We’re In This One?

In Men in Black 3, the character, Griffin the Archanan, sees time as a “fifth dimensional being”, meaning he experiences all options of time simultaneously, but also as they coalesce into a single history. So, he’s constantly looking around and saying, “Oh no, we’re in this one?” as something random happens.

To an extent, we sort of do that as we experience our days, weeks, months, and years. Last year, we hoped the COVID-19 pandemic was ending. It didn’t. Instead we entered the variant stage with Delta and Omicron. Things improved, but remained unstable. 

Welcome to 2022. We’re in this one now. There is little rational support for approaching this year with a sense of peace. Little lends itself to a sense of hope. The circumstances of the humans on this planet seem kind of grim on all sorts of levels, from economic to health to social. What seems to be true is that rough times have come to all, regardless of social or economic standing. And, again, the virus has demonstrated the interconnectedness and interdependence of all humans on this planet.

So, while we’re in this one, here’s a suggestion: cling to Jesus. Wow, who would have thought, right? Forehead slap or slap on the back of the head? You probably want to slap the back of my head. Pretend you did.

I’ve been digging around in Proverbs lately, seeking to ponder riddles and difficult sayings. I ran across these two:

Came pride, and came humiliation; And with humble ones, wisdom. (Proverbs 11:2)

Righteousness of upright ones saves them; And in a desire of ones acting faithless they will be caught. (Proverbs 11:6)

Those are my translations, and I chose to do it that way because I’m looking for what an ancient Hebrew person would have read and what they would have thought. On that track, they break down this way (at least to me):

Pride comes, in the form of the attitude to the reader, or a prideful person they know coming to visit. With the arrival of the pride (or prideful person) comes humiliation. Whether it’s entertaining the prideful person or being prideful, humiliation still comes along for the ride. The lesson I learn is to neither entertain prideful people, nor to entertain pride in myself. But there’s more!

When humility (or humble visitors) come, then we don’t gain exaltation or praise, we gain wisdom. Perhaps the reverse can be said, that if we seek wisdom we discover humility. Either way, entertaining humility (and humble visitors) brings wisdom to you as well.

This is all well and good, but what about the bleak outlook of 2022? How does that lesson help us face the new year? I would be very careful to avoid being prideful in your outlook, or entertaining those who are. The difference between pride and hope/faith can be seen in why someone is hopeful and what they have faith in. Which leads us to the second proverb.

Notice that both upright ones and faithless ones need saving. That pretty much sums up the bleak outlook of 2022. Notice that no skill, ability, knowledge, or possession saves either one. Instead, it’s about priorities. In their desire faithless people are caught. Both are pursued, but there is a desire that causes the faithless one to be caught.

The righteousness of the upright one saves. Well, we, as disciples of Jesus, know that our only claim to righteousness is Jesus, and His death, burial, and resurrection. Nothing else imparts righteousness than Him, His actions on our behalf, and His loving grace. Therefore, the only thing which will save those considered upright (“meeting the standard of Yahweh set through Scriptures”), is Jesus.

So, we can stop working so diligently at pretending everything is good. It’s not. On the other hand, Jesus makes our standing before Jesus firm and secure. If that’s our priority, then the important things are good.

Conversely, when our priorities are not on our Savior, when we desire something less than a right standing before our Creator, then that desire will cause us to be caught in the deluge of the world’s problems.

Like driving, you keep an eye on your speed, the temp, the battery, fuel, while you focus on the road. When you focus on the gauges and keep an eye on the road you will eventually crash into something.

Focus on Jesus, and keep an eye on what’s going on around you. You will discover wisdom, humility, and be saved from common failures.

You may notice those focused on desires so much they compromise faith and honesty, and fail, wallowing in selfish self-pity. Watch them from afar, setting firm boundaries with them. Perhaps they will watch you and change their focus.

May you and yours have a very blessed 2022!


When You Don’t Know Where To Go

Uncertainties abound for me right now. I’m not even sure what to write. Usually, I write from what my Master is doing in my heart. I don’t think that’s such a good idea right now. Right now my hope is that my Creator is greater than my heart (1 John 3:20). I’m not sure what that means, though.

What I do know is that Jesus is King of kings, and Lord over all other lords. I know that Jesus’ arrival within human history is the most historic event of that history. And I know that His death, burial, and resurrection is more than sufficient for any action on my part to separate me from my Creator. That much I know, and with that I can worship, I can celebrate this season, and I can praise my Creator.

If you know that, then you can worship, celebrate and praise as well. When we do those things together, we approximate the experience which will be ours eternally in heaven. I know that too. Because my Creator is precisely who He says He is through Scripture. And Scripture confirms these things.

Those things I know are the encouraging things for us, for you, for this season, They are the things that transcend trees, wrapping paper, and stockings. The things that are sure about the Savior are those things that begin in a stable and continue through a cross and empty tomb to the throne of our Creator. Truly, they begin with the words, “In the beginning…” and continue through “Amen! Come Lord Jesus!”

Celebrate, sing, pray, weep, laugh, and enjoy a glass of cheer. Eat, and share with those who have less. Drink, and bless those near and far. Forgive, and release those indebted to you.

Merry Christmas, and a very Happy New Year!

Now What?

Uncertainty is a great description for life. Whatever is alive has both potential and realization. All sorts of opportunities lay before anything alive, plants, animals, people, whatever. Regardless of the range of choice, opportunity, or possibility is always part of what lies ahead.

Sometimes, possibilities and opportunities that we see aren’t what is realized. Often, as disciples especially, our Savior does the unforeseen. He makes the opportunity we did not see the next event. He can take what we thought impossible and make that happen. 

But we do have choice within all this. Often, it’s a choice to either roll with it or fight it. Sometimes it’s a choice to keep or give up. With our Savior, He usually wants us to give up, and the unforeseen event drives directly at that choice. What do I mean? Well consider a group of 120 people who, in the space of a few hours, grew to a group of about 3,000.

Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2:37-42 NASB

How many seats were there in the upper room anyway? They were probably cramped at 120, to be honest. Who has a house that can hold 120 people? That’s not a house, it’s a mansion. Now they have 3,120 (about). How do you speak to such a group without a sound system, mics, speakers, amplifiers, and so on?

What will these 3,000 do for work, now that they are staying in Jerusalem. Where will they live? They were “continually” breaking bread. That’s a lot of bread. Where were they going to get that? Jesus fed 5,000 men, and then 4,000 men, but not daily. What has to happen here?

The ingathering of 3,000 souls is a lot of change to manage in a single day. I mean, it’s great. But it’s also overwhelming. There’s certainly no going back to the old ways of doing…well, pretty much anything. Gone is the cozy upper room where everyone was feeling a sense of awe. Now it’s feelings of overwhelm because not even 10% of the people fit in the upper room.

Luke doesn’t record many of the problems, but he does record a solution they came up with for one of the problems in Chapter 7. The deacons were chosen because Jewish widows from outside Judea were being overlooked in the daily food distribution. So, they weren’t solving these logistical issues perfectly, not at first. There was learning, growing, and adaptation that had to happen.

I think that’s our challenge today. I post these things at work as well, but I’m not sure where to post this entry at work anymore. They are retiring the one, and the new doesn’t seem to allow religious expression. We’re not sure our group will exist in the new company social network. How will we adapt to the new environment? We don’t know. So, what attitude should we have as we explore the way ahead?

Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:43-47 NASB

Our Savior doesn’t stop being amazing. He doesn’t stop being sufficient, sovereign, or powerful. We, His disciples, can remain in awe of Him, we can remain together, contribute commonly, focused on the needs of each other, being of one mind (the mind of Jesus Phil. 2:5), and continue worshipping Him.

There’s a way ahead, we just need to adapt to this new environment, and press on. Consider the creativity of the Creator of this universe, lying in an animal feed trough in a stable. The way ahead may be unexpected. Let’s roll with it.

Flaming Puns of Fire

How would you describe the indescribable, and please be descriptive? Doesn’t that sound like one of the modern tests our kids are facing these days? I don’t miss taking the college placement exams, not at all. I’m pretty sure, though, that first sentence was the challenge faced by the writers of Scripture. In whatever way they were influenced by the Holy Spirit, every writer’s challenge was to make what cannot be described in human language understandable to human creatures.

And so we have translations in English attempting to render in yet another language what had to be difficult to render in Greek when first written. Check this out:

And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. Acts 2:2-4 NASB

Suddenly a sound like that of a violent rushing wind came from heaven, and it filled the whole house where they were staying. And tongues, like flames of fire that were divided, appeared to them and rested on each one of them. Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different languages, as the Spirit gave them ability for speech. Acts 2:2-4 HCSB

And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Acts 2:2-4 ESV

Suddenly a sound like a violent wind blowing came from heaven and filled the entire house where they were sitting. And tongues spreading out like a fire appeared to them and came to rest on each one of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them. Acts 2:2-4 NET

They’re not that different, and each of these translations worked very hard at being as literal yet understandable as possible. Even so, you can discern word choices among them. Even though the same word is used in Greek for the “tongues of fire” and “other tongues” of speech, notice how some are “languages” and some are “tongues”. Was it a sound or a noise? What’s the difference? 

But notice the similarities. It wasn’t a rushing wind. It was a sound like a rushing wind. The tongues weren’t fire, they were as fire. Luke is struggling to describe the indescribable using simile. Does the description of what they saw suggest itself because of the similarity between “tongue of fire” and “tongue of mouth”? Why the sound like but not of a rushing wind? Was nothing blowing around? 

You can sort of get a sense of what happened, but not entirely. We’re still left grasping at tendrils of understanding, our imaginations struggling to fill in blanks. What would it have been like to experience the sound like that but see nothing blowing around except distributed “tongues of fire” that didn’t burn. Think of it. Where else did someone experience fire that didn’t burn? Perhaps a bush in the desert?

Wind that doesn’t blow, fire that doesn’t burn, and languages they couldn’t possibly know. Regardless of the differences in modern translations, the similarities are striking, and challenging.

Putting ourselves in that room, trying to imagine the sight and sound, and trying to wrap our heads around what was and wasn’t happening, that’s where our differences evaporate. This passage isn’t divisive, it’s inclusive. It wasn’t about excluding anyone of differing views, it was about unifying people from every language under heaven. 

The point was to bring everyone together to hear of Jesus’ redemption offer. The child we celebrate this season brings together all peoples and offers to reconnect us to our Creator. We are called to gather around a manger and worship our Creator. And while we may all be different, mostly by design, we are also all redeemed, also by design. As with any gift, we are free to accept it or reject it. 

Testimony of a Witness

I have heard from some in law enforcement that witnesses to a crime are the worst evidence. Scientific evidence is much more preferable because of the general inconsistency of your basic human. I, for one, am an excellent example of inconsistency. I totally spaced writing the entry for last week. 

Ironically, our Creator seems to prefer the inconsistent creature to the consistent scientific variety. Ever wonder why? I do, and I do still, so that’s not what I’m going to figure out here. Instead, I want to point out what we started out as witnesses of, the resurrection of Jesus.

Therefore, it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us— beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.” (Acts 1:21-22 NASB)

When I was taught to write out my testimony, I was taught a format to use: what I was like before, what happened, what I’m like now. The idea being that I’m testifying to what Jesus did to me, and how I’m different, hopefully better. But what if you’re boring? What if what your Savior does in your life is so dull and interior that your testimony is a cure for insomnia? Wouldn’t it be cool to have a really cool, dramatic, gut-churning, testimony of what you have witnessed our Savior do? As it turns out, we do.

I heard Sunday, over and over, how great the name of Jesus is. The person using His name was trying to draw the people into worship, to focus us on Jesus, but there was this TV-Preacher feel to how she was doing it. It was focus on the name, and what He does for us rather than on Him. Not that this was necessarily the intent, it was simply the feel.

We all, every believer, every disciple, everyone believing God raised Jesus from the dead, confessing Jesus is Lord, all in that category have a testimony: Jesus is alive and active in my life. Rather than what I was like before, it’s far more important what He does. 

I talk to my wife every day, multiple times throughout the day, we do stuff together, we ask each other questions, we are close in ways that aren’t always obvious, and some that are. It’s not what I was like before she and I talked this morning, or over lunch, it’s that we talked, that we are together all the time, that we seem to share brain-cells, speak a weird symbiotic language made up of partial movie quotes and one-liners. 

know Jesus is alive because the very warp and woof of my existence is enmeshed in His existence. His Spirit dwells in me in this weird overlay over everything I do and think. I am permeated by my Savior. I wish that meant that I stopped doing stupid stuff, never went my own way, and he and I never had to wonder what the other was thinking. Technically, He knows, I don’t, sometimes I don’t what either of us are thinking, and He always does.

Those who read this and are married already know that perfection doesn’t describe human relationships. It doesn’t describe my walk with/before my Savior either. Not His fault, it’s entirely mine. But I walk with my Savior. The Creator of the universe lives within me, stays with me, and continues to relate to me because of the powerful transaction on the cross, the failure of His grave, and the continual intercession at the right hand of my Creator.

Was I saved from a life of terror, rampaging murdering and wonton destruction? Nope. Was I changed from a hopeless drug addict to a hope-filled evangelist? Not my story. My story is that I, frail, flawed, and fickle, walk with the Master of the universe. And that I do so because He invites me into this relationship, made it possible, and sustains it through His power. 

So, I too am one of those who know the story of Jesus, from the day of His baptism, through His ascension, and my “proof” is that He continues to walk with me to this day. It’s relational for me, as it was for them. I haven’t seen Jesus and shared a meal with Him like they had. I didn’t hear the voice of some Rabbi calling me to follow him, and leave everything to obey his voice. They did that. I’m not an apostle in any sense, truly. I’m simply a witness to my Master’s presence in my life.

Why A Twelfth?

When I was  a kid, it never occurred to me to ask why the disciples wanted to choose a twelfth man. Never. And then one day, later in my Bible learning days, I was part of a discussion where some guy claimed that the disciples were jumping the gun. His claim was that Luke’s point in Acts was that the disciples chose Matthias, but God chose Paul.

That had seriously never occurred to me. His reasoning was flimsy, somewhat. And I thought his definition of ‘apostle’ was lacking, or at least was more narrow than the biblical range of meaning. Yet, I didn’t have an alternate theory. It never occurred to me to ask. Honestly I still don’t have a great theory, and merely critique the views of others. That critiquing is so easy is one reason I haven’t come up with one myself.

If you use internal evidence, though, a theory may not be necessary. Let’s look at the reason(s) Peter gives:

“Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was counted among us and received his share in this ministry.” (Acts 1:16-17 NASB)

“For it is written in the book of Psalms,
Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us— beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.” (Acts 1:20-22 NASB)

If you have never checked Peter’s references, he uses Psalm 69:25, and 109:8. If you decide to look those verses up, you find he didn’t use the entire verse (to be fair, the Psalms weren’t divided up into verses at that time). And if you check the context, you find one Psalm commonly thought to describe Jesus (Psalm 69), and another that certainly could (Psalm 109).

On the surface, if you don’t check those Psalms, or check the context of what Peter used, you may think Peter is merely proof-texting. But context sort of supports his use. That was my first surprise. But the other surprise was more important. Look at the last sentence. There, right on the surface, is the  reason for the twelfth man.

It wasn’t to ensure they had someone to judge the twelve tribes in Judas’ absence (at least one commentary had that one). It wasn’t an error, jumping ahead of God who wanted Paul, because he couldn’t be a witness to the entire life of Jesus. It wasn’t any other of a dozen other options…ok, maybe two others. Anyway, what Peter says is actually what makes the most sense.

The only record of the life of Jesus was in those who were there, those who ate with Him, who walked, literally walked, with Him. Only they could attest to the words and deeds of Jesus while He was among His human creatures. Consider the words with which John ends his Gospel, where he claims that not all the words and deeds were recorded because that wasn’t possible (John 21:25). We miss a lot because those witnesses are no longer among us.

But one question remains. Why twelve? There were obviously options among them who had been with Jesus in the period Peter describes. The people reduced the options to two, and God chose 1 of them to make 12. But why twelve? Maybe it was to round out the judges of the twelve tribes, but then, wouldn’t their tribal heritage be important? Maybe it was to correspond to the twelve tribes of Israel. Although that simply runs into the same problem. 

The truth, the reality we have, is that our Savior didn’t think it was important to tell us why. Maybe the people of that day didn’t need to be told, they had received that knowledge verbally already. Maybe it just sucks to be us, 2,000 years later, wishing we could be flies on walls of the early churches.

I think it’s likely that this piece of the information, while interesting, isn’t important to our Savior. He had His purpose, it was fulfilled in the choice, now move on. This is my theory. I don’t know if I’m right or not, our Savior doesn’t tell us. But there are a lot of other things He does tell us. I think I’ll move on to those.

Whatcha Lookin At?

Remember the scene in some movie: people looking up, shielding their eyes against the bright sun, trying to catch a glimpse of something there, squinting to catch just a bit more detail. And then, someone walks up, standing with them, glancing up to the sky, but looking more at the people than what the people are looking for. When they eventually get the sky-watchers attention, it turns out they were looking for the someone right next to them.

It’s a recurring scene idea, used in Indiana Jones movies, comedies, and Acts.

Imagine it, Jesus has spent 40 days with His disciples, providing “convincing proofs” of His resurrection, clarifying the Scriptures about Himself, and simply being with them. Luke is specific, that Jesus shares about the Kingdom of God. And finally, after these days come to a close, Jesus leads them out of Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives, one of His favorite places. They know He’s leaving, and figure now is as good a time as any to ask a question burning in their minds, one He has ironically not covered in forty days.

“Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6b)

I think (you may not) that it’s ironic, and part of Luke’s point to his audience, that Jesus speaks to them regarding the Kingdom of God, and they ask about the Kingdom of Israel. I think that difference is why Jesus answers as He does:

He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; 8 but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8 NASB)

The message is supposed to go farther than Israel. The good news is for the world, not a single kingdom. And that’s not to say they didn’t understand that, but that they could not conceive of a mechanism to carry that message that wasn’t Israel. God had always worked through Israel. And He still would, but only to a point. Those eleven were about to become the “jumping off point” of a work of God the likes of which none of them could imagine.

And so they stood, looking into the sky where Jesus had disappeared into clouds. And these two guys walk up wearing shining clothing. I imagine the scene, like so many of those movies. “Whatcha lookin at?” And the resulting shock of those who hadn’t noticed them.

In a way, many believers are sort of stuck, looking at the sky, struggling to wrap their heads around God choosing a different method than what they had imagined and prepared for. Which is ironic to me because that is how I see God’s method throughout Scripture, the unexpected and unplanned for. Jesus’ birth, Jesus’ ministry, and His crucifixion were all completely unexpected. They were looking for a messiah, not God Himself. They were looking for a king, not the King of Kings. They were looking for a prophet, but not a High Priest and Prophet and King, somewhat like Melchizadek.

And then, after rising, He leaves. Just like that. How weird. Where’s He going? When is He coming back? Is He coming back? That’s what the two guys answer. “Yes, He’ll be back just like you saw Him leave.” Yeah, but when? Not our problem. Our problem is to obey until that happens.

So, we can get a crick in our neck, looking at the sky, or sore muscles working the harvest before us. Maybe it would be best to split our time between the two. You never can tell with God, He may just surprise us…again.

Golden Silence

Sometimes, I am my own worst enemy. Sometimes, I simply cannot resist speaking up and making clear exactly how foolish I am. Sometimes. Okay, way too often. I struggle with the difference between assertions and questions. Even when I try to use questions, they come out sounding like thinly disguised assertions – because they often are.

Why is silence is so difficult? Jesus did it. He didn’t answer His accusers. He didn’t feel the need to correct their foolish accusations. When they struck the truth, even obliquely, He affirmed it. Yet He never defended Himself. He was like a lamb led to slaughter, the Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the world.

The psalmist, probably David, reminds us of the power of silence:

My soul waits in silence for God only;
From Him is my salvation.
(Psalms 62:1 NASB)

In the NASB text, “waits” is in italics, which means this word has been added for clarity. Literally, it reads “Only to God silence my soul, from Him my salvation.” Which explains why it needed some clarity. Hebrew poetry is both beautiful and, well, difficult.

When we continue on in the psalm, though, it turns out that David is pointing out that the rest of his world seems out to get him – it’s noisy and chaotic, dangerous and deceitful. With God, though, it’s different.

Only to God can he find that quiet for his soul. Only before the presence of the True King can he find the peace that quiets the chaos around him. Why is that? Because as David approaches God, he becomes more aware that any hope of salvation, deliverance from his adversaries, any hope of seeing through the deceptions, all David needs is found in God.

Be comforted by salvation in our Creator, not in ourselves or through other creatures. I didn’t save myself, nor do I remain my Father’s child by my own efforts. I can wait for my Savior, even when it seems dark, when chaos surrounds me, when my paranoia sets in and my fears mushroom, when my imagination lies to me and friends don’t have time for me. 

Only to God. Silence, my soul.

From Him my salvation.

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.