"So," they say, "nobody's perfect!"
But the Vinedresser won't buy that.
Given the opportunity, He will trim the unproductive suckers and shape the branches so each one will bask in Sonlight.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Rest For God's People

      Since God's church first hit the ground running—usually away from their persecutors—Gentile believers and Judaic believers have managed to find plenty of issues to dispute. At the head of that hot-list was, and is, God's appointed day for corporate worship.
      Jewish disciples believed in keeping the seventh-day Sabbath ordained for God's people since before the Mosaic law was instituted. For them, the Sabbath Day was, is, and shall always be the seventh-day of the week.
      Gentile believers, referred to as Hellenistic, celebrated Christ's resurrection, which was on the first day of the week as recorded in the gospels. These non-Jewish believers had never honored the Sabbath and saw no reason for starting the custom.
      So the dispute grew, along with the issues of circumcision, dietary restrictions, ceremonial cleansing, and keeping the rest of the Jewish holy days. Even after the New Testament was completed, the disputes continued, despite the many passages therein which were written specifically to put them to rest.
      This issue could fill books that would only add to the many tomes already published by theologians representing all sides of the argument. But we'll focus on the basic Scripture passages concerning the New Testament application of the Sabbath rest.
      In the following passage, Luke faithfully reported some of Stephen's last words as he addressed the Sanhedrin before being stoned to death.
Act 7:49  "Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest?"
      In that statement, Stephen paraphrased Psalm 132:13 & 14.
Psa 132:13  For the LORD has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his dwelling place: 
Psa 132:14  "This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it. 
      As if all that weren't enough, the author of the letter to the Hebrews continued the theme in Hebrews, chapter three, where he quoted Psalm 95:10 & 11.
Heb 3:10  Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, 'They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.' 
Heb 3:11  As I swore in my wrath, 'They shall not enter my rest.'" 
Heb 3:12  Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 
Heb 3:13  But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 
Heb 3:14  For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 
Heb 3:15  As it is said, "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion." 
Heb 3:16  For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 
Heb 3:17  And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 
Heb 3:18  And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 
Heb 3:19  So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. 

       Below, find the verses Stephen quoted. 
Psa 95:10  For forty years I loathed that generation and said, "They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways." 
Psa 95:11  Therefore I swore in my wrath, "They shall not enter my rest." 

      Whether we see this verse in the New Testament or here at its source in Psalm 95, it speaks of how God's people constantly failed Him, with the final insult of not only rejecting His only Son, but of murdering Him in the most disgraceful way possible. Remember, that was after God had shown Israel nothing but grace and forgiveness since He chose Abram out of all the ancients.
      Did God institute His Sabbath for His disobedient people Israel, or for all who obeyed Him by faith? As God's resting place was never in a temple built by men, the Sabbath rest He commanded for His people was never to be limited to the seventh day of the weekly calendar. God intended His literal, periodic Sabbath only for a shadow of the True Sabbath to come, in the Person of His Son, God incarnate. Only those who, by faith, enter the eternal life of Christ Jesus, may enter into God's Eternal Rest, because they are One and the same.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

ODB Comment

            Dave Branon's meditation, He Says, We Say, deals with our responses to God's prompts. He might have titled it, "Excuses, Excuses," as we humans specialize in such futile exercises ad nauseam. Since Adam's excuses from behind a hastily-grabbed fig leaf, we've always tried to weasel out of God's clear instructions or justify ourselves when caught in some disobedience. Please note, I said, tried.
            The Apostle John truly gave us words to live by, when he wrote, 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. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.(1 John 1:8-10 ESV)
            So much for our self-righteous claims of innocence. In fact, we can either try to justify ourselves, or we can trust Christ to justify us—not both.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hail Mary

            It's not a Weather Lady who always predicts storms. And it's so much more than a prayer Catholics constantly repeat, hoping to do penance for their venial sins.
            The Bible doesn't say what occupied Mary, daughter of Eli, at the moment God's messenger Gabriel appeared to her, but Mary's reaction prompted the angel to say, "Fear not." Anyone who's dentist has told them, "This isn't going to hurt," can relate to Mary's response. And when Gabe called her, "Favored by God," she might have countered, "You scare the Gee Willie's out of me and I'm favored by God? Tell God not to do me any more favors." And I wouldn't have blamed her for it.
            But then God's special messenger told Mary, "The Lord is with you." Like Mary, that would've shut me up. And when he said, "You're going to bear a son and name him Jesus," she really began wondering.
            The rest of Gabe's announcement was just icing on the cake.
He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to 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."
(Luke 1:32-33 ESV)
            We know when someone speaks with authority, and so did Mary. We know that from her next action; she packed up and headed out on a three or four days' journey to visit her cousin Elizabeth. And why did Mary go to all the trouble of traveling along a bandit-infested road to visit her favorite cousin? Gabriel's announcement had included the news that Elizabeth had conceived a son and was in her sixth month of pregnancy. And Liz was not a spring chicken.
            If confirmation was what Mary had wanted from Elizabeth, confirmation is what she got. As soon as the baby—who was to become John the Baptizer—heard Mary's greeting he leaped in Elizabeth's womb.
            And they say an elbow in the ribs gets a mom's attention.
            What would it be like to hear the announcement, "The Lord is with you"? Not the well-wisher's, "God be with you," but the authoritative declaration that the Lord is with you, and will be in you.
            But we have that promise, spoken by the Lord Jesus Himself:
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him."
(John 14:15-21 ESV)
            As He prepared His disciples for His departure He gave them the basics of what they—and we—would need to know and do as His faithful followers. But don't be deceived by His words' apparent simplicity. Contained within them are God's eternal wisdom, a finite code revealing infinite truth.
            As the film script writer penned, "Your mission, should you choose to accept it ..." But while that fictional mission was reputedly impossible, Jesus' mission for us is quite possible, through the indwelling power of His Holy Spirit. If you and I want to become Jesus' true disciples, not simply church-goers, we are in for the ride of our lives.
            Are you in? Then get out, and live for Him as His followers throughout history have done. The world won't like you for it, but your reward will be infinitely worth it. But don't wait for old Gabe to say, "Hail Mary," or whatever your name is. Just do it.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


            I think not. What are the odds for two unrelated Christian Internet ministries to produce topically related posts on the same day? Both Daily Manna from the Net and Our Daily Bread ran Scripture references about "Comfort."
            Our Daily Bread used 1 Corinthians 1:3-7, where the Apostle instructed the church to comfort others with the comfort Christ gave us. Anne Cetas' summation aptly stated, "God doesn’t comfort us to make us comfortable; He comforts us to make us comforters."
            Then, Daily Manna drove the theme home with Isaiah 40:1-3, where the Eternal One showed compassion to Israel by instructing the prophet to comfort them, rather than condemning them, which they always richly deserved.
            In the same way, the Father of all comforts demonstrated His love, mercy, and grace by His perfect sacrificial act referenced in John chapter three. This passage not only comforts those of us who have claimed His perfect sacrifice, but carries with it the context of 1 Corinthians 1:3-7.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.
(2 Corinthians 1:3-7 NASB)
            What an unfathomable honor and privilege we have in sharing the benefit of Christ's sacrifice. And what an awesome responsibility we have to pass along its beauty and blessing as well. To paraphrase Anne Cetas' summary, "God doesn't save us to gain the privilege of our eternal presence; He saves us that we will pass on the joy of His gospel to others."
            God's word contains no coincidence, but only the perfectly consistent good news of His abiding love.
Badge of Courage

            Every cause spawns them. Whether it's a political party, an interest group, or a religious sect, a few adherents will inevitably feel called to militant defense of the group's beliefs and interests, or aggressive proselytization. And without exception, zealots feel vindicated by persecution.
            Christian religious types look to the Bible for their commission to suffer for the cause:
Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents--which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.
(Philipians 1:27-29 NASB)
            Of course, every religion points to their own Holy Writ for similar instruction to suffer as part of the whole "zealot" thing. The problem is, not all suffering is created equally; some religious zealots aspire to suffer in hope of heavenly rewards, while others accept suffering as the natural consequence of refusing to participate in a world system they feel is irredeemably corrupt. The Bible hints at a way of discerning the difference:
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
(Hebrews 4:12-13 NASB)
            God gave us His word so those who wish to follow in His Way might discern their inner motives and stay on the path proscribed for them. Faithfulness is its own reward, and those who hope for a more tangible perks, such as a badge of courage or heavenly bliss will, in the fullness of time, be sorely disappointed.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Hand Me That Crutch!

            One of the more inane objections to accepting Christ's work on the cross and depending on God is, "I don't need no religion for a crutch!" Left unstated is, I'm an independent person. I can make it on my own, so I can live my own way. Nobody can tell me what to do!
            The world is full of rugged individualists like that. They are the ones who won't go to the doctor unless it's in a hospital emergency room, or take advice, even from someone who knows what they're talking about. It's easy to tell who they are; they're the ones who crash through life making stupid mistakes and never learning from them.
            Whether they admit it or not, they are their own gods, refusing to bow to any authority. Is that a death-wish we see? If they persist, that wish will surely be granted, and they will get eternally more than they bargained for.
            Judging by their track record, I'm probably wasting my time and energy writing about such knuckle-heads; they won't listen any more than usual, and the rest of us don't need to be told who they are. Bible passages about scoffers abound, with detailed descriptions of their stupidity and foolishness. Did they get the message from God's chosen spokesmen? Hardly!
            Today they like to call themselves "Free Thinkers," "Skeptics," or "Atheists." A few of them are quite ingenious with their "proofs" that God doesn't exist, though such are hardly original. The rest of them simply parrot their more studious mentors, spouting pop-anthropology and Darwinian rhetoric. Not even Saint Charles doubted God's existence, viewing his Theory of Natural Selection as simply part of God's creative process.
            I'm near-sighted, so I wear glasses. My weird feet need orthotics. And not long ago I needed a crutch to get around while recovering from foot surgery. Sensible people admit that nobody's perfect, and to function at a level above that dictated by our imperfections we need to compensate for them. That defines the generic crutch.
            Our human imperfections go way beyond what is visible, effecting our inner motives, our resulting behavior, our self-image, and even our appearance. Despite the problems they cause, we must thank God for our human glitches, as they result from His creating us with the ability to go our own imperfect way. And as if anyone needed proof of our fallen nature we go to great lengths to prove it with the trouble we get ourselves into.
            Without God's Crutch, we'd stumble through life hurting ourselves and others. And without God's Crutch our ultimate destiny is the eternally prolonged death that is the only alternative to eternal life. The Crutch God has furnished us is His Son the Lord Jesus Christ. Leaning on Him allows us to walk the way God designed for us, to the destination He created for our eternal blessing. And the Crutch of Christ fits us perfectly–no adjustment necessary.