G is for Grace


Have you ever told someone you loved them and then they failed to reciprocate?  If you have, you know more about that situation than I do, but I want to use that word picture as a segue foundation for my discussion today about grace.  In Christian circles, we define grace simply as unmerited favor, but how can just two words tell us the whole story.  Unmerited how? Favor when?  These terms seem too broad.

As it happens to me all the time, experiences and things I see in everyday life remind me of biblical truths.  I want to visit one such encounter.  I have recently cultivated an interest in comic book heroes and the cheapest, albeit diluted, way of indulging this interest is in TV shows and movies.  One such TV Show tells the story of Green Arrow, a DC comic vigilante who uses a bow and arrows to try to clean up crime in his city.  In the process of taking the law into his own hands, he kills people.  In his public life, he has a friendship with a female lawyer.  This friendship is based on a deep regard for one another that once was romantic but Green Arrow has distanced himself from because of his double life.  This lawyer friend, after a period of time, disapproves of Green Arrow’s activities.  She eventually believes him to be a criminal who should be arrested and spearheads efforts to that end.  As always happens in comics, the woman is kidnapped and in danger of being killed.  Green Arrow finds out about this and, knowing that this lady friend wants to arrest him, saves her anyway.

As I watched this unfold before my eyes, I couldn’t help but tear up.  I had to pause the episode and process what I was viewing.  God isn’t some vigilante criminal like Green Arrow but my (our) thoughts, feelings, and actions toward Him were similar to the lawyer’s.  For all intents and purposes, we wanted him arrested, killed, gone; we were enemies, but you see, we had animosity toward Him, but He loved us, period. Not anyway, not in spite of, he just did.  And we needed saving.  The action of God on our behalf was unmerited in that we were enemies, at least in our minds, and favor when we wanted him arrested, killed, gone.

Romans 5:8 says  “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Indeed God’s grace is not merely unmerited favor but rather saving us from death at great price to Himself when we despised Him, with no guarantee that His actions would change our minds.  This comic book story was compelling to me because it mirrored the account of Jesus’ crucifixion.  In the words of the song, it was my sin that held Him there until it was accomplished.  As we have looked at the cross as the love story, the bride price, we must remember that it also was the only way to save us from the death our sin deserved.

“Grace means the free, unmerited, unexpected love of God, and all the benefits, delights, and comforts which flow from it. It means that while we were sinners and enemies we have been treated as sons and heirs.”  ~R.C.P. Hanson~

F is for Face


 If you’ve ever watched a spy thriller or a crime drama, you’ve indubitably run across facial recognition software.  It is computer software that sifts through facial features in an attempt to match images with an effective degree of probability.   In these thrillers, a CSI might use it to identify a John Doe or a spy might use it to spot a mark in video surveillance or in an attempt to uncover a disguise.

 The word “face” in the Bible can have a few meanings; it can mean literally one’s face, or more specifically one’s facial expressions, their countenance. One place that I always think of when I think of the word in the Bible is in Exodus 33, where it says that “God spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.”(verse 11).  Yet later in the chapter when Moses asked God to show him His glory, God says that no man can see His face and live. (Exodus 33:17-23)

 This seems contradictory and I have many times pondered what this is about, this passage being as it is one of my favorites.  I discovered that verse 11 is talking about how God and Moses would converse in person, as opposed to the other ways God would communicate to people.  We can deduce that Moses, while he had a special relationship with God, did not actually see His face. As an aside that I will pick up in future essays, it appears that God defines His glory as being His goodness, mercy and compassion, in addition to His face that He has to protect us from.

 As dangerous as it is, men are commanded to seek God’s face numerous occasions (1 Chr 16:11; 2 Chr 7:14; Ps 27:8; 105:4 among others).  God’s solution to the problem of death taking anyone who sees His face is to wrap it in light like a garment.  Psalm 104:2 says “He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent,” (NIV).  We see examples of this in other places in the Scriptures.

 At the Transfiguration, Jesus revealed Himself in glory and His face was altered.  Matthew tells us it shone like the sun (Matt 17:2).  When Jesus appeared to John on the Island of Patmos in Revelation 1, He had a countenance that was like the sun shining in its strength.  I’ll expand on the observations on Revelation 1 in later posts, but the point now is that there are many examples of Jesus’ face being veiled in light.

 So then, in Moses’ story, when he would go into the Tent of Meeting to meet with God, he would come out with a face that shone and the Israelites were afraid to draw near to Moses.  Moses would put on a veil to hide his face and thus veiled tell the people what God had told him in the tent.  That brings me to one of my dad’s favorite passages.

 “Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Cor 3:12-18 (NIV)

E is for Eternity


Today, I’m going to let you in on a little secret.  I am a bachelor (A big secret, I know  :P ) but for 80% of this past year, I’ve gotten away with only preparing one daily meal in my apartment where I live by myself. In the past, I’ve encountered a situation where I’d buy a loaf of bread and two weeks later, I’d still have some of it left.  This is probably more surprising to you, given my appetite’s reputation.  In any case, eventually, mold begins to grow on the remaining slices and I have to throw it out.  This is required even if it is just a tiny speck of mold because then it is unsafe.  It is ruined.

My dad makes a statement all the time that one imperfection would ruin heaven.  Imperfect people would ruin a perfect place.  I think the dilemma is even worse than that.  Temporal things cannot participate in an eternal kingdom, as 1 Cor 15:50 says, “…flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does corruption inherit incorruption.”  Something that decays or dies can’t be lumped together with something that lives forever.  A kingdom that is eternal must be constituted solely of things that are eternal.  Otherwise, that eternal kingdom would lose its eternal property.  So then, how can we who are dying participate in an eternal Kingdom?

The awesome thing about us is that there is a part of us that will last forever, our heart or spirit.  Ecclesiastes 3:11 states that God has put eternity in our hearts.  Moreover, in the promise of a New Covenant in Jeremiah 31, God says He will “write [My law] on their hearts and I will be their God and they will be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor and every man his brother saying, ‘know the Lord’, for they all shall know Me, from the least to the greatest of them…”  (Deut 30:6)

I find it interesting that Paul writes in Colossians to “let the peace of God rule in your hearts.”  So often, we want God’s peace in our mind, or at least I do, but I think Paul was carefully making a point.  He didn’t say “make the peace of God rule…” or even like a benediction “may the peace of God…” but rather let the peace of God.  Allow it to rule.  Give over sovereignty, mastery.  The peace of God is applied the same way a person enters the kingdom of God, through surrender to the mastery of its King, God.  This thought was revealed to me in January of 2011 during a run in the cold and at its end, my only response was “I am Your’s, master me; I am Your’s, master me.

Before I close, I want to tell you that future essays will build on the ideas I published in previous essays.  That was probably already clear when you look at the first three since they seem to overlap and build off each other.  We will revisit the topic of eternity in about a week but just as a quick teaser, eternity is a hard concept to wrap one’s mind around, especially with the limits of our experience and the language of our temporary world.  The rest of it will appear in the “N” entry, so stay with me.  :D

I close the session with this thought.  One of my favorite songwriters, Randy Stonehill, wrote a song that has a chorus that reads “There’s a rainbow somewhere. You were born to be there.  You’re just running in circles, ‘til you reach out your hand to the King of hearts.”  Life is meaningless and empty until you surrender to God, the King of hearts.  Indeed, it is no small thing for one heart to recognize His kingship.

D is for Deity


“In the beginning, God created…”

Throughout history and across cultures, religion has been a pattern of life that has captured the minds of men.  From the earliest flickers of civilization, life has revolved around the central theme of man’s relationship to higher powers.   Each city of early Mesopotamia had a different god that they worshiped and petitioned for their livelihood.  Indeed, all of the traditional hotbeds of civilization (Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, China, and Greece) have a tradition of theistic religion.  Only in recent centuries have the ideas of atheism and agnosticism become major philosophical contenders for the allegiance of men.

In all of these religions, the deity has been a mad, vengeful god (except for in Egypt where their economic advantage, the Nile, precipitated a more favorable view of their gods).  By no means would a Mesopotamian stonecutter have a relationship with his god, much less a good friendship.  So just in a casual discussion of the holistic history of religion, we find a distinction we can make between the gods of the world and the God of the Bible.

Every theological myth has a creation story of some sort but does not have a god that desires a relationship with its creation.  Most are viewed as reluctant helpers rarely in a good enough mood to do so.  We see something, though, in the first five words of the Bible and then later on throughout the rest of the Bible that gives us great detail into the nature of our God.

First, in the words of the great lay theologist, C S Lewis, “He is the opaque center of all existences, the thing that simply and entirely is, the fountain of fact hood.  And yet, now that He has created, there is a sense in which we must say He is a particular Thing or even one Thing among others.  To say this is not to lessen the immeasurable difference between Him and them.  On the contrary, it is to recognize in Him a positive perfection which Pantheism has obscured; the perfection of being creative.  He is so brim-full of existence that He can give existence away, can cause things to be, and to be really other than Himself.”

I find in a lot of discussions that people forget God’s nature, attributes and character when they use the word “God”.  It is left in the abstract of our imagination instead of the verified evidence we find in scripture.  We somehow separate His creativity from His Sovereignty, His Justice from his Love, and in everything we forget that there are some attributes of God that define Him.  Without them, He wouldn’t be God nor would we trust Him.  These attributes are Faithful and True.  (2 Tim 2:13)

If God were not always truthful, we would have no reason to believe Him and if He went back on His word, we would have no reason to trust Him. The good news is that not only is God truthful but He is Truth, so to lie is to deny Himself, just as to be unfaithful is to deny Himself.  Hebrews 6:18 tells us that it is impossible for God to lie, and in fact, He is unchanging even when we are unfaithful.

In particle physics, there is a particle, the strange neutral B meson, which reverses its identity 3 million times a second.  It spontaneously transforms into its antiparticle and back 3 million times in the blink of an eye.  Yet in contrast, God stays the same no matter how many times one blinks or how many generations of men for millennia blink.  Surely, God is the same as He was before He created time and He will remain the same even after Time is no more.

“God is not a man, that he should lie, neither the son of man, that he should repent; Hath he said, and will he not do it? Or hath he spoken, and will he not make it good?” Num 23:19

“…in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began,…” Tit 1:2

C is for Cross


In college, I worked at a campus dining center, scanning cards to allow my fellow students access to the facility.  While there were down times, I was able to think and write.  One afternoon, I was thinking about fairy tales, having just read a book entitled Wild at Heart.  I noticed that in every tale, the hero needs to rescue a beauty, trapped by some evil plot.  While they resonate with their listeners, these stories relate because they understand an idea ingrained in all of us.  Men, if we’re honest, are looking for a beauty to rescue and the “happily ever after” is a universal goal.

As I stared at a blank sheet of paper in front of me, I realized that these fairy tales are really parables, preserved by history to relate a great truth.  The cross is A climax to one of the biggest, greatest and most wonderful fairy tale love stories in history.  In fact, it is one that encompasses the entirety of history.  At the time, I was also working on an epic novel and this next part infiltrates the tapestry of the story.

There once was a ruler, a king, who had a son.  He was the most powerful man and ruled with righteousness and justice.  This king had an enemy who hated him, hated everything about him and sought continually to thwart him in any way he could.  Riding one day, the king’s son saw a slave girl in the house of his father’s enemy and he loved her.  His enemy would never give her up willingly, so this son made a deal, a purchase.  He would trade his life for hers.  He would become his enemy’s slave and the slave girl would go free.  The wedding was set; the bride price agreed upon.  But after the exchange, the enemy killed the son, but such was the love he had for his new bride that the payment of his life was none too great for the knowledge that she’d be safe.  This great love, this selfless sacrifice turned Death on its head.  The son returned to life and he and his bride lived happily ever after.

God created everything and rules the universe with righteousness and justice.   We, His creation, sided with His enemy in sin.  We chose to be slaves of Sin through disobedience to God.  Yet in all of that, God still loved us.  The only way to save us from our sin and to get us back was for someone to die.  If it was us who died as our sin deserved, there would be no “happily ever after’s”.   But indeed, His love for us was so great that he chose to die in our place, to make the exchange, a life for a life.  So Jesus went to the cross, as a public display of His love.  He died the death we deserved, but thankfully, the story doesn’t end there.  It can’t, or there still aren’t any “happily ever after’s”.  On the third day, Jesus was resurrected and promised to return for us, whose who have been bought with a price.

In this light, John 3:16 reads with a little different connotation.  God loved us so much that He gave His Son; that He gave up His Son to death, to the cross.  The cross was always part of the mission, even before the miraculous birth we celebrate in a few weeks.  A crucifixion is the most gruesome, most public punishment, both in its time and ever.  I believe God chose it because He needed a public declaration, an event that loudly shouted His love and would reverberate through history.  Something undeniable and unforgettable that would turn the course of events until His final Coming in Glory.

Indeed, the cross is a love story, His and ours, a tale with a fairy tale ending.  We celebrate Jesus’ birth on Christmas and His resurrection on Easter (and Sundays), but we celebrate His death every day when we live for righteousness and not as a slave to sin.  You’ve heard the love story of the cross but now the question is: do you believe it?

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”

B is for Bridegroom


Upon further study on the Second Advent of Christ, one would notice that there is a wedding feast planned at the end of Revelation for the Lamb and His bride.  Jesus likens Himself to a bridegroom on many occasions in the gospels.  Mark 2:19 he says, “Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them?  As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast, but a day will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them and then they will fast in those days.”  Jesus tells parables about the kingdom of Heaven being like a king arranging a marriage for his son or like ten virgins who took their lamps to meet the bridegroom.

I think it fitting to look at the historical context for the use of this metaphor in Jesus’ parables.  Of course, we all know a parable to be a story about everyday life that conveys a spiritual message.  Therefore, the bridegroom metaphor is linked to the historical Jewish understanding of betrothal.

When it was time for a man to marry, his father would meet the father of a prospective bride and negotiate a bride price, in essence buying the bride for the man.  These fathers would drink wine together to seal their agreement and the man was officially betrothed to the woman.  The man would say to his fiancée, in effect, “I’m going home to my father’s house to prepare a place for you.  When I’ve done that, I’ll return and take you to be my wife.”  This declaration is actually word for word what Jesus tells His disciples in John 14:2-3.  As an aside, I find it interesting that the Last Supper involves basically a series of toasts that seal the New Covenant.

This husband -to-be then builds a new house onto his father’s existing one, creating a housing complex called an insula.  Family members would eat, work, and live together and everyone benefitted as life and values was passed down through the generations.  While the bridegroom was building the house, the bride wasn’t idle.  She would be preparing clothes and learning homemaking skills.  She was known as “one who had been bought with a price.”  (See 1 Cor 6:20)

When the father of the bridegroom determined that his son’s house addition was completed, he would send the son to retrieve his bride.  Additionally, Jesus said that no one except the Father knows the hour of His coming. (Mark 13:32)  Finally, there would be a seven day wedding feast with all the friends and family of the couple in the courtyard of the insula.

If Jesus is the Bridegroom and His church is the bride in this metaphor, what are we to be doing as we wait for our Betrothed to come and take us to our new home?  God has already provided the Wedding clothes we are to wear, His righteousness.  Jesus commands us to watch and pray, to be ready for the Day.  This “one who had been bought with a price” worked to acquire the skills required for her new life, just as we also should work to acquire the skills needed for our new life.  I would imagine the bride-to-be would try to learn as much as she could about this man she was to marry.  Perhaps we also should do the same.

A is for Advent

Advent-  It would be boneheaded of me to start an advent book working through the alphabet and not start with Advent.  If you would indulge me, consider this entry a preface and introduction of what will be a collection of 26 devotionals, which in my world really means essays or monologues.  Don’t get me wrong, Scripture must be an important part of the discussion, but these passages will be embedded in commentary.  I’m sure that already you’re shouting at me something like ‘Enough with the boring “this is what I want to do with this” junk’….

In Christian antiquity, the season of Advent was a time set aside before Christmas, similar to lent before Easter.  It was a time when the past and the future met in the present.  In our time, this time of reflection has been secularized into a materialistic excitement in anticipation for getting gifts and being with family.  While these things can be good, we are missing out on the whole point of Advent and frankly Christmas itself.  Even in our Christian traditions surrounding the holiday, I believe we’ve missed the mark.  So then, what is the mark that we’ve missed?


The Latin root of the word “advent” literally means “coming”.  When it’s used with the word “Christmas”, we quickly see the obvious, but seeing the obvious is not what these essays are for.  Earlier, I alluded to the past and future meeting and now is the time to unpack that.  Christmas is the holiday Christians remember the “advent” of Christ, the first advent, I should say, but do we venerate Him merely on the same level as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln or is there more?  We celebrate His birth often as if it were the beginning of the story and not the beginning of the climax.  The only reason it is apt to celebrate Christmas is because of what followed that birth.

I find that, in the story about Christ, each event meaningfully informs the next event.  His birth would lose meaning if not for His ministry, His ministry if not for His death, and His death if not for His resurrection.  But the story doesn’t end there or even with His ascension.  Christ will have a Second Advent and indeed that Advent is what the season brings to remembrance.  It ties the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ (past) to the future coming.  It is a time of reflection on what Christ did as well as what He’s promised He would do.

Jesus says in John 14:2-3 “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I wouldn’t have told you.  I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”  (NKJV)

1 Thes 4:16-18 “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.  Therefore comfort one another with these words.”  (NKJV)

For your contemplation this advent season, I ask these questions:  Are you ready for Christ’s Second Advent?  Are you looking for it?  If this information is new to you, I’d suggest taking the time to dig into the Scriptures and discover what this Glorious Day will be like.