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Weekly Observations and Commentary

Long-View Living in a Short-View World

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I have long believed that Thomas got/gets a bad rap. You know to whom I am referring, right? - "Doubting Thomas."

In case you're not familiar with the backstory, Thomas was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, sometimes referred to as Didymus. Thomas is the poor sap who, through the uttering one brief statement, redefined his identity for centuries to follow.

Jesus rose from the grave and appeared in his resurrected form to just about everyone except Thomas. Later when Thomas was with the old gang, and they told Thomas, "Hey, we have seen Jesus. He is alive," Thomas said, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side I will not believe it" (John 20:25b, NIV-1973).

From that day forward, every sermon, every Bible study, every piece of devotional literature has referred to Thomas not as "Thomas," but as "Doubting Thomas." Today, we are going to set that record straight. Thomas was no more a doubter than you, me, or any of the rest of the disciples.

Doubting Disciples

Following the resurrection on the first day of the week, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene. Mary reported this appearance to the rest of the disciples, but the disciples refused to believe her.

"What?" you ask! "How can this be?"

Yes, I'm sorry to have to say that every one of the disciples was a "Doubting, Disbelieving Disciple." But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it" (Mark 16:11, ESV). Doubting Matthew. Doubting Barnabus. Doubting Peter. et al.

Now, let's go one step deeper. Jesus was none too happy about the disciples' reaction to Mary's report.

Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. - Mark 16:14, ESV
Augh! Those doubting scoundrels!

Investigating Thomas

Scripture never says that Thomas touched the nail prints, or the sword-pierced side of Jesus, though Jesus invited him to do so. What scripture does tell us, however, is that Thomas gave us the first proclamation from human lips that Jesus is God.

Then he said to Thomas, 'Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.' Thomas said to him, 'My Lord and my God!' - John 20:27-28, NIV-1973

Yes, Jesus told Thomas to stop doubting and to believe, but what Jesus did not do was rebuke Thomas for hardness of heart as he did the rest of the disciples.

The Berean Jews will always be considered noble because, unlike the Thessalonians, they examined the scriptures on a daily basis to confirm that what the apostle Paul was telling them was the truth (Acts 17:11). They, like Thomas, did not want to be fooled or deceived. They wanted confirmation. Once Thomas had confirmation, he proclaimed a status for Jesus (My Lord and my God!) that none before him had proclaimed.

Universally Hard Hearts

Beginning with Egypt's Pharaoh, scripture is replete with references to those who harden their (our) hearts toward Yahweh. Having escaped Pharaoh's clutches, the children of Israel became hardened toward the God who set them free, whining and moaning and accusing God of bringing them out of slavery only to let them die in the desert.

Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? - Exodus 14:11, ESV

God called it a hardened heart. "Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers tested Me, they tried Me, though they had seen My work" (Psalm 95:8-9, NASB).

Jews and Gentiles ... disciples and common folks ... rulers and common citizens ... Christians and non-Christians. Every one of us suffers from 'sklerokardia' - hardness of heart.

Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. - Hebrews 3:12-13, NASB.

With this directive from Hebrews, I have a double responsibility: 1) guard against my own potentially unbelieving heart, and 2) encourage you day after day so that your heart does not harden in the face of sin's deceitfulness.

Any one of us could be a hard-hearted doubter - "Doubting Damon." Soften your heart. Allow God to remove any heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19). Do not be one about whom God says, "All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people" (Romans 10:21b, NIV-1973).

Blessings upon you my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon
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I am not afraid of the dark so much as I am of what is in that dark. I make the room as dark as it can be while I am sleeping, and I experience no fear of that dark. I like the theater to be dark when Alean and I are watching a movie, and that does not frighten me - though the movie content may do so.

It is not the dark that concerns me, but rather what might be lurking around the corner or behind the bush, using the darkness to enhance its cover.

If I am not in a circumstance that requires low light, I much prefer the brightness of the daytime, with the sun smiling down on me, warming me through to the bone.

Living in the Pacific Northwest, a bright, sunny day is something to be cherished and celebrated. I have been known to proclaim, "In Northwest Washington, we do not disrespect the yellow ball!" We do not ever complain about the sunlight because we can go for months without seeing it..

"I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star." - Revelation 22:16, ESV

We see a number of identities tied to the Lord Jesus in the closing chapter of the Revelation to John. He is the one who is "coming quickly," or coming soon, and he is bringing his reward with him (Revelation 22:7, 22:12). He is called "the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets" in Revelation 22:6. He is called "the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end in Revelation 22:13. He is called "the root of David" in Revelation 22:16, above.

All of these characterizations are fascinating, with each warranting its own deep exploration and enjoyment. There is a certain comfort and assurance attached to such depictions.

However, the one that intrigues me this morning is the one in which Jesus is called "the bright and morning star." To get a bit more literal, the "and" is not present in the original text, thus it reads more properly, "I am the bright morning star."

Most scholars believe (and I tend to agree) that this is a reference to Venus, perhaps the brightest light in our sky next to the sun. Venus is one of the most recognizable planets in the sky, visible with the naked eye, even when the sun has risen. Though not a star, early astronomers referred to Venus as "the morning star" because it typically appeared in the western sky around 4:00am just prior to the sunrise.

In Numbers 24:17, the prophet Balaam was prophesying, and he said of Jesus, "A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel,"

At the birth of his son, John (the baptist), Zechariah sang a song wherein he said of Jesus, "because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven" (Luke 1:78).

It was a star that led the Magi to Jesus when he was about two years old. "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him" (Matthew 2:2).

Seafarers have navigated by the stars for millennia because the stars provide reliable points of reference. Just as mariners navigate by those stars, and just as travelers know West because of the bright morning star, and just as the Magi knew the location of Jesus because of "his star," we have our point of reference in Jesus, our bright morning star." We navigate through life by looking to him.

Venus is unique, something of an oddball planet. It is not the closest to the sun, but it is the hottest planet in our solar system. Another oddity is that all the planets in our solar system rotate in such a way that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west - except for Venus. Venus rotates in the opposite direction, thus causing the sun to rise in the west and set in the east.

Venus is unique, just as Jesus, our bright morning star, is unique. Jesus is not merely a point of reference for us in a dark age. He is the point of reference, the light shining in the darkness that the darkness cannot overcome (John 1:5). The bright morning star, Jesus, brings the promise of a new day, new beginnings.

For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. - 2 Corinthians 4:6, ESV
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. - Hebrews 1:3a, ESV

And one day, friends, we will see him face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12), and when we do, we will be like him, because we will see him as he is (1 John 3:2). John 3:2).

And on that day, we won't even need the sun.

And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. - Revelation 21:23, ESV

Blessings upon you my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon
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I suspect it is the practice of almost every toddler to step into mom or dad's shoes. My granddaughter, Peyton, is intrigued by my shoes and looks adorable trying to wear them. Grandpa wears these things, so it must be important for me to wear them too, just like grandpa.

We imitate those we deem worthy of following, those who have some skill or quality we hope to attain or incorporate. An aspiring golfer will study the swing and follow-through of a professional they admire. A young musician will work to reproduce the tone and technique of a professional they wish to emulate.

The apostle Paul said:

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. - 1 Corinthians 11:1, ESV

The apostle John agrees with Paul's exhortation:

Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he [Jesus] walked. - 1 John 2:6, ESV

Imitating Holiness

Scripture makes repeated calls for the people of God to engage in the imitation of his holiness. "Be holy, for I am holy" (e.g. Leviticus 11:44-45, Leviticus 19:2, Leviticus 20:26). The apostle Peter tells Christ followers that we are "a holy nation" (1 Peter 2:9 ).

Garrick Brown says in his blog, A Life of Miracles, "If we want to be holy, we must look to Jesus. He defines holiness. His life is holy. How is it possible to proclaim holiness and not look like Jesus?"

The question is valid and it raises further questions, and calls out new ideas. We must know what holiness looks like in Jesus, to Jesus, and from Jesus’ perspective. If it is true that we cannot proclaim holiness without looking like Jesus, we must know what Jesus himself looks like. And by that, I do not mean the highbrow, theological Jesus that cannot be discussed without employing high-octane, multi-syllabic terminology that we can barely pronounce, much less define.

If Jesus is God in the flesh (and I believe he is), then how can I interpret that incarnation other than to hear God say, "This is me in the flesh. Watch how I live, and then live that same way." I confess, however, that there is a part of me that is more comfortable wrestling with a theological concept, debating it and studying it, than I am with God in the flesh saying, "Watch me, and live this same way."

To understand and imitate God, we must understand him in his physical form through Jesus. Pastor Gayle Erwin put it eloquently:

  • If I am to know God, I will know him through Jesus.
  • If I am to gain knowledge, it is deposited in Jesus.
  • If I am to have wisdom, I will find it in Jesus.
  • If God dwells in me, it is because Jesus dwells in me.
  • If I wish to study God, I must study Jesus.
  • If the Holy Spirit is active in my life, I will hear him speak of Jesus.

Jesus himself said:

A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. - Luke 6:40, ESV

Imitating Passion

If you have read my work or heard me speak with any regularity, you know that I am adamant that 100% of the life of an authentic Christ follower occurs in the inner man or inner woman. Being a follower after Christ is not a matter of what I do, but one of who I am. So when Jesus says we will be like our teacher, he is not calling us to do the things he does, but to become the person he is. And the person he is is a servant.

For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. - Luke 22:27

1 John 3:2 says, "Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. Note that John does not say we will act differently because we will mimic what Jesus does. This is about becoming who Jesus is rather than doing what Jesus does. And, as we noted above, Jesus is a servant.

The apostle Paul confirms this in his letter to the church at Philippi, telling us that we are to look out for the interests of others, and to consider others as more important than ourselves. (Philippians 2:3-4) Jesus combined Deuteronomy 6:5 with Leviticus 19:18, teaching us to love God and love our neighbor, calling these the greatest and second-greatest commandments (Matthew 22:36-40). Outside of loving God, if I cannot do anything else, I need to learn how to love my neighbor as myself.

Love well my friends.

Blessings be upon you.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon
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The worship of nature is nothing new to humanity. The practice was so common at the time God gave the Law to the Hebrew people that he expressly forbade the worship of the sun, moon, and stars (Deuteronomy 17:2-5). The apostle Paul berated those who "exchanged God's truth for a lie and worshipped and served the creation rather than the creator," (Romans 1:25).

I cannot subscribe to the practice of worshiping what God has created, and I cringe at the assertion that the earth is my mother. In this, I am more aligned with the Darwinian philosophical naturalists who proclaimed nature to be a cold, soulless mechanism that is, as Alfred Lord Tennyson described it, "red in tooth and claw" (In Memoriam A.H.H, 1849, Canto 56).

Though the worship of what is created is not a new concept, it does seem to me that there is a current-generation rise in earth worship, environmental spirituality, Gaia, etc. Bizarre statements abound, statements such as, "The call is to serve the wellbeing [sic] of the living planet, Gaia ... to enter into a holistic consciousness" (Barry McWaters, Conscious Evolution), or this spiritualistic comment from the Sierra Club's Well Body, Well Earth, "The more you contact the voice of the living Earth and evaluate what it says, the easier it will become for you to contact it and trust what it provides."

The driving force behind the annual Earth Day event is a posture of worship. It is in that vein we see and hear a wide variety of worshipful acts and chants such as, "Sacred Earth Power, bring healing to Planet Earth," intoned by Circle Sanctuary Wiccan priestess, Selena Fox.

Elinor Gadon, author of The Once Future Goddess said, "In the late twentieth century there is a growing awareness that we are doomed as a species and planet unless we have a radical change of consciousness. The reemergence of the Goddess is becoming the symbol and metaphor for this transformation...[and] has led to a new earth-based spirituality."

I say none of this with any sense of alarm. To be candid, I find it humorous (if not downright hilarious) that the very ones who roll their eyes in sarcasm at my faith are worshiping the very things my God created with the breath of his voice. But to take it to an even more-laughable level, the objects my ridiculers worship do themselves worship my God, the very God who created them.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
- Psalm 19:1-2, NIV-1973

Jesus stated that if those shouting "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" were made to hold their peace, the very stones in the ground would cry out in praise (Luke 19:38-40). It seems that the creation itself knows a great deal more about worthy worship than does that segment of humanity obsessed with worshiping the creation.

For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. - Isaiah 55:12, ESV
Let heaven and earth praise him,
the seas and everything that moves in them.
- Psalm 69:34, ESV
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the LORD, for he comes,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
and the peoples in his faithfulness.
- Psalm 96:11-13, ESV
Praise him, sun and moon,
praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the LORD!
For he commanded and they were created.
- Psalm 148:3-5, ESV

There are innumerable examples beyond these, but these are sufficient to make the point. The worship of nature is a misguided, ill-informed activity. "Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created" (Revelation 4:11, ESV)

I do not claim to understand the full purpose of God in creation. I can observe its beauty and appreciate that. I can see the handiwork of my God in what he has made. And I can see from scripture that one aspect of the purpose of the creation is that what is created should shout the praises of the creator.

As noted above, we see this theme repeated often throughout scripture. If the trees, rocks, rivers, and hills can cry out in praise to God, it seems even more appropriate that we who breathe the air should embody the final verse from the Psalms: "Let everything that has breath praise Yahweh! Praise Yahweh!"

Blessings be upon you, my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon
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I decided to buy my wife, Alean, a new car. For years she has blazed her way around town in a sporty, red, Ford Mustang. It was a cute car, and it was very fun to drive, but as she and I age, our center of gravity shifts and muscle aches rise, and we have come to realize that we need a vehicle that is much easier to enter and exit. The Mustang sits much too low to the ground.

In our search for a new vehicle, we narrowed it down to two Crossover models at competing dealerships situated directly across from one another on Auto-Row. To our surprise, neither of these vehicles was what Alean originally believed she wanted, and to my chagrin, the one we ultimately chose has only a 3 year warranty as opposed to the 10 year warranty on the option just across the street. Despite the rather startling difference in warranty periods, we believe we made the correct buying decision.

I like surety, guarantees, warranties. I like knowing that what I am purchasing is a solid product, and that what works today will continue to work tomorrow.

The Surety of Eternal Life

I find it distressing that so many Christ-followers are unable to identify such security in their salvation. When asked, "Are you right with God? Are you secure in your relationship with Jesus?" far too many answer with bewilderment, or something weak-sauce like, "I don't know. I hope so."

In speaking of his followers (you and me), his "sheep," Jesus said:

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. - John 10:28-29, ESV

Jesus, the author of life, has struck some power chords in that statement from John's gospel, particularly as it pertains to the phrase "they will never perish." Jesus used strong phrasing in the original tongue when he spoke this phrase, employing a double negative to add emphasis to this profound truth.

" ... and never not shall they perish to the age ... "

This surety is proclaimed for those who "hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27). It is critical that we listen for the voice of the Good Shepherd, and hearing it, that we follow it. There is no need to analyze it, or reason out what the shepherd is saying. Just follow the shepherd's voice, and obey what it says.

The Timelessness of Eternal Life

It is almost painful for me to listen to people struggle to explain eternity, particularly when they use elements of time to do so. One of the most irritating for me is the story that runs this way:

"It's like ... imagine a seagull who picks up a grain of sand on a beach in California and carries it to Japan, and then flies back to get another grain of sand, and takes that grain of sand to Japan. By the time he moves all the sand from California to Japan, that's like ... like one second in eternity." No! No! It is not!

Eternity is the complete absence of time. Eternity is outside of time. God is outside of time. Even describing eternity as "forever" is inaccurate because forever is a time-based statement. Outside of time, there is no such thing as a forever. Time-based analogies employed to define timelessness are meaningless and nonsensical. God lives in the "eternal now," and when we offload this shackle of time, we will also live in the eternal now.

One theologian suggests the following as a close approximation of what Jesus was trying to say:

“They shall not, in no wise perish, no, not for eternity.”

The Safest Hand

"no one will snatch them out of my hand"
"no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand"

Some translations render those phrases as "no man" which is an unfortunate rendering, one more properly translated "no one" or even better yet, "no being."

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. - Ephesians 6:12, NASB

Neither Satan, nor his minions are any match for our King Jesus, the mightiest warrior of all. We could not possibly be more secure than we are. Satan is powerless to snatch us from either the Father's hand or the Son's hand. Our only way out of either hand is to stand up and walk away - our choice.

Jesus values us, his sheep, with such ferocious love, a love that guarantees no created being can plunder us from his protective care. The Father even provides additional security, as we are in both the Father's hand and the Son's hand.

Note the final statement in this passage.

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one. - John 10:28-30, ESV

Be at peace in the hand of the Father, the hand of the Son. "Do not fear, only believe" (Mark 5:36).

Blessings be upon you, my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon
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Twitter - @DamonJGray
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Acts 17:28 - ἐν αὐτῷ γὰρ ζῶμεν καὶ κινούμεθα καὶ ἐσμέν