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Long-View Living in a Short-View World

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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

DamonJGray.org
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© 2019 Annie Spratt. All Rights Reserved. Unsplash
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Mothers have eyes in the back of their heads. We all know this to be true.

Okay, I'm being a little silly in saying that, but one thing in which I have become a firm believer over the years is women's intuition. There are things my mother knew that I found baffling. How could you possibly know that?

It is the same with my wife. She knows things, sees things, senses things to which I am oblivious, which I am inclined to doubt, and which later prove to be spot-on true. It is uncanny!

From that baseline, there are two directions I can go. I can see the remarkable insights of my wife as spooky and unsettling, or I can embrace it as a beautiful gift, something to trust and appreciate. How beautiful it is to have a mate and a best friend who often knows me better than I know myself.

LORD, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
- Psalm 139:1-5, ESV

Given the truth of Psalm 139, what we have to grapple with is our perception of it - our reaction to it. Note that David is not asserting that God knows all, that he knows everything. What David is saying is, "God knows me - all about me. Everything!" Every facet of my life is laid bare before God (Hebrews 4:13). So unabridged is God's knowledge that David says, "You have penetrated me and known me." We can be threatened and horrified by that, or we can rejoice, and even be comforted that God knows us and loves us as we are.

As a king, the heart of David was unknowable to his subjects (Proverbs 25:3), but it was laid bare before sovereign God. Even our most commonplace activities (sitting down and rising up) do not escape the notice of our loving and attentive God. He sees the formation of the words on our tongues before we even speak them. We are completely transparent before him. This intimacy with God began before David was even born, as God knit him together in his mother's womb (Psalm 139:13).

Is that comforting, or unsettling?

The way you answer that question says a great deal about your perspective on God, his traits, his attributes, his relationship with you. Is God a "spy," constantly digging, searching, examining us to learn our secrets, or is God an intimate companion, a dear and welcome friend, an encouraging guide?

There is no place we go but that God is already there. I find that comforting, rather than alarming. I breathe "Oh, yes!" rather than "Oh no!" Yahweh is my welcomed, constant companion.

David says...

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. - Psalm 139:6, ESV

The apostle Paul observed...

In him we live and move and have our being . - Acts 17:28, ESV

There is something beautifully intimate in what Paul said above, so much so that it has been incorporated as a tagline on my website. We live, move, exist in God, as though we swim in a sea of his love and care.

Knowing the goodness, mercy, and loving-kindness of Yahweh, David actively invites God to the greatest, deepest levels of relational intimacy. He closes his psalm by inviting God, asking God to search him out, to test him.

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
- Psalm 139:3-4, ESV

Blessings be upon you, my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

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My early career in full-time ministry was devoted to working on university campuses. There, I ministered directly to young men and women who were laboring to expand their minds - to broaden their worldviews.

Effective ministry to university students requires an understanding of the how they view their world. I had to crawl inside their heads, so to speak, and follow their thought processes.

Nothing is Absolute

While I could fill a thick volume with what is derived from such an exercise, the prominent belief on which we will focus in this article is that concept fundamental to almost every non-Christ-following student with whom I interacted - the conviction that truth is relative. Nothing in life or society is absolute.

So deeply ingrained is this concept in the mind of the non-believing student that any attempt to challenge it is beyond the ability of that student to even comprehend, as though I am speaking complete gibberish. To the unbelieving university student, the relativity of truth is self-evident. For me to suggest otherwise seems as asinine as suggesting there is no gravity.

If we dig even more deeply, we find that the university student outside of Christ sees this debate on a completely different plane than does the Christ-follower. The Christ-follower will see the discussion in terms of truth and untruth, or truth and error, while the non-believer couches the discussion in terms of tolerance and intolerance. Absolutes are to be rejected - absolutely.

In the university environment, "open-mindedness" is the greatest virtue, and the concept of a standard of verity is characterized as flying in the face of open-mindedness. Furthermore, suggesting that one has found that standard of truth results in them being strongly castigated as arrogant, because no one can possibly know they have found the truth. Truth, is ultimately unknowable because truth is relative.

Truth is Absolute

For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice. - John 18:37b, NASB

According to Jesus there is a truth, the truth. He also suggests that it is possible to know that truth and to be "of" that truth.

Perhaps it would be helpful to get a working definition of truth.

Truth is that which conforms with fact or reality. It is verity, the actual state of a matter. So truth then, is not consensus of opinion, not subject to a vote, but rather is a reality completely external to ourselves. Conversely, by definition, insanity is the denial of, or loss of touch with objective reality.

Contend for Truth

I am not one to make New Year resolutions. But for those who do, let me suggest that standing for truth is a good resolution to make for 2019. Let us resolve to be contenders for truth, champions of reality.

Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. - Jude 1:3, NASB

Even within the body of Christ, I have noted a disturbing trend to shelve biblical truth in an effort to say and do whatever works to draw crowds to church facilities. In this effort, proclamation of truth has been supplanted by current-generation marketing strategies. Men and women in the world are no longer souls to be saved, but rather customers to be persuaded.

To accomplish this marketing objective, we are obligated to make the customer feel good, to be comfortable, to "see yourself in this car." We must complete the sale, close the deal. For this to happen, there can be no discussion of unpleasantries like sin, judgment, discipleship, or service.

The measure of success for a church body becomes whether or not that body is growing numerically rather than whether or not its people are becoming holy, conformed to the image of Christ, and lovers of truth. In this mentality, we hold more strongly to what "works" than we hold to what is true.

Jesus Is the Truth

Jesus said 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me' (John 14:6, ESV). A more absolute statement could not possibly have been made.

Our calling as Christ-followers is a calling to be conformed to the image of Christ, and Jesus Christ is the truth. Therefore we are called to be a people of truth, to embrace truth, to contend for truth. God is the essence of truth (Titus 1:2), and Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44).

In line with what Jesus said above, note that the apostle Paul said "I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me" (2 Timothy 1:12, ESV). Paul's focus is not on what he believed, but on whom he believed. Jesus is the truth. He is Immanuel - God with us.

Truth is to be Taught

The call for embracing sound doctrine is threaded throughout the writings of the apostle Paul. It is in this temper that he charged his spiritual son, Timothy, to

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. - 2 Timothy 4:2-4, ESV

A more apt description of today's "spiritual" environment is difficult to imagine, when in reality, the body of Christ is called to be "a pillar and buttress of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15). Itching ears demand to be gently scratched, soothed, comforted. Say nothing difficult. Make no calls for commitment.

The Truth Can Be Known

Contrary to what some believe or portray, God is not some nasty entity with a big thumb, salivating at the potential opportunity to squash us. Quite the opposite. "This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:3-4).

Several things jump out at us from these verses. First of all, God is for us, and not against us. Secondly, God wants us to be saved, and thirdly there is a truth and that truth can be known!

Two chapters later, the apostle Paul tells us that the good things in life are to be received with thanksgiving "by those who believe and know the truth" (1 Timothy 4:3).

Regarding those who are not followers after Christ, we are to correct them with gentleness, because "God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 2:25).

Elsewhere we read that some are always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:7).

The fact that we can know the truth demands that the truth is objective, external to ourselves, unchanging, and absolute. Thus, we can know the truth, speak the truth in love, and live in light of the truth.

Summation

As Christ-followers, we are a people of truth, and that fact alone sets us at odds with both the world who does not know Christ, and with those in the body who chase after teachers willing to tickle their ears. It probably sets me at odds with some reading this blog posting.

Truth is not a simple a set of doctrines. It is a life - a life lived in Christ, with Christ, and "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27). It is both knowable and responsive. Pursue it, learn it, know it, and proclaim it.

From the lips of Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life:

If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. - John 8:31b-32, ESV

Let's commit together to make 2019 a year wherein we embrace truth, stand for truth, and proclaim truth.

Blessings be upon you, my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
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One of the better known verses in the New Testament is John 20:31. In this verse, John explains precisely why he chose to include the specific signs of Jesus that he chose, telling us he included them so we might believe Jesus is the Son of God, and that by believing, we might have life in his name. That's good stuff! It allows us to read with purpose.

I have always found it interesting that John opted to use the term "signs" rather than "miracles." The other gospel writers refer to the works of Jesus as miracles. But not John. To John they are signs.

Signs tell us things. Signs convey ideas, instruction, information. Sometimes signs are straightforward - unambiguous. "DANGER! Electrical Hazard!" Other signs seem to be subtly saying something more than what the literal message on the sign includes.

Take the sign in the photograph for example. This is a speed limit sign at a refinery near where I live and work. The literal message of the sign is that the speed limit is 9 3/4 miles per hour, but I really do not believe the refinery administration's desire is that I keep my speedometer at 9 3/4 mph. The message is, "We are serious about safety. Drive slowly!"

Three times in scripture we are told that something related to the incarnation of Christ is a "sign." This is a curious thing to me, because Jesus himself said that it is an evil and adulterous generation that seeks after a sign. Paul also seems to denigrate this practice of seeking signs.

I take it there is a world of difference between God granting us signs, with us looking for and understanding those signs, and the mentality that needs to have signs in order to be convinced. Sadly, that practice continues even today.

The Signs of Christmas

To further confuse the issue, there are times when God instructs the asking of a sign. Take this exchange with Ahaz, king of Judah, for example:

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.” - Isaiah 7:10-12, ESV

The First Sign

Despite the objection offered by Ahaz, God gives him the sign:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. - Isaiah 7:14, ESV

If we continue reading, we exit the passage with three prophetic expectations with which to deal: 1) The boy will be born of a virgin, 2) he will be reared during a time of national calamity, and 3) while he is still young, the Aram-Israel alliance will be broken.

Several inferences can be drawn from this sign. This entire birth is God's doing, for his purposes, and it has his stamp of approval. The boy will be called "Immanuel," with means, "God with us." The child, however, will be "like his brothers in every respect" (Hebrews 2:17). Though "God with us," he is truly human, will nurse at his mother's breast, will eat curds and honey, and will have to learn to choose between evil and good.

The Second Sign

Considering all the fanfare and hoopla we expect at the arrival of royalty, how much more could we expect at the arrival of divinity?

In May of 2016, my small hometown of Lynden, Washington (about 10,000) was visited by then candidate Donald Trump while on the campaign trail. The original plan was for Trump to land in Seattle and hold a rally at Boeing Field, but something went wrong with that plan and the team had to scramble to find an alternate location for the rally. Lynden is home to the Northwest Washington Fairground so, though two hours to the north of Seattle, the event was moved there.

Regardless of one's political alignments, there is no denying the impression left by this event. The U.S. Secret Service detail, the security aircraft over the city, (I cannot tell you how many security helicopters were hovering overhead) the protesters standing on Washington State Route 539, blocking traffic into town, the more than doubling of the town's population in just a matter of hours - It was indeed a spectacle to behold.

All of that was for a human political candidate for an office in one country. What could we expect when God Almighty comes for a visit?

And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. - Luke 2:12, ESV

manger:

noun - a box or trough in a stable or barn from which horses or cattle eat.

Jesus did not arrive at a hospital, an emperor's palace, or even a human home. The contrast between Trump's arrival and God's arrival could not possibly be more pronounced! Not only is Jesus born and laid in an animal food box, the spectators for the event are local shepherds, held, at that time, as one of the lesser forms of employment. (The magi did not arrive until Jesus was about two years old.) The most powerful, authoritative, and sovereign entity in existence arrives in the humblest (dare I say, "most humiliating") circumstances. And this is called "a sign."

The Third Sign

When Jesus was brought to the temple, he was brought as the first-born and, as such, was "holy to the Lord," meaning set apart unto God. His parents are at the temple to pay the five-shekel price of redemption.

And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, 'Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.' - Luke 2:34-35, ESV

Already, we are getting glimpses of the persecution and ultimate crucifixion of God in the flesh. Simeon has made it clear that Jesus will face opposition, and that at some point, Mary will hurt so deeply and profoundly that it will be as a sword continually piercing her soul.

Simeon had been told that he would not die until he saw the Messiah. This sounds like a glorious, joy-filled truth, and from the proper perspective, it is. But that joy comes at a tremendous cost. Anguish, rejection, and ultimately a brutal torture and death. Our reaction to Jesus reveals the state of our hearts, and that heart condition determines our destiny - rising or falling.

There were other signs as well, for example the star that led the Magi, but these three are specifically referenced as "signs."

What we celebrate this week is the introduction to the greatest hinge-point in history. It is no exaggeration to say that life and death hang in the balance.

What will you do with Jesus?

Blessings of the Christ child be upon you, my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
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Acts 17:28 - ἐν αὐτῷ γὰρ ζῶμεν καὶ κινούμεθα καὶ ἐσμέν