Thursday, May 10, 2018

THE KING IS COMING


                When I was growing up in church, we often heard messages about the second coming of Christ. Books like Hal Lindsey’s “Late Great Planet Earth” and the “Left Behind” series kept people looking to the horizon, expecting Christ’s return any day. We were told that the signs of the times have aligned and we could expect the church to be raptured soon. That was over 40 years ago. There are still prophecy conferences, and books foretelling when Christ will return, but main stream Evangelicalism has turned its attention more to the here and now instead of the sweet by and by.

                Whenever we consider the topic of the return of Christ, we need to be careful that we stay anchored in what the Bible teaches us and not get caught up in idle speculation. Back in 1988, I received an unsolicited book with the intriguing title, “88 Reasons Why Christ will Return in 1988”. When the calendar rolled over to 1989, the book was republished as “89 Reasons Why Christ will Return in 1989.” Needless to say, Christ has yet to return. It is books and seminars like these that have dulled people’s interest in seriously considering Jesus’ promised return. The church can cry wolf only so many times before people stop listening. Even the secular world got all excited about Y2K and the Mayan Calendar, which supposedly predicted the end of the world. It is now 2018 and the world continues to turn.

                Peter predicted this skepticism about the return of Christ long ago. It is recorded for us in 2 Peter 3:3-13.
    First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. [4] They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." [5] But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. [6] By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. [7] By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
    [8] But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. [9] The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
    [10] But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
    Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives [12] as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. [13] But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

                Peter’s words fit our times like a glove. Many unbelievers and even some so-called believers scoff at the idea that Jesus will return to claim his rightful throne. They would rather believe in the destruction of the world as a result of global warning or over population or a massive asteroid hitting the earth.

                Peter gives us a good outline for how we should approach the promise of Christ’s return.

                First, we need to keep God at the center of our thinking. When God is removed from the equation, the idea of the bodily return of Christ becomes laughable. In an increasingly secular and pluralistic world, many people think the Church’s teaching on the return of Christ is at best a quaint myth and at worst an idealistic delusion. As followers of Christ, we know that God has a plan for this world. He is the creator and sustainer of it. It will continue to exist until that time when His plan is fulfilled. We can rest in the knowledge that God is in control of human history. Nothing has happened or will happen that is outside of His plan. We need to always remember what Jesus said about the church in Matthew 16:18. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

                The second thing that Peter reminds us of is that God is not in a hurry to bring things to an end. God created this world and humans in particular to be in relationship. His desire is that as many people as possible will come to faith in Him through Jesus Christ. But He will not force anyone to take that step of faith. Out of His great love for us, He gives us to freedom to choose; to choose to follow or not to follow. It takes time for people to become aware of their true spiritual state and to come to grips with what they need to do about it. God does not have a limited number of people that He will accept in heaven, as some think. In fact, the book of Revelation makes it clear that God has opened the doors to all who will come.
    After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. Rev. 7:9

                The third thing that Peter tells us about Jesus second coming is that we cannot figure out when it will happen. Too much time and effort has been spent on trying to figure out when Christ will return. I don’t believe that He is honored by this. In fact, Jesus made it very clear that His return will take everyone by surprise. Consider some of what Jesus taught about his return.

Matthew 24:36-42
    "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. [37] As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. [38] For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; [39] and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. [40] Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. [41] Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
    [42] "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.

                Paul reinforced what Jesus taught in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2. Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, [2] for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.

                Finally, Peter gets to the real heart of the matter. In light of Jesus return, how should we live our lives now? Peter gives a very general answer with two distinct aspects. We are to live holy and godly lives.  We are also to live in anticipation of Jesus return.

                Jesus specifically addressed this in Matthew 24:45-51.
    "Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? [46] It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. [47] I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. [48] But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, 'My master is staying away a long time,' [49] and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. [50] The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. [51] He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

                Jesus tells us that the best way to be ready for His return is to stay focused on the task He has given us to be light and salt in our world. Always live with the reality that Jesus could return at any time. Don’t become complacent and abuse the privileges that He has given to us.

                Jesus expanded what it means to be ready for His return with three other parables; the parable of the ten virgins, the parable of the talents, and the parable of the sheep and the goats. Each parable has a specific message for us.

                In the parable of the ten virgins the message is always be prepared because we do not know when he will return. Five of the virgins managed their resources well. Five of the virgins failed to prepare. When the time came, only the five that were prepared were allowed to enter the banquet.

                In the parable of the talents, the message is that we will be held accountable for what we have done with what God has given to us. Jesus says that each of the servants was given a certain amount of money to manage on behalf of the master, according to their abilities. Two of those servants managed the money well and were rewarded by the master. The third hid what had been given to him and returned it unused to the master. He was severely reprimanded for his lack of faithful service. Christ will judge each of us by what he has entrusted to us, not compared to anyone else. God expects us to be good stewards of His resources in order to bring glory to him. If we fail to honor Him in this way, he will judge us accordingly.

                The parable of the sheep and the goats is the most chilling to me. For many years I lived in fear of this parable because I could not honestly say that I did all of the things mentioned here: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, welcoming the stranger. Out of fear, I did things that I was not equipped to do or maybe even called to do. Then one day God spoke clearly to me that He expected me to do my part to accomplish all of these things, but that he doesn’t expect me to do them all on my own. It was as we work together as the body of Christ that we fulfill this parable. On the other hand, those who neglect the things God has commanded us to do will again face his judgement.

                At this point I need to address the issue of if we can lose our salvation. I want to affirm that, as I understand the Bible, we cannot. In 2 Cor. 5:17 it states that, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! As new creations formed by Christ we cannot go back to being what we used to be. What we can lose is our rewards from Christ. Paul makes that clear in 1 Cor. 3:10-15.
    By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. [11] For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. [12] If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, [13] his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. [14] If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. [15] If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

                I know this has been a heavier talk than I normally give, so let me summarize what the Bible teaches about the second coming of Christ.

1. We can be confident that Christ will return. 1 Thes. 4:16-18
    For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. [17] After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. [18] Therefore encourage each other with these words.

2. We cannot figure out when Christ will return. "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

3. We should live in anticipation of His imminent return; that He may return at any time. Matthew 24:42
    "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.

4. As we look forward to His return, we should be busy about His business. Jesus does not want us to sit idly by waiting for the last day, but He wants us to bear fruit for His kingdom. John 15:8
    This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

5. We can trust God with the timing. We should pay attention to what is going on around us, but we don’t need to worry or be consumed by them. We know that the ultimate victory has already been won by Christ. We know that no matter how dark things may look to us the light will dawn. 1 Cor. 15:56-58
                The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. [57] But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
    [58] Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

6. We can celebrate that God is doing some amazing things in our world. In different parts of the world people are coming to faith in Christ in unprecedented numbers. Even in Europe and North America there are new fires of faith beginning to burn.

                We are closer to the bodily return of Christ than we have ever been. It could be tomorrow or it could be another 1000 years. Whenever that time is, we need to be alert and ready.

Mark 13:33
Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.

   


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

SMALL SURPRISES


James 1:17
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

                I think God delights in surprising us with small gifts from His hand. Like a father who brings home some small gift for his children, so our Heavenly Father does the same. When I was growing up, my father would periodically go on a business trip. When he came home, he would often have some small gifts for us boys. It actually got to the point where we would meet him at the door with the question, what did you bring us? This past couple of weeks, God has been “meeting me at the door” with some small gifts that I did not expect.

                Several weeks ago, after the official announcement of my retirement went out, Suanne and I received a Facebook message from a young lady who had been a classmate of our son Adam. She expressed her gratitude to us and told us that it was her experience here at Bethel at awakened her faith.

                In preparation for our trip to England, I pulled my well-worn copy of Meeting God in Quiet Places off of the shelf. This wonderful devotional was written by F. LaGard Smith. It centers on his discoveries about God through his walks in the English countryside. Out of curiosity, I searched the internet to see if he had written any other such books. What I discovered was that he was a prolific writer who is not afraid to tackle difficult issues. He is now retired but was a law professor at Pepperdine University. Several titles of his books intrigued me, so I purchased a couple. After reading the preface and first chapter of one of those books, I realized that I had come across a gift. There was an e-mail address for the author at the end of the preface so I sent him a thank you for his book. To my surprise he personally responded within the day!

                This past Sunday, a young man walked up to me who I recognized but could not quite place. He refreshed my memory by reminding me that many years ago I had met with him every Friday for a year. I had performed his wedding. He had moved to Wisconsin where he established his family. He is now back in the area. Then he said, there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the influence you had on my spiritual life. I was truly humbled.

                At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 7, Jesus tells us that our Heavenly Father is delighted to give us good gifts.
    "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
    "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! Matthew 7:7-11

                Whenever I have read these verses, I automatically think about the big decisions of life. Somehow, I have gotten it into my mind that to ask, seek, and knock is reserved for “important things” in life. I wonder if God is waiting for me to ask, what have your brought me today? I wonder how many small gifts I have missed because I wasn’t paying attention.

                C.S. Lewis wrote a book titled, Surprised by Joy. In that masterful volume, he talks about how joy seems illusive to us. The more that we chase after joy (or happiness) the more it alludes us. It always seems to be just outside of our grasp. Then, when we do not expect it, God surprises us with His joy. He allows us to enjoy some small pleasure or experience a positive encounter with someone and joy wells us from within us. We feel its embracing arms for the moment. But if we try to capture it, it evaporates.

                Jesus promised to give us the gift of joy. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:11) But if we look closely we discover that joy is not the goal. Joy is the byproduct of striving for the goal. The goal is to abide in Christ. The more that we strive to get close to Him, the more we will experience His joy.

                The gifts that our Heavenly Father wants to give to us come as we keep our eyes focused on serving Him. Like a father surprising obedient children with some small gift, our Father delights in sending small gifts to those who genuinely follow Him. Jesus gives us a glimpse of this in the parable of the talents. Too often we focus on the servant who failed to be faithful and we miss God’s commendation for those who were. "His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!' Matthew 25:21

                As Suanne and I have been sorting through our things, getting ready to move, we have come across many small gifts that people have given to us over the years; tangible reminders of people who have intersected with our lives. Those small gifts have reminded me of the many small gifts God has given to me over the years. They may not be tangible in a worldly sense, but they are far more precious and valuable.

                What small gifts has God been offering to you?  



Friday, May 4, 2018

SEEING GOD’S HAND IN OUR WORLD



                How is your eye-sight? One of the things that plagues us all as we get older is that our eye-sight gets weaker. Although I do not need glasses for most of the normal activities of life, I now use them for reading, working on the computer and seeing small objects. I have even found a pair of safety glasses that are like bifocals for working in my shop. They really help.

                Let me change my question slightly. How is your spiritual eye-sight? Just like our need for glasses to improve our physical sight, so at times we need help to improve our spiritual sight. But unlike our physical sight, the more we work on our spiritual sight, the stronger it becomes. As we grow in our faith, we can begin to see things that we never saw before. We can begin to gain clarity that we have never had before. We can discover new insights into our world that remain hidden to those who have weak spiritual eyes.

                The other week, I pulled a devotional book off of my shelf to help me get ready for our trip to England. It is called “Meeting God in Quiet Places” by F. LeGard Smith. Dr. Smith is a retired law professor. When he wrote this devotional, he split his year between teaching at Pepperdine University for six months and writing for six months at his cottage in the Cotswolds in England. To be honest, when I first read this book I was very jealous. The devotional thoughts in this book are all sparked by his walks in the English countryside. On those walks, he learned to sharpen his spiritual sight to see God in those wonderful places.

                Dr. Smith is not the first to recognize that we can see God in the natural world around us, if we have the eyes to see. King David expressed this in Psalm 19:1-4.
    The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. When David looked at the world around him, he saw God’s hand. He recognized that God was speaking to every tribe, tongue and nation about His glory and majesty. In reality, every people group on earth has heard and responded to God’s revelation of Himself. Their understanding is limited and often distorted, but they all have a sense that God is present in this amazing world.

                The Apostle Paul took a more direct approach to seeing God in the created world.
    The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. Romans 1:18-20 The last line of this passage states an important truth. People are without excuse for not recognizing God’s reality.

                Another book that I have enjoyed is Dr. Richard Swenson’s book, “More Than Meets the Eye”. In this book Dr. Swenson takes us on a tour of the universe from the vast expanse of outer space to the tiniest details in the molecular world. He masterfully exposes the hand of God at every level of our world and beyond.

                It is possible for us to walk through life spiritually blind. We can pass by the wonders of God’s creation and never see God’s hand. In fact, without the work of the Holy Spirit within us, we will remain blind. When we place our faith in Jesus Christ, the spiritual scales fall from our eyes and we begin to see things we have never seen before. The longer we walk with Jesus and the more we intentionally develop our relationship with Him, the more wonders our eyes will behold. Suanne once commented that she was impressed by how I can see spiritual truth in mundane things. I must confess that this is in part a product of my years of study and intentionally looking for appropriate sermon illustrations. But what I have been enabled to see, you can see as well, if you will train your eyes to look carefully.

                King David prayed for the ability to see the wonders of God in Psalm 119:18. Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law. As I have spent years in study of God’s Word, I have continually been amazed at how God opens my eyes to new truths that I had not seen before, or new ways of seeing and applying old truths that I thought I knew well. The study of God’s word is exercise for strengthening our spiritual eye-sight. The more immersed we are in God’s Word, the more we see God’s hand in the world around us.

                Two of my most favorite places on earth are the North Shore of Lake Superior and Cornwall, England. In both places, water meets land with wonderful, amazing results. Those waves crashing onto the coastline are a demonstration of the power of God.
- God’s power is awe inspiring. There is something entrancing about standing on the shore and watching the waves crash against the rocks. A placid lake or ocean is beautiful, but it is the waves that inspire me.

- God’s power is persistent. The waves continue to crash against the shore day after day, year after year. There is a sense of eternity in the crashing waves. There is a sense of permanency; the feeling that they will always be there. So it is with the power of God. It is never diminished. It will never be spent. It will always be present.

- God’s power is transformational. The power of the waves working against hard rock is amazing. There are amazing rock formations on the North Shore that have been carved out by the power of the waves. There are impressive caves on the coast of Cornwall that have been formed by the persistent pounding of the waves over centuries of time. God’s power transforms the hard hearts of people into amazing followers of His. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26

- God’s power is comforting. One of the most relaxing things I can do is sit on the shore of Lake Superior and listen to the waves. Recognizing that not only is God powerful, God is the most powerful, gives us a sense of peace and security. As Paul says in Romans 8:31, What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?

                G. K. Chesterton, in his book Orthodoxy, says that the greatest dilemma in the world is not the problem of pain, but the problem of beauty. Given a purely random, uncaring world, we would expect pain and suffering. The idea of the survival of the fittest demands it. But nothing in our world demands beauty. It is an anomaly.

                Many years ago, our family took a vacation in Colorado. One day we camped at a National Forest campground in the Rocky Mountain National Park. It was July, but we woke up in the morning to snow on our tent. After we had set up our camp, the boys and I discovered a trail leading out away from the campground, so we went exploring. It led us to an open field that was full of wildflowers in bloom. It was an amazing sight. On the way back I thought to myself, why were those flowers there. No one planted them or cultivated them. Given the isolated nature of the setting, no one else may even have seen them. Yet there they were in all of their glory. Why? They were there to proclaim the glory of God, whether any person saw them or not. There were there purely for the delight and pleasure of God.

                I have often thought about the amazing diversity in our world.
- God could have created a monochromatic world where everything was gray. Instead He created a world with a spectrum of color that adds beauty to the world. There are colors in the spectrum that we cannot even see with our natural eyes, but they are there.

- God could have created a monotone world. Instead He created a world with a vast array of sounds to delight the ears. Again there are sounds that our eyes cannot detect, but that animals can.

- God could have created a uniform world where each particular kind of animal was the same. One kind of dog, one kind of cat, one kind of sheep, one kind of cattle, one kind of horse, one kind of bird, and so on. But instead He created a world of amazing variety. There are 340 recognized breeds of dogs. There are over 60 breeds of sheep in England. Depending upon how you organize them, there are between 41 and 80 different breeds of cats. We worship a God of amazing creativity and diversity.

                God created the amazing world around us to assure us of his love and care. Jesus taught us not to worry about the particulars of life because God has it under control. Matthew 6:25-34
    "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? [26] Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? [27] Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
    [28] "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. [29] Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. [30] If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? [31] So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' [32] For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. [33] But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. [34] Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

                At the core of this amazing world is energy. Bottomline, everything comes down to stored or released energy, even us. Although we think of the atom as the building block of all things, energy is what enlivens all things. That energy come directly from God. Colossians 1:15-17
    He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. [16] For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. [17] He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

                There is a Christmas song that has the line, do you see what I see? That question should not be asked just at Christmas. We should be asking it all throughout life. Do you have the eyes to see God in the mundane of life? His hand is at work in our world. His fingerprints are on everything. We just have to look closely. At a crime scene, the police dust for fingerprints. We need to get in the habit of dusting our world to discover the fingerprints of God. They really are everywhere, if you have the eyes to see.


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

FOLLOWING HIS LEAD


Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
 and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.

                Sometime in my youth I latched onto Proverbs 3:5-6 as my life verse. I do not remember the exact circumstances. It may have been prompted by someone telling me I needed a life verse. (I was very compliant) Whatever the reason was that I landed on this passage, it has stayed with me. I have tried all of my life to follow Christ’s lead as I have navigated my life journey.

                The NIV translates the last line as “he will make your paths straight.” I can tell you that my journey has been anything but straight. I actually first memorized these verses in the King James version of the Bible. Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. I can honestly say that God has directed my path, even though, at the time, I was pretty confused about where that path would lead me. I think both translations of these verses uncover some significant truths about this life journey we are on.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
                I have read that one of the hardest things for new pilots to do is to trust their instruments. One of those instruments is called the artificial horizon. It is designed to help a pilot keep the plane flying right side up and level. Pilots can lose their orientation when they get above the clouds and cannot see the ground. Their feelings tell them that they are upside down when in fact they are right side up. They have to learn to trust the artificial horizon.

                In a similar way, there are many times in life when we lose our perspective. Circumstances cloud our vision and we panic. We want to take control, but often we mess things up. It is in those cloudy times that we need to exercise trust the most. When everything within us is telling us differently, we need to trust that God does know what is best.

 and lean not on your own understanding;
                Have you ever fought with your GPS. I have. I know where I want to go, so I put the information into the GPS and it gives me “the best” way to get there. In places where I am already familiar, I will often disagree with the GPS and ignore it. My route may not be the best or the fastest, but it is the one I am most comfortable with.

                There are situations where I have to trust the GPS completely, because I am in totally unfamiliar territory. Even when the route that the GPS picks for me doesn’t feel right, I have to follow. In the majority of cases, it works out. I have had a couple of cases where the GPS deposited in the wrong place.

                Following Christ is like following a perfect GPS. He knows the journey before me, with exacting detail. I only have a vague idea of which way I should head. I roughly know the destination, but I am unclear about all the twists and turns. If I depend on my understanding, I will get lost.

in all your ways acknowledge him,
                I think, in this context, acknowledge means submit to His authority. We all struggle with authority from time to time. Some of us are openly rebellious, while others are cooperative on the outside while rebelling on the inside. To acknowledge Jesus’ authority in our lives is more than outward conformity. It is yielding both our actions and our attitudes to Christ.

                The Apostle Paul puts this idea into a positive light in Colossians 3:17. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. This is another verse that I have added to my mental file cabinet. It wipes away the false divide between sacred and secular and makes all of life an act of worship. Every aspect of our life needs to come under Christ’s authority. This is not a burden, but a blessing. When we see how God has gifted us and how He works in us and through us, we can be filled with joy and gratitude.

and he will make your paths straight. (he shall direct thy paths)
                This last line is very important to me. Here is where the two different translations add depth and breadth to the meaning of the text. I originally thought of this line as meaning that God would clear the way for me and make life easy. Boy was I wrong!

                My journey with Christ has been anything but easy or straight, but I can say, without a doubt, that God has directed all of the way. I have come to understand that, if I trust God, He will direct my path. I have also come to realize that the straight path is not the easy path. The straight path, meaning the path Christ wants me to follow, will lead me into challenges and obstacles that need to be confronted and dealt with.  If I will trust Him, He will not only lead me into these difficult situations, but He will lead me through them to the other side. At the time, these situations will not feel pleasant or easy, but God wants to use them to refine and strengthen my faith. As Peter says, These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:7)

                When I take a trip, I like to have things planned out in advance. I like to have a clear map that shows me, in detail, how to get to where I want to go. On this journey of faith with Christ, there is no map. Instead, what we have is a guide. Instead of giving us a detailed map of the journey, Jesus simply says, “Follow me.”

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

SORTING BASEBALL CARDS


                I have been spending time recently sorting through my collection of baseball cards. I had collected baseball cards when I was a kid. I really had not taken it too seriously. There was something exciting about opening a new pack of cards and seeing what I got. When I open those packs, I was looking for two things; the bubble gum and Cleveland Indians. Those were the most important to me. The rest would get thrown in a box or attached to the spokes on front wheel of my bike. (some of you will understand) Today, I cringe at the Mickey Mantle cards I destroyed. If only I had known!

                In the mid-80’s, I started collecting seriously. I had a friend who collected, and he gave me the courage to jump in again. We would trade cards, with the goal of making a complete set for each year. We would also talk baseball. In those years when I actively collected baseball cards, I knew the players. I paid much closer attention to what was going on. I didn’t just read the final scores in the paper, I actually paid attention to the box scores.

                Somewhere in the mid-90s the price of a pack of cards increased to the point where I could no long justify buying them. Periodically I would buy some, just for fun, but I didn’t indulge regularly. I introduced my boys to baseball cards, but they never caught on, so my collecting days came to an end.

                Now, as I face a major move, I have to decide what I am going to do with my collection. I will keep some of it for sentimental reasons. A small portion I will take to a dealer to see if there is any value left in them. The majority will go on a garage sale table. I have been organizing them in order to hopefully entice someone to buy some of them. When I was actively collecting, there was value in baseball cards. Today, not so much. Their value is determined by the value others place on them. They have no intrinsic value of their own.

                My baseball card collection is an illustration of how we approach life. We tend to collect and hang onto those things that we think are of value. Some of those things have intrinsic value. Most of those things don’t. They only have value for a time; which is often temporary and fleeting. Had I sold my baseball cards a number of years ago, I could have reaped a nice prophet. Today, I will be lucky to earn a few dollars.

                When it comes to material things, the ultimate end is not all that important. The things of real value are not material, but spiritual. The material things of this world are given to us from God to be used and enjoyed, but not to be held onto and hoarded. There is an expiration date on the value of all material things. God wants us to pay attention to those things that have real eternal value. We can boil this category down into two sets; those things that enhance our relationship with God and those things that enrich our relationships with others.

                The most valuable thing that we can hold onto is our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. That is the gold standard for everything else in life. Paul made that clear in Philippians 3:7-11.
    But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

                As Paul looked back and evaluated his life, he realized that all of his accomplishments were of no value, if they were not linked to his relationship with Jesus. What really gave value to his life was growing deeper in his relationship with Christ. Everything else was just baseball cards in a box.

                The second thing of real value is our relationship with other people. When Jesus was asked what was of the most value in life He included our relationships with others. Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:37-40) God created us to live in community with Him and with one another. When we invest in the lives of others we invest in eternity.  

                I guess the real lesson I have been learning while sorting baseball cards is the need to put things into perspective. The real value of those baseball cards was not in the cards themselves. It was in the fun of discovery, of sorting and organizing, and of the comradery of sharing the experience with others. Once they were all collected and neatly stored in a box, their value diminished.

                In life, the real value is in the journey. Each experience is a gift from God that He wants to use to shape us as people and to draw us to Himself. Part of God’s gift is the delight we experience as we face each new adventure. If we try to hang onto those experiences, they lose their value. The real value in the material blessings that God has given us is enjoying them and using them for His glory. If we make material things an end in themselves, they lose all of their real value. They become baseball cards in a box.

2 Corinthians 4:18
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

   


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

PERSEVERING THROUGH ENDLESS WINTER


                It seems like we live in the land of never ending snow. Just about the time the roads get clear and the grass emerges, we get another blast of winter. Our latest dump of 12 inches of snow and blizzard conditions on April 14-15 is being depicted as a historic storm. We know that this cannot keep up forever (we hope), but this really seems like the endless winter. It reminds me a little of “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe” where it was always winter but never Christmas.

                In the face of endless winter, the word that best describes the attitude that we need to develop is perseverance. At the end of clearing your driveway for the 12th time, it would be tempting to give up and move to Arizona. That may work for some people, but the majority of us are stuck right here. So instead of giving up we need to push on. This past Sunday was a good example of perseverance. Even though we had to cancel two of our three worship services, we did gather in a time of amazing worship together.

                Our endless winter is a picture of the spiritual climate of the world we live in today. The hearts of so many have gone cold and they have turned their backs on Christ. Many people are lamenting the state of the church and the prospects for the future. Some just want to close their doors and hold on until Jesus comes. But that is not God’s plan at all. God’s plan is that we will persevere in the faith with the goal of thriving, not just surviving.
               
                We need to remember that no matter how spiritually dark and cold it seems the church of Jesus Christ will prevail. At the very birth of the church, Jesus made that promise, at a time when it seemed impossible. Peter had just confessed that Jesus is the Messiah; a powerful statement of faith that Peter did not fully understand. In response that Peter’s confession, Jesus made a promise.
    Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:17-19)

                The rock that Jesus was referring to was not Peter, as such, but Peter’s confession of faith. It is upon that confession that Jesus is God’s Messiah that the church has been established. For over 2000 years the world has been trying to snuff out the light of the Gospel but the church remains. The church is still a major influence throughout the entire world. The victory over sin and death has been won by Christ, and His church will prevail.

                Although Satan knows that he cannot overcome the church as a whole, he also knows that he can neutralize individual believers. By discouraging and immobilizing individual Christians, Satan can hinder the effectiveness of the church. That is his main strategy. He is more than willing to let Christians believe in the ultimate victory of the church, while, at the same time, planting the seeds of doubt and discouragement about the local church and even the individual’s faith. He begins to whisper words of discontent into ours. “I know that the Church universal will survive, but will our church survive?” “I know that The Faith will prevail, but will my faith endure?” These are the seeds of doubt that Satan is constantly planting in our minds. The Bible’s answer to those doubts is perseverance.

                Perseverance is not holding on until Jesus comes. Perseverance is pressing forward even when it seems like we are making no progress. Perseverance is holding onto the light of the Gospel even when the world seems so dark. Perseverance is leaning into the strength and power of Christ, even when our own strength is waning. Perseverance is determining to keep going and not give stop until we cross the finish line.

                Paul, Peter, and James all tell us that perseverance is the pathway to ultimate victory.
    Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:1-5)
    For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-8)
    Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4

                Every distance runner knows that perseverance is the key to doing your best and finishing well. There comes a time in every race when the runner wants to give up. It is at those very moments when perseverance takes over and the strength to continue returns. So it is with our spiritual journey. There are many times when the race gets hard and exhausting. It is at those times, when we feel our weakest, that we need perseverance. As Hebrews 12:1-3 tells us, it is at those times that we need to fix our eyes on Jesus and press on toward the goal.
    Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

                Right now, our winter seems to be endless, but we know that spring will come and summer will prevail. Right now, it seems like the cold and darkness of sin is winning the battle for people’s hearts, but we know that the truth of Christ will prevail. So, in the face of seemingly endless winter, persevere!

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Galatians 6:9


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

FACING CHANGE


                We live in an ever-changing world. Things are changing so rapidly that it is difficult to keep up. The pace of change is illustrated by the dizzying development of technology. The first iPhone was introduced in 2007. In just 11 years we are up to the iPhone 8. Smart phones today can do as much, if not more than the laptop I am writing on and may have a greater storage capacity. Almost daily we are being bombarded with the next advancement that is right around the corner.

                Technology is only one small aspect of the enormous changes that we face. Societal norms are changing at unprecedented rates. Changes that used to take generations are now taking years and even months. Things are changing so fast that about the time we figure out what is going on it is passé.

                The different generations handle change is different ways. The older generations that are used to change being slow and gradual tend to resist rapid change. The younger generations that have known nothing but rapid change tend to take things in their stride and embrace each new thing as it comes. But every generation has its limits. Too much change too rapidly often produces overload, which can lead to emotional shut down.

                All of this rapid change has had a negative effect on our spiritual lives. For centuries, people have understood that genuine spiritual transformation is gradual and takes time. But in a world awash with rapid change, we expect our spiritual development to pick up the pace. We get frustrated with ourselves and with others when we do not see the kind of change we desire forming right away. Because of the nature of spiritual change, many people jump ship, so to speak. There are three major negative responses to slow spiritual change. The first is to shift to a different format. People look for whatever will give them the immediate spiritual experience that they are looking for. When that format fails to keep up, they jump to another, like changing your smart phone every year. The second response is to give up on spiritual change. Many people who have been disappointed with the lack of spiritual progress have decided that it isn’t worth it and have walked away from faith. The third response is to stop trying to change and just accept wherever that person happens to be spiritually. They still have faith, but it is dormant, inactive.

                Change is hard for all of us, but it is a part of God’s design for humanity. When it comes to spiritual transformation, we need to take our cues from God’s Word and not the culture around us.  For the most part, we are in far too great of a hurry, but God is not. God is patient and His timing is always perfect. The first step to dealing with change is to acknowledge that God is in charge and we can trust Him. The Psalmist calls us to stop running ahead of God. "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." Psalm 46:10

                The second truth the Bible teaches us about dealing with change is to get our focus in the right place. One of the major problems with living in a changing world with so many options is that we get confused and disoriented. We are not quite sure which way to turn. In our fear of being left behind, we run is six different directions at the same time. Jesus addressed this kind of an unfocused life in Matthew 6:31-34. So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

                The next thing the Bible teaches us about dealing with change is to be careful about who sets the agenda. If we try to stay on top of the world’s agenda it will lead us into anxiety, confusing, and pain. Instead, we need to block out all of the competing voices that are seeking our attentions and tune our spiritual ears to God’s voice. As Paul teaches us in Romans 12:1-2, we need to orient our lives toward God. Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.

                One other thing that Bible teaches us about dealing with change is to persevere. Most lasting and significant change takes time. There will be seasons where we do not feel like we are making much progress. These will be interspersed with short times of rapid growth. Both are a part of the process God has set in motion for us. Paul state this clearly in Galatians 6:9. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

                As we face change in our lives, there are some basic principles to keep in mind. Change is inevitable. Nothing stays the same forever. Change is hard. It forces us to evaluate our lives and to move in ways that often make us uncomfortable. Change is necessary. For us to grow and mature we must change. Things that stop changing die. This is true personally and corporately. Change is a part of God’s plan for our lives. As someone once said, God loves us just the way we are, but He loves us too much to leave us that way.

Philippians 1:6
… being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.