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God in Christ

April 21st, 2018

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son … For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. Col. 1:13-19

The kingdom of God is always revealed through personality. The heavens declare the glory of God, but His rule is declared through Christ. The idea of a kingdom is not possible unless there is a king. For the last several centuries there have been brave democratic experiences of many nations, yet all have felt a need to have some human person to be “on top of the heap” or to embody the values and identity of the nation. We may validly ask on earth whether or not the people of any nation can identify with each other strictly through mere impersonal means.

True values must have a face. There is an ache within the human heart for intimacy, and though some of us are more drawn to ideas than others, no human can say that he is fulfilled in life without intimacy and relationships with others. God has placed this need in our natures and it is an indispensable element of who we are. And it is the unchanging reality of who God is as well. He reveals Himself to us best as Father, Redeemer, Shepherd, Comforter, Teacher, and Friend – all of which are roles that demand personality and relationships.

The Bible is abundantly clear that God is a Person and He has revealed Himself through Jesus of Nazareth. The Bible testifies that all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell Him. And it was not some impersonal principle who served as the Creator, but it was God as a Person who created personality. Along with that creation is individuality and the ability to express oneself and to think for oneself.

Christ was not some mere afterglow of the eternal. He was and is God who was God from before the beginning. Some I know have struggled with the concept of the Trinity, but without this concept we have no explanation for community or the capacity for people – God’s creation – to exist in relationship with one another. However far back we may go in time, we will eventually come to a point where only God exists. And if that God were a single solitary entity, with no capacity for fellowship or intimacy with another, what type of world would such a God create?

Christ spoke plainly of the glory and love he and the Father shared from eternity (John 17:24), and there is the element of God’s eternal nature that speaks of unity, wholeness, and intimacy. So the kingdom of God that He invites us to is one of love and intimacy, where community and unity will be experienced in and through Christ. Yet where individuality will still be maintained, and where sin will be purged out of our spirits.

We people are not more profound simply because we have been trained to think in metaphysical terms, in objective notions of truth and reality that are divorced from personality. If anything, we demean ourselves when we think of God or His eternal reality as such. For His personality begat our personalities. And we are going not merely toward an idyllic setting but to the Lord Jesus Himself.

The kingdom of God is never about impersonal rules. It is eternally centered in the reality of the divine Personality of Jesus Christ, the Son He loves. So we are most at home when we think of our life in these terms. I am sixty-seven years old today and as we age it is not, as we might think, that our wisdom only increases in terms of logic. In fact, our capacity to think clearly seems to diminish somewhat with age. But our capacity for intimacy should increase, our willingness for honesty and unaffected intimacy, and ever deepening relationships grows. There in eternity we shall know fully, even as we are fully known (1 Cor. 13:12).

Let Christ draw you to Himself, and be comforted with the assurance that this knowledge shall never fade with age, or shall it dim or become dull throughout eternity.

Daily Devotions, The Last Surprises of Life

The Surprise of Light

November 3rd, 2017

I will pour out my Spirit on all people … your old men will dream dreams. (Acts 2:17 NIV)

Darkness often overwhelms the elderly, but it need not be so. God surprises His people with His light.

One of the most difficult aspects of aging is a sense of the loss of the future.

This is, of course, mere imagination, merely a sense of loss, for the future does not really exist. It never has. Only now exists in any real sense of time. But still we hope and dream about what will happen, and in our younger years we feel that we have plenty of time. We can take risks and chances and we can anticipate the future. When we were young we tended to be optimists – but as we get older the sense of the future starts to slip away.

But God spoke of a special gift of His Spirit in the lives of the elderly – the capacity to dream dreams again. This is not a reference to just having a dream as we sleep. It is a statement of renewed hope and anticipation for what will come. It is the spiritual capacity to rise in the morning looking forward to the day, and to go to sleep at night anticipating the future.

Left to ourselves our dreams become selfish and egotistical, or at least self-focused. If we have been successful we are tempted to dream about more success. If we have been unsuccessful we are tempted to be depressed and live in hopelessness. Insecurity creates insecure dreams.

But both success and failure are “imposters” – to quote Rudyard Kipling – and should be treated as such. There is nothing wrong with taking time to enjoy in our successes – provided we do not take credit for what we should not, such as talent, opportunity, the people who helped us, God’s mercy and help, etc. We may feel that we have done a good job and feel appropriately proud of our performance, being able to say to ourselves in sincerity, “I did a good job here.”

A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? (Eccl. 2:24-25)

There is something good that is affirmed within us when we have done our best and have accomplished something. A craftsman, for example, who has completed a beautiful piece of furniture can honestly say to himself, “Good job!” This is good, provided it is kept in balance.

However, as Ecclesiastes so clearly points out, there are severe limitations to what our hands find to do on this earth:

For a man may do his work with wisdom , knowledge, and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. (Eccl. 2:21)

So even appropriate pride has its empty side, a sort of “so what?” to the whole work experience. Nothing on this earth lasts forever.

Others may take too seriously their defeats and failures in life. At the end of our days we want to have a good work record, a good investment track, a profitable life, a happy family, healthy and successful children and brilliant grandchildren. Yet we get to the end of our days and often find the scene littered with failures – failed relationships, unprofitable ventures, spotty work records, and children who are a disappointment.

Immediately we see the problem with dreaming from a mere earthly perspective – we will be tempted to own both our successes and our failures more than we should.

Dreaming in the valley of the shadow of death: In Psalm 23 David divided life in to three major categories: preparation, work, and trouble. The first phase was characterized by rest and nurture – restoring our souls. This the foundational phase of life and the most important, for from it comes the strength to achieve and to endure. But many did not have good childhoods. Many experienced disappointments and the failures of parents focused on themselves.

The second phase is work, being led in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Here David does not elaborate, even though it is often the major part of our life – going to work, accomplishing something, paying the bills, raising children, helping the community, getting on with life. He does not need to belabor the point here, for his focus is to connect the first part of nurture to the final part of hardship and trouble.

The third part begins with the dark valley, the place where sheep are the most vulnerable, where the advantage goes to the predators. But even there the hand of God will guide us. What we lacked in our childhood can be made up in adulthood by spiritual nurture of God. It is by grace that we are saved and that we live, and His grace comes upon us and moves within us when we take time to abide in Him.

By avoiding emphasis on the second stage of life, David (and thereby, God) is telling us that knowing our Shepherd’s presence and feeling His protective hand in the dark valleys of life, when we are in the midst of our enemies, is dependent not on how we did in the second stage but how well we took the lessons in the first stage to heart. It is the nurture of the Shepherd that prepares us for the dark valleys and not how well we walked along the paths of righteousness.

Dreaming again in our final years is the privilege and the birthright of every Christian. Whether successful or not, we stand in these final days not in our strength but in His. His Spirit feeds us with the confidence that life goes on after death – not just here on earth but for us in eternity. Death is not the end. It is just the beginning of a new type of existence.

As we age, whether we ever have the opportunity to retire or not, we should make this connection. In order to dream and have renewed hope for the days ahead we need to spend more time in the nurturing presence of God. Success or failure in life means nothing in regaining hope. The life of Christ moving in us by His Spirit means everything.

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