Tag Archives: Christianity

“Those who are of faith are blessed”

History hinges on Genesis 12:1-3. Prior to this we have seen God working on the world as a whole. At least in what we have recorded, God did not significantly select one nation over the others until Genesis 12, when He calls Abraham. Here, the call becomes exclusive. God chooses Abraham. He tells Abraham that he will become a great nation. From here onward, Scripture records the history of Israel, not the history of Babylon, England, China, the United States, or any other nation.

In fact, God promises here to fight for the descendents of Abraham:

“I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” -Genesis 12:3 (ESV)

This is what we see throughout the Old Testament. God fights for Israel. He fights for them against foreign nations, but He also fights for them against their own sin and corruption. When Israel becomes corrupted, God brings Assyria and Babylon to crush them, leaving only a remnant of faithful people who will again establish the nation of Israel as it was meant to be.

Repeatedly, God chooses one thing, but not another. He chooses one nation, and not another nation. God encourages one kind of behavior, and he condemns another. Here in Genesis 12, God has chosen Israel.

The call was not one-sided. I’m sure that, if Abraham had chosen not to obey the Lord, then God would not have blessed him or fought for him. But Abraham “went, as the Lord had told him.” Just like throughout all of Israel’s history, Abraham’s obedience was a sign that he accepted God. By doing “as the Lord had told him,” Abraham was signalling to God that he would allow God to bless him and his offspring.

History hinges on Genesis 12:1-3 because in choosing Abraham, God chose you. God’s intent in exclusively choosing Abraham was that “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” In Galatians 3:9, God tells us, in the words of Paul, that “those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”

Abraham demonstrated that he accepted God by going where God told him to go. Through Abraham’s faith, everyone in the world can be blessed. Through Abraham’s descendants, God raised up a nation that understood Him, a nation that would be prepared for the coming of Jesus, a nation that called Jesus their Messiah, their expected One, the One who would redeem them. And through Jesus, God calls each of us. The symbol of Abraham’s faith was obedience, and the symbol of our faith is identification with Jesus–believing in Him.

But still, God’s call is exclusive. God hates evil, suffering, greed, and everything that’s wrong with the world. God blesses “those who are of faith”, but He curses evil, and if a person does not choose God, they choose evil. There are only two choices: God, or not-God. God is calling you, just as He called Abraham. Are you “of faith”? If so, Scripture is not just Israel’s history, but also your history.

“Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” –Galatians 3:7 (ESV)

Holy

Holy, holy, holy!  Lord God Almighty!

Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.

Holy, holy, holy!  Merciful and mighty,

God in three persons, blessed Trinity!

 

Holy, holy, holy!  All the saints adore thee,

casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;

cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,

which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.

 

Holy, holy, holy!  Though the darkness hide thee,

though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see,

only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,

perfect in power, in love and purity.

 

Holy, holy, holy!  Lord God Almighty!

All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth and sky and sea.

Holy, holy, holy!  Merciful and mighty,

God in three persons, blessed Trinity.

 

-A hymn by Reginald Heber, 1826. Too often, we forget God’s holiness.

Praise Jesus!

We should be praising God. God deserves our praise. He created everything you see; He gave you every good thing you have.

Instead of praising God, we often do things that are shameful, things we regret. But God has mercy, and He sees us as if we’ve done nothing wrong. If you’re a redeemed murderer, God sees you as if you were an infant.

He stills our souls in a way nothing else can.

Have you ever been in a church during prayer? People scatter about when they enter church; they chatter with their friends; they shuffle around in their seats. The whole sanctuary is full of noise and movement–but when the pastor prays, the rows upon rows of people are silent. Heads are bowed. No one moves. It happens in every country around the world each Sunday morning–He calms the people like He calms the waves.

He calms the rain that falls on our farmer’s fields–thousands of miles of crops. Oranges, broccoli, apples, wheat, bell peppers, lettuce–all with leaves blowing in the breeze, soaking up the sunshine of providence. We harvest it all in a cavalier style, piling it into trucks that rumble down dusty roads, leaking corn as they head to the cities. It ends up in our grocery stores and spills into the aisles. People look through piles of veggies and pick out what they like, and they go home with bags of food.

Even the wilderness is full of verdant beauty. Winds howl over mountain peaks and rustle wildflowers in the fields, barely nudging the near-endless forests of swaying pines. We visit on vacation, we plaster pictures of it on our computers, on our walls. The images of beauty are burned into our minds–everyone can picture a quiet island, an ocean, a mountain, a forest. We think of them sometimes, and they are a cathedral in our minds–a structure built to praise the Lord, that we can recall any time we please.

Shouldn’t we be praising God?

[This is a meditation on Psalm 65.]

I enjoy tests because I’m prideful

Essentially, I enjoy tests because I love knowing things. C.S. Lewis would rebuke me for this. In his lecture, “Learning in War Time,” he stated that it’s dangerous to love the fact that we know something, rather than being intrinsically interested in the thing itself. To Lewis, loving the fact that we know something is the beginning of arrogance.

I’m inclined to agree with him. Still, I enjoy the gradual accumulation of knowledge culminating in a test. Pride is one of my vices. But I wish I’d been writing last year, and I wish I’d told you how frustrating my first year of school was. It was full of small facts without context. Only at the end of the year did I realize we had systematically surveyed all the intricacies of the human body. I may have forgotten 60% of what I learned, but the fact that I recall 40% means I know quite a lot.

But knowing something is morally dangerous. In whatever we do, we need to ensure our motives are pure. To be interested in science is to glorify God. To be interested in acquiring more knowledge is to glorify myself.

Perhaps this is one of the things that makes Christianity unique. The actions we take are important, but our intent is more important. God commands us to love him and to love people, but love is an emotion. God commands us to change our attitudes and our way of thinking. Once we do this, our actions will change. Enjoying the fact that I know something is arrogant. If I don’t recognize that, I may waste a lot of time trying to acquire knowledge so that I become greater. Instead, I should love science because nature displays God’s glory, and I should use the education he’s blessed me with to help others in any way I can.

“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV)

 

Cocaine

At first I thought he was alive.

His swollen, bloodshot eyes looked sad.

The photograph was taken at a strange angle, looking up toward the nose, so that a line of white powder could be seen plastered to the inside of his nostril. The point of the picture was to show all us students that the man had died while snorting cocaine, but the only thing I could think was, “I don’t understand this.”

Cocaine causes hypertension, lethal cardiac arrhythmias, heart attacks, seizures, renal failure. One picture our professor showed us was of a brain covered in thick, partly gelatinous blood. Normally the brain is clean and grayish-white post-mortem, but this person had died of massive intra-cranial bleeding caused by a cocaine-induced spike in blood pressure that ripped through one of his arteries.

The lecture was about chemical injury to the human body, but the fact that a chemical had damaged this man’s body seemed so far from the root of the problem as to be almost comical.

The world is broken.

Things are not right here, and this is not where we’re meant to be.

Work is Poetry

My foul-mouthed, mustachioed boss had been a roofer for years. I had been a roofer since college let out in May, but I had already learned that it was a messy, exhausting, and inglorious job. Every morning at 4:30 my boss picked me up, and he always listened to country music. Perhaps the songs reminded him why he’d been working so hard for so long:

“Calloused hands told a story for the small town Southern man,
He gave it all to keep it all together, keep his family on his land.
Like his daddy, years wore out his body, made it hard just to walk and stand.” 
— “Small Town Southern Man,” Alan Jackson

People are poetic to the core. We write songs about love, make movies about history, write books about everything imaginable, and we sing to our children at night. We wax poetic about anything and everything, including our careers, whether glorious or mundane.

Most of us can’t be even partly satisfied with our work unless we have a high view of what we’re doing. For me, medical school is no different. Studying is long and tiring, but I can’t think of it as just working for a grade–I’m learning vital information that can save my future patients. And when I finally do have patients, I won’t merely be a doctor, handing out antibiotics to kids with ear infections. I’ll be a picture of God, healing people’s physical wounds, and hopefully pointing them to Jesus, who can heal their spiritual wounds. Work–whether scrubbing toilets or piloting planes–is poetic, because we’re not doing ordinary work, we’re doing God’s work.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
–Colossians 3:23-24

Deuteronomy 9:15-19

“So I turned and went down from the mountain while it was ablaze with fire. And the two tablets of the covenant were in my hands. When I looked, I saw that you had sinned against YHWH your God; you had made for yourselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. You had turned aside quickly from the way that YHWH had commanded you. So I took the two tablets and threw them out of my hands, breaking them to pieces before your eyes.

Then once again I fell prostrate before YHWH for forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water, because of all the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in YHWH’s sight and so provoking him to anger. I feared the anger and wrath of YHWH.”

-Deuteronomy 9:15-19 (NIV)

I’m no scholar, and I don’t know much about the name “YHWH”. What I do know sends shivers down my spine. The Hebrew word is referred to as the “tetragrammaton” by Bible scholars, and the English consonants are an accurate representation of the word as it was written in Hebrew. The reason the Hebrews wrote God’s name with all consonants was because it was not usually pronounced, but was usually read as “Adonay”. We continue the practice today and write it in our Bibles as “LORD” in all capital letters. The ancient Hebrews revered the LORD greatly, and were exquisitely careful not to use his name in vain. The original pronunciation was probably close to “Yahweh“.

Traditionally, Moses is considered to be the author of the first five books of the Bible, and he refers to God as YHWH as early as Genesis 2:4, in the creation account. Moses himself first heard the name of God when God met him at the burning bush and called him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt:

“Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” Then what shall I tell them?’

God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.’

God also said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites, “YHWH, the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob–has sent me to you.” This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.’ “

-Exodus 3:13-15

The word “Yahweh” is similar to the Hebrew for “I am” and so probably refers to the phrase “I AM WHO I AM.” Other acceptable translations (so I’m told) are:
“I AM THE ONE WHO IS.”
“I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE.”

Moses must have been trembling with nervousness. The phrase indicates God’s self-existence. He depends on nothing else for his existence, because everything that exists was created by him. God has always been. He defines himself, and his actions are not bound by anything except himself. He is good because he is God, and he is the only possible definition of good–or of anything that is absolutely true.

Moses, having just come down from the mountain with the covenant between God and Israel, was right to fear the “anger and wrath of YHWH.” And we are right to fear God also, since each of us has, like Israel, behaved in a way that is inconsistent with God’s goodness. Each of us knows this, and each of us has an idea of what’s good and what’s evil. We all know that we do imperfect things sometimes.

But Jesus, the Great Light, has come and changed our relationship to God. Through Jesus, we can come to God and have our imperfections forgiven. He will cleanse our lives and give us new life if we have faith in him. I’ll quote Hebrews 12:14-29 (the full passage is beautiful, but here I’ve quoted only the essential phrases to be concise):

“You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire. But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire’. “

The Art of Death

Awhile ago there was a display at my medical school titled “The Art of Pathology”. On display were pictures of human flesh–perhaps a microscope slide of a liver with fatty deposits, a section of a lung destroyed by smoking, or a heart with a large infarction.

I spent most of this morning looking at slides of diseased organs, and probably the last thing that might have gone through my head is “What a beautiful image.” Each organ had caused someone great pain. Then it had killed them. I don’t know much about art, but if art is something beautiful, then pathology slides and sections are most definitely not art. Pathology is death, and death is not beautiful.

Looking at pictures of dying organs is an impersonal way to learn medicine.I study alone, and while I’m studying things that are relevant to all of us, I don’t actually get to interact with any people. One image I saw this morning was of a massive infarct in the temporal lobe of a brain. I don’t get to comfort this person–I only get to see the aftermath. And the aftermath is gruesome. Whatever used to be in the infarcted section of the brain has been replaced by a huge, gaping hole. Even if, by some method, we could extract memories and thoughts from the connections and organization of neurons in a brain, we couldn’t extract any memories from this brain. There was just no structure left. Perhaps she lost function slowly as successive parts of her brain succumbed. Perhaps her memories blinked out of existence one by one, like in The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Studying pathology is impersonal because each of us is more than just the sum of our parts. I am different from my body, because I am a soul, and God has blessed me with a body to interact with others and experience life. The difference between staring at books all day and seeing patients on the wards is that patients have souls. Patients can smile, cry, and express their concerns. But the world is tainted by sin, and our bodies–vessels for our souls–are dying. Pathology is happening in each of us, and eventually, one of our pathologies will kill us.

“By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
-Genesis 3:19 (ESV)

If pathology is art (I still have serious doubts), it’s because it reveals us as we really are–as dust. Slowly, imperceptibly, we’re broken down into dust, and eventually, we’ll return to dust. If we’re followers of the Lord, dust isn’t the end of us. As our bodies decay, our souls are perfected.

In Ephesians, Paul talks about our “old self.” If we’ve been renewed as Christians, we are new. The part of us that makes mistakes, that hurts people we love, that desires comfort more than service to God–that part of us is old, and God is working in us to destroy the old and build up the new. Just like our bodies, the “old self” is being destroyed. Death and pathology is God’s judgement on sin, and each of us will die. But this judgement is out of love. The parts of us we hate are falling away, and as we grow in closeness to the Lord, the new self grows in vitality. Once we’ve finally died and been made new, what more could we want? We’ll be with God, and in God’s presence “is fullness of joy; in [his] right hand there are pleasures forever.” (Psalm 16:11)

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
-1 Corinthians 15:50-57 (ESV)

1 Corinthians 2:10-11

“The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit within? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”
1 Corinthians 2:10-11 (TNIV)

In the past, I have worried about getting bored in heaven. School is in full-swing now, and I’m loving it. I love the challenge of trying to solve problems and assimilate new information. But when I get to heaven, won’t I be bored? Won’t God tell me everything he knows, leaving nothing more to be learned? I don’t think so. God’s mind and thoughts are infinite, but my mind is (very obviously) finite. I’m confident that when I meet God, I’ll spend eternity learning and being amazed by “the deep things of God.”

With Confidence

Today I’m writing about Hebrews 4:16, but I’ll begin with an aside. For the past few posts, when I’ve written about Scripture, it’s because I couldn’t think of anything else to write. I try to spend at least a few minutes each day reading and thinking about Scripture, so it’s easier for me to write about Scripture than to try to think of some creative way to talk about medical school or being married (as those seem to be emerging as the other two topics of this blog). But this is probably the wrong attitude entirely. Scripture is more profound than anything I could ever come up with on my own, and it’s probably more beneficial for someone to find a Scripture verse than to find me blabbering about something I find interesting. Today I’ll write about Hebrews 4:16.

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
-Hebrews 4:16 (ESV)

I think people tend to think of God as being either powerful or personal. Either we treat God as our best friend, or we treat him as the feared Ruler and Creator of the universe. The strange thing about Christianity is that it insists God is both powerful and personal. We often focus on only one or the other of these aspects of God.

I grew up in various Western states, surrounded by the mountains and wilderness around me. Perhaps because of this, I’ve usually thought of God as being big, powerful, and distant. But in Hebrews, the author insists that Jesus is a personal God. He came to earth as a man, and he died as a man. He felt temptation to sin, sorrow at the loss of friends, and he even felt profound guilt and failure when he hung on a cross and took the sins of the world on himself. Jesus’ ministry is profound because somehow, he allows us a personal relationship with the Creator. He is the Ruler on a throne, but his throne is a throne of grace, and he gives us help in time of need. Because he’s our friend, we can approach him with confidence in prayer.