How to glorify God

There’s a command, an order, a specific task given to us on Earth that is repeated several times in the Bible.

An example in the Old Testament:

Psalm 29:2  Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name.

In the New Testament an angel states it universally to the entire world.

Revelation 14:7  Fear God and give glory to Him….

Paul wrote one of the new churches and told them it didn’t much matter what else they did if they failed to do this.

I Corinthians 10:31  Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

“Whatever you do…” Okay. How?

Before his death on the cross, at the meal with his disciples, Jesus offered an insight.

John 15:8  By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit….

Melanie has been in excruciating back pain for four months. She has barely been able to take care of her stroke-crippled husband. Her loving, costly efforts surely qualify as the fruits of a devoted heart. She did it for me. Jesus says he thinks she did it for him. (Matthew 25:40)

Last week a friend drove her to a back-pain doctor recommended by another friend from church. Three days ago, yet another friend drove her to a clinic for an MRI. And this morning the pain doctor said she’d reviewed the report with our regular doctor. They both wanted Melanie to report to ER right away. They thought there was a lesion or infection that needed further testing. (As I write this paragraph the music I have on plays a modern version of an aria from Handel’s Messiah: “Comfort ye, My people….” I am crying anyway.)

We have scrambled to try to get nutritional drinks for my midday meal out where I can reach them while she is gone. We know any ER visit must factor in several hours of waiting for your number to come up. At the moment, we think she may be able to return home by evening. The other possibility is several days in the hospital for treatment. That will be more complicated.

Yesterday (just in time?) I had come across some verses and made a note in case I wanted to blog something about them.

Psalm 50:15  Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me… 23 Whoever offers praise glorifies Me….

So, trying to calm myself as yet another friend drove Melanie away for God knows how long, I croaked out a song that was coming to mind.

I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
All other ground is sinking sand.

And I have looked up other verses from this old hymn.

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

Jesus, I can recognize this as a day of trouble. Your Word promises that everything works out for good for those you call. So I’m trying — choosing — to offer you praise while I wait for you to deliver my precious wife and me.

The music I have on has moved on and Steve Green is now singing in his full-throated, electrifying way,

I KNOW that My Redeemer lives!

And another Psalm flares into my brain.

Psalm 103:1. Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name!
2. Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits:
3. Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases,
4. Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
5. Who satisfies your mouth with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

8. The Lord is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.

11. For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
12. As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
13. As a father pities his children, So the Lord pities those who fear Him.
14. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.
15. As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
16. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, And its place remembers it no more.
17. But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting On those who fear Him.

And that is surely enough reason to give Him glory, no matter what.

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What?? is the holdup

A devotional writer returned my attention to the story of the lame man lowered on his bed through a hole in the roof when his friends carrying him to Jesus couldn’t find a way through the crowd of people mobbing him. (Matthew 9:1 ff, Mark 2:1 ff, Luke 5:17 ff)

I have written about this episode, taking note of how this was one occasion where apparently no one made a specific request for Jesus to “do something.” Wasn’t it obvious what the guy needed? Since it was left up to Jesus to figure it out, Jesus did the best thing for him. He forgave the man’s sins. Healing the man was almost a throw-away demonstration for the sake of making a point with Jesus’ critics.

Consider the guy on the bed. The writer I mentioned had us imagining the effort the four friends had to make hauling the guy on his mat up onto the roof even before they could tear the hole to let the man down inside the room where Jesus was. Every part of that effort must have seemed scary to the poor guy.

You’re going to do what? WHAT?!?

If he had known that Jesus wasn’t going to get right to it and heal him immediately I’m sure it would have made him even more hesitant to let his friends haul him around like they did. And it would have delayed his healing. And it would have lost a teachable moment for a bunch of observers that really had no interest in the man himself or his problems. “Give up my front row seat and a chance to see this novelty act people are talking about? What?”

Why is it that it seems like nothing happens sometimes when we think God was going to do something?

It’s that “what.”

Jesus told some parables about banquet invitations that were sent out to the local citizens. (Matthew 22:1-14, Luke 14:15-24) The actual start of the banquet gets delayed because there are still some empty seats. The king refuses to allow the humiliation of seats being empty and keeps sending servants out to find people to come in. The people who are already seated must wait until every prepared seat is filled. What’s the hold up? they may wonder. And they’re right.

It’s all those people who knew there was a big banquet but, when invited, just said, “What? It’s not convenient. I already had plans.”

Perhaps some of the delay is because people who knew of the banquet failed to share the news with their neighbors as they were expected to do. I can imagine the table chatter while the people sit around, all dressed up, stomachs growling, nibbling crackers.

You mean this delay is partly MY fault?? What…???

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Word of mouth

Why didn’t God wait to start this His new covenantal church era in a time when He would have the internet and decent advertising tools available to publicize it?

Not that His slow-and-tiny way of starting didn’t seem to work out okay. Mark notes in passing that mere conversation of one person to another, sharing the buzz, even when travel of any distance from home was difficult, was enough to quickly jam up crowds wherever Jesus went.

When Mark tosses off place names and territories out of which people were coming to see Jesus, he is basically saying “they came from everywhere.”

Tyre and Sidon were at the far northwestern edges of Israel, along the Mediterranean. Idumea was old Edom, the territory to the south of Jerusalem in the lower territory of the nation. “Beyond the Jordan” were the eastern lands.

The rapid early spread of the news about Jesus, even before he formally chose disciples and sent them out to preach, indicates just how sensational his reputation was to people. It had been hundreds of years since the people of Israel had witnessed prophets or miracle workers in their midst. It is not surprising that even stern instructions from Jesus to keep news of their healing a secret failed to stop the lips of grateful people. They talked anyway. The news traveled far and traveled fast.

Of course, Jesus was only interested in testimony from those he came to rescue. All Creation already bore witness to the reality of God. (Romans 1:20) Jesus didn’t need demons to squawk about him. (Mark 3:11-12)

The way that word got around so well could be seen as a trial run. It demonstrated that, after the new Church was born at Pentecost, Jesus could be certain that people would hear about it. It was enough to depend on word of mouth, one person at a time, talking about what happened to them.

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Valentine Lent

This year, Lent begins on St. Valentine’s Day. One day is traditionally marked by giving gifts of love, the other by the less popular practice of giving up something “for your own good.”

For several years Melanie and I made it a point during Lent to invite people to our house once a week for dinner. We would invite people from our church that we “knew” but didn’t really “know.”  These were the folks we smiled at on Sundays, knew their names, but really knew little else about them. So we would invite them for supper and in an hour or so change that and grow closer to new friends around the table. I used to joke with people that we were “giving up our privacy for Lent.”

That was how we got to know a senior citizen who lived by herself in an apartment building near the church. She had, in years past, been the organizer of senior trips for the church. We had kind of known that although we were a long way from being seniors ourselves. Something we didn’t know was that she had run the post office near our house before she retired. After supper she reminded us we had promised her we would play a game of Scrabble. She regaled us with stories about things at the church that happened long before we joined it.

Another time we invited an elderly couple who had been in church pastoral ministry for years, in our present denomination and in another one when they were young. They stunned us at dinner that night telling us Melanie and I were the first ones in all their years to ever invite them into their home for a meal.

Usually we just invited the parents and not the children since we had a small home. But one year it occurred to us that perhaps a mom with young children would appreciate a night off from fixing the family meal. There was a McDonald’s next to a mini-golf game in our town. We invited one whole family, parents and three young kids, to be our guests for burgers, fries, and a round of golf. I took my camera along and took pictures for them of the mob scene. There was less conversation that night but more laughter.

The last few years things have been different for Melanie and me. A stroke has kept me mostly housebound, barely able to swallow soup without choking. Melanie got Lyme Disease (energy draining) and then spinal stenosis (excruciating pain) that forces her to stay quiet in bed for much of the day. We don’t get out or “entertain guests” any more.

It was in these circumstances that I had an unsettling thought about a parable Jesus told about wheat and weeds growing side by side. (Matthew 13:24-30) It was for the safety of the good wheat that the master refused to pull the weeds early. Leaving the weeds in place protected the wheat from harm. Jesus interprets the parable as a description of how God is growing the Kingdom of Heaven. And I wondered if I should recognize particular applications at the personal level.

Not that I was a “weed” in the wheat field, exactly. But was some of our weed-sickness being used by God for the good of the wheat-saints growing around us?? Melanie and I have both noted, with astonishment, how God’s mercy, kindness, and care have been brought to us by Kingdom saints stepping up to help us. They are growing in grace because we are there needing the help and they are responding to that. To the Lord’s command. As he intended.

Both Melanie and I pray for healing every day and with nearly every visitor who stops by. We would love for our lives to return to “normal.” I would be so happy to see Melanie get through a day without crying out at the stabbing pain afflicting her.

But while we pray, I do begin to wonder. Is our weedy brokenness a sort of Valentine love gift God is giving to these other saints?? Is this Lenten sacrifice season of ours some of what Jesus’ brother James was talking about?

James 1:Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James spoke of the benefit to the one suffering. I am wondering if God also sees a benefit to those nearby, an opportunity to show and share His love that would vanish if the “weeds” were removed too quickly. Would I want any of God’s saints to find it harder to grow in His graces in ways that bring praise to the Father?

I’m trying to see that Lenten Valentine gift given to me to share as “pure joy.”

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Metal detectors and violins

Recently I enjoyed listening to a conversation between two highly regarded Christian teachers, one a Protestant and one a Roman Catholic. They had been invited to share the stage in a symposium looking at the challenges of sharing the Christian faith in a disinterested society.

The Protestant speaker used an illustration to portray the difficulty of sharing truths of faith with anyone who restricts discussion to a materialistic or “scientism” plane. The speaker said it was like a man who has the world’s most powerful metal detector. The man discovers all kinds of metallic objects easily. But he never finds any objects made out of wood. So he decides wood doesn’t exist.

So much for baseball bats, catcher’s mitts, wine bottles, corks, and violins. The Catholic speaker agreed it was a great illustration of how the choice of an intellectual channel or filter could blind one from perceiving actual, useful objects.

What astonished me was how the brilliant Protestant teacher then proceeded to unconsciously exhibit the same kind of limited perception in a couple of areas that came up for discussion in the conversation that night.

The Catholic speaker noted how people today resist the idea that there is a single right or wrong standard in life choices. The spirit of relativism encourages people to reject such limitations. “Who are you to tell me what to do? If I decide it’s right for me, that’s all that matters.”  This Catholic speaker, looking for a way to still bear witness to the reality of God and Jesus in his life, had concluded that the best way to start conversations was not to argue about the standards of right and wrong and God’s law. Instead, he recommended a “sideways” approach through “beauty,” which amounts to beginning with an appreciation for what God has already done before bringing up any discussion of what God wants us to do. That which is already beautiful jumps right past any barriers protecting our freedom to choose anything that pleases us. This teacher has gained a reputation for holding out this approach as an effective model for evangelizing, or starting the conversations that can lead to Christian witnessing.

One thing I admired about the behavior of both the men that night was the respect and humble honesty they exhibited to each other. Perhaps the most vivid moment of this came during the time when all questions from the audience were set aside and the two speakers were given the chance to ask each other questions directly. The question that most surprised me came when the Protestant brother ask the Catholic speaker for help. This famous Protestant speaker has written dozens of books over the years defending the Reformed Protestant theological position of the Christian faith. He has successfully faced renowned atheists in college debates across the country. He has two doctoral degrees earned in his Bible studies. He is a brilliant Christian apologist.

He turned to the Catholic brother seated next to him on the platform that night and simply said, I don’t understand it. Can you explain a bit more to me about how a discussion of “beauty” helps us in Christian evangelism? He seemed to be confused by the idea of taking a slower, indirect approach, and not just going immediately for an invitation to pray a “sinner’s prayer.”

The Catholic speaker, who also has a world-wide audience for his own efforts in Christian evangelism and training, had already expressed his respect and admiration for what the Protestant brother’s ministry had accomplished. He had talked about how excited he was to finally meet the man and share the stage with him. He took the question now and gently and briefly reviewed some quick points for his friend. And the conversation moved on.

Earlier in the day, in an exchange of serious academic papers in front of a small group of scholars, each of the two guest speakers made a presentation, heard a response from the other guest, and then there was a round table discussion among all those in the room. The Protestant guest speaker presented a call for Catholic theologians to join with Protestants in a more vigorous championing of the “penal substitution” interpretation of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. This interpretation is popular in Reformed circles of the Church. The Protestant apologist cited a great number of Scripture verses as well as many Christian writers through the ages to support this interpretation.

When it was time for a response from the Catholic guest he affirmed the points the Protestant speaker had made. Then he reviewed the other Scripture verses which have supported other (though not contradictory) interpretations of the atonement. Some of the other interpretations draw on images that are more than simple logical constructs. He concluded with a low-key summary saying he did not see any necessity to “choose just one” interpretation from among all of them since God’s Word saw fit to include each of them.

A metal detector can locate coins, rings, jewelry in metal settings, keys, buried wires. All these things, in the narrow range the detecting method is designed for, are valuable and worth finding.

But there are other treasures equally valuable that wait to be found. This is true in our life with Christ. We should be cautious about losing them because our vision is too limited, because we have put on restricting filters that screen out what God has put there for us to see.

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Peter’s failure

John’s account of the prediction by Jesus of Peter’s denial included a strange additional line.

“Where I am going, you can’t follow now, but you will follow afterwards.” (John 13:36)

In the light of what happened in the next few hours, it seems what Jesus was telling Peter was that he could not follow the Lord without utterly failing again. Not at this time. It would be a replay of his effort to walk to Jesus on the water, something he had tried to do at night while surrounded by another kind of storm.

When the Pharisees had accused Jesus of relying on the power of the devil, he had warned them that “by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:37) And when Peter disputed Christ’s prediction of being killed in Jerusalem, after Peter had just identified Jesus as the Son of God, Jesus turned on him sharply. “You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of men.” (Matthew 16:23)

When Jesus warned Peter “Where I am going, you can’t follow now,” he was simply saying Peter did not yet have what it took to stand up to his opponents. In his weakness, he was again going to speak words that he would regret and be ashamed of.

To make it worse, Peter’s first denial was to a mere servant girl, one of the least threatening people in the crowd that night outside Caiphas’s palace.

And it didn’t have to happen. Jesus had reminded all the disciples of the prophecy by Zechariah. (Matthew 26:31, Zechariah 13:7)

“I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.”

Jesus had deliberately seen to it that his followers were allowed to get away that night when the mob came to arrest him. (John 18:8) If Peter had stayed away, scattered in safety with the other disciples instead of impulsively going to the home of Caiphas that night, he could have avoided adding one more additional failure to his record.

After being filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost two months later, Peter would fearlessly preach to the crowds in broad daylight and rejoice over receiving a beating at the hands of the same high priest and the Sanhedrin. (Acts 5:27 ff) But tonight, acting on his own, he could only weep over not being able to keep his promise to Jesus yet again.

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Three questions at Gethsemane

St. Matthew reports three questions that Jesus posed that dark night in Gethsemane.

The first was to Judas when he arrived with the mob sent by the chief priests and elders. Earlier English translations, like the King James version of the Bible, say Jesus greeted Judas with a question:

“Friend, wherefore art thou come?” or “Why are you here?” (Matthew 26:50).

The words are interpreted as a statement or command in modern translations (“Do what you came for.” NIV). This might be because it could seem silly for Jesus to ask as if he doesn’t know why Judas has come. Jesus identified Judas during the Passover meal a few hours earlier. When he finished praying in the garden, Jesus said to his disciples, “Here comes my betrayer!” (Matthew 26:46)

But I am inclined to believe the earlier, literal rendering of Jesus’ words are correct. With God it is always a matter of what a person did, not just what they knew. Jesus knew why he himself had gone into the garden with his loyal disciples. He was there to pray. Did his question to Judas imply that it was unusual and surprising to find Judas joining the others when they all went to pray?

Or had Jesus asked the question to give Judas one last chance to admit his intentions, confess, and repent? If so, the question displayed Jesus’ mercy, not his ignorance.

When Judas did act — and kiss Jesus — a moment later, Jesus had another question for him. But I want to pass that one by and look at a question Jesus had for his loyal disciples.

Jesus had been praying that his Father would “take this cup” of suffering that was being set before him away. “Everything is possible for you!” he argued. (Mark 14:36)

Now, with a sword-bearing mob surrounding him, the disciples were ready to defend and protect him. Was God answering His Son’s request for a rescue through them??

All the Gospels report what Jesus asked for in prayer that dark night at Gethsemane. None of them report hearing any answer from God to His only begotten Son. Was God truly silent when Jesus poured out his tears?

The Bible tells of case after case of God having conversations, discussions, and arguments with His servants. Abraham pressed God to be merciful to any righteous innocents living in Sodom. (Genesis 18:17 ff) Moses argued until God agreed to provide him with a helper when talking to Pharaoh. (Exodus 3:10 ff) God argued with Jonah when Jonah wanted to die. (Jonah 4) Amos persuaded God to change His mind about how He would punish Israel. (Amos 7:1-9) Did God not speak to His own Son that dark night in Gethsemane?

I suggest we may have a clue in the question Jesus posed to his disciples. He asked them, “How then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:54) I wonder if he wasn’t simply repeating the question his Father had asked him during their prayer conversation.

“You don’t want to do this, Son? All right. What would you suggest instead? This is what I’ve told the prophets of Israel would happen. How can we avoid making Me into a liar, save you from this pain, and still fulfill My words to them?”

I think God would have been willing to consider any ideas Jesus wanted to suggest. The disciples couldn’t come up with any when Jesus asked them for one. He couldn’t either. And the honor and reputation of his Father’s holy name was more important to Jesus than escaping the torments of the last 15 hours of his earthly life. That resolution put the final fear into the hearts of his followers and they fled.

So Jesus turned to the hostile mob with his final question in the garden that night.

“Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me?” (Matthew 26:55) Although they are “bravely” acting to seize him now, it  is  under the cover of darkness, away from public scrutiny by the cheering throng that has celebrated Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem. This Temple cohort still wants to act in secret. They want to avoid the pain and discomfort that publicity would bring.

But pain is all anyone can find that night in Gethsemane.

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