Time Travel is Real

We don’t often give serious thought to the concept of time, but we frequently check our clocks and calendars. Even if one is retired, life is structured around schedules and routines. Don’t mess with mealtime! It can be fun and also mind-bending to venture into, as it’s called in Star Trek, the time-space continuum. I love movies and books that explore time travel. Scientifically of course, it doesn’t work – or maybe it does. 

God is the creator of time and space; he lives outside of both but he freely “moves” in, out, around and through. He’s not limited the way we are, bound up in our linear timeline and restricted by laws of physics. Psalm 139:1-6 in The Passion Translation tells us: “Lord, you know everything there is to know about me. You perceive every movement of my heart and soul, and you understand my every thought before it even enters my mind. You are so intimately aware of me, Lord. You read my heart like an open book and you know all the words I’m about to speak before I even start a sentence! You know every step I will take before my journey even begins. You’ve gone into my future to prepare the way, and in kindness you follow behind me to spare me from the harm of my past. With your hand upon my life, you impart a blessing to me. This is just too wonderful, deep, and incomprehensible! Your understanding brings me wonder and strength.”

Jesus is our past, present and future and he is our redeemer. He redeems our past – it can’t hurt us anymore (Isaiah 43:18-19). He redeems our present with his grace and love (2 Corinthians 12:9). He is redeeming our future, preparing a place for us so we can be with him forever (John 14:2-3).

Time travel is possible and God does it all the time. He doesn’t need a spaceship and his mission, unlike that of the people on Star Trek, who are only interested in exploring space, is one of love for us, his children.

Choosing My Thoughts

The difference between a New Year’s Resolution and One Word (besides the former usually being abandoned by February 1) is one is an attempt at behavior modification and the other is a matter of focus. A single word can take your mind off a negative action you are trying to change and focus your mind on something positive. If you want to see what others are using as their One Word, go to the One Word website (myoneword.org). It can be anything: a Bible verse, an attribute of God or even a manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit. 

I thought my word would be pearl, but as I rolled it around in my mind, the word choose popped up as a better way to focus. Speaking of minds, the last half of 2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us: “We capture, like prisoners of war, every thought and insist that it bow in obedience to the Anointed One” (TPT). Other translations say we bring our thoughts into captivity, or capture rebellious thoughts. By using my word to focus, I hope to work on making my thoughts bow in obedience – at least I’m going to try. I can choose to practice Philippians 4:8, thinking about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy. I can choose praise and gratitude. I can choose love and mercy, to trust, to be kind. 

My word this year is about much more than making the right choices in life. We deal with making choices every day and I’m sure I’m just like everyone else – some are good and some are not. But actively participating in my spiritual transformation means making conscious, on-purpose choices to capture and bring into submission my wayward, sometimes rebellious and self-willed thoughts. Choosing to do this won’t be easy but God’s Spirit living in me will encourage me and reinforce my good choices, which will not only carry me past February 1, but perhaps even through the rest of my life.

Christian Life: Active or Passive?

Another aspect of either/or thinking (see last week’s post) concerns Christians and how they (we) approach God and our lives in relation to him. Many think Christianity means we do our part and God does his. If we meet him halfway, will he reciprocate? Does our part involve praying and obeying, fulfilling his requirements and then and only then, will he answer our prayers, bless us and secure our salvation? Or is it as some have described marriage – 100% on both sides? How much of our life as Christians is active and how much is passive? 

I must admit in my zeal to get away from my legalist past, I may have become a bit too passive in my way of thinking. I used to believe obedience was what God wanted most from me, but grace taught me he wants my heart more – a relationship built on love and trust. I may have begun to expect him to just change me without much, if any, effort on my part. But I’ve learned my transformation is not my part/his part, either/or, passive/active – it’s much more complex. 

The interplay between God and humans, divine and physical, is way too complicated for us to understand and I can’t possibly explain it. All I really know is that Jesus loves us. But I’m also learning it’s both passive and active. His love is always and continually active in our lives. He is intimately involved in every moment, every breath, each trial and every joy. We can and should be active as well – actively receiving his love, participating in his life in us and in our transformation. 

We can choose to be as active as we want; we can also be as passive as we want and sometimes it’s all we can do. Even though it’s both active and passive at the same time, this year, my word is choose – and I choose to be more active in my relationship with him, to not be just a passive recipient or expect him to do everything. My life and his are deeply intertwined and I don’t want to be a spiritual couch potato, but fully involved in the life of Christ.

Make a Pearl

The last couple of years have been challenging to say the least. Many have experienced a range of negative emotions and it’s not been easy to maintain our equilibrium. We all have our favorite coping mechanisms (Hallmark movie anyone?) and some are better than others. It’s easy to say just trust Jesus, and yes, my faith and trust in him is how I cope with life. But in difficult situations, I sometimes need a little help to turn my focus back to him.

A devotional from YouVersion (a Bible app with devotionals, different translations and reading plans) mentioned turning our irritations into pearls, much as oysters do. (Sorry I can’t remember which one so I can’t give credit.) Most of you are probably familiar with how a mollusk can cover a grain of sand or other irritant with nacre to form a beautiful pearl. An oyster doesn’t complain, just gets busy covering that irritant with aragonite (a mineral) and conchiolin (a protein). These are laid down in layers and can take two years to form the pearl. 

We don’t have any kind of automatic way to cover irritants in our lives, but we can choose to cover them with prayer, rather than let them wear us down. When I let something continue to bug me, it seems to grow and make me miserable. But I can remind myself to make a pearl, praying for God to lay down a layer of patience, peace and equanimity. By choosing to focus on Jesus and his always sufficient grace, I am laying down a layer of surrender, trust and dying to self. Just like an oyster, I also have to continue covering my irritants over and over in layer after layer, waiting patiently for the pearl to form. 

From now on, when something, anything, bothers me I’m going ask Jesus to help me make a pearl. One day, my spiritual jewelry box could be full of beautiful pearls rather than the sand and grit of bitterness, resentment and a bad attitude.

I Can Do All Things

Christians like to quote Philippians 4:13 that tells us we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. It’s not a magic formula and doesn’t keep us from doing things we don’t want to do or even thinking things we’d be better off not thinking. But it is an important part of our lives as Christ’s followers. His strength is our strength and his power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Trusting Jesus doesn’t give us superpowers but as my friend Jan Johnson (author and speaker) likes to say, you can do anything for ten minutes. For example, I can be nice to this person for ten minutes. I can wait patiently in this line for ten minutes. I can love this person for ten minutes, even though they drive me crazy. I’ve been adding Philippians 4:13 to this: for ten minutes I can keep my mouth shut through Christ who gives me strength.

Dying to self is kind of like eating an elephant. How do you eat an elephant, you may ask? One bite at a time. How do I die to self? Perhaps ten minutes at a time, through Christ who gives me strength. For ten minutes I can put aside my desire for (fill-in-the-blank) through him who gives me strength. For ten minutes I can put this person’s needs before mine through him who gives me strength. I can die a little every day, ten minutes at a time – through Christ who gives me strength.

Leaving the Flesh Behind

Dying to self is tricky, at least from a human point of view. As author and speaker Jill Briscoe says, the trouble with living sacrifices is they have a habit of climbing off the altar! We don’t like to do things that hurt and to crucify our flesh sounds really painful. And while it can be painful, it’s not a physical pain. Many believe the flesh is intrinsically evil, but Dallas Willard says the flesh in itself is not bad. “The problem with the flesh lies in its weakness and lostness when uncoupled from God’s Spirit, which is precisely the condition of humanity apart from Christ” (Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23).

He goes on to say: “To live in the flesh, to live with uncrucified affections and desires, is simply a matter of putting them in the ultimate position in our lives. Whatever we want becomes the most important thing. This is what happens when we are living apart from God; we make our desires ultimate because they are all we have. We look to them as if they were everything in our lives; thinking of my worth, my glory, my appearance, thinking of my power to sustain myself.”

Desires aren’t inherently wrong either, but as Dallas says, they are terrible masters. A good place to begin dying to self is to recognize our desires for what they are and being aware of how they can control our lives if we let them. Our desires can never be satisfied but trusting in Jesus and his work on the cross means accepting limitation on our desires. “Desire is infinite partly because we were made by God, made for God, made to need God, and made to run on God. We can be satisfied only by the one who is infinite, eternal and able to supply all our needs; we are only at home in God.”

Desires are from God and are good as long as we subjugate them to him and die to the pursuit of satisfying ourselves through anything but God. We don’t have to be slaves to our flesh and its insatiable desires if we can learn to die a little every day through Christ who gives us strength.

Next week: I Can Do All Things

Make the Pivot

One of the few true freedoms we have is what we do with our minds. We are free to think about whatever we want. We can go anywhere in our imaginations, which is one of the reasons I love to read. I can go back or forward in time; explore outer space or become embroiled in a mystery.  We can create, plan, solve problems – or get ourselves in trouble.

Controlling where our thoughts take us is difficult, but so very important. If we let our thoughts go in negative or destructive directions, our actions will likely follow. (For an in-depth study of this, I recommend The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard.) It’s easy to get caught up in worry and anxiety, especially when situations in life seem – or are – out of our control.

What can we do about wayward thoughts and rabbit holes of negativity and discouragement? We can do as Jan Johnson suggests in the Trusting God retreat: make the pivot. As some of the psalmists did, process your feelings with God, rant and rave a little if necessary, lament and cry. And don’t worry – he can take it. Then pivot back to him, remembering the reality of who he is and what he’s done for us. And as always, he’s the one who can help us make the pivot. We’re never on our own, even when we’re down in the dumps or angry at life.

Keeping Jesus on your mind

Our minds are amazing. Using our imaginations, we can go anywhere. I’ve always loved reading, because through stories, I vicariously experience so much I never could in real life. Now video games and the Internet have taken the place of books. Instead of the stimulation of words, people’s minds are visually transported to worlds that seem more reality than fantasy.

What we dwell on becomes our reality, so it’s extremely important we keep our minds in the right place. And where is that right place? Many would argue the Bible and its stories about a supernatural, all-powerful being is a fantasy, but God is the only true reality. We live in a world constantly trying to pull us out of God’s reality into distortions and deceptions, which makes keeping a grip on the truth difficult.

The way to stay firmly in touch with reality is to immerse ourselves in him – in who he is, what he has done and what he is doing now, in this world and in our lives. He is always present with us, but to stay present with him takes some effort. Consider memorizing favorite verses, especially those describing him, such as Colossians 1:15-20 and Philippians 2:5-11.

As we keep our minds on him, he brings the reality of himself into our lives. He becomes our reality and our life. And that’s the best place to be.

Lopsided Grace

It’s been said there are only about seven stories in the whole world and the story line of every book and movie are simply variations. The most common is the battle against good and evil and usually features a savior figure.

"The Rescue of Guinevere"
“The Rescue of Guinevere” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One familiar story is that of King Arthur, Guinevere and Camelot. It’s a Utopian setting until a bit of evil in the form of temptation enters the scene. The queen is seduced by Lancelot, the king’s best knight. When the king discovers their infidelity, he is faced with a painful choice: abandoning the law or the death of his beloved Guinevere. But he knows her death is the only action that will satisfy the law and serve justice.

The tale of Arthur and his queen comes in many versions, but parts of it remain constant: just as Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden, Guinevere gave into temptation, messed up and needed to be saved.

But here’s where Camelot diverges from the original story and the truth. While Arthur agonized over the decision to let the love of his life die and serve justice or let her go and negate the law, God’s decision and plan was clear from the beginning. Unlike Arthur, God is not subject to the law, rather he created it. He in no way agonized over balancing the scales of justice because he himself is justice. His plan to die in our place wasn’t about fulfilling any requirements of the law.

Some look at grace and see a great balancing act, with mercy on one side and God’s holiness on the other, as if he has set limits on how much he can forgive. What Jesus did is sometimes called the Great Exchange, which makes it sound more like a transaction and not the greatest act of love ever performed.

Humanly speaking, we think everything has to work out evenly and be fair. Remember the parable of the workers in the vineyard who began at dawn? They received the same amount of pay as those who showed up at the end of the workday. To us, this seems quite unfair and even a bit extravagant. But God doesn’t use scales of justice like humanity does. God’s love and grace are outrageously unfair. When Jesus went to the cross, everyone was forgiven. Everyone was invited to the eternal banquet with Father, Son and Spirit. No sin is too great to be wiped out. No one is beyond help. No one is out of his reach and no one must be punished as a way of balancing grace and justice.

If God were to use scales, one side would be up in the air and the other resting on the table. How can grace be so lopsided? His love and grace far outweigh even his own laws to the point of seeming like the ultimate lack of balance. Lucky for us and unlike King Arthur, God is more powerful than the law. He uses a different scale, a scale of mercy balanced only with more love and grace.

He Knows My Name

The population of the world is about seven billion. According to an article on wikipedia, about one fifth of all the humans who have existed in the last 6,000 years are alive today. That’s a lot of people. But how many of them can you name? A hundred? Five hundred?

How many names of all the billions of people ever born on this earth are remembered today? All those names, faded on headstones (if they were on headstones), are now forgotten. Only the names of the famous and the infamous can be recalled, and only some of those.

How sad to think of all the lives over the centuries lost to the mists of history. How sad personally, to think no one will remember our names or the names of the ones we love. The reality is, not too long from now, our names will be forgotten. But there’s One who can remember every name of every person ever born. God knows and remembers each name of each human, and not only their names, but everything about them.

The song “He Knows My Name” by Tommy Walker reminds us we won’t be forgotten to history. God knows our names, even our middle ones. He knows our every thought, sees each tear and hears us when we call.

It seems to be a basic need – we want to hear our own names and we want others to remember them. Anyone who works with the public will tell you to learn and say a person’s name when speaking with him or her. It adds a personal touch to a sales pitch. Hearing his or her name from a doctor helps a patient feel cared for. We don’t want to think others don’t care enough to remember who we are. Of course, as we get older, it does become harder to remember names! I often have to ask, even if I know the person. And then at times I can’t remember my kids’ or my own!

This world seems impersonal at times. It can be a sad and lonely place. Some days we all feel like we’re just a number, obscure and unimportant. We wonder if anyone really cares. But every time a tear falls from my eyes, God sees it. He understands and even cries with me. If no one else in the world cares, he does. Knowing God knows my name and will never forget who I am is a comforting thought.

Is life getting you down? Feeling a little sad, lonely, unappreciated? God knows and he cares. He knows your name and knows your pain. He has your tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8) and his heart is for you. He has even written your name in his book of life (Luke 10:20).

Next time you feel like a number, like no one cares or remembers who you are, think of the One who saves your tears, has numbered the hairs on your head (Luke 12:7) and takes care of your every need (Matthew 6:30). He knows your name and hears you when you call.