Monday, October 23, 2023

Giving Up Leads to Fruit

I have been spending some time reflecting on harvest during the fall season.  With all of the fall community celebrations along with apples, fruits, preserves, there is an atmosphere of celebration in enjoying the fruit of labor.

I am reminded of something Jesus said during the fall season of his life.  In the upper room, he had his final Passover with this disciples and friends.  Soon, he would be the new Passover.  There, he instituted a new, weekly Passover when he transformed the meaning of the cup and bread.

His choice of words bears some reflection.  In Matthew 26:27-29, he said, And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.” 

When Jesus gave them the cup of Passover wine, he assigned new meaning to it.  For wine to be associated with the new covenant evokes the common scriptural images of a bountiful harvest that comes because of the favor of the Lord.  Part of this imagery includes the joyful abundance of wine (Isa 25:6; 55:1-2; Hos 2:21-22; Hoel 2:18-24; Amos 9:13-14).  For years in my Bible reading, I did not notice the abundance of wine as a sign of God’s favor.  This way probably because of the negative connotations associated with strong drink.  However, in these cases it is not about drunkenness, which the Bible condemns, but about an abundant harvest that is a sign of God’s favor due to human faithfulness.  For example, in a message of hope for future restoration, Isaiah 25:6 says, On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.”  On the other hand, the lack of wine is a sign of God’s disfavor and judgment to due sin (Jer 48:33; Hos 2:8-9; Joel 1:10; Hag 1:10).  For example, due to Israel’s consistent sin, in Hoses 2:9 God said, “Therefore I will take back my grain in its time, and my wine in its season.”  (This may offer a subtle message that God’s favor has returned when Jesus turned water to wine in John 2.)

Jesus’ choice of words also bears reflection.  Jesus could have said, “wine,” and all of the above images related to wine would still be there.  However, he said, “fruit of the vine” and connected it to his blood which he would shed for our sins.  The connection of wine, fruit, his blood, and his death is a powerful reminder for us.  When he shed his blood on the cross, his death bore abundant fruit.  It was the restoration of God’s favor, expressed in a new covenant that has been inaugurated by the blood of Jesus, shed on the cross.  This calls to mind when Jesus announced his impending death with this explanation in John 12:24: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  Truly, Jesus’ death bore much fruit. 

It occurs to me that we also need to “die” in order to bear fruit for God.  His death, burial, and resurrection is the pattern for our new life in him, which we demonstrated by being buried with him in baptism, dying to ourself, and being raised up as a new person in him (Rom 6:1-7).  When we truly die to ourselves in him, our death will produce abundant fruit.  The only way to bear fruit is in giving up of ourselves.  

One practical example of this in action comes from 2 Corinthians 8:1-5; 9:6-11 and also bears reflection.  In pointing out some of the poverty-stricken brethren’s overwhelming generosity in giving to needy brethren, the text goes on to say this. He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God” (2 Cor 9:10-11).  The self-sacrificing spirit in the name of Christ will not only produce an abundant harvest of thanksgiving to the Lord, strengthening the faith of the brethren, but God will also continue to bless with more seed for more harvests!


Follow The Leader

This last summer we had the opportunity to take a trip through the desert where there were no roads.  We drove a four-wheel drive vehicle through sand, up rocky hills, and on the side of cliffs with sheer drop offs on either side.  Sometimes it was a joy, and at other times it was a nail-biting experience either due to the extremely rough terrain or because of the drop off only a few inches away from our tires.  In addition to this, the temperature was over 110 degrees, which made us thankful for the water we brought along.

Being our first time in this type of vehicle in a place where there were no roads, we elected to take the guided tour rather than go on our own.  The guide drove on ahead of us and communicated to us via walkie talkie, making us aware of safety issues that would avoid rolling the vehicle, falling off a cliff, or damaging the vehicle on the rocks.  As long as we followed the leader and listened to her instructions, we did just fine.  It was a fun trip filled with beautiful scenes of the desert, which included the Colorado River that ran through the area.

After that two-and-a-half-hour bumpy, hot, and dusty trip in the desert, we found out that we needed the rest that came afterward.  After our return, we relaxed with a cold drink in an air-conditioned room.  I didn't realize how tense all my muscles had been out on that trail in the desert until after we returned and were able to relax.    

I am reminded of Israel's trip through the desert.  They also had hazards along the way.  The most important thing was for them to trust their leader and listen to his instructions.  God went on ahead of them in the cloud and led them safely through each hazard, whether it was lack of water, food, or even facing a hostile enemy.  In the desert with all its dangers, the people needed to learn to follow their leader to make it to the promised land.

One of the Psalms commemorates these events with these words, "13 He divided the sea and let them pass through it, and made the waters stand like a heap. 14 In the daytime he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a fiery light. 15 He split rocks in the wilderness and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep. 16 He made streams come out of the rock and caused waters to flow down like rivers" (Ps 78:13-16).  As long as the people continued to follow God who went on ahead of them, God continued to provide for them.  However, what should have been a much shorter trip wound up taking forty years due to the rebellion of the first generation of Israelites.  The Psalm goes on to say, "17 Yet they sinned still more against him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert (Ps 78:17).


This is a reminder of how important it is to follow our Lord as he leads us in the spiritual wilderness.  This spiritual wilderness is full of hazards that include those who hate, tempt, manipulate, lie, or use us.  It is also full of the temptation to trust more in money, power, and self rather than God.  The question for myself is, "Do I respond according to the flesh, or according to the spirit in these things?  What is God's will according to his word?  Do I have the faith and courage to do according to his will instead of according to the flesh?"

Filling in The Hollowed Out

I recently read an interesting book review on Jonathan Grant’s book, Divine Sex.  It points out that today’s culture has hollowed out sex of its divine meaning.  It has been nothing more than a means of self-gratification.  The irony is that as a means of self-gratification, it results in frustration and despair rather than fulfillment.

Grant lays out the case that this emptying of sex’s divine meaning has happen in five phases:

1) The separation of sex from procreation.  This happens through contraception or even abortion.

2) The separation of sex from marriage.  This happens regularly when couples decide to live together without getting married.

3) The separation of sex from partnership.  This refers to recreational sexual activity without relationship.

4) The separation of sex from another person.  The rise of pornography in all of its forms has depersonalized sex completely.

5) The separation of sex from our own bodies.  This has happened through the questioning of the categories of male and female.

As I reflect on this, I have to wonder how much this is connected to the anger, despair, and hopelessness that seems to plague so many people in our current time.  I am reminded that God observed that “it is not good for man to be alone,” which led to his creation of woman.  The two were to become one flesh.  The two were given the task to have dominion over the earth as partners with their distinct roles in their marriage together.  Part of this included sex, which God reserved for marriage and no place else.  As part of marriage, this union is a physical, emotional, and spiritual oneness that reflects the beauty and holiness of God.  This union is holy.  It is for our spouse and no one else.  It seems that so many social, emotional, and spiritual woes result from the perverting of God’s design regarding marriage.  The fact that God prescribed such extreme judicial penalties for sexual sin in Israel reveals the gravity of God’s sexual design.  From adultery, incest, fornication, and rape all carried the death penalty in ancient Israel.  

On the other hand, when one honors God and his design for love, sex, and marriage, life flourishes and God is honored and pleased.  Here are some passages to reflect on:   

“He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD” (Prov 18:22 ESV).

“Enjoy life with your beloved wife[w] during all the days of your fleeting life that God has given you on earth” (Eccl 9:9 NET).

“Guard your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life” (Prov 4:23).

“Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well. Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth” (Prov 5:15-18 ESV).

These passages remind us of the beauty, blessing, and joy that come as a result of honoring God’s design in our relationships, especially marriage.  This is part of what it means to be holy and is one of the ways we worship and honor God.  The only way to fill up what the world has hollowed out is to honor God’s design.

Tuesday, October 03, 2023

It IS the Lambie!

Some of us were on a roll quoting lines from the comedy movie, “The Quest for the Holy Grail.”  In one scene, Tim the Enchanter leads King Arthur and his knights to the cave of a terrible and vile monster.  Tim had terrified them by warning, “Death awaits you all with nasty, big, pointy teeth!”  The men arrived to find the area in front of the cave littered with bones and broken armor.  “There he is!” Tim announced. “Where? Behind the Rabbit?” Arthur asked.  “It IS the rabbit!” answered Tim.  At this point, a sense of relief and ridicule came from Arthur and his men.  Even though Tim pointed out, “Look at the bones!” they were no longer convinced. When Arthur ordered one of his men to get the rabbit, it suddenly lunged and killed him along with two more of Arthur’s men before they ran away.

The scene brings to mind another scene that is neither comedic nor ridiculous.  In Revelation chapter 5, John saw God on his throne holding a scroll that no one was worthy to open except the Lion of the Tribe of Judah who had conquered.  John looked at the Lion, but “saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain…” (Rev 5:6).  There are several words in Greek that can for “lamb.”  The one in this verse is interesting.  “Arnion,” is a diminutive form of “aren.”  The “ion” at the end of a Greek word makes it diminutive.  An example of an English diminutive is “let,” as used in words like piglet, eyelet, droplet, booklet, starlet, or kitchenette.  Other examples are duckling, gosling, cigarette, diskette, doggie, kitty, and so forth.  The Greek word “arnion” could be rendered as “lambling,” “lambette,” or “lambie.”

I have been reflecting on what “lambie” communicates.  This is not just a lamb that John sees, but a little lamb.  It seems mild and harmless on the surface.  However, the text refers to the “lambie” as the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah,” which communicates agility, power, and strength.  This lambie was slain, but is now standing, never to taste of death again.  At one point, when the commanders and kings of the earth were trying to hide from judgment, they cried out to the rocks and mountains to fall on them and hide them “from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the lambie, for the great day of their wrath has come” (Rev 6:16-17).  In Revelation 19, the lambie appears as the fiery eyed warrior riding on a white horse as King of Kings and Lord of Lords wearing a robe with blood, wielding a sword from his mouth to strike the nations and has the armies of Heaven following him!

This “lambie” reminds me of the nature of God’s power.  It is often perceived as weakness, especially by those who do not have eyes to see and ears to hear.  With hearts that see, we know that “he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God” (2 Cor 13:4). We understand that “power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).  We recognize that “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses” (2 Cor 10:4).  God has demonstrated this through people like Gideon (Jud 7:1-22), Young David (1 Sam 17:44-51), Jehoshaphat (2 Chr 20:20-25), and others.  I am reminded of something Jimmy Allen, one of my instructors, used to say.  “One man with God always makes a majority.”  

The power of God is not behind the lambie, it IS the lambie!