Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Genealogy Brings a Heap of Information, and a Lot of Doubt

I've been spending some time doing something I thought I would never do: I've been looking up our family's genealogy online. Not that I think it has a whole lot of usefulness; I realize that in Bible times, they kept genealogies to prove what kind of tribe they belonged to and whether or not their ancestry could match the prophecies regarding the coming Messiah. But when the Messiah had come, it was no longer useful; even for those who had rejected Him, the temple was destroyed and genealogical records no longer existed. So usefulness is a done deal for the most part in that regard.
Nevertheless, I've been wondering about my genealogy. Not having enough information to go on for my side so far, I've been researching Gary's. I'm amazed at just how much information I can find on the internet. I can sit here and get an amazing amount of information just at the click of a button, when not too many years ago, it would have taken traveling overseas, looking in church yards, church records, courthouses, and all sorts of frail old documents or dark and misty microfiche. The information available so readily today is because of so many who did that very thing.
I expected (especially when I someday do our family's side) to find any variety of crazy and colorful characters, criminals, pirates, who-knows what. I expected to find maybe a third cousin of a president or statesman. But the first one that I uncovered, so to speak, was very much a surprise, perhaps because he was one of those I would have sought to be related to. (Remember this is not my genealogy, but Gary's.) I found in one of the first days I was researching that my kids are supposedly descended from Martin Luther. Well. I looked at what information I could find on his daughter who supposedly married one of our ancestors, but there was only one place where there's any indication that they were married. I highly suspect it to be a faulty link. The other funny thing about it before I looked at that was that this line of ancestry came through my mother-in-law...who I never really got along with. So it occurred to me that I could expect that any of us could have been descended from someone like Martin Luther, but somehow it was the oddest twist to think that it would have been my mother-in-law. That at least showed that I hadn't made up that story, because if I had, it wouldn't have wound up that way.
The other thing I find strange with this genealogy is that there are no questionable characters...no horse thieves, no pirates, nothing with a glint of mischief. It was kind of disappointing, to tell the truth. Not only no questionable characters, but I'm wondering if everyone is descended from a whole lot of knights, lords, barons. Is that true, or is Gary just a very regal type of guy? I know he's a nice guy, and why I would think he would be descended from at least some mischief makers, or that he wouldn't have so many really high-level players, I don't know. I think we're pretty average people, both of us.
I wonder about the reality of these genealogies. I suppose they're a good place to start. They might even be a pretty nice inspiration to bring the study of medieval times to life, with the thought that we had some knights weighted down with armor riding around on horses, and all of that...it does make history a bit more intriguing. And it gives a name to start with, to see whether there's actually any documentation behind it. A person doesn't have to be such a detective to even come up with the initial clues of ancestry. But I have far more names from doing this in my spare time at home in the last couple of weeks than I could have come up with on my own in a lifetime of travel, if I had done this 20 years ago. It's a nice set of documentation for casual family interest, but not reliable enough to point to and share with everyone (though I have a funny story to tell about finding Luther in it...ha! As soon as I mentioned to Tim that it appeared we were descended from Luther, he immediately called Katie, who immediately put it up as her facebook status. Now it looks less credible...ha...and more credible, I might add, that Gary, Katie and Tim have fairly recent ancestors in common with no less than Hillary Clinton. Talk about the swing of a pendulum! Ha! And please remember, I so far have escaped such a notable affiliation!).
So what is it that makes everyone feel that they have to be related to someone "important"? We are someone important, each one of us, in and of ourselves. Jesus died on the cross for all of us. Being related to a president, a theologian, a knight, a duke, a lord, a king...what would it matter? Who cares? It doesn't make us one whit more important than we were before I researched it. Our importance is all in Christ. What we do with Him is what matters most of all, whether we accept His gift of salvation, or we don't. Whether we tell others about Him, or keep Him to ourselves. Whether we live in obedience to Him, or go our own way. Who cares if we had some genes like those of someone who made it big 1,000 years ago? I have brothers and cousins and aunts and uncles who've made it a lot bigger than I ever have in the world. I've "made it bigger" than any of them, though, in heaven, you might say. So I don't envy them, I don't resent them, I don't need everyone to know I'm related to them. I want to drag them along with me to heaven when I go, if only I knew how! It's a matter of prayer.
What prompted me to do this then? I think I wanted to know the nationalities, the history of my children, and I kind of hoped that some of the glint of the mischief in their eyes came from Gary's side as much as mine. Who knows, maybe it did, and someone has just done a very big job of cleaning it up. What a shame! It might have made it quite a bit more interesting...and convincing...to leave it in.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Why do Others Want us to Join in their Legalism?

A few weeks ago, when Katie was home for Spring Break (while it was yet winter, and snowed twice that week), our Pastor Ken and his wife Kit visited for dinner. It turned out that he had questions for Katie. He'd been lent a dvd made by Vision Forum, in which they present how vital they think it is for daughters to stay at home under the protection of their father, helping with the father's work and learning from him. We had seen the dvd, which had been lent to us a few months previously. A girl going to college was said more than once to have selfish motives in doing so, and they made no allowances for a girl to attend college for any reason.
Katie and I believe that the makers of the dvd hold to a legalistic view, presenting Christianity as being bound up in what you do, rather than what you believe. There was little actual Scripture in the presentation, and they twisted Proverbs 31:10-31 to defend their view, which seems entirely contradictory to its true meaning. They put living for family purposes above the Scriptures, yet refer very vaguely to the Scriptures as the foundation of why they believe as they do. I think that they take what may work for their family, and assume that it must therefore work for everyone else in the same way, with the same benefit. They don't even touch on various aspects that could make the scenario unworkable for others: If the father doesn't have his own business, and/or can't take the daughter along with him to work; if the father is not a Christian, and might be, in some ways, more of a hindrance to the daughter's spiritual growth than a help; or if the father has died or left or is otherwise not able or willing to have her participate in his work. One of these scenarios might very well apply to most Christian girls, but there is no explanation or provision regarding what a girl should do in that case.
The dvd's message assumes that a girl in college is going after completely selfish gain, and doesn't take into account the possibility that she might be attending a Christian college, or a secular college with God's direction and a goal of being better able to serve Christ with an equipping that might not be available by participating in her earthly father's work. A girl also can't necessarily assume that she'll be married and supported by a husband all her life; maybe God puts it in her to learn to support herself because she might never marry or because she may become widowed, or to not only serve her family, but to serve the community, whether in the work world, in volunteer work, or as a missionary. In condemning the possibility of college when that's where God might be directing her, they risk causing her to stumble in disobedience to Him, in an attempt to seem righteous before them instead.
Pastor Ken asked Katie something to the effect of "What do you think is their motivation in presenting this approach? Why do they want others to live this way?" And I think it's a good question about legalism in whatever form it takes.
In our study of the Gospel of Mark, we've been seeing time and again how the Pharisees could not understand why Jesus insisted on remaining totally unencumbered by the traditions that they held to so tenaciously. They had so lost sight of living according to the Scriptures that His scriptural teachings only angered and threatened them. I think such is true of the modern-day legalist, as well. He holds tightly to outward trappings that he thinks make him more righteous, more holy, more acceptable to God, even though there's nothing in the Scriptures that would say he must embrace those ways. Not only does he do so, but he tries to gather others to do the same thing as well. If others do so, it affirms him. He gets the feeling that if he has their approval, maybe he has God's as well; it adds to his earthly security, which he mistakes for security in Christ. Legalism takes as many forms as there are individuals who try to please God in their own way; it takes the form of other religions, and of variations on scriptural teaching. I know I've tended toward it, and I would be surprised if most people don't have to struggle against trying to make themselves right with God by merely human means, or as a "Jesus-Plus" approach--not just Jesus, but Jesus and human works of outward righteousness. It's the human way, and the American way: Don't leave it in its simple form; that can't be good enough. Supersize it.
So it's important for the believer to examine himself. 2 Corinthians 13:5 says "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you--unless indeed you fail the test?" What would the test be? Romans 8:9 says, "However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him." How do you tell whether a person has the Spirit of God? Galatians 5:22-23 says, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." If this type of fruit isn't showing much in a person's life, chances are, if he has the Spirit of God, he hasn't learned to let Him reign like he should in his life. There is another possibility too, especially if these things are never really showing: Maybe he doesn't have the Spirit of God at all. Then he may exhibit more the fruit of the flesh; Galatians 5:19-20 describes them this way: Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. And yet, I feel that these lists, Scripture though they be, could lull a person into falsely believing that he is saved even if he is not. There are also so many warnings in 1 John along the tone of 4:20: "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen." There are the uppermost commandments about loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself. We can assure ourselves that we do, and yet I warrant it's more than any earthly lifetime getting these things really right. So we can examine ourselves, and honestly admit dissatisfaction with our assessment based on any of these and other Scriptures, but all we can really do in response is confess our lack to Christ and be assured that He is able to forgive us, and make us right with God. Nothing we add in works can fill the gap of anything wanting in us.
I don't think being legalistic is a sign that you definitely don't have Christ, but it might be a warning regarding what you know of salvation. How are you good enough for heaven? Is it by anything that you have ever done, or thought, or said? Not by anything you'll find in the Scriptures! All the goodness that gets us into heaven belongs to Christ; it's from Christ, and it's in spite of ourselves that He has seen fit to save us, not because we ever earned it! I like Romans 4:2-3: "For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.'" We can try telling people, or showing them by what we do, that we're good enough, but it doesn't fool God. It's trusting in Jesus Christ alone that is adequate to make us right for heaven. Here is what Jesus did: Colossians 2:13-14 says, "When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross." I don't know about you, but that description points out to me that it was entirely out of my realm of ability to cancel out any of my sins by anything I could do. If it wasn't, don't you think He would have told me how I could do it on my own, rather than surrender His life on my behalf? Don't trust in your earthly ability to please God as a way to cancel out your sins and get to heaven. Don't try to get others to join you in some non-scriptural means of righteousness. Just place your trust on Jesus Christ, who alone is adequate to the task of making you right before God.
New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.

Monday, March 23, 2009

It's Just a Chiton, but it's so Much More!

Yesterday at church, Gary and Pastor Ken were recounting the happenings of the previous day's Men's Retreat at Fort Casey. After the talk that was given (it was briefly described as about the heart--the rest was left for us to wonder...oh well...), they went down to the beach. Pastor Ken described a chiton that they found as they were walking along. He had no idea how that mention of a chiton would stir up memories for me! And they are memories of summer camp that have been augmented by the discovery I since made about the fact that the creation I was exploring is indeed God's creation. Glorious!
In junior high school, I used to go to an oceanographic summer camp through Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. It was down at Coos Bay, and I remember just how wonderful it was to learn about all the funny and amazing creatures that hide themselves under the rocks and in the varying depths of the beach environment. When Gary and I were first married, we went down there on a trip, and I tried showing him the wonders of the beaches there; I remembered having seen octopus, pycnopodia starfish, gumboot chitons, limpets, hermit crabs, brittle stars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, jellyfish, sea anemones, and sand shrimp. Alas, one or two people can't possibly uncover the whereabouts of the sea creatures like a crowd of 30 or 60 kids can do--though I'm sure we're far less stressful to those animals by our inept search than those kids would have been! I took him down to Shell Island, but we didn't find much of anything. I took him to a dock where we'd spent some hours on our stomachs, leaning over and looking at the underside where tube worms and sea slugs and mussels and starfish and barnacles made their homes. It had been such a rich, colorful environment to see...but it was condemned, and there was a high fence all around us to keep us from lying down on the dock and sinking into the water, I guess. I think being completely dunked would have been worth the momentary view! So Gary only got to know Coos Bay on a very surface level, only helped by what I could tell him. It was entirely inadequate to express the reality of the underwater world.
Even though in those jr. high school years, I had no real understanding of how those animals came to exist, I couldn't help but be amazed by them. Their rich variety and the complexity of their closely intertwined existence were a wonder to behold. Now I know that they are just one way that God shows off the wonders of His imagination and abundance--not even really showing them off, as much as hiding them. A person has to make an effort, go far out of their ordinary way, to see just how great the undersea world is. It's not a place that most of us venture on an everyday basis! And that's pretty unfortunate.
So after all of our discussion at church yesterday, I got thinking about all the ways that the natural world, and science as a whole, display various aspects of God's wonderful creation, and about God Himself. There is nothing you can study where God entirely hides who He is, if you know how to look at it; it shows off His extremely abundant provision, generosity, creativity, and grace. Electricity shows off His abundant provision that we have found how to use by barely harnessing it--though it also is even the very impulse of our nervous systems; sonar is something naturally found in bats, and used in our defense systems; solar energy is used by almost every plant, and inadequately harnessed by humanity; geothermal energy maintains a certain warmth in our soil and atmosphere, and we have barely scratched the surface of how to harness it; the orderliness of mathematics is evident in botany, music, anatomy, astronomy, anatomy; the orderliness and complexity of chemistry is constantly in use in everything we touch see, and smell, and things we can't touch or see, and we see how it is used by mankind in manufacturing and medicine, but also in our everyday cooking and cleaning. There is the wonder of anatomy, most exquisitely expressed in the structure of the eye, and the division of the cell. In fact, even as I was an unbeliever, when cell division was explained to me in college by an unbelieving professor, I remember becoming very conscious of the fact that there had to be a God to orchestrate cell division throughout the earth. I could go on forever about how His creation manifests His glory, in as many ways as there are types of science and ways that they interact and show wonderful complexity and order and abundance.
Then there is the history of mankind, and I could go on about that for days, but the discoveries humanity has made, the inventions, the interactions, the progress of the world...so many people would say that it exhibits the glory of man. It may be true, but if so, that only expresses the glory of the God who created any men who can do any good at all; they can only do so by the strength that God supplies, by the breath He provides for them to breathe, by the inspiration that He instills in their brains and the passion He puts into their hearts.
Even if you look at things that entirely oppose God (and all that I can think of are bound up in the human heart), it still shows His glory, because He has given sinners a wonderfully created body to dwell in, and grace to live one more day, to breathe one more breath...even while they oppose Him with all their strength. He gives them sunshine to warm them, the dark of night to cool them and give them rest, the glory of His creation to draw them to Him, food to feed them...and yet so many still oppose Him and ignore the fact that He is the source of every good and perfect gift. But as long as they draw breath, they give Him glory, in that they show His generosity in letting them live when He could so easily take them out of this world in such a variety of ways.
And so that funny little chiton that Pastor Ken described...it got me thinking. Everyone should be excited by the beauty of that funny little animal, and the manifold wonders of the loving, creative God who put it there.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The One Last Vulnerability

I don't watch tv much. Though these days, I go to the YMCA and exercise, and am reminded as I do, since they have four different news channels to which one can watch and listen: These are uncertain times. (I think perhaps they would seem less uncertain without the news media seeming to purposely instill fears in the hearts of men; but they are right nonetheless; these are certainly uncertain times!) I maintain that all times are uncertain times, however...these just seem less certain than most! But at any given time, no matter how much money you have, how much gas in your gas tank, how much insurance, how much armor, how thick-walled a safe...your life is uncertain. You really don't have every possible protection in place against harm; you are still, ultimately, vulnerable.
Suppose you are a billionaire, with a loving family; all your belongings are paid for, and you have no debts; you've made sure that none of your homes are located in a flood zone or near any prisons or parolees, that the area doesn't tend to have tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes or any likelihood of natural disasters; the walls to your house are built strong and thick; a security gate surrounds each property and is high and strong. Your vehicle is a Hummer; your spouse is trained as an EMT, and you have a defibrillator in every room. You have money in every kind of savings and stock and bond imaginable, and then some in Swiss bank accounts. You have every kind of insurance that they sell that applies to your life. Your gas tanks are full, you have a few generators, a propane tank, a backup of food and water on hand that would feed an army. Your reputation is spotless; there is no potential for slander, defamation or lawsuit. And yet, you stay awake at night. Perhaps you should...because you still cannot be sure of what the future brings.
Then one day, you are idly surfing the internet. You go to someone's blog, and nothing in the blog hits you particularly, but you click on a link, the title of which you vaguely rememeber from somewhere long ago...Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. Not sure exactly where you heard of it, maybe back in American History class when you were in high school...it must be one of those Americana things, that its fame has spread even to those who would hold no interest in it of their own selves. You're not even sure why you were interested enough to click on it; maybe it was curiosity as to why it was so famous that you'd heard of it. Hmmm, the author's name is Jonathan Edwards...you've heard of him too; was he some famous character in American history? So your curiosity captures you, and you read it, and as you read, that fear that you've been living with starts to rise up and take hold of you. It's a fear that until now, you had not been able to place, to identify; you have found no measure of security and safety to withhold it. Now you can define its place, you know for certain that you are not secure against it, and you now know that your unnamed fear concerns nothing on earth, but instead the unsettling and unaddressed question of where you will be for all eternity. You realize that all the earthly protections that you have set in place cannot protect you from this fearful, unavoidable and eventual concern.
You can see while reading that Jonathan Edwards has gone down in history with strong justification; he is able to name, as you have never seen before, the cause for a fear for which you had no understanding but which consumed you.
"God has so many different unsearchable ways of taking wicked men out of the world and sending them to hell, that there is nothing to make it appear, that God had need to be at the expense of a miracle, or go out of the ordinary course of his providence, to destroy any wicked man, at any moment." You have known this to be true, and in all your pondering and planning, you have not found the solution; you know that it has eluded you, and continuing reading, you hope that he offers you an antidote to finally put this fear to rest. Is there an antidote? Is he addressing a fear that all humanity understands but few articulate? Do all people fear eternity?
You ponder this and remember a family you once knew, back before you had acquired all these riches. They were so poor, and they had so many children...you knew that they had no reason to be happy from anything you could see, and yet they were more joyful than anyone else you knew. They never despaired or worried, though they had nothing visible that was adequate to explain the peace that continually emanated from them. What was the source of it? What was different about them than about most people you have ever known? And even when the father died, though they were surely saddened, they didn't seem to despair as anyone else would have; they even seemed sure that they would see him again. This family, at least, didn't seem to participate in the fears and heaviness to life that others seem unable to escape.
As you read on in Edwards' sermon, you realize that these fears must indeed be understood by all of humanity; Edwards seems to know just what to say; you recognize the truth of his words and you are pleading that by the end, that Edwards will be ready to give a solution to your fears. When he compares you to a spider being held dangling over a fire, precariously ready to burn in the flame, you know the truth of it. He has named your fear, that you dangle over eternity in hell; you know that in comparison a burnt spider would be shown more mercy because his end would be quick and then he would be no more. You never knew enough about God to know how you might ever have offended Him. Now you know it to be true, and what will you do with it?
Here perhaps Edwards' sermon is inadequate, in giving the solution. He mentions flocking to Christ, and yet how? Why is Christ the answer? Was Christ the answer for that family that you once knew? Is Christ the answer for you? He is the only solution that Edwards provides, but he doesn't really explain it...Edwards knew that his audience had likely already heard the answers to these questions in prior times, whether from his pulpit or in the community where biblical texts were so well-known. But these days, there are so many who have never heard any of the truth from the Scriptures; if you don't know them, you are hardly alone! Here are a few helpful verses; please pardon my tagging along, giving an introduction of sorts to each:

We all start out in the same boat, in that we are all sinners in need of a Savior:
"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23)
Our sins separate us from God, which isn't good for this life or for eternity:
...your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear (Isaiah 59:2)
We need to confess to Him that we are sinners, acknowledging that we need His cleansing:
If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)
Even though we were separated from Him, God in His lovingkindness provided a way for us to come to Him after all:
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.(Romans 5:8)
Jesus died for our sins and rose again from the dead three days later:
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures... (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
We aren't capable to save ourselves; it isn't our goodness or anything we do that saves us, but God's loving gift of grace and faith:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Jesus calls on us to trust in Him, to rest in Him, to learn from Him. He willingly takes on the burden of our sin when we come to Him with the faith that God provides:
"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)
In light of all this, our response is one of worship and praise. We should never hesitate to come to God for forgiveness, for cleansing, and for fellowship with Him. He is good and loving!
Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. Today, if you would hear His voice, do not harden your hearts... (Psalm 95:6-8a)
When we belong to God, confessing our sin to Him, trusting Him for our salvation, then we are absolutely clean!
"Come now, and let us reason together," says the LORD, "Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool."
(Isaiah 1:18)
Our sins are removed, they are far from us. Hallelujah!
As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)
If you still aren't sure whether it's true, pray to Him. Ask Him to show you the truth, to help you to recognize it. He promises, "You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you," declares the LORD... (Jeremiah 29:13-14a).

Now, even if you lost all that you had in the previous part, you'd have a security you had never known. Your eternity would be established and founded in the heavens. When you pray, seeking God's forgiveness through Christ, you become His child, and there is no better security to be found. I say, today is the day of salvation! Pray to receive Him, and have that last vulnerability be the first solid security you have ever known.
New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.
Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, by Jonathan Edwards, at Reformed Sermon Archives http://www.reformedsermonarchives.com/ed5.htm

Monday, March 02, 2009

Is it What He Does? Or Who He is?

Yesterday at church, while transitioning from sermon to communion time, Pastor Ken pointed out that we need to look to Jesus Christ for who He is, not just for what He can do for us. It stirred me out of the place I've been for the last few weeks, trying to look to Him rather than to the circumstances that bother me lately. I have to admit, I've been all about what Jesus might do for me, might demand of me, might be teaching me. I haven't been focusing much on just Jesus for who He is. Do I love Him just for who He is, or just for what He does for me?
I am by nature a selfish, self-absorbed human being. Back at the start of my Christian walk, I had to come to the very end of my own self to admit my need for Him, and have been pretty aware of His provision for me all this time. His whole appeal when I accepted Him as my Savior, I admit, was what He could do for me. Could He pull me out of my pit? He could?! Oh, my Savior He is...and yet...do I love Him just for who He is?
How do I separate the two? Who Jesus is, versus what He does for me? The Bible is so full of His provision for us, His love for us, His desire for us to trust in Him. All of this is about what He does for us, and I'm not saying that He doesn't want us to dwell on these things--He does; it helps us to trust in Him; but there is so much more, just about who He is, that isn't about the many aspects of Him that work on our behalf. Who He is, apart from what He does for us, is full grounds for unadulterated worship.

It doesn't seem that there is nearly so much that is about just Him in the Scriptures, separated from what He does for humanity. I have to really dwell on it in order to separate the two thoughts! So often when I am meditating on Jesus Christ, and who He is, and how worthy of worship and praise He is, I go through the alphabet and think of names for Him...so how many of these dwell only on who He is, and not how He is good for our particular needs? I don't mentally come up with all these names each time; some come up here and some there, but it's a good way for getting a varied picture of so much that He is to us. It seemed like a good way to sort out these aspects of Him between aspects that are on our behalf and aspects that are just who He is aside from our particular benefit; I'm sure I made some arguable designations here, but it was the best evaluation that came to mind; yes, meaning they are names that have primarily to do with who He is; no, meaning names which apply primarily to our benefit:

A: Accursed of God--for us--no.
Alpha and Omega--yes, that's pretty much all about Him!

Adonai (Master and Lord)--speaks of His power to protect us and His authority over us--no.
Ancient of Days--yes!
Angel of the Lord--yes!
Apostle--I don't think so, because He is named this alongside High Priest--which is for us.
Author and Finisher of our Faith--no.
B: Beautiful--yes. Beloved of God--yes!
Beginning and the End (Alpha and Omega again)--yes!
Branch: yes!
Bread of Life--hmm. I'd say, bread of our life--no.
Bridegroom--with us as the Bride--no.
C: Chief Cornerstone--hmm, not sure--yes?
Creator--sort of, but He created...us, or we wouldn't be here to care.
D. Defender--no.
Door of the Sheep--we are the sheep--no.
E: Elohim--Creator, Preserver, Transcendant, Mighty and Strong--maybe not.
El Elyon--"Most High"--yes!
El Olam--Everlasting God--Yes!
Everlasting Father--yes?
Everlasting God--yes!
F: Father--no; our Father!
G: God--yes and no.
God our Rock--ours. no.
God who sees--no. He sees us!
Good Shepherd--no.
Great Physician--no.
Guardian of our souls--no.
H: Head--no.
High Priest--no.
Holy One--yes.
I: I AM--yes!
Image of the Invisible God--no--He was that for us.
Immanuel--God with US--no.
J: Jealous--no. He is jealous for us!
Jesus--Jesus means "Savior." No.
Jehovah--"The Self-Existent One"--yes.
Jehovah-Jireh--"The Lord who Provides"--no.
Jehovah Ra-ah--"The Lord my Shepherd"--no.
Jehovah Rophe--"The Lord who Heals"--no.
Jehovah-Nissi--"The Lord our Banner"--has something of a protective defender tone, so, no.
Jehovah M'Kaddesh--"The Lord who Sanctifies"--no.
Jehovah-Shalom--"The Lord our Peace"--no.
Jehovah-Shammad--"The Lord is Present"--yes.
Jehovah Sabaoth--"The Lord of hosts"--yes.
K: King of kings--yes. and no...because it testifies to His power, and what He can do for us.
L: Lamb of God--spotless sacrifice for our sins--no.
Light of the World--of our world--no.
Lord of lords--yes. and no...same as in King of kings!
M: Man of Sorrows--no.
Messenger--from God the Father to us--no.
Mighty God--yes.and no...testifies to His power and what He can do for us again.
Mighty One--yes. and no...same as in Mighty God, above.
Most High--yes!
N: Nazarene--for us--no.
P: Prince of Peace--I don't think so, He is our Peace.
R: Redeemer--no.
Righteous One--yes!
S: Savior--no.
Seed of the woman--no.
Servant--to do God's will--yes!
Son of God--yes!
Son of Man--no.
Sun of Righteousness--yes.
T: True Vine--yes!
W: Way--no.

Wisdom of God--yes!
Wonderful Counselor--no
Word (Logos)--yes!
Y: Yahweh--(Jehovah)--yes!

So in summary, here are some names that have to do with just who He is, rather than what He does for us: Alpha and Omega, Ancient of Days, Angel of the Lord, Beautiful, Beloved of God, Beginning and the End, Branch, Chief Cornerstone, El Elyon, El Olam, Everlasting Father, Everlasting God, God, Holy One, I AM, Jehovah-Shammad, Jehovah Sabaoth, King of kings, Life, Lord of lords, Mighty God, Mighty One, Most High, Righteous One, Root, Rock, Servant, Son of God, Sovereign, Sun of Righteousness, True Vine, Truth, Wisdom of God, Word, Yahweh.
I know I haven't included every name for Jesus; some I included more than once in different forms. Anyway, in conclusion, who can say that there's not enough to focus on about Jesus in just who He is? What He does for us, in history, in our lives, in the future...that's just icing on the cake. Even so, there is so much to focus on if you are having a hard time trusting in His strength and provision, and for the moment need to dwell on that instead (or better, in addition to just who He is)--He is all these things by His grace and kindness and mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us. Hallelujah! He reigns!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Earthly and Heavenly Good

Recently one of my "facebook friends" posted as her status something regarding people who are "so heavenly-minded that they're no earthly good." I kind of think I know a few people like that...a very few. But I think the definition or picture of what that phrase means sort of depends on who is saying it. The first time I heard that phrase, the woman was giving me a sidelong glance to indicate she was meaning I had fallen into that category. And I would be surprised if a lot of people wouldn't think so of me. What good might I be to them? Some would say, none. And I don't know whether to apologize for that or not.
I suspect that this phrase is mostly used by those who aren't living out their faith, and who see people who are trying to do so as annoying. When I think of the few who I would categorize as too heavenly-minded, I think of some women who have so much time to ponder the Scriptures (a good thing) that they can't relate to the struggles everyone else has in daily life. They're older ladies, whose husbands left them long ago, who have no children at home. They get into the jots and tittles of Scripture, perhaps down to what every Hebrew letter means in and of itself, and therefore what the meaning of those individual letters might mean in combination when written in a word...I don't know if you've ever seen anyone do this, but I have, and it was laborious and not that edifying. In fact, I wasn't sure that it was scriptural in the least. These women had too much time for things that don't matter a hill of beans in this world, when their time would have been better spent doing wash for women with new babies, or visiting someone in prison or in the hospital, or making a meal for someone, or praying...something of that sort. Then there are men who read books of Bible prophecy, written by men who have prophecied things that didn't come true, or books about how the arrangement of the Hebrew letters make fantastic prophetic patterns...stuff that Jesus never intended for us to read into the Scriptures. These people also tend to lack a concept of the full counsel of Scripture, and lean far to one side or another in their interest and interpretation. When study of the Scriptures dwells more on unnecessary details than on how to live according to God's will, reach the lost, pray without ceasing, forgive offenders, love the unloveable, be content, be good stewards...then there is a problem. Until we have those harder things mastered, we don't really have time for which way each jot and tittle turns. And I suspect it takes a lifetime to master the harder things...
But there are those whose lives may not seem on the surface to be useful to those around them, who might be living just as God prescribes. Perhaps you can read the Bible too much, or pray too much, isolate yourself for the sake of meditation too much; but I have never known anyone to do these things. If someone did so and therefore neglected ministering personally to the people around him, then he might be overdoing it; he might actually be making prayer or Bible study into an idol of its own sort. Have you ever seen it happen? I'm not sure that I have. I would guess there are more of us who don't do so enough! Perhaps we all tend more to be so earthly-minded that we're no heavenly good. That's the extreme that I suspect is more of a problem. And if you say I am, I will say, I stand convicted. That is why I need a Savior who loves me and has given me so much grace. That is why I need to study and pray and learn to love God more and serve Him better...and love you more and serve you better...so I can be earthly and heavenly good. It's a hard balance to make, and a lifetime learning it.