His Exclusive Claim

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As I mentioned in a recent post, I saw the movie, “The Shack,” two Sundays ago. I continue to reflect on this fictional story and have talked with several persons about it. As sometimes happens, a fresh insight came as I was telling one of my sisters about the movie and my experience of seeing it. What I noted was that the main character, “Mack,” encountered Jesus first and His words were an invitation.

I thought of John 14:6, which constitutes a part of Jesus’ response to Thomas’s question, “Lord, we do not know where You are going; so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5, AMP). “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the [only] Way [to God] and the [real] Truth and the [real] Life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.'” (John 14:6, AMP).

This exclusive claim of Jesus has been the source of offense for many. In the article,  “Is Jesus the Only Way?” the author, Paul Rutherford, identifies Jesus’ exclusive claim that He is the only Way to God as “the most offensive aspect of Christianity today.” He identifies the following objections to Jesus’ exclusive claim: “Tolerance;” “Absolutes Don’t Exist;” and, “Pluralism.” Rutherford also provides the Scriptural basis for believing that Jesus is the only Way to God.  (I encourage you to invest the time necessary to read the article.  I recognize the need in myself to further develop the discipline of diving deeper into the tenets of my faith, to know why I believe what I believe. Perhaps you see this as a need we have in common). 

I think of Jesus’ exclusive claim and how being offended by His claim can result in one overlooking the amazing and incomprehensible fact that God loves us enough to provide any way back to Him, more so this Way. This Way, which required the Word to become flesh  and suffer beyond human imagining to redeem us.

Also, I recall His loving invitations and will close this post with two of them and His promise to those who come to Him. I pray that if you have not accepted His invitations, you will this Lenten season. And if you have, pause to give Him thanks.

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavily burdened [by religious rituals that provide no peace], and I will give you rest [refreshing your souls with salvation]. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me [following Me as My disciple], for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest (renewal, blessed quiet) for your souls.  For My yoke is easy [to bear] and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, AMP)

 Now on the last and most important day of the feast, Jesus stood and called out [in a loud voice], “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink! He who believes in Me [who adheres to, trusts in, and relies on Me], as the Scripture has said, ‘From his innermost being will flow continually rivers of living water. (John 7:37-39, AMP)

“All that My Father gives Me will come to Me; and the one who comes to Me I will most certainly not cast out [I will never, never reject anyone who follows Me].(John 6:3, AMP)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tempted? Our High Priest Knows

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After Jesus was baptized, He came up immediately out of the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he (John) saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him (Jesus), and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased and delighted!”

Then Jesus was led by the [Holy] Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  After He had gone without food for forty days and forty nights, He became hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, …” But Jesus replied, “It is written and forever remains written …”  (Matthew 3:16-4:11, AMP)

As described in the Scripture passage above, after Jesus was baptized by John, had the Spirit descend as a dove and light on Him, and received God’s audible approval, He was led by the Spirit. He was led, not to a mountain top, into the temple, or before the spiritual or political rulers of the era. He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He was tempted during a time when His physical strength was likely depleted after 40 days and nights of fasting. He was tempted and met every temptation with the written Word.

He was tempted and, although only three temptations are mentioned in Matthew 4:1-11, Hebrews 4:15 makes it clear that Jesus was tempted “in every respect as we are.” We have a High Priest, this verse tells us, who is able to sympathize and understand our weaknesses and temptations. He sympathizes and understands our weaknesses and temptations because, as the Amplified Bible translation of Hebrews 4:15 states, our High Priest is “One who has been tempted [knowing exactly how it feels to be human] in every respect as we are, yet without [committing any] sin.”

In addition, Jesus, “… although He existed in the form and unchanging essence of God [as One with Him, possessing the fullness of all the divine attributes—the entire nature of deity], did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped or asserted [as if He did not already possess it, or was afraid of losing it]; but emptied Himself [without renouncing or diminishing His deity, but only temporarily giving up the outward expression of divine equality and His rightful dignity] by assuming the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men [He became completely human but was without sin, being fully God and fully man]” (Philippians 2:5-7, AMP). He did all this for you. He did all this for me. He did all this for us. And assures us of this truth,

“No temptation [regardless of its source] has overtaken or enticed you that is not common to human experience [nor is any temptation unusual or beyond human resistance]; but God is faithful [to His word—He is compassionate and trustworthy], and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability [to resist], but along with the temptation He [has in the past and is now and] will [always] provide the way out as well, so that you will be able to endure it [without yielding, and will overcome temptation with joy]” (1 Corinthians 10:13, AMP).

It is easy to recognize the desire to do something we know is wrong, as a temptation; however, a temptation, is also a strong desire or urge, the Merriam-Webster dictionary informs us, to do something that is unwise. Whatever form a temptation takes, we can be sure that our compassionate Father, who has declared us to be “more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37), has provided a way out. Also, He works in us, giving us both the desire and the power to do what pleases Him (Philippians 2:13, NLT). Thank You, Lord.

God’s Knowability

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The Shack, the movie based on William Paul Young’s bestselling book of the same name, opened in US theaters on Friday, March 3, 2017. I saw it on Sunday. In one of the earliest conversations in the movie, Papa calls the main character by his full name, “Mackenzie Allen Phillipps,” and in response to his question, “Do I know You?” responds, “Not very well.”

As I watched the movie, I came face to face with the fact that I do not know God as well as I should and as well as He has made it possible for me to know Him. As well as He wants to be known. How incredible is this. God wants to be known.

We can never know Him fully but we can know what He has revealed of Himself, beginning with the Word made flesh. Here is a link to an article I found helpful about the knowability of God. I hope you find it helpful also. Blessings.

A life fully lived

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“Sarah lived a hundred and twenty-seven years; this was the length of the life of Sarah.” (Genesis 23:1, AMP)

I read Genesis 23:1 and wondered not about the length of Sarah’s life, but the fullness, the depth, and the breath of her life. I wondered, “Did Sarah live every day fully? Or, like me, like you, were there days when she was just surviving? Going through the motions? Wearied by the mundane?”

She was 90 years old when she give birth to Isaac. We know that she was very beautiful but had endured the heartbreak of infertility for decades, and had lost hope of having a child of her own. Remember how she laughed when she heard the Lord say that she would have a child?

For those of us who have lived with an unfulfilled dream, a yet unfulfilled promise, we can identify with her laughter at that moment. We can identify with Sarah’s laughter because, as much as we want it to be true, few, if any of us, are exempt from being assailed by doubt at some point in our journey of faith. And yet, this same Sarah who laughed within herself is one of only two women named in the Hall of Faith.

Read what is said of Sarah: first, in Genesis 21:1(NIV);

Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised.”

then in Hebrews 11:11 (AMP),

 “By faith even Sarah herself received the ability to conceive [a child], even [when she was long] past the normal age for it, because she considered Him who had given her the promise to be reliable and true [to His word].”

Read also what  the Bible records Sarah said of her self:

Sarah said, ‘God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.’ And she added, ‘Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.’” (Genesis 21:6-7, NIV)

So what is my answer to the first question I posed earlier, “Did Sarah live every day fully?” My answer is, “No.” Why? Because she had days, even seasons, like you and I, when she made poor choices. And doubted God. And ill treated people in her life. But I dare say that she lived a full life. Because I believe it is the sum total of our days which matters. Any life characterized by a journey from doubt to faith.  Any life for which the defining statement is, “By faith even Sarah herself received the ability to conceive [a child], even [when she was long] past the normal age for it, because she considered Him who had given her the promise to be reliable and true [to His word]”, such a life is a life fully lived. A life with depth and breath. A life that each of us are enabled by God to live.

 “The thief comes only in order to steal, kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, life in its fullest measure.” (John 10:10, CJB)

 

 

 

Five Minute Friday: Slow

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I am joining Kate Motaung and other members of the Five Minute Friday community (on a Saturday) for our weekly writing adventure. To learn about Five Minute Friday, click here. This week’s prompt is, “Slow.”

I have a crock pot. I have had it for over 10 years but have not used it ten times. It clearly is not one of the most frequently used items in my kitchen. Interestingly enough, when I do use it, I am always satisfied by the quality of the meal made.

Why have I not used it more? You guessed it. It is a slow cooker and unless I have intentionally chosen to cook a particular dish over an extended period of time, I use other utensils at my disposal.

I am thinking as I write of the things God has purposed for my life and yours. And how often, it seems that He is working very, very slowly to accomplish His goals. Much like if He is “cooking with a slow cooker.” But His timing is perfect. And He can never be rushed. And the finished product will always be worth the wait. Whether it is a situation or a change He is working in us.

 

The log that makes bitter water sweet

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22 Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. 24 And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” 25 And he cried to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a log, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.

 There the Lord made for them a statute and a rule, and there he tested them, 26 saying, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer.” (Exodus 15:22-26, ESV; emphases added)

They were three days in the wilderness. Three days without water. Then Marah. Marah had water. But it could not be consumed because it was bitter.  The Israelites responded by grumbling against Moses. He  responded by crying out to the LORD. The LORD showed him that which He would use, through Moses, to make the bitter water sweet.

Are you there?

In the wilderness?

Walking through a difficult season?

 

You may have accepted that there is no way around.

Only through.

Or you are moving toward acceptance.

Determine not to complain.

Or at least complain less.

Trusting that things will not get worse.

 

But now you are at “Marah.”

And you realize that you were wrong.

Things can get worse. 

For Marah is a place of bitter water.

And there is nothing here that will refresh.

Nothing that will make the wilderness bearable.

There is nothing life-giving in this place.

 

In our Marahs, we have two choices: grumble like the Israelites; or, like Moses, cry out to the LORD. He is the only One who knows how to and is both willing and able to transform what is bitter into something sweet. He has the “log” which, when brought into that which is bitter, transforms it. The “log” is His Word. The “log” is His love.  The “log” is His grace. The “log” is His power all wrapped up in His finished work of redemption through the Cross (Jesus’ suffering, death, burial, and resurrection). We can cry out to Him to in our Marahs and He will transform that which is bitter into something life giving . . .  even when that which is bitter is us. He says to us as He did to the Israelites, “I am the Lord, your healer.”

 

Five Minute Friday: Weak

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I am joining Kate Motaung and other members of the Five Minute Friday community for our weekly writing adventure. To learn more about Five Minute Friday, click here. This week’s prompt is, “Weak.”

GO

Loss and lack. These two states are common sources of weakness. Think of some one with a weak immune system. Some of the factors which can weaken our immune system include, chronic stress, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, and lack of proper hygiene habits.

Anemia can also be a source of weakness and can be caused by a loss of blood. It is interesting to me that the loss of blood can be visible, as in when someone has an open wound. But the loss can also be internal. And that type of loss may take longer to uncover.

In addition to loss and lack, sorrow can also make us weak. Hear David’s words, his prayer to God, “Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief.” (Psalm 31:9, NIV). Yes, sorrow can make us weak. Drain the strength and joy, and sometimes even the will to live, right out of us. Thankfully, whatever the source of our weakness, there is one Source through Whom we can experience healing and restoration. Whether it is physical, spiritual, or emotional. He is our Healer and the Restorer.

STOP

He may use diverse means to bring about healing and restore our health and strength but He is the Source of it all.

 

 

A stick that makes iron float

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And the sons of the prophets said to Elisha, “See now, the place where we dwell with you is too small for us. Please, let us go to the Jordan, and let every man take a beam from there, and let us make there a place where we may dwell.”

So he answered, “Go.”

Then one said, “Please consent to go with your servants.”

And he answered, “I will go.” So he went with them. And when they came to the Jordan, they cut down trees. But as one was cutting down a tree, the iron ax head fell into the water; and he cried out and said, “Alas, master! For it was borrowed.”

So the man of God said, “Where did it fall?” And he showed him the place. So he cut off a stick, and threw it in there; and he made the iron float. Therefore he said, “Pick it up for yourself.” So he reached out his hand and took it. (2 Kings 6:1-7, NKJV)

Loss can occur while you are doing something good. And what you lose can both be what you need to continue on and, due to the circumstances under which the loss occurred, can seem irrecoverable. This was the situation faced by one of the sons of the prophets, as told in 2 Kings 6:1-7 (NKJV).

It is also a situation that each of us can face. In the process of building, working, living, we can lose an “ax head.”  The “ax head” can be our strength, peace of mind, joy, purpose, trust, etc. And the water which swallowed it can be any human experience which overwhelms, devastates, destroys, or produces an outcome that is unbearable.

Thankfully, in these moments, when we cry out to God, our Father, He is able to restore what was lost.  He has “a stick that makes iron float.” The “stick” is His Word, His grace, His mercy, His healing, His power, etc.  Out of His endless supply He is able to restore what we lost and enable us take hold of whatever the “iron” or “ax head” is that is necessary to continue doing what He has commissioned us to do.

 

Five Minute Friday: Breathe

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Joining Kate Motaung and other members of the Five Minute Friday community for our weekly writing adventure. To learn about Five Minute Friday, click here. This week’s prompt is, “Breathe.”

GO

Children hold their breaths. I wrote the words and have the inner knowing that this is a reminder, even a rebuke to me, and that it speaks of maturity and the need to resist acting like a brat. I am not sure that I will be able to flesh this thought out fully in this post but I have a sense that I will at some point.

Children hold their breath. Sometimes, one article notes, it is done involuntarily such as in those moments when it is the result of intense crying. Sometimes, however, breath holding is voluntary and associated with tantrums.

I have not thrown a tantrum as an adult. And I do not deserve a medal or applause for that which is not unusual in childhood. But let me clarify. I have not thrown a tantrum in the physical realm but I know I have done so in the realm of the spirit.

Breathing involves, at its simplest level, the acts of breathing in and breathing out. And there are times I refuse to expel what is harmful to me, wrong ways of thinking, for example … spiritual carbon dioxide, so to speak. And when I do so it is hard to breathe in the life He offers. And I hear Him gently but firmly insist, “Just breathe, Esther. Just breathe.” And He helps me do just that.

STOP

“Discovering” truth in a familiar story

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Joseph. He was the beloved and (blatantly) favored son, who was hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, imprisoned for a crime he did not commit, and ultimately became the second most powerful man in ancient Egypt. An additional detail of Joseph’s story is his God given ability to interpret dreams. This ability was the vehicle God used, in line with His purpose and timing, to position Joseph so that he could save life and preserve the family of Israel .

I have known this story known since childhood and recently read again the part of the story in which Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s two dreams. You can read the full account of the dreams in the 41st chapter of Genesis but I will share the interpretation here.

“Listen very carefully: seven years of great abundance will come throughout all the land of Egypt; but afterward seven years of famine and hunger will come, and [there will be such desperate need that] all the great abundance [of the previous years] will be forgotten in the land of Egypt [as if it never happened], and famine and destitution will ravage and destroy the land. 31 So the great abundance will become forgotten in the land because of that subsequent famine, for it will be very severe.(Genesis 41:29-31, AMP)

As previously stated, I have known this story since childhood but it was in the recent reading of Joseph’s story that I “discovered” something new. Or should I say, my eyes were opened to a truth that was always there?  This is what I “discovered” – Sometimes the ugly and hard experiences of life can eradicate the evidence and memory of the beautiful and good in our lives. But God has a plan for all seasons of our lives and, as articulated in the well known and oft quoted verse, Jeremiah 29:11, His plan is for our well-being and not for calamity, to give us a future and a hope. Our ability to trust His plan, however, rests on our knowledge of the unchanging nature of His character.

In the seasons of abundance, “the good seasons,” He gives the provision which prepares us to survive in the difficult times when loss and scarcity abound. We need His wisdom and guidance so that we do not squander during times of abundance that which is designed to sustain us in difficult times. In addition, we can be sure that He is also with us in difficult times and, like He did for Joseph when he was a slave in Potiphar’s house and again when he was in prison, God enables us to thrive in difficult seasons and also help 0thers. Seasons change but God remains the same.