Nothing New Under The Sun?

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Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:4–9, NIV 1984).

My Musings – How many times have you heard the current pandemic described as unprecedented (never before known or experienced)?  In light of 1918, not yet.  When I was in business school, I was taught that we learned so much from the great depression, and built in so many safeguards to our economic systems afterwards, that there would never be another one.  Maybe not, but we’re trying.  The first world war was, for a time, known as the “war to end all wars.” With carnage so unprecedented (there’s that word again) that it was unthinkable that mankind would allow it to be repeated.  Within a generation, however, we began to number the world wars.  Yet by the end of the second one, and the advent of nuclear armament, the fear is there will not be another number.  It will a letter, the letter “Z.”

What has been done will be done again Left to our own devices, mankind will never end war. They will, instead, increase (“wars and rumors of war“).  We will not eradicate disease.  Instead, we have learned to manufacture it.  As long as there is greed, there will be recessions and depressions, excess and want.  Man does not learn from it.  Man cannot fix it.

There is nothing new under the sun – Nothing unprecedented.  Well, not exactly. The writer of the above text was writing about his own observations, with perhaps a bit of hyperbole.  But it does underscore the futility of the man’s devices to solve the evils “under the sun.”  The evils of this world can only be solved “under the Son.”

So what do I mean by “not exactly?”  Unprecedented times are indeed coming.  They will not even be close to what has previously been known or experienced.  “For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.” (Matthew 24:21–22, NIV 1984).  Not to be too melodramatic, but that’s what you call unprecedented.

My Advice – During these so-called “unprecedented” times many have said, myself included, that “things will never be the same.”  In a sense that is likely true.  They likely said the same thing after both world wars and the great depression.  Some things did change, but in many respects things went back to the way they were before “ever returning to its course.”  Shortly after warning about the unprecedented times to come, Jesus went on to say, “as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” (Mt 24:37–39, NIV 1984).  He warned us, but life seems to go on as if we “[know] nothing about what [will] happen.

To the unsaved – Jesus said, “see, I have told you ahead of time.” (Matthew 24:25, NIV 1984). Time is the operative word.  We do not know how long it will be before the times warned about will occur.  It could be soon (we may be seeing the beginning, Jesus described them as “birth pains” — increasing in frequency and intensity), or far in the distant future (“God is patient, not wanting anyone to perish.“).  But none of us know how long our “lease” on this life will end.  So time is of the essence. No choice, (even a delayed choice) is saying no to salvation.

To the saved (the Church) – While we may take some degree of personal comfort that “for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened,” we have a responsibility to the perishing.  A commission from none other than Jesus Himself to proclaim the Gospel.  “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the [Church Age] last for a thousand [more] years, [angels] will still say, “This was [its] finest hour.” (with apologies to Sir Winston Churchill and the 1st century Church).

Action!

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When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.” (John 12:44–48, NIV 1984).

My Musings – Believe or reject.  Move out of or stay in darkness.  Be saved or remain condemned.  Pretty clear.  The world finds this reasoning unjust.  Yet Jesus clearly says He “did not come to judge the world, but to save it.”  He’s done everything that He could do to “rescue the perishing” who already stand condemned.  Jesus said elsewhere “no one comes to the Father except through me.”  When anyone rejects Jesus, these are the very words that will condemn them.

My Advice – No action is rejection.  No action is condemnation.  No action is judgment.  Take action.  Believe in Him.

Remember That I Warned You

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When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”  Then [Jesus] said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them.”  (Luke 21:8–13, NIV 1984).

In fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you.”  (John 16:2–4).

My Musings – As a general rule, I avoid getting embroiled in political controversies. Little is gained and relationships can be irreparably damaged.  The funny thing about general rules though, is that there are usually exceptions.  So with a bit of fear and trepidation, here goes one of my exceptions.

On December 15, 1791 the first ten amendments (The Bill of Rights) to the U.S. Constitution were ratified.  The first amendment reads in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  For most of the history of this clause the focus seemed to be on the freedom of religion aspects of this clause.  That began to change in earnest with the 1962 Supreme Court ruling in Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421, that banned school-sponsored prayer in public schools.  Since that time the scales, which I suspect the Constitutional Convention intended to be relatively balanced, have tilted more and more on the side of “no law respecting an establishment of religion” than it has on the side of not “prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  The result has been an increasing erosion of religious liberty.

Now for the controversial part.  From 1791 until 1962, and for the most part since then, the United States has been blessed by a measure of religious freedom that is relatively uncharacteristic in Church history, and that has eluded much of the rest of the globe during this same time period.  We have been a privileged nation in this respect.  But sometimes privilege carries a degree of danger with it.  In this case, the danger is not so much that scales become unbalanced, but that the Church in the U.S. mistakes this clause in the first amendment as being on par with religious canon.  It is not.

Many were upset when shelter in place was declared precluding churches from gathering together. It was okay to grieve the temporary loss of in-person fellowship that this entailed, but we should not be surprised by it.  And we should not be surprised as these restrictions begin to be lifted if church gatherings carry greater restrictions for longer periods than other “non-essential” gatherings.  It is entirely possible that this will happen solely due to the concerns over public health and safety and that there is no underlying conspiracy to further erode religious liberty in America.  But even if there is no sinister subplot being devised by our public officials, they can still unknowingly be pawns of Satan’s evil designs against the Bride of Christ.

While this may concern us, we should not be surprised.  Because Jesus “told [us] this, so that when the time comes [we] will remember that [He] warned [us].”  And let’s also remember that “this will result in [us] being witnesses to them.”  It may still be a long time “before all this” becomes the “beginning of birth pains” that Jesus predicted would precede His return.  But whether it is or not, the question we the Church should be asking ourselves is this — what kind of witnesses do we want to be?  Those who are self-absorbed with protecting their own religious freedom (win the battle) or those who are selflessly committed to helping set the captives free (win the war)?

The Church has before it what is perhaps the greatest evangelistic opportunity since The Great Awakening. People are hurting.  People are scared.  People are angry.  People are losing hope. Do we want to squander this opportunity by being more concerned about the infringement of our religious freedom (inward focus) than we are about the eternal destination of countless souls (outward focus)?  Let’s be the Church that Christ commissioned us to be.  Let’s be heralds of the only true and lasting hope there is.  Beacons of light in world growing increasingly darker.

My Advice – In Bill Clinton’s 1992 Presidential campaign, strategist James Carville coined the slogan “it’s the economy, stupid!”  There was no way Clinton was going to win the election against the incumbent George H.W. Bush, on foreign policy.  Bush’s credentials were impeccable and he had just orchestrated a stunning military victory over Iraq. Winning not just the war but significant approval ratings.  But he was becoming vulnerable due to a weakening economy.  Whenever, Clinton’s campaign got side-tracked on other issues they would re-focus the campaign with the rallying cry of “it’s the economy, stupid!”  As we all know, Bill Clinton won that election more than President Bush lost it.  The Church can learn a lesson from this.  In carrying out the Great Commission, our focus should be less on the first amendment, and more on “it’s the Gospel, stupid!”

The time will come when we lose all religious freedom. “They will lay hands on [us] and persecute [us]. They will deliver [us] to prisons, and [we] will be brought before [the authorities], and all on account of [His] name.”  My brothers and sisters in Christ.  In that day we may find in our eyes the same fear that would take the heart of men and women without the hope of Christ.  And if a day could come when the courage of the Church fails, when it forsakes the Gospel and breaks all that binds it to the Great Commission, let it not be this day.  An hour of demons and shattered freedoms when the gates of hell could prevail and the Church Age come crashing down, let it not be this day!  This day we fight for the Gospel!  By the faith we hold dear on this decaying earth, I bid you stand with Christ! (A shameless adaptation of Aragorn’s speech before the black gate in “The Return of the King).

Let this be our witness.  “But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life.” (Luke 21:14–19, NIV 1984).

 

Want A Miraculous Sign?

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Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.  (John 2:18–22, NIV 1984).

My Musings – “Then they believed.”  When? “After he was raised from the dead.”  In other words, after He did what He said He would do — rise from the dead.  Want a miraculous sign?  It doesn’t get more miraculous than that.  Up to that point, His disciples had only seen Him turn water into wine.  Perhaps its not surprising that they didn’t catch on at this point, but eventually they did believe.  Sadly there’s no indication that those who sought the miraculous sign (the religious leaders, apart from Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea) ever did.

But what about us?  We have the four Gospels, recording all sorts of things that occurred in His life that were prophesied hundreds of years earlier in the Old Testament.  Just what the prophecies said would happen did happen.  Impossible to orchestrate.  The only way they could have all been fulfilled is if He was exactly who He said He was.  Yet many still choose not to believe.  But if He is exactly who He said He is, then we need to believe everything that He said.

My Advice – And He said, we must be born again in order to see the Kingdom of God (Heaven).  Don’t wait to see how things play out.  They’ll play out exactly how Jesus said they would.  But then it will be too late.  Now is the day of salvation.  Tomorrow is not guaranteed.  Read the Gospel of John.  It’s just as good in telling you all you need to know to be saved (born again) as it was in the good ol’ days.

The Rest Of The Story

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He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.   (John 1:10, NIV 1984).

My Musings – John packs a lot into his Gospel, of which this verse is only a sample.  I invite you to read the entire chapter.  But first, let’s unpack this verse.

He Was In The World – “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” (John 1:14, NIV 1984).  The Son of God left the side of His Father, left the splendor of Heaven, where He had spent eternity past, to become a man and live among us.  Not merely a man, but “a man of sorrows.”  Not just to live among us, but to die for us.  “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!”  (Philippians 2:8, NIV 1984).

The World Was Made Through Him – “Through Him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”  (John 1:3, NIV 1984).  Though the world, even the entire universe, was created through Him. He entered into and became part His own creation.

His Own Did Not Recognize Him – “Don’t you know me…even after I have been among you…? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?”  (John 14:9–10, NIV 1984).  His own, the very ones He created failed to recognize who He was.  Despite the fact that the entire Scriptures up to that time pointed to Him.  They were expecting Him.  They were looking for Him.  Yet when He came, most missed Him.

His Own Did Not Receive Him – “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews. But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered. Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.  (John 19:14–16, NIV 1984).  Despised and rejected.  They had their own idea of who they were looking for.  A temporal king. A temporal restoration of the kingdom of Israel.  In the process, they failed to receive the eternal (Alpha and Omega) King of kings.  They failed to enter into the eternal Kingdom of God.

My Advice – That was then.  Now we know…the rest of the story (see below).  Many continue to reject Him.  “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:11-13, NIV 1984).  “Born of God.”  Sound rather surprising?  “I [Jesus] tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”  (John 3:5–8, NIV 1984).

The Rest of the Story was a Monday-through-Friday radio program originally hosted by Paul Harvey. Beginning as a part of his newscasts during the Second World War and then premiering as its own series on the ABC Radio Networks on May 10, 1976, The Rest of the Story consisted of stories presented as little-known or forgotten facts on a variety of subjects with some key element of the story (usually the name of some well-known person) held back until the end. The broadcasts always concluded with a variation on the tag line, “And now you know…the rest of the story.” (Wikipedia).

Don’t be satisfied with merely knowing the rest of the story.  Become a part of the story.  Be born of God, born of the Spirit, born again.  Possible all because “once upon a time” “the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.”  But He really came to die for us.  And that is the “rest of the story.”  Yet there is no living “happily ever after” unless we are born again.

 

The Mind of Christ

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The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?’  But we have the mind of Christ.”  (1 Corinthians 2:10–16, NIV 1984).

My Musings – We have received “the Spirit who is from God.”  We also have been given “the mind of Christ.” Without these, the things of God are foolishness.  “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  (1 Corinthians 1:18, NIV 1984).  With them, we have spiritual discernment with the ability to understand what God has freely given us. “I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”  (John 15:15, NIV 1984).

The world in its wisdom may consider us to be the foolish ones. They simply do not understand us.  But we are “not subject to any man’s judgment.”  And we need not be “ashamed, because [we] know whom [we] have believed, and [are] convinced that He is able to guard what [we] have entrusted to him for that day.”  (2 Timothy 1:12, NIV 1984).  How is it possible for us to be so convinced?  Because “we have the mind of Christ.

My Advice – Does it seem foolish to you?  Are you unable to understand? Would you like to understand what God is freely offering?  You can.  See my musings on “The Born Again Experience.”

The Foolishness of God

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Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”  (1 Corinthians 1:20–25, NIV 1984).

My Musings – Whose idea was it to make a square box for a round pizza?  Why is it when you ask someone “a penny for your thoughts,” that they usually insist on putting in their own two cents, which many times is not worth a plug nickel?  Why do people claim it was the only choice they had, when a choice cannot be only?  What’s so good about grief, Charlie Brown?  How can anyone be in ill health?  Can there ever be such a thing as a civil war?  Have you ever known a devout atheist?  Just how does one go about evening the odds?  Have you ever witnessed a minor miracle?  Why do people sometimes insist on receiving an original copy?  Which one do you suppose they really want?  Do people really have unbiased opinions?  Have you ever been clearly misunderstood?

Where is the wise man?”  Wise man?  We surely are a foolish lot. Stumbling all over the simple truth of the Gospel, unable to believe that it can be that simple.  We think that we are so wise, yet in our greatest wisdom, we cannot even equal God’s “foolishness.”

My Advice – Choose the foolish of what is preached, Christ crucified, which is the wisdom of God.  It really is the “only choice.”