Saturday, March 21, 2009

Love Conquers All

If God is for us, who can be against us? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? Who is he that condemns? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

                        Romans 8.31, 32-35, 37

Take It to Heart

In Romans 8.28-39, Paul delivers a soaring pronouncement of faith that all earnest believers should internalize. We won’t find another passage of Scripture more dynamic than this to explain God’s plan, power, and love. Its truth is self-evident, but its force surges in Paul’s unmistakably defiant tone. Palpable outrage underscores every word, suggesting he’s appalled anyone would question the Romans’ right to follow Jesus. He’s convinced God includes them in His plan and loves them without restraint. He knows as Romans they don’t fit the conventional Christian stereotype. Their lifestyle and philosophy don’t always square with how other believers—particularly those with a Judaic background—approach the faith. He’s keenly aware criticisms muttered abroad are wafting over the Aegean, as intended, to dispute the Romans’ commitment to Christ. Paul’s virulent defense means to drown out such nonsense once and for all.

A brief overview passage supports this reading. It begins by encouraging the Romans that “in all things God works” for those who love Him and are called for His purpose. He chose you before you were called, Paul stresses. He legitimized you with His call and transformed you to answer it. No authority can contest this, challenge your inclusion, or condemn your faith. No one has power to withhold Christ’s love. Let none of this affect you, Paul stresses, because Christ’s love conquers all. Nothing can separate us from God’s love. Reading this, we should take it to heart—particularly we who’ve been pilloried by religious rejection and hostility. Indeed, we’d do well to know it by heart, because we’ll inevitably need it to drown out future criticism and condemnation levied against us.

More Than

Never forget this: we are more than conquerors. Most believers misread this to say, “We defeat any opposition we face.” Doing this severely diminishes Paul’s statement, however. When the Roman church read it, the phrase leapt from the page and, no doubt, made their hearts leap by raising them above the fray of faith wars. Perhaps the best way to illustrate their response is to recall a signature sequence found in every old Hollywood sword-and-sandal epic. After a decisive victory abroad, the conquering hero—say, Richard Burton or Charlton Heston—marches into the Forum to receive Caesar’s gratitude and praise. Paul’s scenario casts Jesus as the victor and us as Caesar. Christ’s love defeats our enemies, restores peace, and extends our reach. While we make it our duty to prosper in faith, Christ engages our adversaries and triumphs on our behalf. “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” 1 Corinthians 15.57 says in the spirit of one who is more than a conqueror. In Exodus 14.14, while the ground trembles with the roar of Pharaoh’s cavalry and chariots, Moses assures Israel, “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” As more than conquerors, neither fighting nor winning is ours to worry about. Through Christ, God’s love carries the day. He gives us victory.


A sliver of doubt burrows into Paul’s more-than-a-conqueror metaphor, but he catches and removes it right away. With Brutus’s assassination of Julius Caesar still fresh in memory, the Romans viewed the conqueror’s love as vulnerable to shifting loyalty and political expedience. Not so with Christ, Paul rushes to explain. His love guarantees He and we will remain inseparable always. “For I am convinced,” he writes in Romans 8.38-39, “that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Foreshadowing His imminent surrender to the cross, Jesus tells His disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 14.13) Calvary is the believer’s Gettysburg—the blood-soaked battleground where God’s unconquerable love turned history’s tide to reunite Him with us for all time. Since then, we’ve tried our best to undermine His achievement and undo history with near-constant border skirmishes to prevent those we disagree with from accessing God’s love. Over and over, we fight long and hard to protect our “values.” Yet, regardless how many decades or centuries we waste in battle and how many millions rally around our cause, love ultimately triumphs. To paraphrase Paul, no wall can be raised so high, no trench dug so deep to separate us from God’s love. He chose us. He called us. He justified us. He qualified us. There’s nothing anyone can say or do about it. And should they try, He wins us the victory for us. We are more than conquerors.

Christ conquers all with love and we, like Caesar, are more than conquerors, who express our gratitude and praise for the victory He gives.

(Tomorrow: Craving Good)

Postscript: Standing Invitation

Last Sunday I served up the possibility of a “Straight-Friendly” weekend retreat where those who were interested could spend time getting personally acquainted, praying together, and sharing the Word. I’ve received several positive responses. In case you missed the suggestion, I mention it again (and most likely will a few more times to make sure no one’s left out). Right now, it’s just a seed of an idea. But if it appeals to you, let me know so I can include your input as plans take shape. As I originally wrote, the thought of spending time with wonderful fellow believers like you is one I can’t resist. If you do as well, don’t hesitate to say so. This is merely a “pulse check” for interest, not a request for definite commitment.

Friday, March 20, 2009


Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

                        Psalm 119.105 

The Centerpiece

Situated very near the exact middle of the Bible, Psalm 119 serves as a uniquely resplendent centerpiece, a work of literary genius and thematic gravity on which everything before and after it leans. The lengthiest chapter in the Bible, it’s an acrostic poem composed of 22 stanzas named for the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, each having eight lines whose first words begin with the indicated letter. This novelty and effort are most notable because its author(s) intended Psalm 119 to stand out to fasten attention on its theme: God’s Word.

With few exceptions, every verse references Scripture (i.e., The Torah) in some fashion—as God’s laws, decrees, ways, commands, promises, precepts, and so on. The psalm extols God’s Word as the source of all we need to lead successful lives that please Him. It glories in how Scripture guides us, delights us, preserves us, and sets us free; how it gives us hope, comfort, and strength; how teaches us, sharpens our faculties, instills confidence, drives enthusiasm, and establishes what’s right and true; how it overwhelms us with joy, calls us to prayer and meditation, sets just boundaries, and enlightens our understanding.

Separate Realities

As we read Psalm 119, awareness of parallel, simultaneous existences takes hold. People governing their lives by human principles and those who live by God’s Word co-exist, sharing the same time and space. Yet they also occupy distinctly separate realities. They experience the same things, but attach different, often contradictory meanings and importance to them. One group relies on what it knows. The other trusts God’s Word. Verses 99-100 exclaim, “I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts.”

Life guided by the Word is life at its most adventurous. It’s driven by heightened awareness that while not everything it brings can be fully or adequately explained, none of it is without purpose and meaning. It looks beyond physical observation and experience to find spiritual mystery and truth. Living by human wit relies on reason to shape thoughts and behaviors. Living by God’s Word works differently, however. Principles, which often seem unreasonable at the time, shape attitudes and actions in certainty the reasons will become evident in time. When we embrace God’s Word as the governing authority in our lives, we exchange knowing now for understanding later. As a result, we often feel dislocated—perhaps even detached—from logical “reality” and at a quandary about what to do and where to go. We trust God’s Word completely. Sometimes, though, we’re less trusting of our capabilities to follow its direction.

In Case of Emergency

My job entails a lot of air travel and after I settle into my seat, the first thing I do is check its proximity to the exits. After that, I tune out the safety demonstration. But recently a phrase I’ve heard hundreds of times caught my attention: “In case of emergency, lights along the aisle floor will guide you to the nearest available exit.” A morbid scenario flashed through my mind—a fuselage filled with impenetrable smoke leaving nothing visible but a strand of footlights to prevent passengers from tripping over seats and one another. In that moment, they don’t know where the plane has landed, why the pilot chose to land there, what caused the accident, or what’s beyond the exit. All they know is their survival and safety depend on staying within the lighted boundaries on either side of the aisle.

I believe this is what the psalmist means by “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” When situations arise where we can’t properly find our way on our own, we don’t know why or how they happen, and we aren’t sure of what’s on the other side, God’s Word illuminates our path. We don’t panic. We don’t wander aimlessly, trying to feel our way out. We look to Scripture for light. Our survival and safety depend on it. Deuteronomy 31.8 promises, “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” That’s God’s Word laid out in footlight.

God's Word is like the emergency lights along a jetliner aisle--in times of uncertainty it leads us to safety. 

(Tomorrow: Love Conquers All)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Unworldly Peace

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

                        John 14.27 

In Preparation

John 14 finds Jesus and the disciples at a very delicate moment in their relationship. After forsaking everything they’ve known to follow Christ, the disciples are about to hear Jesus will soon leave them to complete His work on Earth and rejoin His Father in Heaven. He begins with a comforting, yet oddly ominous statement. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” (John 14.1) Before any of them has a chance to ask where this comes from, Jesus informs them of His imminent departure, assuring them He plans to return one day and gather His followers so they “also will be where I am.” (v3)

Although Jesus has hinted at His eventual physical separation from the disciples several times, the urgency He now conveys by pulling them aside to explain it in depth shakes them to their cores. It’s news to them. It spins them into panic and Jesus’s mysterious tone confuses them. They ask questions, all of which He answers yet none of which they feel certain they understand. From the gist of it, Jesus is going away for a while, leaving them in the hands of the Holy Spirit, Who will continue to teach and direct them. How this will work He doesn’t say. In preparation for uncertainty ahead, Jesus foregoes the humanly preferred “here’s-what-to-expect” angle to challenge the disciples to abide by His principles. He charges them to trust Him, just as they trust God.

Unsettled by Faith

Jesus recognizes hoping without evidence and believing without seeing are recipes for anxiety. Yet He refuses to compromise His position to accommodate His followers’ weaknesses. Instead, He provides an antidote for their emotional confusion while He’s away. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you,” He says. His temporary absence while entombed will serve as a trial run—a test of their mettle to indicate the strength of their belief. How well they handle His brief departure will tell if their faith can withstand far tougher, more crucial trials as they continue His work after the Ascension. He has no doubt they’ll be unsettled by faith. He knows He’s asking them to believe His promises despite every sign that what He said is impossible. But He doesn’t want them to search for worldly proof to validate His words. He expects them to reach for unworldly peace. “I do not give to you as the world gives,” He stresses. “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Don’t be afraid.”

Peace Rules

Following Jesus now is no different than when the disciples traveled with Him physically. He speaks to us daily through His Word, in prayerful conversation, and as His Spirit whispers to our hearts. Often we become so entranced by what’s happening now, we miss subtle allusions to moments we’ll feel left hanging while He attends to our future. When time comes to carry on by faith, we fall apart. Answers aren’t clear and plans aren’t predictable. But, as with the disciples, understanding isn’t always necessary or available for us. All we need during uncertainty is unwavering trust to stop asking logical questions and reach for illogical—unworldly—peace.

We control whether circumstances disturb and frighten us. “Don’t let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid,” Jesus says. While all evidence suggests the contrary, He’s not abandoned us. Philippians 4.5-7 explains how to weather crises of uncertainty: “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The Lord is near—coming to our rescue. Until He returns, we pass the time in prayer and praise, expressing faith instead of fretting and complaining. Total trust calms our behavior. Non-believers observe this and recognize something extraordinary controls our emotions. Worry is anathema to us. Fear isn’t a factor. Answers and predictability may elude us. But peace—not as the world gives, but God’s peace—is within reach. It guards our hearts and minds. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,” Colossians 3.15 says. And so we do. When our world rocks, Christ’s unworldly peace rules.

Jesus gives us unworldly peace that transcends all understanding. It guards our hearts and minds. It rules our doubts and emotions. 

(Tomorrow: Footlight)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Deadly Lies

Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received?”
--Acts 5.3

Pitching In

When I enter one of the world’s great cathedrals—Notre Dame in Paris, for example—I sometimes wonder what I’d hear if one of the first Christians were beside me. Frankly, I don’t think they’d recognize where they were. Early Christianity wasn’t a religion, but a left-wing sect of Judaism. It had no hierarchy, no governmental structure, no real plan or objectives. And it had no money to operate. According to Acts 4.32, “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.” Early Christianity was about more than giving a few dollars in the weekly collection or tithing 10% of one’s income. Early Christians made pitching in everything the cost of entry—selling all one owned and donating the entire proceeds from the sale to the common good. In this respect, the first Christians predated Karl Marx by nearly 1800 years.

Why did the early Church demand so much from its constituents? First, remember that the apostles all left their professions to shepherd the flock of early believers. But, second, I also think requiring such severe sacrifice was a test—of character, commitment, and obedience. Imagine how many hangers-on lost interest when they heard, “Welcome to Christianity! Now, before we get you situated, you’ll need to auction off your possessions, contribute all your earnings to the kitty, and spend all of your time working for the growth and success of this tiny band of believers in Jesus!” Like the rich young ruler, who walked away in disappointment after Christ told him to sell his holdings and donate the revenue to poor people, one imagines many wannabe believers couldn’t bank that curve. Others, like Ananais and his wife, Sapphira, thought they saw an opportunity to get over on the naïve, idealistic believers.

Holding Back
In Acts 5, Ananais shows up with his gifts and lays them before Peter. Prior to this, he and Sapphira have schemed to hold back a certain percentage for themselves. (One might think of this as their personal “nest egg” or “bonus.”) His action implies that he’s giving his all, however, and it’s here that Ananais falls into trouble. Why have you lied to God, Peter asks. And before he can stammer and stutter his way through some kind of weak-kneed explanation, Ananais falls over dead. Next, here comes Sapphira, not knowing what fate befell her husband. When asked about their donation, she upholds his story. Down she goes—and they drag her away to be buried beside her husband.

The modern mind has problems processing this story. Sure, Ananais and Sapphira were con artists. Sure, they schemed to cheat God’s people by claiming to have made less than their transactions actually profited. Sure, they lied. But were these crimes so grave to merit death? If we think things through, we discover there’s more to the story. Why were Ananais and Sapphira holding back? The Bible doesn’t say. But any answer one arrives at isn’t good. Perhaps they feared this Christianity business wouldn’t last—they were afraid of giving up everything for a losing cause. Perhaps they wanted to ensure their financial security through tough times; they weren’t convinced of God’s daily provision. Perhaps they wanted to maintain a social/financial edge over the other believers—to stay a cut above their brothers and sisters; they hadn’t yet outgrown their proud urges. Whatever compelled them to lie to Peter and cheat God’s people, it was a bigger issue than just misrepresenting truth. It was deadly and thereby made the lies told to support it deadly.

To Tell the Truth

It’s hard to resist the urge to look at these two shysters and go off on a rant about all the con artists and unregulated investment bankers currently in our news. Yet there’s a much larger truth here that we all should internalize. When we come to God, it’s essential to tell the truth. “Couching” reality, being “discreet,” or glossing over aspects of our lives we’d prefer not to mention are pointless, because God sees all, hears all, and knows all. In 2 Kings 19.27, God says, “I know where you stay and when you come and go,” and in 1 Corinthians 4.5, Paul writes, the Lord “will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts.” When we deal with our Maker, there’s nothing we can reveal. There’s no need to hide anything about us—because it’s pointless. And thinking we can lie to Him about ourselves is as foolish as it is deadly serious.

During this season of repentance, humility, and prayer, it’s important to come clean in our confession. We bring Jesus all we are, as we are, without shame or reservation or pretense. There’s nothing to hide because nothing can be hidden. But more than that, given that He knows everything, why should we ever resist giving God all we have. Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4.24) Lying is sinful. Lying about sin can be deadly. True worship begins with truth.

Ananais falls after he deals dishonestly with God.

(Tomorrow: Unworldly Peace)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Man on the Run

And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. --Philippians 4.19

Luke 15 is commonly referred to as the “lost” chapter. It contains three wonderful stories that Christ tells in quick succession. A shepherd with 100 sheep loses one. He leaves the 99 behind to seek the lost lamb. He finds it and throws a party. A woman loses a precious coin. She tears her house apart to look for it. When she recovers it, she throws a party. By the third story, Jesus seems to sense He’s made the basic point. So He adds a few interesting nuances to the tale. And by the time He finishes, “lost” takes on an entirely different meaning.

The younger of two sons decides he can’t wait for his father to die and pass on his estate. He asks for an early inheritance, which the father grants. He gathers up all he has and relocates far from his family—“in a distant land,” Jesus says, where he can make a name for himself as a young man of means. Apparently, he gains popularity rapidly, because he burns through his money in little time. This only surprises him, however. A person with any life experience at all knows that a young man with lots of cash and time on his hands will most likely lose the money and be stuck with useless time. Predictably, once the money’s gone, the crowd disappears. The Big Money Kid is stranded in a strange land trying to scrape together a living—which is bad enough—when things get worse: a famine hits the region. No one he entertained so lavishly takes him in. The kid survives by working in a pigpen and eating whatever the livestock leaves behind. In Luke 15.16, Jesus says, “No one gave him anything.”

“What Am I Thinking?”

The kid’s story turns on this moment of self-degradation. After gnawing on one nasty cornhusk too many, it’s as if he startles himself awake. Jesus tells us “he came to his senses.” I see him looking around at his situation to ask, “What am I thinking?” He remembers that his dad’s servants eat and live better than this—and he’s an heir, entitled to the best his father’s house offers. After running away from responsibility, the former Big Money Kid becomes a man on the run again. But this time, he runs home. There’s a lot of ground to cover before he gets there. A lot of what he experienced in the “distant land, a lot of people he met, customs he acquired, language he learned, and so on, will no longer benefit him once he’s back home. A lot of dreams he had no longer matter.

Crossing the border en route to his father’s house, he’s forced to leave a lot of things behind. Yet he also rediscovers many things he lost without realizing it—dignity, for example, and its counterpart, humility. Foolish ambition had sold him cheap imitations of arrogance and debasement, both of which brought him no good. Once the kid comes home and reconciles with his father, Jesus returns to the motif in the early stories. The dad throws a party. He says, “My son was lost and now he’s found!” Yet, from the son’s perspective, much more has been lost and recovered than a home. Much that he foolishly gave away has come back to him.

All We Need

The Lost Son and Lent go hand in hand in an odd sort of way. Lent follows Jesus into the wilderness, yet on another level it follows the Lost Son into the distant land. It brings us to consider how far we’ve strayed from our Father’s bounty and goodness, how much we’ve squandered on ambitions and arrogance, and how easily we’ve settled for cheap imitations of happiness, love, and fulfillment instead of the real things. The Lost Son’s story reminds us that we often sacrifice what matters most in life to strive for what matters least. The story of the Lost Son encourages us to come to our senses. Lent tells us to sacrifice to restore our souls, to reconcile with our Father, and prepare ourselves for new life. They’re two sides of one coin. Paul says God will supply all we need according to His glorious riches through Christ. Everything life could ever promise is in our Father’s house. As we trudge the wilderness together, let’s remember we’re headed that way. Let’s encourage one another to drop thoughts, habits, and attitudes that have no place in our true home. And let’s know that God will provide all we need once we return.

Coming home often brings us back through wilderness we crossed to try living in a "distant land."

(Tomorrow: Deadly Lies)

Monday, March 16, 2009


Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.

                        Genesis 5.23

On Our Feet

Walking is the unsung casualty of modern life. If there’s a conveyance at our disposal, nine out of 10 of us will use it. We do everything we can to make walking an inconvenience. We push businesses and establishments we regularly frequent far from home. We pass a row of locally owned restaurants to drive through a fast-food franchise. At airports, we stand empty-handed on people movers invented to offset lugging heavy bags down long terminals.

We rationalize this with the notion that walking wastes time. How foolish this is. Walking creates time. It slows us down and makes time to ponder more important matters than getting from place to place. It changes our priorities from cramming too much into any given hour or day to accepting our limitations. Walking allows us to think on our feet; it thrusts us into the world to encounter sights and sounds we otherwise might glide by. I’m going to the limb’s edge here, but I believe inordinate time cocooned in our cars nurtures unwise impulses, ambitions, and ideas that wouldn’t trouble us so if we spent more time on foot.

Walking with God

God enters our story walking. Genesis 3.8 says Adam and Eve “heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” Prior to this, Genesis concentrates entirely on our role in God’s story—our creation, purpose, responsibilities, and so on. He drives the narrative up to the point we bite into humanly indigestible knowledge of good and evil, immediately misjudge our situation, and flee to the woods to hide our shame. After we hijack God’s epic of perfection, He literally steps into our saga of disobedience. He releases us to wander where we will without abandoning us entirely. Far more aware than we of how often our illicitly gained knowledge will lead headlong into trouble, He stoops to become our companion. “I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people,” He declares in Leviticus 26.12.

God walking with us is one thing. Walking with God is another. Our walk with God starts by returning to the garden and surrendering control of our story. We give up all we think we know and willful ambitions and attitudes based on following our own way. The roles reverse. We humble ourselves to become God’s walking companion. And before we take the first step together, we echo David’s confession in Psalm 119.176: “I have strayed like a lost sheep.” God mercifully draws us next Him with forgiveness and says, “Let’s take a walk.”

Carried Away

Once we set out with God, mortal fixation with endpoints stirs impatience to learn where we’re headed and how soon we’ll get there. We revert to our old nature—compulsion to do rather than contentment to be. Walking with God focuses our attention on shared conversations and experiences along the way. We can’t waste precious moments on questions about where He’s taking us, because He’s chosen this direction specifically for us—to show us things we normally miss, teach us lessons we avoid, and slow us down to hear His thoughts. Here’s how Proverbs 3.5-6 recommends we approach walking with God: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.” When we walk with God, we let Him choose the destination, knowing He’ll take us where we need to be.

Genesis tells us Enoch walked with God and vanished. He was no more because God took him away. Reading this as a kid provoked excited giggles. I imagined Enoch and God strolling and talking, unconcerned about time or life’s demands. Where they’re going doesn’t matter to Enoch. Merely walking beside God is more than enough. In my mind, I saw Enoch leaving the ground—so slowly at first he doesn’t realize it. Rising high enough to see the world from a perspective unlike any he’s known, I envisioned God asking, “Is this OK?” Why wouldn’t it be OK? Nothing in the world can hold Enoch down. Now I understand what my child’s mind innately grasped. Walking with God is vanishing—being carried away from ourselves, what we know, and all we fear to be with Him.

Walking with God makes the most of our time with Him by trusting He’ll lead us where we need to be.

(Tomorrow: Man on the Run)

Postscript: Scroll Down

If you missed yesterday’s post, please take a second and scroll down to its postscript. There’s a suggestion there that you may find interesting….

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Lord's Day

On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.

                        Revelation 1.10

Alone Together

Torrents descended on Chicago last weekend and by Sunday morning, fierce gusts rose to create monsoon conditions. Flinching a bit at being “fair-weather Christians,” we decided to worship at home via the Web “alone together,” as Walt put it, he on his laptop in the living room and me here at my desk. We played no music. The TV stayed off. The only sounds were the moans of our high-rise rocking in the wind—it’s oddly comforting, like being aboard a huge ship—and irregular thunderclaps punctuating the rain-slap on our windows. I opened our church’s site to download the bulletin, but then I let go the mouse and sat for quite a while as the music of God’s power resounded outside. While Walt and I were apart, I realized neither of us was alone. God had made His presence irrevocably real. With no assistance from pipe organs and choirs, He drew us into His Spirit on the Lord’s Day.

Acknowledging God’s audible presence fired my eagerness to hear His voice. The sites I visited in the morning provided beneficial insights, but not until much later, when I dropped by John Shuck’s site and read his sermon, “Entering the Life”, did I realize what God wanted me to hear in the wind, rain, thunder, and silence. Nor was God’s flawlessly ironic timing lost on me. While I listened closely but heard nothing certain, He was speaking to me at that very hour as John preached from a Johnson City, Tennessee pulpit over 600 miles away. His message about keeping the Lord’s Day as a day of rest and reflection, based on the Jewish Shabbat, resonated deeply. It’s been with me all week. While I pray God one day endows me with wisdom and eloquence comparable to John’s, the inspiration I took from his sermon compels me to share a few thoughts about the Lord’s Day as well. (I encourage you to read “Entering the Life,” as today’s post comes as sort of companion piece to the message.)

Keeping Time

After reading John Shuck’s message, John the Revelator’s statement—“On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit”—echoed in my head. On balance, what we don’t know about this apocalyptic letter to seven Asian churches far outweighs all we say with certainty about it. The Revelation’s authorship, meaning, original purpose, and why it entered the canon are all highly (and hotly) debatable. Some believers view it as an anomaly its intended readers most likely understood but containing little meaning for us. Others pore over John’s vision phrase-by-phrase, sighting parallels in current events. Lack of context refutes neither reading, and it’s best left at that. But, personally, two things stand out to me: it came from John’s being “in the Spirit,” and confirms Christ’s power will ultimately prevail over the forces of darkness. If we never “break the code” of John’s vision, just those two points merit our attention.

The Revelation came during John's exile on the island of Patmos. Isolated from family and fellow believers, he endures a “sameness of days” in an open-ended sentence that makes the calendar useless. Yet stranded out of time, we find John keeping time to ensure he honors the Lord’s Day. As a Christian monotheist—like Jews and, later, Muslims—he devotes one day each week to rest and reflect, a precedent established by God, Who spent six days creating the world and rested on the seventh. For John, the Lord’s Day is not to be neglected or minimized as “another day.” It’s a standing appointment of utmost importance reserved for casting off anxieties to bask in God’s presence. It’s spent “in the Spirit,” where natural fears and doubts are supplanted by unnatural faith and hope. In the Spirit, daily reality loses its significance to far greater eternal reality, resetting our hearts and minds to listen for God.

The Voice Behind

While in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, John hears a voice behind him. He turns to see a blinding vision of the living Christ instructing him to report everything he’s told to the Asian churches. John’s placing the voice behind him is extremely relevant to us, I think, because God often speaks to us from behind. Looking back, we find His presence behind consumes darkness in our past. As David sings in Psalm 23, goodness and love follow us every day we live. Yet, as with John, the voice behind only speaks of things to come, assuring us of God’s promises and protection as we walk into the future with Him. What we hear isn’t always comforting or even comprehensible. John receives a grotesque warning of extreme persecution Christians will face. Yet the voice behind us steels our confidence to move ahead. Knowing hardships await us, we trust God’s love and mercy to prevail, which is The Revelation's final truth.

Whatever else we seek and find in John's vision, it reveals the Lord’s Day as the pivotal day in every week, the moment we leave what's behind and look forward. How wise and caring of God to finish Creation with His example and command we set aside one day each week to rest in His presence. Sequestered from ordinary life, we hear His call from behind. We turn to discover He’s all we see. He seals our past. He illuminates our present. He addresses our future. And seven days later, He does it again.

The Lord's Day is the pivotal moment in every week when He calls us from behind and speaks of what's ahead.

(Tomorrow: Vanishing)

Postscript: Am I Crazy?

God has truly favored Straight-Friendly with a unique diversity of extraordinary believers. In the short time I’ve got to know you, I’ve come to admire your Christian commitment and treasure you as dear family in Christ. Yet as well as I know you “virtually,” I wish I also knew you personally, face-to-face. I’ve actually prayed about this and an answer seems to be gaining focus. Now is as good a time as any to toss it out and see what you think. (Drum roll, please.)

Is anyone interested in a S-F weekend retreat where we could share the Word and pray together, have fun, and get better acquainted? Or am I crazy? If the idea appeals to you, let me know via comment or email. I’m thinking six or more positive responses will be plenty to put together a survey about best times, locations, etc., before scouting possible dates and sites.

Call me a fool, but spending quality time with you amazing people is an idea I can’t resist—and a hope I pray will be realized!