INCOMPREHENSIBLE BUT REAL

moebius band - moebius stripAnd 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 will know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. [John 14:16-17 (NLT)]

 I tell you the solemn truth, that the doctrine of the Trinity is not so difficult to accept for a working proposition as any one of the axioms of physics. [Henry Brooks Adams]

Writing about our Trinitarian God yesterday, reminded me of the Möebius strip (or band). Ever since my college roommate showed me one, I’ve been fascinated by it. To make one, take a paper strip, give it a single twist and tape the ends together to form a loop. If you draw a line from the seam down the middle of this strip, the line will meet itself back at the same seam but on the other side of the paper. If you continue drawing the line, it then meets at the starting point (and will be twice the length of the strip of paper) without ever needing to lift your pen. This single continuous line shows that the Möebius strip has only one boundary or surface. Imagine an ant crawling in a straight line along the length of that twisted and taped strip. It would return to its starting point having traversed every part of the strip without ever crossing an edge. Basically, something that looks as if it has two sides (and was made by a piece of paper that did), actually has only one surface or side.

If you cut this once-twisted piece of paper down the center line, you’ll end up with one long strip that now has two twists and two surfaces. If you cut that strip again, you end up with two intertwined strips and it just gets more confusing after that! German mathematician August Möbius’ discovery of the oddity in 1858 resulted in the development of a new field of mathematics called topology. While there are all sorts of algebraic and geometric explanations for this simple but remarkable piece of paper, I understand none of them.

Although I see how the Möebius strip could be applied to conveyor belts, continuous-loop recording tapes, and typewriter ribbons, I don’t understand its application in physics, music, engineering, chemistry, or topology. Understanding how it happens, however, isn’t necessary for me to know what happens when I take a strip of paper, give it a single twist, and tape it together!

For me, comprehending the Holy Trinity is a bit like my fuzzy understanding of the Möebius strip. I know it exists but I’m not quite sure how it works. I’ve experienced it but I can’t explain it. That the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God while, at the same time, the Father is neither Holy Spirit nor Son, the Son is neither Holy Spirit nor Father, and the Holy Spirit is neither Father nor Son is beyond human understanding!

Even without understanding how God is one in essence but has three united persons in that essence, I know our Triune God exists. Scripture tells us there is only one God and yet it also tells us that God exists in three persons. All three were present at Jesus’ baptism and He spoke of them. Moreover, just as I’ve witnessed the reality of a Möebius strip, I’ve witnessed the reality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as they work in my life. That the concept of one in three and three in one is complex and puzzling doesn’t mean it isn’t real! Even though it’s beyond our understanding, like the Möebius strip, all we have to know is that it’s true!

Bring me a worm that can comprehend a man, and then I will show you a man that can comprehend the Triune God. [John Wesley]

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)]

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TO WHOM?

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. (Matthew 6:6 NIV)

And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. [John 14:13-14 (NIV)]

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. [Ephesians 6:18 (NIV)]

“To whom should we pray?” is a common question. People wonder, “If we pray to God the Father, are we leaving out His Son? But if we pray to Jesus, are we leaving out God? And where does the Holy Spirit fit in?”

I’m no theologian, but it seems we certainly can’t go wrong by praying to God the Father. After all, when asked how to pray, Jesus began with “Our Father” and the Apostle Paul wrote the Romans about joining together and “giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” [15:6] Nevertheless, Jesus, as the son of God, is divine and He promised that we can ask for anything in His name. So, we can pray to Him as did Stephen who prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” while being stoned. [Acts 7:59] To further confuse the matter, Paul explained that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us so it appears that we also can pray to Him.

If we can pray to any of the three, how do we decide to whom we’ll pray? Some people decide who they’ll address by the topic of their prayer. When they want to offer worship and praise, ask for forgiveness, or plead for divine intervention, they call on God the Father. When they need to talk with someone who understands their earthly struggles, they call on Jesus. Since the Holy Spirit helps us pray, they pray to Him when they can’t find the words to express themselves.

When we worry about to whom we address our prayers, however, we’re forgetting that our Trinitarian God, while three persons, is one God! Calling it a “divine riddle,” Puritan minister Thomas Watson explained, “The three persons in the blessed Trinity are distinguished, but not divided; three substances, but one essence. … If there be one God subsisting in three persons, then let us give equal reverence to all the persons in the Trinity. … One person has not a majority or super eminence above another, therefore we must give equal worship to all the persons.”

When learning about Jeopardy contestant Matt Amodio for yesterday’s devotion, I discovered that his answers irk the grammar police. Jeopardy answers must be given in the form of a question and he begins every response with “what’s…” even when referring to a person. Amodio’s strategy is to keep things simple and explained that keeping his responses consistent allows him to focus on the “meat” of the clue. Just as a Jeopardy contestant’s answers don’t have to be grammatically correct to be accepted, I suspect our Trinitarian God cares far more about our hearts than our words and would prefer we give more thought to the “meat” of our prayers rather than to whom or how they’re said.

We can address our Trinitarian God in any of a number of ways—as Eternal Father, Holy Spirit, Lord, Blessed Jesus, God, Lord of My Life, Almighty and Eternal God, Holy Spirit of God, Eternal Being, Divine Love, God of Mercy, Holy One, Holy and Blessed Trinity, God, Jesus, Spirit of God, or many other reverent names. Flawed beings that we are, we seem to complicate our lives unnecessarily and worrying about how to pray (rather than simply doing it) is one of the ways we do it. Amodio’s answers are accepted by the Jeopardy judges just as our prayers, offered in faith with a humble heart, will be accepted by God the Father, Jesus the son, and the Holy Spirit.

Christian prayer is most often Trinitarian. Practically, this means we pray by the Spirit, through Jesus Christ our mediator, to God the Father. [Mark Driscoll]

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. [Romans 8:26-27 (NIV)]

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GOING “ALL-IN”

My dear family, I don’t reckon that I have yet overtaken it. But this is my one aim: to forget everything that’s behind, and to strain every nerve to go after what’s ahead. I mean to chase on towards the finishing post, where the prize waiting for me is the upward call of God in King Jesus. [Philippians 3:13-14 (NTE)]

dolphinJeopardy contestant James Holzhauer became known for his 32-game winning streak, massive winnings, and his “all-in” hand gesture while putting all of his winnings on the line when answering a Daily Double. A new champion is in the making with Ph.D. student Matt Amodio. Like Holzhauer, he plays an aggressive game and is not timid when it comes to the Daily Double. Last Wednesday, after saying “all-in,” he wagered his entire holdings of $8,000 and lost it all; undeterred by the previous night’s Daily Double loss, he again went “all-in” with a $10,400 wager the next day. His willingness to go “all-in” has paid off handsomely and, by the end of the week, he’d won 28 games and amassed $1,004,001.

Seeing both Holzhauer and Amodio fearlessly go “all-in” when it comes to game show winnings, I wondered if we’re as fearless when it comes to going “all-in” when it comes to God. Showing tremendous confidence in their intelligence and knowledge of trivia, neither contestant allowed previous set-backs to keep them from their purpose. Granted, their goal was to amass as much money as possible yet I question whether we’re as confident in God and as determined in our purpose to serve him faithfully. Are we “all-in” when it comes to following Jesus?

Scripture’s heroes are people who went “all-in” – not with their money but with their lives. Noah was “all-in” when he built the ark on dry land, Jochebed was all-in when she placed the infant Moses in a basket and placed him on the bank of the Nile, and Abraham went “all-in” when he left his homeland, packed up his possessions, and set off to parts unknown. The unmarried Mary wasn’t so naïve that she didn’t know the risks of her choice, but she went “all-in” when she chose to become pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Think of John and James who went “all-in” when they left their father and fishing boat or Matthew who left his lucrative tax collector job. Peter went “all-in” when he stepped out of the boat to walk on water, the woman with the bleeding disorder was “all-in” when she ventured into the crowd to touch Jesus, and the unnamed woman was “all-in” when she anointed Jesus’ feet and hair with her tears and costly jar of fragrant oil. The poor widow was “all-in” when she dropped two small coins in the collection box, Stephen was “all-in” when he continued to preach the gospel as stones rained down on him, Barnabas went “all-in” when he sold his land and gave the proceeds to the church, and Peter and John were “all-in” when they defied the authorities and continued to boldly proclaim the gospel. Like Holzhauer and Amodio, they took risks with no guarantee of success but, unlike those game show contestants, they didn’t do it for themselves; they did it for God. It wasn’t an earthly prize they sought; it was a heavenly one!

Think of the rich young ruler who, although he wanted to know Jesus, was reluctant to surrender to Him. Unwilling to go “all-in,” he walked away from the Lord and missed an eternal relationship with God! What about us? Are we “all-in” when it comes to Jesus? With His words that we are to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind,” Jesus is telling us that we are to go “all-in” all of the time. Do we?

He then spoke to them all. “If any of you want to come after me,” he said, “you must say No to yourselves, and pick up your cross every day, and follow me. If you want to save your life, you’ll lose it; but if you lose your life because of me, you’ll save it. What good will it do you if you win the entire world, but lose or forfeit your own self? … “Nobody,” replied Jesus, “who begins to plough and then looks over his shoulder is fit for God’s kingdom.”  [Luke 9:23-25,62 (NTE)]

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THE ANSWERS WE DON’T WANT TO HEAR

Put me on trial, Lord, and cross-examine me. Test my motives and my heart. [Psalm 26:2 (NLT)]

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. [Psalm 139:23-24 (NLT)]

When we go to our meeting with God, we should go like a patient to his doctor, first to be thoroughly examined and afterwards to be treated for our ailment. [Ole Hallesby]

hostaAs much as David wanted to hold to God’s standards, he knew he was flawed and so he asked the Lord to point out whatever He found offensive. We know we should do the same but I’m not sure we actually do so. While we can lie to ourselves and even to God, we know He won’t lie to us. If we ask Him to tell us where we’ve gone wrong, His answer, while loving and gentle, will be brutally honest! Could it be that we don’t ask because we really don’t want Him to tell?

In our evening prayers, are we willing to ask God if we’ve done what should have been done that day? Are we eager to hear His truthful answer if asking whether we’ve acted with integrity in all our affairs, been sincere in our communications, or damaged Jesus’ name in our conduct? Do we really want to hear Him point out our hypocrisy or expose the true motives behind our words and actions? Are we ready to hear Him mention our laziness, overindulgence, and contentiousness or to show us how we excused ourselves for our failings but not others for theirs? At day’s end, do we ask if we’ve honored Him with our words and served Him by acting as His hands and feet? While those are the kind of questions we should be asking, I suspect we don’t ask them as frequently as we should simply because we’re not anxious to hear His answer.

Because they can’t peer into our hearts, other people’s assessments of us usually are inaccurate and, because we’re experts at rationalizing, justifying, and even deceiving ourselves, our self-assessment is equally unreliable. Like the Psalmist, we must earnestly ask God to put us on trial and be happy to hear His answer (whatever it may be)! Moreover, once we hear His answer, let us be ready to make a change!

The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays. [Soren Kierkegaard]

As for me, it matters very little how I might be evaluated by you or by any human authority. I don’t even trust my own judgment on this point. My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide. [1 Corinthians 4:3-5 (NLT)]

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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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