INCOMPREHENSIBLE BUT REAL

moebius band - moebius stripAnd I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you will know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. [John 14:16-17 (NLT)]

 I tell you the solemn truth, that the doctrine of the Trinity is not so difficult to accept for a working proposition as any one of the axioms of physics. [Henry Brooks Adams]

Writing about our Trinitarian God yesterday, reminded me of the Möebius strip (or band). Ever since my college roommate showed me one, I’ve been fascinated by it. To make one, take a paper strip, give it a single twist and tape the ends together to form a loop. If you draw a line from the seam down the middle of this strip, the line will meet itself back at the same seam but on the other side of the paper. If you continue drawing the line, it then meets at the starting point (and will be twice the length of the strip of paper) without ever needing to lift your pen. This single continuous line shows that the Möebius strip has only one boundary or surface. Imagine an ant crawling in a straight line along the length of that twisted and taped strip. It would return to its starting point having traversed every part of the strip without ever crossing an edge. Basically, something that looks as if it has two sides (and was made by a piece of paper that did), actually has only one surface or side.

If you cut this once-twisted piece of paper down the center line, you’ll end up with one long strip that now has two twists and two surfaces. If you cut that strip again, you end up with two intertwined strips and it just gets more confusing after that! German mathematician August Möbius’ discovery of the oddity in 1858 resulted in the development of a new field of mathematics called topology. While there are all sorts of algebraic and geometric explanations for this simple but remarkable piece of paper, I understand none of them.

Although I see how the Möebius strip could be applied to conveyor belts, continuous-loop recording tapes, and typewriter ribbons, I don’t understand its application in physics, music, engineering, chemistry, or topology. Understanding how it happens, however, isn’t necessary for me to know what happens when I take a strip of paper, give it a single twist, and tape it together!

For me, comprehending the Holy Trinity is a bit like my fuzzy understanding of the Möebius strip. I know it exists but I’m not quite sure how it works. I’ve experienced it but I can’t explain it. That the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God while, at the same time, the Father is neither Holy Spirit nor Son, the Son is neither Holy Spirit nor Father, and the Holy Spirit is neither Father nor Son is beyond human understanding!

Even without understanding how God is one in essence but has three united persons in that essence, I know our Triune God exists. Scripture tells us there is only one God and yet it also tells us that God exists in three persons. All three were present at Jesus’ baptism and He spoke of them. Moreover, just as I’ve witnessed the reality of a Möebius strip, I’ve witnessed the reality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as they work in my life. That the concept of one in three and three in one is complex and puzzling doesn’t mean it isn’t real! Even though it’s beyond our understanding, like the Möebius strip, all we have to know is that it’s true!

Bring me a worm that can comprehend a man, and then I will show you a man that can comprehend the Triune God. [John Wesley]

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

GOING “ALL-IN”

My dear family, I don’t reckon that I have yet overtaken it. But this is my one aim: to forget everything that’s behind, and to strain every nerve to go after what’s ahead. I mean to chase on towards the finishing post, where the prize waiting for me is the upward call of God in King Jesus. [Philippians 3:13-14 (NTE)]

dolphinJeopardy contestant James Holzhauer became known for his 32-game winning streak, massive winnings, and his “all-in” hand gesture while putting all of his winnings on the line when answering a Daily Double. A new champion is in the making with Ph.D. student Matt Amodio. Like Holzhauer, he plays an aggressive game and is not timid when it comes to the Daily Double. Last Wednesday, after saying “all-in,” he wagered his entire holdings of $8,000 and lost it all; undeterred by the previous night’s Daily Double loss, he again went “all-in” with a $10,400 wager the next day. His willingness to go “all-in” has paid off handsomely and, by the end of the week, he’d won 28 games and amassed $1,004,001.

Seeing both Holzhauer and Amodio fearlessly go “all-in” when it comes to game show winnings, I wondered if we’re as fearless when it comes to going “all-in” when it comes to God. Showing tremendous confidence in their intelligence and knowledge of trivia, neither contestant allowed previous set-backs to keep them from their purpose. Granted, their goal was to amass as much money as possible yet I question whether we’re as confident in God and as determined in our purpose to serve him faithfully. Are we “all-in” when it comes to following Jesus?

Scripture’s heroes are people who went “all-in” – not with their money but with their lives. Noah was “all-in” when he built the ark on dry land, Jochebed was all-in when she placed the infant Moses in a basket and placed him on the bank of the Nile, and Abraham went “all-in” when he left his homeland, packed up his possessions, and set off to parts unknown. The unmarried Mary wasn’t so naïve that she didn’t know the risks of her choice, but she went “all-in” when she chose to become pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Think of John and James who went “all-in” when they left their father and fishing boat or Matthew who left his lucrative tax collector job. Peter went “all-in” when he stepped out of the boat to walk on water, the woman with the bleeding disorder was “all-in” when she ventured into the crowd to touch Jesus, and the unnamed woman was “all-in” when she anointed Jesus’ feet and hair with her tears and costly jar of fragrant oil. The poor widow was “all-in” when she dropped two small coins in the collection box, Stephen was “all-in” when he continued to preach the gospel as stones rained down on him, Barnabas went “all-in” when he sold his land and gave the proceeds to the church, and Peter and John were “all-in” when they defied the authorities and continued to boldly proclaim the gospel. Like Holzhauer and Amodio, they took risks with no guarantee of success but, unlike those game show contestants, they didn’t do it for themselves; they did it for God. It wasn’t an earthly prize they sought; it was a heavenly one!

Think of the rich young ruler who, although he wanted to know Jesus, was reluctant to surrender to Him. Unwilling to go “all-in,” he walked away from the Lord and missed an eternal relationship with God! What about us? Are we “all-in” when it comes to Jesus? With His words that we are to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind,” Jesus is telling us that we are to go “all-in” all of the time. Do we?

He then spoke to them all. “If any of you want to come after me,” he said, “you must say No to yourselves, and pick up your cross every day, and follow me. If you want to save your life, you’ll lose it; but if you lose your life because of me, you’ll save it. What good will it do you if you win the entire world, but lose or forfeit your own self? … “Nobody,” replied Jesus, “who begins to plough and then looks over his shoulder is fit for God’s kingdom.”  [Luke 9:23-25,62 (NTE)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

 

EXPECT TROUBLE

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. [Ephesians 6:10-12 (NLT)]

sunset

While talking about discerning God’s plan for us, a friend said she knows she’s chosen the right path when she moves forward in a plan and doesn’t encounter obstacles or challenges. After thinking about it, I beg to disagree.

Three gospels tell of the time Jesus and the disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee to escape the crowds. In a fishing boat without sails, the men rowed while Jesus slept. The lake is known for violent squalls that arise suddenly and one such storm did. As the wind blew and the sea surged, the waves broke over the gunwales and the boat began to fill with water. Sure they’d sink and drown, the disciples awoke Jesus. After admonishing the men for their lack of faith, He quickly rebuked the squall and calm was restored. That the wind and waves obeyed Jesus demonstrated His sovereign reign over nature. Scripture made it clear that only God has dominion over the natural world and the men wondered at Jesus’ ability to calm the storm.

While the storm presented an opportunity for Jesus to reveal the source of His power and authority, could there be more to it? Have you ever wondered why the exhausted Jesus wanted to cross over the lake to the Gentile region of Gardara or why the boat was pulled ashore near burial tombs? I suspect that Jesus knew of the two demon-possessed men living in those tombs and that He deliberately went there to exorcise their evil spirits. Rather than a teaching lesson for the disciples, could the storm have been Satan’s way of keeping them from their destination? Satan certainly had a vested interest in keeping Jesus from reaching the other side of the lake and, not wanting to lose those two captive souls, he attempted to prevent Jesus’ arrival with wind and waves. That storm occurred precisely because Jesus was doing God’s work!

When looking through Scripture, we find that encountering rough seas, storms, and obstacles seem to be a part of following God’s will. During the time he followed God’s plan, the Apostle Paul experienced ill-health, defections, beatings, imprisonment, at least three shipwrecks, and eventually martyrdom. Think of the troublemakers, false prophets, fabricated accusations, and persecution faced by the early church (all of which were courtesy of Satan). The enemy has been trying to thwart God’s plan since Eden; he’s not about to stop now!

When we are following God’s plan, we should expect opposition because the enemy does not want us to accomplish what God has purposed for us. Opposition doesn’t mean we should abandon ship; we just need to get on our life jackets and keep rowing! Like the early church, we do that by defending the truth, sharing the Good News, giving our concerns to God, living by faith, and remaining steadfast in our mission. “If you are going to walk with Jesus Christ, you are going to be opposed,” said preacher George Whitefield. That was true when he said it in the 1700s and it remains true today.

The way to thwart the devil is to strengthen the very thing he is trying most to destroy—your faith. [John Piper]

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:38-39 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

IT’S NOT ABOUT THE MONEY

Woe betide you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You’re like whitewashed graves, which look very fine on the outside, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and uncleanness of every kind. That’s like you: on the outside you appear to be virtuous and law-abiding, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. [Matthew 23:27-28 (NTE)]

yellow hawkweedAlong with proclaiming the Word of God, the young Church was committed to ensuring that there were no needy among them. As a result, many of the early believers voluntarily sold their property and shared their wealth with the rest of the church community. Barnabas, for example, sold a field he owned and generously brought the money to the apostles for those in need.

Immediately following the mention of Barnabas in Acts, Luke tells us about Ananias and Sapphira. Like Barnabas, they sold some land and brought the proceeds to the apostles but, unlike him, the couple retained some of the funds. But, wanting to impress everyone with their generosity without actually making a sacrifice, they claimed to have contributed the full amount. Peter, however, knew better and confronted each one about their deceit and they were struck dead in divine judgment.

This is a troubling story when we mistakenly think of it in terms of how much of our money we should give to the church. It’s important to remember that Ananias and Sapphira’s sin wasn’t in keeping some of the money; it was theirs to do with as they wished. The sharing among believers wasn’t compulsory and didn’t originate in the law. It originated in love and was completely voluntary. Rather than the sin of greed, the couple’s sin was that of hypocrisy; they wanted to impress the church into thinking they were something they clearly were not. They lied to the church but, worse, they lied to the Holy Spirit! Luke tells us that “great fear” struck the entire church when the learned what happened to Ananias and Sapphira. It should strike fear in us as well! The message, however, isn’t about money; it’s that God will not tolerate deception in spiritual and personal matters.

None of us manage to fully live up to our ideals and values; we’re flawed human beings who miss the mark in a variety of ways. That we fail to be the person we should be does not make us hypocrites; it’s failing to be the person we claim to be that is hypocrisy! Putting reputation before character, the hypocrite creates a public impression at odds with his or her true self.

The book of Acts relates how the early church was threatened by the world in which they lived: persecution, arrests, imprisonment, and even death. But it also relates how the church faced threats within its own community when the sins of a few (like Ananias and Sapphira) threatened the testimony of the church. Both threats continue today. I can’t help but wonder—if God dealt as severely with deceivers and hypocrites today as He did with Ananias and Sapphira, how many people would be left to fill our pews on Sunday morning?

The hypocrite, certainly, is a secret atheist; for if he did believe there was a God, he durst not be so bold as to deceive Him to His face. [Thomas Adams]

They declare that they know God, but they deny him by what they do. They are detestable and disobedient, and useless for any good work. [Titus 1:16 (NTE)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

OUR ENEMY

Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. [1 Peter 5:8-9a (MSG)]

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist and a magician with the same delight. [C. S. Lewis]

tiger

If asked to name your enemies, what would you answer? Unless you are embattled in a bitter lawsuit, you might say China, Russia, North Korea, or your fiercest business competitor. While you might even claim you have no enemies, would you think of mentioning things like discontent, doubt, resentment, discouragement, greed, despair, envy, pride, fear, or bitterness? Would you mention Satan, our greatest enemy—the  one who so generously gives us those unpleasant gifts? Probably not; yet Satan is far more dangerous than any nation, terrorist group, or cyber-criminal. Although his purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy, Satan rarely gets the recognition he deserves. Because we frequently think of him as a cartoonish character with horns and a tail, wearing red tights, and carrying a pitchfork, Satan doesn’t seem real or dangerous—but he is!

Our enemy is thrilled when we picture him as the silly red devil depicted on a can of Underwood deviled ham. If we recognized him as the repugnant fiend he is, we’d immediately flee in terror. Satan and his demons, however, are spirits, not beings, and have no physical likeness. We may not be able to see them, but we can see the destruction they leave behind with one glance at the day’s news.

Satan fell from grace when he opposed God and, as God’s adversary, he opposes God, His people, and His truth. “Satan” is the Hebrew word for adversary or opponent and “devil” is from the Greek diabolos, meaning accuser or slanderer. All that and more, as the father of lies, tempter, and sower of weeds, our enemy will do everything possible to thwart God’s purpose and destroy all that God loves.

Let’s never forget, however, that Satan is not, never was, and never can be God’s equal. Wanting to be God rather than God’s servant, Satan is more like a promising executive who grew proud, discontented, and jealous of his boss (the founder and owner of Heaven, Inc.). After Satan attempted a hostile takeover, the management easily defeated and fired him. Leaving with about a third of the original employees, Satan opened Evil, Inc. in direct competition. In an effort to destroy God’s customer base, Satan lies, cheats, and steals and offers an inferior counterfeit product that appears to be cheaper but costs far more in the long run.

Unfortunately, we seem more wary of the false advertising we see every day in the media than we are of Satan’s empty promises. While we might be able to spot a deal too good to be true in a magazine ad, we’re often oblivious to Satan’s subtle schemes. Even though the best he can offer is an eternity in hell, we keep falling for his lies. Like a good fisherman, he baits his hook according to the appetite of his prey!

A cunning enemy, Satan wants our souls far more than the most persistent telemarketer wants our money. If he can’t take our souls, he’ll use every tactic in his arsenal to hinder our witness and service. Limited in power, Satan is fighting a battle that was lost with Jesus’ resurrection; his final destination is eternal punishment in a lake of fire. That, however, doesn’t keep Satan and his demons from their malicious activities. Knowing how much God loves His children, Satan wants to wreak as much havoc and cause as much collateral damage as possible before the end. Let’s not play into Satan’s hands by failing to take our enemy seriously. It’s a matter of life and death!

Jesus once said that Satan was a thief. Satan does not steal money, for he knows that money has no eternal value. He steals only what has eternal value – primarily the souls of men. [Zac Poonen]

Don’t be gullible in regard to smooth-talking evil. Stay alert like this, and before you know it the God of peace will come down on Satan with both feet, stomping him into the dirt. Enjoy the best of Jesus! [Romans 16:19b-20 (MSG)]

After all, we don’t want to unwittingly give Satan an opening for yet more mischief—we’re not oblivious to his sly ways! [2 Corinthians 2:11 (MSG)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

MANY WRITERS BUT ONLY ONE AUTHOR

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return here but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. [Isaiah 55:10-11 (ESV)]

great blue heronA popular mystery writer, frequently on the best seller list, now writes most of his books in collaboration with another author. Several years ago, after reading one of his joint efforts, I stopped reading his work entirely. While I never expected a literary masterpiece, the mystery was unrealistic, implausible, and the chapters unconnected. Although it’s said that he sets the plot line and there is an intense back-and-forth between the authors, it didn’t seem that way to me. It was as if the two authors alternated chapters and, at the end of their chapter, each deliberately threw in some farfetched character or event as a way of challenging the other to make sense of it. Having a plot outline certainly didn’t mean continuity or structure in their book.

Six years ago, I was part of a book project in which twelve women, all Christian blog writers, were to write a chapter about being hurt, then healed, and how the Holy Spirit transformed them into wounded healers. In spite of having a similar theme, herding cats would have been easier than having twelve Christian women come together in a cohesive voice. Instead of being a patchwork quilt bound together by our experience with the power of the Spirit, we were more like twelve totally different blankets with absolutely nothing in common. While it seemed like a good idea at the time, it clearly was not Spirit led and, while wishing the project well, I withdrew.

If twelve Christian women couldn’t come together into a unified voice and two well-known professional writers seem unable to put together a simple plot, I find it amazing that some forty writers managed to put together the sixty-six books of the Bible over a span of about 1,500 years. It’s not always easy to read but, without a doubt, the Bible makes sense and has a unifying theme: the revelation of God’s plan and purpose for His people and His Kingdom.

Within this one book we find poetry, law, and history along with biography, wisdom, prophesy, and personal letters. Written in three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), the writing took place in various locations—from the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula to the king’s palace in Israel, from Babylon to a prison in Rome. The writers were a diverse group of men—ranging from a doctor, publican, tent maker/Pharisee, and adviser to a Babylonian king to fishermen, shepherds, kings, scribes, and judges. They all had their own style and, in some cases, even a specific audience. Nevertheless, in spite of their different backgrounds, languages, times, and places, there is a cohesiveness to what all of these men wrote and their words never contradict one another. Even with the writers’ different perspectives, they have a unified voice that proclaims the same one true God and Jesus as the way to salvation.

When two well-known authors working together can’t put together a solid well-written mystery and twelve women, living at the same time, speaking the same language, and claiming to be Christian writers can’t successfully put together their faith stories, how did the Bible’s forty writers manage to do it? Perhaps, it’s because people write what they want to say but the Bible’s writers wrote what God wanted said! The Bible may have forty different writers—the people who put pen to papyrus or parchment—but there was only one author: God. It was God who inspired those men and, because they wrote His word, the Bible is one uninterrupted and unified story. It is, indeed, “God-breathed.”

The Bible is God’s word in human words. [Mel Lawrenz]

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)]

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. [Matthew 24:35 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.