Something to Think about is a daily (more or less) commentary on life. The Author, Howard Merrell's, goal is to help us think Biblically and Christianly about the issues of life, from the mundane to the sublime.
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I’m riding through Texas as a write, so it’s no surprise that I just passed a load of cattle. Looking through the openings in the cattle trailer, it seems the beasts are calm. Are cows too dumb to worry, or are they modeling a trait that I should emulate? I mean, you’ve got to figure that the critters aren’t on an educational field trip. It’s likely that the next time they’ll be on the road, they’ll be in a refrigerated truck. I suppose it’s possible that they may be headed to a restaurant near you. God gave you and me more sense than those burgers on the hoof, contented rolling toward a meeting with the butcher. “Where am going?” is a question that each of us needs to ask him/herself from time to time. Proverbs 14:12 indicates that it is possible to be on a path that seems fine, but ends very badly.
There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death
From the prosperous farmer in Jesus' parable, to Richard Corey, to people we know, there are folk all around us who are on a trip that isn’t going to end well. We tend to paint the word “repent” in negative hues. "Preachers who preach repentance are just trying to ruin our fun." But repentance basically means to turn around, and if you are headed down a road like my bovine fellow travelers, turning around is a really good idea.
In the morning I leave where I've been staying for the past nine months and head home for a brief visit. Only, I'm not sure that's what I am doing. Could it be I'm leaving home to go back to the place where I used to live? Don't get me wrong. I'm not looking for sympathy. Other than the fact that I'll be sitting in airplane seats way too long, and I'll be away from Kathy for three weeks, I don't find what I'm doing distasteful at all. It's just odd. If you came in late, I'll point you to a brief word of explanation. I'm a retired pastor, lived all my adult life in the same place, and in our "retirement," Kathy and I took a temporary assignment 8,000 miles from home. You can find out more here. We have been here in our comfortable little apartment long enough that it doesn't feel temporary. It kinda' feels like home. I'm headed back to the U. S. mainland because of business. It used to be when I'd go away on business that I'd pack enough stuff to last until I got back home. This evening I packed a supply of stuff to last while I'm visiting home. Some of the old Gospel songs talk about this kind of dissonance in a far more profound way.
"This world is not my home. I'm just a passin' through."
"I've got a mansion . . . in that bright land where we'll never grow old."
"Swing low, sweet chariot, comin' for to carry me home."
The Psalm writer spoke of that not-at-home-ness when he said,“Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:25–26) In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul spoke of his desire to be "present with the Lord" (Philippians 1:23), yet he knew there was yet work to be done (24). What I am experiencing as I get ready go away from home and back home at the same time is something like the way God's people should always live. I'm where I am for reason, but this isn't my final address.
“But My righteous one shall live by faith; And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.” (Hebrews 10:38–39, NASB95)
The Scripture is not inhabited by superhumans, but by ordinary folk who walk and talk like the rest of we mere mortals. I'm not denying the miraculous. You find that in scripture, but interwoven with the mind-boggling we find the mundane. The angel who caused Peter's chains to fall off of him, and enabled the Apostle to just walk by the guards, told him to put on his own robe and shoes. Jesus fed the 5,000 and the 4,000, but the Disciples had to gather the leftovers. That basic humanness is not only seen on the front side of the Bible, but when you look behind the screen at those to whom the various books are written, you see a motley crew, much like us. One of the similarities is the people wanted something that they could touch and see, and carry in their pocket. The tendency comes out in our first-cousin Thomas--good oldDoubting Thomas. It's a family trait, isn't it? “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Let's not be too hard on him. The other Apostles had seen the marks. Later Jesus pronounced a blessing on those who believe without seeing. This is a tension that comes through very clearly in the book of Hebrews. The writer of the book, again and again, makes known the superiority of Christianity over Judaism, yet it is clear that the people to whom he is writing were tempted to go back to the old ways, just as their ancestors had turned back to idolatry when they "threw [their gold] into the fire, and out came this calf" (Exodus 32:24). What is the way of life of the Christian? What do we hold on to? What do we look at? For the third time the New Testament quotes from the Prophet Habakkuk. "The just shall live by faith." (Habakkuk 2:4) The writer of Hebrews goes on to tell us a bit about faith.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1, NASB95)
I tend to think of faith as an act. There was a point in time when Ibelieved. Faith, though, needs to be a way of life. As I walk in faith, God gives assurance and conviction, but believe, I must. It's a bit like getting out of bed, some days it is harder than others, but it's worth the effort.
“Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.” (Galatians 3:11)
How does one lay hold of this righteousness of God, the only kind of goodness that will enable us to stand before God's holy standard? It is not a task to accomplish or a prize to earn, rather it is a gift to receive. The Apostle Paul confronted the works gospel that was being promoted by the heretics who were seeking to lead the Christians of Galatia astray, this way.
“I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!” (Galatians 1:6–8, NASB95)
The New Testament makes clear that the Gospel is a message of Good News. Yet there is a natural tendency for we people to make it a challenge to work hard. Make no mistake, there is much work to be done, but the labor is labor of love. It is the Christians response to God's gift of grace, not the means by which salvation is earned.
“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17, ESV)
Martin Luther worked at being righteous. He confessed his sins until he wore out the patience of his confessors. He performed acts of penance. He had given himself to a life of monasticism. He studied and taught the Bible on the highest level. Yet he knew that he was not righteous. It was as he studied and thought about the message of Romans 1:17 that he saw the truth that liberated him, and millions in who followed behind him. The righteousness that Luther sought and that we all need is not something that we produce or earn, rather it is a gift from God that we must receive (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is received by faith. It has been said that there are two kinds of religion in the world, the kind where we bring something in our hands to trade for favor with God and the kind where we come empty handed as beggars. It is wonderful that God gives us what we need, because we can never earn it. Five-hundred years ago a troubled German Monk found piece based on that truth. Have you found it?
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:16–18, ESV)
The words come out differently, depending on what translation you read. They are probably best known from the King James Version of Romans 1:17, "The just shall live by faith." Those words figure prominently in the life of Martin Luther. It was his interaction with those words and the truth they expressed, that led to the Protestant Reformation. This month marks the 500th anniversary of Luther nailing the ninty-five theses to the church door (it was OK to do that, by the way). The words, found three times in the New Testament, are take from the book of Habakkuk.
“Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4, NASB95)
Ronald Blue comments, "The key clause “the righteous will live by his faith” sparkles like a diamond in a pile of soot. In the midst of God’s unrelenting condemnations of Babylon stands a bright revelation of God’s favor."*
In our world we could use some truth that sparkles, couldn't we? When Luther came to truth of God granting righteousness from His grace, to all who trust Him, the theologian/monk was in a time of dark despair. He was acutely aware of his sin. When he came to the truth expressed in these words, he said he felt like he had been born again and entered paradise. When I look at the end of the little of book of Habakkuk, I see the same kind of Joy in the prophet.
“Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, And makes me walk on my high places. For the choir director, on my stringed instruments.” (Habakkuk 3:18–19, NASB95)
We tend to think of the Reformation as something for scholars, dull and dour. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Reformation is about looking to the scripture, and the Bible gives joy, even in hard times. I encourage you to stay tuned. We'll talk about this some more.
One of the privileges I have, that goes along with hanging out at Pacific Islands University, is I get to go to Chapel every Tuesdayand Friday. Recently a colleague shared about Moses encounter with the Lord at the burning bush. In order for you to get the full impact of Iotaka's words, I need to tell you a bit about him. Iotaka is Chuukese. His is a culture that is far different than my individualistic American way of life. Chuukese look out for one another, they share. Their lives tend to be much more intertwined with family--and everyone is family--than we in America are. Also, Iotaka is not only a gentleman, he is a gentle man. By that I don't, at all, mean that he is weak. Rather he exhibits the meekness that is the fruit of the Spirit.
Iotaka posed the question, "Why did God call Moses and not Aaron for the task of delivering the people of Israel." After giving time for the question to sink in and germinate, Iotaka pronounced in a forceful voice, "It's none of my business." And, indeed it isn't. Most days I ask a question similar to the one my friend posed. My question generally begins with, "Why." and it's not a request for an explanation as much as it is the lodging of a complaint. It's like the adolescent whine of "It's not faaaiirr!" And, indeed, often times it isn't equitable, at least by the standard that I would use. I wear a number of hats, teacher, preacher, administrator, P.R. guy, counselor, but nowhere in my collection of head-gear is one labeled, "Chief Auditor of Cosmic Equity." That job is taken. I have scrapes, bruises, and sore muscles from wrestling that one to the ground. There is only one I AM THAT I AM in the universe. Sometimes, in His grace, He tells me why, but not always.
Other times, It's none of my business
““The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29, NASB95)
(Since I'm living in Micronesia, I'll adopt a more Micronesian, communal, spirit for a moment. We just released a fundraising campaign, with the goal of expanding the base of support at PIU. If you would like to find out whether it is your business to be involved, watch this video and/or read this blog post. Thanks)