Monday, July 13, 2020

LORD OF ALL CREATION


Psalm 24:1
Of David. A psalm.

The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;

                When we first considered purchasing our new home, we checked out what the weather was normally like in the area. We were pleased to see that, on average, this area had only one or two days of 90 or above and only two or three days below zero. We were delighted. The reality of our first summer here has been a different story. We have had multiple days of 90 and above with high humidity. Not at all what we expected. Several people have told us that this has not been a normal summer.

                We are living in a time of unprecedented climate change. It is common to hear that we are experiencing record high temperatures, record high flooding, record high incident of tornadoes, etc. It seems like our entire ecosystem has gone haywire.

                The book of Revelation tells us that as we draw closer to the end of time, natural disasters will become more frequent and more severe. John makes it clear that God allows this in order to call people to repentance. Yet John also records that many people, instead of repenting, will complain and turn away from God.

                In my devotions last week, I read Psalm 24 every day. It begins with these words.

The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the waters.

                David boldly declares that the world we live in is firmly in the hands of God. He created it and He sustains it. So why are we facing all of these troubles? The answer is our own sin and rebellion. When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, one of the consequences was that all of creation was affected. What had been a positive cooperation between nature and humanity, became a battle.

To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it,'

"Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat of it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return."
 (Genesis 3:17-19)

                In Romans 8, Paul reminds us that God has a higher purpose for allowing the distortion of His creation.  He is using creation to call humanity to repentance and redemption. The clear message is that it is time to get right with God.

    I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
    We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 8:18-22)

                We are not in control of the world around us and we never will be, no matter how hard we try. The good news is that there is a day coming when God through Christ will make everything right again. He will restore His creation to its perfect state and invite all who have placed their faith in Him to enjoy this new creation for all of eternity.

Revelation 21:1
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.

                In light of all that is going on in our world and the eventual outcome, how should we live now. Peter gives us the answer. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 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. (2 Peter 3:11-12)

                We can complain about the heat. We can worry and fret over climate change.  Or we can pay attention and listen to what creation is trying to tell us. It is time to wake up and get right with God.  We have no time table to tell us how much time we have left, but we all know that our time is short. As the Bible says, today is the day of salvation. There is no time to lose.

Ephesians 4:1-2
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.


Monday, July 6, 2020

BECOMING VICTIMS OF A VICTIM MENTALITY


Romans 8:37
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

                This past week I was introduced to a podcast by Michael Ramsden, the new president of Ravi Zacharias International Ministry, on the subject of having a victim mentality. He made a compelling case that we have become a victim-based society. To claim that you are a victim automatically places you in the right and in the position of power. Anyone who disagrees with you is being hateful and becomes your enemy. Taking the position of victim excuses you from any responsibility for your actions and places blame on others. It is a very tempting and enticing position to take. We can see this victim mentality being played out daily in our country today.

                There is a big difference between being a victim of some injustice and living as a victim. There are many people who have been genuine victims and yet have chosen to become overcomers. There are just as many who choose to remain victims and even enhance their position. The difference is the approach that a person takes.

                There are many Christians today in America who have embraced a victim mentality. They believe that the Church is being unjustly persecuted and that they are being abused. They quickly cry foul and demand that the society go back to the way things were when Christianity was more than just tolerated.  Yet if we look at the broader picture, at a world where the Church is facing real, open, and often deadly persecution, what we see for the most part are overcomers, not victims. Believers around the world are finding their strength in Christ and not in playing the victim card.

                The Apostle Paul is a prime example of an overcomer. In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul chronicles the abuses that he suffered, yet he refused to play the role of a victim. Instead, he chose to trust in the Lord and persevere for God’s glory. He summarized his attitude in 2 Corinthians 4.

2 Corinthians 4:7-12
    But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18
    Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 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.

                Jesus warned us that if we followed Him, we would be at odds with the world. We should not be surprised when we face opposition from those who do not follow Jesus. Our hope and our security are in Christ and not in any world system. We want justice for all. We need to work to counter injustice in all of its forms. But we have been called to be overcomers, not victims.

Romans 8:31-39
    What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

    "For your sake we face death all day long;
        we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

                The victim mentality is enticing, but in reality, it corrodes our soul. It fills us with bitterness and anger. The better path is to embrace the reality that, no matter what we face in life, we are victors through Christ. In our fallen world there will always be injustice, but we also don’t have to be consumed by it. Instead, we can stand with Paul and millions of others who have chosen to be more than conquerors through Christ Jesus.

1 Corinthians 15:58
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.

   


Monday, June 29, 2020

GEM OR JUNK


Ephesians 5:15
    Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise,

                We don’t often think about the significance of each individual day. We tend to see our lives from the perspective of the big events. As significant as those events are, it is the daily choices that we make that really shape our lives. The jewels in our crown that we will present to Jesus one day are cut from raw material each day.

                Each day is like a rough cut gem stone. The day begins in raw form, without clear definition or shape. As we go through our day, we shape the gem. If we are careful and wise, at the end of the day we have created a beautiful gem stone, worthy to be given to the King. If we are not careful, we mar the stone and end up with costume jewelry at best. Throughout the day we can either perfect our gem or place a flaw in it. Once the day is done, there is nothing we can do to change the outcome. We place that gem in our personal vault and start fresh the next day. At the end of our lives, we will open our vault, take out its contents, and place them at the feet of Jesus.

                The Apostle Paul used a different analogy to make the same point. It is found in 1 Corinthians 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. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 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. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

                The way we live our daily lives is creating the treasure we have to take into eternity. If we are unwise in our daily choices, what we will have to take with us will be little. If we are wise in our daily choices, we will have treasure in abundance. It all depends on what we do with the rough-cut gem that God blesses us with each day. Will we let that gem be shaped by the world and its values or by Jesus and His values?

                Jesus drew that line in the sand during the Sermon on the Mount.

    "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

                Our life may seem to revolve around the big events along the way, but in reality, it is shaped by the routine choices we make day by day. How we will respond when the big events come is determined by the character we shape on a daily basis. The good news is that we get to start fresh each day. Each day is a new gem stone, ready to be shaped into something beautiful.

Lamentations 3:22-23
Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

   

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

WAITING


Psalm 27:1
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.

                This has been a season of waiting. We are all waiting for this current pandemic to be over. We are waiting for things to open up so that we can resume more normal life. In a more profound way, there are many who are waiting for significant social change, so that we will not go back to “normal.”

                Waiting is difficult for most of us. It seems like we are wasting time and accomplishing nothing. When I was in college, I had to read a play called Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett. It is the story of two men who are waiting for a third man, Godot, whom neither of them had ever met. Throughout the two-act play, they are encouraged to continue to wait, yet by the end of the play Godot never arrives.

                Many people have debated the identity of Godot. Beckett has contended that Godot is not a symbol for God, yet many people view it that way. The play seems to resonate with the experience that many people have. They are waiting for God to act, yet feel like He never shows up.

                This sentiment is a recurring theme in the Psalms. Asaph expressed his frustration of waiting for God in Psalm 73.

Psalm 73:1-3, 13-14
A psalm of Asaph.

Surely God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.
For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure;
in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.
All day long I have been plagued;
I have been punished every morning.

                Asaph was in despair because it seemed to him that the wrong people were winning. Those who were trusting in God seemed to be getting the wrong end of the stick. God intervened and gave Asaph a glimpse of things from God’s perspective. He came to see that, although it seemed like the wicked were winning, in the end it is the righteous who truly win. So Asaph reaffirmed his willingness to wait for the Lord.

Psalm 73:28
But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds.

                There are many reasons why God asks us to wait. Most often, during our time of waiting, it is hard for us to see why we have to wait. We become impatient and want to move on. But waiting is an essential part of God’s plan. Just as it takes time for fruit to ripen, so it takes time for God’s plans to be accomplished. We may not understand the reasons why we must wait, but if we will follow Asaph’s example and look at things from an eternal perspective, we will be able to have a positive attitude as we wait.

Hebrews 11:39-40
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

Hebrews 12:1
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.

   


Monday, June 15, 2020

CRISIS CENTERED OR CHRIST CENTERED


Titus 3:9
But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.

                We have been programmed to be crisis focused. All you have to do is pick up the newspaper or turn on the evening news. Guaranteed, the first thing you will encounter is the latest crisis. It may focus on social unrest, or economic woes, or the latest health scare, or international intrigue. It is presented in such a way as to stir up our emotions and get us either agitated, excited, or fearful.

                The media focuses on these things because they boost ratings and sell newspapers. But there is another group of people who grab the headlines and run wild with them. They are the conspiracy theorists. They can take any bit of information and transform it into a sinister plot to undermine our society and to enslave us all. BEWARE, BEWARE, our world is falling apart!!!!!

                It is hard not to get caught up in this negative spin. Although we may not buy into the latest conspiracy, we too often become focused on the latest crisis. Larry Osborne, in his book Thriving in Babylon, calls this crisis du jour.

“Audience ratings are the lifeblood of the media, whether Christian or secular. Without listeners and readers there would be no advertising revenue, no product sales, and no donations. So it should come as no surprise that gaining and maintaining significant market share is an underlying consideration in everything the media does.”

“Unfortunately, this creates enormous pressure to keep your audience fully engaged. Thus the constant emphasis on the latest crisis du jour. Panic and fear sell. They’re riveting and keep listeners and readers coming back for more. They don’t want to miss anything.”

“Frankly, the media and most ministry fund-raisers need a crisis to motivate people to watch, listen, and give. If they don’t have one, they’ll create on. And if all they have is a small one, they’ll make it into a big one.”
(Thriving in Babylon, page 111)

                I understand the allure. As a pastor, I have often felt the most energized when there was a crisis to manage, rather than when everything was going along smoothly. A good crisis captures our attention and get our juices flowing.

                There are several dangers of falling into the trap of being crisis centered. First, being crisis centered causes is to live in fear. This kind of fear is one of the ways that Satan keeps Christians off balance. Fear dominates us and often immobilizes us. Panic is never good. That is one reason why we are commanded over and over again in the Bible to not fear. Fear takes our eyes off of God and puts them on the current crisis.

                Joshua was facing his own crisis du jour. He was given the overwhelming task of leading the people of Israel into the Promised Land. He knew that once he crossed the Jordan River, he would be faced by a formidable foe. But God challenged him to take his eyes off of the crisis and put them squarely on God. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

                Another danger we face when we become crisis centered is that we become calloused. Our hearts become hard and we lose our compassion. Sociologists call this compassion fatigue. We just stop caring. We can become cynical and begin to shut out all cries for help. Instead of taking a clear honest look at things, we dismiss them out of hand.

                The greatest danger of buying into the crisis du jour is that it takes our eyes off of Christ. We forget that He is ultimately in control. Our lives are secure in Him, no matter what our current circumstances may be.

                The Apostle Paul was constantly faced with one crisis after another. As he traveled from town to town preaching the Gospel, he faced opposition and hardship at every turn. Although many people came to faith in Christ, many also turned against Paul, sometimes in violent ways. Paul was stoned, beaten, thrown into prison. Yet through it all, Paul kept his eyes firmly fixed on Jesus.

                Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 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. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

                Paul was confident in the truth that through Christ he had already won the victory. And we have as well, if we have placed our faith in Jesus. We can be honest about the various crises that we face, but we don’t have to be overwhelmed by them. We can approach the crisis du jour from an eternal perspective.

                There are significant issues that need our attention. We have an obligation to do our part to foster justice and peace in our world. But ultimately, the crises of today will pass away. What really matters is investing in what will last for all of eternity. If we want to really make a difference in our world, we need to shift our focus from being crisis centered to being Christ centered.

Hebrews 12:2-3
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.

******
          I highly recommend Larry Osborne's book, Thriving in Babylon. It is essentially timely. 

   


Saturday, June 13, 2020

A CARTOON GOD


Romans 1:22-23
Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

                You can find them at almost any county fair or popular tourist destination. They are usually set up near where the majority of people will pass by. Their set-up is simple; an easel, a small table, a chair, and several examples of their product. They are caricature artists.

                Caricature artists are skilled at capturing the essence of their subject, but with a twist. They can create a very recognizable facsimile of their subject. Often the head is large and out of proportion to the rest of the body. Certain features are exaggerated. A cartoonish scene completes the picture, with the person placed at the center. When the portrait is complete, others can easily recognize the subject. We laugh at these caricatures because we recognize the obvious distortions.

                Many people believe in a caricature of God, except they do not see the distortion. Unwittingly they exaggerate one or two attributes of God and allow the others to fade into the background. The result is an image of God that is vaguely recognizable, but very incomplete. In some cases, the image is so distorted that it has little or nothing to do with the real thing.

                Satan knows that there is a hunger in the heart of all people to know God. So instead of trying to deny God’s existence, he has substituted a caricature. Just like a caricature artist, he emphasizes one aspect of God to the exclusion of the rest. He turns God into a cartoon. A cartoon God is much easier for people to live with. He fills the void, satisfying their need for God, yet he makes no real demands on the person’s life.

                One of Satan’s greatest and most popular caricatures of God in the West is that God is love, exclusively. God’s love has been brought to the forefront of most people’s image of God, but it is a distorted picture of love. It is not the love that is depicted in the Bible. It is love as defined by the current culture. In this caricature, God is a heavenly grandfather who is indulgent and not demanding. His greatest desire is that people would be happy. Whatever makes them happy is fine with Him. Whenever God’s justice or discipline is raised, it is silenced with the phrase, my God is a God of love. He would never do that!

                In other parts of the world, the caricature of God is the exact opposite. God is depicted as a God of wrath and punishment. God is to be feared and appeased. There is no hope of getting close to God. In fact, the idea is to keep God as far away as possible. The less involved God is in a person’s life, the better. There is no love in this caricature, only fear.

                In between these two extremes is a multitude of other caricatures. Each one focusing on one or two real aspects of God, to the exclusion of others. Instead of a well-rounded understanding of God, they give us a distorted image that is something less than the real thing.

                All of us have a slightly distorted image of God. Our image of God has been shaped by our life experiences. That is why it is essential that we regularly check our image against what the Bible says about God. It is like comparing a caricature to a photo. The photo allows us to recognize the distortions in the caricature. In the same way, the Bible helps us recognize the distortions in our image of God. Even here, we must be careful. It is possible to find passages that support our caricature. We need to examine our image against the complete image of God given in His Word.

                The place to begin is with an honest examination of Jesus. Paul tells us in Colossians 1:15 that Jesus is the real deal. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. If we want a genuine, real picture of God, we need to look to Jesus.

                When Jesus was preparing His disciples for what was ahead for them, Philip asked Jesus to give them a glimpse of God. Jesus’ reply was that Philip had already seen God in Jesus.

    Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us."
    Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? (John 14:8-9)

                Satan is the master salesman. He has been selling the world a wide variety of caricatures of God, and the world have been lining up to buy them. People want a God who is safe, a God who is manageable, a God they can control. People want a God in their own image. But none of these are the real thing. They all distort who God really is. They give people a false sense of security. Too many people find out too late that they had placed their faith in a caricature of God and not the real thing.

                The question we all need to ask is, what is my image of God? Is it a caricature or the genuine article?

Hebrews 1:1-4
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.

   
John 1:14
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.


Wednesday, June 10, 2020

PERSPECTIVE


2 Corinthians 5:16
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.

Perspective
The aspect in which a subject or its parts are mentally viewed.
Capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance.
(Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary)

                We all come at life from a particular perspective. Our perspective is shaped by our life experiences. Over time we have formed filters, through which we pass information. We use these filters to interpret what we are seeing or hearing. Although we may share similar filters with others, there is a uniquely personal aspect to them. No one’s life experiences are exactly like someone else’s.

                Many years ago, I knew a man who worked as a counselor at a State hospital. His field was chemical dependency. Daily his life was filled with encounters with people who had become trapped in addictions that had ruined their lives. Consequently, he saw every situation through the perspective of chemical dependency.

                Throughout my many years of pastoral ministry, I have often been approached for financial assistance. In the vast majority of these incidents, the person on the other end of the line is a total stranger. Many of these individuals are not looking for help, they are looking for a hand-out. I have been verbally abused on many occasions when I tried to probe deeper or tried to explain why I could not help. These negative experiences have tainted my perspective. I tend to view those kinds of calls with skepticism.

                The Apostle Paul grew up as a devout Jew. By his own testimony, he was a Pharisee of the Pharisees. His perspective in life was shaped by his strong belief system. Because of this, Paul persecuted the followers of Jesus. He felt it was his duty to stamp out this new movement that threatened his position in life. Then, in an amazing encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19), Paul’s perspective radically changed. Basically, overnight Paul changed from being a persecutor of the Church to a promoter of Jesus. From that point on, Paul interpreted his world through a new set of filters.

                In Haydn Shaw’s book Generational IQ, he makes the point that, in a general sense, each generation has been shaped by the major events of their childhood. These events have produced different perspectives in different generations. Those who grew up during the Great Depression and WWII view life through the perspective of thrift and duty. Those who grew up during the 60’s & 70’s were shaped by both progress and turmoil. It was a time of economic stability and advancement. It was also a time of social change and struggle. These people tend to view life through the perspective of hard work, competition, and individualism. The generations that have followed have been shaped by technology, economic boom and bust, and hyper-individualism. The perspective of each generation has been shaped by their life experiences.

                Recently, I have noticed that I am having more trouble reading under certain conditions. I need the help of reading glasses to be able to see things more clearly. One of the things about perspective is that it is never perfect. There is a flaw in everyone’s perspective. We all need some help to see things more clearly. To do this we need to dialog with each other. We need to listen to different perspectives without jumping to negative conclusions. We need to learn from one another.

                Above all, we need to have a radical change in our perspective like Paul’s; we need an encounter with Jesus. Because of the influence of sin in our lives, our perspective is distorted. We cannot see things as clearly as we should.

                There is a procedure available today that can radically improve a person’s eyesight. It is called Lasik. With the use of laser, a skilled surgeon can correct problems in the eye and restore sight. We all need spiritual Lasik. We need the Holy Spirit to remove the things that distort our perspective and help us to see things from a godly perspective. This does not mean that our perspective will always be perfect, but we will have a better understanding of things as they really are. We will begin to see things through the filter of God’s word and presence.

                One of the reasons we have the social struggles that we have today is that we are using a faulty perspective. We see other people as the problem, just as Paul did. The problem is not other people, it is sin. Sin in our life and in theirs. We need to change our perspective.

                In Ephesians 6:10-13, Paul encourages us to view life from a radically different perspective. Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

                We are in a spiritual battle. There is action that needs to be taken. Wrongs need to be righted. Negative situations need to be minimized. Ultimately, positive change will take place only after we have readjusted our perspective. We need to view others through the eyes of Jesus.

Ephesians 4:32
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

   


Monday, June 1, 2020

WHEN ONE PART SUFFERS


1 Corinthians 12:26
If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

                One of the discoveries that we made, as we moved into our new home, was that the toilet in the second bathroom leaked. So, the other day I decided to tackle the problem. I went to Menards and bought the needed items to fix the toilet. Then I began the process of dismantling and reassembling the toilet. As has often been my experience with plumbing, things did not go smoothly. First, space is limited, and so it made working on the toilet more difficult. Second, some of the old parts were reluctant to give up their place. For the next couple of hours, I labored in a cramped space, working at odd angles. Finally, I was able to put everything back together without it leaking. A major victory for me.

                After I was finished, I realized that there was a cost to pay for my efforts that had nothing to do with the toilet. In my efforts to work in the cramped conditions of the bathroom, I aggravated an old foot injury. When I stepped down on my right foot, excoriating pain shot out through my toes and up my leg. For the remainder of that day, I felt generally out of sorts. I was hobbled by this for several days, making other normal activities more difficult.

                Over the past several days, our nation has been hobbled by an excruciating pain. The death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police has erupted into full scale riots across the country. In one way or another we are all feeling the pain of that one incident. Many people have tried to peacefully express their pain, while others have used this as an opportunity to unleash pent up anger and frustration in destructive ways. It was encouraging to hear that many people rallied on Sunday morning to help clean up the mess caused by those who chose violence as their response.

                In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he explained that the church is like the human body. It is made up of many parts, which all work together for a common good. But when one part of the body malfunctions, the entire body feels it. What is true of the body of Christ is true of the community in general. Every community is designed to work together for the common good. When one part of the community malfunctions, the entire community pay the price, as we have seen.

                In the human body, when one part of the body malfunctions, the rest of the body works to bring healing and restore wholeness. When the offending part of the body does not respond, we call this disease. Cancer is a prime example of this. The cells in one part of the body begin to aggressively act on their own, causing damage to the surrounding tissue and ultimately to the entire body. This is what we are experiencing as a nation right now.

                There are parts of our community, on both sides of the equation, who have decided to act on their own. Both insensitive, overly aggressive police officers and unrestrained rioters are a cancer within our society that is damaging the whole. Anger, violence, bitterness and rage only foster more of the same. Brutality by some police does not restrain crime, nor does violent rioting change societal problems. Both are destructive and need to be eliminated. There is a better way.

                Paul gives us the only real answer to the issues that inflame our society. It is found in Romans 12.

    Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary:

"If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)

                What happened to George Floyd and others should never happen. But responding in anger and violence will never change that. There is only one way, to overcome evil with good. Those who went out on Sunday morning to clean up the mess that others caused are good examples of the right response.

                When one part suffers, we all suffer. The Black community is suffering because they feel that they are being targeted and treated unfairly. The police are suffering because they are being vilified and unfairly being painted with a very negative, broad brush. Business owners are suffering because on the heals of the Covid-19 shut-down, their businesses have been damaged and looted. The community is suffering because we all must pay the price for the actions of the few. When one part suffers, we all suffer.

                A healthy body mobilizes to fight disease. A healthy community mobilizes to fight both crime and injustice at all levels. We are in this together.

Philippians 2:4
Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

   


Tuesday, May 26, 2020

LITTLE THINGS MATTER


Matthew 25:21
    "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!'

                The moving truck was fully loaded, we said our goodbyes, and we were off. After 21 months of ministry at Cavalier Baptist Church in Cavalier, ND, our assignment was complete. It was time to hand off the baton to the new pastor and move on. Our journey was a long two-day adventure, as we made our way from near the Canadian border in North Dakota, through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and into Michigan and our new home. It involved many hours on the highway, with me driving the moving truck and Suanne following behind in the car.

                Driving a large truck is a new experience for me. I had driven the same sized truck up to Cavalier from Mankato, MN, a journey of about eight hours. On that occasion, the traffic was light and the route straight forward. Driving the truck to Michigan was a different story. There was more traffic and more twists and turns along the way. On any long journey, I am thankful for cruise control. I can set my speed and then focus on other things. That was true on this occasion as well. On each leg of the journey, I set the cruise control and allowed the truck to do the work.

                I am very thankful that for most of our journey the speed limit was 70 mph. I can still remember the days when 55 mph was the max. It seemed like it took forever to get anywhere. Although our 1000-mile journey was still long, it would have been much longer if I had been required to drive at 55 mph. Throughout our journey, at regular intervals, I was passed by other vehicles that far exceeded the posted speed limit. Some gradually overtook me, while others zoomed by as if I was standing still. This is not a new occurrence, but it always irritates me. It is one of those little things that we have come to accept as okay, even though it is not.

                We have all done it, including me. We have all fudged on the speed limit at times. We justify our action by thinking that the police will not stop us for going 5-10 mph over the limit on the freeway, so we use the extra speed to get to our destination a little faster. We excuse our speeding because we are in a hurry or road construction has delayed us and we need to make up the time. It is very easy to rationalize this minor infraction.

                As I was driving, and routinely being passed, the thought came to me about being faithful in little things. There is a spiritual trap that all of us fall into from time to time. We are adamant about being faithful in the big things of life, but we are laxer about the little things. We have come to believe that the little things really don’t matter. Going 10 mph over the speed limit isn’t a big deal, or is it?

                It is the little things in life that eventually form our habits. Gradually, a little at a time, we adjust our attitudes and actions, until we find ourselves in a very different place than we expected. Someone once pointed out that a one-degree variation in an airplane’s flight pattern can mean missing its destination by 100’s of miles.

                Jesus pointed out the danger of over looking what we see as the little things in life in His Sermon on the Mount. He highlighted that our thoughts and attitudes are just as powerful as our outward actions. He said that harboring anger toward someone is no different from murdering them or harboring lustful thoughts about someone is no different than committing adultery. James picked up on this in his letter, when he reminded us that our sinful actions begin with what goes on inside of us. Then he reminds us that to break the law at one point is just like breaking all of the law. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. (James 2:10)

                My point in all of this is that little things matter. In the parable of the talents, Jesus pointed out that being faithful about the little things is important to God. It is the little things in life that eventually make up the big things. Being intentional about being faithful in the little things is the pathway to true faithfulness in everything.

Ephesians 5:15
    Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise,

   



   



Tuesday, May 12, 2020

WHERE’S YOUR FAITH?


Hebrews 11:1

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

                Most people relegate faith to some kind of religious feeling. I was watching a TV show last night where the main character commented that he was going to make sense of a particular situation, not by faith, but by science. His comment highlights the bias that faith belongs exclusively to religion and has no place in the rest of the world. But that understanding of faith is completely wrong.

                Every human being exercises faith on a daily basis. We are hardwired to live by faith, we just don’t often recognize it. The question is not, do we have faith, but in what are we placing our faith. Unconsciously we place our faith in a variety of things on a regular basis. For example, every time we board an airplane, we are placing our faith in the laws of aerodynamics. Every time we get in our car and head out onto the highway, we are placing our faith in the other drivers abiding by the rules of the road. Our faith is tested when things don’t go the way we expect them to go. When that happens, we experience a wide range of emotions; anger, disappointment, fear, apprehension. If our faith is strong, we quickly overcome this temporary setback. If our faith is weak, we change our behavior to avoid those objects of our faith that have disappointed us.

                All of us have an overriding faith system that we use to organize and make sense of our world. This faith system guides all of the other objects of our faith and places them in order. Let me suggest four common faith systems that people routinely rely upon. They are not the only faith systems, but probably the most widely used. They are self, science, community, and religion.

                Many people look to self as the foundation of their faith system. This is especially true in North America, with our rugged individualism. Most of us grew up in an environment that lauded those who could pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. We pride ourselves in making our own way in life, as Frank Sinatra is famous for singing, “I did it my way.” When self is the basic faith system in a person’s life, they measure everything against their own abilities and perspective. Things are deemed good or bad depending upon how they directly affect the individual.

                Many other people place their faith in science. They see science as the ultimate determiner of what is true and right. If it can be “proved” scientifically than it is true. If it can not be “proved” scientifically then it is false. For many, science has become their savior. They trust science to deal with all of the problems we face in life, from aging to global warming.

                Another faith system that is very common is community. In some Asian countries this is the most prevalent faith system. It has gained popularity in American recently. A component of this faith system is politics. People who put their faith in community are trusting the collective to guide them. They believe that whatever the majority decides, that is the right course of action. They also are depending on the community to take care of them and to supply their needs.

                Of course, one of the most dominant faith systems is religion. By nature, we are religious beings. We are constantly looking for something bigger and more powerful than we are. That something may be viewed as the God of the Bible, the multiple gods of pantheism, or the overriding force of the universe. Depending upon the form a particular religion takes, a person’s life is guided and directed in a certain direction.

                Our own experience tells us that the boundaries between these faith systems are not clear. There is extensive overlap, and most of us dabble in all of these, even when one system is dominant. It is important for us to be honest with ourselves about our own faith system. What is the dominant faith system in our life? What is it that we are trusting above everything else?

                For those of us who are believers in Christ, our dominant faith system is Christianity. At the very core of our faith system is a foundational truth. It is stated in Hebrews 11:6. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Our faith system is anchored in these two truths: God exists and He cares about us.

                We were all created with a God-consciousness. Every culture or people group on earth is in one way or another looking for God. The way that they do this is different dependent upon the culture, but the goal is the same. This is true because God has revealed His reality through this world in which we live. As Paul writes in Romans 1:20, 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.

                Even though all people are searching for God, they don’t all choose the same path. Many choose a path of their own making and end up with a god of their own making. The outcome has been all of the alternative faith systems that seek to take the place of faith in God. As Paul tells us, they settled for something other than the real thing.
    Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
    They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised. Amen. Romans 1:22-23,25

                But it is not enough to believe that God exists. We also need to believe that God actually cares about us. So many images of God are negative. God is seen as distant, uninvolved, angry, vindictive, callous. None of these images align with the God of the Bible. Although God is revealed as the final judge, He is also revealed as loving, kind, merciful, forgiving, and ever present. Out of His great love for us, He sent Jesus into the world to save us from all of the false faith systems that dominate our world.

                Science has much to teach us about our world. We have benefited greatly by what science has done for us. A strong community is a very positive thing. It gives us a sense of belonging and security. Exploring and developing our individual potential is an important part of finding our way in the world. But all of these good things will lead us astray, if they are not placed under the authority of God. To rephrase Jesus words, when we seek first the kingdom of God, all these other things will be ours as well.

                So where are you placing your faith? What is your dominant faith system? What are you looking to to help you navigate this life?

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, May 5, 2020

TIME TO SLOW DOWN


Leviticus 23:3
    There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the Lord.

                I realized today that I have been infected by a virus. It is not the coronavirus or the flu virus, but it is very real. It is a virus that infects much of our society, yet it goes undetected or unrecognized by most of us. What is this virus, the social pandemic lurking the shadows? It is the virus of hurry.

                We live in a society that is always in a hurry. We rush through our meals barely even tasting our food. We rush through projects so that we can get on to the next project. We rush through our days without a clear sense of where we are going. We often express our hurry with statements like, I’m so busy that I don’t know if I’m coming or going. Hurry and busyness have become the norm for life in the 21st century, at least in America. We are always in a hurry to get somewhere or accomplish some project.

                For example, I try to start each day with a time of personal devotions. There is no set amount of time that I am required to spend, nor is there a definite time when I must be done. Yet, many mornings I find myself rushing through my devotions rather than being fully engaged. I rush through my prayers so that I can get to my journal. I rush through my journaling so that I can get to my scripture reading. I rush through my scripture reading so I can get to my devotional reading. And I rush through my devotional reading so that I can get on with my day. There are days when I come to the end of my devotions and wonder what I accomplished.

                Hurry is our enemy is so many ways. On the most profound level it stunts our spiritual growth. Like physical exercise, we cannot rush through our spiritual disciplines and hope to gain the maximum benefit from them. By their very nature, spiritual disciplines are intended to be engaged in at a leisurely pace. We cannot truly develop our relationship with Christ on the run. Spiritual growth demands times of reflection, meditation, and listening. Our daily devotions are not a project to be accomplished and checked off of our list. It is to be a time to genuinely commune with God; to let Him speak into our lives.

                Hurry is the enemy of our human relationships. Hurry fosters the superficial. When we are consumed with hurry and busyness, we have little time to really get to know others. Building a genuine relationship with someone takes time, often unstructured time. There needs to be time to talk and to listen. There needs to be time to experience life together; to share common experiences. There needs to be time to process where the relationship is headed.

                Hurry is the enemy of our productivity. Our world continually presses us to be more productive at a faster and faster pace. Unfortunately, those two things actually work against one another. The faster we work, the less productive we become. We make more mistakes. We make bad choices that call for extra effort to correct. Hurry robs us of the purpose and meaning of our work. There is little satisfaction in our work when we are constantly rushing to get to the next project, without any time to evaluate or appreciate what we have accomplished. As a woodworker, I know that hurry makes for a poor end result. As the saying goes, measure twice, cut once. I get the greatest satisfaction, not from the projects that I threw together in a hurry, but from the projects I invested intentional time and effort.

                Hurry is the enemy of our physical health. Hurry leads to increased stress, which leads to high blood pressure, which leads to coronary heart disease. Hurry is a major contributing factor to excess weight gain. Hurry often eliminates exercise from our routine. Hurry and busyness rob us of the rest we need to function at our best.

                When God designed this world, He programmed in the need for rest. He designed us to need sleep on a daily basis. He also commanded that once a week we would slow down and rest. You could say that God mandated time to slow down. Without being legalistic about the Sabbath, we all need to schedule down time into our lives on a regular basis. God did not design us to be on the go 24/7. God designed our need for rest to remind us that we are dependent upon Him. By intentionally taking time to rest, we are affirming that we can trust God with our lives and our livelihood. Every night when we lay our head on the pillow and go to sleep, we are unconsciously affirming that God is in control of our world and it is not dependent upon us making things work.

                I wonder if God has allowed this current pandemic to occur so that we will slow down and rest. In the Old Testament, every seventh year was to be a sabbatical year; a year of rest when no normal work was done. The people had to trust God to provide, and He did. This pandemic, in many ways, has been an enforced time of rest. Many of the things that consume our time have been placed on hold. Families are spending more time together. Most people are being forced to live at a much slower pace. For many it has been hard to really slow down. They are in a hurry to get past this and get back to normal. I don’t blame them, but I would suggest that maybe they need to change their perspective. We all have a great opportunity to slow down, to reevaluate what is really important in life, and to actually rest for a time. We can waste this opportunity by maintaining a mental state of hurry, or we can take advantage of this time to get our life back in order.

                There is no vaccine against hurry, but there is a cure. It is called rest. Life is short as it is. Each moment, each experience is precious. Let us not miss the many good gifts that God has in store for us by rushing through life. When we get to the end of our life we can look back and wonder what happened, or we can cash in the dividends of a life well spent and well lived. The choice is up to us.

Matthew 11:28-30
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

LONGING


Hebrews 11:13-16
    All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country--a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

                The little icon on my phone alerted me that the security camera on our new home had detected movement in the back yard. I clicked on the icon to reveal a real time picture of our deck, with green grass stretching down to the creek that runs through our property. A light fog hangs in the air. I can hear the sound of running water and birds singing. I long to be there.

                Our original plan was to wrap up our interim ministry in North Dakota in mid-April and make the move to Michigan on April 19. Due to travel restrictions related to the current pandemic, those plans have been moved back a month. I understand the need for these precautions, and I am grateful that the spread of the coronavirus has been slowed, but it leaves me with an intense longing for my new home.

                The longing that I am experiencing is only a taste of a far greater and more profound longing for my heavenly home. The book of Hebrews zeros in on this far more significant longing. Hebrews 11 is a Cliff Notes account of many of those who have traveled this journey of faith before us. In the midst of recounting their faith journey, the writer reminds us that their longing was not fulfilled on this earth.

                God implanted in their hearts a longing for something that went beyond the tangible world in which they lived. Throughout their lives they continued to look forward to the fulfillment of God’s promises. Recognizing the spiritual nature of these promises, they lived as travelers through the world instead of residents of the world. They chose not to “settle down’ but continued to follow God wherever He led them. By faith, they kept their eyes on their heavenly home.

                At the end of chapter 11, the writer summarizes the journey of those he has chronicled. He transitioned from those in the past to those of us in the present. He intentionally included us in his story. The promise that these saints longed for could only be fulfilled through the next chapter of the story.

Hebrews 11:39-40
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

                Longing is a part of life. We all experience it. It is what drives us forward, pulling us toward an unknown future. Often our longing gets sidetracked by the enticements of the world. We begin to believe that the tangible things of this world will satisfy our longing, only to discover that they disappoint instead. For a moment it feels like they really do quench our longing, but that experience is short lived. Soon the thrill of the moment evaporates and the longing returns. It becomes an insatiable thirst.

                Satan tries to convince us that we can quench our thirst through what he has to offer. He makes grand promises that pleasure, power, and possessions will satisfy us. But in the end, they only increase our longing. Like drinking salt water, we become more and more thirsty, and more and more spiritually dehydrated.

                On the other hand, God also taps into that longing; a longing that He placed there. But instead of offering us trinkets that cannot satisfy, He offers us Himself. Our true longing in to be connected with God. We long to be welcomed into our heavenly home; the home God designed for us before the creation of the world. As C.S. Lewis tells us, we were not created to live in time, but in eternity. We are always surprised by time, because time is not our natural environment. As long as we live within the confines of time, we will long for something more, something better, something that will last. That longing can only be fulfilled through Christ.

                God wants to use the longing within our heart to move us forward toward the ultimate goal, being united with Him in His presence. When we focus our longing on that eternal goal, we can embrace the joys of this life, not as an end in themselves, but as a means of moving us closer to our real goal. Even the challenges of this life can serve to sharpen our focus and increase our longing for our eventual home. It is those who have their hearts set on heaven that can fully appreciate this journey through life. This journey is not pointless or meaningless. It is preparation for something far better.

                One day fairly soon, I will be settled into my new home. When that day comes, my longing will be satisfied, for a time. That is the way it is with our longings in life. Once they are fulfilled their intensity is extinguished, and they are soon replaced by a new longing. But one day we will enter our eternal home and the intensity and delight in achieving the goal of our longing will never diminish.

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.