There is a fascinating concept at the close of Hebrews 1. Angels are described as ministering spirits to care for the heirs of salvation. That’s us. According to Romans 8 and Galatians 4 we are adopted into God’s family and are heirs of salvation.
Several years ago I was in Tokyo and needed to get on a subway during rush hour. The train stopped at our platform and when the doors opened it was full. I assumed I would have to wait for the next one. I could not have been more wrong. There were attendants on the platform that started pushing us onto the train. I think the assumption was, it is never full. Forget the idea of personal space. I have never been so close to so many people at one time. Sardines in a can have more space. In an attempt to breathe I had a mouthful of long black hair from some unnamed lady.
Thinking back on it I think angels are like those attendants. Heaven will never be full. There will always be room for one more. Angels dog our paths each day waiting to give us a shove into the Kingdom. They are ministering spirits who are so very happy and so very unselfish they, like Jesus, long for everyone to be saved. There assignment is simple and straightforward; save people. I think they are pretty good at what they do because there is a wonderful verse in Revelation describing the redeemed assembled around God’s throne. It reads, “I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands.” That’s us. How grand!
Recently I was fascinated by the intellectual content of the person with whom I was speaking or should I say lack of content. He was a professor at a college where he had obtained his BA, MA and doctorate. He made mention of his comfort there because many of his colleagues were also alum from that school. And so the cycle of information and ideas was repeated over and over. The same ideas he had heard during his undergraduate years were regurgitated during his graduate education. They were preaching and teaching to themselves. This person was teaching from the same texts he had been assigned as a student. Granted there are some classics that should be shared by each generation. These are not of which I speak.
The freshness of intellectual growth is the fruit of exposure to new ideas and new prospectives. Without this the content of our lives becomes we and them. We, of course, are correct, orthodox and holy and they are just plain wrong. But we try to be kind and use words like misguided or uninformed, when we are the uninformed ones. Ignorance is a frightening thing.
Knowledge is power. God is omnipotent not because He is some gigantic muscle man in the sky. He is omnipotent because He is omniscient. He creates not because He is a magician waving a magic wand. He creates because He knows how. Thus it is that He longs to save us that we might join with Him in creative ideas. To be like Him is to grow. Yes. He grows. He is love and love grows. Love is not a stagnate state. It is an envelopment of life and others and reaching beyond ourselves to enhance those about us.
I love getting free stuff, which attracts me to a furniture commercial which promises if the Boston Red Sox win the first four games of the World Series all the furniture I buy between now and then will be free. I will get a check in the mail, so the more I buy the more will be free. I find myself sitting in front of the TV trying to think of something to buy, which is totally ridiculous. Instead I should be thinking about how to get rid of the furniture we already have.
Car commercials are a bit deceptive. They promise $10,000 cash back if I buy their vehicle. It sounds like I would be getting something free until I read the word “back.” That means I paid them my $10,000 up front and they are returning what was already mine. That’s not free. I am just getting the real price of the vehicle.
Paul had this issue with the church in Galatians. It seems that after he presented the Gospel, which is free, others would come and tell them, “Well, yes, but, you have to do such and such.” Paul wrote, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel which is really no gospel at all.” Galatians 1:6. Beware of the word “but”; what usually follows is heresy. “Yes, salvation is free. But …”
When I was little I loved parades because toward the end of the parade clowns would throw pieces of candy to the crowds. That was free. Perhaps there will be parades in heaven and the angels will shower us with wonderful things that are truly free.
One of the most wonderful sounds I ever heard was coming home and hearing someone shout, “Daddy’s home” and to hear the thunder of small feet running to me. The sheer joy of loving and being loved surpasses all other human emotions. How very empty it would have been had I insisted or commanded such behavior. Love is only love when it pours spontaneously from a willing heart.
Revelation 4:11 is the reason why we are. “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” God being God could have created a world without free will or the possibility to choose evil. He could have programmed us to daily give Him praise. We would never have known there was any other option. But He would know. The praise would be empty and joyless. Love would not truly exist. When He made us and our world He made the best of all possibilities.
The heartbreak and horror of hatred and disloyalty that arose could not be allowed to eternally ruin what can be so good, so pure and so excellent. And so John 3:16. Jesus was the full expression of the Father. We needed to know the ideal. We needed to know what was intended and what will be again someday. Love needed a way for us to be a part of that future. And so Hebrews 1:2 “In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.”
Anyone who has ever spent time as a patient in a hospital knows the medical profession is anti-sleep. Maybe it’s because the staff that covers the night shift are resentful of anyone who gets to rest. Last week I was consistently awakened at midnight to take my vitals. Really?! And then at 5 A.M., I was awakened to draw blood. Now I try to be a nice guy. I try to be polite and thoughtful of other’s feelings but when the phlebotomist came in at 5 and turned on all the overhead lights suddenly blinding me and producing visions of the apocalypse, well, let’s just say; I wasn’t overly Christ-like. And then it occurred to me. I had an epiphany. We all know you should always be nice to anyone who is handling your food. I realized how stupid I was not being nice to a woman who was about to pierce me with a ten foot long needle! And yes, just in case you wondered, she did make me pay for my rudeness.
Often times I excuse my bouts of rudeness by remembering Matthew 23 where Jesus isn’t “gentle Jesus meek and mild.” Then I have to remember His wrath was produced by those with power abusing those without power. My displays are because I feel disrespected. There is a huge difference. Jesus never lashed out when it was personal.
His message to us in the Sermon on the Mount is consistent regarding our going the second mile and turning the other cheek. If we really want to witness we do so by our behaviors and responses and not by handing out pamphlets. He did say, “Hereby will men know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35
Springtime in our little city means it’s time to do the annual flushing of the fire hydrants. It doesn’t make one overly happy if you just washed your car and have to drive through a huge spray of water. This afternoon I saw people turning onto side streets to avoid the baptism. However, there was one very inventive fellow doing just the opposite. Apparently his car was still salty from the winter streets and he saw a hydrant spouting into a parking lot. First he drove through it very slowly and then turned around and drove through it again getting the other side, then he pulled up to it and got a good dousing over the front end. He got a $12.00 wash for free.
It reminded me of someone being baptized by immersion. You want to make sure you get them completely wet. Not long ago I had the joy of baptizing my niece’s husband. He is about 6 feet 7 or 8 inches tall. I couldn’t reach high enough to get my hand over his head. Because he is a retired navy diver, he figured out how to get low enough for me. I still couldn’t bend him backwards and bring him back up so he knelt and I splashed water over the remaining top of his head that wasn’t submerged. I must admit I completely understood the hearable snickers from the congregation. But it was a very happy, joyous experience. It was a time for laughter.
Baptism is a public expression of having given one’s life to Jesus. It is not a ticket to heaven. It is a joyful way of saying, “Thank you, Jesus, for the gift of eternal life and the forgiveness of all my sins.”
(Sorry to have not written this past week. I enjoyed Easter Weekend and the following days in the hospital. All is well. Home again.)
While in (“the” for Americans) hospital someone was outside my door with a baby. Have you ever listened to people talk to a baby? The voice was the sweetest, syrupiest sound I have ever heard. I wish I could accurately describe the incredible variations of a woman’s falsetto. The vocal range was wonderful. Since we learn to talk by mimicking the language of adults I wondered how it is that we don’t permanently talk baby talk all our lives. I think there is currently a Haribo gummy candy commercial with adults talking like babies. I think it is so creepy.
It did remind me of I Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.” I wondered if God uses “baby talk” to communicate with us. Because He knows everything and we know so very little, does He condescend and make things as simple as possible when He wants us to know something? It seems as though that would out of necessity have to be the case. Yet Isaiah 1:8 says, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Hebrews 1:1 says, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son . . .”
And Jesus said to His disciples, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.” John 16:12. There it is. While God does NOT speak to us as babies, He does note our limitations and adjusts for each of us individually.
One of my Christmas presents this year was a port under the skin on my right shoulder. It was supposed to reduce the number of needle sticks. Instead of trying to find and missing a vein they just stick the needle into the center of the lump on my shoulder. It still hurts when they stick me but at least it is limited to one stick. The port provides access to a large central vein thus creating a more efficient way into my heart.
We have all heard the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, which is a fairly accurate metaphor. Jesus loved using metaphors. Over and again He applied them to Himself. John 14:6 is one that was used by the early Christian church. He called Himself The Way. He was and is the way into the heart of His Father. “The Father loves the son and has placed everything in his hands.” When I was a pastor I learned the way to a church members heart was by learning the names of their children and greeting each child by name.
The Way was the name for the early church. When I was a boy the church I attended used to ask, “How long have you been in the truth?” Early Christians asked, “How long have you been in The Way?” Jesus is the way to the Father and the way to eternal life. Often we become so obsessed with the destination we forget there is much joy while we are on the way. Overcoming obstacles, negotiating detours, growing wiser by allowing Jesus, The Way, to be in us makes us stronger and better people.
I was raised with the idea that one can only love things that are alive. I really can’t love my car. But I come really close to love when I think of my GPS. I am directionally challenged and until I got a GPS I was a master at getting lost. Statistically one should only turn the wrong way at an intersection 50% of the time but I am sure I destroyed that stat. It got so bad that I would choose which way to go and then go the other way. And sure enough I was right the first time.
Fortunately when it comes to major decisions in life I had help. I always counted on Proverbs 3:6. “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” That’s not to say I haven’t made some poor choices through the years. But the really important choices worked out and I thank Him for being my divine GPS.
The secret to making this work is not magic. It is a matter of prayerfully asking for guidance when studying His word. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Psalm 119:105 Paul had a template for his letters. He started with a greeting and almost immediately got into some heavy theology. Before he finished he almost always spent considerable time talking about practical Christian living. The close of Romans and Ephesians are especially rich with directions for living a Christ-like life. Treat yourself to a careful quiet reading of Ephesians 5 & 6. The man was amazingly smart.
So I love my GPS and really, really love my spiritual GPS. Use it and never worry about getting or being lost.
It is easy to confuse one’s culture with one’s faith. Our culture is about customs and socially acceptable practices and behaviors. Our faith is about our relationship with God and growing and becoming more like one’s God. Culture is about the way we dress and what music and foods we enjoy or don’t enjoy. Faith is about morality and how we treat each other. How often through the years have I not only seen immorality thrust upon others in attempts not to make people like Jesus but to make them like us.
I have been guilty. In my mistaken zeal I championed that all our students at our school in Africa wear neckties when coming to church. I sent young men back to their dorms to “finish dressing” before they could be counted present at church. How often have I judged people by the items in their grocery carts and chastised a fellow faculty member for his politics.
Now years later I realized how misguided and unChrist-like I was. Jesus’ brother James wrote, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” Please note the admonition is to keep oneself unspotted and not our neighbor. Paul wrote, “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:14.
We all have personal tastes, likes and dislikes. That is okay. We just need to be careful not to censure someone because they like vanilla and we like chocolate. Since we cannot go back and undo we can rejoice that God understands and is quick to forgive.