Saturday, May 28, 2011

First (and Second) Causes

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

One of the theories of the origin of the universe put forward by philosophers is called the “First Cause.” If you are not familiar with it, here is an excerpt from an overview:

The first cause argument takes the existence of the universe to entail the existence of a being that created it. It does so based on the fact that the universe had a beginning. There must be something that caused that beginning, a first cause that consists of a series of events stretched across time in a long causal chain. Each one of these events is the cause of the event that comes after it, and the effect of the event that comes before it. If we trace this series of events back in time, then what do we find? There seem, at first glance, to be two possibilities: either we eventually reach the first event in the series, the cause at the beginning of the universe that set everything going, or there is no first event in the series and the past stretches back into infinity. The first cause argument tells us that the second of these is not possible, that the past cannot stretch back into infinity but rather must have a beginning. The argument then proceeds by suggesting that if the universe has a beginning then there must be something outside it that brought it into existence. This being outside the universe, this Creator, the first cause argument tells us, is God.[1]

I’m sure, you and I, as Bible believers (and rational beings), know that this is not a theory, but a fact. This is true for the universe and all God’s creation, including you and me. George McDonald said it beautifully: “Thou art my life—I the brook, thou the spring/Because Thine eyes are open, I can see/Because Thou art Thyself, ‘tis therefore, I am me.”

But as lofty and beautiful as all this may seem, I am forced to ask, do we really believe it? Do we really see God as the First Cause, or are we more focused on those second causes, people or circumstances that seem to have precipitated our woes. Can we honestly see like Joseph that what is truly evil, God means to be for the good of His children? Not just sickness and heartache, but treachery, injustice, abuse, and sin. God was not the Creator of sin, but he was not unaware of it when He chose to manifest His creative and redemptive power. To say that when bad things happen to good people, it is in spite of God is to miss the point. His vision is long range, and His compassion for us goes beyond our present distress to the future glory…His and ours (2Cor.4:17).

The verse in Jeremiah says God is always thinking about us (if you change “thoughts” to “plans,” as the NIV does, you’ll miss that sweet truth); and those loving thoughts are never thoughts of evil, only of peace. It is safe to say that if you and I can allow this truth go from our heads to our hearts, we’ll experience that same peace.

God is not only the First Cause in the universe; He is First Cause in everything that happens in our lives, as well. Believe it!

[1] "The First Cause Argument." N.p., n.d. Web. 28 May 2011.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Best of Me

“And the glory thou gavest me I have given them: that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me. “ (John 17:22)

This verse, as well as all of chapter seventeen, speaks of our union with Christ and other believers. Speaking to His Father, Jesus compares it to the union between the two of them (“…that they may be one, even as we are one…”). And as the verse indicates, it’s a glorious union. He goes on to say, “I in them, and thou in me.” God was in Jesus, and Jesus is in you and me. I hope I’m not being sacrilegious when I say that this brings to my mind those little wooden nesting dolls. You know, inside the outermost one is another, smaller one, and inside that one a smaller one yet. But in our case, the sizes are miraculously reversed, because inside of us is Jesus and inside Jesus is God.

We’re tempted to say that such verses are “mystical,” but the Bible has another word for it. “To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col.1:27). Not mystical, but a “mystery,” something once concealed, but now revealed. And the verse makes it abundantly clear that having Jesus Christ “nested” within us, if you will, is the only hope you and I have of going to Heaven. We are one with Him; and wherever He is, is where we’ll be.

Jesus also says in this verse in John that he intends for this union to be mirrored, as well, in our relationship as believers to one another. There should be a spiritual intimacy in the Body of Christ that transcends what this world calls friendship. It’s a family thing. This is why when one of us suffers, we all should feel pain; and when one of us excels, we all should feel pride (1Cor.12:26). We are not “joined at the hip”; we’re joined at the heart!

When I speak of such things, especially my own union with Christ, I must acknowledge, I’ve told you more than I understand, and less far than I deserve. But I know that this glorious union with Him is who I am. And there is no doubt in my mind…..the best of me is Him.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


“Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.” (2 Corinthians 5:16a)

Are you familiar with the term used in computing, “wysiwyg” (pronounced wiz-ee-wig)? It’s an acronym for “What you see is what you get.” It indicates a system of editing in which the end result will look like what you’re seeing during the process. As you can imagine, it can be very helpful. But the term doesn’t hold true for people. Much of the time, what you are seeing is only a façade for what is truly there. This goes both ways, I think.

Paul tells us three verses prior to the one above that there were, and are, those within the family of God who “glory in appearance.” They are like the scribes Jesus talked about in Mark 12:38-40, who wore “long clothes” and prayed “long prayers” but came up short when it came to sincerity. As He says, their look of piety was just that: a look, not a life. And it is possible for you and I to limit our fellowship and esteem to those believers who look and act identical to us, placing ourselves in the same unenviable category of those who “glory in appearance, and not in heart.”

By the same token, the tendency to dismiss out of hand the least likely among us is to mimic the attitude of the Pharisee who was quick to point out his own spiritual strong points at the expense of the publican, who had little more to recommend him than his ability to see his own sinfulness (Luke 18:10-13). No small endorsement, as it turned out (v.14). The vessels of honor and dishonor talked about in 2 Timothy, chapter two, had one thing in common; they were both in the “great house.” And the Pharisee and the publican were alike, in that both went up to the temple to pray. When I go to church on Sunday, I don’t always look like some others sitting around me; but I am aware that some of these who are fellow believers may have daily fellowship with God that rivals, and perhaps surpasses, my own.

Whatever Paul may have meant when he compared the way we see one another to the folly of trying to limit Jesus Christ to the body He occupied here on earth, it is obvious that just as there was so much more to the Man, Christ Jesus than what they were able to see and handle (1Jno.1:1), this fact remains: what you see is not always what you get. What you get—what is truly there—may be much less…or much more than what it appears to be.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Stay-At-Home Warrior

“Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above the women in the tent.” Judges 5:24

Mary, the mother of Jesus, was told that she was blessed “among women” (Luke 1:28), a high compliment, indeed. But, as you can see, this woman is called blessed “above women.” This is puzzling, especially when you take into consideration that we have the record of only one episode in her life. Her name is Jael (pronounced as two syllables), and we read about her in Judges 4:17:22 and 5:24-27. Here’s the story:

The Israelites were once again in bondage to another nation, because, once again, they had done “evil in the sight of the Lord.” If you are familiar with this book of the Bible, you are aware of this reoccurring scenario. Each time, God raised up a deliverer; and this time, it was the Deborah, the fourth judge, who, along with Barak, was pressed into service to lead the battle against the current oppressors, the Canaanites. When you read Judges 4:9, where Deborah says to Barak, “I will surely go with thee, notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the Lord shall sell Sisera [the Canaanite captain] into the hand of a woman,” it’s easy to assume she is referring to herself. But, if so, you would be wrong. As you will see, it’s Jael to whom she is referring.

By the time you reach Judges 4:17, Israel, led by Deborah and Barak, has killed every last Canaanite warrior, except the captain, Sisera, who somehow had managed to slip away and flee for protection to Heber the Kenite, his supposed ally. But, for some reason, he didn’t go to the men’s tent, but rather, into the tent of Heber’s wife, Jael. As far as what happened next, I can only tell you the “what,” not the “why,” humanly speaking. But then there’s a lot in the book of Judges that defies explanation.

Jael welcomed Sisera into her tent, promised him safety, gave him refreshment, and covered him with a blanket when he lay down. Then, when he had fallen asleep, she crept in with a hammer and nail, and promptly fastened his head to the ground by driving the nail through his temples. I’m not sure why she did this; but I do know the man was God’s enemy and He used her to bring judgment on him.

I laid this groundwork to drive home one principle that those of us who are, or will be, wives and mothers should not forget. Notice again the last part of verse twenty-four, where we read, “Blessed shall she be above women in the tent.” Here I wish to make a distinction between Deborah and Jael, and use them both to illustrate a truth.

Deborah represents to me the Christian woman who, for one reason or another, is thrust into the world outside her home, ostensibly to work, etc., but more importantly, to do battle for God. Jael, on the other hand, is the stay-at-home woman—confined to the “tent,” if you will. But (you’re way ahead of me, aren’t you?) both women did battle for God, each in her own way, in her own place. And each was successful.

If Jael had not been at home that day, she would not have been able to strike that fateful blow for God; and Sisera would have slithered to safety and lived another day to defy the armies of God. So, here is my challenge: if some of us women do not stay at home, under pressure to do otherwise, we will lose an opportunity to do battle for God in the hearts and lives of those within our sphere of influence there. Everyone knows you always have the advantage when you are competing on home territory.

Jael did not ride a mighty horse into battle that day, nor did she sing a song of triumph at victory’s end with other warriors; but she did manage to do in the captain of the enemy, who had slipped away from everyone else. And she was able to do it, because she was exactly where God meant for her to be…in the tent.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Sudden Fear

“Be not afraid of sudden fear…” (Prov.3:25)

There is a fear that is not occasioned by an obviously fearful phenomenon or event, but by the fact that it comes suddenly, without cause. It’s not something that can be reasoned away, for it lacks all reason. It would be like arguing with a ghost or boxing with a shadow. Solomon called it “sudden fear.” We often refer to it as a panic attack; and the medical world, that must have its own terminology, calls it, General Anxiety Disorder. But if you are one of its 2.4 million suffers, you probably think a more accurate term would be “hell.”

It is interesting that it’s seen twice as often in women than men. I attach no significance to this, except to say that it’s probably something you and I should talk about. I have friends and family who have been plagued by it, at one time or another, with differing symptoms. There are various theories as to its origins, but nothing definite, so that they are unable to do much more than treat the symptoms, usually with drugs that sometimes only add new ones.

The word “panic” literally means fear caused by the horned and hooved Greek god, Pan, who, it was believed, could cause a feeling of sudden fear in humans whenever he wanted. It’s not a new malady, for it’s mentioned in ancient history; nor is it an imaginary one, which should be of some comfort to those who suffer from its ravages and be remembered by those of us who have not experienced it.

Solomon encourages those plagued by these phantom horrors to acknowledge that, in this case, it is not what we fear that hurts us, but rather, the fear itself. He gives no formula or ritual to dispel the demons, but offers a reason why it is an unnecessary fear: “For the Lord shall be thy confidence…” (v.26). To put confidence anywhere else is to apply a band-aid on a gaping wound; it will not hold for long. The words are not given as a cure-all; they’re simply a fact. They are not some kind of mantra to chant, but a truth for faith to lay hold of. I sounds simple, I know, but I am also aware that the laying-hold-of may seem just out of reach to many. Here I defer to the Holy Spirit to do what only He can do: change what is real into reality.

I offer these few words to those of you who I know live with these fears and anxieties, as well as others of you of whom I am not aware. They do not come from a scientific mind but from a sympathetic heart. God says to us, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love” (Jer.31:3); and the New Testament tells us, “There is no fear in love” (1Jno.4:18). It’s not our love for God that makes the difference; it’s the realization, by faith, of God’s eternal love for us that has the power to banish all our fears…even the sudden ones. For the unforeseen dread that squeezes our lungs, races our hearts, and threatens our emotional stability, there is a quiet peace available in the arms of our loving Heavenly Father.

My prayer is that these words may light up the dark corners in someone’s life today. Maybe yours.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

An Appetite For Tempatation

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the graden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)

We all have it, you know—an appetite for temptation, that is. Some may have a well-developed version, by means of practice; but all of us salivate to some extent when we’re faced with a “forbidden fruit.” For example, although I am fairly sure the late night and early morning head congestion that plagues me, is only exacerbated by the dairy products I consume, I still find myself inordinately drawn to ice cream, yogurt, and cheese, etc. This is a physical manifestation of a spiritual truth.

Our flesh is the traitor within that’s in league with our mortal enemy.

Why would God plant a restricted tree in an otherwise unrestricted garden? You may well ask. But any answer to this question would only be speculation, because, as He reminded Job, we weren’t there (Job 38:4), and, anyway, when it comes to things like motivation and eternal purpose, we just don’t think like God (Isa.55:8). But one thing is for sure; not only did its presence in the Garden serve as a spiritual stethoscope for God, it also gave Adam and Eve a window into the perverseness of their own hearts. To have every kind of tree readily available to them and yet not be content until the one and only restriction has been breached, gives us some idea of the power of the sinful nature we inherited from this pair.

You and I may be naïve enough to think we would have responded differently to the infamous “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”; and, if so, we have ample opportunity to try to prove it. But we should always acknowledge the sinful appetite passed down from our original parents, while at the same time realizing we don’t have to take a bite of every temptation with which we are confronted. This is especially true since you and I have the advantage of a heavenly “appetite suppressant”—the blessed Holy Spirit! And think of this way: every time we choose not to indulge our unholy appetites, we are saying to God, “I love you more.