The Daily Discovery Blog is is a daily devotional along the lines of the Oswald Chambers classic, My Utmost His Highest. The Daily Discovery Blog makes use of the tools in The Discovery Bible that enrich and deepen the reading of Scripture by bringing out the word emphasis and other shades of meaning built into the original text that do not translate well to English. Continue reading
“[L]et us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely….” (Hebrews 12:1)
In my slow walk through the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, I am now in Hebrews. Before I was a believer, Hebrews was a book that had a profound impact on me. When read, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12), I felt the truth of that verse, though I had yet committed myself to the Word, which is Jesus.
Many years later, now, I still labor under the weight of sin that clings so closely. It can be hard reading these words, so many years after making that commitment, having to acknowledge the weight that remains, the sin that still clings so closely.
When I first read those words, and many others like them, I was convicted. I felt the sting of indictment on my life, and attitudes and condition. There was a harsh reality to them, a sharp edge. Reality can be like that.
It’s hard to read, to accept the indictment against me. It’s tempting to turn away, to ignore it. Like the person who fears he has cancer but pushes that nagging thought aside because it’s easier not to dwell on it. Even though we know that we should get a diagnosis, we find it easier, psychologically to ignore it.
But we might as well turn away from truth, from reality – from our very selves.
Reading from Luke 24:13-21.
That very day two [men] were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.
This encounter took place after Jesus was publically seized, tried and crucified. These men were discussing the events that everyone was talking about. Jesus had stirred up the hopes and dreams of the people in the region, including these two men, but that all ended shockingly and abruptly just a couple of days ago.
Everything changed. Expectations were dashed. They experience of the death of Jesus was overwhelming. It’s all they could talk about. And then, Jesus came and began to walk with them, but they didn’t even recognize him.
I wrote previously about fear and how God’s perfect love casts out all fear. The followers of Jesus all feared when he was taken away by the Romans in the garden. They continued to fear while he was being mocked and beaten and hung on the cross. After he was dead and buried, they hunkered down in fear, meeting behind blocked closed doors for fear of the Jews. (John 20:19)
Even after Jesus appeared to them, risen from the dead in the flesh, the apostles continued to live in fear. It was not until they were filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of the Pentecost that they emerged out of their funk from behind locked, closed doors to preach the Gospel boldly in the crowded streets of Jerusalem.
As I continue to read through the Bible, now in the book of Acts, I see something else that I hadn’t seen before. In Acts 3 & 4, we see Peter and John healing a lame man and being hauled in front of the Sanhedrin and instructed to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. After Peter and John left, they gathered together again with the fellow believers in Jerusalem and prayed for boldness to keep speaking the gospel in the name of Jesus!
I previously observed that this change from fearful believers hiding behind closed doors to bold proclaimers of the Gospel on the crowded city streets happened only after they were filled with the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t Jesus appearing to them, risen from the dead, that overcame their fear; it was the Holy Spirit! But there is more.
The apostle, John, wrote, “Perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18) This was written by a man who, when the chips were down for Jesus, scattered in fear with the rest of the apostles. As Jesus tried to tell them of the need for him to die and be raised from the dead, something the apostles did not understand, he predicted they would all forsake him.
“You will all fall away because of Me this night…. (Matthew 26:31)
Peter might have pumped his chest with bravado as he protested that others might leave Jesus, but he would never leave. (Matthew 26:32-33) But, Jesus knew better than Peter knew himself. He predicted that Peter, though swearing allegiance at that very moment, would deny him not once, but three separate times. (Matthew 26:34)
So great was the fear that overtook the disciples that they scattered after Jesus was taken by the Roman soldiers. Even Peter, who didn’t scatter, but stayed back to witness the interrogation, beatings, mocking and humiliation to which Jesus was subjected, denied that he knew him… three times.
Fear is a powerful emotion. It can overwhelm us and cause us to stumble from the path that we know is right. How do we overcome fear?
“But to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God— children born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13)
Johns packs a lot into these short verses, tucked into the first chapter of his Gospel that is profoundly full of other significant meaning:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. All things were made through him….In him was life, and the life was the light of men…. The true light…. was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him… he gave the right to become children of God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us….”
These are some of the most profound and remarkable verses in all of Scripture. God became flesh, and He lived among the people He chose as His own, but they didn’t even recognize who He was. But those who received – who believed Him – He gave the right to become children of God.
I see two choices here: the choice of receiving Christ and the choice God gives us after receiving Christ – the right to become children of God. My Reformed friends might be tempted to overlook the import of this power-packed passage. I am little unnerved by it myself, truth be told. I don’t trust my own heart to make the right choices!
God lets us choose Him: “But to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” But that isn’t the beginning of the story – or the end of it.
God chooses us. He gives us the right to become children of God[i], and He made that choice before the foundation[ii] of the world. We become the children of God not by blood descent, not by the will of parents or anyone else – maybe not even by our own will – but by God’s choice.[iii]
I do not have a systematic theology. I am not a theologian, and my understanding of systematic theology is limited, but free will has always seemed self-evident to me. It also seems eminently biblical. God created us in his own image[iv], and a primary characteristic of God is agency. We see in the story of Adam and Eve that God gave us agency too, by giving them dominion over the animals of the earth and in the choice to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The freedom to choose is also a necessary condition of love. God is love[v], and he created us in His image to reflect Him, to glorify Him and to love Him.
The point of an image is to image. Images are erected to display the original. Point to the original. Glorify the original. God made humans in his image so that the world would be filled with reflectors of God. Images of God. Seven billion statues of God. So that nobody would miss the point of creation. Nobody (unless they were stone blind) could miss the point of humanity, namely, God. Knowing, loving, showing God.[vi]
God created us to love him. Therefore, we must have agency/free will in order to be able to reflect back His love as He intended.
But there is another side to this. Continue reading
And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:5-13)
Reading through Luke recently this passage impressed in a way that hadn’t occurred to me previously. We often remember things out context, but context often provides a perspective that is lost when verses are read or remembered alone.
It seems that the ask, seek and knock passage is often remembered for the proposition that God will give us the good things for which we ask, seek and knock because a father doesn’t withhold the good things his children ask for. This seems certainly to be true, but there is much more going on here. If that is all we get out of this passage, we are missing the bigger picture and larger truth.
When I read back through the entire passage, I see a progression of intimacy that I had not seen before.
The Psalms are filled exhortations (encouragement, urging) us to be thankful and to praise God. We can easily gloss over the many examples and frequent reminders that we should give thanks and praise to God. We can easily miss the essence and significance of thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is coming up, a special day intended for Thanksgiving, declared a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Significantly, Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in the middle of the Civil War, while it was still raging after one of the bloodiest battles our nation has ever seen.
The decades and generations that have passed may have dulled our memories of the brutal reality of the Civil War. More Americans died in the Civil War than any other war. Anyone who has seen a Civil War surgeon’s tolls can imagine the brutality of it. Beyond the physical toll, Americans experienced the collective anxiety of a nation coming apart at the seams. The Civil War divided a nation, divided families and threatened an uncertain future.
The Psalms were penned (many of them) by King David, who reigned at the height of the glory of the Jewish nation. But David’s life was a rollercoaster of ups and downs. Continue reading
“[T]he mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject[i] itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so…. (Romans 8:7)
Life and death, the universe and all the “stuff” that is, ever was and ever will be are “in God’s hands”. That is another way of saying that God created everything. God is timeless and immaterial and has created all that is material out of nothing, including us.
But the material world, the world as we know it, is passing away, even from the moment it was created!
And that is all part of God’s ultimate plan, though we, being only part of the material creation, have a hard time seeing it.
So, what is the plan? Continue reading
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4:6-7
Verse 5 ends with the statement, “The Lord is near.” Then, it continues with, “Be anxious for nothing….” The Greek word translated “anxious” means to be literally drawn in opposite directions. It conveys the idea of being divided, pulled apart and distracted which is what worry does. Worry distracts us from faith and trust in God and His promises.
The word translated, “anxious,” is in the present imperative, meaning to stop (right now!) being anxious. Stop being divided in your affections. Stop being distracted and pulled in different directions. Stop it, right now! Stop, being distracted by worry and fear.
Because… the Lord is near! Continue reading