What Others Say

I have read your columns many times, have saved the ones that "speak" to me and reread them....... I just want to thank you for your inspired writing, illuminating faith and the day to day that focuses on God and His Son....
- Carol C.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Royal Wedding

This is the week of the wedding. Over two billion people are expected to watch Kate Middleton's four-minute walk down the aisle at Westminster Abbey to exchange vows with Prince William. When she departs, she will no longer be referred to as Kate. She will be known as Catherine, most likely Princess Catherine depending upon the Queen's choice of title.

Weddings are big business. Families with limited resources borrow against their home equity and their annuity in order to see their daughters adorned for the monumental moment. According to a Bridal Association of America, the average wedding in the United States cost slightly over $30,000. The most expensive wedding on record? Vanisha Mittal, whose father owns the largest steel company, to British investment banker Amit Bhatia on June 22, 2009. The cost: more than $60 million. The tab for Prince William and Kate’s wedding will run close to $50 million. Of course love cannot be measured in money and the cost of a wedding has nothing to do with the success of a marriage. Nonetheless, the wedding is one time when everyone is willing to splurge, to throw caution and check book to the wind in an effort to create and capture this one perfect moment.

Perhaps that is why the Bible uses the wedding imagery to help us understand our relationship to God. It is extravagant. The Bible describes the church as the “bride of Christ” adorned for her husband. Of course, the Bible’s reference to “church” has nothing to do with denominations, organizations, institutions or buildings. When the Bible talks about the church, it is talking about people, “a people after God’s own choosing.” It is talking about you and me. The wedding image is included to help us know how much God cherishes us and how much he is willing to pay, not just for a perfect moment, but for a perfect relationship. The wedding image is the visible expression of John 3:16.

As the royal wedding week unfolds, there is much speculation about Kate’s appearance. Somehow, in our WikiLeaks world, no one has been able to discover what the royal wedding dress looks like. She has kept it secret. As much as the world is abuzz about these things, Kate likely has little concern about how she will appear to the guests, the media or the world. When I walked my daughter down the aisle at her wedding, she was focused on only one person, her future husband who stood at the altar waiting for her. I suspect Kate is only concerned about how she will appear to her fiancĂ©, Prince William.

So it is with our faith. Our focus is not on the world or the opinion of others. Our focus is on Jesus as the bridegroom. The book of Revelation describes it like this: “Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: ‘Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come and his bride has made herself ready.’” (Rev. 19:6-7). With every act of kindness, goodness, mercy, justice, compassion and faith, we prepare our selves as the bride for our bridegroom. Like Kate’s wedding dress, most of these things will be done in secret to be revealed when the bridegroom appears.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Resurrection

I was twenty-nine years old when my father died. Only hours before his death, I spoke with him. Our eyes met one another, the same eye contact I had with him from my birth. I held his hand as he drew his last breath, and he was gone. His body lay lifeless and unresponsive.

The morticians took his body from the hospital room where our family had waited through the night. My mother, brothers and I visited the funeral home and chose a casket. Shortly afterward other family and friends joined us to view his body lying still and quiet, dressed in his familiar suit, his hair combed. I stood by the casket and stared at his face. It was obvious another hand had combed his hair and another hand had tied his tie. He seemed to be sleeping. I almost imagined him drawing breath. Almost imagined him opening his eyes that sparkled once again with life, his lips parting in the familiar grin, the dimples reappearing in his cheeks. But he didn’t move. We buried his body in the cemetery thirty-five years ago surrounded by friends who came to comfort us, many of whom are now buried beside him.

I asked myself the question Job asked centuries ago, the question every man and woman must ultimately ask when they stand where I stood on that day, “If a man die, shall he live again?”

Job’s struggle with the question was not about theology or philosophy. His struggle was like mine. It was personal. It is the struggle we all must face sooner or later when those whom we love die. “At least there is hope for a tree,” Job said, “If it is cut down it will sprout again. … Its’ roots may grow old in the ground and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth shoots like a plant. But a man dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more.”

The world will ponder Job’s question this weekend when we gather in Christian churches around the world. If Jesus was raised from the dead, the answer to life’s most important question is clear. Luke wrote, “After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” John wrote, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”

After having pondered the question we all must ponder, Job foresaw the event we celebrate this week. He wrote, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!”

Monday, April 11, 2011

How Big Is God

Today I drove my 1977 Volkswagen bug that I have named Bullet. When I bought it, it was beat up, every fender dented, the paint peeling from its rusting surface. Depending upon the eye of the beholder, it was either a piece of junk or an antique. I chose the latter, had it painted and drive it almost every day.

The same year my VW bug was manufactured, NASA launched Voyagers 1 and 2 in opposite directions to explore the solar system and, eventually to reach interstellar space. But, space is a big place. Traveling at 39,000 and 35,000 miles per hour respectively, the Voyager probes are just now reaching the edge of our solar system, thirty-four years after their launch. Both Voyager probes carry gold plated phonograph records in hopes some extraterrestrial being might play them and listen to our world. If they do, they can hear a personal greeting from President Jimmy Carter. Although they have reached speeds fifty times faster than the fastest fighter jet, it will take them 70,000 years to reach the closest star.

One scientist put the size of the universe in perspective. If our sun were the size of a grain of salt, he said, the orbit of the earth would be one inch in diameter. And the closest star would be four miles away.

When we lie on the grass at night and look into the sky it is filled with stars, seemingly close together. But, in fact they are very, very far away. There are four hundred billion stars in our galaxy alone and there are fifty billion other galaxies. If the cosmic universe is this big, how big is God?

The Bible seeks to expand our minds when we think about Christ and God to help us understand that God is far bigger than anything we every imagined. When Paul writes about Christ, he says, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17). According to Luke, when people met Jesus they were struck by the “majestic greatness” of God.

Shortly before Jesus was crucified, he prayed for those who would believe in Him. According to John, his prayer included this statement, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” (John 17:24). The word for world in this statement is not the Greek word, “ges” from which we derive our words “geology, geography and geothermal.” It is the word “cosmos” indicating the “cosmic universe.” When we think about the expanse of the cosmic universe, we get a small glimpse of His glory, and quickly realize that our finite minds are far too small to comprehend His majestic greatness.

Whenever I drive my old Volkswagen bug I am reminded of those Voyager probes and how puny our man-made objects appear in the cosmic galaxies of creation. By contrast, I am caused to reflect on the majestic greatness of God. I am grateful that the invisible creator of creation has invited me to know him through the visible person of His Son.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Believe It Or Not

“Believe.” It is an interesting word. Sometimes we use it to indicate doubt. If we are not entirely certain of something, we will say, “I believe so.” For instance, if someone asks, “Are your friends joining us for dinner?” We will say, “I believe so.” Meaning, I think they are but I am not quite sure. If we were certain they were coming to dinner, we would simply say, “Yes.”

Sometimes we use “believe” to indicate our agreement with someone else’s statement. When I say, “I believe you,” I am indicating that I “believe” something is true. If you point to an airplane and ask, “Do you believe this is an airplane?” I might say, “Yes, I believe that is an airplane.”

At other times we use the word “believe” to indicate our confidence in someone. We may use the term for a political candidate or a doctor indicating confidence in that person. In this case they would get our vote or our business. We could also use this term with respect to the pilot of the airplane. We could believe in him, meaning we have confidence he can fly the airplane.

The word translated “believe” in the Bible is “pisteuo.” “Faith” is closer to the meaning of “pisteuo.” But, we don’t have a verb form of “faith” in our language. We cannot say, “I faith you.” We are left with our word “believe.” In this case, if we believe in the airplane and the pilot, we must climb aboard the airplane, take our seat and actually fly in it. We follow instructions and trust both the airplane and the pilot to take us aloft thousands of feet in the air.

The “faith” meaning of the word changes how we understand key passages in the Bible. For instance, when Jesus says,“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me shall never die,” he is actually saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who puts his trust and absolute faith in me shall never die.”

Here is the difference in religion and relationship. There are many who occasionally attend church who “believe” in Christ and “believe” they are Christians. They use the term like the first example. They are not quite sure, but they think it might be true, or hope it is.

Then there are others who attend church who “believe” according to the second definition. They give mental assent believing that Jesus is the Son of God, but it doesn’t make much difference in their lives.

Still others fall into the third category. They believe in Jesus in the sense that they have confidence in who he claims to be. They think he is a good person, that he spoke the truth, that he would get their vote among the other religious leaders in the history.

But moving into a faith relationship with Jesus Christ requires the New Testament kind of “believing.” We must trust Him with our lives. In this case we don’t have to understand or know everything, just like we don’t have to understand or know everything about flight and airplanes in order to fly. When the Bible says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved,” it means more than wishful thinking, mental assent or even having confidence in Christ. It means we must place our complete faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Like flying, we must follow His instructions and trust Him. If we do this, He will save us.