Tag: love

Invaded! By God Himself!

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He leads me beside restful waters; he restores my soul. – Psalm 23:2-3

John 1:1-4 and 14

In the beginning was the Word,
   And the Word was with God,
      And the Word was God.

He was with God in the beginning.

Through Him all things were made;
   without him nothing was made that
      has been made.

In Him was life, and that life
   was the light of men.

… The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.
We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only,
Who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

I think these are some of the most beautiful words in all of scripture. They are poetic, almost musical, but more importantly they state beyond the shadow of a doubt that Jesus is in fact God Almighty. 

If any Jehovah’s Witnesses ever see this, please test me on this: if you go to any Greek lexicon you will see that there is no article “a” in John 1:1.  It does NOT say “and the Word was a god.”  That would be blasphemy, anyway, for in Isaiah the Lord says, “I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God.” (Isaiah 45:5)  If Jesus was just “a” god, then there would be multiple gods and the Lord would have made himself a liar. I hope my Mormon friends might pay attention to this as well, for they believe the universe is filled with countless gods who rule their own planets. In that sense they are the most polytheistic religion in the world.

I think why not just JWs and Mormons but so many people stumble over this, is because our little minds just can’t or won’t accept the concept of an almighty, eternal God who would set aside his glory and enter into his own creation as one of us. The Muslims find it offensive. God, be a man? Suffer the indignity of being born a baby, having your diaper changed, having to eat and sleep and go to the bathroom? It is an indignity, no doubt. Nabeel Qureshi believed that becoming a man was more humiliating for Christ than what he endured on the cross. Perhaps; I’m not sure. But it was certainly humiliating for the God of eternal Glory to become like one of us.  Why did he do it?

For love.  

To do something for us we could never, ever do for ourselves. 

There is so much more in these first 14 verses — telling us how John came to testify about Jesus; How Jesus came to his own people yet [for the most part] they did not receive him; But how through Jesus all people can become children of God.

John is establishing here the tone for the rest of his book. He wants us to first understand that we are not talking about a mere man, or prophet, or great teacher. We are about to hear the story of God himself and what he did when he invaded this enemy territory.

Sibling Rivalry, 1st-Century Style

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As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.”

Luke 10:38-41

A friend and I had an argument a long time ago over this story. I’m Mary all the way and she was 100% Team Martha. I was the right one, of course. I mean, honestly! Jesus himself is in the room, teaching. What else is there to be done but listen to him? None of these people were in imminent danger of starving to death. If Martha had chosen to sit and listen like Mary did, then once Jesus was done talking how long would it have taken to knock together some pita and beans? 

Jesus chides Martha, but very gently. Did he feel sad for her? Martha wasted a rare opportunity to just be with Jesus. She was obsessed with something that would be forgotten the minute it was over. Mary, on the other hand, has a memory she will treasure throughout eternity.

People sometimes imagine where in history they would go if they had a time machine. The very first place for me would be right there, that day, that little house in Bethany. Sitting like Mary, just drinking Jesus in.

To be fair to Martha, when Lazarus dies it is Martha who shows the most faith in Jesus, not Mary. So I wonder if she took the lesson of that day to heart.

This story also illustrates Jesus’ view of women. None of the Pharisees of that day would have allowed a woman to sit right in with the men and listen to a rabbi. Women were little more than chattel then, treated much as women in Shariah-ruled countries are today. 

Finally, the story gives us another glimpse of God’s character, of what he values. I think he longs to enjoy just being with us. That day, Jesus and Mary gave us all a glimpse of what our relationship with God is supposed to be like.

You are Loved! Psalm 139

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Man, there’s a lot of crap out there right now. If I never hear the words “Covid-19” or “Coronavirus” or “social distancing” ever again I will be perfectly happy. Besides this global pestilence thing there were the fires in Australia, the hordes of locusts in Africa and the Middle East, whatever disaster hit California this year, and there was a 6.5 earthquake in IDAHO today. Nothing ever happens in Idaho, so part of me is thinking maybe the sh*t really IS about to get real. 

Who knows. I do think that God may be trying to get our attention. But even if he is, or if all this is happening just because we live in an unpredictable, dangerous, fallen world, we don’t need to be afraid. Just take a deep breath, step away from the media horror hype, and remember how dearly you are loved by God. He’s in control. If you are his, you are going to be okay.

Psalm 139 is a favorite pro-life psalm, with good reason, but it applies to all of us. It applies to me and to YOU.

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. (verse 1-4)

Why is this comforting? The creator of all the universe and the sustainer of all life not only made you but he knows you intimately, better than you know yourself. He is beyond time, so he has an infinite amount of time to devote to you individually. He knows everything you’ve ever done, everything you’ve ever thought, yet you’re still alive! So he must really, really love you.

If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your right hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. (verse 8-10)

We can never be away from God’s loving care. Even if we’ve sinned so badly we think we’re beyond hope, he is right there beside us. Remember the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-31). He messed up about as much as anyone could, yet when he finally slithered back home he found his father was watching for him, and his father ran to him, threw his arms around him, and kissed him. Dad didn’t wait for Junior to come groveling and then humiliate or chastise him. That is so hard for us to understand! A judgmental, distant, displeased God, that is easy to imagine. But the creator of the universe, loving us so much that HE runs to US? For some reason that is hard to wrap our heads around. But it’s true. You are loved by God so far beyond anything you could ever ask or imagine. He gave you everything, literally. Not only did he give you life, but Jesus gave his life to pay the sin-debt that none of us can ever pay on our own. I am loved, you are loved, we are LOVED!

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I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. (verse 14)

It is always a good time to give thanks to God for our many blessings. Did you wake up today? Have enough to eat? A job to go to? Someone to talk to? That’s enough to give thanks for right there; everything else is gravy.

Verse 17 has two possible phrasings, according to my NIV notes. First one: How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.

I interpret that as being amazed at the vastness of God’s thoughts, at how all-encompassing they are. A praise of God’s greatness.

Yet, according to NIV, the other possible phrasing of this is: How precious concerning me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.

This makes the meaning quite different. It is then far more intimate, and illustrates how consistently God thinks about us. He can do that. He is beyond time, remember, so not limited Iike we are. He has eternity to devote to you. Being concerned about the other 8 billion people on the planet does not take away one moment of the time he has for you. 

I encourage anyone who reads this to take time to contemplate this psalm. Contemplate how you are fearfully and wonderfully made. Take five minutes just to look at your hands and be amazed at what incredible things they are. What magnificent little machines, more complex than any man-made machine could hope to be. Then contemplate the one who made you. Who has eternity to devote to you. Who knows you better than you know yourself. Who loves you more completely than you could ever hope for. Who proved that love by setting aside his glory and becoming a human being, by dying on a cross 2000 years ago and then by rising from the grave so you could rise with him. God is in control of even these crazy times, and if you are in Him you are safe, even if you have to go through really hard times. This life is short, Eternity is forever. And you are loved so dearly.

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. … for all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. – Romans 10:9-13

 

Nabeel, me, and the Problem of Pain

This isn’t what I had planned on posting. And it isn’t about caregiving, or dementia. Oh, well.

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Nabeel Qureshi

September 16, 2017

About a year and a half ago I became interested in Christian apologetics. It occurred to me that I have absolutely no tools with which to defend my faith. Truth be told, I don’t have the tools to defend why breathing is a good idea and everyone ought to try it. I am beyond non-confrontational. I am more the “hurl one accusation at me and I freeze solid” type. So, to try to remedy that, I started listening to what the apologists have to say. It sent me on a journey I never expected, one that I now feel has only really just begun.

C.S. Lewis was the obvious first choice. For many years, I believed that Christian apologetics began and ended with him. I had no idea anyone else ever did it. He is the best and the brightest (please, please read Mere Christianity no matter what your personal beliefs are. You won’t regret it), but I learned he’s not the only one. I’d heard Ravi Zacharias on the radio, and through him discovered other great modern Christian minds, including John Lennox, Andy Bannister, and a convert from Islam named Nabeel Qureshi.

Nabeel especially captured my attention. Young, handsome, passionate and charismatic, he was captivating to listen to. He gave many lengthy talks on his journey from Islam to Christianity (as well as writing books, including Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, and No God but One), and from him I gained many insights on Muslim thinking and way of life. He was a gifted teacher with a bright future ahead of him. Then he was diagnosed with incurable stomach cancer. For the past year he has released many video blogs of his cancer journey, from chemo, to radiation, to more chemo, to immunotherapy, as well as the other treatments, surgeries, and procedures he endured along the way. It was hard to watch, and pretty much obvious from the get-go that his healing would only ever come from divine intervention. Many thousands of people, including myself, prayed for him throughout this past year and waited on a miracle from God.

Nabeel died today. I will never understand this side of eternity why an all-powerful God said no to our prayers. I don’t know what the answer is. I do believe his ministry will continue to bear fruit; if nothing else, I know the effect it has had on my own life. I also know that Jesus never promised us an easy life. In fact, quite the opposite. In John 16:33 he tells the twelve disciples, “In this world you will have trouble.” Which they did. One committed suicide, ten were martyred, and only one died of old age. But he followed up that statement with, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

What exactly does that mean? To an outsider, it’s just hot air coming from a deluded nut job who duped his buddies into enduring hell on earth for however many years before dying. A few days ago I posted a request on Twitter for prayer for Nabeel. Some guy who wouldn’t use his real name (I’ll call him Poison Pen), responded with a bunch of vitriol against Nabeel and God. We had a discussion on Twitter that was interesting for a couple of days until he abandoned his arguments and kept throwing “God is a psycho” around and not responding rationally to anything I or anyone else on the thread had to say. Before things deteriorated, Poison Pen kept circling back to how could a loving God let people die, focusing on the millions who died in the Flood. It is the age-old question. The answer boils down to Free Will, pure and simple. Without the opportunity to rebel against God, we could never be rational creatures capable of thought, creativity, love, or anything else worth having. That statement opens up millions of avenues for discussion, and people far cleverer than I have devoted volumes to the topic.

It doesn’t, however, explain why a 34-year-old God-fearing man with a wife and daughter who need him, just died from a disease that usually attacks people far older. Poison Pen, a self-described atheist, apparently speaks on behalf of all Muslims, for he told me that Muslims believe Allah cursed Nabeel for abandoning the faith. (I asked him then what do Muslims believe when a young Muslim gets cancer? He just told me to go ask a Muslim. Pointless arguments are such fun.) Anyway, I don’t understand why Nabeel has died; I do believe God can and does cure people. My neighbor, a cancer survivor, was told her cancer had returned and spread to her bones about the same time Nabeel received his diagnosis. She opted for no treatment, is currently in remission and just finished a program at the local college and recently welcomed her first grandchild. Is God brutal or weak because Nabeel died? Is he gracious and strong because my neighbor is alive? Or is it maybe that we just live in a miserable, fallen world where people get cancer, shot, ran over, overdose, choke on a cherry pit, or eaten by piranhas, every single day? Shit happens.

What the whole point is, ultimately, is what happens after. Whether you die at 5, 34, or 117, the fact remains that sooner or later you’re going to die. No one gets out of here alive (except Enoch and Elijah, but that’s another topic). What happens after? It is eternity that counts. Life on earth is short. Eternity lasts for, well, forever. Poison Pen couldn’t get that concept through his head. He kept telling me how Nabeel’s legacy is ruined and his life was pointless. He wouldn’t understand that Nabeel’s life was well-lived and defined by integrity, faith, and love. His thirty-four short years on earth were precious, and this very afternoon I am sure he heard the words all believers long to hear when we meet Jesus face to face: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

How has Nabeel’s life changed mine? For one, he helped to kickstart my prayer life. He encouraged me to fervently seek God in prayer and the word. He bravely demonstrated consistent faith in and love for God in the most trying circumstances imaginable. He fought the good fight, he ran the race, he kept the faith. Now there is in store for him the crown of righteousness. (2 Timothy 4:7-8) Nabeel is partying right now! He is with the Lord, he is enveloped in love and peace, and he will never know sickness or pain again. He is reunited with a child he never got to meet on Earth when his wife miscarried last year. The tragedy is for the ones left behind, not him.

I want to be like Nabeel: that brave, that bold, that passionate. He is a huge inspiration to me. I will never be an apologist, but I was able to answer Poison Pen intelligently and kindly, two things that would have been beyond me a year ago. I have a lot of questions, and wish this isn’t how Nabeel’s earthly story would have ended. But I know he affected my life. He helped me draw closer to God. I know his legacy will live on, in his family and his testimony. I know I will meet him in Heaven. And I know that, someday, I will fully understand the age-old problem of why we endure pain and suffering.

Note: for a brief but lovely overview of Nabeel’s life and ministry, visit https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2017/09/16/nabeel-qureshi-1983-2017/