Slowing down, looking around the garden
Luke 24: So thick-headed!
The blazing truth of the resurrection is so bright that it overwhelms everything else in this passage; and well it should. After all, it’s the center piece of the gospel message. Still, since I’ve been here many times before I can afford to shade my eyes and look around a bit. Somewhere around the third or fourth level of importance I see a bit of a theme here. Right after the resurrection Jesus reminds the women that he told them that all this would happen. “Then they remembered Jesus’ words.” Then, the women to go the disciples with the best news ever told, but “the apostles didn’t believe a word of it.” Peter, though, goes to the tomb. He “walked away puzzled, shaking his head.” Later, Jesus himself joins two disciples on the way to Emmaus. They’re so clueless about everything that he calls them “thick-headed” and “slow-hearted.” That night Jesus appears to all his disciples at once, but “they still couldn’t believe what they were seeing.” All of this takes place following the resurrection. These people, followers of Jesus, his friends, his disciples, his supporters, struggle to get their heads and hearts around what this is all about. So, I sit here more than 2000 years after the fact reading, once again, the story of the resurrection. I can draw from a rich tradition of theology, doctrine, and scholarship of the Bible. Still, I wonder: do I really get it? Have I gotten so used to the blazing light of the resurrection that I fail to embrace it? If so, I need to stop everything else and go back to the garden and spend some time there.
Take Away: For the resurrection to matter to me I have to take time to get my heart around it and fully embrace it.
Don’t worry about it
Daniel 12: Go about your business without fretting or worrying. Relax.
The things Daniel sees contain some disturbing and confusing information. He’s concerned about that. He doesn’t want to miss out on the message he’s been given. However, God’s messenger tells him not to worry about it. What he’s been shown is a long way off and, while some will waste a great deal of energy “running around, trying to figure out what’s going on” Daniel isn’t expected to grasp it all. Rather, he’s to merely pass the word along and when the time is right it’ll be opened up to those who need to understand. When he’s done that, Daniel’s off the hook. He’s to go about living life without fretting or worrying about how it will all play out. The Lord’s final message to Daniel is “relax.” I firmly believe that there are crucial events in world history when God puts specific people in a specific place for just that moment. However, most of us are called to simply live for God day by day. We don’t have to figure it all out and we don’t have to become famous Christians. If I give my life to Jesus and by his grace live for him I can “relax.” As Daniel’s promised, “When it’s all over, you will be on your feet to receive your reward.”
Take Away: Most of us are called to simply live for the Lord day by day.
First steps of a long journey
Daniel 2: Your God is beyond question the God of all gods, the Master of all kings.
So, with Nebuchadnezzar now convinced that the Lord is God and Master of all, things are going to smooth out for the Hebrews, right? Wrong! Truth be told, Nebuchadnezzar hasn’t a clue. He takes Daniel’s dream interpretation and goes right out to build a statue of himself, based on that dream. He then demands that everyone, including those who worship the Master of all kings, bow down to him instead. I’m telling you he’s clueless! The dream episode impacts Nebuchadnezzar and in that his attitude concerning God Almighty changes. However, his application of this new knowledge is skewed and greatly lacking. In fact, he’s years away from anything close to a humble relationship with his Creator. I’ve seen it in people’s lives. A person prays the sinner’s prayer and receives Christ and then, within two weeks does something so ill advised that I can hardly believe it. At one time I would have concluded that they had “back slid.” However, I’ve come to realize that, while it’s true that some have “looked back” others are still in the process of becoming believers. They aren’t sure what it means to follow Jesus, so they do silly stuff and stumble along, putting their spiritual lives in great jeopardy. Nebuchadnezzar has made a big move in declaring Daniel’s God the God of all gods. However, he’s a long way from what that God of all gods wants to accomplish in his life. In fact, his journey has only begun.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for the crisis moments, but at the same time, recognize that they are but stepping stones in a longer journey.
Daniel 2: There is a God in heaven who solves mysteries, and he has solved this one.
Daniel is the interpreter of dreams. When Nebuchadnezzar has a disturbing dream it’s Daniel who comes through, not only with the interpretation of the dream, but the dream itself. This good man is always careful to give credit where credit is due, and he tells this pagan king that it’s his God who’s solved this mystery. “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men” can’t do it, but God can and has. Daniel describes the dream and then he explains the meaning. The vexing mystery is unraveled for Nebuchadnezzar and he likes what he hears. I haven’t had any deep, meaningful dreams of late. However, life does have more than its share of mysteries. Who hasn’t asked, at some point, “why?” If you’ve never received one of those middle-of-the-night phone calls I’m happy for you but don’t think that call will never come. Sooner or later we all face some mystery of life. I’m glad today to be reminded that “there is a God in heaven who solves mysteries.” In this statement Daniel reveals his Source. God is the great Mystery Solver.
Take Away: The Lord can unravel the mysteries of our lives.
Our final refuge
Job 19: Still, I know that God lives.
There’s much that Job doesn’t understand. He doesn’t understand why his children died in a terrible storm, or why his considerable wealth was taken away on that same day. He doesn’t understand why he’s suffering so and he doesn’t understand why he was ever born in the first place. One biggie is that he doesn’t understand why God won’t answer his plea for a hearing to straighten out this whole mess. There isn’t much solid ground for Job these days. So much of what he has thought of as firm has slipped away, including what he believes about God and how the Lord works in the world. In fact, there remains just one place of solid footing. It’s here that he takes his stand: “I know that God lives.” Thankfully, few people in history have faced the tragedy and loss Job did. However, for all of us, the day comes as we near our last breath when we’re left with only the bare essentials. On that day, I pray that I, too, will find that one remaining firm place to take my stand: “I know that God lives.”
Take Away: When we come to the crucial moments of life we have to decide what is and isn’t essential.
The most important thing
Job 9: I don’t understand what’s going on.
Job’s reply to Bildad’s lecture about how bad people have bad things happen to them and good people enjoy good things is not to disagree. He says, “So what’s new? I know all this.” Again, (and I know I can quit harping on this) Job’s complaint is that he’s done nothing to deserve all this and that somehow there’s been a mistake in heaven. However, Job is a clear thinker. He understands that the only way a man can be right with God is by God’s mercy. He trusts in God, but he understands that it’s only by grace and mercy that he has a standing before the Lord. The impressive thing about Job, however, isn’t that he has a firm grasp on spiritual truths that won’t be fully revealed until Jesus explains them. The impressive thing is that even when he feels he’s being treated unjustly by God, even when he doesn’t understand what’s going on, and even as he cries out for a fair hearing on this whole matter, he stands firm in his faith. In all this, we’re reminded that faith trumps even knowledge. That’s not only vital for Job, but it’s vital for me too.
Take Away: Faith trumps even knowledge.
Taking care of business
Deuteronomy 29: God will take care of the hidden things but the revealed things are our business.
Moses has been outlining the terms of the “blessing and the curse” for his congregation. He warns them that what happens along that line is up to them. God has already laid out his intentions for them, and it’s perfectly possible for them, by God’s grace, to live up to them all. Still, there’s much they don’t know. Once they cross the Jordan River they’ll encounter new obstacles and challenges. It’s here that we find this shining gem of both a promise and a charge. If they do their part, God can be counted on to do his. Without doing too much damage to this statement, I can pull it out of context and be warmed by its promise. If I’m not careful, I’ll spend way too much energy worrying about the “hidden things.” God says, “You pay attention to the things you know are your responsibility and I’ll take care of the rest.” That, my friend, is a very good deal!
Take Away: My accountability ends with the extent of my knowledge, but I’d better remember that that accountability is real and I am responsible before God.
How God’s people live
Leviticus 5: …the moment he does realize his guilt he is held responsible.
So how do a people of God live? How do they conduct business, relate to one another, and worship? That’s the challenge that’s met in Leviticus. There’s a lot of “sin” language here. “If a man sins by…then he must….” Living justly, making things right, even being holy are the goals of Leviticus. Today I read, “If anyone sins by breaking any of the commandments of God which must not be broken, but without being aware of it at the time, the moment he does realize his guilt he is held responsible.” So much of this book of rules and regulations seems out of touch. They’re part of the Old Covenant and therefore subject to modification by the superior New Covenant. Still, there are principles that can be applied anywhere and anytime. This is one of them. Responsibility is linked to knowledge. It’s when I realize that I’ve come up short that I’m responsible for making things right. There’s grace in this – that is, God isn’t waiting for me to mess up so he can come down on me like a load of bricks (if so, I sure wouldn’t be writing these words right now). There’s also responsibility here – once I do know, I can’t retreat to, “I didn’t know.” If possible, I must make it right. I must acknowledge my failure and repent of it. To do otherwise is to presume on God’s grace and to bring condemnation upon myself.
Take Away: To know is to be responsible.
The mystery has been solved
Colossians 2: We’ve been shown the mystery!
A new church has started down the block and old First Church seems dull in comparison. New Church not only offers a different style of music, but there’s a lot of talk about amazing spiritual experiences and hitherto unknown secrets being revealed. The folks at First Church can’t help but notice what’s going on down the street. How come their pastor never tells them some of these secrets to success? Why doesn’t he lead them into the mysteries of the spiritual? Something like that is happening at Colossi and Laodicea. Those with a different approach to God have come to town claiming that their way unlocks doors that have before been locked. If the Christians listen to them they can go beyond where they are and press on to spiritual power and authority beyond what they’ve ever imagined. The Apostle tells them that that’s completely wrong. The great mystery, the wonderful secret to spiritual power and success has already been explained to them. It can all be summed up in one name: “Jesus.” To be connected to him is to be connected to all there is of God. He warns them that to rush off down some other road is a “wild-goose chase.” Paul urges them to focus only on Jesus and, in him to be dominated by the love of God. The mystery has been solved and the secret has been revealed. His name is Jesus.
Take Away: Our religion isn’t bound up in mysteries. Rather it’s all about relationship: knowing Jesus as Savior, Lord, and Friend.