Equal pay – fair play?

denarius

“And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour they each received a denarius.

“But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more, and they likewise received each a denarius. And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’

“But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you.

“‘Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?'”

— Matthew 20:10-15

Yesterday, we talked about the way God calls different people at different times to come to His “vineyard”, and the “wages” for doing so are the same, no matter when He calls them.

Part of that parable reminds us that it’s never too late to come to the Lord, but the other side of the coin (pardon me) is a reminder that you’re going to run into a little bit of bitterness … from the very people who might have been praying for you up to that point.

It’s human nature: you work hard at something, spend a long time doing it, and you expect that your work will be recognized as having more value than that of someone who started later. That’s especially true if that person started later and you all finished at the same time.

But that’s the world’s economy — this human-made concept called “fairness”. It’s not how God’s economy works. God is not a man, that He would show favoritism towards one person over another, and as we’ve seen many times before, the reward of the Kingdom has nothing to do with how much you’ve worked — so that no one can boast.

If we kvetch and say, “That’s not fair!”, we’re judging God, and that’s a Really Bad Idea.

But you often see it when someone comes to Christ. People who were “already there” expect that the years they spent serving the Lord make them more worthy of the salary than the newcomers. They might look at the newcomer’s past, and rather than rejoice over the fact that someone new is being welcomed into the Kingdom, start poking holes in their conversion, questioning whether it was real. Envy starts to take hold.

But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic.

For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.

— James 3:14-16 (emphasis added)

For those of us watching new people arrive in the Kingdom, we need to be rejoicing — not fretting that suddenly they’re going to get the same thing that we’ve been striving for, for years. And for the newcomers, it’s worth knowing that there will be this kind of reaction from long-time followers of Christ. Don’t respond: just go about living; because fuelling that fire is perpetuating the envy and confusion, and playing into the devil’s hands.

We have to remember that this is God’s ballpark, it’s His game and it’s His rules. He tells us what the reward is, and (get this) calls us when He’s ready to call us.

That’s something important to keep in mind: Jesus’ parable is about a vineyard owner going out and finding the laborers at certain hours of the day. In the same way, isn’t God going out and finding us at certain times? Some people were called at the beginning of the workday — others, not until near the end. So questioning whether some people are truly converted when they come to Him is the same as questioning God’s actions — and that attitude has a rather high failure rate.

So if you’re new to faith, know that, yes, there will be people who question your position and may even resent your newfound joy. Don’t sweat it: Jesus told us this would happen. Just keep loving them and living your new way and don’t waste your energy defending yourself.

To be fair, Jesus’ parable tells us that the people who’d worked all day didn’t actually begrudge the late-comers that denarius: they thought they should get paid more. When God calls us, we answer because we want to be part of the Kingdom of Heaven. Others answer His call because they, too, want to be part of the Kingdom of Heaven.

It’s all the same reward: we each get a denarius.

How can anyone ask for more than that?

Never too late!

workers_vineyard1

“For the Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 

And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went.

“Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’

“They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’

“So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’

— Matthew 20:1-9

When my mother passed away — fifteen years and a couple of days ago, now — a woman I knew gave me a Word from the Lord. She said, “The Lord told me that in her last moments, your mother received Jesus, so that she would see you and her grandchildren again in Heaven.”

Many people said many comforting things to me when mom died, but that was probably the most comforting. I had wondered about where my mother stood with God. Her father had been a preacher, who fell hard to the temptations of money and women, so religion was not so benignly ignored in our household. I always felt she had some sort of spirituality, but because of her distaste for organized religion, I never heard her confess Jesus as her Lord and Saviour.

It was good, then, to hear that from someone whose ability to hear from the Lord I trusted.

A friend of mine, who died about a year and a half ago, openly rejected God. “I never felt the need to endorse a higher authority,” he wrote to me, after I had asked if I could pray over him in the hospital. One might think that, with those words, he had punched his own ticket.

And yet …

Jesus tells us that, no matter when God calls us — or when we finally open our ears and hear Him — the reward we can expect is no different from the reward destined for those who have been believers all their lives.

While there is breath in us, we have the ability and the opportunity to confess Jesus. I believe that in those quiet moments, as we anticipate the end, that’s when God comes to those who have been “just hanging around” and says, “Come into My vineyard and work.” Even in a coma, with one foot in the natural world and the other taking a step into Eternity, one can make that confession on the spiritual level.

And guess what? When we do — we’re there!

The mother of another friend of mine had lived her life as an atheist, but as she faced the end, I was told she had become a Believer. (I blurted out, “Wonderful!”, not realizing how shocked and appalled the person who told me was — she, herself, was an atheist.)

I have no way of knowing, but I get some comfort from the thought that as he slipped away, my God-denying friend took that leap and said, “Who are You, Lord?” The alternative is too awful to imagine.

God is constantly seeking His people, sending His Son to find that one sheep out of a hundred who’s wandered off or is standing outside the sheep-cote, refusing to come in.

Don’t give up loving, praying for and reaching out to people who don’t know God — or don’t want to know Him (if they even acknowledge that He exists). Also, don’t despair for those who have already passed on. They may well have heard Him say, “Come work in My vineyard.”

Jesus is telling us (among other things): it doesn’t matter when you come to the party, so long as you show up.

Rebellion in the heart

Some say a politician, who spoke of being free
He was followed by the masses on the shores of Galilee
He spoke out against corruption and he bowed to no decree
And they feared his strength and power so they nailed him to a tree

from “The Outlaw”, by Larry Norman

Yesterday, we mentioned Alice Cooper’s observation that being a Christian is “rebellion”. And he’s right: everything Jesus taught and lived; everything He calls on us to do in His name, will put you at odds with The World.

It  will even put you at odds with yourself: natural reactions like hating someone different from you, hitting back when someone hits you, holding a grudge and remembering hurts even if the one who hurt you has forgotten (or never knew in the first place), are all urges Jesus calls on us to suppress.

Reaching out to help the poor goes against human nature. Our nature is to provide for ourselves and our families first, and devil take the hindmost. (As the comedian Colin Quinn says, “Our ancestors are not the ones who starved to death, waiting in line. For them, it wasn’t ‘After you’, but ‘After me‘.”) Poor people can be yucky to us; they can seem dangerous — they may actually be dangerous — so our human nature is to avoid them. That’s why Jesus, by His words and His example, was considered a dangerous rebel: the Pharisees and chief priests knew in their hearts that was what they should be doing, and that they weren’t doing it.

When Jesus warns us that “the deceitfulness of riches” can snatch away our faith, I don’t believe for an instant that He means we have to make ourselves poor in order to please God. After all, I’ve learned from my own life that as I’ve committed to tithe and give offerings, God has blessed me with more resources … so I can tithe more and give more offerings. (To paraphrase another Larry Norman song, Why should the devil have all the money?) But I believe Jesus is warning us to be extra careful, that we don’t follow God up to a point, and then that we  can “take it from here” and assume that anything we do is blessed of God. Our attitude becomes “Christian if necessary but not necessarily Christian”. We have to guard against the “riches effect”.

Being a rebel is hard, and what we have to remember is that the change that makes you become a rebel is fomented in the heart. You can’t impose it from outside: it has to come from within, with the Holy Spirit working in you. A few months ago, I mentioned CS Lewis’ “fake-it-till-you-make-it” approach — act as if you love someone and eventually you will. The action becomes so ingrained in your heart that your head stops trying to talk you out of it.

Being a rebel can make you feel rejected and sometimes all alone in the world. But remember that whatever we go through, Jesus has seen worse: and is with us, every step of the way.

One more thing: being a rebel means you grin and bear it. If you feel put-upon, persecuted, shunned because your faith is in something others can’t see, don’t whine and kvetch about how put-upon, persecuted and shunned you are.

For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that you should follow His steps.

Who committed no sin,

nor was deceit found in His mouth

who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously;

Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness — by whose stripes you were healed.

— 1 Peter 2:21-23

 

Hatred in the Name of the Lord?

Cautionary note: there might be a tendency to read this and see that it applies to others. That’s as may be, but this is really information to keep in your heart, so you can discern when someone’s theology is wonky. Primarily, though, this is a check for ourselves. Heaven knows I’ve needed it, myself: you might, one day, too.

Drinking beer is easy. Trashing your hotel room is easy. But being a Christian, that’s a tough call. That’s rebellion.

— Alice Cooper

ALICEYou want to know something else that’s easy? Hating.

It’s human nature to hate. We hate people who do things better than us; we hate people who are inferior to us (because we believe that if we hang out with them, people will think we’re inferior, too); we hate people who are different, whether it be skin colour, religion, way of looking at the world; and we definitely hate people who hate us.

That’s why the Word of God commands us to love others. Love God with everything we have and love our neighbour as ourselves.*

Oh, yeah: we’d hate God, too, given the chance.

So, since Jesus pronounces that as the “greatest commandment of all”, it would stand to reason that Christians would be in the forefront of loving, forgiving and granting grace to all around them, wouldn’t it?

Stop laughing.

When I was in high school — and long before I became a Christian — I had a friend who had a serious mad-on at all sorts of types of people. Hippies, bicyclists, environmentalists, socialists, people who behaved themselves in class, anyone who didn’t agree with him on any particular matter, came in for ridicule and condemnation.

At one point, he turned on me and said, “Come on! You’re prejudiced, too!” I answered, “Just against bigots.”

It was one of those snappy comebacks you think of in high school, but he was right: a cross I’ve had to pick up daily (and by no means the only one) has been my own prejudices. I’ll spare you the list.

When I first came to Christ, those prejudices became very well-defined, because they were based on things that were spelled out in the Bible. “Hooray!” I thought, “I can show off how righteous I am, how good a Christian I am, by hating the things that God hates — in Jesus’ Name.”

But something strange happened. The more I read my Bible, the more I listened to other people saying similar things, the more that mindset seemed Just Plain Wrong. Thank God for Kenneth Copeland, who around that time was preaching on and reinforcing “the love commandment”. I realized that the mind-set I had fallen into was not love-centered.

Easy — but not love-centered.

And if it wasn’t love-centered, it couldn’t be Jesus-centered.

Yet there are so many people who profess to be Christians and yet use that as justification for hating people. ‘Twas ever thus: people have used the Bible as a battering-ram to hold over people who are Not Like Them for centuries. Look at some of the white preachers who opposed the civil rights movement in the US. Look at the way churches in Canada oppressed First Nations people. Look even now at the Christians who promote fear and loathing of Muslims.

One morning, I was at the Mission in Vancouver, and Shannon, one of the women who frequented the place, started talking about Robert Pickton, the man convicted in a series of disappearances and murders of women. Shannon said, “I hate that man! I wish I could get him in a room and go one round with him!”

There was a pause, while others nodded in agreement. Then Jeff, another regular, broke the silence.

“Or you could forgive him,” he said.

Shannon’s reaction was interesting. She thought about it for a moment and said, “Yeah. We could.”

Thinking back on that moment, it’s interesting that Shannon had never actually professed to be a Christian; yet she was open to Jesus’ idea of forgiving others and not judging. Many professing Christians would take great umbrage to the idea that they were not doing what Jesus tells us to do.

We come back to Jesus’ warning that there will be those who say to Him “Lord, Lord” and spell out the things they’ve done in His Name, but will be told, “I never knew you.” Hating, fearing — or promoting fear — and walking in unforgiveness are not signs of truly knowing Jesus, and that’s a cross we each have to carry daily, because truly knowing Jesus means going against our human nature.

To paraphrase Alice, hating people is easy; fearing those who are not like us is easy; choosing Jesus’ way is hard — that’s rebellion.


*I’ve always wondered about that one: some people translate that as “Love your neighbour as you love yourself,” but there are some days I don’t even like myself, so does that mean I can treat my neighbour like dirt on those days? I take a little license with that statement and read it as, “love your neighbour as you yourself are loved by God.” That means we love that neighbour unconditionally and grant them grace at every turn — just as God does with us. Does that make sense to you?

Doing God’s will? Or name-dropping?

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name and done many wonders in Your name?

And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

— Matthew 7:21-23

Is there anyone among us who hasn’t name-dropped at some point? When I did talk radio many years ago, I liked to relate some of the remarks guests made off the air, and I always got a charge out of the feeling that, in talking about meeting an important person, I was now important, too.

But let’s be real: if I ran into any of them today, I’d have to re-introduce myself and remind them how and when we met. If I tried to style myself as an “old buddy”, they’d probably cringe and wonder who this presumptuous twit was.

OK. Take that reaction and times it by several million, and you might get an idea of what Jesus was getting at. “If you’re going to drop My name,” He says, “we’d better know each other.”

There are so many wonderful miracles that we are able to do in Jesus’ Name. As I’ve written earlier this year (the “Applied Christianity” series that started in January), with the Holy Spirit in us, we can heal the sick and bring positive change to people around us — and all over the world.

But at the root of this is the primary — if not sole — reason for Jesus’ coming to earth in the first place. We have to have a relationship with Jesus and the Father.

Trying to bypass Jesus to go straight to God, as some people believe they can do, is doomed from the start. “No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Nor is “In Jesus’ Name” some kind of magic incantation or mantra that serves as a catalyst to “make things happen”.

The words are one thing, but it’s the relationship that is the key. Look what happened in the early days when some guys tried to replicate the miracles the Holy Spirit was working through Paul:

Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits saying, “We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.”

And there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so. And the evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you?”

Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

— Acts 19:13-16

Nobody likes a name-dropper.

Do you notice, by the way, that the demon knew Jesus? They do: look at the way they would call Him out as the Son of God before Jesus was ready to be revealed. They also knew Paul, which shows that Paul had a truly intimate relationship with Jesus. But they can also recognize a phony.

“But wait a minute,” I hear you cry. “Isn’t casting out demons or healing the sick part of God’s will? Why would Jesus call that ‘practicing lawlessness’?”

Because (as I read it), if you attempt to cast out demons or lay hands on the sick without having that relationship, you’re trying to do it in your own strength and you’re only promoting yourself as a miracle worker. If you’re invoking the name of Jesus, that just makes it worse, as now, you’re drawing attention to yourself as a Great Person Of God.

That’s Pride — which is lawlessness.

Praise God, He has made it fairly easy to establish that relationship with Jesus: we can draw near to Him — and He wants us to — through His word, and even through the conversation of prayer: not just talking to Him, but taking time to listen.

 Through that, we build our relationship. We can say, “Lord, Lord,” and Jesus will say, “Hi – I know you, good and faithful servant!”

The Eco-Friendly verse

I’ve written on this theme before, but talk of Creation recently reminds me that it bears repeating.

It’s kind of a pity that so many professing Christians want to dismiss the environmental movement.

It’s also a pity so many environmentalists want to dismiss the Word of God.

Because within those pages, written over a span of many centuries and starting thousands of years ago, are directions for the care and feeding of His creation. And it all begins with what is arguably the most maligned verse of all:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

It’s the basis of the entire Bible, and it’s the basis for most of the attacks on people of faith and God Himself: “how can you say that some ‘being’ created everything?” And people have tried to come up with other theories — “alternative facts”, to use today’s colloquy — to explain what is neatly summed up in that one sentence.

(It’s kind of like the “Nick Buoniconti Factor“, where the answer is handed to you on a silver platter and you say, “No, that’s not it …”)

But the fact is, that verse is the most environmentally-friendly verse in the Bible. It establishes that Someone we are in relationship with (and God was already in relationship with His people, like Abraham, Jacob, Joseph and Moses, to name a few, by the time that sentence was written) created all that is around us, including us; and, as we’ll see shortly, we are responsible for caring for that Creation on His behalf.

In other words, that verse establishes that our responsibility is not to some myth (Mother Nature), an inanimate object (“If you love this planet …”), another mortal (Al Gore, David Suzuki, Elizabeth May or even Sheryl Crow) or to “future generations” (“Why should I care about the future? What’s the future ever done for me?” — Groucho Marx), but to The Big Sir.

But as we see as we read on, He doesn’t just leave us with that image and the basic instruction that  follows, namely, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it …” (Genesis 1:28). Throughout the Bible, especially in Leviticus, He shows us what to do and how to do it and promises that ultimately, He will provide so long as we obey.

Sadly, we’ve disobeyed those instructions at pretty much every turn, and the consequences have included famine, disease, crop failure, pollution and a bunch of other things that are sometimes attributed to climate change. That disobedience has been not only in failing to protect His creation, but by not doing it His way.

Praise God, He’s given us the means to turn things around — at the Cross. Repentance brings redemption and redemption brings renewal, and who knows what “repairs” we could see in the earth and all that’s in it if we turn to God and stop trying to fix things ourselves?

And it all starts with accepting that supremely eco-friendly verse: “In the beginning …”

Compassion – it goes both ways

I wrote yesterday about multitudes having compassion for Jesus. Think about it: we hear and read about Jesus’ having compassion for us, but what compassion do we have for Jesus?

I suggested that it was the compassion all these people — around ten thousand of them, in fact — had to come and find Jesus as He was grieving for His cousin, John the Baptist, that fed Jesus’ own compassion for them and that, in turn, led Him to move in the Holy Spirit to heal the sick.

Compassion means to suffer together. It’s not the same as pity, sympathy or even empathy. Those terms suggest caring for someone who’s suffering, but as I read them:

PITY = I’m sorry you’re going through this

SYMPATHY = I can imagine what you’re going through

EMPATHY = I’ve been there, myself, so I know what you’re going through

COMPASSION, on the other hand, means “I’m suffering with you”.

That’s strong stuff, and almost sounds presumptuous, except it stops short of actually saying, “I am you.” You’re suffering – I’m suffering because you’re suffering.

Consider this: that it was out of compassion for us that Jesus went to the Cross. We were suffering because of our sin; Jesus chose to suffer with us, and in fact, to suffer what we should really have suffered instead of us. So if the multitude the Matthew describes is moved by compassion because Jesus was mourning the death of His cousin, how much more should we be moved by compassion for Jesus’ suffering on the Cross?

But unless we think that this means we’ll have to submit to the same pain that Jesus did, and more, consider first that there’s no way we could suffer as much as Jesus did, because the pain and torment He endured was not just for us individually, but for everyone for eternity.

Then, look at what happened as the spirit of compassion gathered momentum: incredible, Holy Spirit-driven miracles took place. Jesus healed the sick, fed thousands with virtually nothing, and walked on water in a storm to get to His disciples. Our mutual suffering with Jesus — our compassion for the Son of God — can stir the Holy Spirit in us to do similar things.

 

Grief & compassion

Tuesday morning brought the news of yet another friend’s passing.

In the past few years, quite a few friends of mine have lost loved ones — parents, spouses, even children. Some of these deaths were expected; some were totally out of the blue: some left me bereft, as well.

This one is for them.

When Jesus heard [that John the Baptist had been beheaded], He departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself. But when the multitudes heard it, they followed Him on foot from the cities. And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick.

— Matthew 14:13-14

Jesus handled things that we mortals have to face, and time and again, He did so not as God, but as a man. He set an example that — with His help — we can follow, and in doing so, we can turn the bereavement into something glorious.

Jesus’ cousin and baptizer had just been executed for no other reason than King Herod wanted to show off for his niece — who also happened to be the daughter of his mistress. Herod had become “involved” with Herodias, wife of his brother Philip, and when John the Baptist called him out on it, bunged John into prison. When he makes the mistake of promising Herodias’ daughter that he’d give her anything she asked for, she demands John’s head on a platter; Herod, snookered, grants her the wish.

Jesus is grief-stricken, and, like any of us, needs to be alone.

But then, the most amazing thing happens. Matthew tells us that “the multitudes heard it”. Heard what? That the “miracle man” was hanging out in a deserted place and maybe they could go and catch a bit of that glory for themselves? That’s how I read that passage at first; but I’m starting to think now that what they heard was that the Master was grieving, and they needed to go to Him and be with Him. From cities all around, the word went out and people dropped what they were doing and went to where Jesus was.

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines “compassion” as “a strong feeling of sympathy and sadness for the suffering or bad luck of others and a wish to help them.” The multitudes were moved by that “strong feeling of sympathy” for Jesus’ suffering.

Now, here’s where Jesus goes against “human nature”. I think the natural thing is to receive the compassion from friends — the sympathy, the kind words, the prayers — take some time, a few deep breaths, then grab a new stick, jump over the boards and get back into the game.

But Jesus turned around and started healing people. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the compassion that He was moved by was the compassion of the multitude. He took the energy (forgive me for sounding New Age-ish) of that compassion and turned it around. “Let the dead bury their dead,” He tells a disciple who wants to bury his father before joining Jesus, and here’s where Jesus puts that into practice. Interestingly, the word “compassion” means to suffer together; the multitude suffered with Jesus and did what they could, which was to go and be with Him, and Jesus picked up on whatever suffering they were going through and did what He could, which was to heal their sick.

This isn’t to say that Jesus took a cold-hearted, suck-it-up-Prince-Mischkin-and-get-on-with-it attitude and didn’t mourn for His cousin. That’s why He went off alone in the first place. But I believe it was that move of compassion on the part of the people that brought Him back to the world of the living. And it was the Holy Spirit, moving in Jesus, that gave Him the motivation and the strength to respond to that compassion.

Even more interesting, is what comes next. We see three of the more notable miracles in the Bible right after that.

  1. Jesus heals the sick
  2. Jesus feeds upwards of 10,000 people (five thousand men, Matthew tells us, plus women and children)
  3. Jesus walks on water

The compassion of the multitude fed the compassion of Jesus, which in turn stoked the Holy Spirit into these unimaginable acts of mercy and grace.

It’s this same Holy Spirit that we can call on to bring us through a time of grief and reach out to others in compassion for their sicknesses. It’s the Holy Spirit that heals through us, even at times when we are bereft. Truly, it’s the Holy Spirit that turns our mourning into dancing and our sorrow into joy.

“It is written …”

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that thee stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.‘”

— Matthew 4:1-4

temptation-in-wilderness1-1024x768Three times, the devil tries to tempt Jesus to break faith: make the stones into bread; jump off a high tower and expect angels to catch You; fall down and worship me and I’ll give you all of this.

And three times, Jesus doesn’t bother to argue back. He simply responds with Scripture, beginning with “It is written …”. No words of His own, no debate beginning with, “but I am the Son of God”, since that would have allowed even the remotest possibility that He wasn’t the Son of God; just “It is written …”.

“It is written …” means it’s set down on paper, chiseled in stone, laid out for anyone to see; incontrovertible, unlike a simply oral statement that can be, like that old campfire game, altered as it passes from one person or generation to another. I think that’s why the Pharisees were so upset when Pontius Pilate wrote a plaque for the top of Jesus’ Cross:

IESUS NAZARENUS REX IUDAEORUM

Therefore the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews’, but, ‘He said, “I am the King of the Jews.”‘.”

Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

— John 19:21-22

It was the first time anyone had actually written that Jesus of Nazareth was King of the Jews, and now it was written displayed to the public — and by a Roman, at that.

All you need in the battle with Satan is the word of God. Jesus shot back with the applicable Scripture, implying that whatever the word of God said, He was standing on it.

But here’s a difficulty: what if you don’t know the applicable Scripture? Praise God, you don’t have to be a Biblical scholar to be able to subvert the enemy’s attempts at getting you to stray. You just need this:

It is written: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

In that one sentence, you’re dismantling every power Satan has over you. You’re reminding him that at the very heart of everything (“In the beginning”) is the absolute truth that God (not Intelligent Design, not happenstance and certainly not Satan) created (spoke into existence where there had been nothing before) everything — including Satan’s own home.

(It’s kind-of an “in your face” statement, but I’d advise against adding “in your face”. That is not part of what’s “written”, and as we’ve seen with Adam and Eve as they tried to deal with Satan in the Garden, adding something to the word of God — even when you’re trying to reinforce your declaration of faith — has all sorts of unintended consequences — none of them good.)

You don’t need to add anything — just say it. Out loud, if you want, so you can hear it, too.

So there will be times when temptation and evil thoughts will come on you without warning, and fail the litmus test — i.e. if the thought or action benefits you at someone else’s expense, it’s not the will of God — and you need to put the enemy in his place. That one sentence — Genesis 1:1 — is all you need.

Is it any wonder why the basic concept that God created everything is so often under attack? It’s the constant reminder to Satan that he has no power, so he uses whatever he can — usually human pride — to separate us from that simple, beautiful truth.

That Creation thing …

So the Pastor calls the children up before sending them off to Sunday School and asks them, “Do any of you have any questions about the Bible?”

Little Jessica puts up her hand. “Pastor,” she says, “what season was it when God created everything?”

A little “oh-isn’t-she-cute” titter went around the congregation, but the Pastor didn’t miss a beat.

“Why, it was baseball season, Jessica,” he said. “It’s right there in Genesis: ‘In the big inning …’.”

— Don’t boo me: that isn’t my joke*

Actually, there’s an element of truth in that: it was certainly the biggest inning ever — and it was the first pitch. The only bigger inning will be when God comes up to bat, and since this is all His ballpark, He gets last bats.

creation - blake

Elohim creating Adam — William Blake, 1795

Talk of faith inevitably leads to the question, “Do you believe God created everything?”, usually spoken with a measure of incredulity by friends and acquaintances who thought you were Much Smarter Than That.

Let me preface what comes next by saying, “This is how I read it.” I don’t expect (or require) you to agree, and you may think I’m full of navel lint. But this is what I believe and why.

So — do I believe God created everything? “Yes!”, and there are three main reasons for that:

  1. It’s in the same book that tells me I’m saved and set free from the burden of my past (thank you, Jesus!)
  2. It’s the only plausible explanation for what’s around us. Hey: the alternative view is that everything — that is, everything — has come about by accident.
  3. Faith.

It’s interesting that, within the declaration that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”, there is a whole lot of room for interpretation. God has left some parts vague.

For one thing, some people believe the earth was created approximately 6,000 years ago. I don’t — largely because I haven’t seen it spelled out in Scripture. I understand some scholars have determined that date from their own calculations, but I happen to believe that the fossil record, indicating life and elements on earth for hundreds of millions of years, is true, which flies in the face of those conclusions.

I do believe that He created everything in the order in which He says He did, culminating in His creating humans — and that, while He created animals and plants and the environment with a word, He made us in His image — that is, the image of Love — and formed us out of the ground with His hands. Then He breathed His spirit into us. We’re supposed to be the caretakers of the rest of Creation, so it would make sense that we’d be made “higher” than the animals.

Did God create everything in six 24-hour periods? Or did He do it in six discrete stages, and use the term “days” because that was something Moses could understand when he wrote it down? Then again, why couldn’t He have done it in six 24-hour periods — or that many seconds, for that matter? He’s God — I’m not.

Getting back to the fossil record, those are things we can see. We can see the bones and the imprints in rocks and God has given us the intellect and curiosity to dig deeper — literally and figuratively — to learn more and extrapolate what these creatures looked like. I realize that some people claim dinosaurs are a hoax because the Bible doesn’t mention them, but maybe it does: read Job 40 — could the behemoth and the leviathan be dinosaurs?

The fact that the fossil record remains silent on the biggest weapon God-deniers have, the theory of evolution, only proves we should look at it for the physical evidence and God’s word for the rest.

God’s word covers the parts that we can’t see — and there are plenty of those — and the broader questions of how things came into being in the first place. We’re expected to take that on faith — and without faith, we can’t please Him.

But why would God be so vague about Creation? Why wouldn’t He spell out exactly how long He took to create things? Because if He did, what would we have to ponder about? He gave us intellect so we could think about and consider and ponder and — yes — question what He says. More than that, this vagueness — like some of the other apparent paradoxes and riddles in the Bible — keeps the conversation going between us and Him. Keeping the conversation going means we draw closer to Him; and as James says, as we draw close to Him, He will draw close to us.


*Neither is that comeback line: it belonged to Milton Berle, known to many as The Thief of Bad-Gag.