Monday, December 4, 2017

Broken Bread


Luke 24:35 NIV
Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Does It Matter To You What Christ Wants?

The world is morphing at light speed.  Yet the most important parts of life have not changed a whit since Adam and Eve left the garden and pursued their dreams with Sin permeating their thinking.  We must contend with the same concerns David, the second King of Israel, did as well as those of the disciples who followed Jesus.  Last week I was asked by someone whose opinion matters to me, “Why do you stay with that same little church?  Why don’t you do something different?”  Someone else wanted to know what I planned on doing with the books I have written.  The implication was that my life might improve if I made certain changes.  Of course I was glad that people I love care about me and I knew they meant well but both times I found my heart pricked by a pang of disappointment that troubled me.  Why do I face so many difficulties?  What can I do to improve my life?  Do I need to make a change?  Should I be a bit more proactive in meeting my own needs?  Have I thrown away my life doing what I do?

You have important decisions to make about how you will use the time you have been given.  It is a bit daunting trying to have the best life possible because you only have one shot at it and then you are finished, at least with this temporal existence.  Without becoming overly melodramatic, there is a certain urgency to your decisions, as probably you want to make the most of what you do and squeeze out of your life the greatest amount of fulfillment you can.  There has been a philosophy which nearly all people around the world have adopted and it is illustrated by a request two of Jesus’ disciples had for Christ.  Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. "Teacher," they said, "we want you to do for us whatever we ask."   "What do you want me to do for you?" he asked. They replied, "Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory." (Mark 10:35-37 NIV)

Is it crazy to want something for yourself?  Don’t you have a right to try and make the most of your life, to achieve your goals and fulfill your dreams?  The Christian community generally believes James and John were philosophically in step with the great human push for fulfillment and personal achievement.  Much of the Church promotes this line of thinking and in fact usually celebrates it.  Jesus however seemed perturbed by the request and His response to the brothers reflected that.  Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you.  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. (Mark 10:42-45 NIV)

This of course was not what the disciples were expecting and if it were not for our familiarity with the text, it would not be for us either.  Consider carefully Jesus’ response when told by the twelve disciples that the huge crowd He had been teaching was famished.  "You give them something to eat." (Luke 9:13 NIV)  What were they supposed to do?  They didn’t have the money to pay for food for the crowd of thousands and although they were able to come up with two small fish and five loaves of bread between them, it seemed ludicrous to think they should provide food for all the people.  Keep in mind what Jesus demanded.  He did not expect them to be able to feed everyone.  He did tell the disciples to give the crowd the food they had after He blessed it.  There was no room here for the twelve to get a snack for themselves first before they started giving away the bread and fish.  They had to hand over all they had without any promise of getting any of it back.

The Sermon on the Mount is often read but rarely taken seriously.  We solemnly proclaim it as “God’s word” but mostly ignore it.  Notice the theme woven throughout.  Here is just a quick overview of some of what is found in it.  Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:39-42 NIV)  And then He tells us what to do about our enemies.  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you...(Matthew 5:44 NIV)  Further, we are not even free to entertain ourselves however we want in the sanctity of our own mind.  I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  (Matthew 5:28-29 NIV)  Even if we are justified in our anger over how we are treated, we do not have the right to hold a grudge.  We are to forgive immediately any mistreatment we have received.  For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  (Matthew 6:14-15 NIV)  Perhaps most difficult of all, we are not free to criticize others.  "Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1 NIV)

If you put all of these admonitions of Christ together, you do not find a formula for success!  In fact, it does not even seem to matter to God how things go for you, whether you are liked or not, whether you have fun or don’t, whether you get what you have earned or you are cheated out of what you deserve.  You are here it seems, to make the lives of others better no matter how much it costs you.  That of course is not the Christianity we find promoted but it is what Christ has said Christianity is.  I recently heard of a pastor who discovered a couple of bags of trash dumped in the church dumpster by someone from the neighbor and not with the church.  He found somehow the address of who it was that left it there and brought all the trash back to the person’s house.  Is that what we find described in the Sermon on the Mount?

The Old Testament has a lovely picture of how Christianity is intended to look.  In the badly corrupted kingdom of Israel, a pagan king and queen ruled.  The person they put in charge of their palace was Obadiah, a man of faith who risked his life to save over a hundred prophets of God from being murdered by King Ahab’s soldiers.  The great prophet Elijah approached Obadiah while Obadiah was walking through the countryside.  Elijah wanted a meeting with King Ahab and asked Obadiah to arrange it due to his connection as palace administrator. 

As Obadiah was walking along, Elijah met him. Obadiah recognized him, bowed down to the ground, and said, "Is it really you, my lord Elijah?"   "Yes," he replied. "Go tell your master, 'Elijah is here.'"  "What have I done wrong," asked Obadiah, "that you are handing your servant over to Ahab to be put to death?  As surely as the Lord your God lives, there is not a nation or kingdom where my master has not sent someone to look for you. And whenever a nation or kingdom claimed you were not there, he made them swear they could not find you.  But now you tell me to go to my master and say, 'Elijah is here.'  I don't know where the Spirit of the Lord may carry you when I leave you. If I go and tell Ahab and he doesn't find you, he will kill me. Yet I your servant have worshiped the Lord since my youth.  Haven't you heard, my lord, what I did while Jezebel was killing the prophets of the Lord? I hid a hundred of the Lord's prophets in two caves, fifty in each, and supplied them with food and water…And now you tell me to go to my master and say, 'Elijah is here.' He will kill me!" (1 Kings 18:7-10, 14)

Obadiah faced a very real dilemma.  Would he risk his life to do what Elijah asked?  Without complaint he already had done more than enough to qualify as a good and godly man but now it felt like too much to ask of him.  Many will only go so far when it comes to practicing Christianity.  When it gets uncomfortable or inconvenient, how easy to just walk away from the tough demand of God!  Many Christian people are good at telling God, “No!”  Obadiah took the demand of Elijah as some sort of punishment. “What have I done wrong?”  He had not done anything wrong!  He was in fact gloriously right in his actions.  So why did God put him in such a dangerous spot?  God chose Obadiah to bless God’s people by giving up his right to manage his life as he saw fit.    How would he do it?  By opening the door for Elijah to speak with King Ahab!

We do not choose how God will use us to feed the world.  Like bread that is broken off and shared or juice that is poured into a cup and passed along, we are nourishment for a world hungry for God.  Your ignoring of an insult, generous gift, kind words, moral purity, love for people who should be despised is the bread God uses to feed starving people.   You may say that it does not matter if I hold back my criticism but you cannot know who will notice what you have done and be drawn to Christ by it.  When you are not aware of God using you, when you are simply doing the good thing our Lord has said to do, Christ will use that good thing to nourish someone, encourage someone, strengthen someone or heal a wound in someone.  You may not know in your lifetime what a great deed you did simply by forgiving someone or not paying attention to the mistake that person made but someday you will see how you were nourishing bread for a person starving for the generosity of God; thirsty for His mercy.


Imagine the tiny desert lily, hidden away next to a rock but without warning a gentle breeze carries its fragrance off to an unsuspecting soul who at the moment it reaches her, gains courage to try to put her marriage back together, stop drinking or find enough hope to go to one more job interview.  In that instant, the forgotten lily becomes the hand of God when He seemed to be no longer there.  You are that lily and by just doing what God says to do, your fragrance brings hope once more to those who may have lost hope along the way.  Never underestimate the power of Christ to transform your simple actions of generosity, kindness and forgiveness into the power God uses to put together new lives through the Gospel of Christ.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Hope


Micah 7: 7 NIV
But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord.  I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me…

Why Is There So Much Waiting?

The other day I needed to call the city garbage service because the church recycling dumpster hadn’t been emptied.  I spent twenty minutes waiting on the phone for someone to help me.  Later I tried to figure out how to get my new Bluetooth speaker to sync with my computer.  I searched on line for solutions and nothing worked.  After an hour going through various options trying to locate the Bluetooth device in my laptop, I discovered that I did not have one so I would need to buy a device to plug into it that would allow me to have Bluetooth.  The next morning I went down to an electronics store only to discover that it did not open for another hour and so I returned to my office and went on with my work.  That night I returned to the electronics store and purchased an inexpensive device that would give me Bluetooth capability.  In the morning I opened the packaging and installed the adapter.  It worked.  I excitedly turned on my speaker and tried to connect to it with my computer.  No sound came through my speaker…at least no musical sounds.  I could tell that it was wirelessly connected to my laptop because the speaker actually told me it was but I could not get it to play my songs from ITunes.  I was able to finally get in touch with a service representative from the company that made the speaker and after an hour on the phone with her trying various suggestions for getting it to work, I discovered that the Bluetooth wasn’t the problem nor was the speaker.  It was ITunes.  I then contacted Apple services to try to find out why ITunes would not let me connect with the wireless speaker and all the service rep could offer was to download the latest version of ITunes.  This of course took time and didn’t change anything.  He was supposed to call me in an hour to see if downloading the new ITunes version took care of the problem.  Hoping that he might be able to provide a solution, I counted down the minutes until the Apple rep promised he would get back in touch with me.  I regretted getting the speaker.  I regretted getting my laptop.  I regretted having music on my computer.  Yet I still had hope that I could eventually get the speaker to work with my computer but all the waiting seemed like a terrible waste of time. What a hassle!

It may seem to you like half your life is spent waiting.  You wait for the traffic to clear.  You wait in line at stores.  You wait to see your doctor.  You wait for programs to download.  You wait for your children to finish their work.  You wait for phone calls or text replies.  You wait for work to end or school to finish or graduation to come or the wedding to arrive.  You wait to be loved.  You wait to get over illnesses.  You wait for answers that never seem to come.  Many times you wait and do not even know if all your waiting was worth it.  Yet you do wait, hoping that something good will come of all your waiting.  For many the waiting is so painfully long that they weep silently by themselves.  Others get angry and take out their frustration on their family members.  Some grow depressed.  Plenty stop trying.  Many lose hope!  Waiting takes its toll on you.  It can break your heart and sometimes your health.

One of the most famous verses in the Bible indicates that waiting can be good for us.  But it is not just random waiting; it isn’t every kind of waiting that helps us.  A particular type of waiting is what improves our lives.  The King James Version of the Bible translates it this way.  But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31 KJV)  Notice the difference in how the NIV translates this same verse.  …but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (NIV)  The King James version translates the Hebrew verb Kavah as “wait” and the NIV makes it “hope”.  The difference between the two at first glance seems wide.  Few of us like waiting, but hope, that sounds good.  Hope is what you do within; wait is what is forced upon you.  We wait because we have to wait.  We hope because we choose to hope.

Yet if you think about it, waiting is something that is required for hoping.  Hope cannot occur if there is not something delayed; something that potentially is on the way.  Hoping without waiting is like having an ice cream sundae without ice cream.  Hope is by definition a form of waiting.  You can of course wait without hope but you cannot hope if you do not wait.  Now our verse that we just considered makes a distinction that must be pondered.  There is a waiting that is not “upon the Lord” and hoping that is not “in the Lord”.  Only hoping or waiting that has the Lord at the center of it is promised a renewing of strength.  Your waiting that does not make God its object might result in renewed strength but there is no promise of it.  Hoping or waiting that makes God the reason for hope or the object of waiting always results in a growing stronger, a moving forward and going somewhere.

The Bible warns about certain kinds of hope.  Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth… (1 Timothy 6:17 NIV)   Likewise, it is foolish to hope your power can protect you. When a wicked man dies, his hope perishes; all he expected from his power comes to nothing. (Proverbs 11:7 NIV)  Entire countries and city states have hoped that all they have accumulated in trade and industry will keep them safe but they have been proven to be terribly wrong in such hope.  Tyre has built herself a stronghold; she has heaped up silver like dust, and gold like the dirt of the streets. But the Lord will take away her possessions and destroy her power on the sea, and she will be consumed by fire.  Ashkelon will see it and fear; Gaza will writhe in agony, and Ekron too, for her hope will wither.  Gaza will lose her king and Ashkelon will be deserted. (Zechariah 9:3-5 NIV)  The horse in the Bible and other ancient writings has long symbolized the vast assortment of weapons of warfare that armies count on to bring them victory but there is not a weapon invented that can save a nation from God’s judgement. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. (Psalm 33:17 NIV)  In the end, death puts a stop to all hope not resting in God.  For what hope has the godless when he is cut off, when God takes away his life? (Job 27:8 NIV)

What is often misunderstood about hope is that there are two types of hope.  The first is a hope based upon evidence that is contrary to what will take place.  It is like hoping you will be proven right that the earth is flat.  Adam was wrong to hope that following Eve’s lead would make them both happy.  King David was wrong to think that gathering more wives would improve his life and Sarah was wrong to put her hope in letting her husband sleep with the slave girl Hagar.  The outcome of hope is not always happiness or peace or security or contentment.

The second sort of hope is built on evidence that is aligned with what shall take place.  The evidence may be slight, nearly nonexistent, like Mary and Martha hoping Jesus would save their brother Lazarus but what hope they had was placed in something that would happen. Their hope of course was proven right when Christ raised their brother fron the dead.  Neither the amount of evidence nor the sort of evidence is what determines if a particular hope should continue.  All that matters is what the outcome will be.  Now this is where it gets tricky.  When God looked at Adam and Eve, even after they sinned, He had hope that He could turn their lives around.  Why?  Because He knew what He was going to do for them!  When Jeremiah looked back at Jerusalem and the walls of the city that had been destroyed, the buildings that had been wrecked and burned to the ground, the dead bodies scattered about, he had hope that it would be rebuilt because the Lord told Him it would be.  The thief dying on the cross next to Jesus had hope that he had a wonderful life ahead of him because Jesus told him that the same day he would be with Christ in paradise.

What makes hope, hope?  It is not the evidence you possess or the lack of evidence there, it is the fact that the object of your hope has not yet come to pass.  Hope must always involve waiting.  Hope does not exist if there is no waiting.  What you want to happen or expect to happen or dream of happening is stalled for one reason or another; that is why you hope.  Hope though must be carefully considered.  Not all hope is the same.  There is hope that will break your heart and hope that will give you joy.  In the Bible there is the account of a woman who seemed to be infertile or perhaps was.  Her misery over being childless was extreme.  When God told Hannah through a prophet Eli that she would have a child, she left the Temple happy because she was certain that it was God telling her she would become pregnant.  All the time she stayed in Jerusalem with her husband and as she traveled back to her home, this woman maintained hope that she would eventually be a mother.  It had not happened and even when she became pregnant, before she knew she was pregnant, she had to rely upon hope to see her through.  But then when she gave birth to a son, Hannah no longer had hope of motherhood because hope did not exist there any longer.  When Josiah the King gathered his army and went off to fight the Egyptians, he had hope that he would defeat them.  But, he did not have any indication from God that he would succeed and when he died in battle, Josiah’s hope died with him.  It matters what is the basis of our hope.

Years ago the Lord told me that Mary Jo and I would have Rachel our daughter.  It was just as certain that Christ spoke to me about this as if a voice filled with thunder burst into my ears.  Of course, we did not have Rachel yet.  I had hope that we would have Rachel and now we do.  I also at one time hoped that I would make my high school basketball team but I did not.  My hope was based not upon what God shared with me but upon my own desire to make the team.  It matters what your source of hope is.  How do you know if your hope is built upon God or not?  It is difficult at first.  Many times you will be wrong. But there are certain things in the Bible that are clear and sure but have not come to pass yet.  You know your hope in those things is hope generated by God.  You must never back off from hoping about them.  But what about praying for things to come to pass?  Why is it so important that we pray for things?  Prayer is hope…it is always hope.  But it is a mixture of hope in God and hope in what you want, hope generated by your thoughts.  How do you know that when you pray, your hope is from God or from you?  For a while you don’t.  You are guessing.  But as your ability to hope in God grows by means of your experience of faith in Him and love for Him, you will hope more and more through God and less and less through yourself.  You will begin to realize what should be an object of hope for you and what shouldn’t because you will know what Christ is saying to you about it.  Eventually, your hope will be the same as God’s hope and when that is so, every prayer you pray will come to be.

In the Bible we are told that hope is always going to exist, that we will never get past waiting.  We will forever be anticipating something of God, looking forward to something from Him.   And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV)  Waiting, just like hope, will always be with you and me.  It is not an enemy.  It is a mechanism by which our faith grows and our love for Christ deepens.  Hope in anything is a waste of time if it does not start with your love for Christ and your confidence that He loves you and that He will work everything out in your life so that eventually you will be perfect in every way.  When you have that sort of hope, hope in Christ, hope in His love for you, it will be wonderful waiting for what comes next.

But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.  Micah 7: 7 NIV

Monday, November 13, 2017

Unmasking Christ


Isaiah 48: 6 NIV
"From now on I will tell you of new things, of hidden things unknown to you.”

What Do You Know About Jesus?


The other day I stood at the door while eighth graders filed past me as they entered the classroom where I was to be their substitute teacher.  I heard one say, “Oh, we have a sub!”  I don’t know if that was good or bad.  Was she happy there was a substitute teacher or disappointed?  I wasn’t greeted.  Eye contact was not made with me.  The girl just walked past me and made the declaration, “We have a sub!”  She did not know me and I did not know her and it seems unlikely we would ever come across each other again in this life unless of course I was a substitute teacher in another class of hers.  What struck me was that I was a category, not a person.  The only characteristic I possessed that this young teen cared about was that I was a sub.  She was not wondering about me at all.  It did not matter if I was young or old, married or single, a father, a Raiders or a Patriots fan, a Christian or a Muslim or a Hindu, an intellectual or a high school dropout, a nice guy or mean and disinterested in what I did.  The girl did not even worry herself over whether I was a human being or some creature from another galaxy.  I was a sub and that was all that mattered.  This girl did not have any interest in knowing anything else about me.

When someone like the famous atheist Carl Sagan makes clear that he has no interest in finding out anything about God, no one is surprised.  It seems normal for him to not even have a bit of curiosity about the Creator.  When someone who is Hindu or Buddhist makes no effort to learn about Christ, we aren’t shocked.  But if a person who claimed to have an interest in Christianity did not care about finding out what God was like or how Christ thought about things, we might wonder about that.  It would maybe be odd if you did not show interest in knowing more about God; if you were in fact satisfied that you knew all you cared about knowing when it came to Christ.  Now we come against a rather stunning discovery.  Many Christians without saying it have decided they know all they need to know about Christ; that they have come far enough in their understanding of Him to be satisfied.  What about you?  Have you gone as far as you care to go in your familiarity of God and what He is like?  What is your true interest level in God and how He is personally?

When we think of heaven and eternal life and the rewards of God, we don’t generally think along the right lines of all this.  Jesus defined the chief characteristic of eternal life when He was praying in front of the disciples just before being arrested and crucified.  He declared, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3 NIV)  Eternal life is knowing God; knowing Jesus Christ.  That is all there is to it.  Nothing about streets of gold or great food or new bodies!  The most crucial aspect of eternal life is knowing God.  The verb translated “know”, has two qualities to it.  It is intimate knowledge, not hearsay, not proclaimed and overheard but personal knowledge that is experienced.  Second, it is a knowledge that keeps developing, keeps happening.  It is not the knowledge of a moment but the knowledge of everlasting, of never-ending.  Eternal life is God and more God and more God.  It is like falling in love and never wanting to back away or take a break but being so head over heels in love that you cannot get enough of the one you love.  There is always something more wonderful and beautiful to discover, always something more fascinating and electrifying to learn.  That is eternal life.  Getting to know God more and more and never being bored of it, never getting weary of it because it is too good to quench.

Here is the problem we face.  We have the heritage of Adam and Eve as our own.  Before Adam sinned, he walked with God and enjoyed Him continuously but as soon as he sinned, Adam hid from God and did not want to be seen by Him, did not want to talk with Him or be with Him.  That is the heritage of the human race.  Sin has made God irrelevant in us; unattractive to us and uninteresting.  We certainly want Him to give us something but the interest is more in what He gives than who He is.  It is like Jacob, who when he found out his father Isaac was going to bestow a blessing on Jacob’s older brother Esau, he dressed up as Esau to fool his blind father into giving him the blessing rather than who his father wanted to have it, Esau.  Jacob did not care how it hurt his father to be fooled.  He did not love his father enough to let him do what made him happy.  He did not want to know why his father felt strongly about giving the blessing to Esau. Jacob just wanted the blessing…but…and we are not being too judgmental to see it…Jacob was not very interested in the father behind the blessing.  That is the curse of sin in us.  It makes God less inviting and less desirable than whatever He might give us.

There is a fascinating case study in the Bible of just what it is like to begin the journey of eternal life and it is a mirror of our own experience.  When Jesus invited Peter to follow Jesus, he knew enough about Christ to do so.  What information he had, we cannot say exactly but it was enough for Peter. As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.  "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men."   At once they left their nets and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-20 NIV)  Sometime later, after having seen some of Jesus’ miraculous deeds and listened to Him teach, Peter made a most surprising decision.  When a great storm arose on the Sea of Galilee and Peter was with the other disciples, off in the distance came someone walking toward them on the water and everyone in the boat thought it was a ghost.  It was of course Jesus and when the Lord reassured them that it was Him, Peter asked if he could climb out of the boat and walk on the water too and Jesus told him to come on out and join him.  But after just a few steps, Peter looked at the waves and his faith in Christ sank.  Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!"  Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?" (Matthew 14:29-31 NIV) Now Peter knew by experience, personal experience, something about Jesus he did not know before.  He could trust Jesus to take care of him in even the worst of circumstances.  That is eternal life; knowing more of Christ.

Later, Peter was on a hill with James and John and Jesus when something wild happened.  About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray.  As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.  Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.  Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.  As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, "Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters — one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." (He did not know what he was saying.)  While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.  A voice came from the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him." (Luke 9:28-36 NIV)  What an amazing experience.  Peter got to meet the legends Moses and Elijah.  What he did not know until then was that Jesus was not on a par with Moses and Elijah.  He was not their equal, not their peer.  He was the Son, He was their God.  He did not know this before.  He thought he knew who Jesus was but He was much more than Peter realized.  He was the Son.  This was eternal life.  He knew more about Christ than he did before.

A fourth experience of Peter gives us an even better idea of what eternal life is.  Boldly, before Jesus died, Peter announced to everyone including Jesus that he was far more brave and loyal to Jesus than any of the others.  Jesus was not very encouraging.  He told Peter that Peter would in fact deny that he was one of Jesus’ followers three times in the next few hours and that of course is what happened.  Peter was heartbroken later when it came to pass and he felt like an absolute failure.  But after Jesus returned to life and began meeting with the disciples and others, Christ pulled Peter aside and three times asked Peter if Peter loved Him, the exact same number of times, Peter cowardly denied knowing Jesus.  In the end the Lord gave Peter a special mission one that required great courage and dedication.  Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go."   Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!" (John 21:17-19 NIV)  Here, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Peter found out how merciful Jesus is.  Christ did not hold Peter’s cowardice against him.  He did not lose confidence in Peter.  He gave Peter a mission, to take care of the new community of Christians who would soon join them and He did so without any sort of warnings against failing.  Jesus, Peter learned does not hold our sins and failures against us but builds up our lives and gives us honorable work to do.  Peter learned something new about Jesus and that is eternal life.  He discovered how kind and generous Jesus is.

One more moment we can consider about Peter’s life.  After Jesus went back to heaven and physically left the disciples, now known as Apostles, they all were gathered together praying when the Holy Spirit came upon them and they began to speak in all sorts of foreign languages that were supernaturally given to them.  A crowd was nearby made up of people from various parts of the world.  As the Apostles preached to the mass of people, each one understood perfectly in his or her own language what the Apostles were saying.  This was a miracle and one that was stupendous but that was not the greatest miracle that day.  What the Apostles discovered and Peter in particular was that God took them all in, regardless of race or national origin; gave each of them salvation.  Peter saw, and more fully than he had ever seen before, that Jesus is Savior no matter who you might be or what you have done or where you have been.  Christ takes the sin out of you and makes you perfect in every way.  All the heartache, all the anger and bitterness, all the hard feelings and held grudges, all corrupt lusts and selfishness and wrecked parts, Christ saves you from them.  There is not a part of you that Jesus will not make perfect and completely good and lovely.  He will do this for every person who comes to Him for salvation.  He is Savior.

This week, become attentive to Christ.  Think about Him.  Let your thoughts turn to Him again and again.  Assume He will talk to you.  There is so much for you to learn about Christ.  So much you don’t know.  You and I are like little children.  We have just begun to begin to get to know Jesus and to find out what He is like.  If the Bible is true, and we say it is, then God is love and the more you know the love of God, the more joyous and peaceful and full of hope your life will be.  Make Christ the center of your thinking this week and every time He comes to mind, be prepared for our Lord to show you something you have never seen before.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Is God Good Enough?

Have you thought about why you get angry, frustrated, discouraged or unhappy?  It nearly always seems to be due to something that has happened to you or someone who has irritated you.  No matter how determined you are to be calm and patient, your mood gets high-jacked at some point by an event or a conversation that is too tough to handle.  Yet God never puts the cause of your mood swings into the hands of circumstances or relationships.  When Ahab the King of Israel became depressed that Naboth would not sell his vineyard to him, his wife Jezebel made the same mistake so many of us make.  She asked her husband why he was so sullen and Ahab told her the pitiful account of his failure to convince Naboth to let him have his vineyard.  Jezebel took matters into her own hands and arranged the murder of Naboth so that Ahab could buy it from his heirs.  Of course this got Ahab the vineyard but it did nothing to solve the problem with his mood swings.  The cause of Ahab's depression was not Naboth but rather his own envy.  As long as Ahab wanted what was someone else's, he could not live in peace.   The beginning of sin was the desire to have what did not belong to Adam and Eve.  It is a universal plague.  Rather than live within the grace of God and trusting in His goodness, we fret over what we don't have.  We aren't respected.  We don't get the help we want.  Our wishes are ignored.  We aren't treated fairly.  We have been offended.  It all boils down to just this.  We think we deserve better.  After the great Apostle Paul begged God to relieve him of his suffering, the Lord sternly but gently rebuked him.  "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV)  When Peter wondered what John's fate would be after the Lord told Peter that he would suffer a terrifying and difficult death, the Lord put an end to that line of questioning.  "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me." (John 21:22 NIV)  When Christ begins to satisfy your soul from top to bottom, you will find yourself at peace in any circumstance and with whatever you have or don't have.  Until you settle matters with the Lord and decide that the salvation of God is good enough to make your life right, you will continue to ride the stormy swells of envy and dissatisfaction.


Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.  1 Chronicles 16:34 NIV

Monday, November 6, 2017

Sleep


Psalm 127:2 NIV
In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat — for he grants sleep to those he loves.

Are You A Hard Worker?


The other day I was sitting in the sanctuary praying and I realized I was dreaming…literally REM dreaming.  I shook my head, closed my eyes again to pray and fell asleep once more with vivid dreaming.  A third time I started praying and tried a different tact, trying to pray for each person who came to my mind.  This worked for a while until I got distracted and started thinking about what I had to do.  I did not have what you might call a very spiritual experience.  For a while, the “power nap” was a popular concept.  Who doesn’t like the idea of in the middle of a work-day taking a break to snooze?  Doctors have recommended the practice but how many managers and supervisors want their workers sleeping on the job. The Bible doesn’t seem to be an enthusiastic supporter of naps!  How long will you lie there, you sluggard?  When will you get up from your sleep?  A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest — and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man. (Proverbs 6:9-11 NIV)  The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he will not even bring it back to his mouth! (Proverbs 19:24 NIV)  That sounds like a power nap in the cafeteria.  I wonder how well that would go over at most work places!

Probably you are a hard worker and would never consider yourself a sluggard.  You get up early and start your day off with a cup of coffee or a shower to charge your batteries and then off you go.  Maybe you don’t like getting up and “getting off” but you do it because it is right and necessary.  There are plenty in the world who consider work the most noble of ventures and success the goal in life.  The Bible isn’t exactly against hard work and in fact it is celebrated in many places.  Yet there is a passage in the Psalms that provides critical insight into our work habits and God’s view of how we use our time.

Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.  Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. (Psalm 127:1 NIV)  The thought that all one’s effort could be a waste of time is rather disconcerting!  Who hasn’t felt though at one point or another like that?  What good is it to try so hard at something when it is bound to fail anyway or it won’t be appreciated or it won’t matter in the long run?  This verse creates an immense line of demarcation between two categories of work.  The first is work that is contained completely within the realm of human effort.  Whether it is the building of a great housing complex or the stacking of vegetables on the kitchen counter, it either is done in God or it isn’t.  If it isn’t, then it is work done in vain.  The term translated “vain” does not imply that it was done out of a desire to puff up oneself but rather that it was empty of purpose, without value.  Jesus expressed this idea in vivid fashion when He warned against storing up for yourself treasures on earth that moths and rust can wreck and thieves just take.  Stored up earthly treasures are vain in this sense, they are without reason or purpose.  They are “empty” possessions.  The same can be true of work.  If God is not behind it and not in agreement with it, the work, whatever it might be gets gobbled up and becomes worthless.  This of course is not logical and perhaps not even reasonable to most.  Why does every work have to go through God?  Were computers developed by those holding prayer meetings?  Did the ones who put together the internet have their Bibles open as they worked?  Plenty of great things have been done by those who did not care one bit what God thought of their efforts.

Yet we do know that the marvelous invention of the phonograph became obsolete when eight tracks were developed.  Cell phones make landlines a dinosaur and whoever thought of rotary dialing is not celebrated today.  Those who worked so hard on their movies find that they are eventually forgotten and ignored.  Does anyone care who invented the wheel or started the first fire by rubbing sticks together?  All work, regardless of how great we might think it is today will be buried in time and no one will give it a funeral.  Only God can keep alive the memory of work that is done and make it as meaningful and important today as it was ten thousand years ago.  However, we see work started and completed without any thought given whatsoever to how God views its value or thinks of the effort.  Solomon used the term “vanity of vanities” to describe so much of how we spend our time.  At the top of his list of vanity of vanities would be our attempt to get done what is not inspired or empowered by God.

If it seems from these comments that God is not in favor of hard work or creative thought, but that is not the case.  Our Lord wants us to work.  It must though be done in the right way and for the right reasons.  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:23-24 NIV)  We see work assigned by God all through the Bible.  Whether it was Bezalel designing and putting together the Ark of the Covenant or Paul sewing tents, work is honored by God.  Of course you can make a good living doing all sorts of work and even be celebrated by your supervisors or the public at large for what you have done but it will in the end be forgotten and fall apart if God is not in it.  Our Lord promises you an inheritance that will last as long as He does if you work for Him.  Everything else you do will be devoured by time and lost.

There is a more practical reason for doing your work through God.  It comes from the next verse in the Psalm we quoted earlier.  In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat — for he grants sleep to those he loves. (Psalm 127:2 NIV)  This verse has a wealth of insight to it that some translations do not make clear.  It is worthless, the verse insists, for us to get up early and stay up late trying to get things done that God has no interest in us doing.  The Hebrew, which is translated by some English versions as staying up late toiling for food to eat more literally describes staying up late and putting off eating the bread your hard and wearisome work has produced.  This is work generated by worldly cares, by concerns that are produced in those who are disconnected from God.  The more we work without Christ empowering and inspiring it, the less pleasure it brings and the more burdensome it becomes.

More than that though is the promise this verse provides us.  The NIV translation has a footnote in this verse that brings clarity to it.  The promise is not that our Lord rewards those who live in Him with sleep.  It is that He gives to His beloved ones in sleep.  The New American Standard Version translates this phrase, “For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.”   The Grammar in this little phrase is tricky but certain.  Sleep is a powerful mechanism by which the Lord pours Himself Into you.  There are instances in Scripture documenting the way God has spoken to His people while they were sleeping including Jacob in the Old Testament when he was running from his brother in fear of his life and in the New Testament Joseph who was engaged to Mary the mother of Jesus providing for him comfort and reassurance that Mary had done no wrong in becoming pregnant. And then there is the example of Daniel who as he slept was shown by the Lord the content of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and how to interpret it.  God wants His people to sleep because of what He can do in them when they sleep.  It is not just that we physically need to rest.  In sleep God can get at the places where sin has done its most damage, in the deep parts of the heart or mind if you will, and comfort us and encourage us and strengthen us.  Just some sleep and the pain we felt before over a loss, a tragic event, an insult or a failure can be healed and we feel it when we awaken.


Do not just go to sleep.  Prepare yourself for God to work in you when you sleep.  Pray and get ready.  Tell God what you think you need before you fall asleep.  Talk to Him about what is bothering you.  Pray with someone else, if you have that person, just before bed.  Who knows what God might do for you and in you through the praying of someone who loves you?  Sleep is when God blesses us with some of His greatest comfort and insight.  What you could not grasp before you slept, with Christ working in you as you sleep, it can come to you as easily as holding a feather in your hand.  The world and all the pressures it can bring to bear upon you can wait a while as you meet with God in the depths of your heart.  Did you know that you can pray even while you are sleeping?  You can but you must quiet your heart in tender worship beforehand to make it ready to meet with Him there.  Try an experiment this week.  Just before you go to sleep, read a little bit of scripture or quote some to yourself and then pray quietly.  See what the Holy Spirit does in you as you rest in Christ.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Self-Discovery

If we are not careful, we will live as if God does not exist.  We are not atheists by declaration or by determination but rather by our disregard for God's presence in and about us.  Sin is the absence of God in what we do and think.  It rarely is blatant rebellion against God's rule;  it is almost always a careless looking away from Him so that matters can be settled quickly and easily.  Whether it is the fueling of a lust or the dampening of a once passionate affection for all things  Christ, Sin begins with passive aggression.  Remember that you become Satan's ally once you turn aside from God's rule of you.  Adam just wanted to please his new wife and took the fruit because it seemed like God wasn't looking.  A Lord so great and so all-consuming cannot reveal Himself completely until you choose Him in the silent quarters because to have life in Him you must choose Him freely without compulsion.  No one can decide for you if His redemption is good enough to take whole-heartedly; it is your call.  When you do, the Holy Spirit begins to work in you a growing disgust for everything that doesn't have the smell and taste of Christ living in it.  The most miserable people in the world are Christians who have stopped being disciples for a while and taken to the corners of faith where Christ is shadowy and troubling.  The fruit never tasted good; it just seemed good and once it was grabbed by Eve and then Adam the power of its pull was in the loss of trust in God to make all things right and truly good.  It was always a lie that God didn't have Adam's best interests at heart and that is where we begin to go when we stop thinking about and with Christ.  The mind not on God quickly descends into darkness.  Satan doesn't care much what distracts you...whether it be an "Eve" or an "apple" or the fanatic infatuation with self, it is fine with him.  Satan wants you disoriented enough to not care if Christ is with you or not.  Once you turn to God however, the powers of Heaven are brought to bear in you and you have all the mercy and love of Christ at your disposal to live in the limitless joy His personality in you can bring.


But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.  John 3: 21 NIV

Monday, October 30, 2017

Natural Disasters


Genesis 12:10 NIV
 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe.

What Should You Think About The Natural Disasters In Our World?

Recently we have had a slew of wildfires in our state that have devastated parts of Northern California.  Before that massive hurricanes struck the Caribbean.  In Spain also are terrifying wildfires.  Malaria continues to plague the tropical parts of our world.  A large earthquake struck Mexico just a few months ago and despite all the technology at our disposal, natural disasters are not preventable.  They come with fury and increasing frequency.  What is a Christian response to the natural order that often reveals the chaos a sin soaked universe generates?  Can a theology of natural disasters be developed that will help us understand what God is doing in this world?

There are a large number of natural disasters described in the Bible.  Some are clearly attributed to God and His judgment upon people.  The flood of Noah’s time was caused by God because of the wickedness of all the people of the world.   The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.  So the Lord said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth — men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air — for I am grieved that I have made them."  But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. (Genesis 6:6-8 NIV)  God’s anger with the rebellion of Korah who issued a call for Moses to be removed as leader of Israel resulted in a giant sinkhole that engulfed Korah and his entire clan.  As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, with their households and all Korah's men and all their possessions.  They went down alive into the grave, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community. (Numbers 16:31-33 NIV)  When the Assyrians attempted to conquer Jerusalem, the Lord sent a plague that decimated their huge army.  That night the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning — there were all the dead bodies!  So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there. (2 Kings 19:35-36 NIV)

This certainly does not exhaust the list of times in the Bible God is said to bring about a natural disaster because He decided to punish large and small groups of people.  Yet many times no explanation is given as to why certain natural disasters occurred.  Famines forced both Abraham and much later his son Isaac and then later still Jacob his grandson to leave Palestine and move to Egypt to avoid starvation.  A great storm pummeled the ship the Apostle Paul was on and forced everyone on board to swim for their lives when the violence of the waves broke the boat apart.  Both the prophets Amos and Zechariah mention a great earthquake that hit Israel during the reign of Uzziah, king of Judah.  However, no commentary is given as to why it took place.   The words of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa — what he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake, when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash was king of Israel. (Amos 1: 1 NIV) Volcanoes blew their stack, earthquakes struck, devastating floods took place and plagues raged through cities during the time the Scriptures were being written but the Bible is silent about the vast majority of these natural disasters.  Great and terrifying storms struck several times as Jesus and the disciples tried to make it across the Sea of Galilee by boat but Jesus never gave a reason why they took place.

Jesus made two striking statements regarding the horrific sorts of circumstances people face.  The first came in response to the speculation that was taking place regarding two prominent tragedies that were being widely discussed in Jerusalem.  Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.  Jesus answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.  Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them — do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? (Luke 13:1-4 NIV)  Jews, just like people all over the world, are prone to speculate that some sort of karma or vengeance of God brings about tragic disasters.  Those who are struck down somehow had it coming.  Christ though poured a bucket of cold water on all such fire starting.  Sinning is universal and the comparative evaluation of sins is mere guesswork for us.  We cannot draw a straight line between sinning and the tragic events of life.    Christ does say next however that any natural disaster should lead all those who hear of it to repent themselves of their own sins!  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish." (Luke 13:5 NIV)  That is a strange twist on the longstanding karma theology.  A natural disaster or tragic event does not at all point out the sins of those who suffered from the tragedy but rather serves as God’s mirror so that we face our own sins and turn from them immediately.

Jesus’ second statement regarding tragic events came as a result of a question one of his disciples asked Him.  A man born blind was spotted by the group and Christ was asked, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9:2 NIV)  Jesus gave a most fascinating answer.  "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. (John 9:3 NIV)  The effect of this reply is to flip on its ear everything we normally think about tragic events.  The pagan world looks at disasters and wonders what went wrong.  What was so bad about all those people that they were punished?  Christ tells us to never speculate about what sort of sins led to the crushing blows people face.  He invites us instead to look about and watch for how God will reveal Himself to us when something that seems bad happens.  Natural disasters are a mirror that reflects back to us our sins and also a window that makes it possible for us to see God doing something marvelous.  Imagine the man born blind barking at God for his blindness when all along God had a plan for making that blindness a way of letting the world see how good and lovely Christ is.  The Lord insists that when you see something that you assume is bad, prepare yourself for God in His love to meet you.

There are three common reactions to God opening up the window to see Him when a natural disaster strikes.  The first is to ask Him why He did it.  This of course is almost always an accusation that God is evil or vindictive.  The second reaction is to question why He did not do a better job of protecting people from evil.  It takes God off the hook as far as making bad things happen but challenges His authority in this universe.  Who really is in charge?  If God can’t prevent evil, then someone or something else must be making all the calls in life.  Karma…  Luck... Satan…  The third reaction is to wonder what God might do to salvage things.  In other words, all eyes should be on how the Lord will make a bad situation somehow turn out all right.  Some might call this the Pollyanna approach but let us consider two Scriptures that shed light on what we know about the tragic events that take place in life.

In of all places, the book of Lamentations gives us the first of two principles to consider when it comes to disasters and tragic events.  Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come? (Lamentations 3:38 NIV)  In other words, nothing comes to us that God has not decreed.  Whether we call it a tragedy or a blessing, God decides what will transpire.  He oversees everything that happens to us and is the gateway through which every circumstance must pass.  Whether it is God’s use of the Babylonians to wreck Jerusalem or the decree of the Persian ruler Cyrus that permitted the Jews to return to Israel, it is the Lord who is in charge.  Listen carefully to God’s insistence when He spoke to the Israelites just before they entered the Promised Land.  "See now that I myself am He!  There is no god besides me.  I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand.” (Deuteronomy 32:39 NIV)  If the ultimate events in time are life and death, then the Lord God Almighty who calls Himself YHWH controls what happens at the highest levels of existence.

A second principle often goes overlooked when it comes to disasters and tragedies and at the risk of seeming to minimize the pain and sorrow such events bring, it is the overriding principle of all of life.  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 NIV)  In any and every situation, God makes everything turn out well for those who have put their hope in Him.  Even those who give their lives for the sake of Christ will find that God will make things right and good for them.  Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat.  For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." (Revelation 7:16-17 NIV)

Not everyone will believe that God is able to transform the worst calamities in history into blessings for those who suffered from them.  It seems like an impossible dream that our Lord could take even the most horrific of tragedies and rework them altogether into joy and happiness!  Yet the Cross and Resurrection is our measure of what God can do for us if we trust Him.  Listen to Mary Magdalene weeping as unbeknownst to her she comes across Christ having been raised from the dead.  Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.  They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?"  "They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put him." At this, she turned around and saw   Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.  "Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?"  Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him." (John 20:10-15 NIV)


That is how every one of us is on this side of a tragedy or disaster.  We see it all from the perspective of death and suffering but are mostly ignorant or oblivious to how transforming the life of God is.  In just a moment, Mary Magdalene went from great despair to ecstatic joy solely because she found that Jesus was alive; alive having been dead.  Jesus said to her, "Mary."  She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).  Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" (John 20:16-17 NIV) Disaster turned into victory…the greatest in the history of mankind.  It takes trust to believe that God will make every disaster a triumph of life over death for those who put their hope in Christ to save them.  We must trust something.  We can trust that a bad and painful turn is just that, bad and painful or that it will be transformed by Christ into a good and wonderful that will make the bad and painful fade from memory.  Trust is up to you.  Life is up to God.