The Chicken or the Egg – Forgiveness or Forgiving

Which came first: the chicken or the egg?  This is one of those questions that gives most evolutionists fits, but the intelligent ones like Richard Dawkins or Stephen Hawking, who really analyze the possibilities, come up with plausible solutions, though statistically phenomenal; along the lines of ten raised to the number of atoms in the universe.

Chicken or the Egg.jpgFor the creationist, this is not a problem.  After “The Big Bang” of Genesis 1:1-2, God went on a working binge and day by day created everything, noting that on the fifth day He made the birds.  Now whether He created chickens right then is anyone’s guess, but He created each creature “according to its kind.”  He may have made a generic bird that evolved into Rhode Island Reds, Cornish Game Hens and Butterball Turkeys, but it started with a bird who could lay eggs.

Forgiveness from The God Who Is There and forgiving those who offend us is not so clear.  Which comes first?  Jesus said very explicitly that if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

Forgiven SinsThen He goes around willy-nilly forgiving people without even asking them if they have forgiven those who offended them.  See Mark 2:1-5 and Luke 5:16-20, one of Jesus’ earlier miracles where He simply carte blanche forgives a paralyzed man prior to healing him.  In Luke 7:47-48 He forgives a prostitute; again, no questions about her forgiving of those who have abused her.  The preachers in Acts never once asked for psychological histories of their hearers; they simply told them to repent of their sins and they would be forgiven.  James, the half-brother of our Lord, later wrote instructions that connected physical healing to forgiveness of sins without any caveats.

Men as Trees
People Like Trees

So which comes first, the forgiveness of God or the forgiving others from our hearts?  To consider this we can look at another healing of Jesus in Mark 8:22-26.  Here Jesus spit on the man’s eyes (not very hygienic, but hey, He is the son of God!), laid His hands on him and asked, “Do you see anything?”  Really?  Did Jesus not know if He had healed the guy!?  So the guy said he could “see people, but they look like trees walking.”  Again, Really?  Did Jesus goof??!!  Well, He fixed it next, because He laid His hands on his eyes again, giving him a second touch, and the guy could see everything clearly.

You see, Jesus did not (nor does He now) “goof!”  So consider the reason for this phased in healing.  After the first touch, could the man see?  Well, sorta.  Well, not really, not functionally.  Yet he was no longer blind.  I suspect Jesus saw the future analysts of spiritual matters trying to fill in the details in their theologies and He wanted to say, “Not everything is so cut and dried as your theology; sometimes our relationship is a work in progress.”  Then He completed the work with a second touch!

In the same way, our question of which comes first, Forgiveness From God or Forgiving Others, is a work in progress, not so simple as whether God created chickens or eggs first.  Just as chickens and eggs are now inextricably intertwined, forgiveness from The God Who Is There is inextricably intertwined with forgiving those who have offended us.  But the working out of this is that sometimes we “see people, but they look like trees walking.”

When you experience the forgiveness of God it must work its way into your heart to such a depth that you cannot hold a grudge.  Or if you have an offender in need of forgiveness, and you forgive him/her, you will find yourself experiencing a level of forgiveness from God that you have not known before.  Whichever comes first, look for that “second touch” from Jesus!  Because in the end, He will look at our hearts, and if we have not forgiven those who have offended us, it will show that we have never fully understood (nor accepted) His forgiveness.  See Matthew 18:21-35 for a more complete picture of this.

Tramp for the Lord.jpgThe details of this works its way into our lives like in Corrie ten Boom’s meeting (reported in Tramp for the Lord).  After talking about God’s grace and forgiveness in one of her church presentations, she saw a smiling man at the back of the small auditorium coming forward and her heart went into her stomach.  She recognized him as one of the Nazi guards at the POW camp where she had been unjustly imprisoned.  Here was a man who had stood over the women of the camp as they were paraded nude into showers (which later were turned into gas chambers).  “The man who was making his way forward had been a guard — one of the most cruel guards. Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out. I was face to face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze. ‘Fraulein, will you forgive me?’”  She prayed, Oh, God, I cannot forgive this man; You must forgive him through me.  And as she extended her hand she felt a wave of the Holy Spirit pass through her and the man was forgiven, by both God and Corrie!

So which comes first?  The Forgiveness of God or Forgiving Others.  They are inextricably intertwined, like the chicken and the egg.  God’s marvelous creation, you and I, are forgiven and forgiving, even when we “see people, but they look like trees.”  Keep looking and wait for His second touch.

don’t take sin lightly

Gospel According to GodJohn MacArthur, the pastor from Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, and radio personality of Grace To You, a syndicated Christian teaching program, offers some advice in his newest of 150 books, The Gospel According to God.  He remarks that there are some people who take sin lightly — it’s kind of a trendy thing today.  There are lots of churches and lots of churchgoers who are never really confronted by the wretchedness of their own hearts and the sinfulness of their own sin.

We sing very lovely and kind songs in worship and speak often of God’s immeasurable grace.  We share about what we believe about God and His plans for the world; we talk about the details of whether the word, “love” is agape, phileo or storge; we smile and pat each other on the back as we tell each other, “Oh, we’re all doing fine.”  This makes our times together in church very pleasant, but I wonder if we often sacrifice an important part of the Gospel message.

Our message seems to be primarily intellectual.  If you understand and believe you can be all right in God’s eyes.  However, try driving 70mph in a 35mph section of road and try explaining to the officer that you “believe” that the speed limit is 35!

In the past century (no, I’m not quite that old! 😉) the good news of salvation was often presented as a fire insurance policy.  Get saved or go to hell; not as an invective but simply as a statement of what would happen.  Most pulpit ministers never seemed to notice that Heaven and salvation are mentioned many more times in the Bible than hell or condemnation.  Taken in total, the Bible really is Good News!

But missing from the current trend of American churches is a call to repentance based on how terrible our sins are in God’s eyes.  I find it interesting how often the term “grace” appears associated to MacArthur’s name.  Yet he proposes in his latest book that there are limits to that grace, based on our understanding of what the “good news” for us cost Him.  In it he describes the literature of Isaiah 53 in detail, showing how this prophecy some 700 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem described the life and purpose of Jesus coming to the world, to save sinners from the penalty of their sin.

There is this dichotomy in his thesis: God’s grace sent Jesus to die for our sins (the Gospel), but it is our sins that nailed Jesus to the cross (the reason God had to give us grace!).  He goes on to say we must not take sin lightly, because it was our sin that put Christ on the cross.  How can we treat lightly what he suffered?  To look at Jesus on the cross is to understand just what God thinks of our sin, and it is not pretty.

Passion of the Christ“He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised or crushed for our iniquities. The divine chastening, the wrath of God, was put on him for our well-being. All we, like sheep, have gone astray, but God has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6) How can that be a light thing?” MacArthur asks.  Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ attempted to depict the suffering of Jesus from just prior to His crucifixion all the way through to His death and resurrection.  Several details were historically incorrect, but one thing was clear:  Jesus suffered miserably and horribly at the hands of men for whom He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

As Protestants we usually hang empty crosses in our churches and sometimes I think we miss something the Roman Catholics understand when they have icons of Jesus still there.  They see a suffering savior who went through hell to give us Heaven.  Too often we gloss over the “hell” he went through and jump as fast as we can to “the joy that was set before Him.” (Hebrews 12:2)  We do not like to spend too much time on His “enduring the cross, scorning its shame,” because that is not the point of our lives.  True, He created us for Joy, not sorrow; He created us for Peace, not war; He created us for Love, not disinterest; He created us for Life, not death.

But He accomplished our re-creation by going through that hell, and sometimes He guides us through some of it so that we can identify with Him.
“Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus
Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death —
        even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)

Otherwise, we might estimate His sacrifice, suffering and death were no big deal.  After all, we think, He is God and can handle it; it must not have been that bad for Him.  But Jesus was fully man as well, a mystery we cannot get our minds completely around, but a truth that the Bible teaches clearly.  And when you see Him on the cross, “His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and His form beyond that of the children of mankind” (Isaiah 52:14), you have to wonder how He could have endured such pain and torture.  Why would He go through all that if He could call 10,000 angels to set Himself free (Matthew 26:53)?

It was because of your sin.  It was because of my sinAll we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned — every one — to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)

“If you look at the cross, you will understand the sinfulness of sin.  You cannot make light of it when you see it in that fashion.” John MacArthur

Please Pass the Salt, Too (2)

salt and pepperMy very first blog of this website was Please Pass the Salt (January 4, 2015), about prayer and why God would like us to pray when He knows everything from the get-go to the let-go.  He sees the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10), knows the thoughts of our innermost hearts (Psalm 139:1-6), has a plan for the end of the world and beyond (Daniel 12) . . . so why does He need us to pray?  Well, the fact is He does not need us to pray, but rather we need to pray to learn to get to know Him . . . and each other.

Prayer is the practice of two-way communication with The God Who Is There ().  It is where we begin to listen for Him and learn from Him ().  It involves praise, thanxgiving, petition, intercession, Spirit-prayer and debate, to name a few forms of prayer ().

One way to explore prayer is to read the Psalms.  Here is a library of hearts (mostly King David’s, but others, too) reaching out to commune with God.  From praises to intense pleas for relief, the psalmists wrote songs to communicate with God, but also to hear from Him.  If you want some practice in prayer, read three Psalms a day (save one day for 119) and you can read the entire Psalms in two months.  If you read one a day, you can absorb this entire prayer library in six months, and you will probably gain more from the slower ingestion of the prayers, allowing yourself time to enter into the psalmist’s pleas or praise.

The main intention of prayer is not for “commercial consumption,” that is, for others to hear.  The focus of prayer is communication and communion with God.  We need that personal time alone with Him as much as Jesus did when He would take long hours away from the crowds (Matthew 14:13, Mark 1:35, Luke 4:42) or even His disciples (Mark 14:32-36) to spend time with Father, Daddy.  Even when praying “with” other folks, we need to keep our focus on Who this communication is directed toward.

There is this other dimension of prayer though, that is often overlooked: prayer so that other humans will hear.  Unfortunately this is the only reason some pray, to be heard by men.  They have their reward (Matthew 6:5-6), whereas the reward of the communicator with God is to get answers to prayers and requests out of communion with The God Who Is There.

Jesus Wept at Lazarus TombYet there are times when it is appropriate to let others in on the communion.  Jesus demonstrated this beside Lazarus’ tomb.  “Father, I thank You that You have heard me. I know that You always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that You sent Me.” (John 11:4-42).  In fact, the entire Psalms are written for us, showing us that prayers of praise, intercession, debate and petition are not just for the prayerer and the answer he expects from God, but for us to “hear” and learn how to pray; i.e. for our benefit if we “hear” the prayers.

Now this is where the path becomes tricky, in that we must be careful when praying with other ears in attendance that we not fall into one of two traps: praying for human approval and praying to inform others.  The first trap is what we already addressed: “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. (Matthew 6:5)

The second, however, is equally dangerous, but is slightly different: praying for others to hear, but trying to instruct in our prayers.  This can take the form of correction or sermonizing in prayers.  “God, please help Mrs. So-and-so to not gossip so much;”  or “Father, please make Mr. Such-and-such see that he is wrong on this . . . “  Not good when spoken in the hearing range of others.

The other form is to pray, “Lord, as you said in your word, Point 1, Point 2, Point 3, Elaboration, Illustration, Conclusion.”  While it is very appropriate to “pray the Scriptures” back to God as a reminder to Him, and us, of what He has said and promised, we must be careful to whom we are praying.  Read David’s prayer in 2 Samuel 7:5-16 for an excellent illustration of this principle.  Our “reminders” to God and to ourselves should not be taken as an opportunity to show off our expository skill or eloquent artistry.  (Save that for another blog. 😉)

Empty Chair.jpgRather when we pray with others hearing us, it should be an invitation into a conversation we are having with Father.  It may be easiest to develop this habit of corporate prayer by including a “physical cue” like an empty chair and pretending Jesus is sitting there with you.  (In fact, HE IS!)  Thus it becomes a group discussion, with deference obviously given to who is speaking to the One who matters most in the conversation, but you will find yourself less likely to “accuse” a brother or sister or to wax eloquent for show if you are really recognizing the Presence of God in your communion as a group.

So pray often, without ceasing in fact (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18), and pray for and with each other as you pass the salt.  And if you think of me,

Please Pass the Salt, Too.Salt Shaker

Wondering While Wandering Through Time and Space

Off the usual moral themes of this blog, this is simply a logical discussion.  Time is an attribute of God.  You will not find this in any theological text and as far as I know I am the only one to espouse this idea, but it feels right, it appears logical, and common sense verifies it as true.

Swallows of San Juan Capistrano

The “brains” of this world, the intellectuals, are fond of making things very complicated.  “Instinct” is an invented word that means “we do not really have any idea.”  The dictionary defines “instinct” as “an inborn pattern of activity or tendency to action common to a given biological species.”  Why do birds fly south in the winter before it turns cold?  Why do the swallows fly from Argentina over the same pattern to San Juan Capistrano every year?  Why does a dog chase its tail?  Actually, we have no idea, so we ascribe these behaviors to “instinct.”

Hawking A Brief History of Time

In the same way, the late Stephen Hawkings, the brilliant and modest physics genius had problems explaining how life could evolve in the universe without God, so he came up with the idea of a “multiverse,” an infinite number of possible universes in which one, ours, could possibly have evolved life without Outside interference.  A pretty idea, but sounding an awful lot like Star Trek, it is basically absurd intellectualism to disguise his lack of evidence shrouded in complex mathematical formulae that he claimed “proved” there was no need for God.  The amazing thing about truth, or Truth if you prefer, is that it is usually self-evident.  “The king is not wearing any clothes” is a statement only a child would make in a kingdom that could not bear royal embarrassment.  No need for complicated conspiracy theories or complex equations.

So let’s get back to Time, a feature of our universe that I believe to be an attribute of God, like Space (yeah, that one, too, but maybe for another blog).  Time stretches back into eternity past and forward to an eternal future.  It, like God, is immutable; that is, it never changes in spite of Einstein’s ideas.  It is beyond the pale of man’s imagination to figure out a “time” when Time did not exist.  There is no reference of the Bible that says Time had a beginning.  The created universe had one, but “when” did that happen?

There are other things about God that our little minds cannot fully understand.  Remember, HE is God, we are not!  Thus, we have to rely on what He has revealed about Himself.  Somehow, He is Three-In-One, a single being with three persons.  We followers of Jesus are not tri-theists.  There is One God, and He is ONE.  Yet Father blesses the Son at His baptism and the Holy Spirit descends like a dove over Him (Luke 3:21-22); all “parts” of God, yet each is fully God and sort of like . . . well, there is no adequate illustration of God, because He IS God and there is only ONE of Him, and no one and nothing else in the universe is like Him.

So let’s get back to Time, again.  The Bible never says, “Time will be no more.”  That’s a line from a nice song about spending eternity with Him, but not a theological reality.  When will we be with Him?  When we leave this world by death or the Lord’s return.  How long will we be with Him?  For all the Time of eternity.  Clearly the Bible does not teach that we will somehow lose personality or identity; mystically absorbed into the infinite (Buddhism).  Hinduism and Jainism teach there is a personal soul but its blissfulness is very close to Buddhism’s loss of personality by the time you reach that state.

Einstein

The Bible shows individuals around the Throne of God worshiping Him, not in some ethereal sphere of timelessness, but in Eternal Time (Revelation 4 and 22).  It is the measuring of Time that changes, not time itself.  Einstein pictured a train passing at some distance from an observer, and it seemed to go slower than it appeared to someone on the train.  We see this when we watch a jet slowly traversing the sky; we can trace its travel with our finger, but if we were in a balloon up next to it, it would be whizzing by!  But the time and speed it is traveling does not change; only our perception of it.  So Time does not bend, but our measurement of it does.  We have all experienced this in the way we perceive time, sometimes happening very quickly, sometimes very slowly.  But Time is constant and does not change.

There was a time when God was alone . . . as the Three-In-One who had communion within Himself.  Then at some time in the Eternity past, He decided to share His existence with others, so He created amazing beings (to humans) of light and majesty, that if we were to encounter one of them, we would be inclined to worship him (Revelation 19:9-10).  Like God, He gave them free will, intelligence and emotions.

Then at another point in Time, Lucifer (Light-Bearer), one of the chief three angels came up with an absurd and twisted idea that he wanted to be God (Isaiah 14:14).  However, the insanity of his thought was that he was a created being, not eternally existent in the past; not omniscient, not omnipresent, not omnipotent, not containing Time and Space in himself.  So God kicked him out of Heaven, i.e. left him out of relationship, and separated him and the third of angels who followed him from the Life, Light, and Love that is God.

At another time, God decided to create another being, after creating the Earth, the planets, the stars and the galaxies of our universe.  He made this one with free will, intelligence and emotion as well.  Only this time He limited how much of Himself He would show to these created beings.  So Adam and Eve walked and talked with God, who apparently took on a form that they could comprehend.  Now we live in the in-between Time, between Eternity Past and Eternity Future, but actually part of the Eternal Time: “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

Emperors New Clothes.jpg

So in my childlike view of The Emperor’s New Clothes, my little brain just figures Time is an attribute of God.  What difference does this make?  Very little for our spiritual lives.  Like arguments between the Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday crucifixion of our Lord, the important issue is that He was crucified and raised from the dead.  The important thing about Time is that it is in His hands and He has numbered the days for each of us before we appear before Him (Psalm 139:16).

As for Space, besides the Acts 17 reference, you can look at Colossians 1:16-17:For IN him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and IN him all things hold together.”  He inhabits the “Colossian Space.”  (see https://www.physicsoftheuniverse.com/topics_relativity_spacetime.html)
Just wondering while wandering through Time and Space.

The Game of Life

The Game Of Life
How long does the game of Life last?  Siri says it lasts for one and a half hours for three players, or two hours for four players.  But that is just the Milton-Bradley board game.  Lots of fun but little consequence.  When the game is over, you just go to bed and play again the next day or whenever you want.

Marriage of Heaven and HellNot so the real game of life.  According to Scripture one has roughly 70 to 80 years to get it right, give or take, depending on your genes and your health practices (Psalm 90:10).  In The Great Divorce, one of C.S.Lewis’ most famous short novels, we get a picture of some folks who are given a “second chance” so to speak to change their fate.  This book is his answer to Blake’s famous Marriage of Heaven and Hell.  In it Blake argues that God is both good and evil and contains these “contraries” and that “God” only exists as an invention of man.  There is no real “evil,” but only undeveloped reason and everyone has good and bad in them, thus Heaven and Hell are “married” in our minds and behavior.  If we simply adjust or refine our behavior we can turn evil into good without rejecting any part of that evil that we wish to keep.

the-great-divorceAs Lewis says, “I do not think that all who choose wrong roads perish, but their rescue is being put back on the right road. A sum can be put right, but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point; never by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but it cannot ‘develop’ into good. Time does not heal it . . . If we insist on keeping Hell (or even Earth) we shall not see Heaven; if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest souvenir of Hell” (or Earth).

In effect, if Satan, or Lucifer, that first “bearer of light,” could repent of his error, God’s love is so amazingly gracious and forgiving that even he would find mercy at God’s hands.  The problem is that Lucifer has so hardened his view of God that he will not accept, cannot accept, that God is the Creator and supreme over the created.  The same could become true of us as we grow older in this world.  Every day we are either growing closer to God or slipping further away.  Even Tom Hanks said, “We are still in the position of waking up and having a choice. Do I make the world better today somehow, or do I not bother?”  Not exactly a paragon of theological understanding, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

For us to grow closer to God, sometimes we must backtrack over the past and allow God or others to correct us and head us onto a way that will draw us closer to Him.  The pain of finding out that we have been going the wrong way does not get less the longer we stay on a path away from the Source of Light and Life.   The farther we stray, the darker the way becomes; the less healthy we become; the more difficult changing directions becomes.  Sometimes the choices we make cannot be undone, but these choices just make the path back to God harder and more painful.  Trust me, I know.

We do not have an eternity to make the decisions that will determine eternity.  We have “70 years, or 80, if our strength endures.”  (Psalm 90:9-10) That is time enough for us to form our habits of thought, to make our decisions of life, to shape our spirits to be either ready for The God Who Is There to make us into what He created us to be, or to calcify our hearts so that we cannot hear His calling any more than Lucifer’s deaf ears; to make our spirits so small and shadowy that the slightest beam of light will pierce us through and leave us in the Shadows forever. People are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27

Turns out it is not a game at all.  It is real life and the stakes are very high.  Borrowing from another game, we have a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card from Jesus (), but it will only be good as long as we are alive here on Earth.  And the choices we make take us ever down another path, each step leading to another.

“Nearly they stood who fall;
Themselves as they look back
See always in the track
The one false step, where all
Even yet, by lightest swerve
Of foot not yet enslaved,
By smallest tremor of the smallest nerve
Might have been saved.

“Nearly they fell who stand,
And with cold after fear
Look back to see how near
They grazed the sirens’ land.
Wondering what subtle fate,
By threads so spidery fine,
The choice of ways so small, the event so great
Should thus entwine.

“Therefore oh, man, have fear
Lest oldest fears be true,
Lest thou too far pursue
The road that seems so clear,
And step, secure, a hair’s
Breadth past the hair-breadth border
Which, being once crossed forever unawares,
Denies return.”
the Guide in Pilgrim’s Regress
C.S.Lewis