Aliens Among Them

Ever know something you simply can’t figure out how to explain with – English? Or any language you may know. That feeling of both frustration and wonder with something you can sense, you almost feel or touch, but can’t explain. There are no words, only pale metaphors and similes.

If you thought of something, then just imagine how our Creator feels as He tries to explain to simple-minded creatures just how vast is His love for us. And yes, we are simple-minded. It’s just the way it is, it’s best to get over it. He loves us anyway, so no shame, just smile and thank Him.

We have a few clues as to one of the weirdest part of our life with our Creator, while still trapped here on earth. One of them is found in 2 Corinthians:

Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.  Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 5:16-19 NASB

To us has been committed the ministry of reconciliation; the spreading of the message that God is in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting our trespasses against us. So, what we’re doing here is spreading a message for our Savior. Okay, but how do we do this? If you’ve tried, it isn’t easy. People want proof. What proof do we have? Well, then there’s this passage:

But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.
1 Peter 3:14-16 NASB

There seems to be a responsibility to give an account for the hope that is in us. Fun fact: this world is hopeless. Not so fun fact: Disciples of Jesus seem just as hopeless. Why is that? Are you? Or, in the face of all the pervasive evil of this world, do you persist in hope? Or, as you look at this world, does the hopelessness seep into your bones? Does the evil seem to overwhelm you? It might. There’s a lot of cultural and societal pressure to give into the hopelessness. And then God tells us this:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written,
But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:31-39 NASB (emphasis mine)

We have everything to hope in. And our hope is sure, not an imaginary illusional thing. We have the guarantee of the Spirit of our Savior within us. Okay, yay! We have a hope, but what about this world? As the passage above says, we face a lot of stuff every day. How do we do that, and maintain our hope over time? There are two things we are to do. 

First, we live our lives:

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, ‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.’
Jeremiah 29:4-7 NASB (emphasis mine)

This is about exiles, or those under the punishment of God. We’re not here because of judgement. But, like them, we are aliens in a strange land. Like them, we live among foreigners. Unlike them, we are actually here as ambassadors (see 2 Corinthians 5:20). This isn’t judgement, it’s a ministry. But, like them, we are to live among those around whom our Savior has placed us. Like them, we have hope (see Jeremiah 29:11). But there’s more.

Second, we endure:

And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain— for He says,
Behold, now is “THE ACCEPTABLE TIME,” behold, now is “THE DAY OF SALVATION”—
giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited, but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true; as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things.
2 Corinthians 6:1-10 NASB

Notice how Paul slips into this paradoxical comparison toward the end? We are considered deceivers, but true. We are unknown, but well-known. And so on Paul goes, what is perceived about us is false, and what is true is richer, deeper, and more real than what can be perceived.

This is why we have a hope to be explained. This is why we have something that marks us as different. While  the world burns itself to ash, we stand untainted by smoke, with another standing with us. We have a hope, and we need to live, to love, to interact, and react in this hope.

I love that last line of 2 Corinthians 6:10, “…as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing, but possessing all things.” Live as if that were true. Then we will have something to explain.


Different Similarities

Once again, back to my typical analytical approach to Scripture, I found something I think is cool. It may bore you to death (or stupor). It was during a sermon yesterday on spiritual gifting, and it was enlightening to me regarding the spiritual gift of “miracles” (as some refer to it). It begins with Paul’s opening setup in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.
(1 Corinthians 12:4-6 NASB)

Notice that, in the NASB translation, the word ‘varieties’ is repeated. That word in Greek is diairesis (Strong’s G1243), which refers to distinctly different “distributions”, or the idea that not everyone gets the same things or the same amount of the same things. Leave it to the Greeks to have a word for that.

Now notice the different words in each phrase, they are in sets of 2. In the NASB, they are “gifts” and “Spirit”, “ministries” and “Lord”, “effects” and “God”. Notice that in each case, gifts, ministries, and effects are “different”, while Spirit, Lord, and God are the same. Side note: if you want a nicely laid out Trinitarian passage, few are neater than this one. Same, same, same.

Don’t miss Paul’s point here: not everyone gets the same gift, ministry or effect, but the same God works in all of them regardless of differences. Let that be clear, up front, and on top.

“Under the hood”, though, I found that “effects” in the NASB was tied to the Greek word, energema (Strong’s G1755), where you can actually see our English word, “energy” right there inside it. So, essentially this is energy. But, think about this word for a second. What actually is energy? Well, to answer that, let’s compare it where it’s compared in Scripture (or, in this case coupled with another, similar, word).

For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.
(1 Corinthians 12:8-11 NASB, emphasis mine)

The bolded text is what I want to focus on, not that the other isn’t important. In the NASB, word “effecting” is the Greek word, energema (a noun, not a verb), and in the Greek text it is plural. The word, ‘miracles’, in the NASB is the Greek word, dynamis (Strong’s G1411), where you can see the English word, dynamo. This word is also plural in the Greek text. That Greek word is normally translated as “power” in English translation. So, together, energies of powers.

Back to my question, what is “energy”? So, let’s compare “energy” to “power”. Are they synonyms? Let me put it this way, what is the most powerful source of energy in our world today, and I mean in a practical sense, where we get electricity to power anything? Arguably, nuclear power is the most powerful. We harness atomic fission to produce electricity. But how? How does a contained nuclear explosion produce electrical current? 

It’s produced in one of the earliest mechanical inventions, the water wheel. Think it through, water over a wheel produces motion harnessed to something else, usually stones grinding wheat or a saw cutting wood, or something. But that’s not how a nuclear power plant  works, right? Well, not exactly, but similarly.

Later development of the “water wheel” made it “portable” in the form of a steam engine. Development from that led to the steam turbine, and suddenly we have a lot of power from boiling water, even using nuclear energy. Now, notice how I used those two words, power and energy above?

So, in a sense, power is the application, or harnessing, of energy. That’s a gross oversimplification, but the idea relating the two is still expressed. Now to harness the energy of this passage to empower us.

The Spirit of God somehow uses human creatures to harness the energy of our Creator to accomplish powerful  things in this word He created. Let that statement rattle around a bit. Think of the nuclear power plant. Think of the person seated next to you at church. What’s the connection?

We, frail, fault-ridden, imperfect creatures are used as “power plants” by our Creator. But for what? We’re not producing electricity, and remember, it’s not everyone. Different people get different distributions from the same God, Lord, Spirit. But it all is for the same purpose:

But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
(1 Corinthians 12:7 NASB)

But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.
(1 Corinthians 12:11 NASB)

Once again, it’s not about you. Of course it isn’t. Why start now? The power is for our fellow disciples, those people in the pew next to you. Or, if they’re the ones the Spirit uses as a “power plant”, then it’s for you. I suppose then, it would be about you – along with everyone else…

I always thought of this “gift” as something like “signs and wonders”, and it may not be. It may be as dramatic as stopping the sun, or as simple as enabling a group of disciples to work through the night in a service project. Could the person delivering coffee at midnight be the “effects of power” person? I don’t know, maybe that’s “service”. Or encouragement, or “helps” (whatever that is).

Or maybe we’re looking at it too closely, and should step back. What does our congregation need to do what our Savior has called us to do? What has to happen to meet that need? Where will we find the power to see that happen? Does that make more sense? You may be able to think of better questions. Just ask our Creator and chances are good, He will answer. And answer with POWER.

Lessons From a Wheelchair

Yesterday, in our city, a couple of churches held a benefit for a young man in our town. He had been paralyzed in a surfing accident, and was now in a wheelchair. Yesterday, hundreds in our small town gathered to contribute to his care, and hear his testimony. We heard worship music, and the testimonies of his family, and finally from him. It was amazing, enlightening, and both difficult and beautiful to be there.

Many common verses and passages were brought up, although I was very pleased someone used John 9:1-3:

As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
John 9:1-3 NASB

While much was said about God allowing rather than causing such an injury, Zac also spoke of it being part of God’s plan. And this plan, as Zac understood it, was to glorify God. He had already witnessed how his injury had brought glory to God. 

Clearly, this young man has a rough road ahead of him, and he has barely started on that journey. Regardless, at this point in that journey, he is convinced that this is part of God’s plan. If you continue to read the rest of John 9, you find this man-born-blind “schooling” the Pharisees, so confident in his perception of what God has done for him, they cannot shake him. In their frustration, the Pharisees put him out of the synagogue, and he is found by Jesus and worships Him. 

In the end, the man-born-blind sees more clearly than those born with sight. It’s one of several rich ironies in the Gospel of John. And that irony is now part of Zac’s life. Please join me in praying for this young guy, and all those who will be touched by his testimony. There is a link below to the website about the event and in support of his care.