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.

Is This Our Year?

I’ve been thinking for awhile about a story from the Bible and the warning Jesus gave to the people of his day. It was on my mind again this morning, then when I saw the Word of the Day Challenge – WARNING – well, this is the perfect prompt for sharing my thought!

In Luke Chapter 12 + 13 Jesus gives various signs of “the end,” and tells the disciples they need to be ready, watching, and doing the will of their heavenly Father when the Master of the house returns. Then he tells them this parable of the fig tree:

He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.”

Luke 13: 6-9

The owner of the vineyard took note of this tree that wasn’t bearing fruit in its season. In fact, it hadn’t given any fruit at all for three years. So he said, in effect, “This tree is taking moisture and minerals from the soil, plus the time we’ve already spent on it, and giving us nothing in return. Chop the thing down and let’s use the space for a tree that will be more profitable.”

However, the caretaker was loathe to do something that drastic. Perhaps he felt some pity for the tree, having tended it and fussed over it from its days as a promising sapling. “Let me try what I can with aeration and fertilizer for one more year. Then if it doesn’t bear fruit, okay, we’ll cut it down.”

When I read these verses recently, it occurred to me that “this year” Jesus talked about represented the time of his ministry on earth. The few years he spent teaching and preaching to the people, calling them to repent and come back to God. This was Israel’s “year.” This was the time for the Jewish nation to bear fruit. Would they received his message? Would they repent and turn back to God –the One who had delivered them so many times before. God was giving them this one last chance to bear the fruit He wanted to see.

The Apostle John writes that Jesus came to his own, the Jewish people, and “his own received him not.” History records that the Jewish leaders and the mob they stirred up finally had him put to death because they hated his message. And God rejected them; not very many years later He allowed Jerusalem to be destroyed and the Jews carried away as captives, ultimately scattered to the four winds.

Another fig tree scene happened not long before Jesus was crucified. Mark 11:13-21 tells of how Jesus passed by a fig tree, stopped to look for fruit, and there was no fruit on it. So he said to the tree, “Let no man get any figs off this tree ever again.”
The next day, as they passed this tree again, it was in sad shape. Peter, recalling what Jesus had said the day before, pointed out the shriveling tree. “Master, there’s the fig tree you cursed. It’s withered away.”
I doubt his disciples caught the symbolism of the fig tree to the nation of Israel until after the events of the crucifixion and the day of Pentecost. Then they would have understood.

Another comparison came to my mind. I’ll write it and hope that it speaks to you. I’ve been thinking about this last year when COVID has stalked the earth and menaced people all over the globe. A lot of us have had to leave our pursuits – jobs, schooling, arts and entertainment, sports events, even going to the polls – and return to our homes. We’ve written about 2020 as “A year we’re glad to see the end of.” We’re looking forward to a time when Covid-19 has been conquered. When most everyone’s been vaccinated, this giant has been laid low, and we can go back to our normal lives.

But what if this was our “year” to respond to the voice of God. What if this Covid “season” we’re in is that “one more year” God is giving our world, the time we should stop, think about him and his word, think about “the end” when the Master returns?

Think of the great issues of our day. Environmental, financial, political, justice, personal. How they fill our minds and cause us no end of worry. But what if this really was our last year? Not that we can just stop caring, drop every concern, let everything slide. But there’s a bigger picture here we need to consider: are we concerned about, and prepared to face, the most important event in the world?

“And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer.”

Revelation 10:5-6

Jesus tells us to prepare, to watch and be ready. Just in case this is our Year.

A Few Tears Shed…

Yesterday I wrote about my own health issues and the uncertainty of life. Today I’m shedding a few tears, and yet rejoicing, for a man who’s bravely faced over twenty-four years of uncertainty.

With one last puff, a flickering candle has blown out in this world. We all knew the end was near for blogger Bill Sweeney; he told us that in his last post. Now this morning, With A Heavy Heart, his wife Mary informs us that he’s passed away.

When he was first diagnosed, the doctors gave him about five years. Now, after over twenty-four years of battle with ALS — aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease — this warrior has been called home from the battlefield.

“O Death, where is thy sting? Oh grave, where is thy victory?”
I Corinthians 15:55

When he first entered the battle against this foe, he reached out for the hand of God and grasped it, and found it firm to the end. Though Bill slowly lost his physical abilities and was finally completely paralyzed, still he carried on faithfully doing what he could. Via the internet, using a computer program that tracked his eye movements, he continued to share the good news of God’s love and encourage people around the globe.

He inspired us all to be more serious about our beliefs and more faithful to our Lord. All those who’ve read his posts will miss his sensible and gracious thoughts.

I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

II Timothy 4:7-8

Morning Musing on Religion

Every morning when I turn on my browser, I’m offered a selection of interesting articles from various sources, “Recommended by Pocket.” Yesterday a headline in one of these boxes caught my eye, and I see it again this morning. (Click here to read it.)

Why Religion Is Not Going Away and Science Will Not Destroy It

A very interesting question indeed! It’s bound to stir up some thoughts in most readers. Here are my thoughts, for what they are worth.

Seeing this headline, my first thought was on the spiritual side. Our Creator, heavenly Father, the One we call God, the Eternal One. Science can’t make him disappear. So my answer is:
“As long as our Creator keeps reaching out to us, his creation, and touching our lives – often in miraculous ways – there will still be believers. Those of us who have heard his voice, felt his touch – yes, some have even seen him – can never deny the reality of his presence.” I’ve heard thousands of examples!

This morning when the question popped up again, I looked at the world RELIGION and thought:
“Religion won’t ever go away because religion divides people, and people like to be divided.”

Specifically, people like to be divided by “I’m on the RIGHT side and you’re on the WRONG side.”

Read history. Any factor that can divide people into two groups has been very popular. And religion is so very versatile. Add doctrines, interpretations, attitudes…”And of course God thinks like I do!” VoilĂ , you have a whole new group that’s righter than all the others. The Southern Believers versus the Central Believers versus the Eastern Believers versus the Western Believers. This sect versus that sect, etc.

Color, gender, family, money, style, ethnicity, nationality, politics, religion. Just introduce any of these factors and you’re apt to get some division. This is the downside of our human nature: feeling that people who don’t think like we do are wrong. Then throw in the media. Propaganda. “We are RIGHT and they are WRONG. We are the faithful; they are the infidels. We’re the ones who want law & order; they are the rebels.” Give both sides guns and they’ll likely start shooting each other.

People won’t soon give up their Rightness for impersonal science.

Our Creator has not designed us to be at each other’s throats; these attitudes don’t please him. When we come to him, and focus on him, we can lose these divisions with their respective animosities. As the Bible states:

“For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:27-28

“Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.
Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.

– Colossians 3: 9 – 14

John Lennon wrote in his famous song, “Imagine there are no countries, no religion, no possessions…” (One might add, no drugs — another thing people fight over.)

Sounds so idealistic in a song, but would you really want to live in a world like that? And where would we put our human nature, that “being” within us that wants our own space, our own place, our own roots, our own understanding? If it all were wiped out tomorrow, give us a month and we’d have a whole new set of separations.

Removing the spiritual side of us would take out of this world the only thing that can moderate human nature. The only voice that does speak for compassion and peace. Most religions, not matter how off-course or fanatic their followers may get, do hold up kindness and respect as an ideal in relating to fellow human beings. Religion – focusing together in a sincere worship of our Father-Creator – has the best chance of uniting us.

The original article, published in September 2017 on Aeon, was written by Peter Harrison, an Australian Laureate Fellow and director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Queensland.

I didn’t read the article in great detail, but he starts with intellectuals once believing that science would eventually displace religion. However, this hasn’t proved true; religion is alive and well today. (I might throw in the fact here that in recent years a lot of scientists have admitted to some sort of “intelligent design” behind our world.)

He ends his article with an interesting conclusion: If science opposes religion, science will be the loser. So, advocates of science should quit making an “it’s him or me” enemy of religion.

Agreed! The One who created the world with all its marvelous synchronized workings should never be pitted against his creation as “one or the other.” They are in harmony.

Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.

Luke 12: 6-7