Are you just not the exuberant type of Christian?

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Get ready for the ‘M’ word!

Yes, I’m talking about mathematics.  I hope you don’t still suffer from nightmares about how dumb you might have felt in high school math class. I’m not sure which causes more shuddering among adults I meet, memories of foreign language classes or all those required math courses.

But seriously, there exists a God-given math principle which helps us understand his word.  Do you recall something called ‘the transitive property of equality’?  (I had to look up its name, but my husband and I apply it often when reading our Bibles).

I used it the other day when I came upon a favorite promise in Isaiah.  It goes like this: 

If A=B and C = B, then A= C

For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling. Isaiah 30:15 ESV

Immediately, the Lord brought to mind Nehemiah’s encouragement to the people of God who had been standing all morning listening to the Levites explain the scriptures being read out loud. They began to weep when they understood their sin.  At that point, with all the people feeling genuine sorrow for breaking God’s law, Nehemiah stops the mourning to give them a message of peace:

Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10 ESV

As I read Nehemiah’s description of divine strength, the Holy Spirit connected that to the Isaiah verse, stirring up that long ago math lesson.

-If repentance/turning back to God and trusting the Almighty produce strength.

-And if believing and rejoicing in the word of God gives strength.

Then, it follows that trusting God and rejoicing in/being glad about the written Word  are two ways of saying the same thing.

Why am I drawing out this principle?

Because for some of us, our personality type keeps us from connecting with that term ‘joy’.  So, I get stuck on the word ‘rejoice’.  In my mind, I picture fans of a winning football or baseball team’s exuberant excitement. And that’s not me.

So, when I see the phrase – rejoice in the Lord, I simply use one of Strong’s synonyms for the Hebrew term rejoicebe glad.

Now THAT I can do with authenticity. Hands down, I am VERY glad to belong to God’s family and to have Jesus as my master, friend and older brother.  Nothing settles me more; nothing produces more contentment than knowing God. 

So, dear friends, if a certain verse or word doesn’t fit or connect with you, pull out that transitive property of equality and search out something that will help you understand scripture in a more meaningful way.

Wedding Feasts – Matthew 22:2-14

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I’ve attended two weddings this summer and still have a couple more to enjoy in October.  Weddings are great fun, especially when you know both bride & groom as well as lots of guests.

So I was delighted to read Jesus’ likening the Kingdom of Heaven to a wedding feast.  In his scenario, it’s the King who has invited people to celebrate a son’s wedding.  I can imagine how privileged the guests feel.  What if I we were invited to a royal wedding, to include a sumptuous reception (a sit-down dinner with all the courses) in elegant surroundings at Buckingham Palace?  The anticipation would be half the fun.  I would want to share my good fortune with all my friends, find the perfect dress, and set up hair and nail appointments.  Looking forward to this event would be enough to minimize daily frustrations or ‘sufferings’. I would be able to say, “Well, no matter, I still have the wedding to look forward to!”

So when Jesus says that being part of God’s family entails a personalized invitation with a luxurious feast to follow, that makes eternal life very tangible and appealing. Who doesn’t like weddings!

What is astonishing is that on the day of the wedding that Jesus describes, no one shows up!  The guests have all RSVPd according to etiquette.  But now they stand up the host.  Not only are they extremely rude, they show appalling ignorance by their willful refusal to attend. Don’t they know what they are missing?   Furthermore, some guests even kill the staff sent to escort them to the dinner.  It is difficult to understand how these guests, handpicked to witness a royal wedding, could react this way?   Had they lost their mind?

What is now frightening for the original guests is that their actions (some are indifferent, some are murderous) permanently seal their fates.  There will be no more chances to change their mind and attend after all.  The guest list suddenly shifts.  The ‘wrong crowd’ is now invited.  Surprisingly, they gratefully respond.  Jesus refers to them as a combination of ‘good and evil’ people who are totally unsuited to such a high-class celebration, but invited nonetheless.  Why they don’t even have a proper dress, or an elegant suit and they certainly haven’t bathed, or so the hoi-polloi would think.  But the King has everything covered.  He has his staff provide them each with a new outfit, certainly not one they would have been able to afford themselves.  (‘come buy wine and milk, without money and without cost’ – Isaiah 55:1)  Once they are dressed appropriately, they fit in perfectly to the royal surroundings.

The King finally arrives to survey the wedding hall. But there is a minor problem.  He immediately spots someone who evidently provided his own wedding clothes.  The King addresses him gently at first “Friend…how did you get in here with the wrong outfit?”  But the words are cutting.  This man is incredulous that his host would think he didn’t belong.  After all, he was wearing what he thought were appropriate wedding clothes.  Not only is he thrown out, but he is forcibly escorted to a horrid place.

Jesus’ parable has two main points as far as I can see.  Yes, there is a warning against thinking that we are worthy to attend the celebration.  We can’t come in our own clothes, trusting in our own worthiness.  But what I will take away, more than this reminder of my humble position, is how wonderful the reconciled life with God is.  Think of the best party you ever attended, the one that was better than you had anticipated.  Being a child of God is better than we can ‘ask or imagine’.  So be of good cheer.  Even when things at work or with our family don’t go according to our own particular plan, we can pull out our wedding invitation and do some anticipation.  Our spirits will lift and that will give us the courage and strength to carry on until the party is ready to begin!

Either/ or – what we feed on

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The Gospel of John: 53Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood; you have no life in you. 54Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day. 55For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. 57Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.

Are you walking dead?  You are, if you are feeding your mind with thoughts about your circumstances.  I’ve been thinking of the choice we have every moment about what to think about.  I realize that if I am dwelling on (i.e.  Worrying about, fretting over) anything, then I am not growing, but dying.  Life comes from feeding on, pondering about, marveling at the many FACTS of my life in Christ.  Here’s the catch.  It takes effort to remind myself of my riches.

What are all those spiritual blessings stored up for me in heaven?   Paul talks about them a lot. In Ephesians 1: 3 he assures us that we who are chosen by God before the foundation of the world have been blessed with EVERY spiritual blessing in Christ.   All that Christ our redeemer intended to accomplish awaits us.  That would include:

-my sins being removed and laid on Him

-perfect righteousness being credited to me because of what Jesus did

-everlasting life in a place that will be fascinating

-forever fellowship with those whom I love who are also believers

-living and working on a new earth where real peace reigns.

Why is it SO much easier to think about the stuff I have to do, or the difficult decisions that face me, or friends and family who are suffering?  Thoughts about those things come naturally.  And they drain away life.

Jesus says in John that we have life to the extent that we feed on him.  I take that to mean thinking thoughtfully and deeply and with appreciation and wonder about the facts of our faith.  Look above at verse 54 again.  The verbs are in the present tense.  As we feed, we have life.  So the life is not for later, but for right now.

Jesus gives us this very same advice in another format.  Remember what Matthew records in chapter 6, verses 31, 33?  My paraphrase is: Don’t worry/ dwell on/ fret about all the normal things of life, but SEEK first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and you’ll get the other necessities thrown in.  But look at the strength of the verb SEEK.  The Greek word is ZETEO (# 2212) and it means require, worship, will, go after, endeavor.  Those are very active words.  Compare them with how easy it is to fall into worry.  We don’t have to be taught or motivated to fret.  (Come on kids, let’s practice anxiety.  Susie – look at how much better your sister is than you.  Make an effort…)

Along with seeking God’s kingdom, we are to strive for His righteousness.  I take that to mean God’s way of living rightly.  And throughout the Bible, God calls us to believe and to rejoice.   Living God’s way, walking according to His Word has to do with right or correct thinking.  We’re talking about the arena of the mind.  We are far too casual with our thought life.  In fact, we feel entitled to think what we want.  “Who are you to tell me how and what to think?” Well, maybe I don’t have any authority of my own as a fellow human, but God does.  He is our creator.  And He commands us to rejoice.  But we cannot rejoice unless we have content.  This is why believing God and feeding on Jesus takes effort.

Don’t get me wrong, God doesn’t dismiss as unimportant our circumstances, our loved ones’ suffering.  In fact He commands us to pray about them and to cast our cares about everything on Him.  But nowhere does He call us to worry.   We are to BELIEVE, PRAY, TRUST, REJOICE, OFFER THANKS, REPENT, WAIT, REST, BE STILL.  Do you see anything at all akin to worry?

In closing, I commend a book to you by Francis Chan called Crazy Love.  What got me thinking about this was author’s realization on page 41: “When I am consumed by my problems – stressed out about my life, my family, and my job – I actually convey the belief that I think the circumstances are more important than God’s command to always rejoice.  In other words, that I have a ‘right’ to disobey God because of the magnitude of my responsibilities.”

Amen!

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