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Monday, October 29, 2018

Time and Eternity

Time.  It is the great mystery.  Past, present and future.  The past is beyond our grasp, as is the future.  We sense that somewhere out there the past exists as we lived it.  We are the same people that we were when we engaged in past circumstances, solved past problems, pursued past goals.  We can remember it, but we cannot relive it. Likewise, we believe that somewhere out there lies our future.  We can envision it, but we cannot yet experience it, and, we have learned that our envisioned future might turn out far different than we imagine. Only the present moment belongs to us.

Our modern measurement of time with nano-second precision has given us the illusion that we can control time and make it our servant, that we can stretch it and compress it. We pant through frenzied days of frantic activity trying to conquer the clock.  In almost every sport, whether football, basketball, soccer or track, we are competing against time, trying to manage the clock.  The team that can best utilize fractions of a second to put points on the board, emerges the winner.   Golf and tennis, competitions passed down to us from an era before the clock ruled, have been adjusted to fit our time-conscious culture by putting players “on the clock” to speed up play while adding sudden death play offs and tie breakers. Baseball remains “timeless” as reflected by the 18 inning World Series game four.
Centuries ago, without mechanical and electronic precision, men measured their lives by more natural cycles: seasons for planting, growing and harvesting; the moon, waxing and waning; days measured by the shifting shadows of the rising and setting sun.  Trans-ocean travel was dependent upon the wind and the currents in the sea. Time was less precise.  Time moved more slowly.  In some ways, life was lived closer to eternity.

When we touch God we reach beyond the boundaries of time into a realm that transcends our own. .  We are drawn into the “eternal.”  Even the word “eternal” is inadequate to convey the reality and ultimate dimensions of God.  The New Testament writers opted for the term eis aionion, literally “into the age” or “beyond the age.”  It could also be translated “beyond time.”  Everywhere we read the word “eternal” in the New Testament, it is the translation for this mysterious phrase, eis aionion.   God draws us beyond time into a dimension that cannot be measured by our mortal comprehension.

When God revealed Himself to Moses, he gave his name as “I AM,” a clear reference to His timeless being. When Jesus explained his identity, He said, “Before Abraham was, I am.”  Jesus said that those who believe in Him “will never die.”  Faith changes the game.  It suspends the clock, stretches the moment into eternity and compresses eternity into the moment.  When we come to faith in God through Jesus Christ, he lifts us out of our myopic mortal existence and pours eternity into our soul. He invites us to live eis aionion, into the age.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

When He Comes

Beyond confessions of faith, hymns and sermons, the Second Coming of Christ seems to make little difference.  We pursue our educations, work at our careers, raise our families, worry about retirement and prepare for the inevitable: death and taxes. In the meantime, the lives of believers and non-believers often show little marked difference other than church attendance.

But what if He comes today? What if He comes tomorrow? What if He came yesterday? No, I am not suggesting you missed the “rapture.” But, He did, in fact, come yesterday and He will, in fact, come today. Jesus comes to us everyday if we are looking for Him. He comes in small, imperceptible and unexpected ways. He comes in the interruptions that beg for our attention and threaten to derail our pre-planned agendas.

This is exactly what Jesus taught His disciples before His ascension into Heaven. Jesus said when He returns, “the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ … ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ (Matthew 25:31-46)

Once He came to me in the person of a young Hispanic employee at Wal-Mart who needed words of encouragement. He came in the form of a Chinese woman named Chiu who was fishing on a pier with her mentally handicapped daughter. Another time He came in the form of a teenage unwed mother who had given birth to a son who died a few days later. He came in the form of Sultan, Abdelmassa, Saud and Moath, Muslim students recently arrived from Kuwait. How many times have I missed Him and failed to recognize Him? I don't know. He comes every day in many ways and forms that we are likely to miss if we are too focused on our own agendas.

If we live our lives alert and ready to receive Him each and every day in the small encounters with the “least of these” we will become salt and light, as Jesus described it. In the process, we will be ready to receive Him in that day, when He appears like lightning from the east to west. We might even hear Him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” 

Monday, October 15, 2018

First Man

Last weekend we slipped into one of the premier showings of First Man, the movie portraying Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon.  The movie takes us on board the X-15, Gemini and Apollo.  We feel that we are there, experiencing the sheer terror of it all, pushing the limits of technology to land a man on the moon. The movie is gripping, as is the history.

My wife and I married on December 21, 1968, the day Apollo 8 launched to carry the first men to orbit the moon.  They reached the moon 3 days later. On Christmas Eve, just before they disappeared to the other side of the moon and lost radio contact with the earth, Frank Borman and his crew read the Genesis account of creation.  (Genesis 1:1-10).  In the distance the earth appeared as a fragile planet on the moon’s horizon.

Six and ½ months later we sat in front of our black and white TV and watched Neil Armstrong leap from the last rung of the lunar lander’s ladder to take “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” 

James Irwin served as the commander and pilot for the lunar lander on Apollo 15.  He became the 8th astronaut to step foot on the moon.  After his return Irwin founded the High Flight Foundation as a non-denominational evangelical organization based in Colorado Springs.  He said, “Some people make light of it and ask how can a technical person, an astronaut, believe in the Bible.  I guess I also was a skeptic in my early days, but I have come to believe what the Bible says as being true.” 

The last man to walk on the moon was Gene Cernan, commander of Apollo 17 in December 1972.  Cernan described his experience. “I felt the world was just too beautiful to have happened by accident.  There has to be something bigger than you and bigger than me. … There has to be a Creator of the universe who stands above the religions that we ourselves create to govern ourselves.”

We don’t know much about Neil Armstrong’s faith.  Like every other aspect of his life, as portrayed in the movie, he was closely guarded.  But Thomas Friedman includes an account about Neil Armstrong’s visit to Jerusalem that is telling, if true.  According to Friedman, when Armstrong visited the Temple in Jerusalem he asked his guide if these were the very steps where Jesus stepped.  When his guide confirmed they were, Armstrong reportedly said, “I have to tell you, I am more excited stepping on these steps than I was stepping on the moon.” 

If Friedman’s account in his book, From Beirut to Jerusalem,  is true, Armstrong’s words reflect the greater miracle: not that man stepped foot on the moon, but that God stepped foot on earth in the person of His Son.   As John wrote, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we saw His glory, glory as the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”  (John 1:14).

Monday, October 8, 2018

Sunrise Season

I sat in the pre-dawn dark watching the gathering glow in the east.  A bird broke the stillness with a solitary song. Soon others joined him in the gathering light until they filled the air with a chorus of calls. It was as if the birds had waited through the long hours of darkness wondering if the sun would return, and, once it did, they were delirious with joy.

We sometimes feel that way, when the darkness closes in on us.  We sometimes wonder, as the birds seem to do, if the dawn of light and goodness will ever again dispel the darkness of violence and pain.

I have watched the sun rise over the snow-covered hills of Minnesota, painting the landscape with crimson and gold until ice-covered limbs sparkle like diamonds.  I have watched the sun stain the eastern horizon with purple and gray before penetrating the breaking clouds with shafts of gold. I have watched the day dawn over the mountains of Montana and Switzerland. I have seen it transform the sea into pink and purple waves in Hawaii.  I watched the sunrise on the first day of the new millennium, bursting above the horizon as a brilliant ball of light in a clear blue sky.

The sunrise is the perfect symbol for God’s intervention into our world.

When John the Baptist was born his father understood the importance of his son’s birth. For nine months Zechariah had reflected on the angel’s announcement to him that he would have a son in his old age. He had been mute throughout his wife’s pregnancy. But when John was born, his tongue was loosed and he burst into praise. He said, “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:76-79).

In every generation, those who have faith have seen the sunrise of God. Darkness cannot conquer it. Corrie Ten Boom and Dietrich Bonhoffer saw it during the dark days of Hitler’s holocaust. Louis Zamparini discovered it after surviving the Japanese POW camps. Rachel Scott and Cassie Bernall bore witness to it during the massacre at Columbine. The Amish of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania gave testimony to it after their daughters were gunned down in a one-room school. Countless thousands have borne witness that light that refuses to be extinguished.

This is what John meant when he wrote, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:4-14).