by Eric Wharton
A day-by-day Christian devotional throughout the year
Let the peace of Christ, to which you were indeed called in one body, rule in your hearts; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.
— Colossians 3:15-17
Imagine you know a couple who have been married for years. One spouse is a horrible marriage partner. Let's say it's the husband for argument's sake, though it could be either.
He is never around for anything the wife wants to do. He's always out doing his own thing and never calls even when she's expecting him. Sometimes he goes off for weeks, or months, without saying a word. Often he is seen in the company of other women and when he gets in rowdy company, he has a foul mouth.
With regard to money, he's extravagant. He spends it on frivolous things like money is going out of style, though he never seems able to find a job himself. He's always begging people for money. He cheats, he steals, he lies as if it's second nature.
When he actually has a meaningful conversation with his wife, he tells her that he wants to stay married for convenience sake, that he wants her to take care of him when he's sick, and always work to provide for him ... but that he doesn't really love her. He tells her he never will.
You'd think he was a pretty loathsome character, wouldn't you? But here's the kicker. His wife tells him that he doesn't have to love her in order for her to love him, and that she will continue to do so for as long as she lives. You would probably consider her to be a fool for continuing to love him when she should kick him to the curb. You might even think she was a worse than he was for standing by his side.
However, the love she exhibits is exactly the kind of love God has for us. Please don't assume I'm suggesting that wife should stay with her husband—its just an example to make a point. That being, her love demonstrates perfectly God's unconditional love.
God tells us we don't have to love him in order for Him to love us. Look around at the world today. There are people who say He doesn't exist and yet, God continues to love them. There are those who curse Him and He continues to love them. Even the ones who say they love Him do awful things to their fellow human beings against His wishes, but he continues to love them. The world treats God the same way the husband treats his wife, and still God continues to love.
We throw around the word "love" a lot. Of everything written in the Bible, it's the central them: God is love, God's love was so great He sent his son, Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as ourself, and so on. Love is painted with broad brushstrokes all over the canvass of the entire Bible. But what do we truly know of the kind of love God has for us?
Part of the problem is that we only have one word for love. The New Testament was written in Greek, a language that has five words for love: epithumia (urge), erōs (passion), storgē (familial), philia (brotherly), and agapē (unconditional). In the Bible, epithumia is mentioned in the negative sense, philia and storgē are mentioned only occasionally, and erōs is not mentioned at all. When we read the word love in the bible it is almost always agapē love.
Agapē love is the love that God has for us, that he imparted within each of us, and with which he expects us to relate to one another. Like the wife in the scenario above, it's about loving those who don't love us, even those who hate us. Today, the world is culturally, socially, and politically divided as much as ever before. Hatred abides. Yet, God calls on each of us to look past our differences and actually demonstrate unconditional love.
"No way," we say, "Not them!" We believe there are certain people who, by their very existence, are to be hated … even exterminated. We struggle with unconditional love because it goes against human nature. Yet, it not only benefits others, but serves our own interests as well—not from any selfish desire, but for our own health and wellness. People filled with hate, envy, bitterness, unforgiveness, and so on, only bring harm and misery upon themselves. The only path to happiness is unconditional love, because it brings peace of mind.
God, by His very nature, doesn't exhibit unconditional love. He IS unconditional love. He understands the peace that comes along with it. The only way to have a true relationship with God is through that kind of love. Everything else is a faint imitation … a shadow of agapē love.
We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, "I love God," and yet he hates his brother or sister, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother and sister whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.
– 1 John 4:19-20
There is branch of mathematics that actually crosses many disciplines. It's called mensuration and it means how we measure things. It can be applied to just about any academic study.
The study of techniques to measure things is not only for academic study, but impacts our everyday life. We measure quantities when following recipes, we check on the weather outside with a thermometer, we calculate distances and travel times when planning a trip … even that cup of coffee we drink is offered in a variety of volume sizes. As humans, we like to quantify just about everything.
It even overflows into our relationship with God. We quantify how much time we spend in prayer, how many chapters of the Bible we've read today, how many people have showed up for church. We even count how many people that have made the choice to follow Christ … and then report on that. However, too much time spent studying how to measure our relationship with God detracts from the time and effort engaging with the actual character and personality of God.
We study, we analyze, we discuss. We find the nuance of every passage in the Bible, hoping to find a more comprehensive or perceptive insight. We measure how deep our understanding goes. Then we walk away and forget to apply that understanding to the real world. We forget that study must be implemented on a daily basis for it to become spiritual growth.
Studying a sunset can explain how it appears as it does. We can understand the science behind what makes the colors so vivid, but how we feel about it's beauty cannot be analyzed. Likewise, God doesn't want to be studied to death. He wants more from us. The term we often use for this is to "Experience God," but that phrase often creates difficulty in understanding how to do that, and in fact, is often misleading.
The Apostle Paul was struck blind on the road to Damascus which was the source of his conversion. Sometimes, we look for that same experience—a "Damascus Road" event. That's how the term "Experiencing God" can become misleading. Most of the time, the real connection to God is not through an emotional experience, although they can be rewarding and shouldn't be discounted. But we can get too distracted by searching for that experience that we miss the nuances of connecting to God, which more often occurs in the quiet of our hearts.
The key to experiencing God, then, is not expecting some kind of emotional experience. It's the daily process of loving Him through Jesus Christ, and in turn, loving others. The true way to experience God is simply to experience love—confident in His love for us, loving Him in return, and loving others as a fruit of our relationship with Him. Certainly, study is important, but at some point we have to stop measuring the depth of our understanding and simply start loving.
Just as the Father has loved Me, I also have loved you; remain in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will remain in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and remain in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.
— John 15:9-12
One of the most important lessons I've learned about walking with faith occurred from the unlikeliest of places—a technical device I used for my job. That's why it's valuable to try and relate everything surrounding us back to God. Even the mechanical contrivances that pepper or lives can teach us a lesson.
For almost all of my adult life, I worked in the forestry profession. One of the things I learned as a forestry student, on almost my first day, was how to use a piece of equipment called a diameter tape. Foresters use it to measures tree diameters, an important indicator of how the tree is growing.
We all know that diameter is a measurement through the middle of a circle or cylindrical object, but how is it possible to measure the diameter of a tree when it's out in the woods … without cutting it down, of course? All we can do is measure around the tree, which is called the circumference. What good is that? Wait, wasn't there are formula we learned in basic math about the relationship between circumference and diameter?
I can hear the grumbling, "Oh, no. Not math again." I know … I hated math in school myself, but as I told my children, you better get used to math because you'll be using it your whole life. Yes, there is a formula. Diameter = Circumference / Pi. No, not a piece of pie … Pi, which is a really long number that is basically 3.14.
So if we were to measure around a tree, divide by 3.14, we have its diameter. Easy … but imagine yourself out in the woods and you have to measure a hundred trees that day, dividing every measurement by 3.14. That's not so hard these days with calculators, but before calculators, it wasn't going to work. It would be annoying even with a calculator.
So what some smart guy did was make a different kind of tape measure. Every 3.14 inches, he put a mark. So every 3.14 inches around the tree represented 1-inch of diameter. Now, foresters could wrap this tape around a tree and instead of reading the circumference, they would be reading the diameter. Problem solved.
You might be scratching your head right about now, wondering why I went through this long explanation. All I had to tell you was how to use a diameter tape. Who cares why it works the way it does? Which is exactly the principle I want to present—as I said—one of the most important I learned for my Christian walk.
And that's this: do we need to understand God's reasons in order to obey God? Think about that. Do we need to know why something happens in life in order to love Him? When we're studying the Bible, do we need to comprehend every single detail in order to understand the general message?
How often does something happen like an earthquake, a fire, a little child dies of cancer … and we hear people ask God why. Even the strongest followers of Christ ask that question. Yet, do we need to understand why in order to worship Him? We are not God's equals. We do not have all the pieces of the puzzle like He does. We are not omniscient, so why do we feel this all-encompassing notion that God owes us an explanation.
Or, how many times have you been reading the Bible and come to passage that you can't figure out what it means. And it causes your reading of the Word to grind to a halt. I've heard people lament that they can't move on until they understand, but do we need to understand every aspect of scripture to understand grace?
The fundamentals of our faith are simple. It's not rocket science. There are things we will simply be unable to understand in this life. And I'm not convinced we're going to even understand it all in the next one. But so what? God doesn't have to explain how the world works in order for us to love Him. And all we need to know about Christ is that He died for our sins and conquered death. We don't really need to know how all that works.
Instead, relish is the glory of everything around us that He has created, and simply praise Him. Find your own diameter tape to constantly remind you that we don't need to "get" it all. Just love.
For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.
— Isaiah 55:8-9
Trust is one of the hardest of the emotions to get a handle on. We can look around at the world today and it's hard to find an adequate supply of people and institutions we can trust. We are always being let down ... by friends and even by those who say they have our best interests at heart. Trust of political leaders is at an all-time low.
As either a consequence or a symptom, we live in times where most people think in terms of "What's in it for me?" That makes it difficult to make and maintain relationships. Divorce rates are typically considered to average around 50 percent, though that depends on age. Christians are not exempt from this. In fact, Christian divorce, which is specifically addressed by God as wrong, is at about the same rate as it is for non-Christians. Trust seems to be the first casualty in our relationships today.
What that does is turn us inward. We begin to think that the only person we can trust is our self. We get distrustful of the world, turn to our own abilities, and figure that God is just as untrustworthy. That's a terrible mistake because it's more about our own mindset rather than that of God's when trust falters.
It was not always so. As children, we started out with full trust of the first people we had a relationship with—our parents. I recall going to a public swimming pool once and saw a father holding a toddler as he stood shoulder-deep in the water. He was bouncing up and down a little, but the child showed no fear. That's because the little boy wasn't looking toward the side of the pool and safety, nor was he looking at the water in fear. He was looking directly into his father's eyes. he was filled with unconditional trust, safely in his father's arms. He feared nothing as he laughed and giggled.
All we need to understand about God is that He is like the little boy's father. He has never, nor will he ever, let us go. He has promised us that. Certainly, we get bounced in the water a little, sometimes a lot, but God allows that to show us that he still has us in his arms. He will never let us sink.
What we tend to do, however, is jump out of his arms. Sometimes it's from fear and other times its because we think we can handle the water on our own. That's when we start floundering in the water. Even then, God will reach out and rescue us if we reach a hand towards Him. God gives us the free will to jump out of his arms, as well as the free will to choose his safety.
Have you jumped out of God's arms? Are you floundering in the water? All you need to do is reach out for God and he will reach back, pulling you safely into his arms. Then just keep your eyes on Him and you'll always be safe. We all still have that trust of a small child inside us. We just need to remember it.
Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and a good reputation in the sight of God and man. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.
— Proverbs 3:3-6
One of the joys of living in the Philadelphia PA region for a number of years was traveling into the city to watch Phillies baseball games with my sons. This was at the old Veterans Stadium that has since been torn down. Other than a number of timely home runs and stunning fielding plays, one of my most favorite memories was being part of the first ever Veterans Stadium wave.
You don't see much of them these days, but back "in the day" they were all the rage. Once section would stand up in unison, followed by the next one to it, and so on all the way around until a giant wave of humanity swept the stadium. It was a joy for my children and I to watch and become a part of.
The problem was they were difficult to get started. The key was first, to get everyone to notice, and then to get everyone to participate. It was the noticing part that was difficult. In our case, it was one individual with a megaphone standing in front of his section. He would get everyone to stand and then try to get the section next to them to catch on to the drill.
This exuberant gentleman tried again and again to limited success. We noticed his antics early on, and watched as he was able to progressively get it to go further and further, running along and cheering it forward, only to have it eventually fade out. It was when it got about half way around the stadium that everyone finally caught on.
The next time it kept going … and going … and to our surprise came to our section. I couldn't hold back and simply had to participate. When it passed us and eventually completed a full circuit, the stadium went nuts, cheering and yelling. When it finally did, our intrepid originator dropped prostrate onto the concrete as if having a heart attack.
I didn't think much more about it at the time until years later when I was reading an explanation of why a duck floats basically in one spot on gentle waves. The science behind it is that the wave is an illusion. Excited water molecules only jump up and down, transferring energy to adjacent molecules, which makes it look like the water is moving.
It was the same in the stadium wave. All people did was stand up from their seat and then sit back down. It becomes a wave when the people next to them did the same. As I sat and analyzed that, it occurred to me that is much the same way we're to practice our walk with Christ. All we need to do in order to spread the Good News of Christ is show our love to the person next to us and let it become a giant wave.
The question is, how well are we doing that? Are we making an impact on even just one person standing next to us, or are we leaving people as we found them? If it's the latter, we're not being true to be what Christ has called us to do. Are people you meet consoled, encouraged, warmed, had their spirits lifted ... loved … simply by having met you.
To leave people exactly as they were before is a travesty because we carry the greatest force to transform lives on earth. I often hear Christians don't want to, or know how to, do that. They think it's about saying the right words and preaching boldly. Or worse, they think it's telling people what they're doing wrong. Yet, the true nature of evangelism is simply sharing love.
The word evangelism derives from the Greek word euaggelion, meaning "good news." There are lots of ways to spread good news—a smile, simple concern, a pat on the back, all the way up to providing disaster relief. It's all about spreading the good news, not necessarily to the world, but to a single person. That person could be your neighbor, a friend, someone you meet at the supermarket … anyone.
Connect with people and leave them better off than they were. That's the true nature of Christ's love. If every follower of Christ did that, the resulting wave would swamp the world with love.
Sing to the Lord, bless His name; proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples.
— Psalm 96:2-3
Not long ago, my wife and I were flying to visit our family. It was a dismal day. The sky was dark and overcast, and there was a continual driving rain. It was not the kind of weather in which anyone would choose to travel. We checked in, found our way to our seats, and I casually turned to look out the window as the plane took off. Gazing out, I watched as we soared into the clouds and then burst into bright sunshine.
I love it when that happens. Our mood flipped from depressing to joyful. I had seen that sight many times because I often flew for my job, but I was always too busy to really take notice of the startling change. Rarely had it made such an impression on me as it had this time. In that moment, I was suddenly reminded that God, like the sun, is ever present—we just don't see Him all the time.
In fact, we sometimes feel like God has turned His back on us. Things have just begun to go wrong. Often, when we feel that way, its not one thing, but several things that simply seem to be sliding downhill on us. It could be something at our job, in our family, in a relationship, financially, socially ... the list goes on. When it's one thing, we tend to shake it off, but when it comes at us from several directions, we turn our faces to the sky and say, "Why, God? Why are you doing this to me?"
But just like the sun that day, which had been covered by the clouds, God was still present. He never deserts us. His light may become blocked, not by anything he sends, but by the things we allow to creep into our life. When things go wrong, we are the ones who build up the cloud bank that separates us from God.
Even in the dark, God is still there. Like the earth that turns it's back on the sun when darkness falls, it's each of us that turn our backs on God, or forget about His place in our lives. The sun never changes position, and neither does God. We are the ones that move and change direction.
People often say that a compass tells us the direction we are going, but that's somewhat misleading. A compass does only one thing, it points to the earth's magnetic field—either at the North Pole or the South Pole. We decide which direction we're going based on that. On God's compass, usually our direction is away from Him.
Like the sun, God is always shining, and like a magnetic pole, God's position never changes. He never stops drawing us to Him, always pointing the way. Even in turbulent times when we think all is lost, we can always count on Him to strengthen and guide us. All we need to do is clear the clouds from our eyes to bask in His presence and keep walking toward Him. He'll take care of the rest.
Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.
— Isaiah 41:10
It's not often I turn to the secular world for insight, but every now and then I find justification for God's will in the writing of mankind. After all, God is constantly influencing people, and when their thoughts align with Biblical understanding, it's like putting an exclamation point to Holy scripture.
In terms of purity of heart, one of the finest discussions I've found on that was written by Søren Kierkegaard in Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing: Spiritual Preparation for the Office of Confession. What he suggested was that the heart cannot be divided—that a pure heart was one that sets its will on only one thing. According to him, that which we should set our will on was goodness.
While I disagree at some level with Kierkegaard's conclusion, it essentially describes what a pure heart means. Which is, to set one's eyes on only one thing. In my opinion, that's God. Not simple goodness, because goodness is an outcome, but to set our eyes on the source. God is the source of goodness, so it makes sense to set our will entirely on God. Even so, we cannot be divided in our own members. All must be set on God.
To have a pure heart means to have our heart, mind, and body unified around the principle that God gives our lives meaning and purpose. If we are divided in this guiding principle—if our hearts are set on God, but our eyes and hands on worldly things—then we are unable to be at peace within ourself. As a result, there is always inner strife, dissatisfaction, and confusion. We cannot hope to have a fulfilling relationship with God if we are pulled in different directions.
It's that relationship with God that we desire. And so, we strive to have purity of heart—a oneness of desire—so that our eyes are always on God. Is it possible to do so? Absolutely, but only under one condition, that being our eyes are set first on Christ. It is Christ, our kinsman redeemer (a Judaic convention), that reconciles us to God through the shedding of His blood.
One of Kierkegaard's statements that I appreciate is: "What shall it profit the sick man to imagine himself, as all men do, to be well, if the physician says he is sick!" The physician, in our case, is Jesus Christ. That is why we need Christ—first to show us we are sick (in sin), and then to redeem us from that sickness.
We often think of purity as meaning chaste or something without any flaws. However, when Christ spoke, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" to his disciples that had gathered on a mountainside (Matthew 5:8), he was not talking simply about being squeaky clean. Because we all sin and will continue to do so, albeit hopefully less and less. He was talking about the sincerity within our own hearts—the desire to always be one-dimensional. We will see God because our hearts are set solely on it.
That has a negative connotation in today's world. The world asks us to be well-rounded and accepting of every philosophy. To the world, being one-dimensional means to be inflexible … closed-minded … intolerant. However, being one-dimensional is exactly what God asks us to be; it's to be constantly in a prayerful relationship with Him and only Him, all the time. Christ has given us the chance to do that. It's up to us to decide if we want to.
Which all begs the question of why it's important to be pure of heart. The answer to that is simple and given to us directly by Jesus. It's so that we can see God. That does't mean just when we die and eventually receive our glorified bodies. Certainly we will be with God then. It means on a daily basis as well, to see God in everything that happens around us and to us. We must have a pure heart—a unified, single-minded purpose to worship God—so much so that we will, indeed, be blessed.
Come close to God and He will come close to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
— James 4:8
Growing up, my family vacationed on the New Jersey Shore. Not the nefarious Atlantic City or the raucous teen-mecca of Wildwood, but one of the small, quiet beach towns in between. In the process, I learned an important lesson about water safety. That being, watch out for riptides.
The thing about riptides is that not only will riptides pull a swimmer away from shore, but sideways as well. I distinctly remember one day in particular. I was in my preteen years and we had been warned that there were some strong riptides where we were swimming. The lifeguards had stuck two oars in the sand to limit the swimmers range so they could watch them better. My brother and I would swim out beyond the crashing waves in front of one oar and within minutes, the current had drug us sideways down beyond the other. We had to get out of the water, walk back up on the sand, and start all over.
The most frightening moment, however, came when I was by myself, jumping over the waves. Suddenly a big wave rolled in and moments later the riptide grabbed hold of my feet and pulled them out from under me. Instantly I was struggling in the water, trying to get my footing as wave after wave rolled over me. I could feel the pull of the undercurrent, which seemed stronger than my ability to overcome. Suddenly my father was beside me to anchor me and while I may have come up sputtering, at least I felt steady enough to stand on my own again.
As I was remembering that incident recently, it suddenly dawned on me that a riptide is exactly what sin does in our lives. All we want to do is go about enjoying our lives, splashing around in the waves, loving the Lord, when suddenly our feet are swept out from under us and we find ourselves struggling to get our feet of faith back under us. We feel ourselves being pulled further and further down into sin.
We all suffer through those times in our lives. We loose our balance, get smothered by a wave, get thrown for a loop—whatever metaphor you care to use for it. That's to be expected. Never once did Jesus say, nor ever imply, that if we followed Him our lives would be easy. In fact, he said just the opposite: "... for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." (Matthew 5:45b).
Sin is always going to enter our lives because it's part of this fallen world. It's like the waves that just keep coming. Certainly there will be breaks—the waters will calm and all seems right between us and our Father. Those times, however, never last. We either fail to see sin coming, or see it, but fail to guard ourselves against it properly. Sometimes we even dive headlong into it even knowing we are doing wrong. Then we act surprised when the riptide threatens to pull us completely under.
We can take comfort, though, in one great truth. Nothing ... no matter how deep we seem to be sinking, can separate us from God's love. No matter what we have done, what sin has befallen us, we are covered by the blood of Christ. No matter how much Satan accuses us, Christ Himself intercedes on our behalf. He is that solid ground beneath our feet that is always there, ready to give us firm footing, like my father was that day in the waves. All we have to do is stop flailing and reach out a hand.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or trouble, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.
— Romans 8:35,37
In the early days of the church, people turned to Christianity because they wanted what that early church had to offer. It was something different … something that had not been found in other religions and something they witnessed rather than were told. It was the love expressed not only between each person of the faith, but between them and the rest of the world as well.
Early Christianity relied on two things to spread the Word of God. There was no organized effort to speak of and no Bibles for people to read, so people depended on what they heard and saw. What they relied on were, using the Greek words of the time, kerygma (ke·RYG·ma) and koinonia (koi·no·NI·a).
Kerygma means "proclamation." Its from the root word keryx which means "to herald." However, at the time, Greek debate had ascended to such high esteem that multiple and varied philosophies all existed at the same time. Discussions and formal arguments were commonly held in public forums where each philosophy was promoted and defended. So, people tended to shrug off proclamations as just another teaching. What was unusual about Christianity, however, was koinonia.
Koinonia means "communion" (not to be confused with Holy Communion which has a different root) or "fellowship." It's from the root word koinos meaning "common." In other words, it's fellowship that grows from joint participation in what people have in common. But to use the term "fellowship" to define the koinonia expressed by early Christians is like saying the Titanic was sunk by a block of ice. The iceberg it struck we deep and unmovable. Likewise, the fellowship of believers arises out of a sense of unity from a love that runs deep. It can be just as unmovable.
The reason Christianity spread so rapidly with no organization behind it was because people envied the fellowship they saw in Christians, marveling at "how those Christians loved one another." It was a divine relationship believers shared—a relationship between the Father in heaven, among each other, and encompassed the entire world. It was a true love triangle.
Unfortunately, the modern church now seems to emphasize proclamation. It can be very good at telling others why they need salvation, but more often then not, it lacks the ability—or desire—to show them. Instead of just talking about Jesus, what happened to showing the love of Jesus by bearing one another's burdens? The church today needs more "One Another" ministries, recognizing that relationships are more important than issues.
If the church did so, there would be nothing it could do to keep people away. If not, there is nothing it can say to keep them.
I am not asking on behalf of these alone, but also for those who believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one; just as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.
— John 17:19-20
Epiphany. Most people know what the word demonstrates, that of any kind of sudden realization. We often talk of having an epiphany about any number of things, though it usually involves some sort of emotional breakthrough that results in a positive outcome—I've never heard of a negative epiphany.
Archimedes running down the street shouting "Eureka" because of a scientific discovery was most certainly an epiphany. But it doesn't have to be of a scientific nature. In fact, most of them are about personal issues such as suddenly discovering we aren't who people say we are, the importance of a loved one, or learning that the journey is more important than the destination. Things like that.
I had a similar epiphany of my own once. Early in my career, I brought a lot of work home with me. I would spend good quality time in the evening working instead of relating to my young family. One day, just a day or two before we were about to go on a family camping vacation—along with my brother's family—my boss said there was a meeting in another state he insisted I attend. It was right in the middle of our vacation. agreed to go, albeit reluctantly. After all, it involved my career.
So, one morning as the family slumbered in their sleeping bags, I rose early, flew to another state, sat through a meeting that I could have easily skipped, and flew back late that same night. It was only then that I discovered my oldest son's bike had broken during the day. My brother fixed it for him, but I was disgusted at my behavior in which I had forfeited a valuable learning experience with my son. I remember turning to my wife and saying, "If I even do that again, rope me and tie me to a tree." From that day forward I never took a lick of work home with me.
The epiphany I had was that family came before career. That's the kind of thing that most people think of when they hear the word epiphany. So why, then, does the calendar indicate that a Christian holiday called Epiphany occurs on a set date … January 6th? How do you schedule an epiphany? Are we to wake up, rub the sleep from our eyes, and say, "Well, I guess I'll go out and have an epiphany today?" No, it doesn't work like that.
The truth is, the word epiphany has mutated from a similar word—Theophany. Breaking down the word, theo- means "God" and phainein means "show" or "bring to light." So Theophany means an occurrence when God manifests Himself. Over the years, anything that wasn't of a religious nature morphed into the more-common "epiphany" (epi- is a preposition meaning "to"), rendering it as "to manifest" or "to appear."
So, properly, the Holiday of Epiphany should more rightly be listed as Theophany, because it celebrates ways in which God has manifested Himself. Most people think it began as a celebration when the Magi finally arrived to present the baby Jesus with those gifts meant for royalty. Most likely it was at least a few years after Christ was born, contrary to what our nativity sets show us … erroneously. The theophany was Christ made manifest to the Gentile world in the form of the non-Jewish Magi.
Yet, that's not the primary manifestation and the reason why Christians celebrate this day. It was actually the day, reckoned by counting backward from Passover, when Christ was baptized by John the Baptist and thus began his ministry. That's a far more important affirmation of God—the Word of God being made manifest—than any gifts brought by some eastern astronomers.
I think all believers of Christ can count this day as special. It memorializes for us all that moment when we had our own theophany, when we first saw the need for Christ in our life, when we first saw God made manifest before us. Let's all pause and recognize this day as representing the most important day in each of our lives … the day that we became beloved children of the living God.
After He was baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and settling on Him, and behold, a voice from the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
— Matthew 3:16-17
Persian rugs, tapestries, or any similar kind of fancy rugs are remarkable for their workmanship. With colorful threads that form patterns or pictures, they can be classified as true works of art sewn from the most basic of elements like linen, cotton, or wool yarn. Can you imagine the splendor of the design when sometimes they are made with gold and silver silk thread?
Yet, have you ever walked behind one of these works of textile art? They are a mess. Different colored threads crisscrossing and recrossing one another. Matted down fabric with loose ends dangling everywhere. Its a smorgasbord of thread spaghetti.
That side of the tapestry of our life is what we tend to see when we're deep into our trials, undergoing the labor pains of our spiritual growth. We know all the right things to think, do, and say as we try to put on a brave front. We attempt to be strong with the Lord, knowing he is with us always. Yet, when our struggles lengthen, our spirit becomes weakened and our diligence fails. We invariably start to say "Where is the glory in this Lord?" All we see is the mess.
Sometimes we even figure God needs help and so we begin to pitch in … to nudge God into greater action. We may tug on the hanging threads or even pull out a needle and try to make an adjustment ourselves. Which, of course, only manages to make a bigger mess. That's when we become frustrated, stare at the mass of errant spiderweb of threads, and think this is never going to work.
Then, God's perfect time arrives and He beckons us, saying "Come around to the front side of the tapestry now and let me show you the beauty of what I've been working on ... just for you." That's when we fall to our knees in utter delight and worship the living God for what he gives to those that don't deserve such splendor.
That's how is was with Moses. He was a nobody, living out in the desert, seemingly far from God's thoughts. He was probably looking at a pile of lamb's wool lying on the desert floor thinking there's no way this can become a tapestry. One of my favorite quotes is from Michael Catt, producer of the film Fireproof, who said:
Moses was a forgotten man in the wilderness, but God had Moses right where he wanted him and met him at the burning bush.
Always remember there is a front side to the tapestry of your trials, waiting to be revealed at just the right moment by a loving God. What wonders God has planned for us if we only allow Him to finish His work.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
– Ephesians 2:8-10
I learned to play golf late in life. I was in my mid-forties and a co-worker of mine was looking for a playing partner. I had never had much interest in the game, but to help him out, I decided to jump in. I even took some lessons from a golf pro. I enjoyed being on the golf course, but I never got very good at it. Passable, but mediocre at best. The reason was I could never keep all I needed to do in my head at the same time.
There is a lot to think about when addressing the ball to hit it. Almost every part of the body is involved. You have to think about placement and action of feet, knees, hips, shoulders, hands, and even your head. Then there's the back-swing, follow through, and the angle of the plane of the swing. Yikes! My problem was that I could get certain things right, each at some point in time, but never have all of them working at the same time to reach the perfect swing. There was just too much to think about for my feeble brain.
Our walk with Christ can be like that sometimes. We're inundated with so many details in this age of information from podcasts, web pages, and book upon book about how to live the Christian life. We hear and read what we should do and what we shouldn't do. If we were to make a checklist, there would literally be hundreds of avenues for self-help.
That's not to say that all are bad advice. Most stress worthwhile activities—reading the Bible, prayer, attending church, and showing love. However, rarely do they stop there. The inundation of excess information becomes almost too much for the brain to handle when we begin thinking of all the things were supposed to do as Christians. Like playing golf, we can begin to fade into mediocrity when we try to consider it all.
But how do we know when we're drifting too far from the basics of our faith? When are we beginning to hook or to slice?
A great a apologetic writer of Christian books had some good advice. His name was C.S. Lewis and in his book Mere Christianity, he mentioned one thing a wandering Christian can do is to stop and examine the state of their Christian growth (often called sanctification) and understand that progress often means turning back.
The process of sanctification is not always consistently forward, nor is it a straight line. It's easy to take a single step sideways which leads us down the wrong path. The longer we go down such a road, the further we stray from the truth.
When we begin to walk down a path with head down, listening to the cacophony of counsel, it simply becomes a jumble of duplicity lulling us into a state of pliability through over-stimulation. Turning down the volume is obviously the fist step in knowing when to turn back to the basics—back to the truth.
The only way I know of how to do that is through the strategy we use as we approach a set of railroad tracks: stop, look, and listen. We need to stop ourselves, look at our maturity of faith, and listen to the quiet voice of the Holy Spirit to give us true direction. The Spirit is never wrong nor will ever mislead us, unlike human agents.
Then, we need the capability to accept our mis-steps, curb any pride we may cling to, and turn back.
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron ...
— 1 Timothy 4:1-2
We are inundated with things of the world every day, especially during these turbulent times. Should we support what one side says, or the other? Should we care about what the news outlets say we should care about? What about removing this symbol or following another symbol—will it solve our problems? Daily we are reminded that things are not well with the world we live in. Scornfulness surrounds us at every turn.
What we, as followers of Christ, have to keep reminding ourselves is that we are not of this world. We are almost forced to have opinions on what matters to the world, when in fact, we should be turning away from those things. When issues come up that annoy or even anger us, other than things that pertain to following God's Word, we should say, "This is not my world."
People matter, of course. They not only need earthly help in the form of food, shelter, medicine, and so forth ... but spiritual help as well. What they do matters in the sense that we may hate what they do or say and want them to turn from it, but we must realize that we have no control over them. Jesus knew this. He hated the sin that people had lost themselves in, but he concentrated on changing the world simply by changing their hearts.
We see this when a woman shunned by society for her immorality met Jesus at a well (John 4:4–26). He didn't love her promiscuity. He didn't love the circumstances that had led her down the road to sin. However, He cared about her enough to save her from herself, as he cares about every person in the world—enough to die for each and every one of us.
The world, as it had become and is now, was not His world. It was Satan's and one day, Jesus knew that Satan's world will come to an end. That's okay, because it's not our world either. We are headed for a different one. We are ambassadors of a different world. That's the one we anticipate … the one we long for, though not enough that we shun the love that needs to be spread here.
We are to be like a tree planted beside channels of water. The water is Jesus, which constantly sustains us, as water sustains a tree. Trees that live out in nature, away from water, are dependent on the whims of worldly rain to sustain them. When a person is caught up in the world, counting on it to support them, sooner or later the rains cease and a drought comes. A person fed by a steady supply of living water—the same living water Jesus told the woman of the well about—will always continue to prosper, bearing fruit when the time is right for us to do so.
He will be like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.
— Psalm 1:3
Asking forgiveness is an essential component of maintaining a relationship. Any husband or wife will testify how important it is to ask and receive forgiveness from one another. It's one of the most important tools to maintain a happy and successful marriage.
Living the Christian life is no different because it has everything to do with relationships. It's the relationship horizontally to other people and the relationship vertically to God. As in any relationship, mistakes happen. We miss the mark (which is the actual definition of sin) and end up hurting others and hurting God. That’s why asking forgiveness for those mistakes is so important—to assuage the hurt—because God is hurt when we sin.
That said, Christians sometimes miss an important component of forgiveness, and that's repentance. Certainly, in order to ask forgiveness, we have to penitent, which is identifying our sin and being remorseful for it. That leads us into forgiveness. But repentance has another meaning. The Greek word for it is metanoia (me-teh-NOY-eh), which means to "change one's mind or purpose." It's a turning away from the sin we are remorseful over. This is sometimes a missing component.
Many years ago, I first saw a bumper sticker that said, "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven." The statement is true enough, but it left many nonbelievers vexed because it almost implied that Christians can do anything they want as long as they ask forgiveness. But forgiveness goes beyond just the asking, it includes the need to repent of our sin.
Repentance means we tell God that we will do everything in our power to turn away from the sin we have committed. We will try our best to not do it again. Forgiveness without repentance is cheap grace. With repentance, it helps us on our path to become more Christlike—a process called sanctification. Without repentance we remain infantile in our salvation.
We are already reconciled with God when we accept Jesus Christ as our savior. That was the purpose of the cross. However, we better our relationship with God when we repent of our sins … and it's all about that relationship.
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?
— Romans 6:1-2
People make resolutions all the time: time to loose weight, spend more time at the gym, eat better foods, and so on. However, change is not something that can be ordered depending on the day of your choosing. More often it depends on God's plan for you when real change comes into your life. Such was the case with me.
It was on a cold wintry day when doctors discovered that I had end-stage liver disease—cirrhosis of the liver brought on by alcoholism. I was a closet, functioning alcoholic, which means I held down my job, never got a DUI, nor was ever physical with anyone. Yet, the emotional havoc I inflicted damaged the ones I loved most.
I make no excuses ... I was an alcoholic in every sense of the word. However, A year earlier I had ceased drinking entirely, so it came as a great shock to discover I had cirrhosis of the liver. I thought my problems had been solved. Instead I ended up on my knees, seeking redemption as I dealt with my mortality.
I realized that I had to turn the problem completely over to God because this was something beyond my ability to control. A substantial change was needed if I was to survive. Often you’ll hear people say they want to stop smoking, exercise more, start getting more organized, all on a specific date such as New Year’s Day. We all fall victim to it. But a manufactured day does not take the place of real epiphany.
So what brought about the significant change in my life? It was acceptance that God is in total control with an abounding willingness to help. It's the moment when I was driven to bended knee in deep humility, ashamed of what I was and what I had become. It was at that moment, when I looked into the dark well of my heart, that I became appalled at the reflection looking back, for both physical and spiritual reasons.
That moment hit me like a ton of bricks and I realized I must change how I was handling my life, or failing to handle it. It involved that awful word we often hate—surrender. That was the moment of my true faith in God. I didn't resolve to do anything, I simply capitulated.
God has forewarned us that we can't keep living sinful lives without consequences. We may know that and be filled with desire for change—hating our sin—but the actual change can never be executed on our own. We have neither the skill nor the power to make those changes on our own.
God has promised to help us out of our despair, but those moments He chooses to do so are unregulated. They come out of nowhere, arrive unexpected, knock your teeth loose, and rock you with their impact. You can't simply decide: this is the day I'm going to change. Change comes at you like an oncoming train and you either conform to God’s will or get left at the station.
The first step always belongs to us, to make the choice. That's all that's required—you don't need to first clean up your act or get yourself right. God will not reach out and take your difficulties from you, but He will accept them if you give them to Him. All you need to do is take that first halting, uncertain, stumbling step toward God. He will meet you right there and lead you the rest of the way.
I'm here today writing this because He did that for me. So test yourself always and if you find yourself wanting, don't wait as you slip into a pit of desperation. Real change requires help from God and remember that God is a God of second chances ... and third ... and fourth ...
Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?
— 2 Corinthians 13:5