Sunday, September 24, 2017

AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST

The Apostle Paul says of Christians in 2 Corinthians 5, “We are ambassadors for Christ.” It is a phrase that we hear spoken from time to time, and usually we do not give it much thought. Perhaps we should.

We live today in a time of great internationalism, when the role of the international diplomat has become very important. Even in the day of Paul, ambassadors played an important role. Some of the functions of various kinds of diplomats have changed through the centuries with changing situations, but the responsibilities of ambassadors have largely remained constant.

Taking this office of ambassador as an example, it may be helpful for us to consider, for a few moments, how this relates to being an ambassador for Christ. 

Responsibilities of an Ambassador

Ambassadors are the official representatives of their sending country. Their major task is to represent the interests of their sending government. What the ambassador may or may not feel or believe personally on any specific matter is not as important as what the official position of their government is. In fact, an ambassador normally does not have the freedom to speak his or her own mind on important matters. They receive the position from their home country, and that is what they must speak.

I am sure that this is sometimes very difficult. An ambassador, living in a foreign country, most certainly often sees matters differently than his home government. His view is affected by what he sees and experiences in his day-to-day life in the foreign country.

Nevertheless, if he is a faithful ambassador and believes in his government, he will have confidence in the position of his superiors. He believes this because he knows that he is primarily looking at the issues from one perspective, that is, the perspective of that culture in which he is living. However, he trusts that his government is weighing all perspectives, both locally and internationally. Ideally, at least, this is how it is.

How does all of this apply to an ambassador for Christ? Of course, being an ambassador for an imperfect and often corrupt earthly government is not the same as being an ambassador for Christ. Nevertheless, there are some important lessons that we can learn.

At times, our own views as ambassadors for Christ are also affected by the culture in which we live. As ambassadors for Christ, we often face this same dilemma as do our governmental counterparts. We also sometimes see things only from the culture in which we are presently living, that is, from an earthly culture.

However, we should remember that, as ambassadors, our perspective is a limited one. We are restricted in our vision, because we see things not simply from the perspective of the present culture in which we live, but also the time in which we live. Sometimes we have the lessons of history to give us a broader perspective, but never are we able to discern the future. Nevertheless, as ambassadors for the Christ who sees all perspectives, we must have faith in what our position is to be.
 
The Personal Interaction of an Ambassador

However, another thing to realize about being an ambassador is that he or she is not simply an automaton, parroting the “official line” of whatever their government has sent them to say. If that were all that was needed, simple communiqués and written directives would suffice.

But even in imperfect and human governments, we recognize the need for a relationship. The ambassador is there so that the host government will have a person—an individual with whom they can interact. This is where the skill of the ambassador is very important.

Often, the positions that the ambassador is obligated to bring to his host country are not popular. He knows that they will arouse misunderstanding and even anger. While this cannot always be avoided, a skilled ambassador will be very adept at explaining why his country’s position is as it is. In addition to this responsibility, he also must communicate and represent the point of view of his host country before his own government. 

The Dual Role of an Ambassador

We see, then, that the ambassador really has a dual role. Certainly it is true that he represents his own country before the government of the country in which he resides. However, there is also a sense in which he is also able to represent his host country before his home government. After all, he lives in that country, and in some ways he identifies with the people of that country. He interacts with them and knows their own perspectives and needs. Because of these experiences of the ambassador, he also has the responsibility to communicate and to represent the point of view of his host country back to his homeland. 

Biblical Examples of an Ambassador

We have, throughout the Bible, many examples of this type of ministry of being an ambassador for God. One example is that of the prophets of the Old Testament, whom God sent as his representatives. A prophet, after all, was above everything else, one who was sent by God to represent God’s own perspective, one who announces the declarations of God.

Of course, the supreme example of the ministry of an ambassador is Christ, himself, who is even called the “Word of God.” Yet besides this role, Christ also identified with us by calling himself “the son of man.”

But I have chosen the example of Moses to consider, because there is one story in the ministry of Moses that shows us this blend of the “official stance,” while at the same time demonstrating the interaction of personalities with the people as he was sent to speak to them. 

Moses: The Ambassador of God

Moses had a set of directives from God to deliver to the people of Israel. There are no greater examples of the “official line” than the Law, given by God and embodied in the Ten Commandments as found in Exodus 20:3-17: 

You shall have no other gods before Me…You shall not make for yourself an idol…You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain…Remember the Sabbath day…Honor your father and your mother…You shall not murder…You shall not commit adultery…You shall not steal…You shall not bear false witness…You shall not covet. 

The Law, if you remember, was given to Moses on Mount Sinai to be delivered to the children of Israel. Moses was a prophet, and as a prophet, he was the representative of God to the Israelites. Moses fulfilled the role of an ambassador. God engraved the Ten Commandments on the stone tablets, but he could have engraved them on the face of the mountain for all to read—something like the four presidents on the face on Mount Rushmore.

However, instead of this, God sent the commandments by means of an ambassador. God recognized the importance of an ambassador. He sent not only his Word, but also someone with whom the people of Israel could interact.

While Moses was conferring with God on the mountain and receiving the Ten Commandments, something was happening among the people of Israel at the foot of the mountain. I will not go into this story at the moment, buy you can read about it in Exodus 32 in the incident of the golden calf. It was a time of a great rebellion of the people against the word and authority of the Lord.

God, seeing what was happening among the people said this to Moses: "I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Now then, let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them, and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation" (Exodus 32:9-10 NAS) 
Harsh words indeed. 
Moses the Ambassador: The Representative of Men before God
Notice now what Moses says in response to God’s statement: 

O LORD, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, “With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth?” 

Turn from Your burning anger [keep in mind, this is Moses speaking to God]... Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people.

Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You did swear by Yourself, and did say to them, “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.”
Exodus 32:11-13 (NAS) 

Remember that I mentioned the dual role of the ambassador? Normally, when I think of an ambassador for Christ, I first think of the role of being a representative of Christ before the world. But since, in our example of Moses, we first see the other role, let us also first consider this first. It may even be that it is a subservient role, but nonetheless, it is important. Moses was representing the people before God. Here, Moses was speaking on behalf of the people. 

An Important Concept for an Ambassador to Appreciate

This is an extremely difficult passage to understand, and I do not want to pretend that I do understand it completely, but there are some valuable lessons in it for us. Amazingly, we read that God wanted to “let his anger burn” against the people of Israel, and destroy them right at that point.

But Moses intercedes for the people before God and reminds God of his own word! In this astonishing conversation, Moses reminds God of promises that God himself had made to the people and by which God swore by his own name. What is even more astounding, Moses entreats God to “change his mind.”

These are troubling concepts for many Christians, and they bring up many troubling questions. How is it that God could lash out in anger? Why did Moses feel that he must take it upon himself to remind God of God’s own promises? If God is omniscient, how is it that he could “change his mind”?

There are no simple explanations to these questions; at least, there are none that are understandable to our minds. I think a lot about these questions, and I do seek to understand. Nevertheless, I also know that I can never comprehend the fullness of God and, as Job of ancient days declared, there are many things that are too deep and eternal for me to understand. 

Difficult Scriptural Passages

I will tell you the danger in these types of passages. The danger is that we assume that it is possible to explain them in terms that we can completely comprehend. In doing this, we are in danger of introducing error into our view of God.

We have some of these errors bouncing around in the church today. I am always put off by writers who believe that they have an explanation for everything, as if we could understand every aspect of God. Normally, in attempting to explain such things, they talk around in circles and change their ground continually, and finally end up muddying the water more than clarifying it. Beware of such explanations and do not let them destroy what you know to be true about God.

However, I also love these types of passages that consider difficult concepts, because they really do cause me to think. In considering difficult biblical passages, we should not be afraid to ask the hard questions, but the important thing to remember in considering them is that we should never sacrifice what is clear in the Scriptures in search of an answer.

In the passage before us, we see something of the personality of God. We may be surprised by what we see, but if we think about it, we should not be shocked that we are surprised. After all, the more complex a personality, the more we will be astonished by it.

As an example, we may know someone for many years and think we know him or her as well as we know ourselves, and then one day be surprised completely by some “quirk of his personality,” as we may call it. After fifty years of marriage, for instance, something may come out in conversation that takes the spouse completely by surprise—a like or dislike, or a manner of viewing something. “Honey, I didn’t know that about you!”

Personalities, we know, are complicated things. We cannot even put a clear definition on the word personality, much less try to explain everything about all the differences and intricacies of personalities.

But it is the presence of personalities that give color to life. Never can we know a person completely, because we all have personalities that are of great depth. It is a joy in life to know other people, to see their personalities and what it is about them that we appreciate. We laugh at others and ourselves at the way we react to situations, and we also get angry. All of these emotions, all of these feelings are because there is the interaction of personalities.

Because of this, rather than being troubled by passages such as this one concerning Moses and God, I like them. It shows me something about God that I do not often see, and it makes me wonder. I know that the Scriptures teach that God is true to his word and would never go against it. God’s love and faithfulness are so clearly demonstrated in the Scriptures that we cannot ignore this fact. I have also seen it in his dealings with me. 

The Personality of God

Knowing these things, I then must ask if God, in saying that he would let his anger burn and destroy the Israelites, simply trying to build an important characteristic in Moses that would be important for Moses as he led the Israelites?

This incident was near the beginning of the wilderness wanderings. Moses did not realize it at the time, but he still had some forty years of dealing with these people. Might God have been training Moses into the role of prophet/ambassador? Was God testing the level of love that Moses had for the Israelites? It is true that we sometimes do not know the value of something or someone until these are threatened to be taken away from us.

Perhaps this was God’s purpose. He was solidifying in the mind of Moses the dedication that would be needed to lead this people for another forty years. Quite frankly however, we do not know God’s entire purpose in this, and we shall not know until we see God.

However, despite what you may think of this passage, it is nice to see personality in God, is it not? Too often we view God as a super authoritarian with a list of rules and whose main concern is to keep people in line. To be fair, I do think that this aspect is a part of God’s personality. There are things that are right and things that are wrong, but it is a mistake and a misunderstanding to think that this is the extent of the personality of God.

We must know that God is a being with whom we can talk. He knows that we also have personality. After all, we are created in his image. He knows that we also have a perspective. Is not the sharing of perspectives the joy of a relationship?

I will also hasten to say that God is an authoritarian in whom dwells all authority and power. We do not negotiate with God. But he is not faceless. He is not unavailable. Do we not see that he wants to know us and that he wants us to get to know him?

We talk about certain people as being interesting because of the depth of their personality and the things that they do. God, to me, (and I say this with the highest respect and reverence) is extremely interesting. He constantly amazes me, not in the same way that I might be amazed by a person—but far beyond that.

Too frequently we are content to teach how to deal with the question of our sin by the cross of Christ, and thereby have a relationship with God. This, of course, is true. However, it is only the beginning of a relationship. We have entered into a covenant with God, and that is important, but how can we say that at that point we really know him? In some sense we do, for we have placed all of our trust in him and in the cross of Christ, but we cheapen ourselves and we cheapen God by thinking that there is no more than this to our relationship.

With that thought of getting to know God better, we will pause this conversation of being Ambassadors for Christ, and pick it up again in the next post.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

HIDDEN LIVES

The Apostle Paul has written this:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  Colossians 3:1-4 (ESV) 

In regards to our lives in this world, what we learn here from what Paul has said is that, as expatriates in a foreign culture, our true lives are hidden from the world. The people of the world cannot see or understand us as we truly are.

It is much the same as when I am living in another country here on earth apart from my home in Wisconsin. The people in another place see me as I am in their country, but they can never fully understand how I am when I am in my homeland. I can tell them about the place from where I have come and even show them pictures, but my real citizenship is largely hidden from them. It is something that is beyond their experience.

“We have died,” Paul says, “and our lives are hidden with Christ in God.”

In order to live well in the world, we must first remember this fact. The important things that we do in this world are things that those who are not of our same homeland cannot see. The goals of our lives that matter to us are those goals that have to do our citizenship with Christ, even if these aspirations are now hidden from the view of others.

It seems so simple, and yet it is at this point that we often fail so miserably. To our own disgrace, it often seems as though our greatest plans and our greatest projects are for this world. Most of our effort, it often seems, is to do the best that we can in this present life. We try to make the most money that we can, and accumulate the most material goods that we can. These seem often to be the driving forces behind our efforts.

However, the Scriptures tell us, “Set your mind on things above, not on the things that are on the earth.”

It is easily said, but on the practical level, how are we to do this?  

Knowing Our Home
First of all, and I think most importantly, maintaining a proper perspective is a matter of knowing our true home. Again, allow me to take my family’s example of living as expatriates, as we have done for several years in various countries. Let us take an example of when we lived in Venezuela.

When my family and I lived in that country, we tried to make ourselves comfortable in our home there, but we always knew it was not our true home here on earth. That true home for us has long been in Wisconsin. In Venezuela, we lived in a house that we rented. It was a nice house. If it had been ours, I would have made some changes to suit our family better, but I did not want to put a lot of effort and money into making great changes, since we were to live there only six years.

On the other hand and as I said, our true earthly home is in Wisconsin. There, we also have our own house. While in Venezuela, we occasionally saw something that we thought might look nice in our home up north, so almost every time we went home for a visit, we would bring something with us. One year, for example, we decided to put a fireplace in our home in Wisconsin. With that in mind, on one trip I brought some decorative tiles to set into the façade the fireplace.

 Do you see that even while living in Venezuela, we were thinking about our home in the north? That is because our home in Wisconsin was our true home.

It is not as though we did not put anything into our lives in Venezuela, for we most assuredly did. We put a great deal into our lives there. Nor is it that we tried to deceive ourselves by shutting out our surroundings while in Venezuela. We were comfortable living there. It even remains one of my favorite foreign lands where I have ever lived. Yet when my family and I spoke of our real home, it was to our home in Wisconsin to which we were referring. Even though we were living in Venezuela and actually liked living there, our home and place of origin was not in that country.
 
Our Land of Origin
“If you were of the world,” Jesus told his disciples, “the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19, NAS).

Jesus here is talking about origin. Jesus told his disciples that their origin was not of the world. How could he say that? Had they not been born into the world like everyone else? They were, but something happened. “I chose you out of the world,” he told them.

Jesus had, in effect, picked his disciples out of the world and gave to them a new place of origin. To deepen this mysterious choosing that Jesus had made, the Apostle Paul tells us that believers have been chosen even “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). This is a realm of knowledge that writers of Scripture only give us hints, and we have no full or true understanding all that Paul means.

After Jesus said that he had chosen the disciples out of the world, to the rest of the Jews, he said this: “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world” (John 8:23, NAS).

The Jews looked at Jesus, and with a voice of astonishment they asked him, “Who are you?” The words that Jesus spoke to them were mysterious words to the Jews. They began to realize that they did not know him. The true life of Jesus was hidden from them.

In the same way, our lives as Christians are hidden from the world. 

What is Christ Thinking?
So if this present world is in opposition to Jesus, and in fact he has called us out of the world, why then does he leave us here? In fact, why does he not simply do away with the entire world and its system? Sometimes when I become weary of living in this land with all its evils, I ask this question.

However, the reason that Jesus left his church here in the world is actually quite clear. Despite everything, despite the world’s hostility to Christ and his kingdom, Jesus loves the people of the world. This love was the motivation for his coming in the first place. “God so loved the world,” many of us learned as little children (John 3:16).

In the previous post I made a clear distinction between the world as a system, and the world of people. Jesus speaks only of the opposition that he has with the world as a system, but only of love that he has for the people of the world.

 John tells us this: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us” (1 John 4:10 NAS).

Despite the evils of the world and despite the fact that we must daily struggle with living our lives in this world, God has left us here because he has not yet come to the point of abandoning the people whom he loves enough that he died for them. We, as his followers and disciples, are his church. We are his representatives on this earth.

A Light of the World
The word used for the church in the Bible is ekklesia. It means “the called out ones.” The word shows that just as the disciples were chosen out of the world, in the same way, we, as the church, have been called out. Our place of origin has been changed, and our lives are hidden in Christ.

Now let us read again the words of Jesus in John 17. It is from the prayer that Jesus prayed to the Father on our behalf: 

I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them (set them apart) in the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:14-17 ESV) 

As his church, we are the representatives of Jesus here, or as Paul calls us, “ambassadors for Christ.” It is because of this and because of Christ’s love for the people of the world that he told the eleven remaining disciples after his resurrection, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” By extension, he commissioned us as his church to also affect the world. 

A Light to the World
So here we are—expatriates in a foreign land. We are not of this world. We have been chosen out, and now our place of origin is heaven. So then how are we to live here in this life? Jesus tells us:
 
You are the light of the world, a city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a peck measure, but on a lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16 NAS) 

It is because of these words of Jesus that I do not think that the answer to our living in the world is to try and shut the world out, as appealing as that sometimes may seem. We are the lights of the world, Jesus told us. If the world is to know anything about our home country, it is only through us that they will see it.

What many people from other lands know about the United States is what people from America tell them. Like it or not, when we live and even when we travel abroad, we represent the United States to many people. Likewise, what many people know about the kingdom of God is what they see in us as citizens of heaven. This fact alone should give us all pause to consider how we are living our lives.

Paul said the same thing about us. He exhorted us to live blameless lives as “children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15, NAS).

We no doubt understand what it means to be lights of the world, and perhaps we have heard many sermons on the subject. Being a light in the world is the way that we relate to the people of the world.

However, even if we are to be lights to the people of the world, what is to be our relationship to the world and a world system? 

A Light in the World
Jesus said something else to his disciples on the subject of lights. “The eye is the lamp of the body,” he told them. “So if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23, ESV).

Do we not see here that Jesus is speaking here of a constant danger in which we live? That danger is that unless we are careful, we may forget our place of origin. Our gaze will be diverted from our true purpose. 

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 6:19-21 (ESV) 

We know too well that it is possible for our gaze to be diverted. It is a tactic of the world to fill the eye of Christians with the “goods” of this world (as they call them) so that we forget our true citizenship. We are bombarded daily with the world’s standards as to what is acceptable and important. It is easy to make the world’s standards our own. The delights of the world also become our desire.

Do you see that to live well in this world we must remember our place of origin? If we do not, our gaze will begin to turn toward the world, and our vision will become clouded. “If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness,” Jesus told us.

Did we miss that? I think Jesus was afraid that we would, so he concludes bluntly, “You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24). 

Expatriates in a Foreign Land
As expatriates in this world, we live and function in our adopted land. To live well here we must always remember our place of origin, and we must also remember that this world can never be our true home. If we learn and follow these lessons well, we will be able to live contented and happy lives here.

Despite the fact that this is not our true and permanent home, and despite the fact that there are many evils that we must deal with in this life, God has also given us many good things to enjoy. We can appreciate those good things that we encounter. If we maintain a proper perspective, our lives here will be happy and blessed. 

Going Home
Nevertheless, if you have ever lived in a foreign country, you know that the happiest time of all is when you can make a trip back home. Likewise for those of us living as expatriates in the world, we all look forward to the time when we can again go home. If you do not know this yearning for your homeland, then you must question where your real home truly lies.

While living in this world, there is a sense in that we are all missionaries finally going home after a very difficult term on the field. We are all college kids, greatly missing our family and coming home for Christmas to Mom’s home cooking. There is a sense in that we are all kindergartners, who, on the first day of school, feel a little sad when we think of Dad and Mom at home and cannot wait to run home to their hugs. We are all soldiers who, beaten and scarred by war, are returning home to those who love us.

We are all refugees, longing to return to our homeland.

To live well in this world, we must remember that we are expatriates. In the end, we not belong here at all. When we understand that, we begin to live with realistic expectations.

We begin to live well in this world.
 
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If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.
Colossians 3:1-4 (NAS) 

In the world you have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world.John 16:33 (NAS)

 

 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

LIVING WELL IN THIS WORLD

As you might suppose, one’s view of life is affected in many ways by living in a foreign country. At least mine has been. I am not talking about mere travel.  I am not referring to tourism. What I mean is when one needs to settle down for an extended period in a foreign land, long enough where he has to buy or rent a house and set up a residence. I have had to do this (I just counted) six times in six separate countries of the world other than the United States.

This is different than travel or tourism, for in settling down, a person must learn to live in a culture that is foreign to anything that he has ever before experienced. It is possible to exist, certainly, but to live in a content manner is a different matter entirely, and it is not always easily accomplished.

I suppose almost all expatriates (as these foreign dwellers are called) must struggle with this difficulty of living contently while overseas. This especially seems to be true for us fortunate ones—we individuals who have come from loving and caring homes in our home countries.

There are different ways that people find to deal with this inner conflict of living in a foreign culture. It is interesting to note the various ways in which people respond to this change in their lifestyle.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

OBEDIENCE: THE ROAD TO BLESSING

 There are some words that tend to bring about within us an immediate negative or defensive reaction. The word obey is one of these words. A child is often introduced to this word brusquely, accompanied with a wagging index finger in his face from a harsh parent. “You obey me, now!”

The word command may be another, and “I order you to do it!”

One of the first words many children learn is the word no. The child wants to do something or have something, but Mommy and Daddy say no! We learn that we must obey.

Since our first reactions to these words may be largely negative, the words themselves have come to have a negative connotation. In the military, we learn the proper response to an order. Obedience. It is not important in the least if we want to fulfill the order or not, or even whether or not it is a good order. We really have no choice in the matter.

With this backdrop in the formation of our personalities, we then have the danger of having the same frame of mind when we read these words, “You shall therefore obey the LORD your God, and do His commandments and His statutes which I command you today” (Deuteronomy 27:10, NAS).
 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

THE SALT OF THE EARTH

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men” (Matthew 5:13, NIV).
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We today use the phrase “the salt of the earth” to speak of a person who lives his life in a wholesome and unpretentious manner. When we say that someone is “the salt of the earth,” it implies that he is honest and forthright, and living without deceit. In the verse quoted above, Jesus used it in the same way. Unlike many other phrases that have been passed on through the generations and for thousands of years, the meaning of this one seems not to have changed much since Jesus spoke it in the first century.

Actually, as far as what we have in recorded history, the use of this phrase by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount was the very first time that it was used. Nevertheless, because of the important role that salt played in the daily lives and in the thinking of the people of that day, the meaning of the phrase would not have been difficult for his hearers to understand.

Salt was something that these people saw as indispensable. It was, above everything else, a preservative—something that was used to keep food from spoiling and putrefying. 

Salt in History
 Despite the fact that we call it “common table salt,” it was not so common in those days. No doubt in the immediate area of Palestine it was not so difficult to obtain because of the proximity of the Mediterranean Sea (and of course the Dead Sea, or as it was actually known in those days, the Salt Sea).

Nevertheless, throughout history, in every part of the world, “Where to get salt?” has been an important question for entire nations of people. Many of the world’s ancient trade routes were first established for the purpose of trading for and obtaining salt.
 

Monday, August 21, 2017

THE LOG CHURCH - INTO THE SECOND CENTURY

(This is the message that I gave at the centennial celebration of the Log Church)


One hundred years ago the town of Tripoli was a booming community. There was a great sawmill on the bank of the millpond. There were stores, hotels (more than one), taverns (pretty sure more than one), a lumber yard and railway station. Tripoli had schools and even a theater. There was everything that a growing town would need.

Someone gave the town the name of Tripoli. The name sounds like it came from the Greek, and so it did. It means “three cities.” In this nascent town of Tripoli, there was great hopes of promise. Perhaps the community would one day grow to include even the town of Clifford, and possibly even Brantwood. The three cities.

Now we turn the calendar twelve hundred pages – one hundred years. The stores are gone, the hotels and taverns are no more…oh, I think there is one tavern yet, in case someone has a real thirst, but it is not one of the original taverns. The theater is gone, and the train now just speeds on by Tripoli without even so much of a thought of stopping. The schools are gone. Even the sawmill, the enormous engine of the community, is gone.
 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

BUILDING WITH LOGS

For a few years of my life I worked as a log builder. That is to say, I learned the art (that is really what it is) of constructing buildings using whole, round logs.

Building with logs is a world of building not only for form and function, but also for beauty and posterity. It is a world of learning to choose a certain log for a specific purpose, and of discussions about how to cut the notches and the grooves in the logs. It is about how the building will settle after it is constructed. These are discussions that only come up in log building construction, since these issues have no relevance in other types of buildings.

The log builder comes to learn the grain and knots of every log of the building he is working on and to take pleasure in how he is able to shape one log to fit snugly as it is placed on top of the log beneath. The worker must be familiar with the specialized tools and techniques that are a part of building with logs. The windows and the doors, for instance, must be installed by connecting them to “sliders” instead of nailing them directly unto the logs themselves.

As I mentioned above, the log walls in a house will settle in the first couple of years after construction. A wall may decrease in height as much as eight or nine inches. If any window or door were connected directly to the logs, the glass would surely break, and the doors would not open. To prevent this, each window and each door must be specially installed in a manner that only log builders must use. 

The Process of Scribing and Fitting

Building with logs is an incredibly slow process if one is to do it correctly. The form of the top of a log lying horizontally must be carefully drawn with a pencil onto the bottom of the log that is to fit over it. This work of drawing on the top log is done by placing this log over the log beneath and bracing it so that it will not move. Not even a hair.
 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

TODAY, I WILL BAPTIZE A BABY


Today, we will be having a baptism service in our church. To be baptized is something that Jesus has instructed all of his followers to do. In that regard, it is like the observance of the Lord’s Supper. We are told that we should do this.

Also, just as Jesus shared in the first communion with his disciples, he himself was also baptized. Jesus did these things as examples for us, so that we should continue in what he taught us.

However, we as a church have not been good at remaining faithful to his intentions in these traditions. It is an unfortunate development that baptism, like communion, is a custom that has historically caused controversy among church denominations.

Last week I spoke of how we in the churches have hijacked the observance of the unity Lord’s Supper to create division within the body of Christ. We allowed this to happen rather than allowing communion to be a sign of the oness of the church, as Jesus intended it to be. It is a sadness for me to say that it is much the same concerning baptism.

Both of these practices are meant not only to represent for us deep spiritual meanings (the greatest portion of which none of us understand completely), but they are to both also be a demonstration of our unity in the body of Christ. But again, like communion, because the entirety of the all of the spiritual implications and meanings concerning baptism is beyond any of our abilities to comprehend and appreciate as a whole, some churches choose to emphasize one certain aspect of baptism, and other churches choose other things.

Thus, as it is in the Lord’s Supper, instead of listening to and learning to appreciate various viewpoints and to learn from them, we have used these different perspectives to draw lines of division among the churches. The sad result is that, in our different church denominations, it is our tendency to arm ourselves with arguments about how our own denomination has the “right” understanding of baptism, and those who do it differently are “wrong.”

Again, baptism is unfortunately much like communion in this regard. If we do take the time to listen to the perspectives of another church, we often listen in the same sense as one would listen to his or her opponent in a debate. We are not really trying to understand the motives involved with what another church believes, but we are instead only listening with the sense of building a counter argument against each one of their points.

Primary and Secondary Beliefs

Because of our upcoming centennial of our church, I have been asked by a number of people in recent weeks if the Log Church is “non-denominational.” My response, of course, always is, “yes, it is.”

I do not know what that phrase, non-denominational church, means to you, but to me it means that when it comes to the secondary beliefs of the church, like communion and baptism, we take time to consider the traditions of others. I call these “secondary beliefs,” because to me, in these there is some room for latitude.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

CONCERNING MY WOUND THAT WILL NOT HEAL

Some months ago an old wound of mine opened up again, and even though by now a good deal of time has passed since this latest episode of the old infliction has come to me, the pain has not abated. In fact, in some ways it has gotten worse. This time, it has set itself deeper within me than it has in the past.

Before this latest occurrence, I thought that this injury would one day be healed in my lifetime. But now, I fear that it will not. It is beginning to look like I will take this pain to my grave.

This is a wound not of my body, but a wound of my soul. It is one that begins to ache when I see the Holy Communion being used to bring separation between believers in Christ. The pain comes when I see that the Lord’s Supper is used for division instead of being a sign of unity in fellowship, as Jesus intended it to be. The wound that has come to me is one of my heart, and is an affliction that actually drains me even of physical strength.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

JE SUIS NICODEMUS

I do not know why Nicodemus waited until it was night before he went to speak with Jesus. Generally, we assume that it was because, as a member of the Pharisees, Nicodemus was afraid that the act of his going to see Jesus would cause him to be censured by his colleagues in their religious order.

By and large, we today have a largely negative connotation of the Pharisees of the first century. The Pharisees were a group of self-righteous religious leaders who were often the objects of scorn by Jesus.

Jesus said of the sect of the Pharisees as a whole, “They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”[1] Hypocrisy seemed to be the central issue of the Pharisees. When Jesus spoke to the Pharisees face to face, he even spoke in much harsher terms than he did when merely speaking to someone else about them.

Once, when Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees directly, he told them this: “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.”[2] Jesus also called them such things as “unmarked graves, which men walk over without knowing it,” [3] as well as “fools” and “hypocrites.”

Even John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, showed no deference to these men who always looked for the most important seats at gatherings and who loved to be honored by others. “You brood of vipers” John bluntly called them. These are the same words that were repeated later by Jesus when he spoke to the Pharisees.[4]

Notwithstanding these comments by Jesus and by John, in the Jewish society at large, the Pharisees actually were largely respected as the religious leaders of the day. They, along with the Scribes (who also were often of the sect of the Pharisees), were the ones who studied and knew the Scriptures.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

LIVING IN THE TORRID ZONE

And there will be a shelter to give shade from the heat by day,
And refuge and protection from the storm and the rain. Isaiah 4:6

The sun over my head seared down merciless upon me, blindingly intense and draining me of all energy. I was at the time living in a town in western Venezuela and I was walking across and open soccer field on my way home from an errand that I had to make that day on foot.

The errand began early that morning out in the hills surrounding the village. My journey into the hills had begun in the coolness of the day, and I had not prepared adequately for the heat that I should have known would come later. Actually, my task had taken me further than I first intended to walk, and I was returning home later than I thought that I would.

Our village was in the Andes Mountains. While it was not in the highest of mountain areas, it was still at quite a high altitude. In places such as these, with the thin air and dryer atmosphere, the nights may be refreshingly cool, but the day can warm up quite fast. By noon it can become pretty unbearable to be out in the sun without protection. That is where I was in this last part of my walk, under the full sun with no protection. As I entered the village, there seemed to be no shade anywhere. Now, I was cutting across a soccer field to get back to our home. The heat and the sun had exhausted me of any energy reserve.

I thought that it must be about noon as I walked across the open field. At this point at the end of my journey, the heat and intensity of the sun was more than I could endure. As I made my way across the turf, I noticed that the town had recently erected huge light poles around the field, the bases of which were nearly two feet in diameter. There were no lights on the poles yet, but the poles were in place, ready for the workers to later place them to illuminate the field at night.

I had been hiking under the cloudless sky all morning long. In the hills there had often been a little shade, but not in this last leg of my walk. It had been all intense sun. After enduring the heat of the sun for some hours, I decided that when I reached the other end of the field, I would sit with my back resting on the shady side of one the poles for a few minutes before making the very last of this bit of my return trip to our home.

Much to my dismay, however, as I approached my intended resting spot, I could see no shadow. I walked completely around the pole and was disheartened to find that every side of the light post was being heated by the sun. Squinting my eyes, I looked up at my tormenter above my head and realized that it was indeed noon, and I was in the Torrid Zone at the equinox.