PERPETUAL

I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life. [John 5:24 (NLT)]

monarch - caterpillar - butterflyDeath is the consequence of sin—of living in a fallen world—but Jesus promised that all believers have eternal life. In the Apostles’ Creed, we affirm our belief in this “life everlasting.” Eternal life, life in perpetuity, life forever and ever: how can that be? For centuries thousands of inventors have attempted to make a perpetual motion machine that will run indefinitely with no input of energy and have failed every time. Apparently perpetual motion violates the first and second laws of thermodynamics. If perpetual motion is an impossibility, perpetual life seems improbable, as well. It seems to violate all sorts of natural laws let alone human logic. God, however, isn’t limited by thermodynamics, any other law of nature, or human understanding; after all, He’s the author of them all!

The Greek word translated as “eternal” is aiónios which means eternal, forever, everlasting or perpetual. When combined with the Greek zoe (meaning life), it focuses not just on quantity of time but also on the quality of that time! The eternal life promised in the gospel isn’t just about the number of years; it is about the fullness of that unending life. Independent of time as we know it, eternal life is not something for which we need to hope. Jesus didn’t promise eternal life at some point in the future. Using the present tense, He said that “anyone who believes has eternal life” [John 6:47] For Christians, eternal life starts when we first believe in Christ. It has begun!

When our heart stops beating, our brain ceases functioning, and life has ebbed out of our body, we won’t stop existing. We will, however, change form. The caterpillar that wriggles along leaves and branches with its sixteen legs looks nothing like the butterfly whose beautiful wings enable it to flit from flower to flower. Nevertheless, they are the same creature with the same DNA. It will be much like that for us when we leave this dimension and enter into the next. While our bodies as we knew them will cease to exist in this world, our spirit or soul will continue into the next and (unlike a butterfly) last forever!

As a believer who is closer to the end of her years than the beginning, I find comfort in knowing that Jesus has already made good on His promise of eternal life. It’s mine already! When the time comes for my last breath, it simply will be like going to sleep as a caterpillar and awakening as a perpetual butterfly.

For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God. [1 Peter 1:23 (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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MORE QUALIFIED THAN WE THINK

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. [Philippians 4:13 (NLT)]

great blue heronAlthough it was noon during the heat of the day when most people would be resting, the woman came to the well for water. Perhaps, because she’d been married five times and was living with a man not her husband, the other women in the village made it clear that she wasn’t welcome in the early morning or late evening when they gathered there. Nevertheless, it was with this woman that Jesus had the longest one-on-one conversation recorded in Scripture. It was to this Samaritan woman that Jesus revealed He was the Living Water she so desperately needed.

Throughout Scripture, we find God using those who seem least qualified to do His work. An unnamed woman of questionable character became His first evangelist in Samaria and a Gentile man so possessed by demons that he’d been chained and shackled in a cave was chosen to evangelize in the Decapolis. Abraham, a coward who twice gave his wife to other men to save himself, was God’s unlikely choice to be the father of all nations and his wife Sarah, an infertile old woman, was chosen to be the mother of those nations. God chose an old man with a speech impediment to demand that Pharaoh let His people go and a shepherd boy with a slingshot to fell a giant and lead a nation. A man so afraid of the Midianites that he hid in his winepress while threshing wheat and called his clan the weakest and himself the least of them, was chosen by God to defeat Israel’s oppressors. Chosen to spread the gospel to all nations was a Pharisee who hated Christ’s followers and silently watched while Stephen was stoned by an angry mob. A prostitute, a widow who masqueraded as a prostitute, a hated Moabite, an adulteress, and an unwed teen from an insignificant village were chosen as part of His Son’s family tree. To bear witness to the empty tomb, God chose women: people who couldn’t even testify in court!

Were any of these people qualified for the role they were called to play? Probably not, but that didn’t matter because God will qualify the ones he calls. Can we fell giants with a slingshot or lead an outnumbered army to victory? Probably not…unless God calls us to do that very thing! When we answer His call, He will equip the unequipped, enable the unable, strengthen the weak, embolden the meek, empower the powerless, encourage the discouraged, and do the extraordinary with the ordinary.

Now may the God of peace… equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen. [Hebrews 13:20,21 (NLT)]

He said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. [2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (NLT)]

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HE HAS FAITH IN US!

And I’ve got something to tell you, too: you are Peter, the rock, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell won’t overpower it. [Matthew 16:18 (NTE)]

Kandersteg - SwitzerlandAfter Simon Peter professed his belief in Jesus as the Messiah, the Lord declared that he would be known from then on as Peter (Petros) meaning rock (petra). Yet, a short time later, the Rock became a stumbling block when he resisted all that being the Messiah required: Jesus’ suffering and death. When studying the man our Lord chose to lead His church, we find Peter had enough faith to climb out of the boat but not enough faith to trust Jesus when the wind started to blow. Impetuous, Peter immediately wanted to memorialize the Transfiguration rather than learn from it. Presumptuous, he hastily spoke for Jesus regarding paying tax to Caesar. Rash, he used his sword to wound the high priest’s slave. He resisted Jesus when the Lord knelt with a wash pan at his feet and, after boldly declaring his commitment to Jesus, denied him three times within a few hours! Yet, it was to this man that Jesus entrusted the job of shepherd and the task of feeding His sheep!

The rest of the disciples were no better. Along with Peter, they thought Jesus was talking about bread when He warned them about the yeast of the Pharisees, argued with one another about who among them was the greatest, fell asleep when asked to pray, abandoned Jesus following His arrest, and returned to fishing after the crucifixion.

Not a one was a scholar, aristocrat, or priest. Yet, it was to these common ordinary men, men who had sinned and who were likely to sin again, men who had failed Jesus while He was flesh and blood, to whom Jesus entrusted His church! Although the only thing extraordinary about the disciples was their faith in Jesus, He charged them with the Great Commission: the future of His church. Have you ever wondered at the tremendous faith Jesus showed in the disciples 2,000 years ago? Legions of angels could have spread the Good News wider and faster than any mortal and yet Jesus had faith that His band of ordinary men would obey His command and succeed!

Christ’s followers continue to be as unremarkable and flawed as were Peter, John and the rest of the disciples. Nevertheless, Jesus continues to have faith in us. It is through the power of His Holy Spirit that we carry on the good work begun by those first believers. Let us continue to have faith in the God who has such great faith in us!

A dozen ignorant peasants proclaiming a crucified Jew as the founder of a new faith; bearing as the symbol of their worship an instrument which was the sign of ignominy, slavery and crime; preaching what must have seemed an absurd doctrine of humility, patient suffering and love to enemies – graces undreamed of before; demanding what must have seemed an absurd worship for one who had died like a malefactor and a slave, and making what must have seemed an absurd promise of everlasting life through one who had himself died, and that between two thieves. [“The Divine Origin of the Bible” by B.B. Warfield]

Jesus came towards them and addressed them. “All authority in heaven and on earth,” he said, “has been given to me! So you must go and make all the nations into disciples. Baptize them in the name of the father, and of the son, and of the holy spirit. Teach them to observe everything I have commanded you. And look: I am with you, every single day, to the very end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20 (NTE)]

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GROUNDHOG DAY…AGAIN

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. [James 1:2-4 [(NLT)]

ground squirrel - chipmunkWith each new day feeling like yesterday, we decided to watch the 1993 movie Groundhog Day. In it, the discontented TV weatherman Phil Connors, played by Bill Murray, is trapped in a time loop and keeps reliving February 2. At first, he takes advantage of never having to reap the consequences of his selfish actions but grows tired of his hedonistic life. When the predictability of the day causes boredom, depression, and cynicism to set in, he commits suicide several times—only to wake again and again on the same February 2. Eventually, Phil comes to grips with his situation and decides to make the most of it. Among other things, he learns to to play jazz piano, speak French, memorize the life story of everyone in town, sculpt ice, and master the art of flipping cards into an upturned hat. As he betters himself, he begins to better the lives of the people around him. The time loop eventually ends when the changed man finally gets the day right by caring more about others than himself.

Although many people have tried to estimate how many Groundhog Days Phil experienced, even co-author Danny Rubin wasn’t sure. He said the point of the movie “was that you had to feel you were enduring something that was going on for a long time… I don’t know. A hundred years. A lifetime.”  Psychologists actually have named the feeling that we’re caught in a rut the “Groundhog Day Syndrome” and, with this self-quarantining, we may feel as trapped as was Phil Connors.

Even though they can’t agree on what it means, people from various religious backgrounds view Groundhog Day as a spiritually meaningful movie. Buddhists see samsara or continuing rebirth and Hindus see reincarnation. With good deeds begetting more good deeds, Jews see the fulfilling of the Torah’s 613 mitzvoth while Roman Catholics see Phil’s situation as purgatory. Psychiatrists see it as a metaphor for psychoanalysis, soldiers as a film about boredom, motivational speakers as an illustration of transformational self-improvement, and one film critic saw the groundhog as symbolic of the risen Christ! Sometimes, however, a movie is just a movie.

Perhaps the meaning of Groundhog Day comes down to the words in Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” After all, even though Phil changes, his circumstances and the people of Punxsutawney don’t. But, once Phil starts changing the only thing over which he does have control, which is himself, the weatherman finds that his circumstances eventually do improve.

Whether it was Max Lucado or Mark Batterson who originally said, “The circumstances we ask God to change are often the circumstances God is using to change us,” they’re right. Phil’s circumstances changed him for the better and God can use our circumstances to change us—if we let Him. Let us remember that, until our last day, we are works in progress; even though we can’t change what is happening around us, our hearts and minds can change. As they do, we may just find the world around us changing, as well. COVID-19 will still be here, just as Punxsutawney and the groundhog were still there for Phil. Nevertheless, Phil’s life changed and, just as he found joy in his circumstances, we can, too!

We have little control over the circumstances of life. We can’t control the weather or the economy, and we can’t control what other people say about or do to us. There is only one area where we have control—we can rule the kingdom inside. The heart of every problem is the problem in the heart. [Warren Wiersbe]

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. [1 Peter 1:6-7 (NLT)]

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NLT)]

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THE REAL QUESTION

So, my dear family, this is my appeal to you by the mercies of God: offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. Worship like this brings your mind into line with God’s. What’s more, don’t let yourselves be squeezed into the shape dictated by the present age. Instead, be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you can work out what God’s will is, what is good, acceptable and complete. [Romans 12:1-2 (NTE)]

agoseris (orange) - mountain dandelionLike Job, we want to know “Why?” Wanting to understand the inexplicable, there are some who claim this pandemic is a sign of the end times; indeed, it is a terrifying time. When Jesus spoke of the end times, however, He warned His disciples to be wary about the signs and not to be misled. When we start looking for signs, we begin reading meanings into things that aren’t necessarily there. While we know that chaotic and difficult times will pave the way for Jesus’ return, we also know that chaos, difficulty, and even pandemics have been characteristics of life since the exile from Eden. I don’t know if this is a sign of the end times but I am cautious of doomsday prophets who claim to know what God is doing. Let us remember Jesus’ own words: ”No one knows the day or hour when these things will happen not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” [Matthew 24:36] If neither Jesus nor angels knew, I doubt a mere mortal does! Whether or not the Australian wildfires, African locusts, and COVID-19 are precursors of things to come doesn’t change what’s happening or our reaction to them.

“Do you suppose,” said a friend, “that God got so sick and tired of our bickering, conflicts, and complaint that He’s sent us all to our rooms as punishment?” Indeed, there are some who say this pandemic is God’s judgment upon his sinful children. He’s used plagues before and it wasn’t just the Egyptians who suffered them at His hands. After the Israelites worshiped the golden calf, God sent a plague upon them; when they complained of no meat, He struck them with another plague; and, when they complained about Moses and Aaron, a plague that killed 14,700 quickly followed. When David sinned against God by taking a census, 70,000 innocent people died in a plague. Since God used plagues to discipline His children in the past, we might wonder if COVID-19 is His punishment for our sins. We simply don’t know and I would be cautious of anyone who claims to know the answer; Job’s friends got in trouble for that very thing! God made it clear to Job that the “why” is really not ours to know.

Perhaps, rather than sending us to our rooms as punishment, our loving Father has given us a “time out” for an attitude adjustment. Could this be God’s version of a “market correction” when, following a drop of 10%, the value of over-priced stocks are adjusted to more accurate levels? Instead of stocks, however, could this be a time to correct our priorities: a time to reevaluate their value and adjust them to more godly levels? When viewed in the light of this pandemic, many of the things we once thought important have become meaningless and some things we took for granted have become precious. Just as a stock market correction is a reminder for investors to reassess their holdings, this pandemic may be a time for us to reassess our priorities and values. What is worth keeping and what should we let go?

Jesus told us that wherever our treasure is, there will be our heart. Perhaps we’ve been sent to our rooms to examine our hearts: to see ourselves in a spiritual mirror to determine how much like Christ we look, how attached we’ve become to the things of the world, and determine who and what comes first in our lives.

None of us can divine God’s purpose; He didn’t tell Jesus or Job so I don’t think we can expect to know. Rather than asking “why?” theologian and author Timothy Keller says the question we should be asking is this: “Is God to whom I look to and trust in when bad things happen?”

You must keep all earthy treasures out of your heart, and let Christ be your treasure, and let Him have your heart. [Charles Spurgeon]

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus continued. “Trust God – and trust me, too! … I’m leaving you peace. I’m giving you my own peace. I don’t give gifts in the way the world does. Don’t let your hearts be troubled; don’t be fearful. … I’ve said these things to you so that you can have peace in me. You’ll have trouble in the world. But cheer up! I have defeated the world! [John 14:1,27,16:33 (NTE)]

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