The Back Page – Today

It was as if I had stepped back in time. For some reason, yesterday’s green forsythias had re-donned their yellow. Tree twigs sported last month’s buds. What was going on? Actually, I had not turned back the clock, only travelling north to New England. White birch boles haloed in pastel green, set against a brilliant blue sky, told me this was not the past, simply someplace north of New Jersey.

Sometimes we wish we could go back – unsay a hasty word, seize a squandered moment, savor a spectacular sunset, sit with a friend. But we can’t. Each moment is a one-use item.

Maybe this is why Moses prayed, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Jesus taught, “We must work the works of him who sent me as long as it is day. Night is coming, when no one can work.” The writer to the Hebrews says, “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts,” and Paul, “Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold now is the day of salvation.” Now. Today. Tomorrow may not come. Even if it does, we may not find ourselves as inclined to believe as we are now.

Does that mean we live only for each moment, simply seeking immediate gratification here and now? No, the wise live for the future, laying up treasures where neither moth nor rust corrupt nor thieves break through and steal. Our citizenship is in heaven, not earth; our bellies are not our gods. We therefore don’t live for each moment, though we do live very much in each moment. We use this moment (the only one we have) with an eye toward the judgment seat of Christ and his coming kingdom. In the present, for the future.

What if we look back only to realize with horror that we have lost long lengths of our lives through sin and neglect? Sorrow, maybe; despair, never. That is what grace is for – dismissing the past and opening the future. “Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Yahweh. Repent and live!”

But let us do our rethinking and repenting today.

The Back Page – Satan

“There is no greater disaster than to underestimate the enemy.”

The Hebrew word śāṭān means “adversary.” When Solomon sinned, God raised up Hadad of Edom as śāṭān—a political/military opponent. When Balaam rebelliously rode off on his donkey, the Angel of Yahweh took his stand in the way as śāṭān “an adversary.”

Unfortunately, although enemies of every ilk assail each of us individually, all Christians share a common foe—hăśśāṭān, “the adversary,” “the śāṭān,” Satan himself.

Our adversary has other names. Diabolos means “slanderer.” This word, usually translated “devil,” warns of what he characteristically does. Śāṭān and diabolos are close in meaning: the Hebrew of Job 1:6 uses the first, translating into Greek with the second. Satan the slanderer is also “the accuser of our brothers, the evil one, the great dragon, the ancient serpent, the one who deceives the whole world, a murderer, the father of lies.”

We do well, then, to avoid underestimating him. Paul warns us to not be ignorant of his stratagems. On one occasion he may launch a frontal attack, coming at us as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. On another, he may masquerade as an angel of light. He will try to divide us as God’s people. Satan can cite scripture (though skewing it), as our savior experienced during his own temptation. Another way to put it—we do well not to overestimate ourselves.

But though we must not underrate our enemy, neither should we be overawed by him and shrink in fear. Satan is a defeated foe, doomed to destruction in the lake of fire prepared for him and his angels. If we resist the devil, he will flee from us. If we put on the whole armor, we are able to stand. “The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him. His rage we can endure, for lo his doom is sure. One little word shall fell him.”

Scripture does not encourage us to take the tack, as some teach, of rebuking Satan. Only godless dreamers “revile angelic majesties.” Michael the archangel, for example, did not dare pronounce against the devil a railing judgment, but simply said, “The Lord rebuke you!” Let us face our foe biblically —keeping aware, awake, alert, armed; always praying; and maintaining an outlook that, though not brash, is ultimately assured and unintimidated.

The Back Page – Thermometers and Thermostats

What wonderful Greek words are “thermometer” and “thermostat”! Thermē is “heat.” Psalm 19:6 —“[The sun’s] rising is from one end of the heavens, and its circuit to the other end; and there is nothing hidden from its thermē.” Metron is “an instrument for measuring.” So a “thermo-meter” is “an instrument for measuring heat.” Histēmi means “to cause to be in a place or position, to set” and can bear the nuance “to specify, to set or fix.” A “thermo-stat,” then, is a device that “specifies or sets the heat.”

Whether or not we appreciate the Greek, we all eye our thermometers to know when it is warm
enough to go kayaking, and set our thermostats to specify the amount of thermē we will tolerate at home
as summer comes on.

Are Christians thermometers or thermostats?

The indicator on a thermometer goes up and down as the air around it warms and cools. A thermometer does not challenge or influence anything. A thermometer is a mechanical chameleon, changing its own color to blend with its neighborhood.

The indicator on a thermostat, by contrast, tells the equipment to which it is attached to change the surrounding air. It says not, “This is what the temperature is” but “this is what I want it to be.” Turn on the heat if the air is too cold; switch on the AC if too warm. A thermostat is an instrument of change, not of conformity.

As Christians we live among people holding values and practices often other than ours. They tell different jokes, employ a foreign vocabulary, watch grosser movies. Do we tend to conform to their standards, so we can fit in and not appear different? Or by our character do we challenge the crudeness we encounter? We need not do so belligerently or self-righteously or acrimoniously. But if we walk with the Lord humbly yet resolutely, we may find ourselves inducing change. Serving as thermostats rather than thermometers.

Daniel’s three friends provide an example. When Nebuchadnezzar issued an order to grovel before his god, they demurred. No noisy protests or self-pity, simply a stalwart, “O king, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. We are not going to serve your gods.” Three thermostats who cooled not only the king’s fiery furnace, but also his pride and his error.