Days and Times

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.  Gen 1:3-5

God’s first words at creation were “Let there be light.”  Yet He didn’t create the sun, moon and stars for another three days!  

I think I’ve always felt that we have days and seasons because the earth turns on its axis and rotates around the sun, but it seems that God actually established time before He made the lights in the heavens that measure it. His own brilliance must have been what lit those first days, because He had not yet made any other source of light.  

Since I have always had a love/hate relationship with time, it is fascinating to me that practically the first thing God set up (right after the heavens, the earth, and light) was time.  He made days–the evening and then the morning.

Sometimes we feel that life is hard and time is long.  Yet time is ephemeral–to God, one day is the same as a thousand years.  It simply means nothing to Him.  He gave us time for our benefit, but to God, everything is in the Now.

God, who easily inhabits the everlasting, knew that our brains could not wrap around such a concept, so he gave us the framework of time, a way for us to arrange and order our existence here, to learn from Him until we are able to join Him in eternity.  He gave us days.

Teach me Lord to number my days.  Not simply to count them, but to keep an account of them, to make them count.

My times are in Your hand.

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The Sky’s the Limit

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  Gen 1:1

That may possibly be one of the most well-known Bible passages of all time, and I’m sure I have read it more times than I can count, but one thing I had never really thought about is that “heavens” is plural, while earth is singular.

Why?

Have you ever wondered?  I hadn’t.  But I heard something this morning that I thought was an interesting tidbit.

Apparently in Hebrew, there is more to that plural word than meets the eye.  A plural can mean just “more than one,” but it can also be what is called a majestic plural.  This is true of elohim, one of the most common names of God in the Old Testament.  It is plural, referring to the trinity, but more than plural.  A majestic plural is superlative, beyond.  It implies limitlessness.

And when God refers to “the heavens and the earth,” He is pointing out the structure and boundaries of earth as opposed to the infinite, unlimited nature of the heavens.  We think of the heavens as the habitation of God and Isaiah says that He inhabits eternity, and both of those have no limits!

Whenever we feel hemmed in, weighed down by earth, I think the best solution is to lift our eyes to the heavens, that immeasurable expanse that goes on forever, time out of mind.

Keep your eyes and hearts fixed on what is without measure… beyond the beyond.

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Darkness

The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.    Gen. 1:2

Once when I was a child, our family went to Mammoth Cave.  I can’t remember a lot about it, but one thing I do remember was that after we were down there, deep beneath tons of rock, they turned out the lights.  Often writers describe deep darkness as “palpable”–so heavy and thick that it seems to have substance, as if you could physically feel it.  That’s how I remember that darkness.  You can put your hand directly in front of your face, but see nothing.  No gray, no lessening of shadows.  Just nothing.  Our eyes do not function unless there is light.

I think it’s interesting that darkness is the beginning.  The earth began with darkness, the deepest darkness possible, where there was absolutely no light.  In the same way, each one of us began our lives in darkness.  When we were formed in the womb, we saw nothing, understood nothing.  As we grew, we developed eyes, ready for the light, but not until birth did we actually experience light.  God’s eyes, of course, see it all, whether there is light or not.  Even under tons of earth, He sees a tiny pebble, and I’m sure He watches with pleasure that very first moment when two minute bits of humanity unite to form a completely new human.  In the darkness.

But God didn’t stop at that point, leaving the world in darkness.  His spirit hovered over the waters–always abiding, present in His world even then–but

Then God said, Let there be light; and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.  Gen 1:3-4

The first thing God did after the creation of the world was to give light.  Notice that God had not yet created sun, moon, or stars.  God IS light, and in Him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5,)  so naturally, the light had to be separated from the darkness.

God called the light day, and the darkness He called night.  And there was evening and there was morning, one day.  Gen 1:5

Here God begins the naming.  When we name something, we take ownership over it.  But notice also that here we have the evening  and the morning.  The days also begin in darkness, then burst into light.  God’s plan and His world are perfectly consistent.  First there is darkness, and then comes the light!

There was a time when my life was black darkness.  I was sinful and self-absorbed, I hated who I was, but felt powerless to change it.  And I was!  Wretched and powerless… that is such darkness.

Praise and thanks to God that, just as He did not leave the earth in darkness, He also offers light to our souls.  The soul that was dark and empty, without hope, can burst into brilliance when God speaks.  We begin in darkness, but oh, Lord, what glory when you say to us

Let there be LIGHT!

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Before the Beginning

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Gen 1:1

But what about before the beginning? Do you ever wonder about that?

Well, obviously, God was there. He began the beginning.

And who is God? The Creator. The Author.  The One who set this world in motion.

The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Gen 1:2

So the Spirit of God was there, too, before the beginning. He was moving and alive.  But there was One more, not named here, but intimately involved in the naming.

Glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was... You loved Me before the foundation of the world.
John 17, verses 5 and 24

Here Jesus cries out to the Father, the Author, the Creator, pleading for His people, and reminds God that Jesus, too was there. Before the beginning.

Those three were there. But not so much three as One. Perfectly united in a way that we can’t comprehend. Jesus describes it as “You in me, and I in you,” and that is the exact thing he desires for us!

But there’s one more thing that was before the beginning.

He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world   Eph 1:4

Before the beginning, He. Chose. US.

Before He even created the world, our Creator had the plan in place for you.  For me.  
He predestined us to adoption as children through Jesus Christ to Himself
before the beginning.

Let that spin through your brain and ignite your synapses into fireworks!

GLORY!

Before the Beginning… 

GOD, the three-in-one, CHOSE ME.  In HIM.

Absolutely everything else pales before that.
Nothing could possibly be more amazing.

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Kindness and Truth

Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck. Write them on the tablet of your heart. Prov. 3:3

Many translations use the word mercy rather than kindness, but I like to think of both. Mercy seems a much bigger word, granting forgiveness, while kindness is more of an everyday type of virtue. Both of them seem to fit very well here.

This passage came up while I was studying with friends last week, and we wondered whether binding them around your neck had any particular significance. It seems to be an allusion to the Jewish custom of literally tying scriptures from the Word of God to their arms and foreheads in phylacteries. But this ornament of kindness and truth should be worn constantly, not only during prayer. Do not let them leave you.

One commentator mentioned that it was to be worn front and center, so that it not only adorned the wearer, but also was plainly visible to those around them. Our lives should constantly show kindness and truth to those we encounter. And it’s not just a pretty thing to look at–an outward evidence–it is also to be written on the tablet of my heart. The heart represents my desires. Is my heart’s deepest yearning for mercy and truth?

The most interesting part to me was the binding. They are to be bound together around our necks. And notice the order: kindness, and then truth. How often have I felt compelled to tell someone the truth, but forgot completely about the law of kindness? Not only must they be bound together, but kindness takes the lead. Begin with mercy, then gently and kindly add truth.

Remember, though, not to be swept away by pity. Sometimes the truth of God is needed. Would it be kindness to allow someone to dwell in deception? Yes, always show mercy, but don’t fail to bring truth as well.

We can all find kindness and truth in our hearts for those we love, especially during peaceful times, but how readily do they show up when things are chaotic, when tempers run short, and when the people in front of us don’t seem all that lovable?
Do not let kindness and truth leave you.

Bind them around your neck.

Write them on the tablet of your heart.

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Why?

Sometimes we just have to ask it, Lord.

Why?

Why does a little girl get a brain tumor and die a lingering and difficult death?  Why does a beautiful young woman looking forward to her wedding have so many health problems that she cannot eat, has strokes, and lives with incredible pain?  Why does a low-income person who has been working hard to better herself suddenly make a really bad decision that sinks her back into the abyss of debt and depression?

Why?

Those are some of the lives that surround me, and in my head I am screaming, “Why????  HOW????”  But there aren’t any answers.

There is only one little word.

Trust.

Father on, we will understand.

Keep pressing on.  And pray.

Trust.

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Is This the End?

As I was walking this morning, listening to one man’s opinion on the end of time, it suddenly occurred to me how arrogant it is of us to just take for granted that because things are so unsettled in the US that it must be leading into the end of the world.  When you stop and think about how many times the {civil unrest/ revolution/ overthrow of government} process has occurred in civilizations throughout history and throughout the world, why should we assume that THIS current upheaval is the final straw, that the fall of the US, if it should happen, would obviously plummet the world into the last stages of history?
Many, many governments have gone through much the same pattern–a time of peace and prosperity, a time of moral degradation and depravity, a time of unrest and strife, then the fall of the civilization.  We may be heading that direction, or we may not.  It isn’t something we can know, but we can trust in the grand plan of God.
I think we have heard the rhetoric all of our lives that this nation is the greatest one on earth, and we have believed it.  And even though America IS indeed unique in history because of its founding on Christian principles and practices, is it truly stronger and more influential than the Roman government at the time of Christ?  Or greater than the reign of the Egyptian Pharaohs or Solomon’s kingdom or Alexander the Great?  I certainly can’t say that for certain.  The world functions very differently now than it did in those times, and it’s really quite hard to compare.
Some say that they simply don’t see how God could allow the world to continue with the horrific things that are going on, but we tend to forget that human trafficking, sexual depravity, genocide, and slavery have been happening continuously throughout human history.  These horrific things have been happening since shortly after the first sin of man.
Most of us, as modern-day Americans, have had a fairly easy life.  We have not been subjected to any great hardship or persecution, so when we see storm clouds on the horizon of our lives, we freak out.  Since we haven’t had much opportunity to use our crisis-muscles, we think this is overwhelming.  We forget that people all over the world have endured much greater crises and come out on the other side.  We need to stop being surprised that we are encountering difficulties and face the fact that it is actually more surprising (in light of the entirety of human history) that we have been able to live in such a friendly environment for so many years!
The world does not revolve around us.  No matter how strange these times seem, they are not really unprecedented.  Men react in various ways, but the dangers and the challenges have always been very much the same.  We live in a fallen world, where corruption and sin are a recurring interruption to our worship.
So wake up, Christian America.  Flex those crisis muscles.  Even though we haven’t had much need for them recently, the time is coming when we may need to make a stand.  This may not be the end of the world, but rather, simply a continuation of what humanity has been experiencing throughout history.
Don’t be a suicidal rapturist–looking to the clouds and declaring “Please come now, Lord Jesus!  Get me out of here!”  We cannot change the timing of God.  It has been established from the foundation of the earth, and we often don’t understand it, but we can trust that His plan is perfect.  He will come when the time is right, and until then we have the privilege and the duty to walk in obedience and share the good news with those around us.  We do look forward to His coming, but we also must realize that today is the day He has given us, and we should walk forward in the path that He has put in place for our feet.
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. 
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.  John 16:33
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C. S. Lewis on the When

For many years, I had a phrase that described my life.  It wasn’t really a good phrase–it would just sound like gibberish to most people.  And the thing it described wasn’t very good either.  Once I identified the thought process, it made me ashamed.  I knew that I was

LIVING FOR THE WHEN.

What that means (at least to me) is that I was always dreaming of a better, brighter day–  A day when I would be ___________, when I would have _________, when life would be more __________.  I imagine we can all fill in our own blanks.

But no matter how you fill them, it leaves us discontent, never satisfied with what is here today.  We may all have different answers, but they are all equally sinful.  I have written about this before, and fought it valiantly for years now, but it tends to lurk in corners and occasionally growls softly in the darkness.

I have been reading a recently-discovered C.S. Lewis book called Paved With Good Intentions–sort of a sequel to The Screwtape Letters–which involves a demon giving instructions on how to corrupt a Christian.  There are lots of eye-opening ideas in this book, but today I came across a passage that took my breath away.

The author explains that God wants to keep his children’s minds on the Present (this point that touches eternity) or else on Eternity, which is God Himself.  The demon’s objective, therefore, is to direct a person’s thoughts toward either the Past (which is only of limited value for most people) or the Future.

It is far better to make them live in the Future.  Biological necessity makes all their passions point in that direction already, so that thought about the Future inflames hope and fear.  Also, it is unknown to them, so that in making them think about it we make them think of unrealities.  In a word, the Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity.  It is the most completely temporal part of time–for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays.

That one phrase in the middle… making them “think of unrealities”  That smacked me hard.  One lesson I have learned over the years, first introduced to me in Elizabeth George’s book Loving God With All Your Mind, is that worry is not true.  She admonished that the Philippians 4:8 edict to think on things that are true will make it impossible to worry.  Anything that has not happened is NOT TRUE.  I have embraced that firmly and reminded myself of it often.  But somehow I had never quite realized that Living for the When was also NOT TRUE in exactly the same way.  To plan, and perhaps even to dream, are not sinful in themselves, but when one lives for them, it becomes a fantasy world, and plays perfectly into the hand of my soul’s enemy.

It’s no wonder I love C.S. Lewis.  He says the stuff that my soul needs but can’t quite put into words.  And he says it so well.

And that reminds me of the Elisabeth Elliot quote that is currently occupying my kitchen windowsill:

It is always possible to be thankful over what is given rather than to be miserable over what is withheld.  One or the other becomes a way of life.

Yes, Lord.  Thank you for the wise words of saints gone before!

 

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Among the Pagans

I believe it was Francis Schaeffer who asked the question, “How should we then live?”  Then, of course, is a vital part of the question.  Once we know a certain array of facts, they affect our lives.  The knowledge we receive, we become responsible for.

I wrote recently about a man who assumed that everyone *who has made different choices than he has in life* is a bad person.  Though opinions like that seem narrow-minded and ignorant, we all have a tendency to make them.

And since he was talking particularly about communities, it makes me think of the different types of communities people form.  Though many simply stay where they were born, some people search for decades to find a community that fits with their ideals.

There are many people who have decided that the first century community of The Way described in Acts 4:32 is the perfect community.  “No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.”  It does indeed sound beautiful, and in their persecuted state, it was an effective way to survive.

Unfortunately, every experiment in the modern world devoted to “sharing everything equally” has failed, possibly because the first part of that verse is actually a prerequisite:  “All the believers were one in heart and mind.”  That was necessary before the sharing could happen successfully.  And even in those days, pride and hypocrisy intruded to mar the serenity.  It was in this setting that Ananias and Sapphira conspired in a pretense of selfless generosity and were put to death for it.  God cares much more about the desires of our hearts than He does about our net worth.

Not long after that incident, though, heavy persecution arose against that community.  Stephen was stoned, and Saul went on a rampage, dragging people from their homes and imprisoning them.  To escape this horror, the community fled from Jerusalem into the outlying areas.  It occurred to me recently that this Jerusalem commune, so idealized by many in the church, only existed for a very short time before God allowed it to be scattered.  It makes me think that God did not want them living in that setting.  Yes, God is all about community and gathering with other believers, but He doesn’t want us to insulate ourselves.  Peter wrote in his first epistle, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God.” (2: 12)  Did you catch that?  Live among the pagans!

I believe it’s tempting for church people to seclude themselves, to stop associating with unbelievers.  When we do that, we become ignorant of them.  Though we once numbered among them, we forget–we lose our compassion for them.  We become like that poor man who thinks that rural people are stupid and bad.  We judge harshly because we don’t understand them and don’t see the problems they face.

Maybe you have never thought about this before, but I want to challenge you.  This week, deliberately seek out someone who thinks differently than you and spend some time trying to understand them–not to become like them, but to strengthen what is true.

Live such a GOOD life among the pagans that they will learn to glorify God.

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Some Teachers Just Shouldn’t

A philosophy instructor at Berkeley tweeted something recently that simply caused me to shake my head in amazement.  Here it is:

I unironically embrace the bashing of rural Americans.  they, as a group, are bad people who have made bad life decisions.  Some, I assume, are good people.  But this nostalgia for some pastoral way of life is stupid and we should shame people who aren’t pro-city.

He has since deleted the tweet (one would hope because he has become more enlightened?) but he has been rather outspoken in his derision of non-city-dwellers.

Rural Healthcare Should be expensive! And that expense should be borne by those who choose rural America!  Same goes for rural broadband. And gas taxes. It should be uncomfortable to live in rural America. It should be uncomfortable to not move.

It is unbelievable to me that a person can supposedly have a good education, yet still be this ignorant.  Did none of his many years of schooling ever inform him where food and clothing and lumber comes from?  Has he been so deprived of travel and adventure that he simply has never made contact with any aspect of rural life?  How can an adult person possibly be this completely uninformed about the basics of life?  Obviously, he has never spent any time on a farm or he would quickly lose his ideas about it being nostalgic.  It kind of makes me want to see the guy bale hay…  Or pick asparagus.

And how, on another note, could a person live such an arrogant life that he is ready, at the drop of a tweet, to lump all of a huge demographic together as “bad” and “stupid?”  He seems to have no awareness at all that these “bad people” he so disapproves of make life possible for him.

The bit about being “pro-city” is also interesting.  I have never thought in those terms before.  I see cities as necessary and fun to visit, so I certainly wouldn’t have thought of myself as anti-city, yet he assumes automatically that anyone who lives in the country is exactly that?

And then there is the fact that he is encouraging “bashing” and “shaming” people.  Somehow I had the idea that those things were not acceptable.  But not this guy, apparently.

It’s just bizarre, and really rather terrifying, to think that this person is teaching young people.  The man is not only incredibly naive, but apparently delighted to pass judgment on something about which he obviously knows nothing.

Someone who promotes uninformed and outrageous bashing and shaming.
Just the kind of teacher we definitely do not need.

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