Faith is a Choice

Musings on Easter Morning

This time we call EASTER, or PASQUE (Peace) in Latin countries, and in particular this day, is the main event Christianity hinges on: the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Most anyone will say Jesus was a wonderful example by the way He lived, by the things He taught. Philosophers and holy men of all kinds, even atheists quote his words and cite his examples. His death was cruel and needless, the outcome of putrid jealousy. But it’s his rising from the grave that has become the cornerstone of Christianity. This belief/fact has changed the course of our world. Two thousand years later people are still talking about God’s plan and believing it.

I just listened to a church group singing the song,
“Have you found rest and peace within, rolled far away your load of sin?
Stepped from the old life to the new? Tell what the Lord has done for you.”

(From a poem by Lizzie DiArmond)
This is not ancient history. New life through Jesus is a constantly current thing. Today the Lord gives peace and rest within, or so believers claim.

I ponder the questions: Why did God enact such an odd plan to redeem man? Why does man need to be “saved”? Why did Jesus have to die as a sacrifice? Why must a price be paid? Why doesn’t God just take everyone to heaven – or at least the basically good people? “Grading on the curve,” some wise soul has called it. As a human being I’m okay with a few faults.

Why did the divine Creator and Father come up with a scheme human minds can barely grasp, a story people are constantly stumbling over? He could have chosen a simpler way than faith in Jesus? He could just appear to each one of us and set us straight. “Here I am; believe me or else.” As a human being I respect force. A little jolt from above when we say or do the wrong thing might make it easier to know and obey his wishes.

Yet the Eternal, all-wise God says people shall have a free choice; He won’t force us to believe him. He allows that, as we go through life, we’ll get enough prompts that we can each decide to believe or reject his plan. Jesus says, “Ask and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find.” The choice is ours to seek, to ask, to believe, to reject.

I came across the following old poem by Dora Greenwell (1821-1882) that expresses my musings quite well:

I AM NOT SKILLED TO UNDERSTAND

I am not skilled to understand
what God hath willed, what God hath planned;
I only know at His right hand
stands One who is my Saviour.

I take Him at his word indeed:
“Christ died for sinners,” this I read
and in my heart I find a need
of Him to be my Saviour.

And was there then no other way
for God to take? I cannot say;
I only bless Him, day by day,
who saved me through my Saviour.

Yes, living, dying, let me bring
my strength, my solace from this spring:
that He who lives to be my King
once died to be my Saviour.

Not Home

papa opens the door
mama peers out the window
not home yet?

This was us last night.
The weather has turned mild and our little Tuffy is discovering delights in the great outdoors. Intrepid adventurer, but does he understand the dangers? Is he wary of swooping owls? Prowling coyotes & foxes? Potential pitfalls in the woods?

I was preparing supper at the Villa when he went out in the afternoon. He hadn’t come back yet when I got home at 9pm. Nor at at 10pm, nor 11pm. I stayed up to read, checking the decks again at midnight. No sign. Checked again at 12:20 — and there he was at the front door, none the worse for the wear. I cuddled him a bit, then I could go to bed and rest in peace. 🙂

He’s off exploring again the morning. The world is such an intriguing place!

Tuffy’s just a kitten — actually almost grown, so about “teenager” stage now. But this episode gave me a tiny taste of the worries parents feel when their young know-it-all, “I can take care of myself” teens stay out until the wee hours. So many evil lurk! So many dangers we’ve sheltered them from, and they have not yet built secure defenses against these!

Last night I found rest in the knowledge that God knows, that He sees every one of his creatures. Even when the little sparrow falls, He sees it, the Bible says. With his help there will be a way through the consequences: this is “the peace that passeth all understanding” that can steady our hearts and minds.

You know you can’t hold teenagers under your wing all the time or they’ll rebel. But how hard must it be to shut the door, go to bed, and trust that whatever happens, you’ll make it through. To trust that if you can’t walk through it your Father will carry you.

Whatever the reason, if you’re stressed about the future and what all might happen, I hope you can find hope in this verse:

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.

I Peter 5:6-7

The Center Cross

The Ragtag Daily Prompt word for today is BACKBONE

I can think of various examples, but I’ll go with this one:

The cross is the BACKBONE of the Christian faith.

For those who believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and have accepted his gospel, the cross represents his dying to pay the price for our sins – a price we cannot pay no matter how good we try to be.

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:9
But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags…” Isaiah 64:6
“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

The cross represents our “death” to the selfishness inherent in human nature. The selfishness that wants my own way no matter what it costs others, or how I would use them for my own ends.

“Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:11

The cross is especially symbolic in that the central beam of the cross points us toward God, lifting us nearer to Him. The crossbeam points us toward our fellow man, encouraging us to reach out to others.

In all the years since Jesus died, the cross has stood and is as effective and liberating today. Those who have embraced it will tell you so.

A Sheep, A Vine, A Candle

If you look in the top left corner of your blog, you’ll see the word Reader. You’ve likely explored this a time or two yourself. Well, I was MANAGING the BLOGS I FOLLOW in my Reader this morning and came across the word METAPHOR. At some point in the distant past, this is one of the TAGS I’ve typed in “To follow.” So I clicked on it now and discovered an interesting article I’d like to point you to.

In this post, titled Christian Metaphors, the writer points out that the Bible has a number of metaphors referring to a Christian, or to Christian life, and gives several illustrations.

For He is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Psalm 95:7

Linda in her Bible Study blog writes about another metaphor Jesus used: I AM the True Vine. I think she explains this quite nicely. And here’s one example I found after a quick search:

And he (Jesus) said unto them, “Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed: and not to be set on a candlestick? For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was anything kept secret but that it should come (be told) abroad. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.”

Mark 4:21-22

Jesus chose to speak in parables and metaphors, knowing that only those who were serious about his message would take the time to ponder and get the idea. Thus he says, “If any man have ears to hear…” In other words, if some person is really listening, really wants to hear the truth, he’ll hear it.

Image: Briam-Cute — Pixabay

The Kingdom Foretold by Daniel

Nebuchanezzar’s Dream: A Look Into The Future

Back when Babylon, with Nebuchadnezzar at its head, was ruling over the known world, Daniel (of the Lion’s Den story) and his three friends were among the wise men of the land. And one night the king had a dream that woke him up and left him feeling strangely disturbed.

Bits and snatches of what he’d seen may have drifted through his mind, but basically he’d forgotten the dream. He was only aware that it was significant — and troubling. So he called his chief wise men and said. “I had this dream and it’s bothering me. I want you to tell me what it means.”

“Sure,” they answered, always willing to please the king. (Especially NOT willing to displease the king.) “Tell us the dream and we’ll tell you what it means.” (At least they could come up with something reasonable.)

“I wish I could, but I can’t remember any of it. So you’re the brilliant ones here. Plus, you’re supposed to have an inside track with the powers upstairs. Surely you can get in touch with Whoever, then tell me what I dreamed and the interpretation.”

Can’t you just hear them gasp? “Your Majesty! You’re asking the impossible. Could you give us some idea what the dream was about?”

Nebuchadnezzar scowled. “I can’t remember. So, let me put it this way. Explain the dream and its meaning and you shall receive rich rewards and great honor. If you don’t, I’ll have you all cut in pieces and your houses razed. Now get on with it and do what you need to do to recover it for me.”

Likely the poor sages were quaking, but they had no clue — and the king wasn’t apt to be fooled by a tale they could quickly cobble together. They appealed to his common sense: “Your Majesty, no king has ever asked such a hard thing of any wise man. We aren’t gods, only they can pull up a forgotten dream.”

Nebuchadnezzar appears to have had a rather short fuse. He took autocratic to the top notch here. “That’s it,” he roared. “You’re toast — the lot of you!”

As the King expected his order to be obeyed right now, no questions asked, Daniel and his friends were rounded up along with all the sages in Babylon, to face the firing squad. Of course they asked, “What’s with this sudden, drastic decree?”

When Arioch, who was doing the roundup, explained about the king’s dream that agitated him so much, Daniel said, “Give us a little time. Perhaps the God of Heaven, whom I serve, will show me the dream and the interpretation.”

“Then Arioch brought in Daniel before the king in haste and said thus unto him, I have found a man of the captives of Judah, that will make known unto the king the interpretation.” Daniel 2:25.

Now I’m going to paraphrase and abbreviate their conversation; you can read the account in Daniel 2: 28-46.

The king asked Daniel, “Are you really able to tell me my dream?”

And Daniel replied, “No man on earth can tell you, but there is a God in heaven that reveals secrets. In your dream He’s making known to you, King Nebuchadnezzar, what shall come to pass in the latter days.”

In your dream you saw a great statue, a glorious shining image with the likeness of a man. His head was of fine gold; his arms were of silver; the belly and thighs were of brass, and the legs were of iron and its feet were of iron and clay mixed.

Then you saw a huge stone that had been cut, but not by human hands, and the stone was hurled at the image and it smashed the image. The gold, silver, iron and clay were crushed all together into dust and the wind blew them away. But the stone that had broken the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.

And here’s what it all means: The image represents various kingdoms of this earth. At present we have your kingdom, Your Majesty: the head and shoulders of gold. God has given you this vast and mighty kingdom. But there will arise another kingdom after yours, though it will be inferior. This is represented by the silver. Another kingdom will follow that one, but not as great; it’s the one represented by the brass.

The fourth kingdom to follow will be as strong as iron and its armies will advance over the earth, conquering all the other nations and crushing all resistance. But at the height of its power it will be divided and weakened, as you saw the feet and toes were part of iron and part of clay.

But in the days of this last kingdom, the God of heaven will set up a completely different kingdom, one not made with human hands, and it will expand and fill the whole earth. It will never be destroyed, but it will break in pieces and consume all the other kingdoms and shall stand forever. These are the things that will come to pass; this is the future you saw in your dream.”

And Nebuchadnezzar was thrilled, because this was exactly what he’d dreamed. And he made Daniel a great man and a ruler over the province of Babylon.

It has been generally understood by Christians through the ages that these kingdoms represent first Babylon, then the kingdom of the Medes & Persians, then Greece and finally the Roman Empire, during which time Jesus came and his kingdom, that “stone not cut by human hands” which became a holy mountain. There are a number of references in the Old Testament to this “holy mountain” and how it will expand over all the earth — as Christianity has done — and it will be a spiritual kingdom.

“Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.” Isaiah 56: 7

“They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” Isaiah 11: 9

Jesus answered and said unto him, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3

Reading & Musing on a Sunday Morning

I was reading a passage of scripture this morning and decided to write my thoughts down, in case anyone is interested.

II Corinthians 12: 2-10

In this account, the Apostle Paul is telling the church members at Corinth about an experience he has had, and the effect this vision has had in his life. He doesn’t name himself, yet Bible scholars agree that he’s telling his own story here.

2 I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago…such an one caught up to the third heaven.
3 And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth)
4 How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.

Some scholars have read the story of when Paul was stoned and left for dead, wondering if he really did have an out-of-body experience. The Apostle himself isn’t certain, and leaves it open as to whether he was really dead or if this was a vision he had. However, during this experience he saw such beauty and glory, and heard such words as could never be described to an audience here on earth.

5 Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities.

So why doesn’t he tell the world about his experience? Why does he refer to it so discreetly, not mentioning that this happened to him? Why does he rather rejoice that he has these infirmities that drag him down? First, he doesn’t want people lifting him up:

6 For though I would desire to glory…now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me.
7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.

Most scholars agree that this “thorn in the flesh” was an infirmity that slowed him down, and probably a disfiguring one. We get the impression from different passages that Paul wasn’t such an attractive man.

8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

God has chosen to leave him weak so that the Spirit of the Lord can speak through him. People aren’t meant to look to Paul for the answers in life. The Lord Jesus doesn’t want people following Paul because he’s physically attractive or such a persuasive orator. So the Lord leaves him with this weakness, one which seems, from other scriptures as well, to be obvious to Paul’s audience.

Paul accepts this situation with grace:
10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

It’s so human to want to be strong, to be talented, articulate, to have our listeners nod when we present our ideas. The thought of stepping up to speak, either to an individual or to a crowd, and having absolutely no speech planned out is frightening. The thought of stammering and groping for words is abhorrent to most of us. Likewise we’re inclined to shy away from a task if we’ve had no prior experience in that line. None of us want to sound, or look, dumb.

When we lived in Ontario our neighbour was a minister in another denomination. One day his wife explained to me how ministers were hired. A congregation in need will hear of a pastor who wants to move from the place he’s at, so a small delegation from the pastor-less church goes to hear him —or her, in this group— speak. If the pastor presents a good sermon, if they like the looks of him and feel he’d be a good fit for their own congregation, they offer to hire him. (Again, or her.) How tempting would it be to put a lot of effort into making a good physical impression.

Paul has adopted a different mind-set. In one place he says, “The ways of God are higher than ours.” Aware of his own weakness as a human being, he “takes a step back from himself” and rather goes forward in the Lord. The idea of winning followers of using eloquence to gain a good salary, these are laid aside. He doesn’t take pains to please the audience or “keep out of trouble.” He rather lets the words of Jesus flow through him and speak to the hearts of his audience.

This is more pleasing to God and the Gospel more effective, than if Paul could attract listeners and entertain them with his own oratory ability, or persuade them by his skillful reasoning. He leaves us this example, so none of us can feel we’ve nothing to offer. When we feel we have no talent, skills, physical attraction, or never “the right words,” we can comfort ourselves God’s words to Paul: “My strength is made perfect in weakness.”