Opportune (Luke 4:13)

When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time.

Luke 4:13

The Bible is very clear in stating that Jesus was tempted in every way that a person can be tempted and was yet without sin. This did not mean that the devil did not try and try again, merely that every attempt at tempting Jesus resulted in the devil’s failure and Christ’s victory.

There is an application of this message for me. While I am not without sin, the devil does leave from time to time. This is not necessarily because he has failed. Sometimes he leaves because he has succeeded. He leaves because he will return at an opportune time. The devil is an opportunist and will tempt me when I am weakest against that temptation. Have my nerves been frazzled near to breaking? I will be tempted to unrighteous anger (Yes. There is a righteous variety). Is my patience sorely taxed? I will be tempted to cease being patient and to take matters into my own hands.

Sun Tzu wrote Appear at points which the enemy must hasten to defend; march swiftly to places where you are not expected. This is precisely the stratagem employed by the devil in this morning’s passage and in the lives of believers throughout history.

Where am I weak? Two things are sure about that area. One, I can be sure that the devil will tempt me in that area. Two, I can be sure that God’s grace is sufficient and that my weakness can be overridden by God’s strength. My wife shared a verse with me this morning that I just read, because it came to mind as I was typing. 2 Thessalonians 3:3: But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil [one]. While the devil may be seeking an opportune moment, God is also looking for opportunities to show Himself mighty.

Listening and Questioning (Luke 2:46)

Then, after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.

Luke 2:46

The setting is the annual trip to Jerusalem made by Joseph and Mary. Jesus is, at this point, twelve years old. He is just about old enough to be considered a grown man in His own right at that period in history (and in Jewish culture still). Joseph and Mary find Jesus in the temple listening to the teachers and asking them questions.

Jesus listened and asked questions. Am I doing both of these in my time with God and when sitting under the tutelage of a pastor or teacher? Am I listening; taking in what is being taught and mulling it over? Am I asking questions; thinking critically about what has been taught so that I am not easily led astray? Both are necessary. Jesus is to be my example in all things, not just the things I think are safe for me to emulate. He listened and He asked questions. I must likewise do both.

Trust But Verify (Luke 2:15)

When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.”

Luke 2:15

The announcement of Jesus’ birth was not to the powerful or the influential or the wealthy, but to the common people; to shepherds. What caught my attention, however, was not the group to whom the announcement was made, but their response to it.

The shepherds are told, by angels, that their Savior has been born in Bethlehem and that they will find Him wrapped up in cloths. Their response to this news is not “That’s awesome. Great news!” or “That’s too far-fetched for me to believe.” or any of the myriad of responses that so often meet the good news of a Savior come to rescue us from ourselves; to ransom us from bondage to sin. The shepherds’ response is “Cool story. Let’s go see it for ourselves.”

Too often, we are content to let others do the digging and the fact-checking for us. In some respects, this is not only appropriate, but mandatory — there is no way I can do all my own archaeology. However, I have come into contact with too many people who believed what they heard from someone else and never stopped to check the story.

What I believe is and must be anchored in truth. If what I believe is based on anything less than truth, then everything I believe becomes suspect. There is a principle that I have often heard repeated in the professional world in which I currently move: Trust, but verify. Trust that the person informing me is not going to intentionally give me bad information — it does them no good so to do. But verify that their information is correct — even the most honest person is sometimes misinformed.

Applied to God’s Word, the principle holds up just as well, if not better. I should not take what anyone teaches about The Bible as truth without checking it against The Bible. Paul commended the Bereans for this behavior and no writer in scripture ever condemns anyone for verifying that what is claimed to be the word of God is, in fact, in harmony with the word of God.

All of this boils down to this reminder: I need to trust, but verify. Trust what those who teach me are saying, but only when it has been verified against scripture. Trust that The Bible is true, but do not be afraid to research the things contained therein. Trust that God will speak to me about the things that concern me and verify that what I think I have heard is in harmony with God’s revealed word. Trust, but verify.

Dishes and Memories

Dishes

I stood at the sink tonight, doing dishes as I often do, and found myself thinking fondly of the times when I — as a boy too short to see over the counter without the help of a step stool — would stand beside my grandmother and help her with the dishes. She invited the help; welcomed the help and we spent many an amiable time cleaning up after a meal and talking. I cannot remember now what the conversations were about. I am not even sure that it matters.

What matters is the memories. The memories flooded into my mind as I thought about standing beside her doing dishes. I also remembered her taking me to buy my first fantasy novel (I had learned about it on Saturday morning cartoons, of all places) and my first book on astronomy (she asked me multiple times whether I was sure that I wanted that book). I remember her looking for used pads at work that she could bring home and have available for me to use to draw. Twenty years later, I still have one or two of them around with sketches done while visiting her house.

I wash dishes like the Star Wars mug and remember when I opened that gift at my graduation dinner — a gift given me by the man who would, one day, be my Best Man and for whom I often find myself praying, though I know far less how to do so these days. Time has drawn us apart, but the mug brings back memories of when we had time to spare to paint bedrooms orange.

My wife, good woman that she is, wants to bring a dish washing machine into our apartment. I cannot fault her reasons. She wants me to have more time to spend with her and our children. More time to pursue things like this blog entry and the novels and music and art I often neglect. She wants to make space for me to be … me. A husband and father and artist and musician and novelist (God willing) and the plethora of others hats I sometimes wear. She wants to make space for all of that. But I wonder if in gaining the time to explore those things, I will lose the time I spend remembering.

I am not angsting, though this post might seem to indicate otherwise, merely reflecting on the things that trigger welcome memories. The memories, tonight, reminded me that I need to appreciate those I have in my life while I have them. Grams, my grandmother, has done admirably well at that. My friend and I crammed lots of memories and fun into a handful of years. Perhaps it is time to get that dishwasher and make time for making more memories. The dishes will still be there.

Wordless Witness (Luke 1:65)

Fear came on all those living around them; and all these matters were being talked about in all the hill country of Judea.

Luke 1:65

Zacharias and Elizabeth had their son; the child they had desperately wanted for a sadly prolonged period of time and the boy is born. The family is thinking that the name should be Zacharias — after his father — and Zacharias, in obedience to God’s word given by Gabriel, writes that the boy’s name is John. Easy as that, Zacharias, who had been mute for the entire pregnancy, is able to speak and the turnaround causes fear in the neighbors and a regular diet of conversation about the family and John in particular. Without directly saying anything, this family became a witness of God’s greatness and power and got people talking about what God might be up to.

Our lives have that same possibility. As I do the things I do each day, people are watching. As I treat my wife a certain way and speak of her in certain terms, people see that and it prompts thought and conversation. As I parents my children and do my best to raise them in the things of God, this is also seen. As I serve — in whatever capacity — people see service to God made a priority and it prompts thought and conversation. These people may never speak to me and I may never know that my life has gotten them thinking about God and what He does in a person’s life, but God is fully aware of it and employing it to His glory.

There is a caveat. In order for God to use my actions and my words; my life for His glory, I must live in obedience. Zacharias only regained his ability to speak because he was obedient in naming the boy John. Only because Zacharias regained his ability to speak did people start thinking and talking about what God might be up to. The process begins with obedience.

Today, let me examine the things that I already know to do; the things that God has already made clear to me. Let me make sure that I am being obedient in those things and begin there. It is no use hoping that God will use my life for His glory if I am not obedient; if I am sabotaging the potential impact by disobedience.

Father, please search me and know me and see if there is any offensive way in me. Show me the places wherein You have revealed Your will and I have failed to act and compel me, by Your love, to act.

Ten Week Positive Adjective Challenge: Week Eight

The challenge: Once a week, for 10 weeks, choose one emotionally descriptive word that positively describes my wife.

The intent:

  1. As a man, I broke through the boundaries of emotional simplicity and began to explore emotional complexity.
  2. This challenge forces me to positively define my wife.  By doing this, I have to accept what I positively say to be true.  Thus, it being written in black and white, the things I write become a permanent fixture here and most likely in the minds of the readers – including her.
  3. Growth.  Always growth.

Here is week eight.

Grateful

This is another of those words that does not seem terribly emotionally evocative, but it is. Modernity has lost, in large part, the art of gratitude. We thank people, but too often the thankfulness ends with the words. We feel that we have dispatched our duty and move along.

My wife is not thus. She will not only thank me for the things I do (things which are, I suspect, woefully inadequate), but will go on to praise these actions to others.  The gratitude does not end with me being thanked, but with an appreciation that carries over into other places. It is an abiding gratitude.

I would be lying if I said that it was an all-the-time state of being — everyone has off days and bad days and just plain days — but it is her habitual state.

This gets into emotional territory when you realize how much men like to be recognized and appreciated for what we do. People in general respond to positive reinforcement. Thank us for doing something and we are more likely to do it again, if only to be thanked again; to be appreciated again. Emily Dickinson wrote a poem about success that included this observation: “To comprehend a nectar / Requires sorest need.” No one is quite so able to appreciate gratitude as one who does not often meet with it. I am not gratitude deprived — not by any stretch of the imagination — but my wife is nonetheless grateful for what I do and takes pains to express that gratitude. It may seem a little thing, but it works wonders for my ability to motivate myself to continue to do those things in future.

Favor (Luke 1:25)

“This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked [with favor] upon [me], to take away my disgrace among men.”

Luke 1:25

That God looks at me at all is a mark of favor that I do not deserve.

Elizabeth, the speaker of this morning’s verse, realized that her barrenness was being revoked by God. In the culture of the time, being barren was a terrible thing. Women who could not have children were seen as somehow less than those who could and did have children. Considering survival rates and all the other factors at play in the First Century, it is unsurprising that childbearing was given the importance it was.

Have I recently considered the ways in which God has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me?

Not too long ago, I was unemployed. I had trained to be a teacher and had been teaching for five years. I was informed that I “had potential” but that the positions were filled. There was no place for me. I had been increasingly unhappy with education, so I decided to try to change career paths. Few companies were willing to even entertain the notion of hiring an unproven and inexperienced writer. One did. As it turns out, the woman who hired me had worked a while in the classroom and had family who still did. She knew the work ethic and the abilities of teachers and decided that those would work well in the company.

About ten years ago (or so) I canceled a wedding. There were many reasons — some more valid than others — but the whole thing left me feeling scarred and unfit for any sort of long-term relationship. God brought a wonderful lady into my life to whom I am now married. We have only been married for five years, but they have been good years and I am grateful to have been proven wrong.

Over and over again, God has turned His regard on me and done great and wonderful things that I did not know, nor did they come into my mind that He would do them the way that He did. Let me consider the things that God has done for me; the times the Lord has turned His regard on me and looked with favor on me. Let me meditate on these things and be grateful for all His kind regard.

Assured (Luke 1:3)

it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus …

Luke 1:3

I must investigate the things I believe for myself. This is not to say that I need to go and be a part of archaeological digs (unless I were an archaeologist) or that I should delve into whether or not the scientific statements made in scripture are true (unless I were a scientist). This is, however, to say that I need to be assured of the veracity of the claims made in scripture and certain that I can trust the book I study. If I cannot trust my Bible, then I am studying words to no avail.

Luke had done precisely this. He had investigated the story of Christ for himself. He had interviewed those who were there. He had compiled the data and checked it against itself to make sure that the story was consistent (v1-2). And, when he was assured that what he had was an accurate account, he committed it to writing so that Theophilus (the lover of God) could know the exact truth about the things he had been taught (v4).

An archaeologist — Sir William Ramsay — once decided to prove that Luke was a crap historian and set out to do so by looking for the things Luke described in the place that Luke said they should be. It turned out that this archaeologist found Luke to be a marvelously accurate historian. This same archaeologist went on to convert from his atheism to Christianity, due, in part, to Luke’s accuracy. If Luke got the places right — so right that they could be located hundreds of years later using only Luke’s writings — what else might he have gotten right?

Let me follow in the footsteps of Luke and Ramsay. Let me seek to know the things I know and to know them more fully. Let me compile my evidence for what I believe so that I might, as Luke, set it out in order so that other lovers of God may be assured of what they believe.

Unveiled (Mark 15:38)

And the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

Mark 15:38

There is much said in the New Testament about there being no veil between us and God; no separation between Him and us. There are a couple of things that sprang to mind as I read this verse this morning.

First, the veil of the temple. The veil in question was a beast of woven material. By some estimates, the cloth was about an inch thick. This veil hung between the Holy of Holies and the area immediately outside it in the temple. This separated the Ark of the Covenant — the visible symbol of God’s presence — from the people. The high priest only went behind this veil once a year and then only after a fair bit of cleansing and making sure that he was right with God. If he was not right with God, then there would be a new high priest, because they would pull the corpse of the unholy priest out by the rope tied around his ankle. The veil shielded us from God’s presence so that we would not be destroyed by His holiness.

Second, the veil was torn in two. The separation was removed. Forcefully. Emphatically. This heavy cloth was ripped like a bit of cheap linen. Two pieces. Easy access right through center to the very presence of God.

Third, it was torn from top to bottom. This tells me that it was not men that tore the veil, but God. The top of that veil was too high for people to reach. God decided that unfettered access to Him was now permissible. The veil was torn in two from top to bottom. God removed the barrier.

Do I avail myself of this access? I have unhindered access to the very presence of God. Am I entering in?

A last thought. Removing the veil is the last thing the groom does before the couple is pronounced a married pair. The veil over the bride is taken away and both bride and groom see one another with unveiled faces. God removed the veil between Himself and me. Dare I look at Him as He is?

Abandoned (Mark 14:50)

And they all left Him and fled.

Mark 14:50

In His darkest hour, Jesus’ disciples ran; abandoned Him. This was no surprise. Jesus knew it was coming — He had prophesied as much earlier in the chapter. I do not, however, think that it mitigated the purely emotional impact of the thing. I think that Jesus, as a man, endured the pain of betrayal without salve. Just as we do.

All of us have endured betrayal at one point or another and no betrayal is ever painless. We have all been abandoned and nothing really mitigates that feeling of having lost something precious. It does not matter that we see the betrayal coming far in advance or that we know full well that the person will abandon us. We still feel the full impact.

Have I abandoned Christ? It is a question that I must face with honesty. Have there been instances wherein I turned tail and ran when faced with a threat over my faith? I cannot say for certain, but I know that I have at least twelve people who will keep me company in that if it is so.

God, please form in me the faithfulness and devotion that will not betray; will not abandon You when harm threatens. Form in me the character that clings to the promises You have made. Let me not leave You or flee, but stand by Your side as You stand by mine.