Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Crossing the Jordan

Last Sunday my wife and I attended the adult Sunday school class at our church.  We read a short passage from Joshua, watched a short video and then took part in a discussion.  The reading, Joshua 4:23-24 says,

“For the LORD your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The LORD your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over.  He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God.”

The context of this passage is that it comes at the end of the description of the Hebrew people crossing the Jordan River and entering the Promised Land.  As the crossing concludes the Hebrews are to take up 12 stones from the river and then construct a stone marker at the place where they camp that evening, a marker that will remind future generations of what God did for them in making it possible to cross the river safely.

In the video we learned a bit about the Jordan River itself.  It is a fairly short river, just 156 miles long, and it makes a quick descent in its first 60 miles, from it’s headwaters to the Sea of Galilee, and then drops more gradually as it flows to its outlet in the Dead Sea.  One other characteristic of the Jordan is that it runs along a geological rift, so that in many places its banks are steep, making entry and exit difficult.  The Bible tells us that the Hebrews crossed it when it was a flood stage. 

The full Biblical account of the crossing of the Jordan River is contained in Joshua 3 and 4.  The synopsis is this: The priests were to lead the group, carrying the Ark of the Covenant.  God promised to stop the water’s flow as the first priest placed his foot in the water. The priests carrying the Ark were to stand in the middle of the river bed as the people crossed over.  Then the priests carrying the Ark were to be the last to exit the river, with the water resuming its flow as the last priest’s foot left the dry river bed.

In our discussion we talked about how important it was for the Hebrews to follow God’s instructions as they crossed the river.  They had to trust that God would do what he said they would do.  They had to have faith as they stepped from dry land on to a river running at flood stage.  There are lessons here for us as well.  We need to trust that God is who he says he is and will do what he promises to do.  We have to walk through life holding on to him in faith.

But I think there is also something more powerful in this account, particularly in Joshua 4:23-24, the verses noted above. 

In order for the Hebrews to pass over the Jordan and into the Promised Land they needed God to do something that they were unable to do on their own.  They needed God to remove the physical barrier of the water and give them a safe path to travel across.  In including within the story of the river crossing the fact that the Hebrews placed a stone marker of God’s action for their benefit, something that they would always look upon as a reminder, these verses foreshadow the entire focus of the Bible, which is that God has definitively acted in history in the person of Jesus Christ.

The stone marker of God’s past action in the history of the Hebrews is also a marker that helps us to see what would be, chronologically speaking, God’s future action in Christ, an action that ultimately transcends time and is of benefit to all of God’s chosen people throughout all of time.

In Christ and the finished work done through him on the cross, God has removed the barrier of our sin, so that we may enter into his eternal rest, a Promised Land that will be perfect in every way.  Our sin, no matter how it may look to us (i.e. “it’s not that bad”  “no one got hurt” “everyone is doing that”) is always an offense against a God that is always holy, always righteous and always just.  To use the river metaphor, absent the forgiveness that comes through Christ, even the least of our sins is a raging river that separates us from God, a river that we can never cross on our own effort.

So pick up the best marker God has given us, his word in the Bible, and read some of your favorite words of assurance, the words that give you comfort and trust in his promises.  If you don’t have any favorites I’m going to suggest a few of my own for you to try out, like Psalm 23, Ephesians 1:1-14, and Romans 8, especially verses 31-39.  Then give thanks to God for the good and perfect thing he has done for you and ask him where he would have you share this good news, the very best of news, in the world.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Love and Marriage in the 21st Century

This may be a bit out-of-date. Given that we live in an era when the only news that seems to matter is what happens today.  The news that sparked these thoughts happened about a week ago and has been sitting in my head since then, waiting for me to have the time to get it out.

About a week ago, while skimming the headlines on the Google news page, I saw an Entertainment notice announcing that Seal and Heidi Klum were on the verge of divorce.  I don’t read the Entertainment news, not because I’m “holier than thou” but because I’m not interested in virtually everything I see in the Entertainment headlines.  I understand that Seal is some sort of singer, although I’ve never heard his music.  And I know that Heidi Klum is a model and has a TV show, which I’ve never seen but know that my older daughter is a fan of.

So for a few days I saw headlines related to the possibility of divorce between these two people, including one with what I thought was a rather curious comment by Seal on the present state of his relationship with Klum, which inspired me to post this comment on my own Facebook page:

Today's cultural commentary: So Seal and Heidi Klum are getting divorced, yet “We still love each other like we always have,” which brings one of two questions to mind, either “Why are you getting divorced?” or “Why did you get married?”

I don’t claim to have any great insights on human nature but my questions must have struck a nerve, for they generated much more notice than most of the things I post to Facebook.  And as I thought about what Seal said these other questions came to mind: 

What should marriage be based on?  What should hold it together during times of adversity?  What should the purpose of marriage be?

Before I attempt to answer these questions I want to make a disclosure of some things that are known to some of my friends but perhaps not all of my readers.  I have been married, divorced and remarried.  The things I am about to uphold as virtues are things that I have struggled with.  As I walk through life as a disciple of Jesus I continue to struggle with many things and I need his grace, daily, in marriage and all parts of my life.

What should marriage be based on?  Our culture would say that “love” is the be-all and end-all of marriage.  When two people feel consumed by their love for each other, and perhaps feel complete only with each other, then moving into marriage would seem to be logical step.  And while our society has generally held that marriage is the highest form of personal relationship, the Christian intending to enter into marriage needs to remember that as strong as their love for their potential spouse may be, it should not exceed the love that they have for God.  In the first commandment Deuteronomy 5:7 teaches,

“You shall have no other gods before me.”

It is very easy to put our spouse ahead of God, and to put our needs within marriage ahead of God, and either choice is a form of idolatry.  Again, I am not a model of sanctity but as my wife and I moved towards marriage God was gracious to us and moved us to pray that he would reveal his will for us as a couple.  That prayer, that God would make it clear to us if we should not marry, and a desire to be obedient to him even if the answer was “no”, was one of the hardest prayers I have ever made.  And now, being married, I frequently pray that our marriage would be kept in its proper place before God. 

Secondly, what should hold marriage together during times of adversity?  Again, I think the popular answer would be “love,” but love is an emotion, one that can wax and wane.  In some couples it is a strong bond and in others it is very elastic and even fragile.  In the case of Seal and Heidi Klum, he portrays a love that is both unchanged and unable to sustain them. 

I think that the quality that should hold marriage together, the quality that can persist when our emotional attachment wavers, is faithfulness.  The dictionary gives some adjective for faithfulness, which include faithful, loyal, true, constant, steadfast and staunch.

In the Bible God gives us several images of faithfulness, the kind of faithfulness that endures in each and every circumstance.  One is the book of Hosea, in which God demonstrates his faithfulness to his people, despite their persistent and extreme disregard for their own responsibilities towards him.  Additionally, the theme of faithfulness can be said to describe the entire witness of the Old and New Testaments, as God establishes and maintains a covenant relationship with his people, a covenant upheld through the atoning death-and-resurrection of Jesus.

A caveat.  Some people are in marriages or other interpersonal relationships in which abuse is present.  There are very real instances when relationships should be terminated immediately because of the harm being inflicted on those in the relationship or those close to it, such as children.

And thirdly, what should the purpose of marriage be?  Marriage may feel like the “next step” we are to take as we journey from adolescence into adulthood.  Marriage may provide a framework for the raising of children.  Marriage may bring delight to those whom are joined in it.  These may have been among the reasons that Seal and Klum married.  The last of my reasons was very present when my wife and I married.  But there is a higher purpose in marriage, and that is in providing glory to God.

Question-and-Answer 1 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism says,

Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

I think that this statement means that all of our lives should be lived to the glory of God, and perhaps especially marriage, as the Bible, in Revelation 19, uses the image of marriage to portray the consummation of the relationship between Christ and the church. 

Believing in Jesus calls us to push back against the so-called wisdom of the world with the truth of God, to his everlasting glory.  My marriage is not perfect, but is a particularly delightful blessing, which I pray may be kept in its proper place before God, and used by him to proclaim the Good News, known only in Jesus, to the world.  

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, January 23, 2012

An “Aha!” Moment

Last night our small group from church was gathered in a member’s home.  We were on our final session of the study, Gospel in Life: Grace Changes Everything.  We had watched a brief talk by Tim Keller and then were discussing some questions that accompanied the talk.  The subject of the session was justice and the scripture it was based on was Luke 10:25-37, which is also known as the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

 We were discussing the implications of this parable and the ways in which Jesus calls his disciples to live in the world, being guided by several questions from a discussion guide. They included, “On the basis of Jesus teaching, who is our neighbor?” “Shouldn’t we help members of our own family and of our own Christian community first?” and “How does Jesus illustrate what the true motive should be for showing mercy for our neighbor?”

As our group discussed the questions, sharing examples of times in which we both followed Jesus’ teaching and times in which we were not shining examples of his disciples, I kept reading the text, thinking that maybe there was more in it than usually meets the eye or ear.  And then, in what I can only describe as the action of the Holy Spirit in giving me an insight that was new to me, I lingered on verses 33-35, which read:

“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’” 

In giving an example of unselfish love of neighbor for us to follow Jesus is also providing an allusion, albeit not quite a complete one but with enough of the central elements, that shows the love that he has already lavished on those whom he has redeemed and made his own. 

Like the Samaritan, whose entire ethnic group was considered to be outcast in relation to Jewish society, Jesus was treated as an outcast by many in his day.  Today, for many people in our society, and throughout the world, he remains someone to be disregarded, at best, and hated, at worst. 

And like the Samaritan in the parable, as Jesus journeys he helps those in need, people who are completely without the ability to help themselves.  While the Samaritan helped someone who was physically injured, the help, the healing, that Jesus provides is more profound, touching our souls. 

Without God’s action in our lives we are blind to our true condition, how badly we are beaten down by the sin in our lives.  Paul writes in Romans 8:7-8,

“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

The Samaritan takes care of the injured person, making sure that every need is provided for.  And, in our spiritual brokenness, Jesus does the same for us, and he does so completely and eternally.  Paul proclaims his confidence in the redemptive work of Jesus in the closing verses of Romans 8, and it is a confidence that we can claim as our own as well.  He writes,

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

My “Aha!” moment came as I pondered a familiar part of the Bible and noticed not just the familiar moral implications of Jesus’ teaching but also a powerful allusion to the love he lavishes on his disciples.  As you read, pray and ponder God’s Word may he also grant you a deeper glimpse of the love he has for you.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Firm Foundation

As a Christian, what is your faith built on?  The easy answer, the one from the old Sunday school story, is “Jesus.”  And that is certainly true, because there can be no Christians, no Christianity, without Christ. 

But if we dig a little deeper, how is God at work in us through Jesus?  That question came to my mind this morning when I read the blog of a friend of mine, Michael Manning, as he wrote about the importance of names to God and what they can signify concerning our identity in God.

In describing himself to the church at Philippi, Paul wrote,

“circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”

In Paul’s testimony he reports that in regard to his righteousness he is blameless.  Paul believed, deep in his bones, that in his pre-Christian life as a Pharisee he was blameless in regard to the law.  This means that he felt that because he was in conformity with the rules of the Jewish religious system he was okay with God.  This is what we call “works righteousness” and it was one of several things that the Reformation sought to correct. 

But we can’t “earn our way” to heaven.   There is no way, absent the presence of Christ in our lives, in which any of our works are acceptable to God, no matter how good or noble, or even heroic they may seem to us at the time.  Without God’s redemption through Christ everything we say and do is tainted by the stain of sin. 

This is a truth that Paul learned clearly, as he told the Ephesians,

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

The key thing that Paul is pointing out here is that the Ephesians, and himself, and us today, were all spiritually dead when we didn’t have faith in God through Christ.  The latter parts of the verses above suggest behavior that would universally be considered bad stuff, but the truth remained, and remains, that absent Christ, none of their works were truly good and neither are any of ours. 

Having established the fact of spiritual death Paul then shows us the response that God would chose to make, for the Ephesians, and for all of his people throughout history.  He writes,
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

“When we were dead” God, who is “rich in mercy,” “made us alive together with Christ.”  We often call the Gospel the “Good News” and here in microcosm is the very best news.  While we were spiritually dead and unable to act on our own in any way, God, through reasons that are beyond understanding, or at least fully beyond my own understanding, acted to give us life in Christ. 

This, then, is the foundation, the bedrock of our faith.  Not our works, as good as we may think they are.  Not simply “Jesus,” although certainly with Jesus.  Our foundation is that God chose to act where it was impossible for us to act, replacing spiritual death with spiritual, and eternal, life. 

There are many places in life where our standing is based on what we have done.  They may be our places of work, our families, or our social activities, we are often measured according to some standard, be it explicit or implicit.  Thanks be to God that our standing before him is based solely on what he has done, claiming us as his own daughters and sons in Christ.  God’s action to save us is the firmest foundation we could ever know. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Entering into Glory

Last week a friend of mine posted her status on Facebook, noting that 10 years ago on that date her husband “entered into Glory.”   I’ve only known this woman for three years and know her to be a person of deep Christian faith.  I know little of her husband or the circumstances of his death except that he, too, was regarded as a man of faith, and that his passing from this world came unexpectedly. 

As I read her status I wasn’t sure how to name what I was thinking and feeling about what she had written.  She didn’t note how the loss was felt by herself or her family, but instead placed the focal point on her husband’s present existence and the future that is promised to all who place their faith in Jesus.

She didn’t say that her husband had “died,” or that he had “passed on,” or that he had “gone to a better place,” although we frequently hear these kinds of things at the time of death and they may speak a measure of the truth.  They convey to us the sense that the person we knew so closely, and was so dearly loved, is no longer among us.  My friend placed her focus on her husband and stated that at this very moment he was experiencing that destination that awaits all Christians, the very presence of the Lord, a presence summed up in one word, Glory.

When we consider ‘glory’ we think most basically of praise and honor.  But when applied to God, as ‘Glory,’ one dictionary says we have “The divine essence of God as absolutely resplendent and ultimately great” and “The praise and honoring of God as the supreme Lord of all.” (114)  The promise to be in God’s glorious presence and to participate in his praise is granted to all believers in Colossians 3:4, where Paul writes:

“When Christ who is your life appears, then you will also appear with him in glory.”

After seeing that initial status on Facebook by one friend I later saw one from another friend, who had seen the new movie about Margaret Thatcher.  The lesson she drew from that movie goes something like this: Thoughts shape words, shaping actions, shaping habits, shaping character, and ultimately shaping destiny. 

When I first read her report on the movie I thought that it made good sense, but when I thought about it later I came to the conclusion that for the Christian the starting place is not our thoughts, but our destiny. 

Our destiny is not some place or particular achievement here on earth.  Our destiny is an eternal existence with God in heaven.  In John 14:2-3 Jesus teaches:

“In my Father’s house are many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

Using our destiny as the beginning point, rather than the ending point, we can then seek God’s wisdom and help to guide and shape our thoughts, words, actions, habits and character in ways which are both pleasing to him and bring him glory in the world.  Paul writes about this at length in Colossians 3:5-17, the heart of which is:

“seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”

I didn’t know my friend 10 years ago but I do remember the circumstances of my life at that time.  And as I ponder the intervening years I recall many of the people I’ve known and the way that God has been at work in my life.  I also am mindful of the ways I’ve resisted God.  Thankfully God’s promise is to always forgive my wayward thoughts and actions whenever I turn back to him.  Thinking and writing today of God’s glory reminds me of ways in which I can shine his light into the world, so that others may come to know his rich and everlasting promise.

None of us know when the time will be when we will be called by God to leave the places and people we so dearly love.  But what we do know, with certainty, is that because of the redemptive act done through Christ we who have faith in Christ will enter into his glorious presence, and participate in his Glory, forever.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Him We Proclaim

What is the purpose of preaching within the worship and ministry of the Christian church?  Is it to teach those gathered in worship more information about Jesus?  Is it to teach about the impact of a particular ministry, such as a community project the local church is involved with, or maybe of a missionary they support in service in some far-off part of the world?  Is the purpose of preaching to inspire the listeners in some way?  Is it to give them encouragement to become actively involved in bringing peace and justice into the world? 

All of the options I’ve mentioned may be valid, but they all are secondary to a greater purpose.  I believe that the primary purpose of preaching is to proclaim Christ, and to do so in such a way as to emphasize the redemptive work that God has done in him, and him alone, which was God’s plan before the creation of the world.  And this same perspective is the one taught by Dennis Johnson in Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from all the Scriptures.

Johnson is firmly anchored in what is known as the Redemptive-Historical understanding of the Bible.  He reads and preaches the Bible from a perspective that expects the Bible to reveal Christ and his uniquely redemptive work, either directly or indirectly, from the opening words of Genesis through the closing words of Revelation.  He believes that it is possible to preach “in such a way that our hearers are led to Jesus as the climax toward whom every Scripture drives, and to do so with integrity, accountability and credibility,” (272)

Johnson recognizes that the redemptive work of Christ is not the unifying element of preaching for some preachers and/or their faith traditions, and that there are preachers for whom this emphasis is not “on their radar,” so to speak.  He looks back to the preaching of Peter and Paul, in the book of Acts, to show us that Christ’s finished work was the primary focus of their preaching and that this focus remains relevant and appropriate for the church today.  He calls the preaching of Peter and Paul “apostolic, Christocentric preaching” and he devotes the first portion of the book to making a case for this type of preaching in the church today.  In doing so he reviews the work of the apostles and then explores the ways in which the church has historically interacted with their model, including both its rejection and later recovery. 

After making what I believe to be a compelling case for apostolic, Christocentric preaching Johnson shifts to giving practical instruction in how it can be done, which is the part of the book that I found to be overflowing with wisdom for the modern preacher.  The idea suggested in the subtitle of the book “Preaching Christ from all the Scriptures,”  that all of scripture is filled with Christ, and filled in such a way that it can be preached to a modern congregation, may seem to be an impossible one.  Preaching Christ from Chronicles?  Preaching Christ from Psalm 102 or 113?  Preaching Christ from Revelation 12?  The Bible is filled with page after page after page of many types of literature, written by many human authors, over a span of thousands of years.  Can Christ, and particularly his redemptive work, be found and made known in all of it?  To these questions Johnson offers a resounding “Yes!” as he points out the landmarks that would guide a preacher desiring to follow the redemptive-historical path.     

The last two chapters of the book are titled “Preaching the Promises” and “Preaching the Promise Keeper.”  In these chapters Johnson deals in turn with the various literary genres of the Old and New Testaments.  Working with an example of each genre, i.e. historical narrative, law, wisdom, poetry and prophecy for the Old, and gospel narrative, parable, epistolary doctrine, epistolary exhortation, wisdom and prophetic vision for the New, he demonstrates the ways in which each sample text bring forth the redemptive work of Christ.  And for his examples Johnson hasn’t picked texts in which Christ is patently obvious, but he uses examples such as 2 Samuel 16:1-14, Proverbs 15:27 and Luke 16:1-13. 

In the example from each genre Johnson explains in very real ways the markers that point towards Christ and God’s eternal plan to redeem his people.  To give further help to the preacher in understanding and applying the apostolic, Christocentric method he provides an outline of what a sermon shaped on the sample texts could look like.  Johnson’s method and purpose are not merely theoretical, but he is also attentive to the fact that all preaching should speak with relevance to the lives of those listening in our congregations each time we gather for worship.

I could go on and on about how good this book is and the very gentle and practical wisdom it offers to the preacher who would seek to make the finished work of Christ the unifying point of their preaching.  Instead I will conclude with two final thoughts, as I commend all who “preach,” be it vocationally or in their living as a disciple in the world, to consider their own work on behalf of God.  The first is related to the title of the book, Him We Proclaim, which comes from Paul’s letter to the Colossians.

The singular work that God did through Christ is the only bridge in which a sinful man or woman can cross over to be united with a holy God.  This is the message that must continually be brought to the world.  The Gospel has many things to give shape to our lives in the love of God, but none of it matters absent the redemptive work of Christ.

And the second reason we need to frequently and joyfully preach the redemption known in Christ is that while living in a fallen and broken world we are bombarded with things that push us away from him.  All believers in Jesus have known times when their mouths professed faith but their hearts were going in the opposite direction.  And those living without a saving faith in Jesus are not even aware of the barriers in their lives blocking their understanding of God’s word.  In either case these words of Johnson are true:

“[The] defenses of the human heart are harder fortifications to breach than the massive walls of unscaleable stone that encircled ancient Jericho.  Yet, the apostolic preacher has in his arsenal the very weapons that can pierce stone-hard hearts and invade spiritual death with new life: the gospel of Christ, carried forward by the invincible Spirit of Christ.” (90) 

As you read this book and apply its principles may you know God’s power and peace as he reveals Christ to you in all of scripture, so that you may carry his redemptive work more fully in the world.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Guaranteed Forever

Yesterday I received a final gift for Christmas.  We had visited a group of relatives in Iowa, primarily to celebrate our daughter’s recent birthday with them.  After spending the afternoon together, as we were leaving the house of her grandparents, we were handed a package with some gifts for us.  Since we had already said all of our good-byes and our daughter was on her way to the car we just said “Thanks!” and headed off, to open them after we got home. 

In the package for me was the tool of a man’s dreams…a 14-in-1 multi-tool!  One of those folding tools that has inside of it a pliers, a saw, a file, a knife and ten other useful gadgets.  I already have one of these types of tools but right away I thought that this would be a handy thing to keep in my car.  I even had a minor problem with my car that I was able to fix with the 14-in-1 multi-tool last night. 

But more than its overall usefulness, the thing about the tool that really caught my eye was a phrase on the package it came in, which said:

Guaranteed Forever

There are many things in life that have guarantees.  Appliances, cars, bicycles and many other things have guarantees.  A guarantee is a generally a pledge that something will perform in a certain way for a period of time, and that it will be replaced or repaired if it does not do so. 

Some guarantees are conditional, i.e. they last for a period of time or are only valid in certain circumstances.  How often have we seen or heard the phrase, “Limited lifetime guarantee?”  That has always struck me as being open to a lot of interpretation.  What about the guarantee is limited?  And for whose lifetime?

One variation of a lifetime guarantee is offered by Bill Bussman, a mandolin maker in New Mexico.  His instruments are guaranteed to the “original owner for the life of the maker.” 

Sometimes the inclusion of the guarantee is what draws us to the particular product in the first place.  Craftsman brand hand tools are one such example for me.  Their tools are guaranteed.  Period.  If I ever break or wear out a tool of theirs they will replace it, without question.  Once I found a Craftsman hammer.  20 years later the handle cracked and I took it in for replacement.  The guarantee they offer on their tools is so comprehensive that it covered a tool I hadn’t even paid for.   

Craftsman tools are sold by Sears, a company that has existed over 125 years, which is longer than the lifetime of any person known to be living on earth today.  So their guarantee would seem to out-last a human lifetime, possibly approaching “forever.”  But what of my multi-tool and its claim to be “guaranteed forever?”

First off, it’s not a name brand tool.  It’s not from Craftsman, Snap-on, Stanley or other well-known manufacturer.  The label is “Tool Shop,” which is not one I had ever heard of before.  The tool itself seems to be something decent, although there is no mention whatsoever on it of the “Tool Shop” brand.  Turning the package over I learned that the guarantee is through Menard’s, and it covers everything except the knife blades.  So much for the fairly simple claim of “Guaranteed Forever.”  And Menards is a very big company, one which has been around for 50 years, but that doesn’t suggest to me that they have the wherewithal to guarantee something forever, which is a really, really long time.

On the other hand I doubt that they literally mean “forever” but that more likely they mean “for a pretty long time, at least for those people who keep track of the packaging, amidst all the other detritus of their lives.”

There is, however, one thing that I know of that is indeed “Guaranteed Forever,” and that is the gift of relationship that comes through faith in Jesus Christ.  Speaking of this gift in John 4:13-14 Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well,

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

It would be fairly shallow of me to assert that Jesus merely offers himself to those who would have faith in him so that they can receive the simple benefit of “eternal life.”  I’ve picked a few verses from John to show something about God’s gift, but it isn’t as simple as imaging Jesus strolling through the neighborhood saying, “Eternal life is right here!  Come and get some for yourself!”  Something much deeper is going on in Jesus’ offer, and also in our decision to accept it on faith.  In the offer of Jesus to the Samaritan woman, and to us, he is reconciling, or 'making right' in himself, God’s justice and God’s mercy.

Article 20 of the Belgic Confession helps us understand this more clearly, saying:

We believe that God—who is perfectly merciful and also very just—sent the Son to assume the nature in which the disobedience had been committed, in order to bear in it the punishment of sin by his most bitter passion and death.

So God made known his justice toward his Son, who was charged with our sin, and he poured out his goodness and mercy on us, who are guilty and worthy of damnation, giving to us his Son to die, by a most perfect love, and raising him to life for our justification, in order that by him we might have immortality and eternal life.

The words of the Belgic Confession spell out in explicit terms how far human sin separates humans from the righteousness of God, and how the only way the chasm that holds a holy God on one side and a sinful human on the other can be bridged is through the work of Jesus. 

In the bringing together God’s justice and mercy in Jesus, in his finished work on the cross and resurrection to eternal life, the person accepting Jesus offer, by faith, receives perhaps the only thing that is truly “Guaranteed Forever.” 

A 14-in-1 multi-tool is indeed a handy thing to have around and I think that whenever I use the one I received yesterday I’ll always be mindful of a more perfect gift, in fact the most perfect gift, the free gift of eternal life, known only in Christ.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Moment in Time

It’s a New Year, so to speak.  I’m aware that as I write this, on January 4th, that most of us have seen many of our regular friends and acquaintances and have wished them the best for 2012.  So now it seems past time to say “Happy New Year” and time to get in the habit of writing, or typing, “2012” without occasional lapses back into “2011.”  Some people have made New Year’s resolutions, resolutions that have already been forsaken less than 96 full hours into the year, despite the best of intentions when they were made.  Others may be using the New Year to mark the start of an intention to change one or more things in their life, shying away from the firmness of the word “resolution,” so that there is a little room for flexibility as change takes place.  Life change, be it for better or worse, occurs much more often as a process than in one fell swoop.  

As we think about time it is true that when we track it with a calendar we are now into something different than we were a few days ago.  2011 ended on December 31st and it is now most certainly 2012.  Calendars give us a reference point, both forwards and backwards.  I’m looking forward to seeing my father soon, for his 80th birthday.  And as a country we’ve recently noted the 10th anniversary of the events that took place on a particular September 11th, a date so well known that we often refer to it simply as 9/11.  Nearly everyone knows the year of 9/11, without it ever being stated. 
And while today is Wednesday, January 4th, 2012, it is a particular date that is also somewhat arbitrary.  It is a reference point, but the developers of the calendar could have placed the month, or the day, or even the year, nearly anywhere.  As a matter of fact, when the calendar we currently use, the Gregorian Calendar, was implemented, there was a loss of 11 days in the shift from the Julian Calendar.  In the first places it was used people went to bed on October 4, 1582 and the next morning it was October 15th!  There are numerous calendar systems in the world and our 2012 is someone else’s 1374, 6762 or what have you.

Regarding the arbitrary aspect of calendars, I read a thought on New Year’s Eve that said that “every moment of existence is just a random point in the time-space continuum.”  I think that the writer was expressing the thought that each day is just a particular point-in-time in the entire span of history, perhaps a point with significance to some particular people, but without real significance or meaning that could transcend great periods of time, such as centuries or the markers of geologic time.  The meaning of 9/11 may tug deeply at our emotions but when placed against a geologic scale that is relatively short, such as the Jurassic Period, a “mere” 50+ million years, then 9/11 doesn’t look very important at all.   

All of the above is to set the stage for my belief that in all that seems to be random and arbitrary about time, there are three, or perhaps four, specific days in time which have significance to the life of each person.  

The first is time’s beginning.  Much has been written by scientists and theologians about time and when it began.  Frankly, I don’t have enough understanding of either side of the argument to address it here, let alone to argue for or against a particular theory of the age of the universe and our planet Earth.  As a Christian I do believe that all that exists has been created by God, and Genesis 1 begins with the phrase “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” and verse 5 closes “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”  All creation, time included, has as its beginning the moment when God spoke creation into existence.  None of us would exist but for God’s act of creation.

The second essential day is that certain one to come, when the world as we know it will come to an end.  Both scientists and theologians agree, I think, that our world will one day be no more.  I think that they may also agree that there is no way of predicting when that will be.  For the non-Christian the world’s end may be a moot point, something that will likely occur very long after they themselves have died.  

For the Christian this coming day, the “Day of the Lord,” has an entirely different significance, for is it the time when God will definitively set all things right in all of creation.  The Bible provides us with a glimpse of this in Revelation 21 and 22.  In Revelation 21:5 Jesus says “Behold, I am making all things new” and that is one promise among many that I am eager to see fulfilled.    

The third “day” that I believe has significance for all people is that one which Christians believed happened about 1980 years ago, in the movement from Good Friday to Easter.  The exact days when this happened are not of great importance, however the fact this did happen is the hinge point of all history.  Everything in history revolves around what God did in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  We have heard the words of John 3:16-17 so often that we may often lose track of the depth of their meaning.  

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Jesus lived a sinless life, one that he willingly sacrificed to atone for the sins of all who would believe in him.  God accepted this atoning sacrifice, this payment for the sins of others, so that all who believed in Jesus could be made right before God, and could live with God eternally, in the beauty and glory portrayed in Revelation.

Which brings me to the fourth day, the day a person grasps onto Jesus in faith, saying, “I believe.”  Some of us who have done that may have a specific memory of its happening.  We may recall the date, or the place, or an activity, or an emotion.  In my case, when I looked back several years later, I realized it wasn’t specifically saying “I believe” but in the saying of a prayer that I could not have said without having belief.

If you have read this far and have faith in Jesus this may be the time to offer a prayer of praise and thanksgiving, as you remember what God has done in your life and what he promises to do in your future.  Both your present and eternal future.  And then maybe ask God to show you a person in your circle of acquaintances that you might share your faith with, so that they could know those promises too.

If you have read this far and are unsure of where you are with God, then take a moment and consider how God may be reaching to you at this moment.  Revelation 22:17 says,

“The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.”

The Spirit is God and the Bride is his church, made up of all who have believed in God throughout history, and all are joined together to invite you to take by faith the only thing that can satisfy spiritual thirst.  It is the invitation of a lifetime, an eternal lifetime.  I invite you to consider it.

We have passed into a new year, a very small point on God’s time-space continuum, and I thank and praise God that he is the creator of time.  And I thank God that he has promised to hold, eternally, myself and all who experience that moment in time of coming to him in faith. 

To God be all glory, now and forever. Amen.