ANALOGIES (The Trinity-Part 1)

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” [Matthew 3:16-17 (NIV)]

apache plumeI don’t think there is a way we can fully understand the Trinity—how one God can exist as three distinct and complete persons: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Sometimes, it comes down to finding analogies that come close. A common one is that God can be experienced in three forms just as water can be experienced as a liquid, solid or vapor. Like every analogy, though, it isn’t quite right. At Jesus’ baptism, God appeared in all three personages at the same time but water can’t do that! As imperfect as they are, however, analogies help us better understand the mystery of the Trinity.

It was hearing a chef on the Food Network use the term “holy trinity” that brought to mind another analogy. Rather than talking theology, the chef was making a mirepoix—a mixture of onions, celery, and carrots. Just as these three distinct vegetables combine into a flavor foundation for stocks and stews, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three distinct persons who combine into one being and form the foundation of our Christian faith. In spite of a chef’s mirepoix being called a “holy trinity,” however, the analogy doesn’t capture the concept fully. In a mirepoix, once the vegetables are combined and sautéed, they are no longer distinct—not so with the Holy Trinity. Even when combined in the Godhead, all three persons of the Trinity retain their individuality.

Rather than a mirepoix, perhaps the chef’s cookbook makes a better analogy. Having length, width and thickness, it is three-dimensional. Its length is not its width, its thickness not its length, and its width not its thickness and, while they all differ, none is more important than the other. Each is a separate and distinct measurement and yet they connect into one book and, if we remove any one of the dimensions, we no longer have the book. The Godhead, like a cookbook, has three unique dimensions that combine to make up the entirety without changing the original dimensions.

God, however, is neither dimension nor thing; He is a being. Analogies will always fail us because they are limited by human comprehension. Nevertheless, being pretty much incomprehensible doesn’t mean the Trinity isn’t real. It just means that understanding an unlimited God is too immense for our finite minds. If we could fully understand the essence of God, He wouldn’t be God!

The point isn’t to understand it all; it is simply to know and be known by God. While I have but a vague understanding of the Trinity, I believe in it because I have experienced all three persons! I pray to God the Father, have knowledge of Him through His Son Jesus Christ, and have His Spirit living within me. Thank you, God!

That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal. [Athanasian Creed]

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. [2 Corinthians 13:14 (NIV)]

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. [John 14:26 (NIV)]

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THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS

Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. [1 John 3:18 (NLT)]

In another Pearls before Swine comic (drawn by Stephen Pastis), we see Goat, in the middle of the desert, on the phone with Rat. “My car broke down and I’m stranded in the middle of nowhere. Can you help me?” asks Goat. “Sure,” answers Rat, “I’m sending you thoughts and prayers.” In the last frame, Rat says to Pig, “It’s so much easier than getting up.”

Following Hurricane Harvey’s devastation in 2017, I saw a meme of an empty cargo truck with the words, “Don’t worry Texas! The first load of thoughts and prayers just arrived!” Let’s face it, thoughts and prayers don’t help people in the same way that donating blood, packing supplies, or sending money, clothing, food, or clean water do. But, as Rat said to Pig, sending thoughts and prayers is “so much easier than getting up!”

The old cliché doesn’t even make sense. Although we can think about someone, how do we send them our thoughts? Does it involve telepathy or clairvoyance? Sending anyone other than God our prayers seems an awful lot like idolatry and promised prayers frequently never materialize. I suspect that the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan told the injured traveler he was sending thoughts and prayers before departing and leaving the man half dead beside the road. Rather than promising thoughts and prayers, it was the Samaritan who compassionately served the man’s needs.

Jesus spent a lot of time in prayer but He also was a man who turned His thoughts and prayers into action! Rather than sending thoughts and prayers to the widow of Nain, He returned her son to life! Instead of sending thoughts and prayers to the man with the deformed hand, the ten lepers, or blind Bartimaeus, Jesus healed them! He didn’t send thoughts and prayers to His mother when she ran out of wine in Cana or to Martha and Mary when Lazarus lay in the tomb. When the disciples said the crowd was hungry, rather than telling them to send the people home with their thoughts and prayers, He said, “Feed them.” Whether an observant Jew, collaborating tax collector, Roman centurion, adulterer, demoniac, or Samaritan, Jesus never responded to their suffering simply by sending thoughts and prayers.

Since seeing that meme in 2017, I no longer say that I’m sending my thoughts and prayers but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped thinking about and praying for those who are suffering. It’s that I know I am called to do more. Prayer without action is as incomplete as faith without works. While we may not be able to reach out and personally impact the lives of those for whom we pray, we can pray for those who are serving them. As we pray for others, we find our hearts and eyes are opened not only to their needs but also to the needs of those right in front of us—the people whose lives we can change. We can reach out and touch them in some small way, even if it’s with cans of soup for the food bank, shopping for a neighbor, or talking with someone whose skin is a different color than ours.

Right now, our fallen world is filled with pain, anger, disease, hate, hopelessness, and sorrow. Economic wreckage, racism, a pandemic, and political unrest have come together in a perfect storm that is raining chaos, fear, frustration and violence. In Sunday’s Op-Ed for The Washington Post, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, said, “We must still choose love.” That love consists of more than sending thoughts and prayers. Instead of sending thoughts, I’m examining my own thoughts and attitudes to determine whether I am part of the problem or can become part of the solution. In addition to praying for the those who are hurting, afraid, angry, or troubled, I am praying that God will show us all how to participate in the healing so necessary in this troubled time. After asking what love looks like, the Bishop answered his own question: ”I believe that is what Jesus of Nazareth taught us. It looks like the Biblical Good Samaritan, an outsider who spends his time and money healing somebody he doesn’t know or even like.”

The following is a prayer for “the power of the Spirit among the people of God.” Written by a team of Lutheran and Episcopal prayer leaders, it is meant to unite believers in common prayer and revive us for a common mission. Let that mission be one of love.

God of all power and love, we give thanks for your unfailing presence and the hope you provide in times of uncertainty and loss. Send your Holy Spirit to enkindle in us your holy fire. Revive us to live as Christ’s body in the world: a people who pray, worship, learn, break bread, share life, heal neighbors, bear good news, seek justice, rest and grow in the Spirit. Wherever and however we gather, unite us in common prayer and send us in common mission, that we and the whole creation might be restored and renewed, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. [1 John 4:10-12 (NLT)]

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PENTECOST

And 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 know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. [John 14:16-18 (NLT)]

roseate spoonbill

After His resurrection, Jesus spent forty days with his disciples. On the fortieth day, He told them to remain in Jerusalem until they received the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. Then, with his followers watching, Jesus was taken up in a cloud and ascended into heaven. Bewildered, the disciples stood there until two angels promised that someday Jesus would return. We know the disciples attended to business by choosing a replacement for Judas, but how else did they spend their time? There were twelve apostles and about 120 believers. How difficult was it for this diverse group of people to keep the faith and wait ten days for something which seemed so perplexing? Where was this Holy Spirit promised to them? When would Jesus return? Did they grow impatient or begin to doubt what they’d seen with their eyes?

Yesterday was Pentecost (meaning fiftieth). At that first Pentecost, all of Jesus’ followers were gathered together because the Jewish holiday of Shavu’ot was being observed. Also called the Feast of Weeks, Shavu’ot (or Pentecost) occurred seven weeks after Passover and celebrated both the first harvest and Moses being given the law at Mt. Sinai. It was one of three pilgrimage festivals when all able-bodied Jewish men were required to visit the temple and offer sacrifices.

It was on this fiftieth day after Jesus’ resurrection that the Holy Spirit, accompanied by high winds and tongues of fire, descended upon Christ’s followers. As every believer was filled with the Spirit’s power, he or she began to speak in other languages. Shavu’ot had brought together Jews from fifteen or more different regions, each with its own language, and yet everyone was able to understand the Spirit-filled Christians as they spoke. The Holy Spirit had empowered the disciples to bring Christ’s message of salvation to all people.

It hardly seems an accident that God chose Shavu’ot for such a miraculous event to occur and not just because Jerusalem was teeming with people from far and wide. On a day when people went to the temple to be in God’s presence, the Holy Spirit’s arrival meant that God could always be present in His people. On a day that commemorated the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai—an external means of keeping Israel from sin—the Holy Spirit descended and believers no longer had to adhere to laws carved on stone. By His power, the law was now written on their hearts and, through Him, believers could live righteously. On a day that celebrated the first harvest, 3,000 people were baptized. That incredible first harvest of souls marked the beginning of the New Testament church. So, in a way, while Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, Pentecost celebrates the birth of the Christian church.

Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away—all who have been called by the Lord our God.” [Acts 2:38-39 (NLT)]

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TAKE A CENSUS

Mallard ducksHe will say to them, “Listen to me, all you men of Israel! Do not be afraid as you go out to fight your enemies today! Do not lose heart or panic or tremble before them. For the Lord your God is going with you! He will fight for you against your enemies, and he will give you victory!” [Deuteronomy 20:3-4 (NLT)]

The book of Numbers lives up to its name with two censuses commanded by the Lord. The first was taken a year after the Israelites’ departure from Egypt, around 1444 BC, in the Sinai wilderness. Only men over twenty (not counting Levites) were counted and the total was 603,550. With the addition of women, children and Levites, the number of people in the exodus is estimated at two million. The purpose of the census was to assess Israel’s military strength, to keep an accurate record of genealogies, and to organize this enormous group into effective groups for both travel and battle. Family banners identified the tribal units so they could stay together as they moved and camped. A year later, convinced that the power of God and over 600,000 fighting men were not enough to defeat their enemies, the Israelites refused to enter Canaan.

Thirty-seven years later, when a new generation of Israelites was camped on the east side of the Jordan River, a second census was conducted. Like the first, this census ascertained military strength but also determined the amount of land allotted to each tribe. 601,730 fighting men were counted—slightly less than when they refused to enter Canaan the first time. Their opponents were no less formidable a generation later but this generation didn’t underestimate the power of God and the value of each man; they conquered the same people their parents had feared.

If we took a census of our assets, what would we list? Along with our faith in God, we might list things like bank accounts, investments, homes, possessions, education, experience, reputation, and even family. Would we list our sisters and brothers in Christ? I ask because I recently overlooked this valuable asset.

It had been a difficult week for me; writing had gone badly, the news was worse, loved ones were hurting, and a cloud of sadness enveloped me. While I’d been prayerfully bringing my concerns to God, I was trying to muddle through on my own. During our weekly church board teleconference, I reluctantly admitted my struggle and asked for prayers. Our pastor immediately led us in prayer before we continued our meeting. Immediately after its adjournment, my phone rang. On the other end was a fellow board member with words of encouragement—words I desperately needed to hear.

Sometimes we’re so determined to be good examples of faith that we let pride get in the way. We allow God to see the chinks in our armor but no one else. We’re told to share one another’s burdens and to encourage, pray for, and counsel one another but how willing are we to ask for help, encouragement, prayers, or counsel when we need it? We don’t have an army of over 600 thousand fighting men but we are blessed with an army of people who care: the prayer warriors, encouragers, comforters, helpers, and even correctors who are found the body of Christ. They aren’t, however, mind readers!

A Christian isn’t meant to go it alone. Jesus never compared us to solitary animals like bears or leopards; He compared us to sheep, creatures that follow a shepherd and gather in a flock. Take a census today and count the people in your life who give you strength—the people who will walk with you on your rocky road and prop you up when you weaken. Let us never be afraid to ask for assistance from our brothers and sisters in Christ. Unlike the Israelites, we shouldn’t underestimate the power of God and His army! Remember, it’s not the size of the army that’s as important as the size of their faith!

Blest be the tie that binds Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds Is like to that above. …
We share each other’s woes, Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows The sympathizing tear.
[John Fawcett]

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. [Galatians 6:2 (NLT)]

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THE LEIDENFROST EFFECT

I praise God for what he has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me? [Psalm 56:4 (NLT)]

leidenfrost effect

Two businessmen were touring a foundry. When they entered the smelting area with its vats of molten metal, their guide said it was possible to safely pour that hot metal over someone’s hand if the hand was first dipped into water. When he asked if either gentleman cared to give it a try, the first man said, “I’ll just take your word for it.” The second man agreed and dipped his hand in a tub of water. When the molten metal was poured over the wet hand, it streamed off without causing him pain or injury. Although the first man said he believed the guide, the second one showed his faith in the man by acting on his belief.

Because of something called the Leidenfrost Effect, you really can dip your hand into water and then pour a stream of molten metal over it without pain or injury; a tiny layer of steam would insulate and protect your damp hand from the hot metal. Just because we could do it, however, doesn’t mean we should. The effect is short lived and I don’t suggest trying it at home!

I understand the Leidenfrost Effect and have seen it demonstrated; in theory, I believe in it. In actuality, however, I’d never trust it enough to give it a try! I’m like the Israelites during the Exodus. Although they witnessed God’s power over and over again in the plagues God visited on Egypt and when they safely crossed the Red Sea, saw the defeat of Pharaoh’s army, drank sweet water that once was bitter, gathered both quail and manna from heaven, and saw water spring from a rock, they continued to doubt. In spite of God demonstrating the truth of His promises throughout their journey, the Israelites spurned the God of miraculous provision while camped at Kadesh by refusing to enter Canaan, the land He’d promised to them. How much proof did they need that God would be true to them? Sometimes, even seeing isn’t enough to truly believe and trust.

It’s easy to have faith when the outcome is known. Our challenge is to believe and trust when the outcome is unknown or there is an element of risk, such as third degree burns or formidable foes. Because the power to believe a promise depends on our faith in the one who makes the promise, I wouldn’t have trusted the factory guide enough to put my wet hand under molten metal and, without trusting that God would be true to His promises, the Israelites wouldn’t obey Him!

Unlike the Israelites, do we have faith in the One who guides us through life? In the end, the difference between intellectual belief and actual faith is a willingness to take action: to step out in obedience. We have more proof of God’s faith, love, and power in Scripture than all the YouTube videos about the Leidenfrost Effect. Yet, there are many who probably would place their damp hands under molten metal before trusting their unknown fate to a known God! Isaac Watts said, “I believe the promises of God enough to venture an eternity on them.” What about you? Who do you trust? In whose hands have you rested your fate?

God never made a promise that was too good to be true. [Dwight L. Moody]

For the word of the Lord holds true, and we can trust everything he does. [Psalm 33:4 (NLT)]

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. [Hebrews 10:23 (NLT)]

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THE ASCENSION

He showed himself to them alive, after his suffering, by many proofs. He was seen by them for forty days, during which he spoke about God’s kingdom. [Acts 1:3 (NTE)]

He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end. [Nicene Creed]

viceroy butterflyYesterday was the 40th day of Easter and Ascension Day (or the Feast of the Ascension): the day we remember Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Although Augustine of Hippo and his contemporaries John Chrysostom and Gregory of Nyssa held that the Feast of the Ascension originated with the Apostles and possibly dated as far back as 68 AD, no written evidence of its celebration until Augustine’s time in the fourth century exists today. From his time on, however, it has been a church holiday. Nowadays, it is observed primarily in Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and liturgical Protestant churches.

At Easter, we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection: His return to life and to His disciples. Yesterday, some of us may have observed His departure from the disciples. Whether or not we consider Jesus’ ascension into heaven a religious holiday, it is a significant event in Christianity. Rather than stopping at the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, we should continue through His ascension, when Jesus was seated at the right hand of God, and all the way to Pentecost, when His Holy Spirit came upon His followers.

Jesus’ ascension signified that His task on earth was complete. His time here over, He was returning to His full heavenly glory to reign as the one true King. Until His return, only one more piece needed be put in place – the giving of the Holy Spirit – which would happen ten days later on Pentecost.

Unlike most partings, Jesus’ departure was not a sad farewell but a joyous one. It must have been a glorious sight as the disciples stood on the Mount of Olives and watched Jesus being taken up in a cloud. If any had doubted before, they now knew for sure that Jesus truly was God and His home was in heaven! As they stood there, astonished, with mouths agape, two angels appeared and assured them that someday Jesus would return in the same way He left: physically and visibly!

Before parting, Jesus commissioned the disciples to be His witnesses “to the ends of the earth.” The disciples didn’t just stand there and wait for His return and neither should we. He gave us all a job to do until that day comes.

As Jesus said this, he was lifted up while they were watching, and a cloud took him out of their sight. They were gazing into heaven as he disappeared. Then, lo and behold, two men appeared, dressed in white, standing beside them. “Galileans,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you saw him go into heaven.” [Acts 1:9-11 (NTE)]

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