ELOHIM (The Trinity – Part 2)

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’” [Mark 12:29-30 (NIV)]

Tower Falls - Grand Canyon

Although words like divinity, omniscience, incarnation, and omnipresent are fundamental to our understanding of God, they never appear in Scripture; their concepts, however, do. Like them, the word “trinity” never appears in the Bible but its concept is found throughout God’s Word.

In Deuteronomy 6:4-5, we find the Shema, the Jewish confession of faith and it was this commandment that Jesus cited as the most important commandment of all. Although His words made it clear there is only one God, from the first words of Genesis to those in Revelation, we find a plurality to that one God. In Hebrew, the singular form of God is El, but when Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” the word translated as “God” is Elohim, the plural form of God. Yet, wherever we find the plural Elohim referring to God, the verb used is singular, clearly implying only one God!

In Genesis 1:26, we have God (Elohim) speaking in the plural, “Let us make man in our own image” and, in 3:22, He says that man “has become like one of us.” God isn’t speaking to the angels because they are nothing like us nor is God using a royal “we” since there are no other examples of its use in Scripture. In fact, the earliest evidence of royalty referring to self as “we” is not found until the 4th century!

The personages of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are found in both the Old and New Testaments. In Genesis 14:18, we have the Father when El, the singular form of God, refers to “God Most High.” In Isaiah 7:14, we have the Son in “Immanuel” meaning “God with us.” In Job 33:4 and 37:10, we find the Holy Spirit as the ”Spirit of God” and “Breath of God.” In the New Testament, we have all three personages present when Jesus was baptized, God publicly proclaimed Him as His Son, and the Spirit of God descended like a dove upon Him. [Matthew 3:16-17] We then have Jesus putting all three persons together when He gave the disciples the Great Commission.

Last Sunday, Christians celebrated Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus’ followers. While Pentecost, like Christmas and Easter, celebrates an event, this coming Sunday we will celebrate a vital part of Christian doctrine: the Holy Trinity. Just as the Trinity was there in the Old Testament when Elohim decided to make man, the Trinity was there when Elohim chose to save man in the New! Thank you God!

When I know it is the Word of God that declares the Trinity, that God has said so, I do not inquire how it can be true; I am content with the simple Word of God, let it harmonize with reason as it may. And every Christian should adopt the same course with respect to all the articles of our faith. [Martin Luther]

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)]

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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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HARD HEARTS (Soil – Part 1)

A farmer went out to plant his seed. As he scattered it across his field, some seed fell on a footpath, where it was stepped on, and the birds ate it. [Luke 8:5 (NLT)]

old world wisconsinIn the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, we find Jesus telling the parable of the four soils in which the farmer’s seed falls on four types of ground and yields four different results. Although the same good seed is sown over the entire field, only one kind of soil will yield a good crop. Jesus isn’t giving a lesson about agricultural practices; the seed that is sown is God’s word and the soils represent the different responses we have to God’s word. The lessons taught are both for the sowers—those who teach, preach, or witness—and for the soil—the people who hear the Word.

Some of the farmer’s seed falls along a footpath. There the soil is packed down so hard that the seed can’t take root. At first, it seems like the farmer is at fault, but he was doing what farmers did at the time—sowing before plowing. In Jesus’ day, farmers’ plots were small and adjacent to one another’s plots. Wanting to avoid stepping on growing plants, there were pathways between the fields used by the farmers. As the farmer walked along the path, he’d scatter seeds with a broad sweeping motion of his hand. Inevitably, some seed would land on the footpath between the fields. Heavily used and neither plowed nor fertilized, its soil was hard packed and nothing would grow on it.

 It’s not enough for the word to be heard any more than it is for seed to fall on hard ground. In Scripture, faith and belief are products of the heart. Just as seed must germinate to grow, the Word must be accepted, but a hard heart, like hardened soil, cannot receive God’s word. Instead of birds, it is Satan who snatches the Word away.

We know what makes a footpath hard but what hardens hearts? I think of Herod Antipas who married his half-brother’s wife (forbidden by Mosaic Law). When John the Baptist denounced Herod’s illegal marriage, Herod arrested and imprisoned the prophet at his wife’s urging. Scripture, however, tells us that Herod respected John and liked to listen to him but, not wanting to recognize his own sin and repent, Herod didn’t allow John’s word to change him. Unrepentant sin caused both Herod’s and Herodias’ hearts to harden enough that John died a gruesome death.

In Pharaoh’s case, it was pride and arrogance that hardened his heart to the powerful God of the Israelites. It was setbacks and disappointments that hardened the heart of the Israelites when camping at Meribah. Ignoring God’s previous provision, the ungrateful people quarreled with Moses over the lack of water. Hearts can harden in times of prosperity, as well. God sent Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, and Zechariah to warn Israel and Judah about their hard hearts and the coming of God’s judgment but they didn’t change their ways. Distractions like fear and blame can cause hearts to harden enough for Satan to snatch away God’s word. Twice Scripture describes the hearts of the disciples as being “too hard to take it in” when they failed to let Jesus’ miracles of abundant provision grow into faith in His power. [Mark 6:52,8:17]

Hardened hearts dull our ability to perceive and understand God’s message, blind us to the value of the gospel, and keep us both ignorant of God and alienated from Him. As hearers of the Word, we must not let the enemy harden our hearts and, as sowers, we must keep spreading the seed; whether or not it is accepted is up to the soil! The good news, however, is that even the hardest soil can be broken and even the hardest heart can be softened.

Hardness of heart evidences itself by light views of sin; partial acknowledgment and confession of it; pride and conceit; ingratitude; unconcern about the word and ordinances of God; inattention to divine providences; stifling convictions of conscience; shunning reproof; presumption, and general ignorance of divine things. [Matthew George Easton]

Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. [Ephesians 4:18 (NLT)]

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FAULTY MEMORIES

Be careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. You must fear the Lord your God and serve him. [Deuteronomy 6:12-13a (NLT)]

They refused to obey and did not remember the miracles you had done for them. Instead, they became stubborn and appointed a leader to take them back to their slavery in Egypt. [Nehemiah 9:17a (NLT)]

grey catbirdMany of us have friends and relatives whose memories are declining (and some of us may be those people). As my mother-in-law’s memory started failing, she rewrote history with what we called “wishful memories” and “selective forgetting.” Since her memories became rosier and happier as time passed, it really didn’t matter if nearly a century’s worth of memories were accurate or not; they were good ones. Happy to see her enjoying her version of the past, we ignored faulty memories that were of no consequence.

Research conducted by Northwestern University, however, reports that, regardless of age, our memories aren’t nearly as accurate as we think they are. The memory isn’t like a video camera that preserves the past in perfect unedited detail. Instead, it’s more like a movie that is continually edited; information from the present gets added to the past and then re-framed in the light of present circumstances. Our situation today seems to affect how and what we remember about our yesterdays. If we’re happy, the memory might become sweeter and, if we’re distressed, the memory may get a dash of sour added to it.

In addition, every time we remember something, it gets less accurate; instead of the actual event, we simply remember the last time we recalled it. Any mistakes in our last recollection inadvertently become truths in our next one. Details may be omitted while others are added and a story can change over time without our consciously meaning to do so.

God didn’t need university researchers to tell Him that mankind’s memory is faulty. Eve couldn’t even remember His one rule for Eden! Perhaps that’s why God had the various Biblical scribes and prophets repeat His words and works over and over again throughout Scripture. He knew that, with time, the Israelites would do a little wishful remembering and selective forgetting of their own. In fact, only a month after escaping Pharaoh, their 400 years of Egyptian slavery didn’t seem nearly so terrible to them. Instead, the hungry Israelites chose to remember how well fed they’d been as slaves. Even though God’s miraculous deliverance of His people out of Egypt is repeated in at least sixteen books of the Hebrew Bible (from Exodus through Psalms and all the way to Micah, Amos and Hosea), as the years passed, the Israelites began to remember their part in winning battles and forgetting that God gave them those victories. As the memories of God’s deliverance and provision faded, they started to believe they’d achieved everything on their own power and strength.

Since we must remember complex combinations of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols for passwords and the names of pets, schools, and first grade teachers for security questions, we’ve probably written them down or safely stored them in the Cloud. Are we as diligent about remembering or safely saving God’s hand in our lives as we are those phrases and words? It’s not just for accessing our email or shopping on Amazon; it’s for our very lives that we need to correctly remember God and how His love, forgiveness, deliverance, and provision have saved and sustained us.

Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me. [Psalm 103:2 (NLT)]

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THE OPEN DOOR

There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. [Galatians 3:28 (NLT)]

weggis - switzerland - mudslide chapel

When this pandemic first began, many thought of it as a Chinese virus. We now realize it’s not a Chinese, Italian, or even a New York thing; it’s affecting everyone everywhere, if not directly then indirectly. Lockdowns, quarantines, social distancing, face masks, make-shift hospitals and morgues, silent streets, shortages, closed churches, along with shuttered stores, schools and businesses and the financial fallout from those closures: these have altered the lives people across the globe. COVID-19 is no respecter of borders; as of yesterday, the number of confirmed cases was more than two million in at least 177 different countries.

Acknowledging that there is nothing typical about church during this pandemic, we didn’t air a typical church service on Palm Sunday. Instead, we chose to host a global celebration of our global Savior and offered messages and music from Britain, Ireland, Scotland, India, South Africa, South Korea, China, and Cuba, along with words and music from across the U.S. As I watched an Englishwoman recite a poem about prayer, witnessed a couple raise their voices in praise from a rooftop in a strangely silent Havana, joined a family as they sang from their living room in India, and shed a tear while a South Korean violinist played Ave Maria in an empty room, I realized how much this pandemic has brought us together across the world.

As beautiful and inspiring as were Palm Sunday’s musical offerings, I was touched most by the words of a man in China who thanked our church for its free App. His words reminded me that Jesus can be as contagious as COVID and that faith, hope and love can cross borders as easy as a virus. Coronavirus reminds us that, rather than an isolated community, we are part of a global community. We are not one church or one denomination; we are not Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Orthodox. We are one Church—the global Christian Church—and we follow one Savior—Jesus Christ!

While unable to attend church, we can continue being the Church and our congregation is larger than we think! My church has fewer than 70 people but in their first 24-hours, our Palm Sunday service was seen by over 5,700 people and our Easter one by over 7,800 (with over 80% of those views out of the U.S.!) Just as borders can’t stop COVID-19, they can’t stop Jesus. Let us thank God that today’s technology allows us to reach much further than we ever thought possible.

Alexander Graham Bell said, “When one door closes, another opens.” The rest of his quotation is, ”But we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” Lament over the closed doors to our churches must not blind us to the digital door that has opened. Imagine the possibilities if, instead of being a single church or denomination, we acted as one family and all of Christ’s followers reached out virtually to join hands with the rest of the world. We serve a global Savior; indeed, in Christ there is no east or west!

In Christ there is no east or west, In him no south or north,
But one great fam’ly bound by love Throughout the whole wide earth.
In him shall true hearts ev’rywhere Their high communion find;
His service is the golden cord Close binding humankind.
In Christ now meet both east and west, In him meet south and north,
All Christly souls are one in him Throughout the whole wide earth.
[John Oxenham (1908)]

Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all. [Ephesians 4:3-6 (NLT)]

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CRUCIFIED WITH HIM

I have been crucified with the Anointed One—I am no longer alive—but the Anointed is living in me; and whatever life I have left in this failing body I live by the faithfulness of God’s Son, the One who loves me and gave His body on the cross for me. [Galatians 5:20 (VOICE)]

Our Lady Cathedral - Antwerp

The Apostle Paul wrote that he joined Christ in both death and resurrection. His old sinful life had been crucified with Christ and he now shared in Christ’s resurrected life. When Jesus came to live in him, Paul didn’t become a mindless automaton and their spiritual union didn’t cause the tent-maker to lose his uniqueness or personality. He was still Paul. By dying to sin and adding the characteristics of Christ to his heart and mind, however, the Apostle was a new and far better version of himself. He was still the same brilliant and well-educated man, skilled in making an argument or proving a point, who had set out for Damascus. But, by joining Christ in His resurrection, this single-minded Pharisee became entirely devoted to Jesus. Undeterred by persecution, he was faithful, patient, humble, courageous, filled with the Fruit of the Spirit, and passionate about passing along the gospel message. Indeed, Christ lived in him.

When Jesus met Paul on the road to Damascus, He changed Paul from a persecutor of Christians into a lover of Christ and His followers. While we probably didn’t experience a conversion as dramatic as Paul’s, when we accepted Christ, we also died to our old selves. Have we experienced that same spiritual death and resurrection described by the Apostle? Does Christ live in us or is He just an occasional guest, invited only on special occasions or when we feel like having company? Does He live in us or is He simply the cleaning service we call when there’s a mess we can’t clean by ourselves? Does He live in us or is He like a salesman who needs an appointment before calling? Does He live in us or is He just a kind-hearted acquaintance, welcome only when He has something we need or want?  Does He live in us or is He a renter whose lease will be terminated the moment we feel inconvenienced? If we say Christ lives in us, can anyone see Him there or do we hide Him behind a wall of self-righteousness? Are our words the words Christ would say? Are our actions His actions? Are our thoughts His thoughts? Can we honestly echo the Apostle Paul’s words?

Last Sunday, we celebrated the resurrection of Christ. Have we been resurrected with Him? Does He truly live in us? If not, then we haven’t yet been crucified with Him.

Therefore, if anyone is united with the Anointed One, that person is a new creation. The old life is gone—and see—a new life has begun! [2 Corinthians 5:17 (VOICE)]

Those of us who belong to the Anointed One have crucified our old lives and put to death the flesh and all the lusts and desires that plague us. Now since we have chosen to walk with the Spirit, let’s keep each step in perfect sync with God’s Spirit. This will happen when we set aside our self-interests and work together to create true community instead of a culture consumed by provocation, pride, and envy. [Galatians 5:24-26 (VOICE)]

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