Tuesday, August 22
Yesterday was a special day in our Salem area. We were right in the path of that once in a century total eclipse of the sun. This event has been the main subject of the media for weeks. Everyone thought that we would be inundated with people from all over the world, that traffic would be at a crawl on our highways and streets. It didn’t happen. We had a lot of visitors from all over the world, but it was tolerable. Every thing went well. The Salem parks were open to campers, who surprised everyone with their model behavior. Extended families congregated, enjoyed each other as well as the eclipse. Elizabeth and I stayed home, were able to witness the event through special glasses provided by our bank. It was a fine day. If there was anything to criticize, it would be the way a lot of people responded to the eclipse. Everyone was awed by it. Some people showed their emotion by crying. We Christians were well aware that this cosmic event was sending all mankind a message. I don’t know if David ever saw an eclipse, but he definitely understood the significance of our amazing universe. He wrote in Psalm 8:1 “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavers.” Note that David didn’t focus on the incredible universe, but on the majestic God who created it. And that is precisely the difference in how Christians and non-Christians viewed the eclipse. Is it an awesome universe? Yes! But it didn’t just happen. The glory belongs to the creator, not the creation. We were meant to glorify God by seeing his handiwork. If people didn’t catch that truth, they really missed out on this once in a century event.
Monday, August 21
Paul prayed (Col. 1:9) that God would “fill [the Colossians] with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding . . .” The Greek word for “fill” means filled to the brim, implying that everything else is crowded out. And the word “understanding” means more than an intellectual grasping of a concept; it means an intimate involvement that affects one’s life. Since the epistle was written in Greek and received by people whose native language was Greek, Paul’s readers would have understood all that. Not being “full” implies a lack of something or that there is something in their lives that shouldn’t be there, something that would hinder their spiritual growth (1:10-11). Paul then commends them for their faithfulness in the rest of chapter one before launching into the problem in chapter two. He prayed for them in 1:9, now he is “struggling” for them (2:1) and for the Laodicean church that also received this letter. His goal as expressed in 1:10-11 is repeated (with a little different wording) in 2:1, but it still doesn’t identify the problem. “My purpose is that . . . they may have the full riches of complete understanding . . .” The problem is finally exposed in 2:4—“so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.” False teachers had infiltrated these two churches—as is verified in the rest of chapter two. The churches were either not understanding the falseness of the teaching or the gravity of it. Paul is encouraging them to understand the dangers and take action. “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy . . . rather than on Christ.” Good advice! Paul finishes by a graphic denunciation of the false prophets and how God would judge them. As usual, Paul is positive, encouraging, and gentle, yet straightforward. His relation with the two churches were important, but so was the truth.
Sunday, August 20
We sang the hymn “When I survey the Wondrous Cross” and a particular phrase caught my attention. “All those things that charm me most, I sacrifice to thy blood.” I began to think about the things that really “charm me.” My first thought was my wife, Elizabeth. She continues to charm me. She demonstrates her love for me more and more—or maybe I’m just aware of it more and more. Anyway, I went on to think about watching baseball and football games. I do enjoy them, although they’re less significant than they used to be. I would like to think that it’s because I’m more drawn to the “wondrous cross” than I used to be, but I’m not really sure that’s accurate. In any case, I haven’t “arrived” yet. Some things pique my interest more that they should. I’m so grateful that God is a God of mercy and grace—but I don’t want to be presumptuous and ignore being charmed by the wrong things. Singing this song made me realize that we rather glibly sing hymns whose truths don’t affect us in the least. I think we need to get serious about “surveying” (meditating) on that wondrous cross and the blood that was shed there by a loving God. It could lead to the abandonment of such things as watching baseball games—and replacing them with something far better.
Saturday, August 19
John the Baptist said in John 3:30. “He must increase; but I must decrease.” John had it right. He had no problem realizing that he was a mere created being and could not be compared to Christ. His mother was Elizabeth, the cousin of Mary, Jesus’ mother, so he was humanly related to Jesus, but he was quite aware that he could not possibly be compared to Christ, the Son of God. On the other hand, he was quite aware that he had a significant role in being the herald of the incarnate God. But that role came to en end and he acknowledged it. Christ had to be magnified, and that means that his role had to be decreased. The point is that in order for Christ to be magnified, everyone else has to be minimized. I recognize this truth, but understanding it intellectually is not the same as living it. Whenever I elevate myself, even just in my mind, I take away the glory that belongs to Christ. I’m not going to become humble by working on it. I will become humble by focusing on Christ’s glory. This is the essence of the sanctification process. Am I learning more about Christ’s glory? As that happens I will be more like John the Baptist. Christ will increase and I will decrease. I need to increase in decreasing.
Friday, August 18 Skirting Roman Law
That Roman law mentioned in yesterday’s blog is a key factor in the martyrdom of Stephen as recorded in Acts 6:8-14. Stephen was one of the seven men chosen to help in the distribution of food among the new believers, thus allowing the Apostles to focus on prayer and the ministry of the word. These men were to be “known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.” Stephen was the first one listed and his ministry is then described in verse 8. “Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.” This stirred up a hornet’s nest with the members of the “Synagogue of Freedmen,” a group of former slaves made up of both Jews and Jewish proselytes. These men, influenced the Sanhedrin to take action against Stephen. They made the false claim that “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place . . . We have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place . . .” This made it a capital offense that allowed the Jews to prosecute with no interference from the Roman government. So they proceeded to stone Stephen on those false charges. That Jesus avoided the same fate is no accident. God’s plan was that Jesus would die on the cross. Perhaps God wanted Roman complicity to show that Jesus died for the whole world, not just the Jews.
Thursday, August 17
After Jesus’ arrest he was first taken to Annas (the former high priest) for questioning, then to Caiphas (the ruling high priest) and the entire Sanhedrin. This latter inquiry was a key event of passion week. Let’s look at Mark 14:53-65. The Jewish leaders were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death (v. 55). Roman law allowed the Jews to administer capital punishment on their own for only one offence, violating the sanctity of the temple, either in word or deed. The Jewish leaders thought they had sufficient evidence, his comments about the temple being destroyed and being rebuilt in three days. The plot failed when the witnesses did not agree (v. 56). So they questioned Jesus further. They asked him about his claim to be the Messiah, which he readily agreed to, and which would not condemn him to death. But then Jesus added “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” That did it. Jesus had usurped power and authority that belonged to God alone. With this evidence, the Sanhedrin could condemn him to death, but they would have to win the approval of the Roman government. This is why he had to appear before Pilate. Jesus deliberately made that added statement. His time had come. This is more than just an interesting bit of history. Jesus did that for me. I can’t begin to pay him back, but I can worship him and I can commit my life to him. Thank you, Jesus.
Wednesday, August 16
God’s creation is awesome. Every plant and animal was designed with a specific purpose. The account of creation in Genesis affirms that all living things were created to benefit man. But each specie has a unique way of doing that. Take the honey bee. In the process of gathering nectar to make honey, it collects pollen and fertilizes all those apple blossoms. The bee may not know all that, but it has faithfully carried out it’s purpose from creation to the present. The bees don’t benefit themselves by doing that. They live out their lives supplying us with honey and a variety of fruit. They are just doing what God programmed them to do. Science has discovered a multitude of benefits we get from living organisms, including most of our medicinal products. But I think mankind is only scratching the surface. There are millions of plants and animals that go unrecognized in terms of benefiting man. We call them weeds or pests. I don’t particularly like Canadian thistles or mosquitoes or house flies, but I firmly believe every one of them had a purpose that would benefit man. Since man’s sin affected all living plants and animals, maybe it has skewed or eliminated some of the benefits that God built into them. So don’t blame the Canadian thistle or the house fly. We are the culprits. Some day we will fully understand the awesomeness of God’s creation. I look forward to see the lion lying down with the lamb. And I will relish the thrill of a canary lighting on my shoulder to give me a private concert.