Unending book!

“…the word of the Lord stands forever…” 1 Peter 1:25

As a new Christian I some older Christians challenged me to develop the habit of reading my Bible daily. I took up the challenge eagerly. About half way through reading the Bible cover to cover, I suddenly wondered “What am I going to do after I finish … there will be nothing left to read!”  I asked my Christian mentors and they said something like “You could read the Bible for a lifetime and not ‘scratch the surface.” At the time I did not believe them. But over the years I have found that there just is no other book like the Bible. In my 70 years of living I have found no  human being that would have written a philosophy for living to such a high standard. The Bible speaks from outside the human condition. I think that it was Martin Luther who said: “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.” I have found that the Bible creates a sense of God’s presence that forces a reaction in public places. I can lay a newspaper on my table in a Starbucks and no one gives me a second look. However, when I lay my Bible on the table I get looks. Some see the Bible and then stare as they walk by as if I am going to jump up and preach! So for the last 50 years I have worked on maintaining a daily reading schedule. The Bible is and will be the last word. ‘The Word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires. It exposes us to what we really are’ (Hebrews 4:12 NLT).

Change Your Position

When we were living in South Africa it was amazing to us to realize that not more than 20 years ago the level of communications available to us for calling back to the US was the stuff of Dick Tracy comics. Today we live in an age of unparalleled communication. In the “christian” world there is a plethora of information about Jesus. But have you noticed that so many people are still unclear about Jesus and what it means to follow Him? The message sounds garbled. Even the meaning of the word “christian” is garbled. And it is no wonder. We Christians keep providing the media with lots of dirt. Headlines are consistent: Pastoral moral failure, embezzlement, wrong Biblical interpretation on the date for the return of Christ, using number sequences to bring meaning to prophecy, the correct day to have church services, health and wealth doctrines, and the list goes on. We fight among ourselves to keep hold of our fortress of the truth.

Leighton Ford said in his Bible Study on Mark: “Sometimes I think we should stop using the term Christian. It carries a great deal of negative cultural baggage. In some societies everyone assumes they are Christians unless they happen to belong to some other religion. In other cultures “Christians” may be viewed as a political party – or even the ones lobbing the bombs. Perhaps it would be better if we simply talked about being followers of Jesus.

An old axiom says “It costs nothing to become a Christian but will cost everything to live as a Christian.” Becoming a Christian is a one-time decision. Living out that decision for the rest of our lives is a process involving daily choices. Jesus made that clear when He told the crowd: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” [Mark 8:34] He goes on to talk about the profit and loss of those daily choices we will experience.

Peter, when asked by Jesus who he thought the Son of Man might be answered: “You are the Christ.” This is an amazing statement for a Jewish man to make in that time and place. Does stating that make one a Christian? Some think so. Some would say that saying those words makes one a follower of Jesus. That claim is misleading. It misses an important part for becoming a follower of Jesus. Peter did not make that statement because it suddenly hit him that this was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” standing in front of him. Jesus made it clear to Peter and the other disciples that Peter did not come up with that revelation on his own. “… for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” [Mat 16:16-17] “For by grace have you been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” [Eph 2:8-9]

Immediately after Peter’s proclamation, Jesus goes on and tells the group about what choices He would be making as the Christ. He would be choosing to go to the hotbed of persecution … Jerusalem. He would be making the choice to suffer many things at the hands of the religious leaders. And finally He knew He would choose to place Himself in harm’s way by allowing mortal men to kill Him on a cross but rise on the third day. Peter, immediately upon hearing this news pulls Jesus aside to counsel Him, making a private proclamation. In so many words Peter told Jesus that He was making a critical error in choosing these things to happen. This was not good political strategy!

The rebuke that Peter and the other disciples got from Jesus was a shock to them. They were envisioning their country free from Roman tyranny; the things of men. Jesus wanted them to see a new vision; a land focused on the ways of God. The narrative of the blind man needing a second touch is the illustration that Jesus used to make His point. We all need a second touch to clarify our sight. We need to understand the Jesus’ destiny; the cross that Jesus headed to in order that we might be able to fulfill our destiny. We are image bearers if we have met the living Christ and not just made a verbal assent. Otherwise we are just political pawns in a world of darkness. Ask Jesus for a better understanding of His way; ask Him for a second touch.

Healing our wound…

“Unless the LORD Almighty had left us some survivors…” Isaiah 1:9

Yesterday’s headlined news story was a second day “in infamy” for our nation. The story was how we had a national day of mourning for the loss of life ten years ago, on our soil. All day the TV ran unfolding stories of the tragedy and heroism that occurred. Commentators compared 9-11 to Pearl Harbor. Aside from the surprise attack, these two events cannot be compared. The Pearl Harbor story has an ending with the total defeat of the Japanese empire and the totalitarian German government. We healing for the wound of Pearl Harbor in the victory of WW II. Pearl Harbor was avenged. But what about 9-11 … Where is the closure? Where is the victory? Sure we killed Bin Laden but we still have 100,000 spread out on various foreign soils being exposed to acts of deadly force. Peace has become elusive for us. The story of 9-11 is not ended.

Watching the news events unfold yesterday once again affirmed to me that we have lost our moorings as a nation. With a double mind we contemptuously throw God out of the public affairs and then ask for His protection and blessing in times of national need. We commit national fraud by denying Christian prayers or symbols in schools or government lands but then invoke the name of this same Christian God to help us heal. We watch our Presidents ask for God’s blessing today while tomorrow supporting laws that hinder His name being invoked in governmental sanctioned places. Are we insane? If this God whose name we keep invoking is real, then He is making the same assessment … that we are insane.  With our own flimsy resources we build wall and then white wash them. We cry peace but there is no peace. We reject this God’s authority so we can live as we please, seeking comfort and love without the truth. This is the stuff that fairy tales; we have become a nation believing in fairy tales.

But wait! We are just at the good part of the story. In every story there is a hero. This same Christian God is none other than the Hero Jesus Christ and His remnant in this rebellious nation who have not bended the knee to the god of rebellion. To many citizens, Jesus is a stone in their path that they trip over and kick out-of-the-way. But to the remnant this stone is the Rock. They have discovered that He alone is the Source of all comfort and love. They live by His Truth.

Yesterday was a day of mourning for us as a nation “under God.” Today, one day later, we move forward as a nation not under God, on a war footing with no peace in sight. God warrior saints; that is His remnant. This is a small band of Hero followers, equipped for victory. Gideon thought that he needed an army of 32,000 but his Commander ordered a reduction in arms. Gideon obeyed [it was an insane military move] and ended up with a force of 300 and that was enough. Gideon’s remnant received the  applause for success but it was the Hero who won the victory. Today there is a rag-tag remnant in our nation. They are obediently expanding the Kingdom of God in their own lives. The Hero’s prayer finds fulfillment as His people in the remnant learn obedience; others see the Hero and obey His call. The final victory is not in the weapons of war but in the salt and light of the remnant.

What I can take with me when I die!

They tell me that I cannot take anything with me when I die.  All of my possessions: my bank accounts, my stocks and bonds, my retirement funds,  my real estate, my cars, my toys, my furniture, my books, my art work … all of this stuff is left behind.  Once I am dead, I will lose control over every earthly possession that I call mine.  When I die my stuff becomes the property of others.  The people left behind get to do what they want, as they want, and when they want with my stuff.  It is plain for anyone to see “…that even the wise die; the fool and the stupid alike must perish and leave their wealth to others.”

It is apparent that I have no control on my stuff.  It is also apparent that I have no control on my life.  I am exactly one heartbeat away from eternity.  I can do nothing that will absolutely control the length of my duration here on earth.  In the Bible God tells people that when He decides to:”…take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.”  One of the wisest men in the world said after years of study that there is “…a time to be born and a time to die…”

If I am buried in a cemetery plot with a headstone, who cares?  Who is going to visit?  The next  generation in my family line will not visit because they [1] will not have time and [2] I am not there so what is the point?  Headstones do not carry on conversations!  They are cold and impersonal.

They tell me that I cannot take anything with me when I die.  If this life is all there is then we are more miserable than any animal.  Jesus said “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”  It is true; there is nothing tangible that I can take with me. But I can add to the inheritance that Jesus has provided me. Those people that I have taken the time to introduce to the Lord Jesus; those people that I have mentored walked the road with; those who have decided to follow Jesus because of my walk and talk … they are the inheritance I am building.  “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” 

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ps%2049:10&version=NIV

When God rejoices…

Are there angels around us watching us work out our salvation?  When we get it right and follow the Lord in faith do they rejoice with singing?  Consider:  Zephaniah 3:17 The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”

I am finding that God has made life quite simple.  When Jesus said that even a little child can understand salvation, it is true.  Life is made up of a series of choices.  The choices come to us in pairs.  The follower of Christ is not faced with multiple choice but a choice of ‘either’ ‘or.’  That is what makes it so simple.  When I find myself in a situation I have the opportunity to put feet to my claims of trusting in the Lord.  I will do one of two things.  Either I can choose my prideful way or I will live by faith.

Choosing to live by faith means that I am going to choose to trust in, rely on and adhere to the Lord Jesus Christ.  By faith I am going to rejoice in the fact that God has plans for me because He takes great delight in me.  Choosing to go my own prideful way will cause me to view the circumstance from my perspective.  I immediately start the process of trying to sort out how to maybe avoid this altogether; or how to escape; or start trying to find the resources I can use; or trying to find any resources that might work; or just try to blame someone and become the ‘victim.’

Making the choice to live in faith or to live outside faith is difficult at first.  Choosing to trust God works like this.  I find myself in a circumstance that seems to be unbearable.  I make the choice to trust God.  I choose to believe God that He is not planning to harm me.  Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” In the face of all that is surrounding me, I choose to acknowledge that God is going to do what He says and give me hope by building my faith.  This could be through the loss of someone or the loss of my dreams or the loss of a job or the loss of my health or intense marital issues.  It matter not what the situation turns out to be each of us.  What matters is that I fix my eyes on Jesus.  He promises me a future.  He promises me He will quiet my troubled heart with His love…but I have to let go of my hearts’ desires.

The problem is as old as the human race.  Even though God created us we still think that we know better.  We think that God is not listening.  We think that God does not care about me…that I am too insignificant or not good enough.  These are all lies from the Accuser.  We fail to see things from God’s perspective.  We fail to lift our eyes and by faith hear God rejoicing with the angels when we grasp His ways.

Think about this quote from George MacDonald:  “Those who think their affairs too insignificant for God’s regard, will justify themselves in lying crushed under their seeming ruin.  Either we live in the heart of an eternal thought, or we are the product and sport of that which is lower than we.” Read that quote again.  Are you being the product and sport of that which is lower than you are?  Do you know who is lower than you are?