WHICH HAD YOU RATHER BE?

There is no question that Jesus was the worlds greatest story teller.  He told stories about ordinary people dealing with ordinary problems and challenges of life and in the stories taught us about the kingdom of the Lord and how to live for him.  One of my favorite of the stories of Jesus is a rather short one found in Luke 18:9-14.  Luke introduces the story like this: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt.”  Knowing the background and the audience to which Jesus pointed the story helps us see the point of it even more clearly.  Think about the two people who were the actors in his story. One was a Pharisee and thus from the highly respected religious class of the day.  The word Pharisee means separate and shows the character of these people in that they tended to separate themselves from others whom they considered less righteous and less scriptural in their thinking.  In our time we would likely refer to these people as the religious conservatives.  They were sure that the Bible they had was right and that they had a true handle on how to interpret those Scriptures.  The other person Jesus mentioned was a tax collector and this was a class of people who were looked down on by society in the whole Jewish world.  They were regarded as traitors to their people who worked for the Romans and were usually seen as being dishonest as well and probably as thieves.  You would naturally expect if a story was told of these two people then the hero would be the Pharisee and the culprit the tax collector.  But Jesus stories seldom went the way people expected.

Here is the story: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus:  ‘God, I think you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’  But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

What did Jesus want us to learn from this story?  No doubt he intended it to be a shock to the crowd.  Pharisees were the spiritual elites.  They were the leaders whom people listened to, imitated and sought out their advise.  But Jesus longed to get us to see that a religion that leads us to arrogance is a false religion and our faith is more in ourselves than in God who saves.  Our faith should never lead to feelings of superiority where we think we are better than other people around us.  Instead our faith should lead us to be more aware all the time of our own sins and failures and how amazing God’s grace really is that he would save someone with all the problems and sins that we have.  Every time a person begins thinking that they are really good, righteous and exemplary in their faith and service to God it leads to treating others with contempt.  So, today, because of stories like this and other encounters Jesus had with the Pharisees, these religious leaders that were so highly respected then are seen as nothing but hypocrites.  One of the worst insults you can use is to call a person a Pharisee.

Notice how the man spoke even to God.  He stood, praying to God, about how thankful he was that he wasn’t like other men.  He wasn’t an extortioners.  Likely he was thinking, “Like this tax collector.”  I’m not unjust, or an adulterer.  Then he really became clear in his thoughts, “I’m not like this tax collector.”  You can visualize the poor tax collector standing off by himself, hearing this religious teacher praying and feeling all the more down on yourself as a sinner.  It is always a dangerous thing when we use our prayers as a forum to tell God and the world how great we are.  Too often we stop making our pleas to The God of the Universe and began making speeches to him or more likely to the the people who can hear us.  In such prayers we use the mode of prayer to preach to the crowd rather than appeal to God.

Why would anyone begin to think of themselves as being better than others and even one that God should respect for how good we really are?  Look at his reasoning.  “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”  So his fasting and giving were the positive points he had to offer to show that he was superior to others in faith.   What is the purpose of fasting anyway?  Fasting was taught by God through the years as a way to give complete focus on God and his will for our lives.  Jesus warned us when we fast to not look like we are fasting and not to go around announcing our fasting to others.  Look and act as though nothing is happening so that your doing without is between you and God, not some bragging point for you.  When fasting becomes a means of comparison to others of faith it is being abused and doing far more harm than good.

God also always taught people to give to the Lord.  The tithe typically had to do with giving ten percent of our income to the Lord.  He declared that he paid tithes of all that he had.  On another occasion when Jesus was talking to Pharisees and other religious leaders among the Jews he said, “Woe unto you scribes, Pharisees and hypocrites for you pay tithes of mint, and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faithfulness.  These you ought to have done, without leaving the other undone.  You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel “(Matthew 23:23-24).  Both giving and fasting should draw us closer to God, should show appreciation to God for his blessings and acknowledge that all things come from him.  But when they become matters to brag about they are completely off the chart of what God asked of us.  So the Pharisee informed God and the world how great he was and that wasn’t very great at all.

The tax collector reacted to God in the very opposite way.  He felt deeply his guilt.  He couldn’t even raise his eyes to God but beat his chest praying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”  He didn’t claim any merit.  He didn’t see God as owing him anything.  He was instead overwhelmed at the thought that God could love and show grace to him in spite of the sin and failure in his life.  The world would likely have looked on the Pharisee and thought how great he was and went away admiring him while looking at the tax collector with contempt, wondering how he could even bear to come into the house of God and offer up prayers or giving to him.

Jesus gave his clear assessment.  “This man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.  For everyone that exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”  We might think that it is hard to impress God. We can’t give him anything he needs.  We can’t tell him anything he doesn’t know.  We can’t show him anything he hasn’t seen many times before.  So to exalt ourselves in his presence is one of the most foolish and ridiculous acts we can ever imagine doing.  What does touch and move the heart of God?  When we humbly cry out to him for mercy and declare our unworthiness, he hears and answers us.  As a matter of faith, when we humble ourselves God exalts us but when we exalt ourselves he will humble us.

Maybe we should take a long, hard look at who we admire and who we look down on with contempt in life.  We may find that we are honoring ones God holds in contempt and showing contempt toward those whom God exalts and honors in this world and the one to come.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A FOLLOWER

Are you a follower?  In our day most would certainly need to respond that they are followers since they follow hundreds of different people on social media.  But you could easily turn around and discuss how many people are following you.  The truth is we may both be following hundreds of people we don’t really know and have hundreds who follow us that we wouldn’t know if they walked into the room.  Imagine reading Jesus commands to “Follow me” in light of all the ways we discuss following someone in our time.  Would his command fit at all with how we use the word today?  I don’t think we would see it the same way.

Jesus was making a huge challenge to everyone who considered discipleship with him.  If  you think of him calling people to become fishers of men who had been fishing for fish it was a massive change involved.  Imagine Peter and Andrew, James and John all out on the Sea of Galilee.  It started with the use of Peter’s boat as a teaching platform.  Peter and likely Andrew had fished all night without catching a single fish.  Then Jesus borrowed the boat to talk with the people.  After his sermon he told Peter to cast out into the deep where he could get a catch of fish.  Peter launched out into the deep water saying he had fished all night and caught nothing, “Nevertheless, when Peter put out his nets they became so full of fish he was having trouble getting them back into the boat.  When Peter realized what had happened he fell before Jesus in the bow of the boat among all the fish saying. “Depart from me Lord for I am a sinful man.”  Jesus said to him and Andrew and later to James and John, “Follow me and I will make you to become fishers of men.”  Later he was beside the Sea of Galilee where Matthew had his tax office.  As he was sitting among the people collecting the taxes Jesus challenged him to follow him.  He left the tax table and prepared a great feast for Jesus, inviting all his tax collector friends.  When he was criticized by the religious leaders for eating with these tax collectors and sinners Jesus responded, “It is not the healthy that need a physician but those who are sick.  He challenged them by pointing out that you can’t put new wine into old wineskins or a new patch on an old garment or the new wine will begin to expand and burst the wineskins or the patch will draw up and tear way from the old garment.  His teaching and actions wouldn’t fit the wineskins of the Old Law or the attitudes of the religious leaders of the time.

Imagine what would have entered the mind of Peter, Andrew, James, John and Matthew when they heard the charge from Jesus to “Follow me.”  Would they have thought this to be some casual following that meant to check up every few weeks to see what he had posted on Facebook?  Would they have seen his request as a small change that wouldn’t affect their life very much?  I think it would have been miles from such an attitude.  They knew this rabbi was calling them to a totally changed life.  They knew they were changing their whole way of thinking and acting in the world.  They were leaving behind family, friends, neighbors and setting out on a mission that would change their whole lives.

In Luke 9:57-62 there is a great discussion of following Jesus.  “As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead.  But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’  Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Think of each of these for a moment.  The first obviously was ready to make a commitment without understanding the depth of the commitment.  He would follow Jesus everywhere.  But Jesus didn’t want anyone making a strong commitment to him who didn’t know what he was saying.  So, he made it clear that following him involved a strong commitment.  It meant living without many of the conveniences of life.  It meant putting him ahead of other things of life.  It often meant going where there wasn’t a comfortable house or bed or even a good meal to share.

Jesus turned to the second to say “Follow me.”  He obviously saw in the man a great potential to serve him and be with him.  The very fact he challenged him to follow him probably means he felt he was ready to turn his back on the world and the pull of the world and set out as one of the apostles to follow him.  But he needed to do something first.  “Let me first go and bury my father.”  Most likely this was a case of a dad who had died some months earlier and they were waiting for the time they could dig him up and retrieve the bones to put them into an ossuary to preserve the bones.  So when Jesus said, “Let the dead bury the dead, but you follow me” it wasn’t the idea that he couldn’t take off for a few hours for the burial of his father.  It was the notion of waiting for a year or so after his death to dig up the bones to rebury them.  Following Jesus was never intended to be something one did when he got around to it.  It was the priority of life.  “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.”

The third man was ready to follow but needed to go tell the family good bye.  It was a delay.  It was a loss of priority.  It was like trying to hire someone for a job and them saying how anxious they are to work for you but can they wait for three months while they take a trip with their family.  Jesus response was to tell him he missed it altogether.  One who puts their hand to the plough and looks back isn’t fit for the kingdom.

When Jesus calls us to follow him it is huge.  He is calling us for a life, a passion and a mission.  He is calling us to take on his image.  We have no idea how Jesus looked physically.  But we can take on his image in love, in compassion, in grace and kindness.  We can care about people the way he does and always see in people possibilities they don’t see for themselves.  The world needs tons of people who are like Jesus, who follow him in everything.  Are you ready to follow him?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

HIS TOMB IS EMPTY

It is odd to read the story of Jesus being crucified even though he was innocent of any crimes.  He was tempted in every way like we are, yet never gave in to the temptation and was never guilty of a single sin.  Even when the religious leaders tried their hardest to come up with something he had done wrong, they couldn’t get the witnesses against him to agree about anything he had done wrong.  But that didn’t matter.  He didn’t fit their image of what the Messiah was supposed to be like.  So, they led him to Pilate the Roman Governor to be tried.  There the charges against him seem to float off in every direction.   He realized it was because of envy that they had delivered him.  But, when they shouted that he made himself a king instead of Caesar, it became obvious to Pilate he had to deal with the charges or it would cause him problems.  Even with his wife pleading with him to have nothing to do with this just man because she had suffered many things that night about him in a dream, Pilate knew he couldn’t risk having someone else claiming to be king instead of Caesar.  When he asked Jesus about being king, Jesus had explained that his kingdom wasn’t from this world and that if it was his servants would fight but his kingdom was a spiritual kingdom, in no conflict with Caesar.  Still Pilate felt pressed into the corner and came out with Jesus having been scourged by the soldiers.  They had placed a crown of thorns on his head, put a reed in his hand and mocked him, bowing before him, hitting him over the head saying if he was the Christ then tell who had hit him.  Now he was ready to be crucified.  They marched him through the streets with the cross beam on his back and Simon carrying the rest of the cross.  When they reached Golgotha they nailed him to the cross and hung him between two thieves.  For about six hours he hung on the cross, agonizing as he took each breath.  Finally, he declared “It is finished” and yielded up his spirit and died.

Joseph of Arimathea asked for his body and prepared it for burial.  He along with Nicodemus who came to Jesus by night buried Jesus body in a new tomb that had been prepared for Joseph.  The religious leaders went to Pilate asking for guards to be placed outside the tomb to make certain the disciples didn’t come and steal the body, pretending he had been raised from the dead.  They sealed the rock to the entrance of the tomb and placed guards outside to make certain there was no escape.  Early on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and some of the other women came to the tomb intending to anoint the body with spices and prepare it better for burial.  As they were approaching the tomb they began to ask each other what they would do to get the stone over the entrance rolled away so they could take care of the body.  It was a heavy stone and they knew they weren’t strong enough to move it.  But when they arrived the stone was rolled away, the tomb was empty.  Instead of the body of Jesus there were angels there telling them, “He is not here.  He is risen and gone before the disciples into Galilee as he promised.”  When they rushed back to where the apostles were hiding for fear of the Jews, to tell them he had been raised, they didn’t believe them.  Peter and John ran to the tomb to check it out for themselves, but they too found the tomb empty.

Later that day two disciples were on their way to Emmaus when Jesus joined them.  God had closed their eyes to who Jesus was, so that they didn’t recognize him.  As they walked along they were bemoaning what had happened to Jesus.  Jesus asked them what they were groaning about.  They told of Jesus the prophet whom they had believed was the messiah but the religious leaders had him crucified.  Now some of the women had said he was raised from the dead and when two of the disciples went to the tomb they too found it empty and they couldn’t understand it all.  Jesus explained to them how the Scripture had to be fulfilled and it was in God’s plan always that the Savior would die for the sins of the world.  It wasn’t until they reached Emmaus and sat down to eat with Jesus and he took bread, broke it and gave thanks to God for it that they recognized him in the breaking of the bread.  He disappeared from them and they talked about how their hearts had burned within them as he explained to them to Scriptures.  They rushed back to the city to tell the other disciples what had happened.  There Jesus appeared to the whole group and showed them the scars in his hands and feet to help them know he had truly been raised from the dead.  Even Thomas who had declared he wouldn’t believe unless he could put his hands into Jesus side and see the print of the nails in his hands, saw and believed, declaring to him, “My Lord and My God.”

Why does it matter so much whether Jesus was really raised from the dead or not?  Because it is in the resurrection from the dead that he conquered Satan.  He went down into death with Satan and if the devil could maintain him as dead, he won.  Sin has no cure and we are all doomed.  It is the resurrection of Jesus that gives us hope.  It shows the power of God and good over Satan, sin and death.  It is by the resurrection of Jesus that God’s power is demonstrated.  In Romans 1:4 it says that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.  When Paul prayed for us to know the amazing power of God that is available in our lives in Ephesians 1:14-22 he said it was the power God demonstrated when he raised Jesus from the dead and seated him at his own right hand in the heavenly realms.  The resurrection of Jesus gives us hope for the future.  In I Corinthians 15 Paul laid out the gospel as being centered in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.  He said, “If in this life only we have hope we are of all people most to be pitied.”  Then he said he had been raised from the dead and appeared to many different people including over 500 brothers at one time, most of whom were still alive when he wrote that letter. The resurrection of Jesus is the guarantee that we too will be raised from the dead.  In I Corinthians 15:20-28 he said, “As in Adam, all die even so in Christ will all be made alive, but each in his own order.  Christ the first fruits, afterward those who belong to Christ when he comes again.  When we are baptized we reenact the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus from the dead (Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12).  In Colossians 3:1-4 Paul wrote “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

The resurrection is far more than just a holiday that we are to remember one time a year.  It is more than hunting eggs and dressing up for church services.  The resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of Christianity itself.  Without it we only have a great teacher in Jesus who died an awful death he didn’t deserve.  The resurrection makes it all come together as God’s plan put into effect that offers salvation to all people.  In I John 3:1-3 it says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.  There reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.  And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”  When we meet Jesus in his second coming we will be made like him in his resurrection from the dead.  Amazing!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

STEADY AS SHE GOES

Do you remember when you were learning to drive?  Now, for some of us it has been a long time and we can far more easily remember what it was like to teach our children or perhaps even grandchildren to drive than to remember learning ourselves.  I remember working with one of our granddaughters as she was first learning and as we were going around a curve meeting several cars I said to her, “Steady as she goes” and having her say back quickly, “What does that mean, Papa?”  At first I laughed about the whole phrase and tried to explain, it was a phrase I had picked up from my dad and probably used by him in teaching me to drive either a car or some kind of farm equipment.

Far more than was the case when my dad used the phrase to me, we live in a time when we need the message, “Steady as she goes.”  The idea behind it is that we are in a time of stress, frustration and waves seem to be crushing against us all the time.  In such an environment we need a steady hand that refuses to be blown about by all the waves.  There are days when I think I just don’t think I can watch the news or hear more about what is going on around the world today.  It often seems that every where you look things are either falling apart or going through massive changes all the time.

When Paul wrote to leaders in the church in Ephesians 4:11-16 he noted that Christ had ascended on high and given gifts to people.  He gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists and some pastors and teachers.  But notice what he said was the purpose of giving these gifts.  It is for the equipping of the saints, for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ.  He said it should go on until we all reach the unity of the faith, the knowledge of the Son of God and maturity in him, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.  “So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is head, into Christ.”  Spiritually, it is part of life for the waves to beat against us.  But God’s longing is for us to be steady as we go.  He wants us to grow up into Christ so that we aren’t blown about by every foolish teaching that comes along.  There was never been a time in history when people had so much access to information and crazy ideas as they do today.  Anyone can get on the internet and espouse any silly notion, no matter how ridiculous it may be and some will believe it is true and must be followed.  How can we have the steady life that isn’t blown about all the time?

Notice God’s answer to growing is to equip each person to serve or minister in the body of Christ so that the whole body grows and is built up in faith.  You can’t grow stronger and more steady in commitment to God while not doing anything.  To grow you must serve.  Second, to grow one must share the message of Jesus with others.  We must speak the truth in love so that we may grow up into him who is heads even Christ.  Far too many are blown away from God because they can never find their voice to share the story of Jesus with others.  It is necessary to speak! Then one must speak the truth!  Finally they must speak the truth in love!  If either of those elements are left out the result is we never grow up in Jesus.

Lay alongside this point another verse from Paul to a different group of people.  In the Book of I Corinthians chapter 15 and verse 58 Paul closes his discussion on the subject of the resurrection from the dead.  Some in the church in Corinth had somehow reached the conclusion that when one dies they are just dead and that is the end of it all.  Paul pointed out if there is no resurrection then Christ isn’t raised and we are still in our sins. There is no gospel or good news without the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  If in this life only we have hope we are of all people most to be pitied.  He said that just as in Adam all people die, so in Christ all will be made alive.  Everyone who lives will die and every person who dies will be raised from the dead.  What happens then to a person is determined by their life and relationship with the Lord while they were alive before their death.  It is in light of the resurrection that Paul wrote this final verse of that section.  “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

Notice, if you take away the resurrection from the dead, then our labor would be in vain or useless in Jesus.  Things aren’t made right until eternity is placed in the mix.  Because of what happens when we are raised from the dead and our being rewarded for the life for the Lord, we must be steadfast, immovable and always abounding in the Lord’s work.  We aren’t changed or blown away by life and circumstances.  Instead, in the midst of trials, troubles, temptations and every wind that Satan can cause to blow our way, we continue on a steady as she goes course of living for the Lord.

Look around you.  Think of people you know or maybe even the person you are.  So many people are up and down, thrown here and there to the degree you never know what they will be like the next time you see them.  One day they are on top of the world with everything going right.  The next time you see them everything is awful.  Life has turned over on them.  God calls us to get off the spiritual roller coaster and get on a steady course for him.  Imagine being a husband or wife and never knowing which person will come home at the end of the day.  Will it be the happy person who loves life or will it be one who has blown up today, who is angry at life and discouraged with the world?  It is near impossible to have a full and abundant life when you live with someone who is blown from one side to the other with every wind that comes along.  Get on a steady course and grow up for God.  It will bring fullness and peace to your life and a glorious future with him.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

WHY IS THIS HAPPENING

It seems strange when we stand back from a distance and look at our own reactions to the blessings and difficulties of life.  What is it about us that can so easily see why the blessings and benefits of life would come our way that we can rejoice and think that is just natural that such good things would happen to us?  But when things go in the other direction and everything seems to be going wrong, for some reason we can’t understand that.  Our minds rush to the question, “Why is this happening to me?”  Many times we will go on to say, “I’ve been living right, been a good Christian and staying out of trouble, so why would God allow all these bad things to happen in my life?  You would think that there would surely be times when we would in amazement look at all the blessings of life coming our way and say, “Why would such good things happen in my life when I am doing so many things wrong or failing to do so many of the right and good things I know the Lord wants me to do?”  But, even when we know we aren’t living right we tend to see the good things that we are doing and emphasize those while overlooking the things that aren’t good so that it feels like we deserve the blessings all the time.

Why do bad things happen to people who are trying hard to do right and please God?  It can happen in all kinds of ways.  Sometimes it seems that the people who deal with sickness and death more than anyone else are those who are trying hard to live a life faithful to the Lord.  Time and again I’ve been with parents who not only try hard to live right themselves but have made it a habit to teach their children the right way of the Lord.  They took very seriously the command of the Lord to not provoke their children to wrath but bring them up in the training and discipline of the Lord.  Yet as their children began to grow up they intentionally turned away from the things that God would have them do and have gone off in their own way.  Over and over I’ve listened as parents cried and prayed to God wondering why this would have happened to them and their children.  Perhaps the thing that has hurt more than any other is to see the person who has tried hard to be a faithful husband or wife, working as loyally to God and their mate as they knew how to do, only to see their marriage disintegrate before their eyes.  What is even more puzzling is when both the husband and wife are trying to live right and be true to the Lord and their marriage partner, only to see their marriage falter and fall apart.  Why would such a thing happen?  Why doesn’t the Lord save such marriages and bring peace, joy and fulfillment to their marriages?

In the Old Testament we read the story of Hosea the prophet who was a faithful and loving husband, but his wife gave herself to prostitution and went after her lovers, even though it led away from her husband, their children and a good life together.  In her prostitution she didn’t even have enough food to eat and Hosea sent food to her while she was living unfaithfully to him.  Job’s family fell apart even though he was the most righteous man in the east.  When his children all died his wife became discouraged and bitter and encouraged him to curse God and die.  The truth is that a couple can drift apart in marriage even while both are trying hard to live a devoted life to God.  It would be wonderful if they would always realize what is happening soon enough to turn things around and rebuild the relationship that God wants us to have in marriage, but it doesn’t always work that way.

In many ways it seems to me that the hardest battles fought by the Christian as far as things going wrong in life, are with emotional and mental issues, so that they look healthy and sometimes even sound healthy but they are torn apart on the inside.  While it may seem that they are doing fine and everything is as it should be, they feel torn apart by depression, fear, disappointment, destress, despair, regrets and overwhelming guilt.  You might meet them and see a glowing smile and feel a hearty handshake or hug.  What you can’t see is that down deep inside they are going through a fierce battle.  In the middle of the crowd they feel so alone that it seems to them that they have been abandoned by the whole world and God with them.

Why do we go through such times?  Why would a Christian struggle with such mental and emotional anguish?  Does it mean our lives aren’t right with God?  Listen to the words of Hebrews 5:7-10:  “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.  Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.  And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.”  Jesus never did anything wrong.  He is the perfect human being.  Yet in the flesh he struggled, he cried out to God in anguish and tears.  When the gospel writers tell the story of Jesus praying in Gethsemane it is with him on his face and sweat as great drops of blood coming from his body and he agonized with God in prayer.  It is a horrible time with him anticipating the agony of the cross, when he would take on the sins of the world and pay the price for our sins to be forgiven with his own blood.  Yet he was being made perfect as our savior through the suffering.   Through such suffering he learned obedience and became the source of eternal life to all those who obey him.

Troubles, sickness, pain, hurts, agony, distress are all hard, especially when it is us who are going through them.  But there are blessings from God and lessons God wants us to learn that can only be learned by us in the middle of tough times.  Just as one can’t build muscles sitting around watching videos, so one can’t learn endurance for God sitting on a comfortable pew.  It often requires some suffering.  In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 Paul wrote, “So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

WALKING BY GRACE

One of God’s favorite words, it seems to me, is the word “Walk”.  If one simply made a list of all the ways God challenges us to walk in the Bible is would require a great deal of space.  Many of these would be repetitive in that God often tells us to “Walk by faith” or “Walk in love”.  Just in the Book of Ephesians he said we are created in Christ Jesus to walk in good works, walk in a manner worthy of our calling which involved an attitude and teaching that produced unity, to not walk as the Gentiles in futility of the mind, and to walk in love, in wisdom and in light.  Always the idea is that these are to be a way of life and some translations change most of the uses of “walk” to “live”.

I want to focus on one that isn’t specifically commanded as a way to walk but is taught in multiple ways and that is walk in grace.  There are at least two ways we desperately need to walk in grace in our efforts to be pleasing to God.  The first is with regard to our relationship with God.  There is no question that God wants us as his children to live in confidence of our salvation and relationship with Him.  The primary theme of the Book of I John is on how we can know that we are right with the Lord.  John actually offered many ways for one to know they are right with God and ready to face him in judgment.  He said, “By this we can know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.”  He also declared that we could know by the Holy Spirit that is within us.  He noted that if we walk in the the light of God he will keep us clean so we can be sure of our relationship with him.  He even mentioned that our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ demonstrated our being right with God and if we claim to know him and don’t love our brothers and sisters we aren’t really right with him at all.  One of the best examples of this confidence in our relationship with the Lord is Paul as he discusses his impending death in 2 Timothy 4:6-8. He said the that the time of his departure was near.  He had fought the good fight, kept the faith and finished the course, therefore the crown of righteousness is laid up for him and not to him only, but to all those who love his appearing.  Earlier he had said, “I know him in whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep what he has committed to me against that day.”

God wants us all to know we are right with him.  Yet it is extremely common to meet people who are trying all the time to live right and please God who have no real confidence in their own salvation.  Why is that the case?  Usually it isn’t any lack of faith or love for God.  Instead it is because they have accepted the notion that I must somehow deserve salvation and heaven if I’m to be accepted in when this life is over.  Now it is tragic when a person believes they are right with God when they aren’t living right at all.  Jesus pictured those in Matthew 7:21-23 as saying “Lord, Lord have we not prophesied in your name, in your name cast out demons and in your name done many wonderful works and then the Lord tells them, “I never knew you.”  He said that it wasn’t those who said to him “Lord, Lord” but those who “Do the will of my father in heaven” who would be saved. As long as we depend on our own ability to do right and live up to God’s will in everything to have confidence in our salvation we will not have any real confidence.  Our confidence needs to be in God and His grace, love and kindness through which we are saved, not in ourselves.  If I could earn my way into glory I wouldn’t need grace or forgiveness or the blood of Christ constantly cleansing me of my sins.  We are saved by grace, through faith and that not of ourselves.  God’s grace doesn’t simply bring us to the point of salvation and leave us there to make it from there to glory on our own.  Think of Jesus working with the twelve all through his ministry.  They were failing him from day one to the day he ascended to the father.  But his love and grace continued with them all the way.  It does with us as well.  Our challenge is to be faithful even to dying for the Lord, not be perfect and never mess us.

The Second part of walking in grace is in our relationships with other people.  If I demand of myself complete perfection to be right with God, I will do exactly the same with everyone else.  If I know I’m saved by grace I tend to demonstrate the same grace to others.  People who are hard on themselves are hard on others and people who realize grace makes the way tend to be graceful to others.  One of the worst tragedies among followers of Christ is when we see God as hard, judgmental and difficult to please, we become like that ourselves.  But if we see God as merciful, full of grace and kindness toward us we tend to have the same heart toward others.  Paul challenged the Ephesians to “Be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another even as God for Christ sake has forgiven you.”  If you walk in grace toward others you look for the good things in their life and ways to encourage and build them up in their service to God.  There are all kinds of people out there ready to tear us down and tell us what all is wrong with us.  The world needs people of grace who love us and reach out with compassion toward us no matter what we have done or what has happened to us.  Jesus demonstrated just such a heart when he came as the friend of tax collectors and sinners.  He came to help the sick and hurting not the healthy.  If I walk in his footsteps I will be that person who loves the failure, the hurting and the struggling and not just those who seem to have it all together in life.  Walk in grace and see the difference God can make in others lives through you.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

WHAT WE SEE

Isn’t it amazing how our thoughts about a person, group of people or even a team affects how we see the things done by that person, group or team?  Think about how we react when different children are being particularly loud in a public place.  If it is my great grand children then I’m sure everyone will enjoy whatever cute and sweet things they say or do.  But if it is some stranger’s kids, I sometimes wonder what they are thinking when they just sit there and allow their children to go wild.  There may not be any difference between the actions or even the volume of noise going on.  The difference is in how I see the children.

I was watching the Arkansas – Kentucky basketball game after church yesterday afternoon.  Of course it was frustrating to see Kentucky run away with the game and when the Arkansas boys became so frustrated that they misbehaved near the end of the game it was very understandable to me, even though I wished they hadn’t done so.  But when the goofy announcer kept on going and going about their behavior and it being a reflection of the team, the coach and their training, it wasn’t the team that bothered me nearly as much as it was the announcer, whose bias was showing all over the place.

The thing about how we see things and it relating to our feelings about the people involved, is that it isn’t limited to a few aspects of life.  It runs right through our lives and even when we try to be unprejudiced and see everything fairly, it will still shine through to the degree that others may be amused at what they observe in us.

Think about an incident described by the Apostle Paul in the Book of Philippians.  Paul was writing this church that he loved dearly and had a very special relationship with, from a Roman prison where his only crime was preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.  It had started back in Jerusalem where Jews that despised the gospel of Jesus had him arrested.  After spending three years in jail at Caesarea he had appealed to Caesar to keep from going back to Jerusalem to appear before the Jewish leaders.  It had been a tough trip from Caesarea to Rome involving a huge storm and shipwreck that had destroyed the ship but didn’t have any loss of life.  Inside the Roman prison Paul writes the people who had raised money to send to the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.  Notice what he said beginning in verse 12 of chapter one.  “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.  And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”

I would certainly think that the people in Philippi saw Paul’s being thrown into prison first in Caesarea and then Rome as a major tragedy.  Why would such a good, godly man who was intent on preaching the good news of Jesus to the world, be thrown into prison?  They likely knew many who had committed real crimes but who had never gone to prison for a single day.  Yet here was Paul the man of God and preacher of righteousness who was behind bars for carrying a liberal contribution back to his home town to help the poor among the saints of God’s people.  Yet, it is Paul the prisoner who they felt was being treated unfairly, who was writing this letter to them to encourage them.  He wanted them to know that instead of this being a tragedy, it was really turning out to be a great thing.  Many of those who had met Paul were searching for the truth of the good news of Jesus.  They wanted someone among the Converts to Christ to tell them this story of grace that was being preached in the name of Jesus to the world.  Paul may well have been the first person they had met who was a true believer in Jesus and they looked to him to learn what it all really meant.

Notice the two ways that him imprisonment had turned out to be a blessing while others were thinking it was a curse.  First, many of those in Caesar’s household had been able to hear the gospel for the first time and had given their lives to Jesus.  Right here in the very place where Paul would be stating the message of good news.  Some of those in Caesar’s family had given their lives to Jesus.  That was amazing.  Here in the palace among the people that would have him put to death by an unstable ruler, stood Christians, saints in Caesar’s household.  So the fact converts to Jesus had been made was reason enough to say that something good was happening.  Second, he said “And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.  Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.  The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.  What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”

Would you have considered imprisonment in Rome a blessing?  What if you saw some give their lives to Jesus because of your witness?  What if you heard that some people you loved were now preaching that had before been unwilling before you were arrested?  What if you heard of some people who had always opposed you were now preaching Jesus and you knew it was out of envy and jealousy?  It is difficult to say how we would react.  I hope I could say with Paul, that things had turned out for good.  But it would have been a huge challenge to feel good about those preaching who simply wanted to add to my affliction in jail.  It demonstrates that much of how we see things either for good or bad, is determined by our attitude.  I long for that kind of attitude shown by Paul here.  I hope you do to and maybe together we can get there.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment