MONOLOGUE OR DIALOGUE?

Then God came and stood before him exactly as before, calling out, “Samuel! Samuel!” Samuel answered, “Speak. I’m your servant, ready to listen.” [1 Samuel 3:10 (ESV)]

snowy egret 0 tri-colored heronWhen friends moved into an apartment in a brand-new senior living community, I asked the wife how she liked it. While she liked their new home, she admitted being tired of meeting new people—and everybody there was new to the community! She then confided that it wasn’t the new people that exhausted her; it was having to listen to her husband tell their latest acquaintances the same old stories she’s heard him recite for the last thirty plus years! As nice as he is, I’m not sure I could have lasted three years, let alone three decades, with her loquacious husband. We’ve vacationed with this couple and her husband is best taken in small doses!

My conversation with her spurred me to ask another friend if she experiences the same thing with her equally outgoing and chatty husband, a man who is always ready to start conversations with strangers at the drop of a hat. She, however, hasn’t grown tired of meeting new people and hearing many of her husband’s same old stories. Oddly, I don’t think the difference lies in the wives’ attitudes—it lies in the men.

The first husband rarely pauses in his banter to listen to anything his listeners have to say. If they do manage to get a word in edgewise, he doesn’t let whatever has been said redirect his monologue. When he’s on a roll, there’s no stopping him. Conversing with him is more like listening to a long soliloquy or an operatic aria. He’s the star of his show and everyone else is his audience. Of course, his wife is tired of listening to him (as are many of his friends).

The second husband, however, is a wonderful conversationalist because he’s a good listener. While he may start the story, he draws in his listeners as he speaks. He asks questions, listens to their answers, and responds to their replies. His isn’t a solo performance; it’s an exchange of thoughts and ideas. He values what others say as much as what he has to say. Granted, he may tell many of the same old stories but, since others become involved in their telling and share their stories as well, there is always a new twist to them. Conversing with him is like being actors in the same play or singing together in a choir—everyone participates in the show.

Thinking of those two men, I wondered what it’s like for God when we come to him day after day in prayer. Does he ever tire of hearing the same thing over and over? When we pray, are we like the first husband? Do we approach God, time and time again, with the same old thanks, complaints, petitions and intercessions without waiting for his response? Do we focus our prayers on what we want rather than what God wants for us? Or, like the second husband, do we come to God as anxious to listen as to speak, as ready to learn as to explain, and as willing to change as to ask for change? When Samuel was just a boy, God spoke directly to him but we don’t read about Samuel giving God his two shekels’ worth in return. Samuel responded that he was ready to listen and, for the rest of his life, that’s what he did as he passed on God’s word to the Israelites.

While hearing is easy, listening is not and we can only hear God if we have a heart that listens. We expect God to listen attentively to us when we pray but I’m not so sure we do a very good job of listening in return. Since it’s difficult to hear anyone else when we’re doing the talking, perhaps we should follow the Psalmist’s advice to be still and know that He is Lord. I’m sure God is never at a loss for words but, if we’re not quiet, we won’t hear His voice! The Greek philosopher Epictetus said we have two ears and only one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak. Did I hear a heavenly “Amen!” to that?

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak. [James 1:19 (ESV)]

Hear, O my people, while I admonish you! O Israel, if you would but listen to me! [Psalm 81:8 (ESV)]

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SOIL AND WATER

For the Lord is a great God, a great King above all gods. He holds in his hands the depths of the earth and the mightiest mountains. The sea belongs to him, for he made it. His hands formed the dry land, too. [Psalm 95:3-6 (NLT)]

Burgess Creek - Steamboat CO“The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship,” said the Psalmist. [19:1] It’s not just the heavens, however, that declare God’s glorious existence. Something as lowly as soil or as ordinary as water testify to His magnitude, creativity, skill, wisdom, and attention to detail, as well!

Unless we encounter an earthworm or beetle while digging in the garden, we probably think of soil as lifeless when, in actuality, it’s a dynamic living ecosystem. One handful of productive soil contains about 100 billion microorganisms of bacteria made up of about 10,000 different species. In that same handful of dirt are 100 meters of fungal cells of some 500 species of fungi, along with 20 million protozoa, 100,000 nematodes (unsegmented round worms) and 50,000 arthropods (like centipedes and microscopic mites), along with any earthworms and algae that may have tagged along. There are more living organisms in a handful of soil than there are human beings on our planet!

As small as all those microorganisms are, consider that one drop of water (.05mL) contains 1.67 sextillion molecules of H2O (that’s 21 zeroes). Smaller than those molecules are the more than 5 sextillion atoms of hydrogen and oxygen in those molecules! If we were counting the molecules of H2O in just ten drops of water (.17 oz.), we’d need 210 zeros (a quantity outnumbering the stars in the universe and all the organisms in the soil combined)! We really shouldn’t be surprised; after all, this is the same God who glued those beautiful microscopic scales on a butterfly’s wings (600 per square millimeter), dropped miniscule pollen grains (.006 mm) in the forget-me-not, and packed 100 billion neurons in the human brain.

We stand in awe at the enormity of the Grand Canyon, the striking colors of Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring, the red and orange hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, or the flood of water surging over Niagara Falls (757,500 gallons per second) without giving a thought to the atoms that make up every drop of that water or the microscopic life existing in the world beneath our feet. The heavens may declare His glory and existence but so does the rest of His magnificent creation!

All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful: The Lord God made them all.
He gave us eyes to see them, And lips that we might tell
How great is God Almighty, Who has made all things well.
[Cecil F. Alexander]

They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. [Romans 1:19-20 (NLT)]

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PRIORITIES

And don’t be concerned about what to eat and what to drink. Don’t worry about such things. These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world, but your Father already knows your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need. [Luke 12:29-31 (NLT)]

bee on cloverIn writing about keeping the main thing the main thing, I mentioned the sisters Martha and Mary. Hospitality was highly valued in Jewish life and, as the host, Martha’s character and reputation depended on how well she managed her household and served her guests. Offering hospitality to a famous teacher was a great honor and, to show her devotion to Jesus, Martha seemed determined to make the most of it by preparing a lavish feast for Him. Unlike her sister, the contemplative Mary defied the customs of her day; rather than helping in the kitchen, she took the place of a disciple and sat at Jesus’ feet

Instead of keeping her eye on the main thing—which was Jesus—Martha was distracted by all that she was doing. The word usually translated as distracted is periespato. Meaning to be drawn away, troubled, or over-burdened, this is the only time it was used in the New Testament. The King James translation of this word as “cumbered” probably is a better picture of her state of mind. It wasn’t that a distracted Martha forgot to put out cups for the wine. She was weighed down and encumbered because she’d saddled herself with things of secondary importance and lost sight of the main thing.

Not needing an elaborate banquet or a perfectly set table, Jesus told Martha not to be concerned over the details. Explaining that there only was one thing about which to be concerned, He said Mary had found it. The exact identity of that one thing, however, is unstated. We understand Jesus’ words to mean that the Kingdom of God takes precedence over anything in the house, that sitting at the master’s feet and listening to Him is more important than chores, and that the Lord has first claim on our time.

Martha often is criticized for her concern with earthly matters while Mary is praised for her concern with spiritual ones. Let’s remember, however, that Jesus never said Martha had chosen something bad—just that Mary had chosen something better. In a way, these two sisters illustrate the two approaches to the Christian life mentioned by the Apostle James: faith and works. Rather than being mutually exclusive, they are complementary. Worship should lead to service, not replace it, just as service should lead to worship. Just as Martha lost sight of being with Jesus while serving Him, we must never allow our work for Him to eclipse our relationship with Him.

Our love for and service to the Lord must be intertwined and we shouldn’t neglect the one for the other. Nevertheless, when our work for Him takes away from spending time with Him, we must choose the better thing—being with Him is more important than serving Him. Let’s keep the main thing—our relationship with Jesus—the main thing.

Everything begins with the right priorities, and right priorities begin with God. [Woodrow Kroll]

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. [John 15:4-5 (NLT)]

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NEVER ASKED

monarch butterflyAnd if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. [1 Peter 3:15b-16 (NLT)]

In the epistle we know as 1 Peter (written between 60 and 64 AD), the Apostle offered encouragement to early Christians who were encountering persecution for their unorthodox beliefs. Rather than being intimidated by people or afraid of their hostility, Peter counseled them to acknowledge Jesus as the Lord of their lives and ruler of their hearts. Although that acknowledgement was in their hearts, he warned these believers to be ready with their answer should they could be called upon to explain the source of their hope and faith. The Greek word used was apologia which meant a speech in defense and was the term for making a legal defense in court. As if they were in a court of law, Christ’s followers were to be ready with a well-reasoned reply that adequately addressed the issue at hand while doing it in a humble and respectful way. Throughout his letter, the Apostle also addressed the conduct of Christians regarding their relationship with God, government, business, society, family, and the church. He advised his readers to live their lives in a way that would prove their opponents’ accusations unfounded.

I used to wonder how I would answer someone if they wanted to know the reason for my faith or the source of my hope. Should I keep religious tracts in my purse or a couple of pertinent Bible verses handy? I then remembered an old joke about the little boy who asked his father where he came from. The dad hemmed and hawed as he struggled with a rather long-winded and confusing explanation of the birds and bees. When done, the little boy looked at his father quizzically and said, “I was just wondering since Billy says he’s from Baltimore.” As the father learned, sometimes the simplest answer is the best one. If ever asked, the only explanation I’d need is that my hope comes from Jesus, from trusting in God’s promises, and from my conviction that God’s plans for me are for good and not disaster. Moreover, if and when such a question arises, I’m sure the Holy Spirit will be there to put His words in my mouth.

Thinking about Peter’s words, I realize that nobody has ever asked about the source of my hope or reason for my faith. While I’ve had people compliment the little diamond cross I usually wear, no one has ever asked why I wear it. I’ve had people ask where I purchased an outfit, who cuts my hair, what make of shoes I’m wearing, the kind of camera I use, and even the brand perfume I wear. Although I’ve been a walking advertisement for Tommy Bahama, Mimi’s Salon, Naot Shoes, Canon, and Prada’s Infusion d’Iris, I doubt that my devotion to Jesus is as discernable.

Perhaps, instead of worrying about how I would answer a question about the source of my faith, hope or love, I should be more concerned with why I’ve never been asked such a question. I wonder if it’s because, while my appearance (and even my scent) are evident, my faith in Jesus, my hope in God’s promises of forgiveness and salvation, and my love for God and my neighbor aren’t nearly so obvious in the way I conduct my life. They should be!

Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. [John 13:35 (NLT)]

Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.[Colossians 4:5-6 (NLT)]

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PRESENCE OR PRESENTS?

“I’m telling you the solemn truth,” he said. “You aren’t looking for me because you saw signs, but because you ate as much bread as you could. You shouldn’t be working for perishable food, but for food that will last to the life of God’s coming age – the food which the son of man will give you, the person whom God the father has stamped with the seal of his approval.” [John 6:26-27 (NTE)]

white peacock butterfly

As a result of Jesus miraculously providing food for a multitude with a boy’s lunch, the people wanted to make Him king. Rather than Caesar, they desired a ruler who would provide them with food and security. Realizing this, Jesus slipped away from the crowd. He and the disciples crossed over to the lake to Capernaum but the crowds followed Him there. Selfishly, they were looking to Jesus as if He were some sort of miracle-working vending machine—just pop in a material need and out would come a healing, feast, or wine enough for a week! Since they were seeking perishable bread rather than the enduring bread of everlasting life, Jesus confronted the crowd about their motivation. Like them, do we ever find ourselves seeking God’s hand rather than His face?

Most of the invitations we receive are for celebrations of retirement, landmark birthdays, or special anniversaries. They usually include something like, “Your presence would be the best present you could give us,” or “Your presence is present enough.” I wonder, are we are as willing to invite God into our lives with the same kind of wording? Or, like small children who greedily tear into all of their birthday gifts, are His presents more important than His presence?

Sometimes, when looking at my prayer list, I wonder if, like those people who followed Jesus looking for gifts, I might be more interested in Jesus satisfying my earthly wants rather than His filling my spiritual needs. Rather than abiding in meditative prayer, delighting in His presence, and getting to know Him, I often rush through a laundry list of requests. Rather than praying that He align my prayers with His will, I want Him to match His will with my desires. I often seem more interested in what He can give me than how I can best serve Him. I seem to forget that, when I invited Jesus to my party, it wasn’t for His presents; it was for Him!

In spite of those words requesting no presents on party invitations, there usually is a table laden with a variety of gifts and cards because people naturally want to give presents to the ones they love. God, like our friends, will also bring presents along with His presence when we invite Him into our lives. Because He loves us, He will lavish us with both His presence and the best presents possible: peace, love, forgiveness, guidance, faith, joy, wisdom, hope, and salvation.

God has bestowed upon us, through his divine power, everything that we need for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and virtue. [2 Peter 1:3 (NTE)]

Don’t worry about anything. Rather, in every area of life let God know what you want, as you pray and make requests, and give thanks as well. And God’s peace, which is greater than we can ever understand, will keep guard over your hearts and minds in King Jesus. [Philippians 4:6-7 (NTE)]

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FROM THE BEGINNING (Part 3)

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. [1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (NLT)]

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.  [Philippians 2:6-7 (NLT)]

oxeye daisyStarting with the Judaizers who believed that Gentiles first had to be circumcised and conform to Mosaic Law in order to be saved, the early church faced controversy within its ranks. Without a creed, they were challenged with distinguishing between true and false doctrines. Although not written by the Apostles, an early version of what we know as the Apostles’ Creed was probably in use by the last half of the second century. Created to instruct converts and prepare them for baptism, because it didn’t clearly state the nature of Jesus’ divinity or define the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, doctrinal controversy continued. Along with Gnosticism’s rejection of the incarnation and Marcion’s redefinition of God, there were the Ebionites’ denial of Christ’s divinity, the Arians’ belief that Jesus was neither divine nor eternal, and the Modalists who collapsed the persons of the Trinity into a single person with three types of activity. Rather than destroy the early church, however, these various isms actually did it a favor by forcing it to solidify Christianity’s doctrines.

In an attempt to unify the Christian church with one doctrine, Roman Emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicea in 325. Over 900 leaders from throughout the Roman Empire gathered to discuss Arianism and its belief that while Jesus was similar to God, rather than being divine, He was a created being. Although the Creed of Nicea resulted, controversy still reigned and it took a second ecumenical council in 381 before the Church clearly defined the Trinity—that God is three distinct persons in one perfectly unified being. The Nicene Creed, the standard of belief for most Christian churches, was the result of the meeting.

That creed, however, did not come out of thin air. The bishops and delegates spent weeks poring over Scripture. Paul’s epistles, written between 50 and 60 AD, contain several hymns and creeds. Although he wrote in Greek, these hymns and creeds use features of Hebrew poetry and thought and their syntax is decidedly Aramaic which leads scholars to believe they date from as early as 33 to 48 AD. Paul specifically wrote that he was passing along what was passed on to him—most likely from the original Apostles and Jesus Himself. A common theme of these early writings is the death, resurrection, and the deity of Jesus. Contrary to the claim often made by skeptics that the story of Jesus was a legend that arose decades after the man’s death, the belief in a miracle-working, fully divine and fully human Jesus, who died and rose from the dead, was present from the time of His disciples—the very ones who touched, walked, talked, and ate with Him, both before His crucifixion and after His resurrection.

Jesus asked the disciples “Who do you say I am?” [Matthew 16:15] With its summary of the Gospel in a few sentences, the Nicene Creed enables us to answer that question both succinctly and accurately.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together. Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything. [Colossians 1:15-18 (NLT)]

Without question, this is the great mystery of our faith: Christ was revealed in a human body and vindicated by the Spirit. He was seen by angels and announced to the nations. He was believed in throughout the world and taken to heaven in glory. [1 Timothy 3:16 (NLT)]

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