SEEING THE WHOLE THING

Every Scripture passage is inspired by God. All of them are useful for teaching, pointing out errors, correcting people, and training them for a life that has God’s approval. [2 Timothy 3:16 (GW)]

ELEPHANT - SERENGETIThe story is told of four blind men who, while walking together, collided with an elephant. The one who bumped into the elephant’s trunk concluded they’d run into a giant hose. The second man, feeling the elephant’s huge ear, disagreed and said it was an enormous fan. As he pulled on the tail, the third man assumed that it was a heavy rope. The fourth blind man, feeling the thick leg, pronounced them all to be wrong and declared they’d encountered a tree. Because none of them felt the entire animal, all of them were incorrect.

Jesus doesn‘t want His followers groping in the dark; He wants followers who can recognize Him. He doesn’t want faith that can’t see; he wants faith that comes from seeing the truth. Blind faith can’t answer the question, “Why do you believe?” nor can it stand firm when challenged. It can’t explain, “How do you know Jesus is the Son of God?” or “What makes you think the Bible is true?” Uninformed faith certainly can’t respond to difficult questions about evil, condemnation, redemption, and salvation. Blind faith can’t answer, “What would Jesus do?” if it doesn’t know what He said or did. It certainly can’t share the Gospel if it doesn’t know what the good news really says! Undiscerning faith can’t stand strong when Satan instills doubts nor can it recognize false teachings. Faith requires trust but how can we trust when we’re unsure of what and why we believe? Reason and intellect are not abandoned when we accept Christ; reason and intellect are what show us the truth of God’s way.

Without reading the Bible, we are like the blind men with the elephant. Depending entirely on what they felt at the time, they drew incorrect conclusions and missed the enormity of what was right in front of them. Let us never forget that the entire Bible is “God breathed” and not just our favorite verses. Without reading the whole thing, however, it’s easy to misunderstand what is right in front of us or to focus only on the concepts we like, such as love, mercy and God’s forgiveness, instead of other more demanding concepts, like sacrifice, humility, self-denial and obedience.

It has often been said that, “Knowledge is power.” Indeed, Biblical knowledge is powerful, but not because it gives us brute force. Biblical knowledge gives us the power to understand our lives as they relate to God’s plan, to discriminate between right and wrong, to resist evil and make the correct choices. It gives us the power to know our Lord, to share God’s word and, most of all, to stand strong in our faith.

Father, open our eyes and minds so that we grow in our knowledge of you. Let your truth grip our hearts and strengthen our faith.

We must not select a few favorite Bible passages to the exclusion of others. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian. [A.W. Tozer]

So Jesus said to those Jews who believed in him, “If you live by what I say, you are truly my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” [John 8:31-32 (GW)]

But dedicate your lives to Christ as Lord. Always be ready to defend your confidence in God when anyone asks you to explain it. However, make your defense with gentleness and respect. [1 Peter 3:15 (GW)]

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WE’RE LIMITED; HE’S NOT

Bow Lake - Alberta CanadaDo you think you can explain the mystery of God? Do you think you can diagram God Almighty? God is far higher than you can imagine, far deeper than you can comprehend, Stretching farther than earth’s horizons, far wider than the endless ocean. [Job 11:7-9 (MSG)]

God is above us, below us, within us and all around us. Although he is indescribable, we need words when we speak of Him. Having only human language to use, we say God does the same things that we do: creates, moves, blesses, feeds, walks, talks, hears, sees, sends, tests, and judges. None of these words, however, can capture the true essence of a being who always has been and forever will be—a being capable of fashioning something from absolutely nothing and seeing into men’s hearts.

God is unlimited; we, however, are not. There are certain things we can’t create, places we can’t walk, and things we can’t see. Some of the vocabulary we use when speaking of God implies that He has limitations, too. God is indomitable and yet he “rested” on the seventh day; does God get tired? God sees everything but “asks” Adam where he is; is there a limit to His sight? Noah is given the rainbow so God will “remember” their covenant; does that mean God forgets? God gets “angry;” does that mean he holds grudges or throws dishes? The Bible says he “regretted” making Saul king; does that mean he makes mistakes? When Scripture refers to God’s body—His face, hands, eyes, arms and even feet—does that mean He needs nourishment, clothing or baths?

Having no other vocabulary, we use human terms regarding God’s actions, emotions, and appearance. There is no danger in giving human characteristics to God; it truly is the only way we can visualize Him. There is, however, danger if we let our limited vision and inadequate vocabulary constrain our concept of God. If we want human explanations for a being far beyond human, it isn’t going to happen. There are questions that can’t be answered and answers that are beyond our understanding. God is an incomprehensible, infinite and immense being; He is our audacious, amazing, invincible and almighty God. We must never let our ineptitude at fathoming His power keep us from believing in it and we must never let our inability to comprehend His omnipotence cause us to have weak faith and timid prayers. Nothing, absolutely, nothing is impossible for God.

Trying to analyze His [God’s] omnipotence is like an amoeba attempting to comprehend the behavior of man. [Dr. James Dobson]

I am the Lord, the God of all the peoples of the world. Is anything too hard for me? [Jeremiah 32:27 (NLT)]

Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.” [Mark 10:27 (NLT)]

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ABIDE

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. [John 15:4-5 (RSV)]

cardinal - maleThe Apostle John used the word menó 53 times in his gospel and epistles. Frequently translated as abide, menó originally referred to the staying power of an army that is not driven from the battlefield. Meaning “to stay, remain, reside or stand fast,” menó came to imply an unbroken friendship or a continuous fellowship.

When guests come to visit, I often welcome them by saying, “My home is your home!” but I really don’t mean it. Even with the best guests, there are boundaries. While I want them to be comfortable, I don’t want them rearranging my kitchen cabinets, going through my closets, looking in my junk drawer, reading my files, or borrowing my shoes. Although my guests stay with me for a while, they don’t abide with me the way John or Jesus used the word. Abiding isn’t coming for a long weekend or spring break; it is moving right in and becoming part of the household permanently. Recalling the battlefield origins of menó, abiding is staying together even in difficult conditions: standing fast in the face of an assault.

When Jesus abides in us, He permanently moves right into our hearts and lives. No room is off limits, no drawer or cupboard is locked, no habits concealed, and no secrets remain buried. Unlike a guest who might stay too long or leave at the first sign of trouble, Jesus never wears out His welcome. Moreover, He remains in times of distress, danger, temptation, and discord as well as times of joy, triumph, and cheer.

In Scripture we find a reciprocal nature to this kind of abiding. If Jesus and His word abide in us, we also abide in Him and, if we abide in Him, He abides in us. Early in His ministry, Jesus told the disciples to follow Him but, as he approached the end of His life here on earth, He told them to abide in Him. Instead of trailing behind or imitating Him, He invited his followers to have an intimate relationship with Him. In turn, Jesus promised to abide in them: to make His home in their hearts. Abiding in Jesus means having a continuous fellowship with Him.

Recently, a pastor asked if Jesus was my hotel or home. Do I abide in him or do I come and go? Abiding is a 24/7 relationship as Christ lives out His life through us and we live out our lives through Him! Paul said it this way: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” [Galatians 2:20]

Is Jesus welcome only in your guest room or does He run your house? Do you live in Him or is He just where you go when you need a break? Who abides in you and where do you abide?

Abide in Me says Jesus. Cling to Me. Stick fast to Me. Live the life of close and intimate communion with Me. Get nearer to Me. Roll every burden on Me. Cast your whole weight on Me. Never let go your hold on Me for a moment. Be, as it were, rooted and planted in Me. Do this and I will never fail you. I will ever abide in you. [J.C. Ryle]

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. [1 John 4:15 (RSV)]

Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he has promised us, eternal life. [1 John 2:24-25 (RSV)]

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THE BRIDEGROOM (Cana – Part 3)

You yourselves know how plainly I told you, “I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.” It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the bridegroom’s friend is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success. He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less. [John 3:28-29 (NLT)]

wedding - 1939That Jesus chose Cana for His first public miracle and turned water into wine may not be as random as it first seems. By providing wine for the wedding, Jesus took on the bridegroom’s role which foreshadowed things to come.

John the Baptist described Jesus as a bridegroom and himself as the groom’s friend, much like today’s “best man.” In Jesus’ day, the groom’s best friend might have served as master of the banquet. The master of the banquet, however, knew he wasn’t the one hosting the party and the celebration wasn’t about him. By calling Jesus the bridegroom, John accepted his secondary role.

The bridegroom imagery continued when Jesus explained why his disciples didn’t fast. Fasting was for a time of mourning but weddings were a time to rejoice and Jesus compared his relationship with the disciples to that of a bridegroom and his guests. It would be inappropriate for the groom’s guests to fast during the celebration while the groom still was present. The time for fasting would be when He no longer was with them.

At another time, Jesus likened His followers to bridesmaids who were waiting with lamps for the groom to come and collect his bride. Some weren’t prepared with enough oil and, since the groom was a long time coming, their lamps went out. Without the light, they couldn’t accompany the wedding party back to the groom’s house for the celebration. This parable warned Jesus’ followers to be prepared for His return.

We find a bridegroom again when Jesus compared the Kingdom of Heaven to a wedding feast given by a king for his son. Two invitations were sent to such a celebration: the first asking them to attend and the second telling them it was ready. When the guests who initially accepted the king’s invitation refused to come, he sent out a third invitation but the people refused and his messenger was killed. With his invitation rejected, the king extended his invitation to everyone.

In Ephesians, we find Paul continuing the metaphor when he says the way a man and his wife are united is “an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one.”[5:31-32] It comes full circle in Revelation when Jesus, the Lamb of God, is called the bridegroom and His church the bride.

Let us not be like the guests who reject the King’s invitation or the foolish bridesmaids who weren’t ready for the bridegroom’s arrival. We want to join in the celebration. We are, after all, the bride of Christ!

Let us be glad and rejoice, and let us give honor to him. For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself. … And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” And he added, “These are true words that come from God.” [Revelation 19:7,9 (NLT)]

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WEDDING WINE (Cana – Part 1)

“A host always serves the best wine first,” he said. “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!” This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him. [John 2:10-11 (NLT)]

kaui weddingWhen the catering manager pulled me aside and said we had a problem, my mind rushed through various scenarios that could turn our daughter’s wedding into a fiasco. When he admitted not having the wine I’d ordered weeks earlier, I got nervous but, when he offered to substitute a better wine at a lower price, I heaved a sigh of relief and recalled another wedding when the guests unexpectedly got better wine! This happened 18 years ago but I still remember it whenever I read about Jesus’ miracle at Cana. The guests at our daughter’s wedding had no idea why they enjoyed such good wine and neither did the guests at that wedding 2,000 years ago.

Our daughter had a small destination wedding but weddings in Jesus’ day were a community celebration and the host typically invited as many as he could. The Jewish culture was one of hospitality and the festivities often lasted as long as a week. Not having the right wine was a minor glitch for us but running out of wine at that wedding was a disastrous breach of etiquette for the groom whose responsibility was to provide enough food and drink.

Perhaps Mary knew of the shortage because she was one of the women serving food. In any case, she knew that her son could fix a bad situation and instructed the servants to do whatever He said. Jesus told them to fill six stone jugs with water and then take some to the master of the banquet (whose duty was to oversee the entertainment and supervise the distribution of food and drink) for sampling. Upon tasting the wine, he expressed his surprise that the groom had reserved the best wine for the end when the guests’ palates had dulled.

Jesus’ first miracle tells us a great deal about our Lord. Prior to this, during His 40 days of fasting in the wilderness, He’d refused Satan’s temptation to use His power to satisfy His hunger. In Cana, Jesus used His power to serve others rather than Himself. Out of compassion, He prevented the disgrace of insufficient wine from haunting the newlyweds for the rest of their lives. The vessels Jesus had the servants fill were special stone jars set aside for sacred purposes and reserved for ceremonial washing. The Jews were meticulous about their rituals and these vessels would never have been used for wine. Nevertheless, as Jesus later demonstrated by healing on the Sabbath, touching the unclean, and eating with sinners, compassion and love were the new way to fulfill God’s law.

The servants were told to fill the jugs all the way to the brim. Rather than adding something to the water, Jesus changed it! He doesn’t just improve lives; He transforms them and turns sinners into saints! Because of Jesus, rather than the best wine being served first, it was served last. It was a sign of new and better things to come: a new covenant of grace that was better than the old one of the law. We see Jesus’ humility in a miracle done so quietly that only the servants and His disciples knew what had happened. It was the bridegroom, not Jesus, who got the credit for the superb vintage. We also see the richness of life that Jesus offers. Those six jugs would have provided enough wine, not just for the wedding feast, but for the entire village for several weeks.

Jesus came out of love so it is fitting that His first recorded miracle occurred at a wedding feast—a joyful celebration of love. From the outset of His ministry, it was clear that Jesus’ message was not one of asceticism and severity but one of love, joy, and abundance. Like the better wine served at our daughter’s wedding, there’s no extra cost to us; God’s grace is free. It was Jesus who paid the price for our salvation.

The same Jesus Who turned water into wine can transform your home, your life, your family, and your future. He is still in the miracle-working business, and His business is the business of transformation. [Adrian Rogers]

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. [John 10:10 (NLT)]

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LISTEN FOR THE WHISPER (Elijah – Part 2)

And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel. And the hand of the Lord was on Elijah, and he gathered up his garment and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel. [1 Kings 18:45-46 (ESV)]

dawn - apple canyon lakeWhen Elijah and the Lord proved triumphant over Baal, the man must have felt like he’d won the gold medal in the prophet Olympics. Rain stopped when he called for a drought, returned when he promised it would, fire poured down from heaven at his call, and the people had slaughtered Baal’s prophets. Fresh from his extraordinary victory at Mount Carmel and thinking that Ahab and Israel would return to Yahweh, Elijah ran all the way to Jezreel.

Although Ahab had witnessed the defeat of Baal’s prophets, Jezebel had not. After the king related all that had happened, the incensed queen vowed to kill the prophet. Neither Ahab nor Jezebel understood: it was God’s power that defeated Baal, not Elijah’s! They might be able to kill the prophet but they couldn’t defeat the one true God.

When Elijah sped to Jezreel, he probably expected a hero’s welcome rather than the death warrant that sent him fleeing into the wilderness. Doing God’s work doesn’t mean we won’t be frustrated or disappointed by the results; it certainly doesn’t mean we’ll be free from opposition or trouble. Let’s remember that all but one of the disciples died a martyr’s death and the hero’s welcome given to Jesus by Jerusalem’s population was replaced by calls for his crucifixion less than a week later.

Forgetting that God (not Jezebel) was in charge, the disheartened prophet prayed for death and fell asleep. He awakened to an angel who fed him and sent the man on a 200-mile journey to Mt. Sinai. Once there, Elijah found shelter in a cave where he once again complained to God. Having served the Lord in such an extraordinary way, he didn’t expect to be rejected and alone. God responded by promising the depressed man that He soon would pass by. After a wind so powerful it loosened the rocks raged, there was a terrifying earthquake followed by a fire. Although wind, earthquake and fire were signs of God’s arrival, the Lord was not found in any of those impressive phenomena. Finally, it was in the sound of a faint whisper that Elijah heard the Lord’s voice.

Sometimes we see or hear God in the impressive and spectacular but, more often than not, He makes Himself known in ways we least expect: the seemingly insignificant—like a hushed voice. God doesn’t have to shout because He always is near. Let us silence our complaint and draw close to Him so we can hear His gentle whisper.

God operates in the great and small, the remarkable and the ordinary. While He may call us to do spectacular things, as He did with Elijah, most of the time, He calls us to do ordinary mundane tasks. Those tasks won’t bring us honor or glory (nor should we expect them to). What they will do is glorify God! As Mother Teresa so wisely said, “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there 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)]

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