Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Greatest Gift

This is the fourth installment in a Christmas series that seeks to know the reason Christmas was necessary.  It began with creation, and how God made everything, including man and woman just as it should have been.  “Very good” were His words.

Adam and Eve were given complete freedom in a Garden that provided them everything they would ever need.  Their one and only restriction was to avoid eating the fruit from a single tree.  It was a test designed to give them daily opportunity to prove their love and trust in their Creator Father.  There was no need to eat that fruit.  But the perfection of everything God had provided them proved in their minds to be not quite enough.

Eventually the temptation overcame Eve, who then broke down Adam’s resistance as well to the forbidden fruit.  Created in the image of God and without a nature to sin they chose by that one act to disobey and rebel.  Immediately their spirits’ fellowship with God was broken, and that broken spiritual life was then passed on to all their descendants.  What God had created, including the earth, as “very good” suddenly in a moment was corrupted and dead.

Adam and Eve tried to cover up their newly discovered nakedness with fig leaves.  But, apart from the life of the tree from which they were plucked, the fig leaves at best could only give temporary covering.  And really, their attempts to hide their sin from God were silly.  Ever since men have come up with new ways to make themselves acceptable to God.  However, none have removed the taint of human depravity.

But, God had a plan.  The Scripture tells us that even before the foundations of the earth were created God knew how to fix broken people.  After all, He created us.  His plan was simple, yet so difficult, both for Him.  In fact, His plan would prove to be offensive to humanity because we like to think we can fix ourselves.  We cannot, but God can.

Throughout the Old Testament God promised the One who would provide us the way back to a relationship with Him.  He’s called by many names and given many titles in the prophecies.  So many of the stories of God’s deliverance to Israel were to point them to His plan for all of mankind.  The Law He gave to them through Moses was not designed to remove their sin, but to make it clear that they had sinned.

Through the prophets He foretold of Bethlehem, a Messiah, Emmanuel, the virgin birth, a descendant of David…so many details were given of the future Savior to let them know all was not lost.

Then when the time was right (Galatians 4:4) God came in human form to become the second Adam.  He would be born into poverty, not in a palace, and would live life, with all of its temptations (Hebrews 4:15) never sin.  Like Adam, He was born with no innate nature to sin, because like Adam He had no human father.  But unlike Adam He would show God’s intent from creation. 

More importantly, because of His unique sinlessness, He alone qualified to pay the penalty for Adam’s (and ours by inheritance) sin.  As our substitute He would be crucified, the sinless for the sinful so that we might again have a relationship with the God who created and loves us.  That baby in the manger was far more than a wonderful story.  The angels announced His birth to the shepherds that night because this was the long-awaited answer to the ultimate need of every heart.

Most amazing aspect of God’s plan is that the salvation from sin that Jesus came to provide is offered freely to all who believe in Him.  Indeed, the Christ of Christmas is the greatest gift ever given.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Why Christmas? Because Everything is Broken.

(Part 3 of 4.)

All of us have at some time turned on a mystery television show or movie well into the story line and found that because we missed the beginning we can’t follow the plot.  I’ll do that sometimes to my wife…walk in on the middle of a drama and during the next commercial ask, “What’s this all about?”  And she’ll try during the commercial break to fill me in enough so I can grasp what is happening.

Even though Christmas is about a birth, and in many ways the ushering in of something new, it’s far from the beginning of the story.  In fact, it’s closer to the end.  And if you never read or understood the third chapter of Genesis, which is back at the beginning, you could never fully grasp the need for Bethlehem’s babe.  And, as we’ll see next week, the incarnation of the Son of God – the Christmas story – was only the first paragraph of the final chapter of the story.

Maybe it is for this reason that Christmas truly has become a most misunderstood celebration.  The plea of the familiar children’s Christmas song to “be good for goodness sake” is one example of that misunderstanding because it proposes the impossible.  We can’t be good for goodness sake because we are by nature broken.  The solution is not to try to be good.  The solution is to be fixed by our Maker.

After God created the heavens and the earth and pronounced it “very good” He then placed the first of our kind, Adam and Eve, in a garden of perfection where every need they might have was met by God in creation.  Their Father provided food, shelter, vocation, and companionship all. 

He also placed within their daily view a test.  God did not create us as robots, but with a free will to choose right from wrong.  That test, at fruit bearing tree, was the only one of its kind and served as a proof of Adam and Eve’s love for their Father.  Jesus, in His teaching would state that principal this way: “If you love me keep my commandments.”  So there was a tension within paradise.  There stood the forbidden tree.  With it came a warning from God: eat from it and die.

Death was never intended for mankind.  Life was to be enjoyed and spent in fellowship with God and with one another, and meant to last forever on a perfect earth.  I don’t know if Adam and Eve were actually tempted to cross that line and eat the tree’s fruit prior to Genesis 3 and if they were how difficult was the temptation.  We’re not told.  Neither are we told how long into their lives it was when the day of infamy came.  But no doubt the restriction from God and the warning were a daily remembrance that kept them from falling.  That is until one fateful day.

Satan, the deposed worship leader of heaven who led a rebellion of angels against God had been cast down to the earth.  And it became his goal to foil and spoil what God had done – create a being with the ability to choose.  So Genesis 3 gives us the story of how Eve, then Adam failed, going from perfection to depravity.  It’s not a pretty story when you realize all that was lost, not only for the first couple, but for all of their descendants. 

Some have commented that the third chapter of Genesis is the most important theologically in all the Bible.  The impact of that fall, becoming sinners by choice has infected every human born since. We all start dying the moment we are born! 

And that’s why Christmas is indeed the total opposite.  That’s why Christmas is supposed to be merry!  It brings the Good News that God didn’t give up on His creation and that He has the fix to our brokenness.  That’s where we’ll go next week.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

When Perfection Wasn’t Good Enough

(This is part 2 of 4.)
This month I’m looking at why Christmas was needed.  Why did God come to earth, nurtured for nine months in the womb of a virgin to be born a pauper in a stable?  The answers are found “in the beginning” – in the first 3 chapters of Genesis.

Last week we saw how God, in His creative work made everything “good”.  That’s Genesis 1.  Then in the second chapter we’re given more information about the habitat God provided for the man and woman who first dwelt here.  There we’re told that from the dust of the ground God crafted Adam.  So it isn’t really surprising that when our bodies decay after death they return to “dust”. 

But there was Adam, (the perfect man at this point) with a list of tasks, such as naming all the animals, but without someone with whom he could share life.  I believe God knew Adam would be lonely.  He just wanted Adam to experience being alone so he would have a greater appreciation and love for the partner God then provided him.

Not from the dust, but from a rib in Adam’s side God created woman – another human like him but different.  They were to complement one another and to get busy populating the earth with offspring.  Theirs was a perfect environment in Eden.  All of their needs were met.  You can let your imagination run wild and come to the conclusion that they had it good.  It was paradise.

Imagine living in a place where you are surrounded with every kind of fruit and vegetable to eat.  And it was all perfect.  The climate was perfect.  It must have been because we’re told Adam and Eve existed in nakedness.  I’m thinking about 76 degrees with no humidity and a gentle breeze in the day and a drop to 72 at night.  Yeah.  That would be about right.  They didn’t have to work for anything other than reaching up or down to pick their meals.  And Adam never had to contend with a mother-in-law!

You would think (at least I do) that in such a perfect, sufficient, idyllic place they would have been satisfied.  I try to tell myself that I would have been!  But God put a tension there in the Garden.  In the form of a fruit tree God designed a way to test the man and woman’s love for Him.

“And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.’"  (Genesis 2:16-17)  See that one tree?  It’s off limits.  Everything else is yours.  But eat from that one tree and everything changes.  Death comes.  Perfection is lost.

I remember as a boy my mother telling me to never play with matches.  But I would watch my dad strike a match to light his cigarette and was amazed that the strike produced a flame.  I wanted that ability to light a match.  But to do that I had to “play with matches” which I had been warned not to do.  Yet it never seemed to bring anything bad on Dad when he struck a match. 

So one day, when Mom wasn’t looking, I opened a closet door where I knew some matches were kept.  Now, I didn’t burn down the house or even start a fire.  But I did get burned.   The flame came down the match until it came in contact with my never-before-burned flesh and I screamed in pain.  A blister quickly formed and it hurt!

I should have listened to Mom.  Here I am, 50-plus years later and I still remember what happened when my curiosity got the best of me. 

God established some limits and boundaries for Adam and Eve.  Not because He was a killjoy.  Because he loved them.  But the day would come when they would exchange that love and the life they had for a momentary pleasure.  And that’s why Christmas had to happen.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Christmas Looks Back to Creation

Let me be the last to pronounce that we are in the season of Advent.  Even though we’re less than a week after Thanksgiving, we’ve seen the evidence that Christmas is coming for three months in the displays and commercials seeking to condition our minds into pulling out cash and plastic.  To a growing number the reason for the season is what stimulates the economy.

Indicative that our society has lost its memory of the meaning of Christmas was the theft last week of a Salvation Army kettle containing perhaps fifty dollars at a Belk store in Hanes Mall in Winston-Salem. 

Yet it is for these very kinds of wrongs that we need Christmas.  I’m going to use my opportunities here in December to explain just why it was necessary for Christ, the Immanuel – “God with us” – to step down from His throne on high to be born in a barn and laid in a feeding trough for livestock. 

Go back with me all the way…at least all the way as far as our existence is concerned to creation.  In the first chapter of Genesis, as God spoke the universe into existence He paused seven times to pronounce each aspect of His creation as “good”.  In fact, the last time He looked at our home and said, “It is very good”.  Of course it was!  God don’t make no junk!  (Pardon my grammar.)

Creating the day and separating it from the darkness of night caused God to say, “It is good”.  Separating the dry land from the seas, He called the continents and islands “good”.  All of the vegetation He created was “good”, (which let’s us know sandspurs came later).  Sun, moon and stars?  All “good” according to God.  The birds of the sky and the creatures of the sea were “good”.  Then He made all the animals that live on the land, from livestock to the creepy-crawlers and said they were all “good”.

His last creation was us.  Putting His own image into humanity was a step above the rest of earth’s occupants.  And when that was done verse 31 tells us, “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.”

Can you imagine with me a world void of any sort of pollution?  None of the animal kingdom was on an endangered list because the “good” earth allowed them all to thrive.  Think of the brightest, starriest night you can recall.  In the beginning every night was like that.  It was a perfect world, beautiful in every way.  In fact, we’re later told that creation itself was enough to show our world how much our Creator cared when He made all this and that He alone is God.

But something adverse would take place that ruined perfection, turning God’s masterpiece into much less.  Fast-forward to these words of Paul to the Roman church, describing what followed. 

“They [mankind] exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served something created instead of the Creator, who is blessed forever.” (Romans 1:25 HCSB)

Then fast forward again.  Way forward this time to one of the last recorded phrases uttered by Christ.  In Revelation 21:5 He says, "Look! I am making everything new."  His plan is to re-create what has been broken.  That day is yet to come.  And Christmas was a necessary event in re-creating the earth and final perfection.

(This is the first of four Christmas posts for 2013.  They are also being printed in The OuterBanks Sentinel.)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Where Were You?

Every generation has a "day" that anchors their history.  For the "greatest" generation it was Pearl Harbor Day.  My kids' generation looks back to 9-11-01.  Baby boomers claim November 22, 1963 - the day President John Kennedy was assassinated. (Second to that day might be the Beatles' appearance on the Ed Sullivan show.)

We ask each other, "Where were you?"

I found out he had been killed when our school bus stopped to let us off.  Our next door neighbor, Mrs. Fioriti, came running out to meet us, tearfully crying, "President Kennedy has been killed".  For a third grader that was a lot to process.

If you were around on 11-22-63, where were you?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Well done, Chuck Smith.

A giant in the Christian community died today.

I was fortunate to have been a high school student in Orange County, CA in the early 70's and saw firsthand the explosion and impact of Calvary Chapel in the lives of young people. Those were the days of the tent, as they outgrew their little church building and began to build something much larger.  Under Chuck's leadership Calvary Chapel was the epicenter of the Jesus Movement that reached kids from coast to coast. My estimate is that 25% of the student body of my high school were born again Christians - and not shy about it - and most of them were reached by Calvary Chapel.

After graduating from a Baptist college on the East coast I went back to my home church in Orange to serve as youth pastor. Frequently I made the drive over to Costa Mesa to check out Chuck's teaching on tapes. His commitment to the Word was so strong. And even though we did not agree on some issues, I learned you do not have to be my twin to be my brother.

My generation of Christians owes a debt of gratitude for Chuck's vision and pioneering spirit. Contemporary Christian music can point back to Chuck's willingness to let long-haired newly-saved rockers sing their from their hearts and lead in worship. Maranatha! Music, started by Chuck, became the grandfather of our worship music today.

Like all visionary leaders Chuck wasn't without controversy. But he always pointed others to Christ and lived his life with integrity. I imagine that should Jesus one day ask all in heaven who were reached with the Gospel by ministries birthed and nurtured by Chuck Smith to stand, the rest of us will be in awe at the multitude on their feet.

He's certainly heard the words, "Well done" from his Savior.

Thank God for Chuck Smith.  Pray for revival to sweep America again.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

How is it? Laws, violence and mental health.

How is it that a government agency was treating him for mental illness and yet he maintained access to a military facility?

How is it that he had a record of gun abuse in his past but was hired to do contractual work on a military base?

How is it that he could purchase a shotgun so easily considering his mental health and gun background?

How is it that the US Military forbids its highly trained officers from carrying military issued sidearms on military installations?

How is it that in a city with the highest gun control laws and on a gun-free military base the laws did not work?

How is it that another city with equally strong gun control laws leads the nation in murders?

How is it that in other areas of the country with relaxed gun control laws the incidents of gun-related violence decreases?

How is it that while we have gun laws that are not being enforced some think that adding more laws will turn the tide?

How is it that mental illness and anti-psychotic drugs ars more often than not a factor in these terrible acts of mass shootings, yet restricting guns, not those drugs is the answer?

How is it that in a nation where simulated gun violence is a multi-billion dollar entertainment industry we expect our young men (who play those games) to be peaceful?

How is it?  I'm just wondering.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Wake Up Call Forgotten

September 11, 2001.

I remember well the events of that day.  So shocking were they that the course of an entire nation came briefly to an abrupt halt before making a slight turn.  Shock turned into anger, which turned into a resolve that seemed for a while to pull this vast American union together.

The flags flew.  The seventh inning stretch became a time to sing God Bless America in place of Take Me Out to the Ball Game.  As we watched the rescue efforts at the Pentagon and World Trade Center morph into recoveries we were made ever so mindful of our own mortality.  And that triggered something within us - a spark that was encouraging, but never grew into a flame.

That following Sunday at every church in America seemed like Easter.  Everyone, it seemed came to a realization that God was important in their lives. At least for that moment He was.

But as Americans we proved once again that we live for the moment and not with eternity in mind.  The resurgence of church lasted just a few weeks before waning away.  The requests to open the church doors during the week so prayers could be made on the lunch hour faded.  And instead of making a 180 back to God we just took a bend in the road before getting back on the same old paths away from Him.

And here we are today, twelve years later.  Not only are we not closer to God, as a nation we are running in the opposite direction as fast as our relative moralities will take us.  I wonder what God thinks?  Surely this didn't surprise Him.

Preachers like myself, while hating the evil of 9-11 hoped that perhaps it was a true wake up call leading to a revival like the Great Awakenings or even the Jesus Movement.  But it was not.  Like on a rainy afternoon we were interrupted from our nap only to roll over and go back to sleep.

What will it take to bring America back to our knees?  That's where we need to be.

Before it's too late to change.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Look First in the Mirror

On Sunday afternoon after church, while Grandma was getting Sunday dinner ready it was Grandpa's ritual to take a short nap in his rocker on the front porch of their farmhouse.  One particular Spring Sunday ten year old Johnny had a stroke of mischievous genius.

He walked out to the pasture where Grandpa's dairy cows were grazing and looked for a fresh cow pie.  Taking a stick, he got the end of the stick sufficiently covered and gingerly walked toward the front porch and his napping grandfather.

Grandpa had a healthy mustache.  He told Johnny it was his "cookie duster".  He was also a heavy sleeper, which was in Johnny's favor.  Making sure no adults in the house saw him, he quietly crept up the steps and on to the porch.  With the stick he carefully smeared fresh cow manure on Grandpa's mustache.  Then as quickly as he was quiet, he got off the porch and hid behind the tractor to watch what happened next.

It only took a couple of snoring breaths before the old man's olfactory senses opened his eyes and furrowed his brow.  The squint of his eyes told Johnny that the pungent stench had Grandpa concerned.  As a farmer he was most familiar with the smells of the farm.  But this was stronger than anything he had ever experienced.

He muttered just loud enough for Johnny to hear, "Something around here stinks!".  And rising from the rocker he went on a search to find the source.  First, he went into the house.  Instead of the smell of frying chicken and baking biscuits, he smelled the manure.  "The house stinks!", he told himself.

Grandma was too busy getting the apple pie ready for the oven to notice him walking up behind her in the kitchen.  He had done this hundreds of times over their long marriage, usually to give her a quick peck on the back of her neck.  But this time as he approached her he noted the smell was just as strong.  "She stinks!".  Wisely he didn't speak the words, but just thought them.

Walking out the back door he made his way to the barn, which was filled with sweet, fresh hay.  "The barn stinks!"  Into the hen house, which usually had it's own distinctive smell he went.  But this time the smell was not the same and much stronger.  "The chickens stink!"  The smokehouse, where hams hung curing didn't have that smoky smell that makes your mouth water.  "The smokehouse stinks!".  On and on he went  into every outbuilding and corner of his barnyard.  He couldn't escape that smell no matter where he was.  Grandma's rose garden, the horse stalls, the bee hives.  Even the field planted with winter wheat ready for harvest.

Exasperated Grandpa said loud enough for all to hear, "The whole world stinks!".

Johnny couldn't hold back his laughter.  He knew the truth.  It wasn't the rest of the world that smelled so bad.  It was Grandpa.  He just couldn't see it.

Often, when life doesn't pan out like we think it should, especially if we find it unpleasant, disagreeable or uncomfortable we can quickly come to the conclusion that everyone else is in the wrong and it's someone else's fault, when in reality the problem is our own.  Instead of looking in the mirror and seeing the source of the stench we can come to the conclusion that everyone else is the problem when the problem is as clear as the mustache on Grandpa's face.

Accepting personal responsibility rather than seeking blame is often. a sign we've started at the right place.  It's a lesson we all need to learn.  Crusty manure gets hard to clean off.   But once it is discovered and cleaned, the rest of the world certainly does smell better.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Celebrating Work

How did you spend and celebrate Labor Day?  If you are fortunate, you had a day off.  If you are really fortunate it was a paid holiday.  But many of us worked on Labor Day, not to actually celebrate it, but because we needed to keep our jobs!  But by doing so you kept the local economy rolling or provided necessary services for the rest of us, and we thank you!

More than just the “official” end of the summer tourism season and the beginning of “fall”, Labor Day has its roots in the recognition of something God designed and affirms: work.  Although it is totally secular in its origins as recognition of American labor, the idea of work started even before the very onset of mankind’s creation.

In the very opening words of Scripture we’re told that God used His creative powers to form the universe, including our solar system.  For the first six days He “worked”, speaking into existence all we see or know in nature and astronomy.  Taking the seventh day off to “rest” He set examples for us.  First, work is a good and necessary thing.  Second, we should always take time off after working. 

On that sixth day, after covering all the basics of creation and the animal world God produced a creation designed in His own image: man.  And even with everything provided for him to live and enjoy life Adam and Eve were given “work” responsibilities.  They looked after the garden God had given them as their home.  He had given them intelligence no enjoyed by the rest of creation, and with that intelligence He gave them a task: name all the animals in the garden.  In what we suppose as a life of leisure there was still work to do.  And it must have been enjoyable as they came up with the names and looked after God’s perfectly crafted home.

But apparently they didn’t use their idle time wisely, and found themselves in a pickle.  Rather than trust God for everything, they fell to the temptation of thinking they could become gods themselves and picked and ate the fruit that God had forbidden.  Among the penalties placed upon them for their rebellion was a life of work.  But this work wasn’t simple and easy.  Here’s what God told them:

“The ground is cursed because of you. You will eat from it by means of painful labor all the days of your life.  It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. You will eat bread by the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground…” - Genesis 3:17b-19a.  So next time your work is painful or sweaty, blame it on the poor choices of your progenitors. 

Life would be a dream if we could get back to the garden (think Crosby, Stills and Nash there).  But work – hard work is our lot.  Healthy minded descendants of Adam have learned to accept that and seek to provide the necessities, and if we’re fortunate, the better things of life through work.  Blessed we are as Americans to live in a country where we’re free to work and free to seek whatever kind of employment we desire.  Our economy stands on the backs of working men and women no matter what color their collars.

I know that there are some people who can’t wait to get up and go to work every day.  And those people are especially blessed.  But most of us likely have those days (especially if the fish are running or there’s a great swell) when we’d rather be doing something else.  But we’re blessed, if we have jobs, to be able to punch the clock and earn our living.

Thanks to all who do so.  And to those who may perhaps be currently unemployed, I hope you return to work soon.  Work is what we do, and makes a difference in so many positive ways in our society and in hour homes.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

5 Actions of Satisfied Church Members

Having been actively involved in church now for 47 years, more than half as a pastor, I have noticed these distinctives of those who stick by the stuff in the local church.

1. They’re Givers.
And their giving shows up in many forms.  Not only do they contribute from their finances to demonstrate their love for God and His family, they give by serving one another through volunteer ministry.  They have a Spirit-driven desire to give back through their giftedness. 

Of course, some can give more than others, but it’s not a comparison game.  It’s everybody doing his/her part with whatever God has given you.

2. They’re Supportive of Leadership.
I learned this saying in a freshman class in college about leadership: “The heights of leadership are piteously cold”.  Leaders, because they are in front, are always the first to get shot!  It would be great if every church could have the Good Shepherd Jesus as its Pastor, but that’s not how God designed it.

Instead, He calls and qualifies sinful men and women to take on roles of leadership in the church so that the sheep in the flock have models we can see to follow.  Whether you’re a pastor, deacon, small group leader or ministry team leader, you should want to do your best and be led yourself by the Spirit.  But you know you’re not perfect and will at times “get it wrong”.

Yet the Scriptures are clear that leaders are to “stand in front” (that’s the meaning of the Greek word in the New Testament for “leader”) and that we who follow are to support them.   Often that's as simple as a word of encouragement!
That could be as simple as praying for them, not only when you think they’re doing a good job, but when you question their direction.  The only exception for following would be if leaders are in clear, proven gross sin.  In fact, we’re told that those who lead will stand before Christ and give an account for how we followed! 

3. They Love Being Together With Their Church Family.
We’ve discovered that those who serve together and who share together, not only on Sundays, but also through the week really love their church.  They look forward to getting together in small groups for study, fellowship and caring.  They find ways to do fun things together, too, like going out for a meal, or taking in a movie, or meeting at the park with their kids. 

God used specific words to describe His ideal for the church.  Some of those words are “household”, “body”, “members one of another”, “belonging” and “fellowship”, which means partnership.  And He did not intend for “church” to be a Sunday morning only part of our lives.  That was evident from the very start of the church in Acts 2 as they met “daily”.  They depended on each other. They were a “new community”.  

From rubbing shoulders in service and fellowship we learn how to face life, and we are encouraged that we don’t have to face it alone!  When that becomes part of my fabric as a believer then my church becomes much more than a “place”, and I can’t wait to meet again with my forever family.

4. They Live Out the mantra “It’s Not About Me”.
While some initially seek out a church because of a personal or family need (and that’s a good thing), if they become Christ-followers they soon discover that God put us together as a church not to satisfy ourselves, but to edify – to build up – others.  Jesus never sought to fulfill His needs or wants, did He?  He lived for others in need and did whatever He could to help them.

Ultimately, as Jesus prayed in the Garden “Not my will but Yours” He paved a clear path for us to seek God’s will first.  We’re often reminded in our Sunday worship gatherings that we are there for Him and not for ourselves.  And it’s when we can learn to abandon ourselves and lift Him higher that we discover He meets our needs abundantly. 

Satisfied partners in a church live that kind of crucified life.  That means they’re not too easily offended when things don’t go their way because it’s not about them.  It’s about Him and about reaching those who don’t yet know Him.  They’ve learned to give it all over to Him. 

5. They Walk in Grace.
We know that salvation – moving from being lost in our sin to being given forgiveness and eternal life – is an act of God’s grace.  Grace means God gives me what I haven’t deserved or earned.  In fact, I deserve the opposite.  But because He loves me, He demonstrates that love through wiping out my wrongs and showing me kindness.

Wouldn’t it be great if the church were full of perfect people?  One day, it will be, but that’s in the future in heaven.  Until then we remain imperfect…all of us.  And when imperfect people get together and rub shoulders there will inevitably be friction.  If it were not for God’s grace living in us through the power of the Holy Spirit we would be miserable all the time with one another.  But living by grace means I understand first that I’m going to fail at times.  And I have to allow others to do the same.  When I fail, I hope they’ll forgive, just like when they fail I must quickly offer forgiveness as well.

Jesus laid it out on the table for us in His model prayer when He said, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”.  That’s grace. Only when it permeates our relationships together can we dwell together in unity.

Let’s never forget that being together as a church is very much a dress rehearsal for eternity.  It would be so easy if God immediately at salvation swept us right to heaven! But for His glory on earth He not only left us here for the time being, but placed us into relationship with other believers through the church.  And being a good Father, He wants us to be satisfied with where He has placed us!

That’s not always easy.  But it’s always possible with His help.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Building Disciple Leaders Among Youth

On Wednesday I hooked up with a group of 19 young people in Cloverdale, BC for the final leg of a trip into the coastal mountains.  I've come to Red Soul Rising, a camp in the "bush" along the Lillooet River, to serve in whatever way (currently I'm a breakfast cook), to spend time with long-time missionary friends Don and Mary DeHart, and I'm discovering, to learn how to build leaders and disciples in the context of the local church.

Ron Kirkeeng has been the youth pastor at Crystal Lake Evangelical Free Church north of Chicago for a decade and a half or so.  That means he's leading his second generation of young men and women, pastoring and mentoring them.  Crystal Lake is not a small church, and Ron regularly ministers to over 150 teenagers each week.  For almost that many years Ron has taken a team from his youth and some post-youth singles to staff a camp - not the typical US 21st century version of camp - for 9-13 year old Native American kids. 

The camp has to be re-set up every year, and an advance team, mostly from CL church drive up a week early with supplies, gas cookers and staples for the week.  Then, four days before the camp actually starts the majority of the team - this year 19 - fly in to Seattle, rent vans and make the 6 hour drive up to camp.  The costs for each team member are covered by the team member.  They must raise the majority of the funds, over $1000 each, for plane fare, food, transportation, etc.

When they get here they work!  Camp has to be cleaned up.  Logs and branches are moved to piles where they'll be burned in the winter.  Tents are set up (no cabins or AC here).  The "pool" - a hole dug into the earth and lined with a heavy black rubber tarp - has to have the accumulation of snow and rain water pumped out.  Then the liner is removed and pressure washed and replaced.  Two logs of substantial size were carried by a dozen or so to help hold down the sides.  Finally water is pumped in via pvc pipe from an adjacent mountain stream.

These youth are the kitchen staff as well.  Everyone is expected to be a self-starter and do what needs to be done without being told.  About a third of them are first-timers, being shown the ropes by their veteran friends.  Servanthood is the lifestyle here.  And all this is in preparation for the week of campers. 

They'll learn cross-cultural skills, teamwork, following orders, and lots of selflessness.  They'll only get to bathe every few days and that in a natural hot spring.  The girls washed their hair in an icy cold  mountain river yesterday evening

What impresses me most is the longevity of this relationship.  Sean, now 26 and 2nd in "command" started coming here to serve when he was thirteen.  Many are in their 4th, 5th and 6th years of giving up two weeks in July to invest in the lives of First Nations' kids.  Those with jobs either take vacation to do this or simply lose two weeks of summer income.  And while they'll all tell you they're having fun, the fun is not game-centered, but the fun of growing mature and building life-long memories, disciplines and relationships.

 These "kids" are in the Word every day and learning from one another what it truly means to give up something to invest in eternal things.  The level of commitment has to be strong to do what they're doing.  Pre-trip requirements were set high.  Classes and meetings were mandatory.  There is no place here for whining and slackness is not tolerated in a gracious way.

I don't know Crystal Lake Church at all.  But if I was a betting man I'd put a year's wages on the strength of their church and that their youth are at the heart of that strength.   I'm sure these are the cream of the crop.  As they mature into adulthood and take the roles of church leadership in the years ahead they'll be prepared.  As they face the tough challenges of life that face everyone, they won't falter because they've learned spiritual toughness. 

These young people show that they don't need everything handed to them.  I'm grateful to stand back and see how God is shaping them through hard work for which they have willingly volunteered.  They're putting their hands to the plow here in the wilderness.  They've left their nets and are following Christ in ways that will set the path for the rest of their lives.

And I'm learning from them!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Purpose of Memorial Day

I remember well the day we drove my dad to the train station in Rocky Mount, NC.  I was ten.  I would not see my father for another 13 months.  That train took him to Camp Pendleton, CA, where for a month he trained for he would need for the next year in Viet Nam. 

I remember seeing him for the first time when he came home.  A year separated from your dad at that age is a chunk of life taken away.  But I'm proud he served.

However, I will not be honoring my dad this Memorial Day.  That little boy in the picture could have been me, but I'm thankful it was not.  And, no, I'm not making some kind of anti-war statement.  If you think that, you don't know me.  I'm as red-white-and blue as anyone, and thankful for all who wear our nation's uniform. 

But my dad came home from the war alive.  So, Memorial Day isn't about him or others like him or those currently serving in our military.  It's about those who died while fighting for freedom, from Bunker Hill to Afghanistan, whether it was ours or the freedom of some foreign nation.   And dad didn't die fighting.  In fact, he's still alive (and very much still a Marine).

It's important that we remember those who died.  So, God willing, I'll be attending a Memorial Day ceremony this Monday to honor the fallen and thank them for the freedoms we hold dear as Americans.  If we fail to remember we will soon forget, and those freedoms, once worth dying for may become trivial. 

And Dad?  He'll get his day on 11 November -
Veterans Day when we stop to honor all who have and are serving under Old Glory.

I just think we should get it right.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Emotional Morning is Breaking

Most of you know my daughter in law's story, and are probably aware that this morning she lies in the ICU at Duke University Hospital after a more than ten hour surgery to replace previously transplanted and rejected lungs with "new" ones.  Less than 30 minutes ago my son, wife and Tricia's parents met with the surgeon, Dr. Shu Lin (who also performed her first transplant five years ago) tell us that basically the surgery went well, the lungs are functioning. 

She's been given new life.  We are all rejoicing and thanking God for answering our prayers in this way.

But, somewhere is a family grieving over the loss of someone loved.  That reality brings a soberness to the relief and rejoicing that is almost eery.  And while we are elated that Tricia will hopefully live many more years, we are deeply saddened at the donor family's loss and forever grateful for their gift to a total stranger.

Then, on another front, at this early morning hour four years ago I was reeling from the toughest assignment God had yet given me.  Sometime shortly after 3:00AM I was awakened by my pager - I am a Public Safety Chaplain - and heard the dispatcher's words, "OFFICER DOWN".  I remember asking Gail, who also was awakened by the page, "Did she say "OFFICER DOWN?".

Along with the department's Chief it was my duty to inform my friend's family that their husband and dad died in the line of duty.  While serving and protecting our community Sgt. Earl Murray gave his life.  Knowing Earl was a believer in Jesus Christ as his Savior was the only comfort I knew that morning.  Days later I would preach his funeral sermon.

Every May 15th the past four years has brought tears to my eyes remembering that morning.  Now, added to that will be the words of the surgeon from this morning that Tricia has new lungs, and with my tears will be a smile.

As a Christian I believe that whether good or evil happens in life our God is able to work those things for His glory.  It's not that He causes all things - certainly not the evil - but His grace somehow in ways I cannot understand can take the hardest times of life and use them to point others to His Son and His the eternal life He offers freely. 

Indeed, God is good all the time.  But if that doesn't include the bad time as well as the good He would be a weak, maybe even heartless God.  To His glory He has demonstrated over and again that He is love and that He is always faithful.  And on this date in my life, knowing this wonderful God is the greatest knowledge I could ever possess.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

65Roses4PattySue Trust Fund

[Because we're asked, "65Roses" is a common children's way of saying "cystic fibrosis", and "PattySue" is a nickname that Nathan sometimes uses for Tricia.] 

In 2005 my wife Gail along with Tricia's parents Don and Agnes created a trust fund designed to assist Tricia with the collateral expenses that would come with her CF treatment and eventual transplant.  At that time we sent out letters to family and friends, inviting them to give if they chose to do so.  

The result was extremely helpful as Nathan and Tricia spent 9 months living near Duke University before and after the transplant. 

However, as her health improved, and trips to Duke became less frequent, the trust fund lost its steam.  Now, with her status very much changed, and already this year multiple trips to Duke, including the current hospitalization for rejection, we have reinvigorated the fund.  Below is a letter that appears on a Facebook group for donors.  

If you are not in that group and would like to be able to donate via PayPal, I've added a button at the top left of this blog site for your convenience. 

If the idea of donating is offensive to you, we are sorry.  Please refrain from negative comments.

Dear Friends of 65Roses4PattySue,

Amazing as it sounds, this past April 2 marked the 5th anniversary of the night Tricia was wheeled into an all night surgery that would give her a life-saving “new” pair of lungs. If you’ve followed either Nathan’s or Tricia’s blogs or their Facebook posts, you know how that while Tricia’s much healthier than pre-transplant, her overall health has been and will always be a roller coaster ride. But, who would have thought that she would again be able to play softball, sing in the choir and most of all mother her Gwyneth Rose?

Another milestone is about to pass as well. Tricia turns 31 on May 13.  Right now, as I'm sure you know, Tricia is on a ventilator, waiting for the call that her second double lung transplant is about to happen.  So, the Lawrensons, Kirschners and all who love her have much for which to be thankful.

When crises settle down, as Tricia’s did after the surgery and the subsequent battle with lymphoma, we tend to relax and even forget that she will always be a post-transplant and cystic fibrosis patient at Duke Medical Center. When we began the 65 Roses Trust Fund seven years ago it was in anticipation of that time of crisis. The response from so many made it possible for Nathan and Tricia to stay in Durham during her pregnancy leading up to Gwyneth’s miraculous birth and then on through the transplant, recovery and cancer treatments.

Once again we’re appealing to Tricia’s friends to re-invigorate the trust fund.   They have been living in Durham (while keeping their home in Kill Devil Hills) since October of last year - 7 months now.  Though they have a very good insurance policy, Tricia will always require costly medications to battle rejection and her Cystic Fibrosis. While the disease will not attack her new lungs, it continues to attack her pancreas and digestive system.

Currently their out of pocket expenses are averaging $4500/month.  Only because so many have rallied to their side have they been able to do this.  God willing, with a soon transplant they will be home sooner than later. 

So we are again asking you to consider helping financially as you are able. And we promise to send annual reminders for those inclined to partner with Tricia. If you are unable, we certainly understand. But we also know that any gift makes a difference.

Because this is a trust fund gifts are unfortunately not tax deductible. Whether you can make a one-time gift or perhaps give on a regular basis, all monies given are dispersed by fund trustees and only for expenses related to Tricia’s continued medical care.

Gifts can be sent to 137 Sir Chandler Dr., Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948. Please make checks out to “65 Roses 4 Patty Sue”. Funds received are disbursed by trustees (her parents and in-laws) according to actual costs relating to treatment of Tricia’s disease not covered by insurance.

On the top right of this page on my blog is a tab that will take you to the fund's Paypal account if you prefer to give via your credit card or Paypal account. 

Thank you and God bless you.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

When God Doesn't Come Through

When God doesn’t answer your prayer as you had hoped and you wind up disappointed, is that disappointment in Him or in you?  Even if we say, “I’m just disappointed that things didn’t turn out the way I wished”, we’re really saying, “God didn’t come through for me”, aren’t we?  But that goes contrary to everything we know about God.

In teaching His disciples about the need to be persistent in prayer (Luke 11:5-13), Jesus compared the heavenly Father to a good earthly father, answering the request of a child specifically and getting it right.  He said that if we ask for fish we won’t be given a snake, or if we ask for an egg He won’t give us a scorpion.  Snakes and scorpions not only are very different from what was asked for, they are harmful to our well-being.  God doesn’t operate like that.

And in that same context Jesus told His followers to not give up praying, even when it might seem like He wasn’t hearing or interested.  He does and He is.  But sometimes our persistence in not giving up proves to Him (maybe more so to us) that some things are worth the wait. 

Many of you are familiar with my daughter-in-law’s current plight to get her second double lung transplant, without which (barring a miracle) she will die.  Along with my son, she has been living in temporary quarters near Duke University Hospital for over six months, working hard to be found strong enough for placement on the transplant list.  “Strong enough”, because such a surgery exacts a tremendous strain on the body, and she’s very sick.

The setbacks over the six months have been many, with multiple disappointments.  But, last week she received the much prayed for news that she was being reactivated on the transplant list to receive new lungs.  And her current status, being as poor as it is, placed her at or near the top of the list.  Great news!  Answered prayers! 

Saturday morning they were awakened with “the call” from Duke: lungs are on their way.  They quickly drove to the hospital and waited in pre-op for the final “OK” that the lungs were suitable and the surgery would take place.  Shortly after noon they got the word: “The transplant is a ‘go’.”  In fact they told us via Skype from the pre-op room.  It seemed that prayer was being answered affirmatively as well, just days after being listed. 

But within a few minutes the transplant team found some reason why the donated lungs would not be good for her.  Who knows why, and that’s really not so important.  Their knowledge of the lungs and of Tricia’s particular needs led them to come to the conclusion, as difficult as it was, that these lungs would not be a good match for Tricia.   She would go “home” without precious lungs and continue the wait for who knows how long. 

God is that “who”.  Not only does He know, but because she is one of His children, He has a divine plan for whatever remains of her life.  Receiving new lungs on Saturday, April 27 was not part of that plan.

Disappointing?  From our human wish-list position, “Yes”.  No one wants to see her continue to suffer for every breath one more day.  Everyone wants her to be able to return home and be a full-time mommy again.  We all just want her better. 

Jesus told his disciples to keep knocking at the door.  Keep asking God to work the deal.  Keep seeking until the answer is found.  So, that’s where we picked up on Saturday.  God has something different in mind.  That won’t silence our prayers at all.  It just means we’ll continue to seek Him.  And in His time that prayer will be answered as He sees best, because He is God and we are not. 

And whether we like His answer or not, He always comes through.

Monday, April 22, 2013

"I Dare You"...Life changing words

Back in those "thrilling days of yesteryear", when I was young and foolish, for whatever reason if someone dared me to do something I would find myself unable to resist.  Most of the time I wound up doing something stupid and either got in trouble or at the least very embarrassed by following through with a dare.  And of course, the reactions of others...either in amazement that I would take the dare, or hearing their laughs when I proved to be a bozo, was worth it to me.

But one of those dares was to do something life changing and although many think it foolish, it turned out to be one of the best dares I ever accepted.

I guess it was my junior year of high school.  For me it was a time when my heart was regularly being challenged to follow Jesus all the way, and because of God's grace my heart was receptive to the Spirit's nudging in my life.  None of it was because I was so spiritually-minded on my own.  That was definitely not the case.  On my own I was selfish, and were it not for the people God put around me - teenagers and the adults who shepherded us in our church - those years would have been spiritually fruitless for me.  I know that.

One of the adults God used to inspire and push me to take risks for God was a young soldier by the name of Ricky.  He was fifteen years my senior, and at a time in his life when God was molding him, too.  Ricky volunteered to serve the youth in our church, and while I don't remember any formal programming, he spent time discipling several of us.  His life was an example of service.

Sometime that year he taught a Sunday evening class for teenagers on how to share our faith.  We called it "soul winning" and "witnessing".  He gave us the Scriptures that specifically point men and women to their need for Jesus to become their Savior.  He talked about how to answer questions about the Bible and Christ and how to engage someone in conversation about eternity.  I highlighted those verses in my Bible.  I memorized them.  My head became full of what was needed should I ever be confronted with someone needing Jesus.

That's often what happens to us as believers.  We go to church and hear sermons.  Maybe we even take good notes and underscore verses in our Bibles.  When special classes are offered we take them, knowing that the info given will be beneficial to us in some way.  And like me as a junior in high school, we get loaded up with knowledge - good knowledge - that for whatever reason stays in our heads or on paper but fails to be applied in our lives.

The Apostle Paul predicted that in the last days churches would be full of people who were "always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth."  That describes us when we soak it all in like a sponge but never get squeezed so that it comes out.  Sometimes it takes being dared to be squeezed like that.

One particular Sunday evening, as Ricky was wrapping up his lesson he looked at us and simply and bluntly said, "I dare you to go out witnessing with me".  I honestly wasn't concerned about how anyone else there responded, but the guy had hit my "dare" button, and I knew I was in.  I couldn't resist the dare.  So, I told him, "I'll go".

Over the next weeks those of us who took that dare met with Ricky in the evenings and went out to do what most would never consider doing.  We went to the city's parks and to the downtown streets at night and approached people "cold turkey", striking up a conversation with them that would lead to the big ask, "Would you like to know for sure that you'll go to heaven?".  And if they nodded or said "Yes", we would share our Scriptures and explain in a simple fashion how Jesus could become their Savior and give them eternal life.

Ricky's dare was used by God's Spirit to enable some teenaged kids in Southern California to become evangelists and apologists.  No doubt there will be men and women in heaven who listened to us talk about Jesus and then received His free gift of eternal life.  I remember a few who did so on street corners and sidewalks.  I don't remember their names, but God does, and He has their names written down.

I'm reminded about this chapter in my life because I just got word that Ricky passed away a few days ago.  We haven't seen one another for 40 years, although we have reconnected via Facebook.  I don't know if he ever realized how momentous that dare he issued was in my life and others.  But my hope is that when he stands before the Lord he'll hear those words, "Well done, Ricky", even if just for saying "I dare you".

How about you?  If you're a Christian who will be in heaven because you shared the Gospel?  I'm often reminded of the old Gospel song that asks, "Must I go and empty handed?  Must I meet my Savior so?  Not one soul with which to greet Him, must I empty handed go?".  Of course, the answer is "No".  All of us should have others with whom we've shared the Gospel, maybe through our own stories who then by faith turned to Christ.

So, to continue the legacy of the man who challenged me, I challenge you.  I dare you.  And my friend Ricky would be humbled to hear your story one day. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

No Immunity

Today's sad news that Rick and Kay Warren's son Matt (who suffered his entire 27 years with bipolar disorder) took his life is a reminder that no one is immune from the effects of sin in this world.

I guess millions of people...I'm one...have been encouraged, strengthened and challenged by Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Church and Purpose Driven Life.  Our church has done several of Saddleback Church's 40 Days "campaigns".  They've made us a better church.  I've been to many PDC conferences at Saddleback and have taught Rick's material to pastors in France.  He's been a leader and in many ways a pastor to multiplied thousands of pastors around the world.

When a religious issue captures the nation's attention the networks call on Warren to give the evangelical take on the subject.  While there's no doubt about his conservatism on cultural hot potatoes, he takes the high road of being more about Jesus than about politics.  Heck, he even prayed the benediction at President Obama's first inauguration, demonstrating that he is seen as rising above partisanship.

And some might look at a pastor like Warren and think that someone so close to God, so respected and highly regarded for his faith and missionary ventures would be immune to the struggles experienced by mere commoners.  But, not so.  Pastors and their families live in the same real world as everyone else.  They get sick.  They have car wrecks.  They deal with the same trials that make life difficult for every marriage, family and career.

Losing your child, especially to suicide when you've done everything you could to find him help, has to be a pain like no other.  My prayer for Pastor Warren and his wife Kay is for their broken hearts to find comfort in the Lord they've served for all these years.  I have no doubt their church will rally around them and give them the room they need to grieve and the support they need to go on.

Your pastor, like Warren is not superman.  Don't be surprised when life in this fallen world turns sad and stormy for him. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

History’s Greatest Week

“After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to view the tomb.  Suddenly there was a violent earthquake, because an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and approached the tomb. He rolled back the stone and was sitting on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his robe was as white as snow. The guards were so shaken from fear of him that they became like dead men.

But the angel told the women, "Don’t be afraid, because I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here! For He has been resurrected, just as He said. Come and see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead. In fact, He is going ahead of you to Galilee; you will see Him there.’ Listen, I have told you."

So, departing quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, they ran to tell His disciples the news.”  (Matthew 28:1-8 HCSB)

The ladies ventured early on that Sunday morning to a cemetery of all places.  Saturday concluded history’s most well known and ancient history’s most documented week.  One week before the Galilean preacher Jesus rode into Jerusalem, Israel’s capitol city, and was welcomed by multitudes as the promised Messiah of the Jews.  Later in the week would begin the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Passover.  High holy days they were.

As He had predicted on multiple occasions Jesus would be arrested, wrongfully accused, beaten and tried by religious and civil authorities, then by a corrupt court and because of bribed “witnesses” He was condemned to death on a Roman cross.  Just as thousands had welcomed Him into Jerusalem, likely thousands (in town for the holy days) would witness His condemnation, His walk through the city and His death, crucified between two thieves.

That He died was indisputable.  The Romans were experts at crucifixion – their particularly tortuous manner of execution.  They were equally expert at knowing death when they saw it.  So, after His burial and three days in the grave, to find His tomb empty and hearing the news that He was risen and alive was life-changing good news.  History changed at that moment.

That’s why Jesus lived, died and rose again: to change lives – morphing fallen men and women, separated from God by sin to new life as the very children of God.  That reconciliation with God is made possible by His sacrifice and God’s affirmation when He raised Him up.

Don’t let this week pass you by without pausing to ponder just what God has done.  Better yet, believe it and join in on the celebration now and for eternity.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Quick Triggered

I'm ashamed to say that I have too often been part of a posse with quick triggers.  As I mature in my faith and understanding of God's Word, however, I'm beginning to pull my finger off the trigger so that I think, meditate and pray before shooting.  Lately my gun has been staying in the holster a lot more.

No, I'm not talking about gun control.  I already did that!  I'm thinking about people who belong to Jesus being so quick to judge and condemn other members of Jesus' family because they do some things differently.

And it should be no surprise that the internet has become the firing range.

What I know (from personal experience at the range) is that snap judgments against fellow believers usually stems from a sense of my own self-righteousness and that I know what's best - not just for me, but for you, too.  My exodus from Pharisaism has been a long and winding road.  And still I am tempted to believe the worst about someone without first checking my own heart and then checking to see if its even any of my business!

I do believe there is a place for Christians to judge one another.  As politically incorrect as that might sound, it's also clearly taught in Scripture.  It doesn't however give us permission to peep into one another's windows at night or to fire off volleys if we think we've spotted an indiscretion.  With the responsibility of judgment also comes the responsibility of grace.

The gun doesn't fire unless I first put my finger on the trigger.  Even then I have to squeeze it.  But before I do, I need to be sure it's my place and that my reaction is to better someone not to attack or destroy or attack just because I may disagree.

How much better to save my ammo for the enemy.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Fairness, Sovereignty and Judging God

Our church's daily Bible reading* for today really got me thinking about God's sovereignty - that He is over all and in control and nothing happens to His children that He can't use for His greater glory.  Being a "theologian" those words and that concept are not new or foreign to me.  They're part of a greater belief system that starts with God and from Him moves down to mankind.

In Psalm 66:11 the psalmist, thinking back to the Hebrews time in Egypt wrote (to God), "You captured us in your net and laid the burden of slavery on our backs."   You did that, God.  It wasn't by chance.  It wasn't because of famine or the outcome of a cruel deed by Joseph's brothers.  You removed my ancestors from their home in Canaan, saw that they went to Egypt and there became slaves.  You, God.

I wonder if while they were making bricks without straw one of the Hebrews on a hot, sunny day popped up and shouted, "God is good!", and the thousands of others mixing the clay and water for the bricks gleefully shouted back, "All the time!".  

So is He or isn't He?  And before we say, "Of course, He is", let's rerun our lives, especially the times when it may have seemed He might not be so concerned with being good to us.  Then, while walking through a particularly dark valley, did we trust in the sovereign will of an almighty God, or did we doubt?  Did we wonder if He wasn't particularly fair?  Did we compare our tribulation to others and wonder why we seemed to be punished when someone who doesn't even know Him seems to float carefree through life?

Job's wife didn't believe in God's sovereignty and His ultimate good purposes for her husband.  After he lost virtually everything he had, including possessions and children and his own health, her words of encouragement were, "Why don't you just curse God and die!"  (How's that for a "help-meet"?)  Certainly behind her words were the thoughts that if this is how God doles out life, why bother?

How then do we make sense out of life when it seems to go south, when everything within us desires to go north?  How do we respond to tragedies that happen to the best of us when the worst of us seem to go through life without a hiccup?

Yes, God is good.  Yes, He is sovereign.  He is also omniscient (knows everything) and omnipotent (nothing can stop Him).  We are neither.  Nor are we eternal.  We are finite and limited.  But God is eternal, "from everlasting to everlasting", and can see and know everything that has not yet happened in my life.  He sees the "big picture".

On the other hand, I am none of the above.  I am limited in knowledge and ability.  I may think I know what's next, but in reality I not only don't know, my viewpoint is so little picture it's not even a pixel on His screen.  So, what I see as bad or unfair in the moment; what I see as the opposite of what I would do if I was God (!) is in itself an unfair judgment of Someone whose actions are beyond my grasp.

So, do you and I dare to judge God?  When our prayers are not answered in what we believe to be for our benefit and we complain or whine, aren't we really saying, "God, I know better than You.  You got this one wrong this time?"  Ultimately the whining and complaining, the doubting and second-guessing remove us from resting in His sovereign care.

Long ago a songwriter penned these words.  I sang them as a boy in church.  "'Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus".  Not just on the bright and shiny days, but especially in the dark and gloomy.  If I don't trust in His sovereign will I will not hold His hand through the valley of the shadow of death and I will not follow His lead.

Call it "blind faith" if you will, but I disagree.  Life's not always fair.  And when it's not, it isn't because God is an ogre.  We live with the consequences of a flawed nature and a flawed creation.  He didn't mess anything up.  And when things are "messed up" He is not obliged to give us a reason or the solution.  Don't judge God.  None of us wear that robe.

Rather, because He is God and we are not He deserves our trust always.  It is in the hardest of times, as Job demonstrated, that real faith is tested and found true.  Perhaps, too, in His loving kindness He will one day reveal how from start to finish He worked it all for our good. 

*Each day to help us grow together our church has a selected Bible reading. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Love is the Greatest Thing

 I told my wife the other day that every day with her is Valentines Day. 

She wasn’t impressed!

Tomorrow is that once-a-year celebration of love.  While we might celebrate, it’s the florists, Hallmark and Whitman’s that dance all the way to the bank.  But that’s OK.  The flowers, cards and chocolates are part of what makes it special.  Unless, of course you’re springing for bling…or expected to do so!

But I’m concerned that as Bon Jovi sang our culture has not only lost sight in many ways of what love is, but has given it “a bad name”.  Watch and listen to pop-culture and L-O-V-E is really L-U-S-T.  The idea of selfless sacrifice seems lost in wanting love to fulfill personal wants. 

On and on I could go.  But I won’t.  Instead, I’ll just quote from a passage in Scripture, quite poetic, that while often read at weddings isn’t about marriage.  But it is about love, and in its simplicity defines it as the highest of virtues.  So high in fact that Jesus told us we must love our enemies – perhaps life’s greatest challenge.

My greatest take from this explanation of love from someone who knew hatred so that he could experience the heights of love is that love is far beyond being a feeling.  Paul makes it clear that love is a verb.  Regardless of feelings, love does.

From the Contemporary English Bible, 1 Corinthians 13:1-8 and 13:

What if I could speak all languages of humans and of angels?
If I did not love others, I would be nothing more than a 
noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

What if I could prophesy and understand all secrets and all knowledge?
And what if I had faith that moved mountains?
I would be nothing, unless I loved others.

What if I gave away all that I owned and let myself be burned alive? I would gain nothing, unless I loved others.

Love is kind and patient, never jealous, boastful, proud, or rude.
Love isn’t selfish or quick tempered.
It doesn’t keep a record of wrongs that others do.

Love rejoices in the truth, but not in evil.
Love is always supportive, loyal, hopeful, and trusting.
Love never fails!

For now there are faith, hope, and love.
But of these three, the greatest is love.
On this Valentines Day and every day, let’s pursue the greatest in life.