of love overcomes the darkness of the world:
Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. (Romans 13:10-14)
John says that the darkness is passing away. It has certainly not yet all gone, and we are often painfully reminded of its presence. Yet the assurance of the gospel is that it is being put to flight by the light of Christ, revealed through His Church. Wherever that light shines brightly through works of faith and love — faith working through love — the darkness begins to fade. That light is already shining, John tells us, and the darkness is passing away. And Paul reminds us that “the day is at hand” and “our salvation” is drawing ever nearer.

We are living between the times, between when the light of King Jesus first began to shine at that first Christmas and the time when He comes again and the darkness is completely dispelled. The season of Advent reminds us that it is “high time to awake out of sleep” and “put on the armor of light” — the life and love of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Preparing the Way of the Lord

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
For you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
To give his people the knowledge of salvation
Through the forgiveness of their sins,
Because of the tender mercy of our God,
By which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
To shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the path of peace."
(Luke 1:76-79 NIV)
In this final portion of Zechariah’s prayer, he prophesies over his son, John. John is not the one who brings salvation to the people of God and sets them free. Nor is he the “rising sun” who comes to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness. In short, he is not the Messiah — but he is the forerunner of Messiah. He is “A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
    every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
    the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.’”
(Luke 3:4-6 NIV, quoting Isaiah 40:3-5)
John did not bring salvation but he brought the knowledge of salvation, and of the forgiveness of sins. When he came of age, the word of God came to him and he went out into the wilderness of Judea to began his ministry (described in Luke 3:1-18 and also in Matthew 3:1-13). He came “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3) and turned many Jews back to the way of the Lord, as the angel who first appeared to Zechariah had said he would:
And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, “to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,” and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. (Luke 1:16-17)
This ministry of repentance was about the kingdom of God. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” he said (Matthew 3:2). John the Baptist did not establish the kingdom of God but he prepared the way for the King, the Messiah, whose kingdom it is:
The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all,

“I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them. (Luke 3:15-18 NIV)
It was through the baptism of John that Jesus of Nazareth was revealed to be Messiah. When Jesus was baptized by John, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him like a dove, and the voice of the Father said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased” (Luke 3:30). This picked up important Old Testament language and showed Jesus to be the Son of God spoken of in Psalm 2 and the divinely appointed Servant in Isaiah 42. This explicitly identified Jesus as the Messiah, and therefore as King (see Reigning King and Well Pleasing Servant).

John’s role as forerunner, then, is a very important, for he prepares the way by announcing that the kingdom of God is near and bears witness to King Jesus. Today, as followers of King Jesus, we have a similar role, declaring this good news to the nations and calling everyone to faith in Him. In this Advent season, we give witness to the first coming of Jesus into the world even as we watch for His return, when the kingdom of God is fully revealed.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Faith in the Promise Brings Expectation

Many centuries had passed since the Jews had been carried off into captivity, and although they were eventually allowed to return to their own land, they remained under foreign dominion. Even in the days of King Herod, an Idumean whose family had been converted to Judaism, the Jews were still under foreign leaders, for he was appointed by the Roman Empire and was quite tyrannical. So the Jews were in their homeland but they were not at home in their homeland — they were still in exile.

The expectation about Messiah, however, was still alive. God had spoken the promise in various ways over the centuries, and many of the various Jewish movements still looked for Him — longed for Him — though their understanding was very mixed about what it would be and how it would happen. But they knew that Messiah would come to deliver Israel and establish God’s kingdom. They had the promise of God, and to the extent they trusted Him and believed that promise, they had expectation. Because God spoke, there was hope.

And now here was Zechariah, whose faith revived very late in life, praising God for the miraculous birth of his son, John, who was somehow caught up in the fulfillment of the messianic promise (see Zechariah’s Expectation). Filled with the Holy Spirit, Zechariah began to prophesy:
Blessed is the Lord God of Israel,
For He has visited and redeemed His people,
And has raised up a horn of salvation for us
In the house of His servant David.

As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets,
Who have been since the world began,
That we should be saved from our enemies
And from the hand of all who hate us,
To perform the mercy promised to our fathers
And to remember His holy covenant,
The oath which He swore to our father Abraham:
To grant us that we,
Being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
Might serve Him without fear,
In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.
(Luke 1:68-75)
Zechariah begins with the declaration that God has come to His people and redeemed them. Then he relates it to the promise the things spoken by the mouths of the Old Testament prophets. He recalls the covenant, the “oath” God “swore” to Abraham. He focuses on the promise of mercy and deliverance and freedom, that God’s people would be able to serve Him without fear all the days of their lives.

In short, Zechariah’s prophecy was an announcement that the time of Messiah was at hand. With his faith renewed to the promise of God, Zechariah began to understand that it was now beginning to be fulfilled — God was doing what He promised. Zechariah believed the promise and he was bursting with expectation.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Zechariah’s Expectation

Blessed is the Lord God of Israel,
For He has visited and redeemed His people,
And has raised up a horn of salvation for us
In the house of His servant David.
(Luke 1:68-69)
These are Zechariah’s first words spoken after a long silence. Nine months earlier, the angel of the Lord had appeared to him and told him that his wife Elizabeth, who was as elderly as Zechariah and well beyond child-bearing years, was going to have a baby. It was something for which Zechariah had prayed, but something for which he was not prepared. This child, the angel said, was to be called John and he would “turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:16).

“How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years,” Zechariah replied (v. 18). He found it hard to believe. Perhaps the prayer that was now being answered was one he had prayed many years earlier, when he was a much younger man. Perhaps a prayer he had given up on long ago and he no longer had any expectation for it. But now, suddenly, here it was finally being answered and Zechariah did not know what to say, so he said it — and spoke his unbelief.

This answer to prayer was too precious to be squandered away — it carried too great a promise — so the angel of the Lord did Zechariah a kindness and shut his mouth for him. Zechariah would be unable to speak for the duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. That gave him a good long while to think about his prayer for a child, the promise of the angel, and the faithfulness of God. Over those months, his faith grown cold warmed once again and a new hope began to arise within him. It was a gift from God.

Finally the child was born — a son. Friends and family thought he should be named Zechariah, after his father. But Elizabeth spoke up and said, “No, he shall be called John.” A bit of a commotion followed because there was no one among the relatives who was named John. So the friends and family made signs to Zechariah — apparently, because he was silent, they figured he must also be deaf — about what to name the child. Zechariah motioned for a tablet and wrote, “His name is John.”

Suddenly he found that he could speak again and he began praising God. Everyone now began to wonder about this child whose life had already been marked by miracles. Then Zechariah, filled with the Holy Spirit, began to prophesy: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people …”

Zechariah now realized that God was doing a mighty thing for His people, something that would change the whole world, and that somehow … somehow it had something to do with the birth of his son. And that filled him with great expectation, which came out of his mouth as prophesy. It is recorded in Luke 1:68-79 and has been prayed every morning since the early centuries of the Church. (We’ll look at more of it in the next post.)

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Advent and the Rebirth of Creation

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:22-25 NIV)
The season of Advent is a season of waiting. There is a groaning, a travailing like childbirth. There is an eagerness, an expectancy, a joyful anticipation. And there is a patience, an endurance, a perseverance, for the hope of redemption that will not be denied.

King Jesus the Messiah came two thousand years ago and changed the world, fulfilling the promises God made to His people, establishing His kingdom. The long night had come to an end and a new light was dawning for Israel and the world. One day the King will come again and all shall see everything in completion. Meanwhile, we live between those times, and yet also as a part of them. For, in our temporal frame, we look back in celebration and we look ahead in expectation.

As in Advent, when we prepare our hearts to rejoice in the birth of Christ, so we also eagerly watch for His return. But we do not wait alone — creation itself longs for that day.
For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:21-22 NIV)
Creation longs for its liberation from bondage and decay. This liberation is related to our own redemption in Christ, the full manifestation of our own freedom and glory as the children of God. Creation groans. We groan, too, inwardly and eagerly, as we await that fullness. It will surely come, for Jesus has promised, “I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5 NIV).

Creation is waiting for that renewal, even as all who have come to faith in Christ have been made new. Paul said, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV). In Christ, the renewal of creation has come and we are part of it.

Through Christ, we are part of the rebirth of creation itself. This rebirth began with the groaning of Mary and the birth of the Lord Jesus. It will be filled full when Christ comes again, and we shall know as we are known. Until then, we groan together with creation in patient longing.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Advent of the New Beginning

Advent is a time for thinking about the new beginning God has made for the world. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each speak of this.

  • Matthew indicates the beginning of the new creation. We hear it resonate in the very first verse: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ” (Matthew 1:1). The Greek words behind “book of the genealogy” (biblos geneseos) are uniquely identical to the words in the Septuagint (ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament) about the “book of the genealogy” of Adam, in Genesis 5:1. In this, Matthew reminds us that Jesus the Messiah is the new Adam, and with that a new creation.
  • Mark declares the beginning of the gospel. “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). The gospel is the announcement that the kingdom of God has come. And Jesus, Son of God, is the Anointed King. “Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14-15).
  • Luke tells us of the beginning of fulfillment. He writes to “set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us” (Luke 1:1). What he is talking about are the promises God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, which were already beginning to be fulfilled in Luke’s day. He opens, most extensively of the four Gospel writers, with the events of the Christmas story, where the notes of promise and fulfillment are clearly rung in the Benedictus (the song of Zechariah, in Luke 1:68-79) and the Magnificat (the song of Mary, in Luke 1:46-55).
  • John proclaims the beginning of God in the flesh. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14). This is the beginning of the mystery of godliness. “Beyond all question,” Paul says, “the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16 NIV). This mystery opens with the Word made flesh and proceeds all the way to King Jesus being “taken up in glory,” where He is enthroned at the right hand of the Father, with all authority given to Him in heaven and on earth.
The beginning of new creation, of the gospel, of the divine promises fulfilled and of God come in the flesh are not four different beginnings but four different ways of speaking about the ultimate new beginning God has brought into the world—indeed, it is the fulfillment of Creation, of humankind created in the image of God. In the season of Advent, we remember that beginning, and we celebrate it during the twelve days of Christmas, even as we wait for the return of King Jesus.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Let Earth Receive Her King

Tomorrow is the beginning of the season of Advent, which lasts through December 24 and is then followed by 12 days of Christmas. For this season, I have written a new book, Let Earth Receive Her King: Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God.

Christmas is about the birth of a King — and the coming of a kingdom!

Advent is a time of waiting and preparation. Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming.” In ancient Rome, the adventus was a ceremony in honor of the emperor, welcoming him into the city. The Christian season of Advent is a time of watching and welcoming that focuses on the coming of Jesus, God’s Anointed King, into the world.

At Christmas, we celebrate the first coming of King Jesus, when He established the kingdom of God. But we also keep an eye toward the second coming, when He will return once again and the kingdom of God will fill all the earth. In the meantime, we live between the comings as the kingdom of God increases and multiplies.

In Let Earth Receive Her King, we will explore some of the ancient promises God made to Abraham, David and the Old Testament prophets. We will also consider how the hope of Israel and the salvation of the world began to be realized two thousand years ago as we look at the Christmas story in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and taste of the rich meaning of the Incarnation in the Gospel of John and the letters of Paul.

This book is now available at Amazon in paperback for $8.99 and Kindle for $2.99, and you can preview it here with Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature.

Let us together prepare our hearts and increase our expectation about what God has done at Christmas, is doing now in this present time and will do next in the world through His kingdom — and His King, Jesus the Messiah.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Monday, November 17, 2014

My Brother, the Sparrow

How lovely is Your tabernacle,
    O LORD of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, even faints
    For the courts of the Lord;
    My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
    And the swallow a nest for herself,
Where she may lay her young —
    Even Your altars, O LORD of hosts,
    My King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in Your house;
    They will still be praising You. Selah
(Psalm 84:1-4)
For many years, my habit has been to pray through the book of Psalms each month. There are 150 psalms and 30 days (more or less) in a month, so it works out to through five psalms a day. On the first day of the month, I pray through Psalms 1-5, on the second day, I pray through 6-10 and so on. So, on the 17th of each month, I know I will be praying through Psalm 84. Today is November 17, which is my birthday.

My brother Gary was also born on November 17. See, I was born on his fourth birthday, which I’m sure is not quite what he was expecting as a present that year. It may seem little more than a curiosity that we were born on the same day four years apart, but for me it was always a special bond we shared, a way I saw myself in relation to him. I did not realize just how much I identified with that, however, until last November 17, which turned out to be our last birthday together.

“Did you know that today is our birthday?” I asked the nurse in the ICU, while Gary lay in a coma following a failed brain surgery to remove an aneurysm, and I explained that I was born on his fourth birthday. Although he was unconscious, Gary and I spent our last birthday together.

I’ve explained the connection I feel between the 17th of each month and Psalm 84, and the one I have with my brother and November 17. But now let me say something about the special connection between my brother Gary and Psalm 84, because that is where I look for him now.

Although I am not sure how, Psalm 84 became very significant for Gary in his later life. He identified particularly with the line that says, “Even the sparrow has found a home … even Your altars, O LORD of Hosts.” He wrote a song about this psalm and called it “I Will Be a Sparrow.” Psalm 84 was part of his wedding service when he married his sweetheart, Jan, just a few years ago. And it was, very appropriately, part of his memorial service last December.

From now on, whenever I pray this psalm, I am reminded of my brother Gary, because that is where I know I can find him now. He is in the line about the sparrow, and he has finally found his home. And I find him where it says, “Blessed are those who dwell in Your house; they will still be praising You. Selah” (v. 4). Gary is experiencing the splendor of the Lord in ways I cannot imagine, and he is ever praising God.

I also find myself in this psalm, in relation to Gary. He is with those who have arrived; I am on the road, still on the journey, and experiencing my pilgrimage (and on some days I feel it more than on others). So there is a section in this psalm for me, too.
Blessed is the man whose strength is in You,
    Whose heart is set on pilgrimage
As they pass through the Valley of Baca,
    They make it a spring;
    The rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
    Each one appears before God in Zion.
(Psalm 84:5-7)
Yes, there is a valley of “weeping” (which is what Baca most likely means), and I have shed my tears. But it is a valley we pass through, not one in which we remain, and the tears somehow become a “wellspring” (one of my brother’s significant words) that yields a blessing

On this pilgrimage to God, we go from strength to strength, although sometimes it may feel like anything but strength. So each one on this journey shall appear before God in Zion. And there I will find my brother, the sparrow.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Assurance of “These Things”

These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. (1 John 5:13)
We must take good account of “these things,” the two words with which 1 John 5:13 begins because it is by means of them that John seeks to offer assurance about eternal life to those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. There is a context that precedes, and “these things” connects us to that. The phrase, “that you may know,” is a purpose clause that connects us back to “these things,” which in turn connects us back to the preceding context.

What, then, are the “these things” of which John is speaking? They are the things John has written about in his letter up to this point — from 1 John 1:1 all the way up to 5:12. What are the things he wrote about? For one thing, he wrote about light, and walking in the light: “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:6-7).

He wrote about not loving the world: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2:15-16).

He wrote about a lifestyle of righteousness: “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God …” (1 John 3:10). Along with that, he wrote about the imperative of loving one another, not only in word but also in deed: “... nor is he who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another” (1 John 3:10-11). He continues on this theme of love quite extensively:
Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?

My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.

Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us (1 John 3:15-24)

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).
He also writes about faith in Christ — it is one of the two commandments John says that God has given us:
And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us. (1 John 3:23-24)
Notice that it is not just in keeping the commandment to believe in Christ that we know that God abides in us, but it is also in keeping the commandment of loving one another that we have the assurance of God abiding in us.

First John 5:13 was not written in a vacuum but in a context — “these things” — and the context is about walking in light, living in righteousness and loving one another. These offer assurance that our faith in Christ is real and that eternal life — the divine life of God — really is at work in us.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Random Thoughts

Some thoughts culled from my random file. About faith, love, life and relationship with God. Some have occurred to me in moments of quiet reflection, some in interaction with others. Some are aphoristic and avuncular. Many have been tweets on Twitter and updates on Facebook. For your understanding and edification — or your money cheerfully refunded.
  • The gospel is, first, the public announcement that the kingdom of God has come into the world — and that Jesus, whom God raised from the dead, is God’s Anointed King. Then it is the personal call to participate in that kingdom through faith in King Jesus.
  • The gospel in five seconds: The kingdom of God has come into the world and Jesus Christ is King over all. Come trust Him with your life and follow Him.
  • When you are able to let something go, it has become your servant, not your master.
  • With regard to man in relationship with God, repentance means to turn to God, or return to God.
  • Justification, in the context of biblical covenant, means that one is counted as fit for fellowship; in regard to man in relation to God, it is the verdict of righteousness — i.e., that one is right with God, in right relationship with Him.
  • Love is giving yourself to another without reserve.
  • The Christian faith is not about a God who created the world out of loneliness. It is about Three Persons who created the world out of the overflow of love they have for each other — and they desire to catch us up into their fellowship.
  • An assumption is something that can be made without thinking. Some assumptions may be reasonable. Others are not. Assumptions often function as faith for some people. Some aspects of faith may be based on reason, but the Christian faith is ultimately based on revelation, and everything must be rethought in light of it. And that takes a lifetime.
  • I trust God to be continually at work in me, so how l “measure up” is now His problem.
  • Faith pleases God and love fulfills the commandments. So whatever is of faith and expresses love is good ... and will measure up.
  • Christ is not only the light we see, but the light by which we can see everything else properly. So our lives as Christians cannot be compartmentalized. We cannot speak of the Christian life as if we also have some other life we can live in addition to or instead of our life in Christ.
  • We want to be faithful, but I think we can get too focused on our own faithfulness — as if it were indeed our own and not the faithfulness of God at work in us — and then we get discouraged. But if we focus on the faithfulness of God, we become like what we behold ... and there is no discouragement in that.
  • The apostle Paul said, “When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” In the meantime, His glory starts poking through in our lives.
  • Quit trying to justify your existence. It is God who created and loves us, Jesus the Messiah who redeems us and the Holy Spirit who transforms us.
  • There is a difference between becoming a Christian and becoming Christian. One may take a moment, the other takes a lifetime.
More random thoughts …

Monday, November 10, 2014

Not in the Strength of the Horse

His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
    nor his delight in the legs of the warrior;
The LORD delights in those who fear him,
    who put their hope in his unfailing love.
(Psalm 147:10-11 NIV)
God is not impressed with our strength. He is not wowed by our wit, not captivated by our wisdom, not enthralled by our abilities. Don’t put your hope in them, for God finds nothing satisfying in our dependence upon them. He shows no favor for that but for something much different.

In this psalm, the writer celebrates the fact that God has gathered the exiles back from captivity and has rebuilt Jerusalem.
The LORD builds up Jerusalem;
    He gathers together the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
    And binds up their wounds.
(vv. 2-3)
But how is it that they were led off into captivity and exile in this first place? It was because they had turned away from the Lord by turning to the gods of the surrounding nations. And when the Assyrians became a threat to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, instead of turning back to the Lord and putting their hope in Him, they made alliances with the Syrians and Egyptians. They looked to the “strength of the horse” and the “legs of the warrior” to deliver them. But it was in vain, for they were carried off into captivity anyway.

A little over a century later, the Southern Kingdom of Judah likewise looked to an alliance with Egypt against Babylon. They, too, were carried off into captivity and the city of Jerusalem, including the Jewish temple, was destroyed. They were completely helpless.

But now God was rebuilding the temple, rebuilding the city, rebuilding the people. In the next verses, the psalm writer further exalts the Lord for this and then draws an important contrast between those whom He helps and those He does not.
Great is our Lord, and mighty in power;
    His understanding is infinite.
The LORD lifts up the humble;
    He casts the wicked down to the ground.
(vv. 5-6)
The humble are the poor, the afflicted, the weak — the helpless. They must depend on someone else, they must depend on God. Those are the ones God lifts up. In another psalm, “He raises the poor out of the dust, and lifts the needy out of the ash heap, that He may seat him with princes — with the princes of His people” (Psalm 113:7-8).

The wicked are those who do what is evil. They do not trust in God but help themselves to whatever they want. They are proud, arrogant and boastful. These are the ones God casts down, and it happens before they know it. Between the humble and the wicked, God leaves no middle ground.
More praises follow in verses 7-9, and then the writer comes to the center point of the psalm: God has no pleasure in the “strength of the horse,” He takes no delight in the “legs of the warrior.” What is it that pleases Him then?
The LORD delights in those who fear him,
    Who put their hope in his unfailing love.
This is about those who are oriented toward the Lord. They live in the “fear of the LORD,” which is not dread or terror — at least not for those who are in proper alignment with Him — but is a relationship of love, trust and obedience to Him (see What is the Fear of the LORD?). In the Hebrew parallelism that structures this verse, fearing the Lord is seen as putting one’s hope in His unfailing love.

The Hebrew word for “unfailing love” is chesed, which is the faithful love and mercy God has promised to show to His people. The word for “hope” is about waiting in expectation. Putting your hope in the love of God is living in anticipation of it. To put a sharper point on it, to hope in the steadfast love of the Lord is to put your trust Him. Together with the fear of the Lord, what that psalm writer describes here is all about faith in the Lord. This faith is never merely a mental assent to propositions by or about Him but it entails a personal engagement with Him in mutual relationship. To fear the Lord and trust in His love means that He is our God and we are His people, that we are on His side, and He is on ours.

This relationship of faith and trust gets God’s attention. He delights in those who look to Him and will show Himself strong on their behalf. Look not to the “strength of the horse” or the “legs of the warrior” — whatever those may represent in your life — but live in awe of the Lord and set your hope on His love for you.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

I Don’t Know Anything

This week I have been thinking about the 1951 Alistair Sim classic version of Dickens’, A Christmas Carol. In particular, I have thought about the scene where Scrooge makes it to Christmas morning, having encountered the three Christmas spirits in the night. He is giddy and sing-songy, and in his elation he confesses to his housekeeper, Mrs. Dilber, this newly realized truth: “I don't know anything. I never did know anything; but now I know that I don't know anything.”

As I approach my 59th birthday (November 17), I am understanding that sentiment more and more each day. How very little I know. I don't know anything! And what a terrible burden is lifted off with that confession — the burden of thinking that I actually know anything (or that I even have to know anything).

The gospel does speak of a certain kind of knowledge. Not the knowledge of facts and figures or concepts or principles, but the knowledge of God the Father through Jesus the Son. It is the intimate knowing of someone else that comes through relationship with that person. It is the deepest, most intense kind of knowledge. And ultimately, it is the only knowledge that matters. “This is eternal life,” Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). Knowing Christ is knowing life itself.

In his wonderful pastoral prayer in Ephesians 1, Paul prays for those who believe in Jesus, that the Father would give us wisdom and revelation so that we may know Him — essentially that we may know Him more and more. Truth is personal, which is to say, it is a Person. Jesus said, “I am … the Truth” (John 14:6). To know Him is to know all that is needed.

So, here I stand now, not knowing anything, before the God who knows everything. He cares not that I know nothing but He bathes me in His love. And now I am free to learn everything. What a wonderful relief as I journey into the next seasons of my life.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Send Forth Your Lightning, LORD

From the deadly sword deliver me;
    rescue me from the hands of foreigners
    whose mouths are full of lies,
    whose right hands are deceitful.
(Psalm 144:10-11 NIV)
Psalm 144 seems a very fitting prayer for these times, especially in regard to ISIS in the Middle East and jihad terrorists popping up in our own lands. They are the wicked “foreigners” (enemy) we face, whose mouths are full of deceit and whose hands are full of violence.
From their deadly sword, O Lord, deliver us.
My prayer is that God will dismantle them, undermine them and destroy their organization. My preference is that God would do it by giving them dreams and visions of the Lord Jesus Christ, so that they might come and find hope and peace in Him, as so many other Muslims have done in recent days.
Lord, show them the Lord Jesus Christ, how wonderful He is, that they might come to repentance and faith in Him.
But if the wicked will not come to repentance, my prayer is that God would bring them quickly to judgment, that the innocent and the just no longer be afflicted by their cruelties.
Part your heavens, LORD, and come down;
    touch the mountains, so that they smoke.
Send forth lightning and scatter the enemy;
    shoot your arrows and rout them.
(Psalm 144:5-6 NIV)
The desire is not for revenge but for deliverance. The psalm writer does not pray that the enemy — the people themselves — be destroyed but that, as an army, they would be routed and scattered. Vengeance is for the Lord to deal with however He sees fit. But what the psalm writer is looking for instead is this:
Then our sons in their youth
    will be like well-nurtured plants,
    and our daughters will be like pillars
    carved to adorn a palace.
Our barns will be filled
    with every kind of provision.
Our sheep will increase by thousands,
    by tens of thousands in our fields;
    our oxen will draw heavy loads.
There will be no breaching of walls,
    no going into captivity,
    no cry of distress in our streets.
(Psalm 144:12-14 NIV)
It is for the peace of his people and the security of his nation that he prays. Not just for his own generation but for the generations to come — the sons and daughters. It is for the prosperity and fruitfulness for all. That is what I, too, pray for in these times, not just for my family but also for my country. Yes, I am well aware that we have great need of repentance in our own nation, and I pray for that, too, that we may together be a people whose God is Yahweh (the LORD). For the psalm writer concludes:
Blessed is the people of whom this is true;
    blessed is the people whose God is the LORD”
(Psalm 144:15 NIV)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Random Thoughts

Some thoughts culled from my random file. About faith, love, life and relationship with God. Some have occurred to me in moments of quiet reflection, some in interaction with others. Some are aphoristic and avuncular. Many have been tweets on Twitter and updates on Facebook. For your edification, inspiration and/or motivation — or your money cheerfully refunded.
  • Nobody deserves grace. Nobody. That’s why it is called grace. And that sets us free to throw ourselves into God!
  • Nobody needs grace more than I do. And that’s why nobody needs Christ more than I do. Nobody.
  • Grace is confusing to people who are trying to relate to God through rules and regulations.
  • Each new day is a good day to repent, to turn to God anew and in ways we never have before. And grace is always there to meet us.
  • Justice is not something we get, it is something we do. Sure, we all want to be treated justly ourselves. But it is more important that we treat others justly, even when we are not.
  • Jesus calls us to seek, above all else, the kingdom of God and His way of living. It is a risky business. But there is even greater risk in not seeking it.
  • Confusion is what happens when you begin heading into the dark. It is also what happens when you begin heading into the light. The difference is that it eventually clears up in the light.
  • Enoch walked with God (Genesis 5:22). Noah did, too (Genesis 6:9). This is what faith is — walking with God.
  • Jesus is the Way — follow Him. He is the Truth — trust Him. He is the Life — live Him.
  • To know God in every moment, waking or sleeping, in every situation, in every encounter — each moment becomes a divine moment, each situation becomes a divine situation, each encounter becomes a divine encounter. Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1 is that God would give us wisdom and revelation by the Holy Spirit so that we may know God more. Fully, experientially, intimately. Not just in theory.
  • God’s plan is that everything comes together in Christ. This is the fullness of the gospel.
  • If one is going to be deconstructionist, then even his deconstructionism needs to be deconstructed. Arm-chair deconstructionists are usually not willing to go that far. Like skeptics who are skeptical of everything — except their own skepticism.
  • Some people like stereotypes. They think it saves time and that the odds are with them. Perhaps. But it is not worth the damage that so often follows.
  • I think I’ve just about figured out how much I don't now. But, of course, I could be wrong about that.
  • Vulnerability is a venture, a risk we take. Safety is an environment we offer.
  • Worship does not fulfill some need in God. He has no need. But it sure does meet a need in us.
  • If you’re miserable living for Jesus, then you’re doing it wrong.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Random Thoughts

Some thoughts culled from my random file. About faith, love, life and relationship with God. Some have occurred to me in moments of quiet reflection, some in interaction with others. Some are aphoristic and avuncular. Many have been tweets on Twitter and updates on Facebook. For your edification, inspiration and/or motivation — or your money cheerfully refunded.
  • Faith is not a static moment of belief but an ongoing conversation with God. What is God saying to you? What are you saying to God?
  • God can handle our honesty. Even our anger and doubt. But He cannot do anything with our deceptions.
  • Faith is not so much about what you believe as about Who you trust.
  • God’s word causes things to be. It does not just describe reality, it creates it.
  • Faith flows with the love of God because faith is relationship with God, who is love.
  • I am, at any given time, a mixture of motives. Some noble, some not so much. I have my hands full minding my own heart.
  • Jesus calls us to make disciples, not clones — He’s going to look different on you than on me.
  • I would rather have one Christian who lives the faith well but cannot argue it than ten who can argue the faith well but do not live it.
  • Faith in Christ is more than a doctrinal point concerning soteriology, it is a lived-out daily reality.
  • Faith is trusting Christ with your life.
  • What if everywhere we went, we prayed, “Kingdom of God, come into this place. Will of God, be done here in this place, just as in heaven”?
  • You can find a lot of gory images on the internet — even on Facebook! — and it can easily overwhelm. Too much of it can even lead to despair. But there is one gory image that gives hope, and that is the image of Christ on the cross.
  • In the end, heaven and earth must be joined together, because Jesus is truly God and truly man, and cannot be split in two.
  • My eschatology is simple: The gospel will prevail and all the nations of the world will be discipled to become followers of King Jesus the Messiah.
  • Pharaoh needed to let the children of Israel go, but the children of Israel also needed to let Egypt go.
  • God has no self-appointed, self-anointed gatekeepers.
  • A person’s socio-economic situation can color how he or she perceives Scripture. Someone on the bottom rungs of society might read certain passages differently than someone who is well-heeled. If we are going to take Scripture seriously, then, we must allow it to challenge our own socio-economic conditioning.
  • This day, I expect to know God more.
  • Isn’t it marvelous that, though God gives us all of Himself, we do not lose our own identity — we remain ourselves. You remain you and I remain me, but now the God-filled versions of you and me.
  • The grace of God, through His power at work in me, is able to do far beyond all I can ask or think — and I’m not done asking and thinking.
More random thoughts …

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Happiness and Holiness

God is a joyful God. In His presence is fullness of joy, and at His right hand are pleasures forever more (Psalm 16:11). The joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). The kingdom of God is about righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). God is not a choice between joy/happiness and holiness. He is not either/or about it; He is both/and. Nobody is truly happy apart from holiness, and a person who is living holy but has no joy in it is doing it wrong. Joy is, as C. S. Lewis said, “the serious business of heaven.”

No doubt, in times of hardship, it can be difficult to be happy — or to live holy. Yet the choice God calls us to make is not between happiness and holiness. It is the choice of happiness through holiness, to know the supernatural joy of the Lord and to experience, as Mike Bickle puts it, “the superior pleasures of loving God.”

Neither holiness nor happiness are necessarily instantaneous. There is an initial sanctification in which God sets us apart for Himself as His own people, and this it what it means to be “holy” — to be “set apart” for God. The Christian life is a life of discipleship, learning what it means to be holy and how to live that out. Christian discipleship, then, is a process of growing in holiness — but also in happiness. “God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness,” Paul says (1 Thessalonians 4:7) — but in the same latter in which he also says, “Rejoice always!” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Sometimes Christians have excused behavior they know to be unholy with the excuse “God wants me happy.” But the way to correct that error is not by suggesting that God is indifferent or may not want us to be happy after all but, rather, by telling the truth about holiness and happiness: God wants us to be both holy and happy, and the way to happiness is through holiness.

Often enough, I have heard Christians talk down on happiness, saying that God wants you to be holy, not happy — and as I consider their disposition, sometimes I think they really do believe that God does not want them happy! That way of thinking puts happiness and holiness in competition. But the truth is that they are not. God speaks often of happiness in the context of holiness. For example, notice how the book of Psalms opens. It sets the tone for the rest of the psalms:
Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2 NIV)
That is about divine happiness — it is an exclamation: “O the happiness!” or “O the bliss!” It is not about the fleeting thing that the world (the wicked, the sinners, the mockers) reach after and call “happiness,” but which turns out to be a pocketful of lint. It is about the joyful, godly life that God has for us, even in the here and now.

Those who do not understand holiness do not really understand happiness. And those who live holy lives yet are desperately unhappy have not adequately understood holiness. Holiness is a life of intimate fellowship with God, in all weathers. So is happiness.

What I mean by happiness is contentment, peace and joy. No doubt, the culture around us often gets it wrong. But I’m not giving up the word “happiness” for that reason. Rather, I want to show people the way to true and lasting happiness. Because what the world is really seeking is contentment, joy and peace — which is happiness, and what God longs for them all to have. They’re just looking for it in all the wrong places.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Problems of an Unexamined Faith

Everyone has a worldview and a set of presuppositions — it can’t be avoided. But not everyone understands what their worldview entails or that they have presuppositions, much less what those presuppositions might be. Over the years, I have met a lot of people — including many Christians — who seemed to be like that.

Presuppositions and worldviews are not just things that are taught in school through formal education. Formal education is probably the least of it, because we are enculturated and conditioned toward them in thousands of ways. Sometimes the conditioning is overt, and sometimes more subtle, as beliefs and values are shaped. And most people do not bother to examine what they believe or why they believe it.

We are conditioned by a mélange of worldviews. It becomes like a cafeteria line where people select some of this and a bit of that with a helping of the other and often come up with a custom blend that is at odds with itself at important points because they are based on presuppositions that are mutually contradictory.

A good question to ask when there is discussion or disagreement over important matters is, “Why do you say that?” or “How do you know?” It usually does not take very long before you’ve reached the point where one does not have a clear answer — and that is usually the point of their presupposition. Of course, if we are going to use this strategy, we need to be prepared to answer the same sort of questions ourselves and to identify the point where our own presuppositions begin. (We should be prepared for that anyway, even if only for our own benefit and understanding.)

G. K. Chesterton said, “Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” But, of course, people often close their minds on things that are not substantial but, rather, on things that are convenient — personally, culturally, intellectually, emotionally, or even religiously convenient. Yet, they would usually consider themselves to open-minded and receptive to new idea. Often enough, those who disagree get dismissed as close-minded troglodytes who just don’t “get it.”

We must always be aware of the presuppositions that are at work in our worldview. If we have an unexamined or little examined faith, or one that we maintain out of convenience, others will soon see through us and we will come off as propagandist. And that is closed-mindedness at its worst — arrogant, dogmatic, defensive and prideful.

Several years ago, I was in a series of discussions with people of a scientific bent. The topic was evolution, and the views of the participants often turned out to be a matter of scientism, empiricism and philosophical materialism. It was only with great difficulty that any of them were willing to admit to having presuppositions. And those who did tended to view their own presuppositions as the universal default, the rock-bottom ones that every “open-minded” person would naturally have if not for the brainwashing “superstitions” of Christianity or other religions. With other people with whom I have dialogued, the case was not so much that they denied having presuppositions when such were pointed out to them, but that they had been unaware of their presuppositions in the first place.

I find a similar situation with Bible-believing Christians when it comes to their interpretations of Scripture. They do not recognize that they are actually interpreting Scripture. They think they are simply reading it and seeing what it says, and that doing so requires no interpretation at all. And being unaware that they are interpreting Scripture when they read it, they are also unaware of the particular set of hermeneutics (principles of interpretation) they are using and how their understanding of Scripture has been conditioned by 2000 years of Church history, as well as by secular history, culture and a variety of other factors.