The Life I Live…

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“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24, NIV 1984).

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  (Galatians 2:20, NIV 1984).

My Musings – A couple well-known verses, with interesting paralells:

  • Deny Yourself – “I no longer live.
  • Come After Me – “Christ lives in me.
  • Take Up Your Cross – “I have been crucified with Christ.
  • Follow Me – “I live by faith in the Son of God.

My Advice – Christ gave up so much (denied Himself) to pursue (come after) us.  This took Him to the cross (crucified), so that we might live (by faith).  The cross we are asked to bear pales in comparison to the one He bore.  Let’s deny ourselves, our path, and follow Him.  Though it might lead through the “valley of the shadow of death,” it ends up in “green pastures.

 

Alone, Yet Not Alone

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Then Jesus’ disciples said,  “this makes us believe that you came from God.” “You believe at last!” Jesus answered. “But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.  I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:30–33, NIV 1984).

My Musings – Where I live, we are beginning week two of being “scattered, each to his own home,” which we have “affectionately” come to know as sheltering in place.  Many of you around the world have been at it much longer than we have.  And while I work in an industry that has been deemed “essential” (but not nearly so noble as a front-line responder), I have been fortunate enough to work from home.  Fortunate, because my wife fits into four different high-risk health categories (you can read about her in “All About Eve”), and the less exposure I bring home to her the better.

We all deal with isolation in different ways, some of which are depicted in this Sunday’s “amusings” above.

  • Tom Hank’s in his movie Castaway created an imaginary friend Wilson. More recently, he self-quarantined with another Wilson, not so imaginary.  Coincidence?  Or life imitating art?  Whatever, it certainly was an improvement, despite having to deal with the coronavirus.
  • Some (the toilet paper hoarder) take isolation to the extreme, thinking only about themselves.
  • Some self-impose isolation within isolation (the cell phone communicators), not taking advantage of the opportunity to bond with loved ones.  Of course, this could have been just about anyone’s dining table before COVID-19.  How sad.
  • Others go into total meltdown (fear and hysteria), losing perspective, reason and common sense.
  • Not depicted are those who recklessly throw caution to the wind, putting themselves in needless danger. But more importantly, exposing innocent others by their selfish abandon.

For those of us with an eternal perspective, it is difficult to say at this point whether this pandemic is the express will of God as the “beginning of birth pains,” or the permissive will of God as Satan casts his evil “spells,” knowing that his time is short.  Either way, God is Sovereign.  And we know the end of the story, because it has been revealed to us (“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace“).  Revealed through another who was also spending time in isolation.  “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on a scroll what you see.”  (Revelation 1:9–11, NIV 1984).  Is this the beginning of one of the things he saw?

My Advice – Whatever the reason, these are the circumstances that we are faced with.  We did not choose them (although they are one of the consequences of the choice made in the garden).  The question is how will we face them?  We’ve looked at just a few of the “faces” of isolation.  What will your “face” look like?  Will you be overcome, or will you be an overcomer?  Whether in isolation alone, or alone with loved ones, we are not alone in our aloneness. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  Take heart, brother and sisters, and be at peace in this time of distress.  “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”  (Revelation 22:12–13, NIV 1984).

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”

 

Where Many Have Gone Before

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Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!”  (Matthew 10:17–25, NIV 1984).

My Musings – “The Road to Coronavirus Hell Was Paved by Evangelicals” is the title of an op-ed penned by Katherine Stewart and published by the New York Times on March 27, 2020.  In it she writes, “Donald Trump rose to power with the determined assistance of a movement that denies science, bashes government and prioritized loyalty over professional expertise. In the current crisis, we are all reaping what that movement has sown.”  Later she adds, “by all accounts, President Trump’s tendency to trust his gut over the experts on issues like vaccines and climate change does not come from any deep-seated religious conviction…But he is perfectly in tune with the religious nationalists who form the core of his base.”

This reminds me of another story — the burning of Rome in 64 AD. “Despite the well-known stories, there is no evidence that the Roman emperor, Nero, either started the fire or played the fiddle [had not been invented yet] while it burned. Still, he did use the disaster to further his political agenda. Nero did not like the aesthetics of the city and used the devastation of the fire in order to change much of it and institute new building codes throughout the city. Nero also used the fire to clamp down on the growing influence of Christians in Rome. He arrested, tortured and executed hundreds of Christians on the pretext that they had something to do with the fire.”  (https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/neros-rome-burns).  “The persecution of Christians because of the fire started about 250 years of Roman persecution of Christians, a practice finally ended in 313 AD when Emperor Constantine legalized the Christian religion with the Edict of Milan.” (https://www.historyandheadlines.com/july-18-64-ad-great-fire-rome-nero-blames-christians/).

These stories differ in that the Roman Emperor blamed the Christians for burning Rome, whereas one media story is blaming a certain segment of Evangelical Christians (referred to as “religious nationalists” and the “Christian nationalist movement”) for “fanning the flames” of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.  We do not know what “spark” will ignite the widespread persecution of the Church that Jesus spoke of in His Olivet Discourse. Perhaps “inflammatory” rhetoric, such as that used in the above referenced article, and which casts dispersions on all evangelical Christians in particular, will eventually spread to “engulf” all true followers of Christ in general.  When I say “true followers” I do not mean this as either a commendation or a condemnation of the any of the people or groups that are criticized in the article.  I do not know enough about any of them to pass any kind of judgment.  What I take issue with is how wide the net is cast in her criticisms.

We do know for certain that a day is coming when a “pandemic” of Church persecution will ultimately rise from the “ashes” left over from the persecution of early Christendom.  It many respects, it already has begun.  It may only be a “brush fire” now (at least in the United States — much worse in other countries), but soon enough it will become a “blazing inferno.”

My Advice – “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.”  Will you be prepared to follow in His steps? The cost of following Him may be high.  It was high for Polycarp, and others like him.  “86 years have I have served him,” Polycarp declared, “and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior? You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and is then extinguished, but you know nothing of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.”  (Polycarp of Smyrna, Christian martyr and a disciple of the Apostle John, circa 160 AD).

Be prepared to “boldly go where [many have] gone before!” Just make sure that it is “on [His] account” you are persecuted and not on account any political agenda of this world that is not firmly established by the Gospel of Truth.  For our Kingdom is not of this world.

Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.‘”  (Acts 4:18–20, NIV 1984).

What Good Will It Be

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Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?  (Matthew 16:24–26, NIV 1984).

My Musings – The price of the ticket for passage is free (although it cost the Godhead plenty). The journey is not without peril.  The destination, is worth the trip.

  • Deny Oneself – To refrain from satisfying one’s own desires or needs. To put matters of The Kingdom ahead of all personal “empire building” desires or needs.  Just consider all that Jesus denied Himself. Afterall, “the world and its desires [the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does] pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”  (1 John 2:15–17, NIV 1984).
  • Take Up One’s Cross – Today, the phrase is commonly understood to mean acceptance of some burdensome task.  In first century Jerusalem, it meant much more.  The scene of convicted criminals carrying their own cross to the place of execution would have been a common site.  Not long after saying these things, Jesus would be carrying own cross to pay for our crimes.  In his Gospel, Luke adds the word “daily,” meaning it was to be a continual process and not a one time trip. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices [take up your cross daily], holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Romans 12:1, NIV 1984).
  • Follow Jesus – To go or come after.  Follow His commands.  Follow His Teaching.  Follow His example.  And yes, sometimes to follow Him in death proclaiming the Gospel. “But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”  (1 Peter 2:20–21, NIV 1984).

My Advice – Keep your eye on the prize and “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14, NIV 1984).  And take heart, because while “in this world you will have trouble, [you can] take heart! I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33, NIV 1984).

See No Shadow, Fear No Evil

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Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4, NIV 1984).

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: Death has been swallowed up in victory.   Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (1 Corinthians 15:51–57, NIV 1984).

My Musings – Groundhog Day is a popular tradition celebrated in Canada and the United States on February 2nd. It derives from the Pennsylvania Dutch superstition that if a groundhog emerging from its burrow on this day sees its shadow due to clear weather, it will retreat to its den and winter will persist for six more weeks, and if it does not see its shadow because of cloudiness, spring will arrive early. While the tradition remains popular in modern times, studies have found no consistent correlation [you think?] between a groundhog seeing its shadow or not and the subsequent arrival time of spring-like weather. (Wikipedia).  This year, March 20th is the Spring (Northern Hemisphere) equinox.  Shadow or no, that’s seven weeks (and I apologize for dragging our Northern neighbors into this).

Shadow or no, uncertain days lay ahead.  In the U.S., it’s a looming contentious election in the wake of an impeachment and acquittal (presumably).  In the U.K., good or bad, Brexit has arrived at long last.  In China (and now other countries), fears about the coronavirus continue to increase.  Global warming is a leading concern of most nations (except maybe the U.S., at least officially?).  And how long before a rogue nation or group unleashes a dirty bomb or something even worse?  All combined, merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. No matter how you spin it, the shadows are lengthening.  Perhaps, like the groundhog, we’d all like to crawl back into some burrow and forget about it until “spring” arrives.

We need not fear these uncertainties or evils.  If we are in Christ, one of these days (seems like its getting sooner and sooner), we’re “outa here.” Either by walking “through the valley of the shadow of death,” or “in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet!”  If we are in Christ, we have more to look forward to than we have to dread.

My Advice – Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1–4, NIV 1984).  Have you trusted in Him?  There is no fearing the shadows when you do.  Do you want to know the way?

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Want to know the way? See my blog series “The Born Again Experience.

Given From Above

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The Jews insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”  When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”  (John 19:7–11, NIV 1984).

My Musings – “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.”  The power given is not from Rome.  It is not from the Sanhedrin.  It is not from the High Priest.  Not even from the crowd that would later yell “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”  The power over Jesus was given by God.  Without it, no one could touch Him.  And since Jesus and the Father are one, the power in essence is coming from Jesus.  He is willingly granting it.  “I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:17–18, NIV 1984).  But why?  Because the good work of redemption could not be accomplished in any other way.

So what does this mean to us as followers of Christ?  When we encounter persecution or suffering, we have the tendency to cry out “why me?!”  Rather we should be crying out “why not me?!”  Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33a, NIV 1984).  And why not?  Are we any better than Him?  Certainly not!  But I think, that the power of persecution over us is also granted from above.  Nothing touches us, without the permissive will of the Father.  I am convinced, that when this is the case, it is because something good is being accomplished in us or through us that could not be accomplished in any other way.  Because,  “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  If it could be accomplished in any other way I am convinced that the “cup” would pass from us.

My Advice – Going through a tough patch?  Hang in there.  “Take heart! I [Jesus] have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33b, NIV 1984).  It’s okay to pray “Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.”  (Matthew 26:39a, NIV 1984).  But also be prepared to pray “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39a, NIV 1984).  Because, if it is possible, the cup will pass.  If there is no other way to accomplish what is necessary and good “do not lose heart. Though outwardly [you may be] wasting away, yet inwardly [you] are being renewed day by day. For [your] light and momentary troubles are achieving for [you] an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So fix [your] eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18, NIV 1984).  Take heart!  You too are an overcomer.

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Want to become a Christian? See my blog series “The Born Again Experience.”
Want a closer walk with Christ? See my blog series “Got Spiritual Milk?”

I’m Not Alone

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My Musings – Although our troubles are temporary, while we are in them, we all have a tendency to be consumed by them.  We fix our eyes on them.  We can hardly focus on anything else.  Yet because we are in Christ, if we fix our eyes on Him, things can be different.  Hard pressed but not crushed.  Perplexed but not in despair. Persecuted but not abandoned.  Struck down but not destroyed.  Wasting away but being renewed.  With the proper focus we can see the all sufficient grace of God while still in the midst of what is pressing against us, perplexing us, persecuting us, or striking us down.

My Advice – In the less than memorable movie Noah’s Ark, starring Russel Crowe, there is one brief exchange between Noah and Tubal-Cain that I do remember quite well.

Tubal-Cain (menacingly):  “I have men at my back, and you stand alone and defy me?”

Noah (matter-of-factly):  “I’m not alone.”

Remember, no matter how desperate the situation, if you are in Christ you are never alone.  Fix your eyes on Him, not the situation.