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Thursday, June 22, 2017
Suppose you are a car insurance adjuster, and your job is to decide if a car has been totaled or is repairable. Some factors are the serviceable life left in the car versus the cost of repair, but most importantly is the safety of the repaired product. The answer is it depends on the accident. Sentimentality should not enter into the discussion.
 
Moving on from cars, some things are never replaced, only repaired: art, photos, wedding rings, souvenirs, children. Other things are only replaced, never repaired: light bulbs, bicycle helmets, use-once medical supplies, fuses. How does this apply to us?
 
John describes God’s vision in Revelation 21 about repair versus replace. The Garden of Eden tells of the break, the “accident,” and the adjuster angel reveals God’s decision: totaled. The world is not (safely) repairable. He says,
  • Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. … Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. … Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” [Rev 21:1-5]

 
Note that this is not a restored Garden of Eden, this is a new thing. The same principle applies to our hearts. They are broken and not repairable. We may try with our duct tape and filler, but it is not good enough. We need our hearts replaced:
  • Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! [2 Cor 5:17]
  • I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. [Eze 11:19]
  • I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. [Eze 36:26]

 
Too many times we make a right diagnosis of our problem, that we and the world are indeed broken, but make the wrong prescription and try to fix it ourselves. God says the “fix” is to let Him replace it, let go of the old one, the replacement is better than the original was pre-break! In this new model, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” [Rev 21:4] This is the Good News. But it gets even better in tomorrow’s passage of Rev 22!
–SFF

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

This morning I spoke to a colleague and his wife who for three and a half years have been in the process of adopting a child from Ethiopia. In February 2016 they were matched with an infant they named Zoe. All kinds of obstacles have been preventing the finalization of their adoption process even though they know of other families who have been united with their adoptees. I asked the Sterks how to describe the ups and downs of waiting for the red tape to be cleared away. “It’s consuming. Zoe is always on our minds.” They’ve received photos and videos of Zoe which increases their longing for her all the more. Romans 8:23 says, “ . . .we who have the firstfruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Even though the Sterks have no guarantee if or when Zoe will get to come be part of their family, we do have the hope of a glorious future.

As the Bible repeats the themes of creation, death, resurrection, and redemption we know the present earth with its skies will be destroyed (but not annihilated) before it is then totally restored and glorified following Christ’s 1,000-year Reign on the old earth. Full redemption will be completed only when the heavens and earth are made new. All nature waits expectantly for this to happen.

What about us today on June 21, 2017? Are we waiting with eager expectation for the finalization of our adoption as sons and daughters, or are we short-sighted in trying to “get ahead”, to be secure financially, to fight the effects of old age, or to make a mark on this world? All of our stuff is going to pass away . . . . We acknowledge that the waiting period we’re in is not passive and Ephesians 5: 15-16 instructs us to redeem the time because the days are evil. Here are the last two stanzas of Charles Stodd’s poem:

Give me Father, a purpose deep,

                In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;

                Faithful and true whate’er the strife,

                Pleasing Thee in my daily life:

                Only one life, ‘twill soon be past,

                Only what’s done for Christ will last.

 

                Oh let my love with ferver burn,

                And from the world now let me turn;

                Living for Thee, and thee alone,

                Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;

                Only one life, ‘twill soon be past,

                Only what’s done for Christ will last.

I didn’t get to writing the blog yesterday (for today).  We got news early in the day that a houseful of guests was coming that evening rather than, as expected, tonight. Because we had known that house guests were coming, we were in decent shape; however, we weren’t completely ready, as we didn’t expect them until a day later.  We had to scurry to get things ready and then host them.  Thus a delayed blog entry.

Interestingly enough, the passage we read today is a clear prophecy that God is coming.  Are we ready?

In this passage, the Lord says, “I am about to come and gather the people of all nations and languages, and they will come and see my glory.”

On one hand, God’s coming brings vindication and salvtion to his servants:  “When you see this, your heart will rejoice, and you will flourish like grass…”  God’s coming will bring peace, justice, and prosperity.  “I will extend peace to her (Jerusalem) like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream.”

On the other hand, God’s coming will bring judgment on his enemies: “the hand of the Lord will be made known to his servants, but his fury will be shown to his foes.  See, the Lord is coming with fire, and his chariots are like a whirlwind; he will bring down his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire.  For with fire and with his sword the Lord will execute judgment on all people, and many will be those slain by the Lord.”

Salvation and judgment.  Those are the two realities when God comes.

Things didn’t quite turn out as the people expected, though.  God’s coming is taking place in two phases.  He has come once already through the incarnation of Jesus.

At his first coming, Jesus brought salvation.  The Jewish leaders rejected him because they wanted him to bring judgment on their enemies.  What they didn’t understand is that they, too, were God’s enemies because of their self-righteousness.  God was looking for people who are humble and contrite in spirit.”  All who acknowledged their sin and come to Jesus for help discover forgiveness.

God came first to save.  Today is the Day of Salvation.

Judgment is coming, though.  Part two of God’s coming is on its way.  At the Second Coming, Jesus will return, this time to judge and destroy his enemies.  He will then set up his eternal kingdom.

In today’s passage, God promised to follow through on his promise.  He is coming. Guaranteed.  The only question is:  Will we be ready?

Kip

Monday, June 19, 2017

Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden.  The perfect world and the presence of God were lost…but not forever.  God promises to remake the heavens and the earth and to dwell among his people.

Today we read a prophecy out of Isaiah that describes the New Heaven and New Earth.  We’ll end the week in the end of Revelation, which gives us a bookend to Genesis 1-3, resurfacing and resolving many of the same themes.

Below is a comparison/contrast between Genesis 1-3 and Revelation 21-22.  See if you can pick up any of these themes in Isaiah 65.

Genesis 1 – 3 :  Revelation 21 – 22

First heaven and earth created (1:1) :  New heavens and earth created (21:1)

Lights to govern day & night (1:14-19) :  Glory of God to provide light (21:23)

Man created to reflect God’s image/glory (1:26-30) : Redeemed man as perfect reflections of God’s image/glory (22:4-5)

Tree of life (2:9; 3:22)  :  Tree of life (22:2)

River flowing from the garden (2:10-14)  : River flowing from the throne of God (22:1)

Man given work to do for the Lord (2:15)   :  Man serving the Lord (22:3)

Death promised for disobedience (2:16-17)  :  No longer any death (21:4)

Presence and possibility of evil (3:1ff.)  :  No unclean thing in it (21:21)

The Lord walks among his people (3:8)   :   The Lord dwells among his people (21:3, 22; 22:3)

Curse for disobedience (3:14-19)  :  No longer any curse (22:3)

Eating from the cursed ground (3:17-19)  :   Eating from the tree of life (22:2)

 

 

 

Allow me to tell you two stories. The first is about the time I almost caused an international incident. The second is about the time I probably saved one from occurring.

I was born in Washington, D.C. less than a year before the Cuban missile crisis. Thus, the thought of incoming ICBM’s was still rather fresh in my parents’ minds when I was three.

Call it a good habit or a bad habit, but when I was three I used to sit and play at my parents’ feet as my dad drove down the road in our big Chrysler sedan. These were the days before seat belts were common, let alone child car seats, and my mother felt that I was as safe down there as anywhere else in the car. My favorite place in the whole car to sit was on the hump in the floor board between my mom and dad where I could watch Dad work the pedals.

Such was the case on a late afternoon in February, 1965. It was a Friday and we were heading away from downtown on Rock Creek Parkway. The night before a storm had struck our nation’s capital and had hung the tree branches with ice and turned the ground white. The scenes outside our car window were wintry in a most majestic way but I did not notice because I was on the hump between my parents’ legs watching my dad’s feet.

Neither did I notice the car directly ahead of us. It was a car of unusual foreign make and in it were four men sitting stiffly all wearing cassocks, those big furry hats worn in eastern Europe. Dad could tell immediately that this was a carload from the Russian embassy and that he should keep his distance. The last thing he or anyone would want to do would be to rear-end this car on a patch of unseen ice.

As we approached the exit for Massachusetts Avenue the Russians gave their turn signal. They were obviously headed back to the embassy. The exit ramp for Massachusetts Avenue runs slightly down grade and beside the parkway for some distance. So as they exited, we drove parallel to the Russians for a short time. Dad glanced over at them as they stared at Mom and Dad.

I had been studying the hardware on the lower dash board of our car for some minutes and was now transfixed on Dad’s key chain as it dangled from the ignition. I had not been unaware of the existence of car keys but for the first time the realization that they made the car “go” dawned upon my young brain. I had seen Mom or Dad stick the key in that little hole many times but now it all made sense. And I wanted to join in the fun. So just as Dad made brief eye contact with the Russian driver I reached over through Dad’s legs to the left of the steering column and turned off the engine thinking I was turning it on.

As the car lurched, Dad quickly realized what had happened, shifted into neutral, and restarted the Chrysler. But not before it happened.

As we rolled down the road, the still pumping cylinders, all eight of them, sucked in carbureted gasoline and exhausted the volatile mixture in into the manifold without igniting it because the ignition was off. All was fine and dandy until those pulses of unburned gasoline reached the hot muffler a moment later. The gasoline exploded inside the muffler in a long, sustained string of bursts that sounded like someone in our car was firing a machine gun.

All four of the big, black, furry cassocks vanished as the Russians ducked to save their lives from the crazy Americans firing on their car. Their car left the road, spun 360 degrees on some roadside ice and amazingly righted itself back onto the exit ramp. The Russians continued on, shaken but safely, presumably toward their embassy. And the Walters continued north on the Rock Creek Parkway with their son, now sitting, against his will, firmly between them on the front seat.

It would be over 13 years later before I would have the chance to redeem myself on the international front. I was 16 years old, it was July, and I was enrolled in driver’s education class at the local high school, Friendly Senior High.

Driver’s Ed during the summer session worked like this. We met in a classroom from eight o’clock until ten o’clock where we watched predictable horror movies prepared by the Ohio State Patrol of fatal driver mishaps intended to scare us into being careful drivers. We also received instruction about the laws of the road and proper driving habits like the proper use of mirrors, the wearing of seat belts and the necessity of holding the steering wheel with our hands in the ten o’clock, two o’clock position for optimum vehicle control.

Then at 10 o’clock until noon we divided into two groups. One group drove brand new Cutlass Supremes (loaned to us by a local dealer) on the road with a driver’s ed instructor and the other group drove Toyotas (with stick shifts) without instructors inside the car on the school’s driving range. The “range” was a football field size parking lot without the parking lines. Instead, a large oval driving lane was painted around the perimeter of the pavement with places in the middle to practice maneuvers required on the state driving exam like the three point turn and parallel parking.

But the first day on the range we ignored the painted lines all together. Our instructor, Coach Crawford, lined up all five Toyotas across the width of the pavement and had us practice nothing but getting used to the clutch. We would drive forward ten feet, then stop. Drive forward ten feet, then stop. When we reached the far end of the range we started the whole process over again except we drove in reverse.

There were four students in each car and we took turns driving. In the car with me were two other guys and one girl. The girl’s name, we were told, was unpronounceable so we called her “Sashi.” Sashi was the 15 year old wife of the deputy ambassador from Pakistan.

Politely, Sashi drove last. She must have been amused by the three macho American men in the car who drove ahead of her as we, with false bravado approached the task of getting the car moving but stalled it more often than not. But not Sashi. When it was her turn she operated the clutch with ease. Putting the men to shame, she never stalled it once. It was if she had driven a tractor for years.

Day two was our group’s turn to drive a Cutlass on the road.

Sashi was not in my car but after having had watched her deft performance with a clutch, I had no doubt that she would do wonderfully. It wasn’t until the next day that I found out about Sashi’s first day on the American road.

Mom dropped me off early for class that day and I couldn’t help but eves dropping on the four driving instructors huddled in a lively discussion. One was describing Sashi’s first driving experience. He said that Sashi was at the wheel and the three other students were in the back seat. They were driving down Gallihan road and Sashi was handling the many gradual bends in that country road very well. Like me the day before, the instructor was impressed with Sashi’s apparent proficiency behind the wheel and was totally caught off guard when they came to the big turn.

I knew the curve of which he spoke. It was a 90 degree turn in Gallihan Road that curved around a hill. The instructor said that Sashi started into the turn just fine but then headed their car off the side of the road and down the hill. Our Cutlass Supremes were equipped with a brake pedal on the passenger side for the instructor to use in emergencies. Deeming this an emergency, the instructor braked for all he was worth, but the grass was still damp from the morning dew and the hill was steep. He was unable to stop the car until it had crashed through a chain link fence and hung the front wheels over the edge of the swimming pool of the doctor whose house was at the bottom of the hill.

Coach Crawford and his assistant instructors were in a quandary. After having the Cutlass pulled from the swimming pool with a wrecker it was decided that Sashi would have to be removed from the class. But a call to the state department informed them otherwise.

Sashi would continue in the driver’s ed class, she would be taught to drive and Sashi would pass. That was that. The government said so.

I couldn’t believe it. Sashi had operated the clutch so well the day before. But I realized the truth of the instructor’s incredible story on the driving range that very day. I was in the back seat of a Toyota watching the other cars go around the course painted on the range. The car ahead of us started into the curve at one of the corners and was doing just fine. But then all of a sudden, the car headed off the pavement into the grass. Coach Crawford hollered through his bull horn for all of us to stop and then directed the misplaced Toyota back onto the range.

Off we went again but sure enough, as the car ahead of us tried to negotiate the next curve, the same thing happened again.

Coach’s Irish temper got the best of him and from the bull horn spewed a string of things that no one should print. Sashi was expelled from the driver’s seat to the back seat for the rest of the day.

This would not be Sashi’s only expulsion. In fact, every day on the range was the same. We all knew when Sashi was driving. Her’s was the car driving in the grass beside the range. On the one hand, Coach had to give Sashi a chance for fear of the State Department, but on the other, he had a class to run and couldn’t be stopping everyone’s driving every other minute to get Sashi back on the pavement. Coach’s exasperation was reaching melt down.

Then one day as Sashi drove off into the grass and Coach was up off of his stool yelling into his bull horn again he looked up and whom did he see driving by in a red Toyota but me. He stared at me as if the whole thing were my fault and yelled, “Walters! Get out of your car and go find out what is wrong with that girl!” Although the language was a bit spicier than what you just read. I left my Toyota and replaced Sashi’s front seat passenger not knowing what I could do.

I remember praying, “Dear Lord, I don’t speak this girl’s language, I barely even know her, and I am not the best driver myself. Please help me.”

I comforted a tearful Sashi the best I could and we got back on the painted course. For the moment—seconds later we were trying to negotiate another curve, driving off into the grass and hearing Coach Crawford yelling at us again. But God was watching Sashi and so was I.

Her hands were glued to the steering wheel at the ten and two o’clock positions just as we had been taught. But I also noticed that when she tried to turn the car her hands stayed glued to the wheel at ten and two o’clock. She would lean and try to turn the wheel farther with all her might but her elbows would run into her thighs and she could turn no more. It was as if she thought that in the United States you had to drive with your hands only that way.

Sashi spoke very little English so I didn’t try to speak. I simply peeled her hands off of the wheel (wondering the whole time if men got shot in Pakistan for touching the hands of the wife of the deputy ambassador to America) and motioned to her how to turn the wheel hand over hand. Her face lit up and the tears flowed.

After a few moments of emotion, Sashi backed the car up, got back onto the range and began driving like a pro. The other students cheered, Coach smiled, Sashi passed the class, and that was the day I saved my country from the humiliation of not being able to teach the wife of the deputy ambassador from Pakistan how to drive.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Dirt is amazing. It’s hard to imagine that out of simple dirt some of the most delicious things on the planet can grow. Would you like to have excellent fresh fruit and vegetables? You need dirt! A tiny little tomato seed planted in dirt and watered can produce cherry tomatoes that you can pop in your mouth like candy. In the same soil, a kernel of corn can grow into a tall plant that produces the best sweet corn in the county. In the same dirt, a single cantaloupe seed can grow a vine with multiple delicious melons sweet to the taste. How does dirt do it? Where does the sweetness and where do the unique tastes come from? Dirt is dirt, and by all appearances it doesn’t have much going for it.

But peach trees, pear trees, pecan trees . . . strawberries, raspberries, blueberries . . . green beans, lima beans, soybeans—they all find their nutrients and sweetness in simple old dirt. Amazing.

Would you eat dirt? Absolutely not! Would you eat fruit and veggies grown in dirt? Well, yes, by all means!

Jesus told a parable about planting seed and said that seeds planted in good soil could produce a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown (Matt 13:8). That’s another surprising thing dirt can do: multiply the returns.

In God’s garden he plants seeds in the soil of humanity. We are the dirt that he cultivates. Though we don’t look like much, the Gardener sees in us amazing potential. Unfortunately, some seeds, as Jesus pointed out, don’t produce anything. Birds quickly gobble them up. The soil may be too shallow and roots can’t grow deep enough. Or weeds crowd out the plants (Matt 13:4-7).

But God wants his plants to grow, to mature, to become strong and tall, to fill the world with fruit. In this case it is the fruit of righteousness that God expects. Paul wrote about the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23).

In 1 John the fruit of righteousness consists of three primary attributes: faith, obedience, and love. They are the sweet fruit of true conversion. Anyone who is a true Christian will manifest them. If not, then it’s time to dial 9-1-1 and get disobedient hearts shocked back to life.

John’s letter is worthy of being read often. Below are a few key verses to meditate on (and maybe even memorize). They challenge us to do our own spiritual check-up. Are we producing the fruit of righteousness?

  • This is true love for God: to obey his commands (1 John 5:3)
  • Whoever says, “I know God,” but does not do what he commands is a liar. For those who obey God, his love is truly made complete in them. Indeed, this is how we know we are in him (1 John 2:4-5)
  • This is how we know who the children of God are (and who the children of the devil are): Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister (1 John 3:10)
  • If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? (1 John 3:17)

 

Repetition: 1 John 4

Thursday, June 15, 2017
The key to memory retention is repetition. The key to memory retention is repetition. Quick review now: what is the key to memory retention? Right, if you said repetition. 1 John 5 is repeating things said earlier in 1 John 1-3, and repeating things inside of chapter 4. Think of this as practicing scales on the piano or guitar. “The practice of scales solves the greatest number of technical problems in the shortest amount of time” (Andres Segovia). For John, the scales are the Spirit, abiding, and love. You cannot repeat them too many times.
In the first 3 verses John mentions the spirit 4 times, contrasting the Spirit of God with the spirit of Antichrist. The test is whether the spirit confesses Jesus came in the flesh or not (even today this eliminates some of the more popular cults such as Mary Baker Eddy’s Christian Science).
The next 3 verses as well as v. 13-17 have to do with the world and abiding. We no longer abide in the world, but we now abide in Him (God). This would especially resonate with John later during his exile on Patmos, and resonate with Paul who was a maker of abodes (tents) as well as with all Jews during the annual celebration of the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles) celebrating our abiding in God’s care and Him abiding with us.
The rest of chapter 4 is the repetition a dozen or more times of knowing that God loves us, therefore we should love others. Consider yesterday’s 1 John 3:16 (don’t you just love all of the Bible’s “3:16” verses?) and tomorrow’s 1 John 5:1-2, all repeating that we should love each other because He loved us first (1 John 4:19). The word love of course is agape (volumes have been written on that), and the word for know is ginosko, to know absolutely (as opposed to the weaker form of eido, which merely implies seeing, aware, and perceiving.) How interesting that to know is also a euphemism for a sexual union. That is how deeply we should experience God’s love for us. After all, we are the Bride of Christ. John knows we can’t hear (or tell) that Good News too often.
||:  Let’s all practice those scales!  :||
–SFF