Sunday, June 29, 2008

Faith and faithfulness

by John D Ramsey

Tonight we went to see The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice at the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival. Lisa packed a wonderful picnic including a bottle of cava brut that has been chilling in our refrigerator since the night Lisa served dinner to the home-school coordinators. Lisa made sangria for the ladies, but she bought a couple cava as emergency backup bottles. The sangria was a hit at her party, but there was plenty, so the last bottle of cava was safe until tonight.
Before the play tonight started, we sat on the lawn of Southmoreland Park to eat and drink. Brio was serving dinner at the bottom of the hill, but Lisa's menu: spinach chicken salad with fresh basil, pineapple, grapes, fried pita, pimento spread, and sparkling wine was perfect for a summer evening at the park. I felt as though we had cheated Brio out of $30 a head by bringing our own gourmet dinner to their venue. Oh well, the theme of the festival is Free Will. Lisa gave, of her own free will, a contribution to a man in tunic and tights who was standing at the gate. I suppose, too, that no one compelled him to dress accordingly. Even though the event was free, it cost us something. It would have been ungracious to watch without contributing something, especially knowing that it cost the poor chap in tights his dignity.
Before the show began, Gabby and I walked below the stage to see the Paul Mesner Puppets perform their abbreviated version of Othello. We arrived in time to watch the end of the play, which might have been confusing to Gabby because puppet murder and suicide transforms tragedy into comedy. Perhaps our ability to laugh at tragedy is itself a great human frailty.
Shakespeare wonderfully constructs each of his characters with a frailty. His plot then unravels his characters in a dramatic style we know as tragedy. We did not get to watch the end of Othello — the murder and the suicide — because a thunderstorm came through the city near the end of the evening and they called the show. It is just as well, the puppets' version was disturbing enough.
Othello's frailty, by the way, was a lack of faith in his love, Desdemona. If he had trusted her, the outcome would have been better for all, mocking green-eyed monsters notwithstanding. Desdemona's frailty was her lack of faith in her father, Brabantio. Brabantio's frailty may have been racism, and he sets the tragedy in motion when he tells Othello, "Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see: She has deceived her father, and may thee." To which Othello fatefully replies, "My life upon her faith." Desdemona was faithful to Othello, but Othello lost faith in her in part because she deceived her father. Of course, Othello still would have been a happily-ever-after story without the villainous, Iago; but Shakespeare did not write many happy endings. Shakespeare's tragedies unfold from the varied frailties of the ensemble and not by the fault of one character.
I have been thinking lately about the relationship between faith and faithfulness. I have decided that in six or seven years, when I finish studying Kingdom in Context, I will have to study Faith in Context. Just as I hope to understand eventually what meaning Scripture encapsulates in "kingdom," I will also understand eventually what Scripture means by "believe", "faith", "faithful", and "faithfulness." All these words derive from the same Greek root. Until such a time as I can study every appearance and context exhaustively, I will have to take shortcuts and draw upon what I can glean from surveys and what I already know.
I do not recommend studying Christianity from Dictionary.com, but their definition of faith as it applies to Christian theology reads, "[Faith is] the trust in God and in His promises as made through Christ and the Scriptures by which humans are justified or saved." That is not bad for an online dictionary. When we define faithful, it appears that its meaning diverges from that of faith. Dictionary.com does not have a definition of "faithful" from the perspective of Christian theology but still they capture the essence of how we perceive faithful, "[Faithful means] true to one's word, promises, vows, etc.," and "reliable, trusted, or believed." It appears that faith addresses what we believe while faithful implies that we continue doing something. Faith is a noun. Faithful is an adjective; faithfulness is the noun form of faithful. When we refer to faith as a verb, we use the word believe.
We have four words mentioned in this context: believe, faith, faithful, and faithfulness. They are of type verb, noun, adjective, and noun. Faith (n.) encapsulates what we believe (v.), while faithful (adj.) and faithfulness (n.) define the quality of continuing in whatever we believe or do. That almost sounds tidy, but is it right? Jesus told the Pharisees, "You have neglected the more important matters of the law - justice, mercy, and faithfulness," (Matthew 23:23 NIV) Jesus was referring to Micah 6:8.

He has showed you,
O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
 and to walk humbly with your God.
(NIV)

Faithfulness then, according to Jesus, is walking humbly with God; is it not? Consequently, faith tells us what we believe, faithful and faithfulness describes our commitment to walk with God. We understand that we are saved by faith — by what we believe. Paul quotes Joel 2:32 when he says, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Romans 10:13). Moreover Paul tells the Ephesians, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast."
Faith describes our beliefs. Faithful and faithfulness describe our commitment. Am I right? The trouble with this theory is that there is no word in Greek specifically meaning faithfulness. Pistis, meaning faithfulness, is exactly the same word we translate as faith. Faith among evangelicals has come to mean a momentary decision — a conversion. Moreover, faith as it relates to prayer seems to have little correlation to the faith that saves us. Either way, faith is momentary while faithfulness is an enduring quality. Are we right in making this distinction?
Othello did not swear on Desdemona's faithfulness; he said, "My life upon her faith." In another Shakespeare title, Pericles, the character Antiochus addresses Thaliard saying, "For your faithfulness we advance you." Shakespeare uses both words to mean the same thing! In 17th century English, consequently, there does not appear to be a distinction between faith and faithfulness. Likewise, when we quote Jesus saying "justice, mercy, and faithfulness" an equivalent translation is simply "justice, mercy, and faith." Yet in modern Christianity, we seem to make a distinction between faith and faithfulness against the evidence in the Greek and even the history of the English language. By doing so, we distort the plain meaning of Scripture.
Would we quote Ephesians 2:8 to say, "By grace you have been saved through faithfulness?" If not, why not? Even in Shakespeare's day, the word faith demonstrated the same endurance as we now ascribe to faithfulness. If we are saved by faithfulness, then the rest of the verse is still true: our faithfulness is not from within us, but is rather a gift of God. Our faithfulness is not by works so that no one can boast.
When we realize there is no distinction between faith and faithfulness, then the word "believe" takes upon itself a connotation of commitment and not merely intellectual acceptance or emotional trust. This correlates very well with the book of James. James was the brother of Jesus and he was an elder among the church in Jerusalem. He writes, "You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder." Intellectual assent is not enough. God requires faithfulness. The heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 exhibited constancy because while they persevered in faith through hardship, "none of them received what was promised."
If we referred to a prayer of faithfulness rather than a prayer of faith, it might change our attitudes regarding our conversations with God. We seem to think that faith in prayer is the mere belief that God is going to do something whereas if we substituted faithfulness we might remember that for our prayers to be faithful, they must be offerred according to his will. Understanding that faith is faithfulness unifies the meaning of faith in Scripture. When we consider faith to be the same as faithfulness it no longer sounds momentary. It sounds like commitment.
Lisa chuckled more than once when she read a blog about the cost of discipleship. The line that captured her was, "Sure, it cost them everything, but they budgeted for that." Such is our faith. Saving faith is not merely simple belief; it is commitment. God requires faithfulness; yet according to Ephesians 2:8, faithfulness is what he provides to us by his grace.
When we look to Jesus' definition of faith and faithfulness in Micah 6:8 we understand the simplicity of God's request. God wants us to walk humbly with him. We cannot do so apart from trusting him. Sure, it will cost us everything, but we have nothing (other than our sin) that he has not already given us. What God wants from us is for us to live humbly in relationship with him. For us, what is the downside? Christ bore our frailty on his body upon the cross so that we might live with him in glory. God offers the gift of eternal life freely; we cannot earn it.
The beauty of this is that God's grace provides the faith. It is nothing that we can muster, it is the work of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:22, 23 reads, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." (NASB) Here again is the word faithfulness, e.g. faith. The faith that saves us is the same faithfulness that holds us. Even if we differentiate between them, they are still the work of God in our lives. It is God's faithfulness that saves us and God's faithfulness that holds us. Paul wrote to Timothy saying, "Here is a trustworthy saying,

If we died with him,
we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
he will also disown us;
if we are faithless,
he will remain faithful,
for he cannot disown himself."
2 Timothy 2:11-13 (NIV)

Today the faithfulness of God compels us to budget our whole lives to walk humbly with him. Yet in the mystery of our salvation, we commit to this relationship of our own free will. God provides eternal life freely, but it will cost us all that we are. In exchange, God will make us all that he wants us to be. Do we trust him to do it?

Friday, June 27, 2008

The source of life


Does history mean "His-story" to you? God's revelation occurs in history. The Old Testament starts "In the beginning God created . . ." The New Testament begins with the genealogy of Jesus, the Son of God. John 1 begins "In the beginning was the Word . . ."

Worldly religions are based, not on historical facts, but on mystical thought, ethical and philosophical ideas, or the sayings of one man. "God created" is the foundation of Christianity.

Prophecies of future events given to each generation are proof of the Bible's authenticity. No man-made religion can compare to the 100% accuracy of Bible prophecies. Historical events once questioned are proven true by archeological finds.

At a mainline denominational college in 1951, my Bible teacher ridiculed the historical accounts in the Bible saying they are fictitious. He cited the Hittites as a ridiculous fabrication. He said there were no such people. Since that statement evidence from "ample cuneiform inscriptions"[1] has unveiled the Hittite language. Books are now written about the Hittite civilization.

"One star is different from another in glory." 1 Corinthians 15:41 was once thought to be a misstatement. Now it is confirmed that each star is in fact different. No two are alike.

God said in Genesis 22:17 "I will multiply your seed as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is upon the sea shore." Men discounted this statement of Scripture as an exaggeration. Astronomers now estimate a great number, a hundred-million-billion-billion, (10 to the 26th power)[2] equaling the number of grains of sand on the earth. These are potent evidences of a true revelation from God.

God admonishes "Remember the former things of old: for I am God and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me. Declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:" Isaiah 46:9-10

In our day knowledge is expanding that confirms God's word. Many biblical illustrations like these have been verified. God's word is accurate. It speaks to our time, and gives understanding of God.

Some scientists today declare themselves atheists. However, thousands of scientists affirm the Bible to be scientifically correct. Large numbers of scientists in history claimed the Bible led them to discover or confirm scientific facts. For example these scientists gave credit to the Bible: Isaac Newton and the Law of Gravity, Gregory Mendel in Genetics, and Lord Kelvin with the Absolute Temperature Scale. Bible accuracy upheld in the scientific realm helps us realize that God speaks the truth. He reveals Himself and his Son, our Savior, in his creation and in his word. Unbelievers may denounce faith in God, but God's Word deserves our confidence in its validity. It is impossible for God to lie.

The fourth gospel introduces the history of Jesus at the beginning of creation. Four words WORD, GOD, LIFE and LIGHT are used to identify who Jesus is.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men." John 1:1-4

All life springs forth from Jesus Christ: plant life, animal and human life. He was also LIGHT called "the true LIGHT, which lights every man that comes into the world." John 1:9 This confirms that mankind is made in the image of God as it's written in Genesis. LIFE and LIGHT are the two great forms of energy in the universe.

God is life and he is eternal. Life as we know it in creation is an expression of an eternal quality. This can be further explored in John's gospel and in passages like Hebrews 8:5 which shows God made on earth physical copies of heavenly realities.

Jesus Christ was and is the source of life for every one. He breathed the breath of life into Adam and "he became a living soul." At creation he said "Let there be light and there was light." Whenever God appeared to man in the Old Testament Scriptures it was a pre-incarnation of Jesus Christ. He appeared to Abraham. Before that he walked in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve.

Light is contrasted with darkness, Light dispels darkness. Darkness cannot overcome light. A story is told by a relative that when Merry was a little girl she followed her mother to the cellar door, when her mother opened the cellar door Merry exclaimed, "Oh, that's where the dark goes when the sun comes up!" Light had to be seen in the world through Jesus for men to understand the difference between spiritual light and darkness,

John identifies the lost condition of man who could not recognize or follow their creator: "the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not." John 1:10 God gives the reason men did not receive Christ ". . . men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil." In John 3:19

By God's mercy he sent Christ to pay our sin debt. Salvation in Jesus Christ saves us from darkness and gives us a new birth into his kingdom of light.

1 Peter 2:9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Colossians 1:13 Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:

Today "His-story" is still being played out in contemporary history. It is of eternal consequence that we recognize him and accept his will.


[1] A Bloomsbury Reference Book, Encarta World English Dictionary, St. Martin's Press, 1999
[2] Morris, Henry M. Science and the Bible, page 12, Moody Press 1986

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Thank you for family

by John D Ramsey

Tonight I was sitting on the front step watching a group of stars set in the western sky. They followed the twilight. Even as the sky darkened they dipped further into the summer haze near the horizon. Their glory was incomplete and fleeting, but I watched to see whether they would make an appearance before vanishing into the mist. It was almost like cheering for the underdog. They did not belong to the summer sky, but for a short hour or two they tried.

Cara had returned my call, and we were visiting while Lisa and the little ones were at a 4-H meeting. I confided to Cara that for the first time in about two months I had no idea what I should write. “So you’re finally out of things to say?” she asked. I told her that I was out of things to write about except for things that make me angry. Other than unimportant things that irritate me, I am concentrating at work on learning new technologies. My mental wanderings have left me very little subject matter worth sharing. Cara paused for a minute and said, “If I were writing a blog post tonight, I would write about being thankful . . . I am thankful that I had a family that knew how to love me.”

Cara is completing on-the-job training in a program that works directly with abused children. When she accepted the job, I told her that it would break her heart, and it already has. What I did not realize is that without my knowing any particulars, Cara’s new job will break my heart as well. I can hear the pain in her voice and I am helpless to remedy. I will weep because she is weeping.

When Cara was nine years old, a house fire displaced our family for about three months. No one was injured, but the disruption caused by such destruction is difficult to imagine unless you have experienced it. A week after the fire, while the shock of it all was still settling, Cara was bitten in the face by a dog. Her injury required surgery to repair a tear duct on her left eye. On Labor Day, we took Cara to the hospital for emergency surgery. Except for the surgical team, no one else was working because of the holiday. The nurse prepping Cara for surgery had great difficulty finding a vein for the IV, and Cara cried out, “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” but I was helpless to rescue. Although the surgery progressed well, my inability to shield my daughter from pain shook me deeply. Cara recovered from eye surgery. Nevertheless, I remember the intensity of Cara’s crying and my helplessness to do more than to hold her hand.

Now Cara is crying again. She is not crying for her own pain, but rather for the pain of others. She is beyond even my touch of reassurance. Yet in the midst of her tears, what echoes most profoundly is thankfulness for a family that loved her, and I am humbled. Because she has felt pain, she has compassion. Because she has known love, she has hope. Because she has hope, she can minister grace to the unlovely. The damaged souls among whom Cara will work have a proclivity for bitterness, violence, deceit, and manipulation. Cara loves them still. She loves them because she has a glimpse of God’s grace in her own life, and she has faith that His grace can heal. I have confidence that God has purposed Cara’s life for such a time as this.

I listen to Cara’s enthusiasm and I am thankful. I am thankful that the grace of God has captured her heart. I can do nothing to help Cara except to cry with her and to pray for her, and thus I am pledged.

I am thankful that we have a Savior, a high priest, who is touched by the feelings of our weaknesses. He knows our weaknesses because he walked among us as a man, and because he endured violence from our hands. I am thankful that having his forgiveness, we can boldly approach the Father's throne to find mercy and grace when we are weak. I am thankful that I can commit Cara to his loving care. I know that he is able to lift her up in his arms and carry her through approaching trials.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Thank you for dancing

The girls are home. I told a co-worker this morning, “My agony ends today.” He laughed with me. Sure enough, everyone came home, and my “agony” ended, but the rush began. Our dear friends' daughter was married tonight. Their home, the location of the outdoor wedding, is not far from us, but the roads between us are shaded lanes that dip and heave through the countryside. On a rainy day, you cannot drive the shortest route because it is under water in two places. This afternoon, traffic heading to the lakes had slowed my commute home from the office. Still, through effort and cooperation the four of us left home early enough to arrive at the wedding on time.

We saw many old friends and acquaintances. We had not seen some for a decade or more. We may not see them for another decade again, but we have a common history and our lives sometime intersect. This is comforting. Our years in Iowa and Minnesota interrupted our Kansas City continuum, but here we are again — different — yet not too changed to sit among old friends.

Looking around, seeing the people we have known the longest or known the best, I realized that everyone carried in their history a major heartache or heartbreak. Some struggle daily against deep sorrow. Yet here we were together again to celebrate a marriage. All sadness lingering in hearts was set aside in favor of joy for two young people beginning their life together in holy matrimony.

After the short but compelling ceremony, the reception began. After eating, people began drifting onto the dance floor; Gabby was among them. She danced by herself mimicking the motions of others. Gabby does not know the bride or groom. She does not fully understand the wedding ceremony. Still, Gabby was drawn to the joy, and she danced. She reminded me of Claire several years ago. Daniel and I had taken 3-year old Claire to an outdoor concert at Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis. There she played in the fountains and danced with a homeless man to the rhythm of rock and blues. Human hearts of all ages and positions crave joy, and joy is a gift to share.

Tonight beneath the huge white tent people set aside the scars of their own pain and celebrated joy. Gabby joined them, but she danced alone. There was only one thing within my power to remedy Gabby's situation, and I walked onto the dance floor extending her my hand. When she saw me she ran to meet me. After a week at home alone, I was dancing with my youngest daughter. Such is joy. Dulcius ex aspirus, it is “sweeter after difficulty.”

Gabby and I had practiced dancing recently at City Market in Kansas City. It was not really dancing to me, it was navigating. I held both of her hands in mine as she walked in front of me. When I lowered her left hand and raised her right hand, she glided to the right through the crowd. When I lowered her right hand and raised her left, she glided to the left. When I pulled both hands up above her head, she stopped. When we reached a clearing among the throng of people, I lifted just one of her hands high in the air, and Gabby twirled. Certainly, there were more practical ways of controlling Gabby in a crowd, but none was quite as joyous.

At the reception, this was the dancing we knew, so this is the dance we danced. Because we had room to move, Gabby did much twirling. We left our offering of joy on the dance floor. Dancing beats sulking any day. Human hearts are captured by joy.

We stayed at the reception until the bride and groom left. We joined the throng in throwing rose petals at them as they ran the gauntlet to their car. When we arrived home, Claire and Gabby dressed for bed. Lisa and I relayed conversations that the other had missed. The stories we heard were not without heartache, but they were filled with faith and confidence. They were filled with the hope of joy.

When Gabby came downstairs for “Goodnight,” I leaned close to her, looked into her eyes, and said, “Thank you for dancing with me.” Gabby smiled sweetly and trotted off to bed.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Sulk and feel sorry

by John D Ramsey

My girls are away from home this week. Claire is at summer camp, and Lisa went with to help in the kitchen. Gabby is at her grandparents’ home not too far away, but this is her special vacation, too. This is not the first time that I have spent time home alone. Lisa and the little girls visited Cara a few weeks ago leaving me at home. I cannot say that I enjoy being alone, but I have learned a couple things that seem to help alleviate the stress.

First of all, before Lisa left, I made myself a to-do list. This was a great reassurance to Lisa because it demonstrated that I acknowledged that the week would be different and that it would require effort from me to make it successful. I had hopes for the to-do list myself, but to-do lists are somewhat like New Year resolutions: the only fun part is making them. At the time of this writing, I do not know where I left the list. I remember some things that are on the list, but most of all I remember what I forgot to put on the list. Next time Lisa and the girls leave me home alone I am going to make a to-do list, but next time I am going to have a new item bolded at the top of the list: Sulk and feel sorry for myself.

This idea came as a sublime revelation. When Lisa and the girls go away for a few days, I sulk and feel sorry for myself. To say otherwise would be lying. Nevertheless, sulking kills all other potential productivity – and here is the genius of the plan – if I add, “sulk and feel sorry” to the list, then when I sulk, I will actually be accomplishing something that I planned to do! Sulking can be an iterative process as well. Just because it is at the top of my list does not mean that I cannot return to do it again as necessary.

Actually, this week has been productive. I have remembered to look after Clover, the lop-eared bunny from Minnesota. I prepared questions for our Kingdom in Context Bible study. I also wrote a blog post based upon some of those questions. I made it to Bible study on time Tuesday morning. I washed my own dishes Tuesday night. I mowed the yard on Wednesday. Thursday is laundry day.

In the evenings, I have sat outside and enjoyed the moonrise. I started a small fire in the fire bowl, and I lit the citronella torches to scare off the mosquitoes. I slept for a while on top of the picnic table with the fire low to my left and the full moon high to my right. Above me was a canopy of oak, hackberry, and river birch. I woke periodically to glimpses of fire or moonlight and then drifted to sleep again. D. H. Lawrence wrote, “I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself,” and at the risk of losing my capacity to sulk, I was beginning to feel untamed.

The lights around me, the moon and flame, painted me in blues and orange. The outer boundaries of my vision were foliage and darkness. The scene could have been a clearing in any forest. Around midnight I awoke to some shuffling in the bushes and I figured that my presence must have been interrupting some creature’s nocturnal routine. I extinguished the torches and came inside. At the end of the evening, I chose creature comfort above creeping creatures. Still it was refreshing to have slept under the moon and stars. I realized that although I am alone this week, I am not lonely. I am richly blessed to share my life with those who are away this week. I look forward to the joy of their return.

In the autumn of each year, at the time we call the harvest moon, God commanded Israel to sleep outside for seven nights. Actually, they slept in wooden booths that had leafy canopies. English Bible translations refer to the festival as the Feast of Tabernacles or Feast of Booths. The festival commemorates Israel’s exodus from Egypt and their sojourn in the wilderness. I shall have to write more about it in season.

For the Christian, the memory of this feast also commemorates Christ’s coming to earth. John writes, “The Word became flesh and [tabernacled] among us.”[1] Some translations say he “dwelt among us,” but the word John chose to use means literally to pitch a tent. It comes from the same root as the Septuagint uses to describe the Feast of Tabernacles.

In modern Christendom, the word tabernacle has come to mean something of grand architectural scale, but it was not so originally. A tabernacle is a temporary dwelling, a humble place. When John says that Jesus tabernacled among us, he illustrates Jesus’ amazing humility.

Some believe that Jesus was born at the time of this feast. This is more likely than a December 25 birth date; nevertheless, if Jesus were born in late September, then December would have been the time of Mary’s Annunciation. If so, Christmas remains an appropriate time of year to celebrate Christ’s coming. Jesus was born in a manger. Some people believe the manger was actually a wooden booth that the innkeeper had prepared for the feast; perhaps, the original language of the New Testament does not confirm it.

Still, whether he was born in a booth or a barn, Jesus came to earth in all humility. Jesus was familiar with sleeping outside. He said, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”[2] Occasionally our family goes camping, although it has been few years since we have gone. When we camp, we do not “rough it.” We go to campgrounds with modern facilities. We do not drive an RV, but we do have a nice tent. We usually take along a camp stove, and Lisa fixes wonderful meals. They taste as good as at home, but with greater effort on Lisa’s part. Our last episode was in St. Croix State Park in Minnesota. It is a beautiful place, but it belongs to the mosquitoes. If it were very comfortable, it would not be camping.

When Jesus pitched his tent among us, he came into a hostile world. John says, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.”[3] Eventually man’s wrath toward him, nailed the Creator’s hands to a wooden cross. Jesus bore all of man’s hostility toward God in his body hanging on a tree. Since Jesus bore our sin and the penalty of our sin, we can be reconciled to the Father through the sprinkling of Jesus’ blood.

The world was hostile toward the Christ, yet when Jesus said, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head,” he was not sulking and feeling sorry for himself. He was telling a would-be follower the cost of discipleship. We generally frame Jesus response in the immediate context; we rationalize that a man in that day could not follow Jesus without abandoning human comfort. Do we not suppose that Jesus was talking to us as well? Yet Peter understood what Jesus meant. In fact, Peter refers to his human body as a tabernacle. He wrote to his flock,

I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly [tabernacle], to stir you up by way of reminder, knowing that the laying aside of my earthly [tabernacle] is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you will be able to call these things to mind.[4]

Not only does the tabernacle remind us that Jesus pitched his tent among us, it reminds us that we, too, are sojourners here. Before Peter left his temporary dwelling, his tent in the wilderness, he kept reminding believers to practice what they had received by grace. Of what did Peter continually remind them? He wrote:

. . . applying all diligence,
in your faith supply moral excellence,
and in your moral excellence, knowledge,
and in your knowledge, self-control,
and in your self-control, perseverance,
and in your perseverance, godliness,
and in your godliness, brotherly kindness,
and in your brotherly kindness, love.[5]

Knowing that his time, and their time, was short, Peter encouraged believers to walk through this life even as Jesus did. We are to walk this way because our life on earth is temporary. We are to walk this way because we have left behind the bondage of Egypt and we press on toward the Promised Land. We walk this way because we are living in tents in a hostile wilderness. We walk this way because we follow Jesus, the Son of Man who had “nowhere to lay his head.”

Everything we do should flow from our faith in Jesus Christ. If faith is not the root of our actions and attitudes then they are meaningless. Our faith provides us not with the creature comforts for this world, but rather light for our current journey and the hope of a future. Peter closes his thought saying, “for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.”[6]

When I lose my comforts for a few days, I sulk and feel sorry for myself. I know to do better, but I sulk. Yet when my thoughts are drawn to him who tabernacled among us in this hostile world, I am reminded that everything surrounding me is as temporary as a camping trip. If it is very comfortable, it is not camping. We will all soon lay aside our earthly tabernacle — our tent in the hostile wilderness. Are we preparing to enter into the Promised Land — the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? That is the hope of our calling.

[1] John 1:14 (NASB)
[2] Matthew 8:20 (NASB)
[3] John 1:10, 11 (NASB)
[4] 2 Peter 1:13-14 (NASB)
[5] 2 Peter 1:5-7 (NASB)
[6] 2 Peter 1:12 (NASB)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Discern don't condemn

by Charles E Ramsey

Jesus Christ was and is God and man. As the only begotten Son and the express image of the Father, he reveals the Father. Hebrews 1:3. The Father is pleased with the Son, and the Son glorifies the Father. Jesus' life, death and resurrection proves the love of God for lost humanity. But a relationship is necessary. Studying God's word is a primary way to get acquainted and become a lover of God. We discern God's ways through his word. Discernment is defined as to discriminate, and discrimination poses the power to distinguish the excellent and the true.

Jesus "was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." Hebrews 4:15. The understanding of how God could become man is given by Paul. "Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." Philippians 2:6-8. From scripture we discern that the fountain of man's thought is corrupt and limited. Whereas the God-man unifies an eternal well of absolute truth free from error.

In my first article we investigated Christ's humility. Now we look at the power Jesus has to give victory over one particular human weakness--self justification. This weakness first occurred when Adam refused to acknowledge sin. He justified himself by blaming God, his Creator, and accusing Eve, his wife. Genesis 3:12. Jesus trained his disciples to avoid this sin by not focusing on man. "Judge not, and you shall not be judged: condemn not, and you shall not be condemned: forgive, and you shall be forgiven:" Luke 6:37. Following his example and obeying will result in a happy and spiritually mature life. John 13:15-17.

Two avenues are open toward discernment of truth. "For judgment I am come into this world, that they which 'see not' might see; and that they which 'see' might be made blind." John 9:39. Those who are helped are "they which see not." Recognizing weakness they accept the fact that they sin. Others refuse to admit depravity, being blind to this truth. To be born again spiritually everyone needs the Savior and the Holy Spirit. In the spiritually mature the believer's will becomes submissive to Christ's will. Discernment through the avenue of blind self-will comes too late.

Jesus made the word of God the absolute authority for discernment, both now and when we meet him. "If any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejects me, and receives not my words, has one that judges him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day." John 12:47-48..

Jesus' manner of helping us differs depending if we are self-righteousness or humble. His help is available to all, even to those who are proud or those on the lowest rung on the social ladder. He confronts all with their sin. His help is usually rejected by the proud. However, those confessing a need receive his grace. Christ's work in us is to make helpers for others. To be a leader one must first have his personal life in order. Spiritual discernment is recognizing other's faults are universal with all mankind. When one can share the forgiveness God gives, he is equipped to help others. Discernment then first deals with the problem within the teacher, so he can help another obtain victory. However, the rejecter is destined to learn discernment when he is judged as he judged.

The apostle Paul wrote to a religious audience that they have no excuse to pass judgment on anyone. "Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whosoever you are that judges for wherein you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you that judge do the same things." Romans 2:1. Those who condemn another do so because they are unrepentant of the same kind of sin. This could be paraphrased: 'As you judge another so you are.' When people argued with Paul his reply was, "let God be true but every man a liar." Romans 3:4.

Jesus' instruction regarding offences required confronting the offender alone. Matthew 18:15. When a Christian brother becomes ensnared in blatant sin and refuses to repent, he becomes a stumbling block. At that point Paul counsels: don't mix with that evil one. Without condemning, separation can bring reconciliation. 1 Corinthians 5:11

We become the stumbling block if we practice condemning others. Paul emphasizes the better way. "Let us not therefore judge one another anymore: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother's way." Romans 14:13.

Understanding the power of God's word to correct behavior makes a Christian discerning. Then he is on the road to a blessed life. The writer to Hebrews describes this: "For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword . . . and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." Hebrews 4:12. Solomon concurs: "Whoso despises the word shall be destroyed: but he that fears the commandment shall be rewarded." Proverbs 13:13

All scripture quotes are from the King James Version.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Of shepherds and kings

For the last four months, I have had fun studying the word "kingdom" and the passages in which it appears. On Tuesday morning, I have met with some "nice guys" to study Kingdom in Context. At first there were only two others signed up for the study. When Lisa saw the short list, she laughed and said, "Those two nice guys - and you." One more joined us and now there are three nice guys - and me. When I told them about Lisa's assessment, they replied very politely that they had been called worse.

Now we are about to take a break for a few weeks after we wrap up the books Genesis through Deuteronomy. Sometime in August, we will begin again in 1 Samuel. Because we are closing a chapter so to speak, I am reflecting upon what I have learned. There are only a few references to the word, "kingdom," in Genesis through Deuteronomy. We have added a few more references than are found in English translations by including the occurrence of basileia and basileios from the Septuagint. Yes, those words are Greek to me, too.

Did you realize that Babel, in Genesis 10 and 11, is the same city as Babylon? Babylon then is the first kingdom of men recorded in Scripture. Babylon is also the last kingdom of men recorded in Scripture (Revelation 18). Guys, when we finally study Revelation 18, we will want to remember Genesis 10.

Did you know that the Bible refers to Egypt as a kingdom only once? Pharaoh, with his army, drowned in the Red Sea without a single mention regarding the greatness of his kingdom. The one reference to Egypt as a kingdom comes in Ezekiel when God says,

I will turn the fortunes of Egypt and make them return to the land of Pathros, to the land of their origin, and there they will be a lowly kingdom. It will be the lowest of the kingdoms, and it will never again lift itself up above the nations. And I will make them so small that they will not rule over the nations. Ezekiel 29:14, 15 (NASB)

I found these to be interesting facts. My explanation for Babylon being the first kingdom and Egypt barely rating a mention is simply this: Babylon represents the world system. It began when Nimrod rebelled against God, and it will continue until Christ vanquishes rebellion at his coming. Egypt, in Scripture, does not represent the world system so much as it represents man's bondage to sin. Scripture often calls Egypt the "land of Egypt" but never the "kingdom of Egypt." This is worthy of further research and meditation.

There are other interesting facts that we have not yet studied. For instance, missing from the Bible are popular euphemisms such as "kingdom of Satan", "kingdom of darkness", and "prince of darkness." If you find them in your Bible, buy a better translation. Why are they "missing" from Scripture but present in our liturgy? We shall need to look into this.

I have much to look forward to in coming months as I study Kingdom in Context, but looking back even from this early vantage, I see that an amazing pattern has emerged. God raises up shepherds to slaughter kings. Abraham and 318 of his men pursued the progeny of Nimrod who had taken Lot captive. Abraham divided his men and attacked by night. Hebrews 7:1 tells us that Abraham slaughtered the kings. Abraham then tithed the spoils of battle to Melchizedek who said,

Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
And blessed be God Most High,
Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.

Abraham's strategy alone was not sufficient to conquer kings, but God delivered them to Abraham, and Lot was rescued. Better to be a shepherd than a king.

Moses tended his father-in-law's flocks in Midian for forty years before confronting Pharaoh with God's power. Moses', the shepherd, stretched his staff out across the water and God sent a strong east wind and parted the sea. Israel walked across on dry ground. When Pharaoh's army pursued Israel, the water collapsed upon them and overwhelmed their chariots. Better to walk with a shepherd than to ride with a king.

The tribes of Reuben and Gad were very proficient shepherds. Moses writes, "Now the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad had an exceedingly large number of livestock." (Numbers 32:1 NASB) All of Israel had livestock, but Reuben and Gad excelled at raising cattle and sheep. To accommodate Reuben and Gad, Moses gave them the kingdoms of Sihon and Og. These kings had marched to war against Israel even though Israel merely asked to pass through the Sihon's territory. Their kingdoms were not part of Israel's Promised Land, but because they made war against Israel and against God, shepherds took possession of their kingdoms. Better to be a shepherd among God's people than to be a king against them.

Later in the study, we will see that God chose David, a shepherd, to be king of Israel. We will learn Saul lost his kingdom to a shepherd because of his pride and sin. Better to be a shepherd with a slingshot and God than to be a king with an mighty army but without God.

Still, the greatest shepherd of all is also the King of kings and Lord of lords. God established the pattern showing that he prefers shepherds to kings. He demonstrated that he exalts the humble while he throws down the mighty. Jesus, the Creator of all (John 1:1, Hebrews 1:2), came to earth in all humility. He was king of the Jews, but he was born in a manger. The angels announced Jesus' birth to shepherds, while the Magi (foreigners) inquired of Herod, "Where is he who was born king of the Jews?" (Matthew 2:2). Jesus came to earth in such humility that he died in our place. Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." (John 10:11 NASB)

Micah 5 contains a famous prophecy about Bethlehem in Judah becoming the birthplace of the Christ, the ruler of Israel. Do we remember that Micah prophesies that the Christ will be a shepherd? Micah writes,

He will arise and shepherd His flock
In the strength of the LORD,
In the majesty of the name of the LORD His God.
And they will remain,
Because at that time He will be great
To the ends of the earth.
This One will be our peace.

Micah says even more, he remembers Nimrod and the first kingdom of men, and he writes, "[He] will shepherd the land of Assyria with the sword, the land of Nimrod at its entrances." The Shepherd will be exalted. John writes in Revelation 19,

From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written,

"KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS."
Revelation 19:15, 16 (NASB)

We will all know Jesus as "KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS"; it is better to know him first as Shepherd.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Of crowns and crayons

This post excerpted from For Your Names' Sake,
Chapter 7 - Today:

by John D Ramsey


In Philippians 4 Paul describes being content in any situation. If he is hungry, he is content. If he is in need, he is content. Then he says, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”[1] Paul is not talking about personal ambition. He is talking about enduring hardship. He can be weak, because God makes him strong. In Revelation 3 Jesus talks to the church that is in Philadelphia, he says, “I know your deeds. See I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” To this church, there is no warning or criticism. Jesus knows they are weak. He will be strong for them. He knows they are persecuted, so he promises to keep them “from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world.” He tells them, “Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.”[2]

Lisa used to play a recording of Twila Paris singing, Let No Man Take Your Crown. Cara’s young ears took what she heard in Twila’s twang and applied what was familiar from her own hand, the result was, “Let no one take your crayon.” This was not surprising from the lips of the little girl who once recited, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of the mall?” Jesus’ admonition to the churches was simple, and perhaps Cara understood this much: he demands faithfulness.

Faithfulness is not march-step obedience to a religious creed or institutional rules. Religious hierarchies are a form of legalism; consequently, they do not convey the truth of the resurrection. Paul called his fellow Apostles, Peter, James, and John, those in Jerusalem who seemed to be something. He then said that it made “no difference” because “God shows no partiality.”[3] Faithfulness to Jesus Christ does include obedience to divine order. We obey the government, for instance. Paul called civil authority a “minister of God to you for good.”[4] God works through governments for our benefit; nevertheless, no one and no thing intervenes in our relationship with Jesus Christ. We will not answer to a church institution on the Day of Judgment. Rather, we will answer to him who paid the price for our salvation.

To the church of Smyrna, Jesus says, “I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!” To Philadelphia he said, “I know that you have little strength, yet you have not denied my name.”[5] Jesus does not rebuke these two churches. They are hardly shining castles on a hill. They are oppressed and pressured. In Smyrna, some will be murdered for their faith. Jesus commends these churches. Those in weakness will by faith witness his power!

Of the other churches in Asia he says, “You have forsaken your first love . . . You have people there who hold the teaching of Balaam . . . You also have those who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans . . . You tolerate that woman Jezebel . . . You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead . . . You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” These are serious rebukes; what would he say to the modern church today? Who is our first love? Whom do we worship? Whom will we tolerate? Whom do we serve? What do we think we need?

Too often, we are concerned about buildings, programs, and finances as if these things mattered. Jude says, “Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”[6] Yet nowhere does the faith require buildings, programs, or finances. Almost nothing material is essential. That is why Jesus promised that God would provide us food and clothing in Matthew 6 (Even in our poorest weeks, we have always had food and clothing). When the church becomes self-obsessed then it has left its first love. We need to focus on Jesus Christ rather than on some facility, program, or organization. Churches fall in love with doing church, people fall in love with pastors or leaders and a type of idolatry emerges.

Churches attempting to influence society through political activism are in error. In the Parable of the Weeds in Matthew 13 Jesus tells us to let the weeds grow together with the wheat until the time of harvest. In the parable, the field is the world. The harvesters, who are angels and not men, will separate the wheat from the weeds on the day of harvest. We cannot pull weeds without damaging wheat. The Christian has longer-lasting influence as a messenger of the Gospel than he will ever have as a politician, lobbyist, or protester.


[1] Philippians 4:13 (NIV)
[2] Revelations 3:8, 10, 11 (NIV)
[3] Galatians 2:6 (NASB)
[4] Romans 13:4 (NASB)
[5] Revelation 2:9 (NIV)
[6] Jude 3 (NASB)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Of mustard, mulberries, and mountains

By John D Ramsey

The neighbor’s mulberry tree overhangs the corner of my back yard. Last night I was walking in the yard and looking up through the branches and then down at the mess on the ground, I imagined what my yard would look like without mulberries. Jesus must not have liked mulberries, either. When the disciples came to Jesus and demanded, “Increase our faith!” Jesus told them that they were missing the point. He said, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you.” [1] Jesus was not beating around the mulberry; he was telling his disciples that they completely lacked faith. If they had faith, any faith, they could uproot the mulberry and replant it in the sea. The disciples said they wanted to increase their faith, and Jesus rebuked them gently, saying that the solution to their problem was not proportional; rather the solution to their problem was binary: they had none and they needed some – just a speck of faith would do.

This was not the only instance where the disciples lacked faith. In Mark 4, after Jesus calmed the sea, he asked his disciples, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” [2]

A survey of Scripture verses speaking about faith finds very few instances that seem to compare faith quantitatively. Jesus uses “faith as a mustard seed” twice, but other comparisons are subjective and qualitative (small and great). In Matthew 21, after Jesus cursed the fig tree and it withered, the disciples marveled. Jesus again explained to them that they had no faith. He said,

Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, “Be taken up and cast into the sea,” it will happen. And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive. [3]

If our faith is complete, we will not doubt, but eliminating doubt is not the same as having faith. Some teach that faith is something like the “force” in Star Wars. If it was, we might see mulberries and mountains flying through the air by our command. Faith to these false teachers is something they must muster (or mustard). They teach that if we could just vanquish all doubt then we will get whatever we want. Nevertheless, vanquishing doubt in hope of a specific outcome is not faith. Rather, it is self-deception. We can sing, “I believe I can fly” as much as we want. If we believe that we can defy gravity, then gravity will defy our belief. The truth will prevail.

Believing a lie is a horrible kind of faith to claim. Eve believed a lie, and thereby brought sin into the world. (2 Corinthians 11:3) It did not matter that she believed the serpent; her belief accomplished nothing besides grief.

True faith does not come from within us, nor is faith an intangible universal force into which we tap. We cannot increase our faith, nor can we harness faith to work our will. Paul told the Romans, “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” [4] We should not deceive ourselves into thinking we are more than we are; we are to have “sound judgment.” Moreover, “God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” What faith we have comes from God and by his will. We are to act accordingly, and we are to treat each other appropriately – understanding that God gives to each their measure of faith. Paul wrote to the Ephesians saying,

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. [5]

Our salvation comes by grace through faith, yet not even the faith to receive salvation comes from within us; rather the ability to trust God is itself a gift of God. It begins and ends with God. The faith that God gives us accomplishes his works that he prepared for us.

When the father of a demonized young man brought his son to Jesus, the man pleaded, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” Jesus asked the man, “If you can?” Jesus was implying, What to you mean, ‘if I can?’ Of course, I can. Jesus then went on to say, “Everything is possible for him who believes.” [6]

Was Jesus requiring the man to believe, or was Jesus saying that he, himself, could do all things? It does not matter how you answer that question because the man’s response projected full dependency upon Jesus, regardless. The man answered, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” The man could not muster faith to believe, so he pleaded with Jesus to help his unbelief. Faith is dependent upon Jesus Christ. Faith itself is a gift of God; only he can supply it.

In the Old Testament, Elijah and the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18 illustrate the difference between real and false faith. The prophets of Baal cried out all day to their god send fire to consume their sacrifice. They cut themselves with swords and spears, but Baal did not answer. Elijah then prepared his sacrifice. He had the people drench it with water to preclude any suspicion of trickery. Then he called upon the name of the Lord, and fire fell from heaven and consumed the sacrifice. The prophets of Baal thought they if could muster enough faith, their god would answer with fire. Elijah, on the other hand, was confident. He was confident because he knew what God was doing. His confidence was in God, and not in himself. Elijah did not force God to answer. God worked through Elijah to display His power before all the people.

One of the names of Baal in the Old Testament is “Baal-Zebub”, which means “lord of the flies.” Beelzebub in the New Testament is a name for Satan. The prophets of Baal thought that they could arouse their god to action. They thought that they had the ability to persuade Baal. Their worship was about human effort. They slashed themselves until their blood flowed, but all that answered them were the swarms of flies. Satan wants us to believe in ourselves. That was the lie by which the serpent deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden (“You will be like God” Genesis 3:4). God, on the other hand, wants us to trust in Him.

Faith, then, trusts God to do what He desires to do. He does not always do what we want him to do. If we trust him to do what he does not will to do, then we cannot mustard enough faith to move him. If our faith is to see results, then we must first know what God is doing. Many false teachers use convoluted logic to say that God does what we want him to do. Many others teach that God has left the planet, and put us in charge giving us special power called faith to do our will. When outcomes fail to meet expectations then they tell us sadly that we lacked sufficient faith. They say, “Next time, pray harder.” The prophets of Baal prayed harder and harder, but Elijah prayed just once! Faith is not something we muster; Jesus said it only takes faith as a mustard seed to cast a mountain into the sea!

Yet real faith must acknowledge that God’s wisdom is higher than our own. His understanding is greater than our own. His desires may be different from our own desires. If we are to pray in faith, we need to spend time with him to understand his will regarding the present circumstances. We should pray, “Lord, I know you can do all things. Help my unbelief. Give me eyes to see what you are doing so that I may pray according to your will. Not my will, but yours be done.”

When we begin to understand faith, we see that faith is not the means by which we move God. Rather faith is the means by which God moves us. When he gives us the gift of faith then “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Faith moves us; it does not move God. Faith moves us first to trust God, and then faith moves us to let God work his will through us. God has already prepared good works for us. Faith aligns our hearts to do God’s will. When we have from God, faith even as a mustard seed, then we will accomplish His will.

Faith accomplishes God's will, not my own. It does not matter how badly I want my neighbor's mulberry tree uprooted and replanted far away. If God does not want to uproot the mulberry, then I cannot mustard enough faith to move it. Jesus used the mulberry as an illustration probably because it was close by. Nowhere, in the New Testament do we find the Apostles transplanting mulberry trees by faith. Ezekiel 38 prophesies of a day when the mountains will be thrown down. Micah 1 prophesies of the return of Christ saying that the mountains will melt like wax in a fire. I would like to think that this awesome display of God's power will answer the prayers of the faithful. We can certainly pray, "Lord Jesus, come quickly."

Nevertheless, with the measure of faith that God has apportioned to me today, I will walk in the good works which he has prepared for me today. My faith does not move God; rather, the faith that he gives me moves me ever closer to him until I depart or he returns. Until then, the faith which he has given me, assures me of an eternity with him.


[1] Luke 17:6 (NASB)
[2] Mark 4:40 (NASB)
[3] Matthew 17:20 (NASB)
[4] Romans 12:3 (NASB)
[5] Ephesians 2:8-10 (NASB)
[6] Mark 9:22-24 (NASB)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Daniel is down

By John D Ramsey

First of all, thanks, Dad, for posting on Monday. I try to post every odd day, and it proves to be a challenge when the schedule gets busy. This weekend was exceptionally full, and I would have certainly missed a post without Dad's help. Thanks again.

Daniel came down from Minnesota this weekend. He met his little sisters and me at Mom and Dad’s house near Jamesport, Missouri. Lisa stayed at home because she was hosting a party for home-school coordinators and volunteers.

At Jamesport, Daniel helped me trim trees and clear brush. We did not do very much, but just enough to help the appearance of the yard. While we did that, Dad and Gabby staked tomatoes in the garden. Claire drove Dad’s lawn tractor around with the trailer attached. She hauled brush to the burn pile near the creek. I think she would have hauled brush all day just for the opportunity to drive the little tractor.

There were many things to do in a short visit, so we worked for a while and then went fishing on my aunt and uncle’s property just west of my parents’ house. The farm I remember was 100 acres. My parents live on the lot east of the creek. My aunt and uncle own the rest. The pond on which we fished replaced a gully in the middle of what was a 40-acre field. I do not remember exactly when my uncle built the pond, but everyone in the family refers to it as the “new pond.” There are two other ponds on the property. There is the shallow “old pond” which is choked by thorny locusts, willows, and cattails; then there is the “pond by the road.” When I was a child, we called it the “big pond.” My grandfather drained an old stock pond and rebuilt it and we called it the “big pond” because it was so much larger than the old pond. The “new pond” is bigger than the “big pond”, so the “big pond” has become the “pond by the road.”

As a youth, I fished, skipped rocks, and shot bullfrogs on the big pond. It was one of my favorite places in the world. The fishing on the new pond this week was a new experience for me. The water was a little cloudy because of all the rain, and the wind was gusting from the south making casting from the north bank unpredictable. I spent much of my time hanging bait on Gabby’s line. I had forgotten to wear my glasses and I fumbled with hook and worm.

Earlier in the morning, Gabby and I had dug worms from our garden and put them in an empty On the Border margarita mix bucket. It seemed as if the worms and the tequila were destined for the same container. The timing of their conjunction suited me just fine.

On the new pond, Claire fished unsuccessfully with my pole. Daniel fished with the pole we sent him for his birthday. We ordered the rod and reel from Cabela’s, and the girls shopped for tackle at Wal-Mart. They boxed the tackle with some treats and sent it to him by UPS. Daniel knew the girls had shopped for the tackle because they chose pink lures.

The crappie on the new pond also favored pink, and Daniel quickly landed several fish that would have yielded plate-sized fillets if we had kept them. He left one monster crappie in the water long enough to let Gabby have the thrill of reeling it in. After I changed her lure to a plastic yellow squid, Claire managed to catch a few nice-sized fish, too. I had nothing in my small tackle box that was pink, but yellow was adequate. Gabby caught a few little fish using worms. I caught nothing. The girls very much enjoyed being with Daniel. That was the prize catch for me.

The farm on which Mom and Dad live has always been a place for building memories. The landscape has changed from my memory. I still see the features that vanished long ago. I realize that I see the place differently than my children do. Nevertheless, the farm is still forming fond memories of earth and family. For that, I am grateful.

Throughout the weekend Daniel worked with us, played with us, and ate with us. His visits are a celebration with or without a holiday on the calendar. Another Missouri thunderstorm blew through Kansas City, and Daniel agreed with me that thunder sounds different here than in Minnesota. My favorite sound of the weekend, however, was not the awesome thunder but rather the laughter of Claire and Gabby as they played with Daniel. When he returns to Minnesota he knows that our hearts and prayers will go with him.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The way up is down

by Charles E. Ramsey [1]

Jesus is the God-source of true wisdom, and therefore our most authoritative teacher.

He is the greatest teacher because He is the perfect human example of scriptural teachings. However, it takes more than exposure to words and a good example to change mankind's prideful attitude. The Holy Spirit empowers Christ's work and word in individual hearts. Jesus promised; "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you..." (NIV Acts 1:8)

Humility surfaced as an attribute foremost in Jesus' life and teaching. The Old Testament exposed humility as godliness, but Jesus employed it. (NIV Isaiah 57:15) The opposite of humility is pride, which caused the fall of Satan and mankind. Humility is described as "seeking God's face, praying, and turning from wickedness." (2 Chronicles 7:14). Most scripture passages refer to humility as "lowly," or "to be brought into subjection." One word translated humble describes "a man whose face is on the ground." How can this attitude become the means of greatest exultation? Simply, it's God's way, and in the end the only way that succeeds.

Jesus' whole earthly history was a display of humility.

  1. Born in a manger Luke 2:7
  2. He never owned property. Matthew 8:20
  3. He came as a servant. Matthew 12:18
  4. He died a humiliating death as a falsely accused criminal. Matthew 27:18-26

Before Jesus' death and on His last trip to Jerusalem, Jesus reaffirmed the need of humility to His disciples. (Matthew 18:4). At the start of the Passion week Jesus revealed the Pharisees' lack of humility. (Matthew 23:12). Humility also became a difficult lesson for His disciples to grasp.

Jesus dealt with the problem of pride. At the Last Supper Jesus washed His disciple's feet. Peter objected. Jesus came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" (NIV John 13:6). Jesus took time to explain the situation but required a change in Peter's attitude. Peter quickly repented.

Jesus identified the overall purpose of His ministry when He said: "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself." (John 12:32). In this verse Jesus refers to His death, plus the glory accompanying His resurrection. Jesus Christ became forever the foremost example of scriptural teaching that humility brings exultation.

After His crucifixion Jesus' humility was part of a discussion between Philip and an Ethiopian. They were reading from Isaiah 53 which foretold Christ death. It read: "In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth." (Acts 8:33 quoted from Isaiah 53).

This essence of Christ's humility continued to be appreciated in the Apostles writings. Paul summarizes the humility of Jesus ministry; "For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: 'The insults of those who insult you (God) have fallen on me," (Romans 15:3) and as to His exultation, "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth," (Philippians 2:10).

Jesus' ministry will continue forever as an example encompassing revealed wisdom from the beginning of creation. He is the master teacher of illustration by word and example. Observe this phenomenon when reading the New Testament. Submit to its truth as applied by the Holy Spirit, and enjoy the deepest longings for relevance satisfied. (James 4:6, 10; 1 Peter 5:5,6)

(Here is a link to all the verses referenced in this post.)

[1] Charles Ramsey is the paternal grandfather of Cara, Daniel, Claire, and Gabrielle. He is the pastor of Mt Pleasant Baptist Church, Gilman City, Missouri, and he is referred to simply as "Dad" in posts "Ora et labora" and "Ezra seven fifteen."

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Lightning and thunder

by John D Ramsey

It is June in Kansas City, and that means thunderstorms. Weather forecasters try to make themselves relevant at this time of year, but as Bob Dylan sang, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” In Kansas City during the spring, the wind blows predominately from southwest to northeast. Tonight it brought some marble-sized hail, lots of rain, thunder, and lightning.

Lightning just struck close by a few minutes ago. I did not need a meteorologist or even an audiologist to discern this. I did not need to see the lightning or hear the thunder (although I did). If I had not noticed the flash of light and the deafening boom, there was still a clue to the lightning's proximity: the coffee grinder turned on by itself. That convinced me that the strike was as close as it sounded. I took a tour of the house. Everything seemed to be okay. Gabby slept through the thunder, but it startled Claire. I reassured her, but I think she would prefer silence to the crashing of June thunder especially when she is sleeping.

Earlier this evening Gabby and I sat in the garage with the door open. We watched the clouds roll in and listened to the thunder rumble. The rain splashed on the driveway, and the resulting mist drifted in through the open door and tickled our bare feet. It was nice to share the splendor of Creation with Gabrielle for a few minutes. I am glad that she does not fear the sound of thunder.

At the time of this writing, I have the backdoor open in the sun room. Gabby closed and locked the casement windows probably because she likes to operate the cranks. Still the thunder resonates through the house and the sound of raindrops on the patio reminds me how much I missed Kansas City thunderstorms when we lived in Minnesota. Minnesota has storms, but thunder in Kansas City seems to echo on forever. This thunder lets you hear the expanse of the sky.

The Bible compares the voice of God to thunder. In Exodus 19, Israel had just miraculously departed Egypt. They had crossed the Red Sea and watched the collapsing waters destroy Pharaoh’s army. God had provided food and water for them in the desert wilderness, and then they camped at Sinai:

So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.

Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder.[1]

Israel trembled at the sound of the trumpet and thunder and the sight of lightning, smoke, and fire descending upon Sinai. There in the veil of smoke surrounding the mountain, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Prior to this spectacular display, God had instructed Moses to give Israel a message, “‘Now then, if you will indeed [hear] My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’” [2]

Israel knew that they were about to hear the voice of God, when it came as thunder, they trembled and told Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.”[3] God never repeated the offer to make Israel a kingdom of priests again. Instead the priesthood went to the Levites, but only the high priest could enter the presence of God. He could only enter once per year, and he had to have his back turned to the mercy seat while he sprinkled the blood of the atonement.

Israel could not hear God’s voice because its thunder was more than they could bear. The choice they made at Sinai followed them through history. In the New Testament, Hebrews 12 contrasts the heavenly Mount Zion with Sinai. The writer says,

For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, “IF EVEN A BEAST TOUCHES THE MOUNTAIN, IT WILL BE STONED.” And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I AM FULL OF FEAR and trembling.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.[4]

The atoning blood of Jesus Christ provides for us a better covenant. 1 Peter 2:9 tells us that we who believe are a kingdom of priests who proclaim “the excellencies of Him who has called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light.” What Moses and the Law could not accomplish because no one could bear it, Jesus Christ accomplishes because he fulfilled for us the righteous requirements of the Law. Hebrews 4:16 tells us that we can now “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace,” and “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Gabby was unafraid of the approaching storm largely because she trusted me. She could sit in the garage watching the wind and lightning and hearing the thunder because I was with her. She was confident in her safety even with the overwhelming power of Creation dancing before our eyes. Likewise, we can approach the Father with Jesus Christ in confidence. If we trust Jesus, we will not shrink away from the presence of God because Jesus, being both God and man, has paid our atonement with his blood on the cross. The Father accepted Jesus' sacrifice, and raised him from the dead. We are acceptable before God because Jesus has made us acceptable.

God is now approachable through our mediator, Jesus Christ. However, Hebrews warns us, “See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven.”[5] How Israel responded to God in Sinai determined whether they entered into the land of promise. Likewise, how we respond to Jesus Christ will determine whether we enter with him into his glorious kingdom and resurrection.

God spoke in thunder on Sinai, but Israel would not hear him. Today he speaks from heaven by the testimony of Jesus Christ through the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. Will we choose to hear him when he calls to us?

[1] Exodus 19:16-19 (NASB)
[2] Exodus 19:5-6 (NASB)
[3] Exodus 20:19 (NASB)
[4] Hebrews 12:18-24 (NASB)
[5] Hebrews 12:25 (NASB)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Hospitality

by John D Ramsey

Many people say that Lisa has the gift of hospitality. I have always considered Lisa a wonderful hostess, but I have questioned what is meant by “gift of hospitality”. To me, hospitality was simply a willingness to serve others. If that is a gift, then I concede that Lisa has it. Still it seems to me to have more to do with an act of the will than with special giftedness. Cooking wonderful things is hard work. Making people feel comfortable requires planning and execution. I would never detract from Lisa’s capacity or willingness to work hard. Maybe that is why I have an aversion to hearing that Lisa has a gift of hospitality. Calling it a gift makes it sound easy, and I know how hard Lisa works.

On the way to work the other day, I debated this point with myself. Nowhere in Scripture does it mention “the gift of hospitality.” Scripture does tell us to “be hospitable” and to “show hospitality.” I decided that certainly hospitality not a gift, but rather it is being willing to serve others.

Later that evening at the dinner table, I asked Claire to pass me the pitcher of iced tea. Claire picked up the pitcher and rather than handing it to me, she held it near my glass as if to fill it. I thought to myself, here is hospitality, a willingness to serve; like mother, like daughter. Claire poured the tea over my glass and onto my plate. Seeing what she had done, she laughed aloud.

I instantly concluded: hospitality is a gift.

Actually, according to Peter, hospitality is an imperative. He writes, “Be hospitable to one another without complaint.”[1] Peter then goes on to say, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” [2] Notice the italic and the strike-through on the word special. I have taken the small liberty of striking that word because the translators took the enormous liberty of adding it out of thin air. Everything we have is a gift of God. Everything we have we should “employ in serving one another as stewards of the manifold grace of God.” If we only have to share special gifts, then who decides what is special?

When Claire poured tea on my plate, I laughed with her. I was disappointed by soggy bread, but it was funny. She was willing to serve, but at that moment, she was spatially challenged. If we serve people, we will make blunders. Yet it is better to blunder in service than to do nothing perfectly.

We serve others, not because we have to, but because we want to. If we do not want to serve others, then we need to consider again what Jesus Christ did for us. Peter finishes his thoughts on hospitality and service by saying,

Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.[3]

We will use both our spiritual and material gifts in hospitality, but hospitality is not a spiritual gift. When Paul wrote about spiritual gifts he asked questions like, “Do all prophesy?” Of course, not. Likewise, if hospitality is a spiritual gift, then most of us are off the hook. Nevertheless, Peter says, “Be hospitable to one another without complaint.” To a Christian, hospitality is choosing to be gracious because we have received grace. In fact the word translated “gift”, carisma, derives from the Greek word for grace. We could translate Peter's imperative to say, “Be hospitable to each other and not grudgingly. As each one has received grace, use it to serve one another even as good stewards of the greater grace of God.”

In that respect, hospitality is a gift — not a gift that we have specially received — but rather hospitality is gifts that we eagerly give to one another. In the last year or so, Lisa has served meals in our home to over 100 people (I stopped counting several months ago, but Lisa has not stopped cooking). Some people were barely acquaintances before they sat down at Lisa's table, but after dinner they stood up as our new dear friends.

I can say with confidence that Lisa uses her gifts, both spiritual and material, for the purpose of hospitality.

[1]
1 Peter 4:9 (NASB)
[2]
1 Peter 4:10 (NASB))
[3]
1 Peter 4:11 (NASB)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Sunday afternoon

by John D Ramsey

On Sunday afternoon, Claire had her last session in shooting sports. She has enough hours to count it as a completed 4-H project, and that is likely where her interest will end. Since the beginning of the year, her shooting has improved dramatically. The instructor introduced her to the rifle sling for the first time Sunday and she immediately shot four of her next ten shots in a ½-inch group. The rest of them were close in comparison to what Claire shot early in the project.

When Claire signed up for shooting sports it was hard for me to know how to react. When Cara was in college on the east coast, I made a big deal about getting photographs of her shooting everything from her uncle’s carbine to her grandfather’s .50 caliber Dessert Eagle. My impression was that her friends out east had never seen a firearm that was not securely strapped to a police officer’s waist. Photographs of Cara shooting various weapons were unsettling to them. I encouraged Cara to try out her grandfather’s guns for the camera because I know that sometimes it helps to be different. When Claire decided to take shooting sports, I suspected that the reason had something to do with me. When I asked Lisa, she said, “Duh.”

Claire will probably still want to go shooting with me on the rare occasion that I go, but I think she’s finished with the thought of competitive shooting. There is just too much downtime between pops. For every instant of accomplishment, Claire waited over 3½ minutes. With the pellet traveling at about 800 fps, and at a distance of 10 yards, that means that in an hour and a half Claire spent less than one second actually shooting. The rest of the time Claire lay prone on her Pilates mat just waiting to pull the trigger.

Not everyone would have the same perception of an afternoon at the range, but for Claire it was excruciating. In some ways, Claire is like her father, that is, she can be philosophical. Claire spent the time wondering why there was a sign on the building that read, “No Weapons Allowed” when the facility is primarily used for shooting sports and archery. I do not even try to explain to my kids that bureaucracy is a special type of mental disease or defect.

Before shooting sports, I promised Claire that we would ride bicycles to the church picnic later Sunday afternoon.That gave her something for which to look forward. Gabby hates to be left out of anything she considers herself capable of doing, so we loaded up her bicycle in the Explorer so she could ride at the picnic. Claire and I rode to the park. Claire was disappointed again. The park was only a mile from our house, and the ride was almost completely downhill. It was not like riding at all. Lisa and Gabby passed us before the parking lot, and I stopped to take Gabby’s bike out of the Explorer. She rode with us into the park. She did not start the ride with us, but she finished with us. She beamed.

I perceived that the brevity of the ride frustrated Claire, so I offered to ride the trail with her when she was ready. She came up to me after she ate and announced that it was time. As we walked to our bicycles, Gabby ran up already wearing her bicycle helmet, “Are we riding?” she asked. Claire was exasperated, but I could not deny such an eager child. Gabby and I rode slowly around the park. Claire backtracked a couple times, but finally she rode off without us. She passed us again as we were nearing the home stretch. After Gabby completed the lap, she played with kids on the playground. I rode around the park one more time with Claire. Claire rode several other laps by herself in between sessions of play and gab with her friends.

Both girls had something to prove on two wheels. Gabby wanted to demonstrate that she is big enough to keep up. Claire wanted to demonstrate that she is big enough to venture on her own. Neither girl’s perception of herself is quite accurate, but my job is not to confront them with reality, but rather to help them realize their vision. That means that I ride slowly with Gabby, and much faster with Claire, but not too fast. When it was time to go home, I rode to the playground to retrieve Gabrielle. I carried a cup of ice, which she begged away from me. I rode with her to the Explorer and put her bicycle away. She could not finish this ride with us, but she could start it.

On the way home from the park, the hill that Claire and I had ridden down worked against us. When we crossed the last busy street I called to Claire, “I’m racing you home!” Claire shot off in a sprint, fighting her way up the hill. She did not look back until she had stretched her lead to 100 yards. I shifted down and just enjoyed the ride. I kept her in my sights, but hers was the victory. Claire realized that I was not seriously competing, but she pressed on proving to herself that she could out-pedal Dad.

When I arrived home, Claire was waiting for me at the curb. She had already put her bicycle away. I think she was a little concerned for me, but mostly I think she wanted to gloat. She had ridden further Sunday than she ever had before. She had handled her bicycle well on a busy street, and she had managed the sharp turns on the trail without finding too much grass. She had maintained a hard pace all the way up the hill and home. She had ridden well.

I walked into the house and sat down in front of my computer to check email, as I always do. Gabby had a cup of ice waiting for me on my table.