Saturday, September 23, 2017

Daniel 2:36-45 – “Literally”

As always, here’s my fairly literal translation of these verses:

36This the dream and its meaning we will tell before the king:

37You the king [are] the king of the kings that the God of the heavens has granted to you the kingdom, the possession, and the might and the honor, 38and in all of which dwelling the sons of the mankind, the animal of the field, and the bird of the heavens He granted in the hand of you and He gave authority to you in all of them. You [are] he, the head which is of the gold.39And in the place of you another kingdom will arise, earthward from you, and another kingdom, a third, which [is] the bronze will rule in the all of the earth, 40and a fourth kingdom shall be mighty like the iron; forasmuch as iron crushes and subdues the all, and as the iron which smashes all of these, it shall crush and smash. 41And then you saw the feet and the toes from them clay like a potter and from them an iron, [the] kingdom shall be divided, but from the stability like iron, forasmuch as you saw the iron being mixed in the clay of the mud. 42And the toes of the feet from them iron and from the clay, from the end the kingdom shall be mighty and from it shall be frail. 43Then you saw the iron being mixed in the clay of the mud. They shall be mixed in the seed of the man and they shall not be ones clinging, this with this. Behold! Like the iron not being mixed with the clay.44And in the days of them, these kings, the God of the heavens shall set up a kingdom which to ages. Not it shall be harmed and the kingdom shall not be left to another people. The kingdom shall crush and put an end to all of the these and it shall arise to the ages.45Consequently, all of which you saw where from the mountain a stone severed itself not in hands and it crushed the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver and the gold. The great God makes known to the king what shall be after this and certain the dream and being faithful.

As has been observed before, barrels of ink have been spilt on these passages all down through the twenty-six or so centuries which have passed since these events occurred and Daniel recorded them.

This may seem a strange commentary on these verses, but the most encouraging thing I take from them is the assurance that my study methods are in fact correct. I determined long ago to study the Bible, to discover what it does (and does not) say, then simply let it be, whether I understand it or not. As John warned us, it is a dangerous thing to add to or take away from the Words of the living God.

What is remarkable to me is that, if in fact you simply let this passage say what it says, it has been and is a remarkably accurate account of human history. Babylon was followed by Medo-Persia, was followed by Greece, was followed by Rome. I don’t think anyone would challenge Daniel’s description of Rome as a kingdom of iron that crushed and smashed everything before it.

I also think it was amazingly accurate to say, when the stone cut without hands smashes the statue, it smashes all four of those kingdoms. Historically speaking, each of those kingdoms did not so much destroy those before it but rather absorbed them. To this day we measure time and directions by multiples of six, which was the Babylonian numbering system. The numerical system of land surveying is still based on multiples of six. Greek history and language has carried down through the centuries, along with their architecture, and even much of Greek ideas of government are incorporated into the government of our own United States. In a sense, the Roman Empire never really ended. It just sort of faded into the nations of Europe. We still use Roman numerals. Roman law is the model on which western culture’s laws are based. Latin continued to be the lingual-franca of the civilized world for centuries and of course the languages of Europe to this day are Romanic languages, all just linguistic evolutions of Latin itself. So, when the stone cut without hands strikes the image, it destroys all four kingdoms at once. Only God could have known 2600 years ago that the world would progress as it has, but His Word precisely and accurately predicted it.

This matter of literal translation is also seen in the whole matter of the fourth kingdom (Rome) and the stone cut without hands (Christ). This vision predicted that the Roman kingdom would be strong as iron, that it would crush and devour everything, and yet it would be divided (two legs) and that it would somehow end up including these feet and toes of clay and iron mixed and there being the ten toes. In fact, the Roman Empire broke up into the Western and Eastern kingdoms (probably depicted by the two legs). Then those of us who believe in literal interpretation said for years that someday there would be a European Union, that somehow the nations of Europe would unite to actually reform the Roman Empire. That, of course, is exactly what has happened. But we also said that, when it did, it would be, as Daniel said, a “divided kingdom … the people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay.” Once again, even though the European Union did come about, yet England has chosen its “Brexit,” and the Union itself is fragile at best – just as God said. We’ve taken His words literally and watched them come about – just as He said.

At this point, we don’t know exactly what He means by the ten toes. Later, in Daniel 7:7 and 24, when Daniel sees the fourth kingdom as a ravenous beast, we’re told of the ten horns and that they will be ten kings. Taking things literally, we can predict that somehow, by the time Jesus comes, the European Union will have developed into a ten-kingdom unity. That is not true today. But, believing in literal interpretation, we are certain that is exactly what will come to pass.

Now about the stone cut without hands, I would suggest this is where we really see the value of literal interpretation. Down through the ages, people have maintained that the stone is Jesus at His first coming and that His kingdom is the Church. People have said that it was Christianity that took down the Roman Empire and that since then Christianity has been progressing to conquer the whole world. This interpretation was particularly attractive in the 18th and 19th centuries when the British Empire was expanding, taking Christianity to the four corners of the earth, and when world missions were progressing with amazing results. During that time, it really did look like Christianity could become the dominant world religion.

And so, interpreters said that was the meaning of the stone cut without hands and the kingdom He would establish.

Today, things don’t look so rosy.

Had those interpreters been more careful with their exegesis, they wouldn’t have made such ill-fated and embarrassing predictions.

What do I mean? First of all, when the stone cut without hands strikes the image, it is clearly an event. It happens at a very specific point in time, not gradually over centuries. When Jesus returns in Rev 19, riding His white horse, a sharp sword goes forth from His mouth, wherewith to slay the nations. His Second Coming is an event. Also, what He establishes is a kingdom. A kingdom is a civil institution with a real physical king, ruling over real people, in a real world. The previous four parts of the great image were kingdoms. No one would question they were real physical kingdoms. It does not make logical sense to then make the final kingdom into something totally different. The Church is not a civil institution. It is not a kingdom. (Probably a lot of people will read this and be saying, “But, but, but … we are the kingdom of God!” – to which I would reply, “No, we are not.” That association is, once again, the result of sloppy exegesis, and is the very error which led to the ridiculous and ill-fated predictions of the 19th century). If we take the word “kingdom” literally, then the stone cut without hands has not yet struck the image and its kingdom has not yet begun.

And that is in fact what we are seeing. The fourth kingdom has not yet formed into ten kingdoms, and we are yet waiting for Jesus to come, to destroy the kingdoms of this world, and in fact rule over this world as our King over an earthly kingdom. The reason why we, as Christians, easily identify with the kingdom of God is because our Savior is the King. As a believer, I accept His kingship, I want Him to be king, I want Him to rule in my heart as King, and I long for a world where He actually physically rules. In a sense, in our world, He is an exiled King. Although He is “exiled,” we ourselves acknowledge Him as the true King, try to live under His rule, as if He was the king, and we long for the day when He returns and does rule. So, it is easy for us to see ourselves as His “kingdom.”

But … His kingdom, as a kingdom, is yet to come.

As Paul said in II Timothy, “In the last days, perilous times will come …” The very clear image the Bible presents is not that the world will get “better and better” until finally Jesus comes to rule over us. Like Daniel’s image, it gets worse and worse, until Jesus comes to smash it all and set up His kingdom.

I believe that, all along, down through the last twenty-six centuries, if people would have simply let the words say what they say, even if they didn’t make sense at the time, they would have saved all the ridiculous interpretations which were eventually proven false. As with the rest of the Bible, we have to resist the temptation to embrace attractive positions which are “close” to the wording of the Scriptures, yet require a little “fudging” here and there. No. No fudging. It says what it says. It says exactly what it says and that is exactly what it means.

I hold great respect for the Reformed theologians of history. When it comes to Bible exegesis, the glory of God, and real Christian living, I’d rather read them than anyone else. But, for whatever reason, when it comes to prophecy, they like to conclude, “We just don’t know. We don’t know what it means. It’s all just allegories.” They just don’t know what to do with things like the “thousand years” of Rev 20. We do. It means “one thousand years” – literally.

And I feel encouraged, studying the prophecy of Daniel 2, and seeing how, in fact, literal interpretation is the only interpretation which has tracked accurately through twenty-six centuries. I am very encouraged to just keep studying the Bible, trying to understand exactly what God says – and doesn’t say – and letting it simply say what it says. I’m very aware that I occasionally say things that probably make other people’s theological hair stand on end, but I don’t care. If that is what the Bible says, that is what it says. Maybe I need to understand it better and maybe I need to understand what to do with it, but it still says what it says – whether anyone likes it or not.

Let us all remember that, in the end, the stone cut without hands smashes the kingdoms of this world – and that same Jesus and His truth will always, in the end smash all our foolish notions. He is the Way and the Truth and the Life. May He be our Truth we live by -- literally.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Daniel 2:31-36 – “What Does it Mean?”

As always, here’s my fairly literal translation of these verses:

31You, O king, were seeing and behold, a certain image great. That image great and brightness extraordinary, standing before you, and its appearance fearful. 32That image head of fine gold, its chest and its arms of silver, its belly and its thighs of bronze 33its legs  of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. 34You were seeing until a stone was cut out of not hands and it struck the image upon its feet of the iron and the clay and it crushed them. 35Then were crushed together the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold and they became like chaff of threshing floors of summer and the wind took them away and all of a trace not was found of them and the stone which struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. 36This the dream and its meaning we will tell before the king.

As I have been studying these verses, I’ve been trying to see them as Nebuchadnezzar would have at this point. It’s easy for us to read them and know – of course, it’s the four kingdoms of the world and kingdom of Christ. But at this point, Nebuchadnezzar has no idea. It’s just this strange statue that gets destroyed and the mountain that grows. What could that possibly mean?

Nebuchadnezzar is clueless. And so would you and I be if we were standing there at that moment. The king at this second would be dumb-struck by the fact that Daniel has just done the impossible – he has told him what he dreamed and he knows what he’s told him was correct, and he knows that is utterly impossible. You and I would certainly be amazed too as we stood there listening, but this murderous, raging king is suddenly sitting there cowed before this young man with obviously supernatural insight.

But he still doesn’t know. Nebuchadnezzar still hasn’t the slightest clue what the dream means. If he had forgotten it, he now remembers it clearly, as Daniel has recalled it. If he did remember it but wanted someone to tell it to him first – just to be sure they were legit – then certainly Daniel has removed all doubt as to his ability to interpret it. But still no one but Daniel knows what it means.

The king needs to know. He wants to know. He wants very badly to know. Everyone else he thought could help him has let him down. And here is Daniel, standing before him, and at this point, the king knows he can explain the dream. Finally there is someone who can help him.

I want to just pause and note how that is the same world we all live in. There is so much that happens I don’t understand. So much that doesn’t make sense. I am constantly barraged with situations where we may know a bunch of facts, but we are clueless what to do with them. It is such a joy to suddenly have someone who does seem to understand, someone who can explain it to me, someone who can make sense of it all. Daniel is that guy right at this moment for Nebuchadnezzar.

I wonder how often we as believers are that person for someone else? Maybe we don’t even realize we’re doing it? Maybe we hold within us the “light” and don’t even realize when it’s shining into someone else’s heart? As an engineer, I certainly want to be that person for others. They often look to me to “figure out” what to do about this or that, or to explain to them why this or that is happening – and what to do about it. It’s always nice when I can confidently give them good direction that helps them. But sometimes I have to scratch my head and say, “That’s a good question.” Sometimes the Lord very clearly helps me to find answers for them, which is always cool – and sometimes I just don’t know. In my own heart, I have the Lord to fall back on – I can trust Him to make it clear, if I really need to know. But others don’t have that underlying confidence to lean on. Even then, I wonder if the light of our hope shines out? And of course, life is bigger than water mains with too much pressure and pumps that won’t run. People are living in a world where too many things don’t make sense.

 But it all makes perfect sense to our God.

He knows exactly what Nebuchadnezzar’s dream means. And because Daniel knows this God who knows, he knows too. And Nebuchadnezzar knows he is about to explain it to him.

What a wonderful thing for the king to have a real believer in his presence, to have someone whom he is confident really can answer his questions, explain things that don’t make sense. Once again, I wonder how often we are that person in someone else’s life? If we are, like Daniel, it will only be because God has enabled us. It certainly is never anything in us. “To Him belong wisdom and power.” But the Lord may choose to do it through us. When He does, I hope I’m humble enough to be used. Once again, I suspect most of the time we don’t even know we’re doing it, but that is all the more reason to just stay humble and try to love, try to listen, try to say kind things to people – and hope through all of that, maybe the Lord is shining light and hope into someone else’s heart.

Daniel could do it – and so can we.

So what does it mean anyway?

We’ll just have to keep studying!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

I Thessalonians 4:13-18 – “We Know”

As always, here’s my fairly literal translation of these verses:

13But I am not wishing you to be ignorant, brothers, concerning the sleeping ones in order that you may not be grieving just as also the rest, the ones not having hope. 14For if we believe that Jesus died and rose up, thus also God will bring the sleeping ones through Jesus with Him. 15For we say this to you by [the] Word of the Lord, that we, the living ones, the ones left behind into the coming of the Lord, absolutely shall not preceded the sleeping ones, 16because the Lord Himself will come down from Heaven in a loud command, in the voice of an archangel, and in [the] trumpet of God, and the dead ones in Christ will rise first, 17then immediately we, the living ones, the ones  left behind, will be caught up together with them in [the] clouds into meeting of the Lord into [the] air and thus we will always be with [the] Lord. 18Therefore, comfort one another in these words.

This of course is one of the “glorious” passages of the New Testament. We call Jesus’ Return “the Blessed Hope.”

The truths presented in these verses are so familiar to believers they can be almost cliché. “Of course,” someone may say, “We all know all of that.” But that is precisely what I’d like to comment on. Before I do that, let me say that every single line of this passage has been studied and exegeted and commented on by hundreds, if not thousands of speakers and authors. I would also like to suggest that the truths presented, if they are taken at face value, are so clear there really is little room for any variety of honest interpretation. It just says what it says. So I have found little value in making any exegetical comments of my own.

But back to our idea of “cliché.” Today, even amongst unbelievers, everyone says at funerals, “He’s in a better place.” We fail to realize that throughout most of earth history and in most cultures of the world, death holds no such comfort. There have been the “Happy Hunting Grounds” and “Nirvana” and such, but too many people have held there is no resurrection at all, no afer-life, and when they did, it was either something less desirable (like being re-born as a cow), or something totally uncertain (the grand “hope-so” of human afterlife).

Again, here we are in 21st century America and even unbelievers have this hope of a blissful after-life. Its likelihood is even promoted by the plethora of accounts of people who say they died and returned – the Near Death Experience people. But where did this certain, hopeful, blissful view of eternity come from? At least in our culture, I think I can say it is almost entirely Christian in origin, and may I add … much of that certainty and hope comes directly from the words before us in the little book of I Thessalonians. No other passage – even in the Bible itself – presents such an array of hopeful truths like this one.

Back to the problem of cliché – stop and think for a minute, what if this passage were not in the Bible? What if it simply wasn’t there for you and me to read and cling to? Would that not be an unthinkable loss?

For myself, my studies of the passage have been somewhat of a rebuke, for letting its truths settle into the quality of cliché, for letting myself take them for granted, for not pausing to thank God for such unspeakable kindness, that He should draw back the curtain of our future – specifically for that purpose that we ourselves might be comforted and that we might be properly prepared to comfort one another.

He didn’t have to do that.

But He did.

I love how Paul inserts (v.15) that he is saying these things, “by the Word of the Lord.” In this world of uncertainty, where no one really knows anything for sure, we Christians enjoy the unspeakable gift of God’s inerrant Word. We enjoy this Rock. “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God shall stand forever” (Isa 40:8). And of all the subjects we might ponder, can I remind us that death is the one that absolutely defies our scientific observation. Science requires the analysis of observed data, but we have no eyes to see beyond the grave. I know someone will insist the Near Death Experiences are a form of scientific observation, and perhaps they are, but the whole matter depends completely on people’s anecdotal testimonies and as such they are subject to considerable and justifiable skepticism. I’m not saying they’re not true, I’m just saying they’re pretty thin science. My point is only that even those stories bear no such unassailable certainty as our “Word of the Lord.”

We too easily take for granted that, as believers, we get to spend all day every day in the calm assurance that we “know that we know that we know.” We know that our deceased loved ones in Christ are with Him in glory. We know He is coming again. We know they will be raised and come with Him. We know that we will meet Him together in the air with them, and all of us together with be with Him forever.

We know.

Thank you, Lord, for so kindly sharing with us these blessed truths and allowing us forlorned sinners to actually live in hope, to face death with hope, to live life with hope.

Friday, August 18, 2017

I Thessalonians 4:11,12 – “Shhhhh”

As always, here’s my fairly literal translation of these verses:

… But we are urging you, brothers, to abound more and more, 11and to make it [your] ambition to be quiet, and to mind your own [business], and to work with your hands, just as we commanded you, 12that you might walk becomingly toward those outside, and [that] you might have need of nothing [or no one].

I have moved on and am studying vv13-18, the great Rapture passage, but my mind is still swirling with this idea of quietness. So while I’m studying the next few verses, I’d like to record some of the thoughts still going through my head.

This has sure been a much more pleasant way to live life – quietly. As I’ve related before, I’ve always been an incorrigible worry-wort and didn’t know any way to work except in a froth. In the last year, the Lord finally helped me to put away the worrying and just trust Him. Then in studying verse 11, He finally taught me that I can work hard – even very hard – but stay quiet inside. Wow, what a different world!  When something happens or some thought troubles me, I’m learning to tell myself, “Shhhhh.  Be still, my soul.”

When I’ve stilled the “froth” problem, one of the first things I’ve noticed is that there is a lot of other “noise” going on in my soul. I think the worry and froth has always been so loud, I didn’t even hear all the other noise going on inside of me. But having stilled those sounds, suddenly I’m very aware of the other “noises” of things like discontent, fear, displeasure, and so on. I am enjoying telling those noises “Shhhhh,” as well. Back to the old Kung Fu television series, Master Po asked young Caine, “Do you hear the grasshopper at your feet?” Caine replied, “Old man, how is it you hear such things?” Po replied, “Young man, how is it you do not?” I’m also reminded of when my grandmother got a hearing aid. I asked her, “Can you hear a lot better?” She replied, “Oh, yes. But what I notice most is the little sounds I haven’t heard for years – like a the ticking of the clock. I didn’t even realize I didn’t hear it anymore.” I would suggest there is much to “hear” in this world but the other noises of life drown it out.

Which brings me back again to this simple little thought, “Make it your ambition to be quiet.” As I’ve been pondering this and enjoying exercising it in my life, a number of other passages in the Bible have stood out to me.

In contrast to our American model of endless insanity – even in church ministry – Elijah had to learn that “God is not in the tornado.” In I Kings 19:11,12, we read, “The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” “A gentle whisper.” The “still, small voice.” God is not in the tornado. We imagine that if we can just get enough activity going on, if we just didn’t have to sleep, we’d see glorious accomplishments. But God is not in the tornado. It’s like the old Amish saying, “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” Tornados and earthquakes and raging fires may all seem very exciting, but, as Elijah (and us) needed to learn, “The Lord is not in them.” I wonder how much we actually do not get done living in our self-made tornadoes – how much we perhaps miss the things that were really important? I would suggest we’ll never know the answer to that question until we learn what it means to “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Speaking of that verse, yes, it is in the Bible. Psalm 46:10. “Be still and know that I am God.” “Be still.” That is exactly what I’ve been learning. God has it all covered. He can handle it. I don’t need to worry because I know who’s running it all. But then I notice this same thought comes up over and over. Jesus called people saying, “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30).

And back in Isaiah, He told us, “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, …’” and “The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever. My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest” (30:15 & 32:17,18).

“The fruit of righteousness will be peace.” “In quietness and trust is your strength.”

I’ve never noticed how much the Bible talks about quietness.

That’s probably because of all the tornadoes I created.

This is sure a whole lot more pleasant way to live!

One last crazy thought bouncing around in my head – I wonder, if we learned to quiet our own souls, would we start to hear the noise in other peoples’? I’ve noted for years how the Bible calls us to “Rejoice with them that rejoice and weep with them that weep” – and thought to myself, “That means we need to realize they’re rejoicing, realize they’re weeping” – and then wondered how much of that I just simply miss.

“Old man, how is it you hear these things?” “Young man, how is it you do not?”

Shhhh. Be still, my soul.  

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

I Thessalonians 4:11,12 – “Better”

As always, here’s my fairly literal translation of these verses:

… But we are urging you, brothers, to abound more and more, 11and to make it [your] ambition to be quiet, and to mind your own [business], and to work with your hands, just as we commanded you, 12that you might walk becomingly toward those outside, and [that] you might have need of nothing [or no one].

Without a doubt, this idea of quietness is the bombshell I’ve learned from this passage. As I look at the rest of vv11,12, I think everything else these two simple verses say is of monumental importance, but nothing more jumps out at me personally right now. I didn’t catch this helpful idea of quietness the first time I studied through this book, so probably if I live long enough to ever study through it again, something else will be particularly helpful. Even though nothing else jumps out at me personally, before I leave the passage, I’d like to record some thoughts that might be helpful to my grandchildren or anyone else who might stumble across these feeble scratchings.

“Mind your own business.” What a simple, almost cliché thought, yet, if people took it seriously, it would transform the world overnight, would it not? Somehow, early in my Christian life I learned to constantly ask myself, “Yes, but what are you doing, Don?” Everywhere one looks, at work, at home, at church, it is so easy to see everything everyone else needs to change. “Yes, but what are you doing, Don?” “Mind your own business.” The truth is every one of us has more than enough to do if we’d just mind our own business – be what we should be, do the things we should do, get done the things we should get done. It is a waste of our energy to spend any time at all stewing over what everyone else should be doing. The Bible often condemns people who are meddlers and gossips and tersely informs us, “So then, every one of us shall give an account of himself to God.”

“Work with your hands.” Some people think this is some kind of call to “manual labor.” I’d like to suggest otherwise. I would like to suggest that, no matter what you do, you use your hands. Even the wealthiest CEO makes phone calls, signs papers, etc., etc. I would even suggest it is almost always true that, if we’re working, our hands are probably doing something. People who are doing nothing with their hands probably are doing nothing. Nothing any good, any way. One could almost ask the question, what has the Lord given my hands to do? And then make sure I’m about doing it. I think about the verse in I Cor 7:24 where we’re told, “Each person, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.” The issue in that context is whether people are slaves or free, but I think it applies in general, that we are where we are, doing what we do, because that is what the Lord has given us. The point then is, when a person is saved, most likely they should just continue doing whatever they did before, only now of course do it for the Lord. The question for each of us is “What is that?” “What is it I do?” Once again, it will be one way or another something that engages my hands – and the Lord would tell us, “Get busy doing it.”

I very much like the verse in Col 3:23: “And whatever you do, do it with your whole heart, as for the Lord, and not for men.” “And whatever you do.” “Whatever you do.” One of the wonderful things about Biblical Christianity is that it ennobles every man’s occupation. The king on his throne and the garbage collector alike can read Col 3:23 and know that what they do is important to God. And if it is important to God, then it is important to do it well. It matters.

“Just as we commanded you.” In Paul’s short time at Thessalonica, he had instructed these young believers about the importance of their work. It’s too bad the subject doesn’t even get mentioned from the pulpit today. Which leads into the first thought in v12:

“That you might walk becomingly toward those outside.” The NIV translates it, “So that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders.” There is only one thing the Bible specifically says “adorns” the Gospel, and that is our work. In Titus 2:9,10, it says: “Teach workers to be subject to their bosses in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” The old KJV put it, “… that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things.” Based on this Biblical admonition and my own personal observations, there is nothing that either commends or disgraces the Gospel like believers’ work. I would suggest it’s true that people may care nothing for Heaven or hell, may care nothing about morality or truth, but they will highly value a person who simply does good work.

It is an interesting observation that, even in the most debased cultures, still the principles of good work are Christian principles. Everything a worker should be is something any thinking Christian should be: hard-working, honest, dependable, obedient, considerate, etc., etc. With or without the Bible, everyone knows those are the things a good worker should be. When, then, a person calls himself a Christian and isn’t those things, it brings the Gospel into great disgrace. On the other hand, when a person is those things and others see it, it often gives them pause. I heard once how, during one of the Roman Christian persecutions, a commander was ordered to execute his soldiers who were believers. “But they are my best soldiers!” he objected. I heard once how a church in the old Soviet Union wanted to build a building but could not get a permit since they weren’t an “approved” church, so they went ahead and built anyway. A local magistrate was asked why he didn’t stop them and he replied, “They are the best workers in our community. If they want a building, I certainly won’t stop them.”

That is the effect God wants our work to have – that it should “adorn the Gospel” – that it should gently, quietly break down people’s opposition to Jesus’ message and make them willing to at least give it a hearing. That is the effect it would have, if only believers everywhere could just quietly go to their jobs and do good work.

“…and [that] you might have need of nothing [or no one].” This is an interesting twist. We’re so used to the Gospel being about helping people, we probably don’t think enough that Jesus actually puts a premium on each of us being people who don’t need help! I have found in life one of the difficult lessons to learn is the grace of receiving – of being willing to let people help me when I do need it. But I don’t know that I’ve ever thought much how it is actually God who wants me to live in such a way that I don’t need others’ help, that that should be my intent. It’s very American of course to be independent and not want others’ help, but that is not what we’re talking about. This is God stuff. In God’s world, it’s like “Okay, if you do need help, be humble enough to let others help you, but, in general, be a good worker, manage your own life, and be a person who doesn’t have to depend on others." I think if we let it be a God-thing, then we’ll have the humility to accept needed help while at the same time being people who are sincerely trying not to need it to begin with. That thought is probably worthy of a few hundred applications, but perhaps having said it is enough for today.

What an awesome two verses. No one but our God could pack that much genuinely helpful, practical guidance into two simple verses. I pray that somehow, having pondered them, they’ve infused something of God’s truth into my heart and made me better.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

I Thessalonians 4:11,12 – “Learning Quietness”

As always, here’s my fairly literal translation of these verses:

… But we are urging you, brothers, to abound more and more, 11and to make it [your] ambition to be quiet, and to mind your own [business], and to work with your hands, just as we commanded you, 12that you might walk becomingly toward those outside, and [that] you might have need of nothing [or no one].

Wow has this been a fun week. I have really enjoyed doing my work while trying to stay quiet inside. It is DIFFERENT, for sure. In some ways I feel like I just stepped out into air. On the other hand, it is a very secure, confident thing, knowing this change was drawn from the wells of grace. The same Lord who tells me to be quiet also says “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart.” As always, His truth comes with a very sweet sense of balance. It doesn’t make us cuckoo. It makes us better.

I hope it’s not true that I just happened not to be that busy this week. I don’t think that’s the case as I had days where, as usual, work seemed to come in faster than I could do it. But this week I just tried to stay quiet inside and keep pulling out the next thing, working on it as much as I could or as much as I actually needed to, then moving on to the next thing. I believe I was able to leave on Friday with things under control. I was able to “get things done” while I think I really did manage to stay quiet inside most of the week.  Time will tell, but my heart tells me this is real, that it is a grace change.

The wonderful thing is when changes like this really do come from the Lord. As I mentioned above, He really does keep things in balance. I recently happened upon some clips from the old 70’s TV show “Kung Fu” with David Carradine. I was reminded how he portrayed how orientals typically value a quiet spirit. Being “quiet” inside or “serene” is of course very oriental, being taught in things like Yoga and Transcendental Meditation, etc. Carradine’s character Caine was a Shaolin monk and always stayed very calm, even when he was karate chopping some bully or thug. I am thinking we all find this oriental idea very attractive, but we never quite know how to pull it off and still get anything done. We can’t see how to accomplish the balance. I guess what I’m saying is that I feel like that is exactly what the Lord has taught me – how to do both. So maybe the next time I am karate chopping some bully or thug, I can do it quietly(!).

I have very deeply enjoyed reading the comments of the old Reformed pastors. Today’s commentators just rush by these verses and see little to comment on. The old guys went on for paragraphs! There was a time when the church valued the quiet hard work of common people and, when they came across verses like this, they had much to say to commend them. It is sad that we have so totally lost that. It is interesting to me too to read the thoughts of people who lived in a culture that could see through our American fascination with frenzy. One old guy was discussing how this very resolve to hard-working quietness leaves one balancing between “idleness” and “busy-ness.” Surprisingly, he said, “I’d rather err to the side of being idle than of being too busy.” That statement itself almost caught me off-guard. It is down-right unsettling. “Err to the side of being too idle???” Ye gads, Heaven forbid! We can’t risk the possibility of letting 20 seconds slip by without cramming it full of busy-ness, can we??? … or can we? Maybe he’s right. Maybe in our mad rush, we end up doing less than we really could have. Maybe we miss the things that really should have been done. Maybe we miss what really mattered after all.

I’m reminded of Louie L’Amour’s words, “The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail. Travel too fast and you miss everything you’re traveling for.”

Another quote comes to mind, “Time is significant, but the realization it is unimportant is the gateway to wisdom.”

My daughter Esther spent two or three weeks in England recently as part of a sort of mini-exchange student situation. She is actually a teacher and was one of the adults taking a group of middle-school students to England to actually attend their school and see how they do things. One of the things that amazed Esther was how they are always taking breaks. Always. Constantly. Several times a day. She observed that their culture simply isn’t in a hurry. I remember hearing that, thinking to myself it is probably a far better way to live, but not knowing how to be like that and still get anything done! With the teaching of I Thes 4:11,12, I think I am beginning to understand.

As I’ve studied, I even ran across a quote from a most unlikely source, The Advanced Textbook of Geology:

Here, then, [in the quiet action of wind and waves] we may observe great effects produced without fuss, and we may easily observe, in the phenomena of social life, that there are plenty of illustrations there of the same principle. The whirlwind of revolutions and hurricane of insurrections have no doubt produced startling consequences. But the influence of noble ideas, spoken by undemonstrative men, or embalmed in unpretending volumes, and of pious lives lived in seclusion, has produced a far greater effect upon the civilization of the world than all the blustering storms of war raised by kings and factions and reverberating through history.

That obviously is not an American textbook!

Such good truths to learn!

God is not in the tornado. I’d like to write a book with that title.

All very, very interesting to me.

This is fun!