Saturday, February 26, 2011

Called to be people of Light

Jesus said:

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.1

While he NIV (quoted above) reads, "This is the verdict", other translations render that phrase as:
    This is the crisis.
    This is the doom.
    This is the judgement.
    This is the condemnation.
    This is the basis of the judgment - the indictment, the test by which men are judged, the ground for the sentence.

As you read this passage and understand the gravity of it, you begin to sense that these are not the words of the sweet, gentle, accepting-of-anything Jesus from Sunday School lessons. This is the real Jesus. Kind, yes. Loving, yes. And yet, these words are tough as iron and intentionally gloss over nothing. They are certainly not complimentary. What they are is judgement.

Reading this passage in context reveals that Jesus is speaking primarily to unbelievers - those who hear about Him but refuse to come to Him because they are content with the life they already have.
It's easy to see why those who don't know God and don't want to know God would prefer to stay in the dark.

But what about those of us who claim Jesus as our lord?

Do we run boldly to the light so our deeds can be seen? Or do we inch toward the shadows, hoping no one will notice?

These are important questions because it's clear from Scripture that this walking or living or being in the light is more than mere pastel imagery of spiritual bliss. It's an intensely pragmatic, rubber-to-the-road, gritty kind of thing. It affects real life, every day.

Are we comfortable being open, sincere and ultimately transparent? Do we allow others to see us and know us without reserve because we have nothing to hide and much to reveal?

And if not, why not?

Here's one way I distinguish light-living from dark-living. As a Christian, living in the light means I should never be involved in anything that requires closed doors, virtual locks, real locks, or secret hiding places.2
It means I'm perfectly comfortable with every moment of everything I do
  • in my home,
  • in my car,
  • on the internet,
  • at a store,
  • in the office
being watched by my wife, kids, parents, boss, friends and enemies without fear or embarrassment.

It means I never need to cover my tracks, think up a good excuse, tell a small lie, or look around carefully to make sure no one is watching.
Simply put, integrity and righteousness love the light.

And since by God's grace we have been literally transferred from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of His Son, let us act like who we are and live as children of Light.

1 - Gospel of John 3:19~21

2 - Obviously, these statements exclude all things that we're commanded to hide or are responsible to protect - as well as things that must be kept private for the sake of modesty or decency.

3 - Colossians 1:13

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Mendicant thoughts

Though our lives may seem trifling and our deeds of no import,
yet to us they are a most sacred calling. Though lonely and
despised, we refuse to be ashamed, for when we walk,
we walk with God. 

- St. Timothy of Dimas, 12th Century Monk and Divine 
From The Life of the Mendicant

As I should, I hesitate to put my own words here, where normally there's Scripture.

But I'm going to cope with that hesitation - at least for this week.

Although the quote above claims to be from a 12th century religious volume, it is not. Truth be told, St. Timothy of Dimas is me.

I am Timothy, and my hometown is San Dimas, California.

The saint part is totally made up.

I place it here in the honored position because it represents something I've been thinking a lot about recently. Two things, actually.

The first is a new blog I started.
In it I plan to e-publish a novel I wrote several years ago - chapter by chapter, week by week. I'm not putting it out there because it's especially good, but because I wrote it for a reason, and this seems to be the best way of fulfilling it.

While the story is generally humorous in tone and aims to be enjoyable, its message is really quite serious.

The primary theme will undoubtedly be familiar to readers of this blod because I've already addressed it several times: God is in control, even when we don't realize it, and everything He does or allows is for our good.
It's the story of a young man (Grover Rodriguez) who suffers but survives. His life begins in an unconventional of way, and he grows up with the most dysfunctional of siblings. And while no one actively dislikes him, friends, family and fate team up to provide him with a constant stream of betrayal.

Not surprisingly, Grover craves escape and becomes quite good at it. Running from painful situations as they arise becomes a way of life. And he doesn't stop running until long after the novel ends. 
Worst of all, to quote what I'm sure must be the lyrics of some country song, he can't help but believe that loneliness is his only companion.

But he's wrong.

Although he naturally sees himself as the main character in his own story, it eventually begins to dawn on him that he's more sidekick than hero. And if he's a companion, then he must not be alone.

While we never learn exactly why Grover stops running, the reader is (hopefully!) left with the understanding that the cure lay finding an unshakable refuge in the Lord, who was with him every desperate step of the way.

If you're interested you can find it at

The second reason I highlight this quote is that I really like the idea of walking with God. I love the thought of the journey itself - the slow, methodical pilgrimage, one step at a time. And I cherish the close, protective companionship of Christ at my side.
And despite the fact that they came from my own head, I appreciate these words because they remind me that, even though my life is not wildly spectacular or world-shaking, just walking quietly with the Lord every day is a meaningful and sacred calling.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Something quietly wonderful

Abide in Me, and I in you.

Sometimes an idea grabs hold of you and won't let go.
For me, this week, this was the one.

One night, after the Last Supper, Jesus was walking with His disciples and he said to them, Abide in Me, and I in you.1

It was just one little sentence in the middle of so many others. But it was simply amazing.
Most of our modern Bible translations render the Lord's words as written above.

The NIV, however, phrases it a little differently:
    Remain in me, and I will remain in you.

When I read the sentence that way, it sounds to me like a conditional statement: If you remain in me, then I will remain in you.

But it's not.

The words translated "and I" don't indicate anything conditional at all. Instead, they mean "I too", or "I, in like manner".

So, it's not a contract, but a relationship. And it has two distinct parts:
    I will abide in Jesus.
    Jesus will abide in me.

When I think about abiding in Jesus, great Old Testament images of protection, provision and holiness come to mind.

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God ... in whom I take refuge.2

But I also know it involves me living a life that allows nothing to come between us or loosen my grip.

And when I think about Jesus abiding in me I see infinite life, light, power, goodness, joy and love entering into my being and turning me into them.

But in the end, this is just a tiny fraction of all that the words mean. 
And what little I do understand, I realize I haven't expressed very well at all. It even occurs to me that trying to explain this may be like trying to explain a joke. It just distracts.

So I'll stop now.
This week, all I want to do is share the wonder.

The Infinite and Holy Lord of all says to you, Abide in Me, and I in you.


1. John 15:4
2. Ps 18:2 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Faith, faith, faith, doubt

Well, we've sure had a lot of faith recently!

We had faith (saved by), faith (living in) and faith (some gaps concerning filled).

And so, I think in order balance things out, I'd like to focus today on faith's ugly cousin, doubt.

I know that doubt has been glammed up recently in some circles. Believers are told it's good to doubt because that's the route to deeper faith.

And in one sense, that's true. Many of us have experienced it, and we certainly see examples of it in the Bible.

Sometimes, when we sincerely struggle with doubt and fear and then take it to God for answers, we come away with a greatly intensified understanding of the grace, wisdom, power and goodness of the Lord of the universe.

This kind of doubt (I'll call it "good-doubt") is necessarily founded on faith. In fact, without a strong pre-existing faith it cannot exist, because good-doubt compares the world to the promises of God and says, "Something's wrong here." It sees the problem clearly, but it is so full of faith that it goes directly to the Lord and confronts Him. It points out the problem and demands the explanation it knows exists.

That's the big difference.

Good-doubt is so focused, and believes God's promises so strongly, that when it sees a contrary reality it has to stop and ask, "What's going on here? God, You're in charge, and You have a plan. So what's this I'm seeing!?"

The book of Habakkuk explores this theme. Throughout the entire book the prophet lists the problems, sins, and evil triumphing over good that he sees all around him. But in the end, he comes away strong. The whole story can be seen in the opening words and the closing words:

O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you "Violence!" and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.

But - all that said - this is not the kind of doubt I'm addressing today. Today I'm talking about "bad-doubt".

As the name implies, bad-doubt is pretty much the opposite of good-doubt.

Bad-doubt is doubt with just enough faith sprinkled in to confuse things. It too knows the promises, but when it sees reality not conforming, it slinks deep within itself and thinks, "Huh! Guess I was wrong. God's not actually in control after all...."

You see the difference, right?

One of the great passages in scripture on bad-doubt is James 1:6~8. For those who don't have it memorized, here it is:

But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

What I like about this passage is that it gives such a clear and accurate picture of doubt in so few words (unlike a certain blogger my wife is married to...).

It basically makes five points about bad-doubt:

It compares the doubter to a wave of the sea.
This is a fantastic image for the opposite of calm, stable, confident.

The doubter is driven and tossed.
To me, this perfectly describes the experience of bad-doubting. When I give in to it, I am "driven" - pushed ahead with no idea where I'm going or what I'm doing. And then I'm suddenly "tossed" - flipped backward, confused and disoriented.

It's a scary and stressful experience.

It negates God's blessing to the doubter.
"... that person must not suppose ..."

This is something I won't profess to understand exactly, but it's clear (from other passages as well) that our lack of solid faith does affect how God deals with us, almost as if it limits Him.

The one who does it is "double-minded".
The Greek word is "dipsychos" which means "double-minded". (Huh! Go figure!)

But it also means "wavering", "uncertain" and "divided". And these are perfect descriptors of not only what bad-doubt feels like, but why it happens. Think about these words in relation to your faith. Do they fit? Or are they foreign?

It is a choice.
If it weren't, we wouldn't be commanded to avoid it. And what we can choose to do we can also choose not to do. That means it's a matter of the will. It's a decision we make moment by moment.

Okay now, enough of that.
Next week we move on.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Just a thought - 5 - It all depends on your "and"

I was asked an interesting question today.
"What do Christians believe about the nature of Man? Are we basically good or basically evil?"

I answered the question with (in my opinion) the correct answer, and then moved on with my life.

But then I started to think a little more about it. And the more I think about it, the more I believe the answer is not so completely cut-and-dried as I originally thought. I still have no doubt my answer was the right one, but I can certainly see how someone else might have answered it differently.

The issue is this:
A "Christian" is just a person. It's a particular type of person (one who has received salvation from God and been "born again"). But just as Christians don't all look alike, we don't all think exactly alike either.

And it seems to me that the differences lie in the "and".
Are you a Christian and a Democrat? A Christian and a Romantic? A Christian and a Child of the 80s? A Christian and a former Buddhist?

What I mean is, you're a Christian, yes, but from where do you get your information? worldview? beliefs? What exactly informs and fills your answer to the question I was asked?

My answer was "basically bad". My answer is pretty much straight from the Bible.

But I can see the next Christian who comes along answering "basically good" if his answer comes from the influence of (for example) a heavily Humanist education.

And now another thought enters my mind. Barely perceptive and sleepy as I am right now, it occurs to me that I've written this blod before. A couple times, probably. But maybe this time it's a view from a slightly different angle.

I say - and have said - the wise Christian will get her answers, worldviews and beliefs from Scripture.
That's where the Truth is. 
The wise Christian will always ask herself (you regular readers, shout it out along with me now...) "Where in the Bible did you learn that?"