Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 11

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Rejoices With the Truth.

“(It) is as temperamental as an opera singer,” complained John L. Smith, chemist and executive of Pfizer Pharmaceutical Company, regarding a new drug soon to be on the market. “The yields are low, the isolation is difficult, the extraction is murder, the purification invites disaster, and the assay is unsatisfactory.” But Smith and his retinue recognized and rejoiced in its unprecedented value: They were referring to penicillin, the world’s first antibiotic. Infections up to that time had resulted in a multitude of unnecessary suffering and early deaths. Now they could be treated. World War II was producing untold casualties but now penicillin would save many of those lives.

The author of I Corinthians 13—the Bible’s Love Chapter—explains that love “does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” We have observed that God designed our hearts to delight, to experience pleasure to such an extent that we become bound to what we delight in. We have agreed that delighting in evil puts us into a bondage that eventually results in our own disintegration. It also ultimately destroys all relationships with others, especially our relationship with God. So the author explains how we avoid that outcome. We rejoice with the truth.

To rejoice with the truth means three things. It requires accepting, it requires recognizing, and it requires submitting. Firstly, rejoicing with the truth necessitates that we accept the exclusive nature of truth. If something is true, then by necessity its opposite must be untrue. If it is nighttime in Paris, it cannot also be daytime there. If the sun is ninety million miles from earth, it is not also immeasurably distant from earth. If penicillin destroys bacteria, it does not also support those same bacteria. This is the nature of truth. Its exclusivity enables us to separate things that are true from things that are false, deceiving and erroneous. Think about it. The very fabric of our society is built on accepting truth—from the realms of law, science, research and education to engineering and construction—even down to assembling our IKEA furniture—we accept the existence and value of truth. Everything we absorb through our five senses or manipulate with our bodies we test to ensure what we are seeing and hearing is true.

Secondly, rejoicing with the truth necessitates recognizing truth when it appears. When data is measurable, it is relatively easy to recognize truth from error. We pay for a product with cash and immediately recognize if the change we are given is accurate—if the cashier’s accounting is true or false. Some truths, though, are more difficult to ascertain: when two individual’s claim exclusive ownership of the same object, or in the application of certain laws that are conflicting, truth must be recognized and discerned in order to know how to act in line with truth.

Thirdly, rejoicing with the truth necessitates submitting to truth’s demands. We cannot manipulate truth to satisfy our whims without the result of becoming dishonest and reaping its twisted harvest. “You cannot go against the grain of the universe,” advises C.S. Lewis, “and not expect to get splinters.” The concept of submitting to truth brings us to the pinnacle of our discussion of truth. Truth is bound up in a Person, Jesus Christ who called Himself “the truth.” Submitting to truth ultimately brings us to the necessity of submitting our intellect and worldview to God, the author and sustainer of all truth.

As we do these three difficult tasks we find something extraordinary beginning to happen. When we accept truth we accept Jesus (and vice versa). When we recognize truth for what it really is, we will recognize the deity and Lordship of Jesus. To fully submit to truth is to submit to Jesus. Jesus is the kingpin of Truth. To grasp Jesus is to fully grasp truth. As He Himself explained, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus brings expanding freedom for us, not the shackling restrictions and limitations we had feared when we were distant from truth and from Him.

And that is not all. When we come into community with Jesus, we find Him to be joy incarnate. He is the epitome of gladness and exultation, of true happiness and delight. This is why the author of I Corinthians 13 says that love “rejoices with the truth.” Rejoicing “with” is all about relationship. Christ’s unbounded joy as Maker of the Universe is only exceeded by His joy in ransoming those of us who were lost in the personal darkness of deception and rebellion to truth.

So come to Truth and rejoice with Him. This is what we were designed for. This is love.

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What’s to be Thankful For? Part 5

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Part 5: Security

Family. Physical and Mental Health. Career. Finances. Happiness.

Make a mental checklist. How many of the above spheres of your life are performing at one hundred percent their optimum? Which of them could take a turn for the worse and begin a downward spiral at any moment, heedless of your most determined efforts to the contrary?

If we’re honest, we will admit that while we have some control over the circumstances of our lives, things can go south all too quickly. Marriages struggle. Health fails. Worries plague our psyche. Unforeseen events sidetrack careers; finances plummet. Regardless of our best attempts at making our one chance at life work well, security seems to elude many of us. Life is a precarious and shaky arrangement at best and nothing is really secure against the wind and tide of the unexpected.

David, the psalmist, speaks hope into our situation by penning some simple but profound words in the fifth verse of Psalm 16.

“LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure.”

Did we catch the first and last words of this statement? ‘LORD’ and ‘secure’. They stand like solid bookends bracketing his life. David, king and mighty protector of the Hebrew people camped on Promised Land surrounded by mightier nations wanting the land, recognizes where his security comes from. It comes from God.

“LORD” he addresses God. That is an English word for the Hebrew name Yahweh. It was a name expressed by God half a millennium before the psalmist, designating God’s eternal existence and being. It means, “I AM WHO I AM”, or just “I AM” for short.

This somewhat incomprehensible name speaks of the vast self-determined nature of God who cannot be fully understood by His creatures; so He simplifies His name to the most basic of tags, “I AM” or LORD.

But how does God’s name affect or effect our security?

There are two parts to it. “You have assigned me my portion and my cup,” begins the psalmist. In other words, ‘The food on my plate has been grown, cooked and served up uniquely for me, as has the drink in my cup’. God, the all-powerful and compassionate One knows exactly what conditions and situations make us most prone to turn to Him and rely fully upon Him. For some it will come within a tender and loving home environment. Others will need to experience the tough knocks of life before they are ready to see God as their loving Father and accept Jesus as their Redeemer. The point is, becoming bitter with our portion in life is counterproductive. Using it for our ultimate and eternal advantage by letting it turn us toward God is what God intends for our good. It’s who He is. It’s embedded in the name “I AM”. Take note, God does not make anything bad happen—He is the giver of only good and perfect gifts—but He is uniquely capable of transforming bad situations into settings that bring eternal good. Just look at the cross.

The second part of the psalmist’s observation is, “you have made my lot secure.” We are prone to think our lot in life is up to us. ‘Be born with it or work hard to get it,’ says our culture, ‘but don’t be surprised if someone stronger tears it away.’ God’s gift of Himself for us is very different. We cannot earn it, nor can we be too far-gone to receive it. And once we have it—that is, the forgiveness and new relationship He offers through His Son and His Spirit—it is eternally secure. “No one can snatch them out of my hand,” promises Jesus.

This verse is amazing, really. It has the power to transform our thinking and our living. The confidence inspired by God’s direct participation in our lives gives us a peace and comfort nothing–absolutely nothing—else can provide. Who wouldn’t want that? That kind of security is surely something to be thankful for.

Thank you, Father, LORD, the Great I AM, for assigning each of us our portion and our cup. We trust that You know exactly the portion and cup we need to be drawn to you. Thank you for making our lot secure. We entrust our lives and our eternal well-being to Your care.

Desert Places Burst to Life

English: Desert of the Sinai, Egypt Nederlands...

Dry.  Lifeless.  Barren.  Deserts sustain their dubious distinction based on their receipt of minimal rainfall.  Lack of camouflaging foliage displays clearly every rise and fall, plain and canyon of terrain. We marvel that any creature can exist in the stark ecosystem of deserts.

Life can be like that.  Sometimes we feel dry and barren, moving through each day’s routines, numb to beauty and parched in spirit.  If we halt for a moment our feverish pursuit of activities that fill our waking moments we find, like grains of sand, they slip between our fingers; nothing of substance is left.  Nothing remains to camouflage our emptiness.

Imagine a mist, a growing, spreading, towering cloud forming over some desert.  Skies darken; the scorching sun is suddenly blocked.  Then drops of unknown rain begin to fall.  Faster and faster they drop until it’s a torrent, a wall of water pouring down.  At first the sunbaked ground seems to repel the strange element, but soon the water finds the cracks and fissures in the hard earth and seeps its way in. As suddenly as it began, the storm stops and the clouds dissipate.  The air is fresh.  Puddles are swallowed by softened thirsty sand.  Something else is about to happen.  Life in the desert is about to awaken.  Creatures are about to surface and sprouts and buds and blossoms are waiting to burst open.  Transformation is at hand.

Earth’s physical deserts illustrate for us God’s great plan of transforming each of us.  The ancient Hebrew sage and prophet Isaiah penned a beautiful description of God’s work.  The lives of those, the “redeemed”, who will admit their need will be like deserts, “parched land”, gladdened by the rain of God’s thirst-quenching Spirit.  Listen:

Isaiah 35

The desert and the parched land will be glad;

the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.

Like a crocus it will burst into bloom;

it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.

The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,

the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;

they will see the glory of the LORD,

the splendor of our God.

Strengthen the feeble hands,

steady the knees that give way;

say to those with fearful hearts,

“Be strong, do not fear; your God will come,

he will come with vengeance;

with divine retribution he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened

and the ears of the deaf unstopped.

Then will the lame leap like a deer,

and the mute tongue shout for joy.

Water will gush forth in the wilderness

and streams in the desert.

The burning sand will become a pool,

the thirsty ground bubbling springs.

In the haunts where jackals once lay,

grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

And a highway will be there;

It will be called the Way of Holiness.

The unclean will not journey on it;

it will be for those who walk in that Way;

wicked fools will not go about on it.

No lion will be there,

nor will any ferocious beast get up on it;

they will not be found there.

But only the redeemed will walk there,

and the ransomed of the LORD will return.

They will enter Zion with singing;

everlasting joy will crown their heads.

Gladness and joy will overtake them,

and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

The great Redeemer loves to rework hopeless situations into oases of splendor.  Rich with contrasts, Isaiah describes lives lifted from dry subsistence to lush and joyful productivity.  He calls it the “Way of Holiness”, a direct reference to God’s own holy nature.  This way of living consists of a ceaseless stance of openness toward God.  It is a face-to-heaven, hands open attitude of constant expectation.  God is the giver; we are the happy recipients.

Isaiah makes exceedingly clear, though, that some things must go.  This is not an easy grace, an eclectic collection of feel-good fantasies.

Fear must go.  We may not entertain the faithless practice of worry.  God is greater in goodness than any evil we fear.  He will make all things right in His time.

Blindness must go.  We must open our eyes to the presence of God here and now every moment.  No longer may we allow ourselves to be deceived by the pride and selfishness that sees all revolving around self.  The truth of God’s presence is the light we need to see His centrality in our existence.

Lack of forgiveness must go.  It is the haunt of jackals in the recesses of our memories.  It destroys the relationships God want to be productive.  We may not cling to past hurts of being wronged.  Only God has the wisdom to know where vengeance is the rightful response.

Uncleanness must go.  Only those washed by the redeeming work of Jesus may participate in this transformation.  This world’s ideas of immortality through empty pleasure or cosmic unity are but foolish thoughts.  More than foolish, rejecting God’s chosen Redeemer is wickedness itself.  That is a dead end route and has no part in God’s highway.

And sorrow must go.  Yes, there is a place for grieving life’s trials, but we must not give in to hopelessness.

The overwhelming awareness of God’s goodness swallows up every sigh.  Everything from songs of praise to awe-filled prayers of silent thankfulness fills our wondering souls.

God’s blessing is here and now.  Yes, we long for heaven but God’s eternal kingdom is at work in us now, if we will receive it.  Today, God’s Spirit is raining down thirst-quenching, healing, living water for you and me.  We must let it seep into our souls, softening the crust life’s troubles have baked solid.  Drink it up.  Soak it in.  Something is about to happen.  Transformation is at hand.