Let’s Give Thanks for Life’s Imperishables

On Monday of this week, October 9, Canadians will slow their pace to count their blessings and offer thanks. Whether or not you reside in Canada, please join in!

In Canadian gatherings, words of thanksgiving will flow — for food in abundance, family, safety, health, the beauty of nature, and many other things. The list must be long for we are greatly blessed.

But, these are the perishables of life. In recent weeks, shocking devastation by hurricanes, terror attacks, and a profoundly evil massacre have snatched life’s most precious relationships and possessions away from great numbers of people in the United States and Canada.

While we pray for the thousands directly impacted and in deep grief, and for others recovering from grievous injury, I suggest especially for the rest of us this Thanksgiving that we remember in particular three blessings that are imperishable.

First, the Bible.

Twenty eight hundred years ago, before our Bible existed as we have it today, the prophet Isaiah wrote: “The grass withers, the flower fades but the word of our God stands forever (Isaiah 40:8). This was a prophecy spoken in antiquity, fulfilled in history, and true to this day.

The Bible is not merely a great book; it is a unique book, a book that has remained strong and communicative against all critics. It has been a bestseller from the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press in the 15th century to the present.

It is really a library of Spirit-inspired truth — estimated to be the work of 40 authors written across a span of 1500 years. Yet its many voices and varied styles are bound together by a central theme – God’s redemption of his fallen world. We give thanks.

Second, the Cross.

The cross of Christ too is one of history’s imperishables.

Whether it is symbolized on top of the golden dome of historic St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, England, or displayed in rustic fashion on the face of the pulpit of a wayside church in rural Manitoba, the symbol of the cross appears wherever Christ is proclaimed.

All this is no accident. As the late John R. W. Stott wrote, “Jesus’ death was central to his mission,” and that substitutionary death on a cruel Roman cross provides the way for us to be saved from death and punishment. All four gospels lead through the cross to bear witness to Christ’s resurrection and in turn to the assurance that believers will live eternally too.

Stott also wrote: “The cross sets forth three truths: first our sins must be extremely horrible; second, God’s grace must be wonderful beyond comprehension; third, salvation must be a free gift.” For the cross we give thanks.

Third, our hope.

When we talk about the Christian hope we mean more than our exclamation that “we hope” it won’t rain tomorrow. The Christian’s hope is called the anchor of the soul to keep us steady even in stormy times (Hebrews 6:19).

It was this hope that kept the Apostle Paul confident and joyful when he wrote to the church in Philippi, even though his letter came to them from a jail in Rome.

If he were allowed to live after his trial, he wrote, that would open to him further ministry; if he should be executed, and his earthly life taken from him, he would depart and be with Christ (Philippians 1:21-26). Either possibility was ground for rejoicing.

Life as we live it in this world cannot be lived to the fullest until we have the assurance that there is life beyond the grave and for Christians it is life with Christ. We give thanks for this Christian hope.

The Holy Scriptures; the Sacred Cross; the anchor of a Hope that does not disappoint (Romans 5:5). What a trio of imperishable gifts! Let us not neglect to give hearty thanks this week for perishable blessings but even more for the imperishable ones!

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Photo credit: Faith Goble (via flickr.com)

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Did the Eclipse Prompt You to Reflect?

Recently, the moon totally eclipsed the sun even though the far more distant sun is 1000 times larger than the moon. It was a rare spectacle.

Advance notice of this phenomenon brought people from far and near — tens of thousands of them — to be under the total eclipse’s charted path all across America, and to witness the phenomenon.

How could it be known almost to the second where the total eclipse would manifest itself at any particular time of that day? And that the total eclipse in every case would last for two minutes?

The moon performed magnificently.

One telecaster, microphone in hand, moved among a crowd of viewers sprawled across a large area in Oregon, asking: What word describes it for you?” One after another said with enthusiasm, “Awesome.” “Awesome.” Awesome.” Awesome was the only word that seemed adequate.

Awesome: “Causing feelings of fear, or wonder, or awe.” Or “causing overwhelming feelings of reverence.”

For Christians, our awe at the mystery and magnificence of the heavenly bodies is amplified dramatically by the opening words of the Scriptures: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1).

God exists, and the universe he spoke into splendid order exists. Both sun and moon are his doing. Verse one of Genesis 1 is like the topic sentence of the Bible.

The Bible quickly takes us beyond the heavenly bodies themselves to insist that a Divine Mind creates and sustains the order of Nature and He, maker of sun and moon and everything else, is to be worshiped.

The prophet Jeremiah prays, “Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17). Think of that!

Or turning to the hymnbook of the ancient church, the Psalter, we come across these words to guide us in our reflection: “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2).

We cross into the New Testament and find the call to reflection on God’s creation becomes even more revealing. Consider, for example, a portion of the Apostle Paul’s hymn to the supremacy of Christ:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him” (Colossians 1:15,16).

The crowds that gathered all across America on August 21 of this year with their special glasses and picture-taking devices dispersed as quickly as they gathered. I assume some will reflect again and again on what they viewed. It was spectacular. Others will perhaps soon forget the wonder of the moment and go on to other things.

May those who enjoy the wonders of nature also treasure their Creator and his revelation to humankind through the coming of our Redeemer, Jesus the Christ, recalling with awe that “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3)

Photo credit: Bernd Thaller (via flickr.com)

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What Makes Sunday A Special Day for Christians?

The Road to Emmaus by Robert Zünd, 1877

Last week I explained to two of my great-grandchildren why the day of rest and worship shifted from Saturday for the Jews to Sunday for Christians: Sunday was the day our Lord rose from the dead.

I then reviewed for them, and other family members around the table the following Christian certainties under-girding the Lord’s Day:

On Friday of Holy Week our Lord’s brutalized body was hastily placed in a tomb because the Jewish Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday, and the work of his burial was forbidden from then until after sundown on Saturday.

Thus for a part of three days: Friday, all of Saturday and the early part of Sunday, our Lord had been entombed.

At daybreak Sunday morning the Jewish Sabbath was over and several deeply grieving and devoted women, all followers of Jesus, went to the tomb with spices, in order to finish the burial rites.

Adding to their grief and distress, they found the tomb open and empty. Two of the women rushed back to Jerusalem to report this to the disciples.

Mary Magdalene stayed behind. As she stood weeping beside the tomb, she was addressed by ‘someone’ standing near the tomb. She rebuked him, thinking he was the gardener and that perhaps he had moved the body elsewhere.

But when the Lord Himself answered back, “Mary,” she fell at his feet and cried out, “Rabboni” — Teacher!

This is why Mary was the first witness to tell the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”

After that first early morning appearance to Mary Magdalene, Jesus appeared in the afternoon to two disconsolate men walking the Emmaus road leading away from Jerusalem. At nightfall he appeared for the third time that day, this time to frightened disciples huddled within a locked room in fear for their lives.

Of course he subsequently appeared to many more before his ascension into heaven. But that first Sunday was Resurrection Day, a day unmatched by any other in history.

Our Lord’s resurrection from death on Sunday makes that day, rather than Saturday, the Lord’s Day of rest and corporate worship.

Whether in cathedrals, storefronts, sod huts, or even secret hiding places, Christians raise their voices together in song and prayer to celebrate Jesus’ living presence with his people.

That conversation with family was short but memorable. The children learned about the special reason for the Lord’s Day, perhaps for the first time, and the adults reviewed the conviction together with them.

Sunday is a day to rest from our labors, to gather for worship with a company of his people, and to say again with conviction, “The Lord is risen indeed!”

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What Two Children Learned About Sunday

At our house one Sunday recently a family gathering included two of our great-grandchildren, Jesse, 9, and Rebekah, 8.

I decided to begin our mealtime with a brief question for the children:

What makes Sunday, such a special day for Christians? And why do we call Sunday the Lord’s Day?

Jesse quickly cited the creation story of Genesis 1 explaining that God made the world in six days and on the seventh day he rested from his labors and that is what we are to do also.

Rebekah agreed — both of them reflecting teaching they had received in their home and at Sunday School.

Both children were engaged so I decided to add some building blocks to the foundation their parents and teachers had already laid down.

I noted that Saturday, the seventh day of the week, is still the Holy Day observed by devout Jews, but we Christians set aside for special observance Sunday instead, the first day of the week.

Interest around the table even for the adults was keen so I reviewed for all of us that a day of rest from our labors is still required for Christians in the Ten Commandments: Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.

But, I went on: for us Christians Sunday is not only a day of rest from our labors; it is also a special day to gather for the worship of our Living Lord. He rose from the grave on a Sunday! That’s why we gather and we call it the Lord’s Day.

For most Christians that is how Saturday, the original Sabbath Day of Rest, became Sunday — both a day of rest and the Lord’s Day. There are hints in the Scriptures that this shift of days was beginning even when the New Testament was coming into being (Acts 20: 6-12; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; Revelation 1:10).

The interlude with the children around our table was a memorable moment for our family gathering. We then followed the brief exchange by giving thanks for the food and enjoying lively family fellowship over our Lord’s Day evening meal.

Photo credit: Jason Lander (via flickr.com)

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Is God Everywhere?

Five-year-old Charlie sat on his father’s knee peppering him with questions. The toughest of them: How can God be at our house and at Grandma and Grandpa’s a Long drive away at the same time?

Touching Charlie’s shoulder gently his father asked, “Are you here?” “Yes,” the boy answered.

Then he touched his son’s knee, asking the same question: “Are you here?” Again, Charlie answered, “Yes.”

“If you can be everywhere in your body at the same time,” his father continued, “why can’t God be everywhere in his world at the same time?” Charlie seemed satisfied and went on to something else.

But this five year-old’s question is more challenging than at first appears. That is, in this almost immeasurably vast universe can God be where the Northern Lights shine brightly and at the same time in the semi-darkness of the rainforests in Brazil?

It’s an issue that stretches our faith, yet our Scriptures bear witness repeatedly to this “everywhereness” of God. The theological term is “omnipresence.”

For example, the Psalmist, David, prayed: Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths you are there. (Psalm 139:7,8).

From the wisdom literature of the Old Testament comes another assurance: The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the evil and the good. (Proverbs 15:3).

Jeremiah speaks God’s words as his prophet: “Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth? (Jeremiah 23:24).

Eighty years ago in Sunday School back in Saskatchewan we children were taught a little chorus that went like this:

“Be careful little hands what you do; be careful little hands what you do. There’s a Father up above, and he’s looking down in love, so be careful little hands what you do.” (also mouth what you say; etc.).

The conviction that God is everywhere is reassuring for those of us who live under the Lordship of Jesus. The Proverbs declare: “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3).

Our God is everywhere! There is nowhere he is not. So, we are never out of the range of his watchful eye and his loving care.

Believing this truth does us good in two ways: it sharpens our consciences to resist evil and enriches our faith to trust in his care wherever we may be.

Photo credit: Eduard V. Kurganov (via flickr.com)

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Re-post: Is Our Problem Pride or Low Self-Esteem?

Pieter Bruegel the Elder - The Tower of Babel (Vienna)This month a teacher told her students that if they planned to give out Valentine cards, the cards must meet these rules: every card must be the same; every classmate must get one; and nothing must be written on them. She wanted to save any child from damaged self-esteem.

But recently Professor Baumeister at Florida State University studied levels of self-esteem among different groups of adults. He found the highest levels in … prison inmates! And the violent offenders had the highest perceived levels of them all.

Self-esteem is critically important. We are God’s creatures, bearing his image. Therefore it is right that we should carry ourselves with dignity and should be careful to honor the dignity and worth of our fellows.

But the Scriptures make clear that damaged self-esteem is not our greatest problem. According to the Bible we are the offspring of Adam and, although we bear the image of God, that image is marred; we are by nature sinners.

One consequence of that sin is that we have a proud desire to be independent from God — on our own in his universe. That was the error of the builders of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9).

The Genesis passage says the people moving eastward found a beautiful plain between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and decided to settle there, build a city, and erect a tower that would reach to the heavens. The up-reaching tower was a symbol of man’s thrust for autonomy.

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, and he discerned the people’s intent to seek complete autonomy rather than living under his mandate to settle the earth he had given them. So he confused their language and “scattered them over all the earth” (Genesis 11:8).

We see this impulse toward autonomy early in children. One of our grandsons, at the age of only four, said to his mother in a commanding way, “Mommie, I want you and Daddie to let me and my sister do whatever we want to do.” It was given as a first cry of the heart for absolute autonomy — “Don’t fence me in.”

Theologians have followed the Scriptures in noting this impulse to pride which at its center resists the rule of God and his son, Jesus Christ. St. Augustine called human pride, “the love of one’s own excellence.” John Calvin defined it as an “innate self love by which we are all blinded.” John Wesley wrote: “The first advice I would give those who have been saved is to watch continually against pride.”

To be graciously delivered from pride by God is a worthy request because, as Charles Spurgeon said, “Humility is the secret of fellowship, and pride, the secret of division.” It is true that wherever there is unresolved conflict, whether in home, family, community or church, secondary causes might be teased to the surface. But at the base, this pride will be found to lurk.

Heart pride is divisive. It erects barriers. On the other hand, where there is heart humility there is joy and good fellowship among the people whether in family, community, or church.

Which makes the words of the Apostle Paul to the young church in the imperial city of Rome my favorite instruction to any church on this issue: “For by the grace given me I say to everyone of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you” (Romans 12:3).

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Beware of Spiritual Hackers!

I was on the phone with a banker to change a password. The officer I was speaking with suddenly informed me that my account had just been locked. Apparently an unauthorized party was trying to get into it.

After a few words of advice the call ended. Almost instantly there was a notice on my screen saying I should phone a certain number to obtain protection from a hacking attempt against my computer.

I didn’t suspect the banker. I had initiated the call to him. I also knew that clicking on a link is what you never do at a time like this. I also learned from a person of experience that you may take the risk to phone a number or receive a call so long as you provide the caller with zero information.

So out of curiosity that some might caution against, I phoned the number on the screen. When the voice on the other end of the line informed me that he was calling from “Mac” — I own an Apple — I began to sense I was in touch with the evil intentions of a hacker so I hung up.

That left me curious about the term. Where does it come from? What is its original meaning? I discovered a definition: “A malicious or inquisitive meddler who tries to discover information by poking around.” Our world has more than its share of computer hackers — clever but dishonest people who hone their electronic skills in order to cheat the unwary.

But does it occur to us that there is a Hacker prowling around in the spiritual realm and preying on the unwary, with even greater cunning, especially towards Christians?

I refer to a master spiritual hacker who goes by several names — Lucifer (star of the morning) satan (deceiver), the devil (false accuser). This evil force is known as well by many metaphors — wolves in sheep’s clothing, a (deceitful) angel of light, a roaring lion, a great dragon and a serpent.

Consider the Apostle Paul’s description of the spiritual environment in which believers in the city of Ephesus were to live out their faith: “For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT).

The Scriptures exhort us to beware of these spiritual hackers! They repeatedly caution us that our only eternal defence is to avail ourselves by faith of the grace, peace, and truth lodged in our Lord Jesus Christ. And not only to believe in him, but to surrender our lives to him so as to live under his guidance. In all of this, we are assisted by His Spirit, His Word and Christian friends.

The caution is real. As Saint Peter exhorted the early Christians: Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

A loss of the contents of a bank account to a human hacker or valuable content in our computers could be costly–even devastating–in this life. But loss of faith and our very souls to the master of all spiritual hackers will be eternal and irreversible.

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Photo credit: Garrett Coakley (via flickr.com)