Weekend repairs; or, flies in the ointment

The weekend was good and I don’t wish to complain… but I will anyhow. There were three flies in the ointment that kept the weekend from being perfect. Murphy’s Gremlins were not interested in leaving the family alone all weekend.

The first of the flies arrived Friday night, as a puddle of water began to flow from under the refrigerator. I pulled the refrigerator away from the wall, expecting to find a leak in the hose that connects to the ice maker. At first I found no such hole, and I began to suspect that the leak was coming from the dishwasher. Since the dishwasher was not running at the time, I put some green food dye in a glass of water and poured it into the dishwasher drain. When the puddle under the refrigerator did not turn green, I rechecked the hose and finally found a small leak. For a short-term solution, I turned off the water line to the icemaker, hoping that we had enough ice to make it through the weekend.

Of course Murphy’s Gremlins act on a Friday night, not in the middle of the week. And of course they choose a weekend when family from out of town is coming to visit. At least I was able to visit with more talented do-it-yourself relatives about the needed repair. From the internet, I had gathered that I needed either to replace the entire hose or to cut the leaking section and attach the two pieces of hose with a connector. My relatives recommended a connector and also suggested that I take the removed section of hose with me to the hardware store to be sure to get the right size connector.

Murphy’s Gremlins visited again Saturday afternoon when the spring on the garage door broke. I’ve reattached broken springs on that door before, but this time the spring managed to break at both ends. A fair amount of trial and error was required to get the entire system working again (and I have several unattractive and painful scrapes and cuts on my hands from the repair), but after about an hour (and with some assistance from my daughter when two hands were not enough), I got the door working again.

Sunday, Murphy’s Gremlins got some help from Mrs. Dim. After returning from church, family members decided to take some pictures of each other in front of the house. One part of the family had flown in from out of town and rented a car at the airport. When we came back from church, they parked in the street, since they would be the first to leave after our cookout. Of course they parked on the very patch of pavement where Mrs. Dim likes to leave her trash bags of cut grass and other lawn maintenance residue. (The city ordinance forbids putting such trash on the pavement-it’s supposed to be left on the lawn within six feet of the pavement. But Mrs. Dim doesn’t want to risk hurting her carefully-tended lawn, so she usually puts her bags on the pavement.)

So, while we were involved in family photographs, Mrs. Dim began dragging her trash bags right to the property line. The first she placed directly on the line; the others were more on my side than her side. (Yes, they were on the grass.) I think my out-of-town family assumed that I exaggerate when I describe Mrs. Dim’s petty and childish behavior. Now they got to see it for themselves. When we were on the other side of the house, I whispered to my sister, “This is SO going on the internet.”

All of these problems were relatively small. No one crashed while traveling, and no one was taken to the hospital from my house.  The weather was virtually ideal, everyone got enough to eat, and we enjoyed each other’s company. It would take a genuine curmudgeon to find any reason to complain about the weekend-but a curmudgeon is exactly what I am. J.

The cost of being poor

One of the oddities of our current economic system in the United States is that it is costly to be poor. I cannot offer any brilliant solution to fix that problem, but for those who haven’t noticed the problem, I can describe it.

Banks favor wealthy people over poor people. Keep a minimum balance in your account, and you will be charged fewer fees to use the bank. If you are close to breaking even but you accidently overdraw your account, banks will charge a fee for attempting to spend money you don’t have. Wealthy people never have to worry about insufficient fund fees. Of course it would be ridiculous to demand that banks change the way they work. A bank would go out of business if it waived these policies for everyone who is poor.

If you are wealthy, it’s easy to get a loan. Banks are happy to lend money to customers who are able to repay the loan. If you are poor, you are unlikely to get a loan. You might have the greatest invention in the world and just need a few thousand dollars to start a business, but if you don’t already have those thousands of dollars, they are difficult to find. Again, no one can change the way loans work; banks would go out of business loaning money to people who cannot repay those loans.

Credit cards are a wonderful convenience when you are able to pay the full balance every month. That’s really the wisest way to use a credit card. They can also be a convenience, though, when you have a sudden unexpected emergency—a car repair, for example, or replacing a broken appliance. The danger of that convenience is that now you have a debt that increases monthly due to interest charges. Then, if money is tight for other reasons and you miss a payment, penalties are added to the debt you already have. Credit works that way, and its basic rules are not going to change. But the credit card business is more likely to hurt poor people than wealthy people.

Rural poor have fewer resources than urban poor. They cannot take advantage of mass transportation, and they are farther away from social services offices. However, the urban poor face additional costs that the rural poor (and the wealthy) do not have. Living in the least costly neighborhoods coexists with greater danger from crime and from gang violence. For that reason, property insurance and automobile insurance are higher for people who live in those areas. These higher insurance costs lead to higher prices for gasoline and groceries in the city. Moreover, sales taxes usually are higher in the city. Higher prices and higher insurance rates make it difficult for families to save enough money to move to less dangerous and less expensive surroundings.

“There will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess—if only you will strictly obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today” (Deuteronomy 15:4-5). The Law of God demanded compassion and justice for all people. Every seventh year debts were forgiven, slaves were freed; and every fiftieth year property that had been sold was returned to its family. God’s people were commanded to help the widow, the orphan, and the refugee. A cloak that had been given as security on a loan was to be returned by sundown. In the courts, poor people and rich people were to be regarded equally. Workers were to be paid their wages at the end of each workday. Harvesters were commanded to leave behind scraps for the poor to glean.

“For there will never cease to be poor in the land” (Deuteronomy 15:11). God knew that his commands would not be obeyed. Jesus reminded his apostles of this verse when they objected to the perfume that had been poured on him. They said that the money would have been better used to help the poor. Jesus answered, “You will always have the poor, but you will not always have me.” Poverty cannot be ended by legislation. Taking money from the rich to give to the poor did not end poverty in Robin Hood’s day, and it will not work today.

On the other hand, God still expects compassion from his people. The knowledge that there will never cease to be poor in the land motivates Christians to help as they can. No one deserves to be poor. Some wealthy people use their wealth in various ways to help the poor—gifts of food, clothing, or shelter; scholarships to open opportunities for the poor; financial support for libraries, museums, and hospitals; endowments to fund research to combat diseases and other problems that plague poor people more than wealthy people. Investing in businesses that provide jobs also gives help to the poor.

In Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye says, “It’s no shame to be poor. But it’s no great honor either.” Until the Day of the Lord, there will never cease to be poor in the land. When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we are asking God to help the poor as well as ourselves. Our compassion for the poor is the beginning of God’s answer to this prayer. J.

Memorial Day

Rethink recently published a post called “7 Sins the Church Doesn’t Acknowledge.” (You can read the entire post here.) One of the seven sins mentioned is Nationalism. Rethink says, “It’s a sin to put anything before God. That includes America. Our ultimate allegiance is to God not this country. Too many in the church place their American freedoms above God’s kingdom. This means that sometimes what is best for this country is not always what is Biblically correct.”

During this Memorial Day weekend, it is fitting to stop and consider the point at which nationalism becomes a sin. All patriotism is not sinful. The Pledge of Allegiance places the loyalty of the pledger to “one nation, under God.” Atheists and polytheists are free to skip those words if they choose, but believers can only pledge loyalty to the nation when they acknowledge that the nation is under God.

The line between godly patriotism and sinful nationalism can be discovered with one question: Who is serving whom? Are we demanding that God govern the world for the good of the United States of America, or are we calling the USA to be faithful to God? In the fall of 2001, as many Americans were repeating the phrase, “God bless America,” some Christians responded with the phrase, “America, bless God!” Certainly if “God bless America” is meant as a command, the words are flagrantly disrespectful to the Lord. If those words are meant as a humble prayer, they are not sinful.

National holidays and national symbols can be troubling within the church. European visitors are astonished to see American flags in houses of worship, sometimes near or behind the altar. Some preachers are careful to observe every American holiday—Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day—in place of the normal Sunday observances established by tradition. I am not sure how many preachers are able to ignore these days entirely. If they do, I suspect they hear complaints.

The best approach is to use the national holiday as a bridge to God’s message. A preacher can mention mothers in the prayers and in the sermon without setting aside God’s Word to honor mothers. In fact, a creative preacher might even turn Mothers’ Day into a salute to the Bride of Christ, our Mother, the Holy Christian Church. (This is especially fitting when Mothers’ Day lands on Pentecost Sunday.) On Fathers’ Day, a preacher might acknowledge earthly fathers and then talk about the eternal relationship of God the Father and God the Son.

What of Memorial Day? We do not worship soldiers as saints and heroes who gave their life for their country, but we can remember those who died in battle without worshiping them. Moreover, we can use their example to point to the perfect Sacrifice, Jesus Christ, who gave his life in battle against sin and evil and death so we can be free from those enemies. We are at peace with God and are promised a truly prosperous Kingdom because of the sacrifice of Jesus. This message is as fitting on Memorial Day as it is any other day of the year. J.

Job interview fantasy

Do you create silly scenarios in your head, imagining situations that will never happen? I do.

I imagine myself applying for a job at a Christian company. In the job interview, they ask me some difficult questions: which law in the Bible do you find hardest to obey, and why; and which commandment in the Bible do you find easiest to obey, and why?

How would you answer these questions?

I think the hardest commandment for me to obey is “love your neighbor.” Some of my neighbors are easy to love, especially the ones I don’t see very often. I can love people I never met and donate money to feed them and to send missionaries to them. Other neighbors make obedience to that command much harder for me.

In particular, I find it hard to love Mrs. Dim. The sound of her voice, like the sound of her lawn tools, wracks my nerves. Her negative judgment of me, based on the quality of my lawn care, offends me. Her deliberate insults bother me. Some days, just hearing the sound of her car’s tires on her driveway sets my heart racing with anxiety.

But if I saw her ox or her donkey wandering, I would help bring it back home. If her car was stuck in ice and snow, I would help push it free. If she collapsed in her yard, I would rush to her aid, carrying a cell phone to call 911. If that’s not love, what is?

I find it hard to love Mrs. Dim, in part because she gives me no opportunity to love her. Other people are also hard to love. A message has been traveling around Facebook to the effect that each of us should care as much about the people we see every day as we care about our favorite celebrities. That’s good advice.

Which commandment do I find easiest to obey? I have no trouble not cooking a goat in its mother’s milk. I realize that some legalists have banned all dishes that mix dairy and meat because of the slim chance that one of the animals that provided the meat was the offspring of the cows or goats that were milked. No pizza with both meat and cheese. No cheeseburgers. No casseroles with both meat and dairy. I would struggle to accept those dietary restrictions, if I thought that’s what God intended, but Jesus and the apostles have declared all foods clean.

The original command probably banned a practice of Canaanite religion. The zeal of those who try to observe it in extreme ways today is admirable, but the freedom Christians have is beautiful. We do not have to worry about what we eat or what we drink or what we wear, aside from good stewardship of our bodies. It is easy to follow commandments that have already been fulfilled for us by the righteousness of Christ.

So, do I get the job? J.

 

Alpha Beta Cheeseburger

This post was going to be about fast food workers who want to be paid fifteen dollars an hour for their work. Another day soon I will try to write that post, but I wrote this one instead.

I was a fast food worker when I was in college. I did not work during the school year, but the weeks of summer were spent preparing sandwiches or frying potatoes, onion rings, and breaded meat. Many days I worked only the rush hours of lunch and dinner, but as I became more experienced I was given more hours. One summer I was the main frier for lunch and supper and the afternoon hours between them. At other times I was on “boards,” putting together sandwiches as they were ordered. Only rarely did I interact directly with the customers. If the computer that ran the cash register failed, I was put up front, because I was one of the few workers who could figure change correctly without the help of the computer. Most of the time, though, the front counter and drive-through window were staffed by the cuter girls on the staff.

I was older than most of my co-workers—even some of those who were entering management positions. One of my friends from the store graduated high school, rose in management in the company, switched companies a few times, and finally retired. Every year he earned more money than I did, even with my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. A lot of the fast food workers were high school students, working their first job, and ambitious to move on to better-paying work in the near future.

Most of my earnings paid for my college textbooks. I was able to set aside a little money to build a music collection. This is when music came in LPs and 45s. (If you don’t recognize those terms, ask your parents… or your grandparents. Or Google. Or Siri.) My LP collection traveled to college and back again in a box that had held frozen meat in the store before I claimed it and took it home.

Minimum wages were lower than they are today, but of course prices were lower too. (Yes, I did walk to school, and it was uphill, and some days I walked there in the snow.) Aside from management, no one was supporting a family on their fast-food earnings. Getting free food or half-price food (depending upon the manager) was a benefit. I don’t think any of us would have considered picketing for higher wages.

I learned some important lessons those summers. I learned how to stock shelves, with the new food behind the older food so the older food gets used before it spoils. I learned not to mix food from different packages, or even to risk cross-contamination by using the same utensil in different packages. I learned about the rules fast food restaurants make to ensure food quality. I learned how employees and managers sometimes get around those rules to save time or save money. I learned how to place an order at a fast food restaurant to guarantee that your sandwich is fresh.

At this point in my life, I would not care to return to that job. At the same time, I’m glad to have experienced that job in the past. High school jobs and college jobs shape our adult lives in ways we did not anticipate. And most of those ways are good. J.

On science and faith

I am a fan of science and of scientists. I enjoy learning about science, and I enjoy the things that are accomplished in the world because of science. I admire scientists—especially those scientists who are humble enough to admit that science cannot answer every question or tell us everything we need to know about ourselves and the world around us.

Science can measure the measurable, but science cannot describe the things that are not measurable. No one can bring God into the laboratory for dissection or capture the human spirit in a test tube. Science cannot disprove the existence of a spiritual world, no matter how many people claim that science has done exactly that.

Science can measure the world as it is today. With those measurements, science can project forward or backward to describe the world as it will be in the future or describe the world as it was in the past. The caveat to these predictions and these theories about the past is contained in the words “all things remaining equal.” Science treats what it studies as a closed system; if a power outside the system interacts with the system, scientific projections of the past or the future are likely to be wrong.

I can take a radar gun to the highway and measure the speed of the cars and trucks traveling down the road. Knowing how fast a car is going at this moment does not tell me where that car was an hour ago or where that car will be an hour from now. A scientific projection based on the car’s current location, direction, and speed is more likely to be wrong than to be right, because the car is being operated by a driver.

The light from a galaxy a million light years away reaches the earth tonight. Does that prove that the universe is more than a million years old, or could the God who created that galaxy also create the rays of light that stream from there to here? Radioactive decay of certain atoms gives clear readings about the time that has passed since a living creature died. Can we be sure that radiation in the environment has been consistent through the past, or is it possible that environmental radiation was less in the past, causing living creatures to ingest less radioactive material than has been assumed? It takes a hundred thousand years for a coral reef to reach its current size, based on the measurable growth of coral. Could a different environment in the past have caused reefs to grow faster in earlier times?

My family once had a guided tour of a cave in Missouri. The tour guide told us more than once how long it takes stalactites and stalagmites and columns to form in a cave. The tour route had metal rails to keep tourists on the path. Those rails had stalactites. Another person in the group asked when the rails had been installed. I forget the answer, but by the statistics used by the tour guide, the stalactites on the rails should have been much smaller. “Those statistics are just an average,” the tour guide explained. “There are actually quite a few variables.” There are always quite a few variables.

History is both a social science and a liberal art. Archeology is a branch of history that is particularly scientific. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, archeologists said that they had found much evidence verifying historic accounts in the Bible. Now, many people claim that archeology has disproved much of the history reported in the Bible. It seems as if even the science of archeology depends upon the bias of the researcher for its results. Dating events by looking at the remains of cities and other structures is a challenge, although accepted results are becoming increasingly precise. At the same time, the history of Egypt and southwestern Asia is still dominated by records Greek historians developed about the Egyptian pharaohs and dynasties. These records were found in Egyptian temples by the Greeks, but they are no longer available. Some archeological evidence indicates that the Greek records are flawed. For example, the Greeks treated two late dynasties as successive, but those two dynasties are now known to have co-existed in Upper and Lower Egypt. This information casts doubt upon many of the dates that have been considered reliable in the study of ancient history in that part of the world.

Many religious groups have tried to compromise the Bible and science by adopting a version of the Big Bang theory in which God says “Let there be light” to begin the universe billions of years ago. At the same time, Stephen Hawking has proposed a process that omits the Big Bang from history, saying that universes can come into being instantly as a singularity. Hawking is not a Christian, and he would not approve of the way I use his theory, but I find it conceivable that the universe came into being six to ten thousand years ago as a singularity. God created Adam and Eve as adults (complete with useless navels), not as infants born of non-human creatures. God placed them in a garden with mature plants, not just seeds and soil. No doubt the trees had rings, even though they had not existed six days earlier. God did not create a mature world to trick future scientists; he created a mature world to be home to humanity from the beginning.

Of course I could be wrong. The universe might be twenty billion years old and the Earth 4.5 billion years old. Adam and Eve and the garden might be a parable to teach about goodness and evil. Arguments about science and history distract people from talking about the things that really matter. Sin and evil exist. Sinners cannot rescue themselves from evil. Sinners require a Savior. Jesus Christ entered this world to be the needed Savior. He died and rose again to defeat evil and to claim his people. When we focus on these basic truths, it does not matter what we believe about the age of the universe. J.

 

Genesis

People who know me describe me as intelligent and educated, even scholarly (among other things). Some of them are surprised to learn that I regard the biblical book of Genesis as historically reliable and accurate. They have been told again and again that the accounts of that book have been discredited by science and archeology. They don’t understand why I will not wave a white flag of surrender whenever they confront me with what “studies have shown.”

In the near future, I will write a second post to comment upon scientific studies. Before writing that, I want first to address my reasons for regarding Genesis as a good source of information about the past. My reasoning is not the circular argument that Genesis is in the Bible and the Bible says it is from God and true, so Genesis must be true. My confidence in the Bible comes from my faith in Jesus Christ. I do not worship the Bible as such, but I follow the example of Jesus in trusting what the Bible says.

Of course Jesus is best known through the Bible, so I might not have escaped yet the accusation of circular reasoning. However “studies have shown” that the New Testament documents were created by the first and second generation of Christians, reflecting information that came from eyewitnesses of Jesus. The four gospels were delivered as oral tradition before they were written—the similarities of outline and content among Matthew, Mark, and Luke testify to this oral tradition. The source of that tradition was a group of witnesses identified as apostles, men specifically chosen by Jesus to carry his message to the world. Gross inaccuracies in the account of Jesus would have been corrected or removed from the gospels. Without demanding belief in inerrancy of Scripture or addressing every apparent discrepancy or contradiction among the gospels, one can accept their general description of the attitudes and opinions of Jesus to be reliable for historians.

Among those attitudes and opinions of Jesus are respect for the accuracy and reliability of the Hebrew Bible (called Old Testament by Christians). Jesus frequently quoted from the Torah (known also as the books of Moses), and he treated the historical information they contain as true. Because I trust Jesus, I imitate his respect for the Hebrew Bible, and I use my intelligence to comprehend the message of those books rather than to fight against their message.

Perhaps on Judgment Day Jesus will tell me and other Christians that the book of Genesis was always meant to be treated as parable and metaphor. Perhaps he will reveal that Adam and Eve were not historic figures, that there was no Garden of Eden, no world-wide flood, and no Tower of Babel. I will not be sorry at that time to learn that what I believed about those stories was false. In fact, I will delight to relearn history and science from the Master. Meanwhile, I risk trusting that they are true, not because I don’t want to use my intelligence, but because I don’t want to lose my relationship with Jesus.

Other people, who cannot accept the accounts in Genesis because of their trust in scientists and historians, use their lack of confidence in Genesis to support their rejection of the entire message of the Bible. Because they cannot believe that the world was created in six days, or that a talking snake met Eve in Eden, they say that the entire Bible is nothing but fairy tales and that God is an imaginary being. Being wrong about how long the world has existed does not matter. Being wrong about God does matter. One of the strengths of science as a discipline is the ability of scientists to keep exploring new ideas, to admit that some ideas are wrong and others are better. One of the strengths of Christian faith is the ability of Christians to remain anchored in unchanging truth even while every scholarly finding is questioned and changed.

I have high respect for scientists, historians, and archeologists. I have high respect for their findings and discoveries. I do not have respect for people who try to use those findings and discoveries as weapons against people of faith. With unintended irony, they mock people of faith who aver that scientists and historians may be wrong, while genuine scientists and historians are always open-minded toward the possibility that they may be wrong. The air of superiority worn by those who trust science to disprove faith will be overturned when they meet God face to face. Sadly, that Day it will be too late for them to change their minds. J.

 

One question–three right answers

Two teenaged girls visited my house one Saturday. They were from a large church in a nearby town, and they were doing door-to-door evangelism work.

Of course I invited them inside. I always enjoy conversations about religion, and when people come to my house for that purpose, I can’t say no. I enjoy witnessing to Jehovah’s Witnesses and Latter Day Saints, showing them from the Bible that Jesus truly is the Almighty God and the only Savior. This conversation, though, would turn out differently.

We began talking about God, and we agreed about God. We talked about Jesus as the Son of God and the world’s only Savior, and again we completely agreed. We talked about the Bible as the Word of God, true and reliable, and still we agreed. All of us were having fun talking about our common faith as Christians.

“Tell me, J., when you became a Christian,” one of them urged me.

“It was a long time ago,” I answered. I became a Christian on a Friday afternoon. It was the Friday afternoon when the Son of God sacrificed his life on a Roman cross. His sacrifice made me a Christian.”

They couldn’t deny the truth of that, but they weren’t done asking the question. “When did that sacrifice become personal for you?” one of them asked. “When did you enter his Church?”

“I was about a month old,” I told them. My parents had the pastor come to the house, and he baptized me. My Baptism makes the cross of Christ personal for me—that’s when I personally became a Christian.”

“But you can’t remember something that happened when you were a month old,” one of them protested. I agreed that I didn’t remember the event of my Baptism. “When did you confess to Jesus that you are a sinner and invite him to be your Savior?” they asked.

“Oh, that,” I said. “I do that every day.”

Amazingly, the two of them left my house convinced that I am not really a Christian. We agreed about God, about the Savior Jesus Christ, about the Bible, and still they doubted the truth of my faith. Because I could not remember a single, emotional, overwhelming event which was the beginning of my faith, they could not accept that I really believe.

I do not doubt that some people become Christians in a sudden and dramatic way, one which they remember for the rest of their lives. Many Christians, though, grow up in the faith. They cannot remember a time when they did not belong to Jesus. They know they are sinners, and they know that they are forgiven and redeemed by Jesus Christ. As I would not doubt the faith of someone who dramatically came to Jesus, I cannot see why anyone would deny my faith because it does not have a dramatic beginning.

My third answer was honest and true. I do confess my sins to God every day. I do ask Jesus to forgive me every day. I do invite him to guide my life every day. I know of nothing in the Bible that says these things should happen only once in a lifetime. The daily life of a Christian, in fact, contains the cycle of repentance and faith. I would no more want to spend a day without deliberate repentance and faith than I would want to spend a day without breathing.

Jesus is my Savior, not because I gave myself to him, but because he claimed me. His righteousness and his sacrifice are my reason for confidence in my eternal home in heaven. I do not have to invite him to rescue me because he has already rescued me. He never needed my help. J.

 

Pentecost

Christians observe the holiday of Pentecost to celebrate and remember the Person and work of God the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost was originally one of the major holidays of ancient Israel. The command to observe Pentecost is found several places in the books of Moses. At first, the holiday was a springtime Thanksgiving festival. Occurring fifty days after the Passover, it was a time for God’s people to gather, take a break from work, bring gifts to God, and eat and celebrate together. Later rabbis noted that Pentecost coincided with the anniversary of the delivery of the Law from Mount Sinai. By the time of Jesus and his apostles, it was common for Jews to come to Jerusalem for Passover and remain the seven weeks to Pentecost.

When Jesus had died and had risen from the dead, he met with his apostles several times, both in Jerusalem and in Galilee. On their last meeting, he told them to remain in Jerusalem until they were clothed in power from on high. The believers gathered—according to tradition, in the same upper room where the Lord’s Supper had been observed, but more likely in the Temple courts—and were worshiping on the holiday of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit made his presence known with three signature events.

First, his presence was recognized by the sound of a rushing wind. Not only would this sound get the attention of many people; the sound of wind was a signature event because in both Hebrew and Greek the same word is used for “breath,” “wind,” and “spirit.” Second, believers in Jesus were marked with flames above their heads, perhaps calling to mind the fire of Mount Sinai. This time, though, the fire represented grace and not judgment. Third, those same believers began to talk about Jesus in a variety of languages—languages that were understood by visitors from all over western Asia, northern Africa, and southern Europe. This signature event marked the reverse of the curse of Babel, where nations were separated by various languages. Now that Jesus had kept all God’s promises, all curses were being brought to an end and the world was being gathered into the Holy Christian Church.

Some people heard the various languages and assumed that the Christians were drunk. Peter said they were not drunk and pointed out that it was only nine o’clock in the morning. (Clearly, Peter and I did not go to the same college.) Peter then used the opportunity to talk about Jesus. Presumably the other Christians were saying the same things in other languages. Of the people who heard this message, three thousand believed the good news about Jesus, repented, and were baptized, becoming members of the Church.

Why doesn’t every sermon bring thousands of people to faith in the Lord? Peter had the advantage of speaking to people who already knew the Scriptures. They were Jews who had come to Jerusalem for the holidays; they already trusted the promises of God. They only needed to be told that Jesus had fulfilled those promises they believed. Because the Holy Spirit was present, they believed. They brought the message about Jesus home with them; the church that was established at Rome existed long before Paul wrote to the believers there or visited them.

The Holy Spirit is God—all-knowing, all-powerful, present everywhere, eternal and unchanging, holy and righteous, merciful and gracious—just like the Father and the Son. Pentecost was not the first day he visited the earth—as God created, the Spirit of God was moving over the waters. The Spirit of God spoke through the prophets. The Spirit of God gave people saving faith in the coming Savior; and, when Jesus had come, the Spirit of God brought people to him. Paul told the Corinthians that “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” The apostles already had experienced the work of the Holy Spirit before his signature events on Pentecost. Whenever they read or heard God’s Word, the Holy Spirit was working in them.

The Holy Spirit still works today through the Word of God. The apostles and the prophets wrote the Bible as guided by God’s Spirit, and now God’s Spirit works through those words to bring faith and to strengthen faith. It is still true that no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. Those who confess Jesus Christ as Lord are being guided by the Holy Spirit. He is very busy this Pentecost, as he always is busy in the lives of God’s people. J.

Now playing…

One of the games I play while driving involves the songs on the radio. Instead of merely listening and enjoying the music, I add personal meanings to the songs. I imagine, for example, that the songs are a conversation between me and another person—sometimes alternating one song for me and one for the other, and sometimes having the third song be a duet. Or I might think of a list of people and go down the list—each person gets a song to tell me how they are doing or how they feel about me.

I don’t take this seriously, of course. I would never make an important decision based on the music played on the radio. (I might make an important decision based on the number of yellow cars I see, but that’s another story.) But, for the fun of it, I sometimes pretend that the songs on the radio are telling me what is going to happen soon.

Today I had to take the car to the shop to patch or replace a tire. (It ended up being replaced; the puncture was too close to the side of the tire to patch.) I also got the oil changed, and then I drove to work. As soon as I got started on the road, I said to myself, “The next song will give me a hint of how things are going to turn out this week.”

The next song turned out to be Carly Simon singing, “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you. You’re so vain. I’ll bet you think this song is about you. Don’t you? Don’t you?”

Of course I laughed. Never have truer words been sung to me over the radio. On the other hand, Carly
Simon did not offer me any hint as to how the rest of the week is going to be.

On the other hand, the last song I heard coming home from work told me, “Don’t stop believing.” Good advice, I think. J.