THE LORD HAS BEEN GOOD TO YOU

Regardless of your circumstances, the Lord has been good to you.  The fact that he died on the cross for you should be enough to count him good.  As I say this to myself, I reach for the place where I embrace this truth and find comfort.  When times are tough it is a reach.  I want to be rescued by circumstances not just intellectual truth.  I want things to be better!

For those who have walked with the Lord for some time you probably recognize this struggle as the growth of patience and trust that comes from waiting on the Lord.  However, I’ve come to a place of frustration and discouragement in this process.  I can’t see ahead to that door which will open to a new direction providing an answer to my dilemma.  What can I do?  I have often answered this question, “Nothing, you just have to wait and trust in the Lord.”  I find no relief in this answer.  There must be something else.

What a blessing the Psalms provide when we reach difficult times.  This time I found comfort in Psalm 116.  In this Psalm King David retraces his life’s relationship with the Lord.  He reflects on how the Lord saved him, listened and responded to his cry for help, and treated him with compassion.  He finds solace in praising God for what he has done.  Ah, an answer to my question of what can I do.  So I’m doing this, and I’m finding that God has indeed saved me, listened and responded to my cry for help, and treated me with compassion.  I am praising God for what he has done in my life, and I’m looking forward to that moment when I reach this resolution, “Be at rest once more, oh my soul, for the Lord has been good to you (Psalm 116:7).

Controlling the Future

I like science fiction.  I don’t know what that says about me, but I do.  The idea of projecting where scientific discovery might take us fascinates me.  I like the adventure and the jolt to my imagination.  Fantasizing future worlds, even alien worlds, has occupies a fair portion of my personal time.

Yet the science fiction stories, where man goes back in time to reshape the future, point to the complexity of manipulating the intricate details of the progression of time.  Change one little occurrence and the entire future of man is impacted.  We can predict, but there are too many factors for us to have complete control over the outcome.

Now, imagine someone able to create a universe, create humans to live in this universe, and set the ball rolling toward a planned outcome.  To add to the complexity of the task, he gives the humans freedom of choice.  During the unfolding of his plan, he intervenes occasionally knowing exactly how this will affect the outcome.  Remember, his interventions usually involve humans who are continually deciding about their actions and reactions to their situation. 

The greatest intervention this creator makes is sending his son to live among humans with the plan to redeem them.  They need redemption because they have violated the prime directive to act in love and, within their freedom of choice, have chosen to injure their fellow humans. They have also turned their back to the creator and denied his very existence.  He accomplishes his redemption plan right on schedule and continues on to his planned outcome. 

The outcome he plans is for all those who receive his redemption to live forever in eternity with him.  Not all of his humans will accept the offer, but every one of them has the choice to receive redemption.  The only one who could put together such an elaborate and complex plan is the all-powerful, all-knowing, creator God.

Read: Genesis 1-3, Job 38 – 41, & Revelation 21 & 22

THE RESURRECTION

Romans 6:23  “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. “

Jesus is alive!  He was raised from the dead on the third day.  We celebrate Easter because everything that Jesus came for is completed with his resurrection.   From his birth, to his death on the cross, and then his resurrection, the miraculous plan of God for our redemption was accomplished.  For us we can be confident that life does not end in death because Jesus overcame death.  God raised him from the dead, and he has promised to raise us.  Eternal life is his gift to us.

I like Paul’s analogy in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 where he compares resurrection to the planting of a seed.  You put a seed in the ground and bury it.  If conditions are right, a living plant rises from the ground.  What comes up is totally different in appearance than the seed you planted, but it has new life.  When we die and are buried, our bodies as we know them are finished, but when we are resurrected, we’ll have a new body.  Unlike the old body, our new body has eternal life which is God’s gift to us.

Jesus is alive!  All that we hope for is centered on this truth.  If Jesus is not alive than what do we have?  Yet, he is alive, and our future is secured.  Praises be to God!  We are like little children standing in awe and wonder at what God has done for us.  The greatest gift has been purchased, and it is now freely given to you and me.  Oh what amazing things you have done, our holy and wonderful God, through Christ Jesus our Lord.

THE RESTORATIVE PROPERTIES OF EASTER

I find it always happens when I’m busy.  You know.  I’m busy working to accomplish my goals focused on the cares of this world.  God begins to fade into the background as an abstract concept.  It is very easy to ignore God for a time.  Then Easter comes.  “Oh, Hi God, I’ve been busy.”  “I’m looking forward to eternity with you, but I have these things to take care of now.”  It sometimes takes me the whole of Easter week to refocus to the reality of God’s presence.

 When I’m busy, I’m full of pride and self-concern.  From this position to the humble place of kneeling at the foot of the cross is a long distance.  One of my favorite scripture for the journey is from 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.”  As I contemplate these words the tasks that so occupy my thoughts begin to fade.  Though I don’t see Jesus physically walking down the street, the reality of the steps he took some two thousand years ago, and there eternal significance, loom before my mental eyes, and I’m transported to his place of sacrificial love.

As the week proceeds and I think about what Jesus did, that which I am busy about dwindles to its temporary, insignificant place in the light of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  I can finally humbly kneel at the foot of his cross, and there I’m refreshed in my relationship with the God of creation.  And oh what peace I find there.  Burdens are lifted, and priorities are clarified. 

I pray that the restorative qualities of this week of Easter celebration may find you and work an eternal transformation in your soul.  Happy Easter!

THE SOURCE OF LOVE

On Sunday we celebrated Valentine’s Day, the holiday of love.  The word love stimulates a flurry of images, but what is love?  When I first encountered love, I was willing to put aside all other things and become single focused.  Love was about receiving.  Now I know that love is giving as well as receiving.  I have learned that love is caring for and giving to someone else.  Love inspired me to step beyond self-concern and focus on the needs of another.  Love is about relationship.  Yet I wonder how love got into my heart.  Where did it come from?

This whole topic has been stirred by reading 1 John chapter 4, and I think it provides answers for the above questions.  The apostle John first tells us that Love comes from God (verse 7).  In verses 8 and 16 he states that God is love.  I conclude that the reason I have love in my heart is that God put it there.  In verse 19 John says, “We love because he first loved us.”  When I love someone, it is because God loves me.  I am, though imperfectly, a reflection of his love.

The Apostle Paul clarifies for us what love is in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8, “Love is patient, Love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.”  Since God is love, these verses highlight his character.  God loves us with these attributes.

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)  God made the eternal declaration of his love for us via the cross.  The Bible tells us of his love, but on the cross he demonstrated his love.  The great source of love has given his love to us in an irrefutable act.  God loved us in this sacrificial way in order to restore our relationship with him.  His command to us, love one another.  May his great act of love grow and flourish in our hearts.

WHAT JESUS DID

A couple of weeks ago my wife was reading to me from Revelations chapter 5. 

It starts:

Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals.  And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?”  But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it.  I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.  Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep!  See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.  He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals”

As I listened to these words the significance of what Jesus did on the cross expanded from an occurrence on the earth to a universal, infinite event.  Jesus’ work on the cross is pivotal in God’s plan for his creation, and Jesus alone is worthy to bring about our transition to eternal life.  Jesus’ sacrifice has blossomed in my understanding to something awesome and everlasting.  The cross will forever remain at the center of our existence.

Having this broader understanding has refreshed for me the coming Easter celebration.  Everything for Christians is centered upon Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection.  Nothing else can compare with this.  He alone is worthy to bring to us salvation and eternal life.  Everything of eternal significance rests on what Jesus did. 

BE MERCIFUL

“Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.”

 Jude 22-23

 

The Church, the Body of Christ, has throughout the ages frequently missed the basic tenet of being merciful.    On the other hand the Church has been an instrument of mercy in society since its beginning.  It’s been a mixed bag.  In Luke 6:35-36 Jesus says,

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.  Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

God has shown us mercy, and he desires us to be merciful.  I believe our ability to be merciful depends on our ability to receive mercy.  Humility is the key.

 

To receive mercy, I must first recognize my need for mercy.  When I know that I have sinned against God, there is then the recognition of the debt I owe to God.  Secondly, I need to humble myself and become aware that there is nothing I can do to repay this debt.  God is willing and has made the way to grant me mercy by forgiving my debt.  I don’t have to work for it.  It’s free.  That is hard for me because in my pride I want to do something to earn forgiveness.  However, by holding on to this idea of earning forgiveness, I will never even understand mercy.

 

Now you can see why it’s a mixed bag for the Church.  Our pride often gets in the way.  In Matthew 9:13 Jesus says to the Pharisees, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’”  And again in 12:7, “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”  The Pharisees were caught up in a ritual of sacrifice that fed their pride allowing them to condemn others rather than show them mercy.  They were trying to pay their debt to God on their own merit.  They were blinded by pride and did not understand mercy.   Therefore, they could not extend mercy.

 

Mercy proceeds from a humble, forgiving heart.  This is God’s nature and his heart toward us.  By surrendering my will to God and allowing myself to be forgiven, I take the first step in understanding mercy.  I feel the burden of gilt lifted and the exhilaration of being free.  But, I must remember that I’m free and not fall prey to the lie that I must do something for this freedom.  That lie feeds my pride.  I must remain humble. Then in humble gratitude, I live under God’s mercy.  A life that is continually bathed in mercy emanates mercy.

THE PURPOSE OF LIFE

When contemplating the meaning of life, I find that it is infinitely complex like the Author of Life.  Still, it can also be boiled down to something quite simple.  The questions: why am I here and what is my purpose can be easily answered.  We are here because God brought forth life in his creation, and He made beings like us in his image.  So we have life because God ordained it.  Our purpose is to have a close loving relationship with him.

Since we acquired, through disobedience, the knowledge of good and evil, that relationship has been complicated.  We now have to seek him, yet he has cleared the way for us to find him through the cross of Jesus.  We just have to accept the way he has provided.  Finding him is not difficult.  However, looking for him through other paths will not lead to him.  There is only one way; His way.

We exist at God’s good pleasure, and he has given us purpose.  As I stated above, our purpose is to have a close loving relationship with him.  Some are confused about our purpose and think that our purpose is to work.  It is important to note that the work I’m referring to is the work of the kingdom, good deeds, as opposed to working for a living.  These works are not our purpose; they are the result of our purpose.  In my loving relationship with God, he has taught me to love others.  Because I love him, and he has taught me to love others, I work to help those around me.  I give of myself.

Throughout my life, I have worked to provide for my family.  This is a requirement in this fallen world.  During this time of sorting out eternity, we have to work for a living.  It is the curse for disobedience (Genesis 3:17-19).  In the midst of our work, we often have the opportunity to do the work of the Kingdom.  However, no matter what type of work we are doing, the only work that has eternal merit is that which is driven by love.  In our relationship with God, he nurtures us with love. From this love, he generates in us the strength to provide for our family and do the work of the kingdom.  Work flows out of the fruit of relationship.  Relationship with God is our purpose.

THE HOPE IS STILL ALIVE

A while back I wrote in my diary, “Today I’m 60, but I’m going to live forever so I’m just a kid.”  I haven’t felt much like a kid since I wrote this, but the hope is still alive.  One of my old flippant sayings when confronted by a health conscious (health food nut) person was, “I don’t get my new body till I wear this one out.”  I want you to know I’m doing well with the wearing this one out part.  However it’s not as fun as it once was.  The wearing out is now quite painful, but the new body hope is still alive.

Sunday morning I found myself doing what I used to think was a strange activity that old people did.  I was reading the obituaries in the newspaper.  Not only was I reading them, but I was emotionally involved in reading them.  The short assessment of a person’s life was somehow hauntingly relevant.  As I sense the nearing of life’s end, I think, “What might be written about me?” What in my years was good and what was bad?  Fortunately, most obituaries focus on the good.  The family usually keeps the bad to themselves.  Woo, I say as I contemplate this.

I could get lost in these thoughts, but what I wrote on my 60th birthday is the real truth.  I have the promise of eternal life in Christ Jesus.  I’m going to live forever.  The assessment of this short beginning time is recorded by the eternal God.  He makes the final evaluation.  Praise be to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  The bad is forgiven and forgotten because the most significant act of my years was receiving the great gift Jesus purchased for me on the cross.  The worth of my other acts is in his hands.

Life has seemed long, but when I look back the part that has passed went by rather quickly.  There is still more to come.  I relish what remains.  And, the hope is still alive!

SIBLING RIVALRY

Have you ever felt like God’s favorite?  God has a unique way of making each one of his children feel special.  He knows us intimately and speaks to us individually in a personal specific manner.  No one else knows us this well.  He is never condemning even when correcting us.  Therefore we should rejoice in our close relationship with God, but we should also be aware that this intimate closeness is available to all who will receive him.

Being special to God does not in any way invoke superiority in comparison to others.  For us humans who carry a sinful nature, this is an important caution.  We want to be special, but in our fallen state, we feel it necessary to prove ourselves superior to others.  I’m better than so-n-so because _______.  It’s easy to fill in the blank because we’ve all been there.  However, Christ died for all of us.  We each get the full power of redemption through his shed blood.  Nobody gets or needs a greater portion.

As the principal of a Christian school, my position had a great deal of responsibility and prestige.  The young man who cleaned the building had a different position.  We were both called of God to fill our respective positions.  Was one job superior?  Not in God’s eyes.  We were both walking in what God had set before us.  With God there is no favoritism. (See Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11, Ephesians 6:9).  We were equally important in God’s kingdom.  Both of us were created and gifted to fulfil our purpose for Him.  We were also equally loved by God.  In God’s eyes we were and are his special children.

God is able to have an infinite number of favorites.  We are each one God’s favorite.  We are all special to him.  In the family of God there is no need for sibling rivalry.  We need only to love one another and trust our Father to provide what we need.  He created us with a special purpose in his kingdom.  As he directs you through your life be content.  You are unique and special in his eyes.