Firmly

I heard someone say recently “Really, I am telling you the truth!” If you read your Bible you find that Jesus has said the same thing to us more than once. For example, one of his disciple records Jesus saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” [John 5:24] Let’s look more closely at what Jesus is saying.

There is only one thing in this world that is truly trustworthy; Jesus’ words. They are not changeable but are a firm foundation for our lives. Jesus is the “amen” to all conversation. “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this …” [Revelation_3:14] Jesus is prefacing His promise announcing His authority and character. Jesus never wore a mask. What the disciples heard and saw was the real deal. And God superintended that they were faithful in relaying His words on to us. When it comes to matters of salvation, God wants us to understand that attempting to bring our carnal and fall-twisted reasoning into the discussion is a ship wreck waiting to happen. When it comes to salvation, our reasoning can never reach a final conclusion with certainty. Just think about that for a minute. Outside of Jesus, there is no assurance of salvation, We base everything devised in religion on limited faculties about the subject of eternity and our real condition before God. If we are honest with ourselves, no matter how we craft our arguments in our minds, we can never be sure that we have reached a correct conclusion in all cases.

Jesus wants us to hear him clearly. “I am going to relate to you in a systematic way.” In other words, I am the One who is speaking to you now, whom you have been actively resisting, rejecting and seeking to cut from your life. Jesus is saying: ‘Listen to Me and understand.’ Jesus wants us to understand that He is the sum and substance of what He says. Do not make the mistake of just listening with only the external ears that God gave you but also listen internally, with your soul. That is where life begins. It is only when we listen with the soul that Holy Spirit can enable us to distinguish what is truth from Sovereign God and what are lies from the many deceiving gods.

Jesus wants us to listen not only to His words but try to understand.If you only look for the bling and bang of miracles, then you will miss His intentions for you. There are two types of hearing: speculative and experiential. We can listen and speculate about the pros and cons of Jesus statement. Or we can choose to take them to heart, and then actively trust Jesus that He is telling us the truth and act on them as truth. When we act on what God says we discover He really is telling the Truth. The constant question before us is simply this: Do I entrust my spiritual well-being to Jesus? We learn and relearn three basic things in the Christian life: to trust in, rely on, and adhere to the Lord Jesus in all things.

Listening to what Jesus firmly tells us gives us the right to claim hope by faith in His grace. We will gain a new and perpetual  life as God intended it, full of His grace and peace that cannot be manufactured. He guaranteed His promise. Because Jesus was faithful to die in our place for our sins, we escape the accusation, condemnation and damnation for rebellion against God. We pass from guilty condemnation; meaning that not one of our sins will be held in accusation against us. It is not by our righteousness or our clever legal arguments but only by the righteousness of Christ that we have received by faith.

Listening and actively trusting Jesus removes us from all of our guilt. We move forward into spiritual life covenant grace and forgiveness. We are now alive to a process of exchanging our sinful ways of thinking. The Holy Spirit empowers us to a life that seeks to draw closer to God and live a life pleasing to Him. It is a life made secure. Trust in, rely on, and adhere to Jesus Christ. He is the only answer to your life.

A tribute …

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And there it was—the star they had seen in the east! It led them until it came and stopped above the place where the child was.

We have an awesome God as our Savior. Our American traditional Thanksgiving pales compared with the humbling thanksgiving we feel as we consider once again the love of God that is demonstrated through Jesus. From heaven’s throne to a dingy stable; God sent a gift that never stops giving!

This has been a busy year. It has been a year of elation, sadness, grief and then profound peace, in that order. Elisha [oldest daughter 46] was diagnosed with throat cancer last April. After treatment of three rounds of chemo and 35 doses of radiation, she was declared clear. That was the elation. She was on the mend physically and mentally. Then in September they discovered that the cancer had aggressively invaded her body; brain, lungs and bones. That was the shocking sadness. One month after that she died last Monday morning [11/25]. Eight months from diagnoses to her death. That was the grief. But there is more. That is the beauty of being in relationship with Jesus. Grief is not the end.

Elisha died, we know, in Jesus’ arms. She was at home with Kathe and I during the last six weeks of her life. She had been in a great deal of pain and as she got sicker, it became a maddening balancing act of trying to manage the pain but not kill her with the drugs.  Even though some awful physical events were happening during the last few hours of her earthly life, she seemed to be at peace. A couple of minutes before she died she opened her eyes. Kathe stood up and closed her eyes and told her “Keep your eyes closed and just rest.” She did and simply quit breathing, not gasping or struggling at all. Her face was truly beautiful.

Her death was such a marvelous witness to God’s love and mercy. I [Kathe, my wife] tell everyone about it, especially my non-Christian friends at work.  Glen and I had continually prayed for her healing, but if not, then to take her home quickly.  It was very, very quick.   We believe God orchestrated it from the beginning and we are very grateful to Him for His mercy to her and us. Kathe and I have been at the bedside and watched two people in our immediate family die. One a Christ follower and one consistently rejected Jesus. The difference in their deaths is phenomenal. The pagan struggled and seemed to resist death. There was a sense of fear present. Elisha struggle also and then just surrendered. She knew where she was going and with Whom.

What about the profound peace in the face of this? Oddly, we are looking forward to this next chapter in our lives. It is a “God thing.” Elisha is missed and this is a time for us of having moments of grieving. But we also have the opportunity to bring witness to others of God’s amazing grace in our lives. People who do not know the Lord Jesus [and even some ‘lukewarm’ Christians] wonder at our calmness in the face of tragedy. I personally tell people that I feel content. Yes I said content. I am content because I know that Elisha is now healed in mind and body. She is no longer in raging pain that overwhelmed her mind and body. More than that, she is with Jesus. We will see her again. Those who spend their lives rejecting Jesus have a different ending. When a relative died she and I were there during his final hours. His death was so different from Elisha’s. His was fraught with fear because he consistently rejected the Savior’s call right up till the moment his heart stopped. He died without knowing where he was going and to whom he was going to meet. Elisha died peacefully.

That brings us back to thanksgiving. We have a new appreciation for what God initiated over 2000 years ago. Rejoice and be thankful. It is all about the greatest gift known to mankind. And His name is …   

Jesus

Name above all names

Beautiful Savior

Glorious Lord

Emmanuel

God is with us

Blessed Redeemer

Living Word

Jesus.

 

Insanity

Christians, if you have not noticed, we are at war. The bombing at the Boston Marathon is just one skirmish in a war. All of this barbarism we are seeing in the world is not about religion, economics, politics or mental instability. We live in a world that has learned that the blame game is easier and avoids responsibility rather that looking at the source. We have a choice. We can believe what the world believes, that if we just fixed [add what you think] the world would become a friendly place. Or you can believe what God inspired a man to write about two thousand years ago. Consider: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. [Eph 6:12 NASB] The murderous actions we have on our doorstep are the result of living in a world that is hell-bent in an insane rebellion against our Creator God. Since the Garden Plot instigated by Satan at the beginning of our history, we have shifted the blame. What is the underlying force behind every hate-filled action? It is nothing less than treason against the One who made us for love and flourishing. We live in a world that has run amuck due to insanity. Sin is insanity. Sin destroys everything good, right and true. Sin is not rational. An insane person cannot be reasoned with. Our rebellion has allowed sin to thrive in darkness, hating anything that opposes the darkness. We insanely allow abortion, lying, greed, idolatry and the twisting of marriage, to name just a few, within the ranks of Christianity. Sin opposes everything God loves.

We as a society have aggressively worked to find answers to the flare up of violence through pathology. We turn everything into a study of disease, attempting to map out the ‘social diseases’ nature, processes, development and consequences. We divorce God from the study, and are successful in laying out a disease’s functional manifestation but rarely its prevention. We spend huge amounts of resources looking for answers to horrific events such as the Boston Bombing or Sandy Hook but forget to go to the source of all social pathology, the soul. Second generation man introduced brother murdering brother over jealousy. Jealously leads to resentment which leads to anger. Anger looks for a way to express itself physically in a rage, and as God told Cain, ‘sin is crouching at the door, looking to own you.’ Violence, in other words, is often the tipping point after resentment turns to rage, inciting us to do violent things.

In all of man’s history, we still have not figured out how to ‘cure’ or prevent jealousy. Or greed. Or hate. Violence does not begin with saber-rattling armies, generational ethnic hatred, and longstanding social inequities. That is a mask for the real issue that we avoid like the plague. Violence is as close to us as our own hearts. We insist that the solution lies somewhere outside ourselves. God makes it clear that our hearts are the issues. Shifting the blame to something or someone started in the Garden. Evidence of the fall, is our willingness to we lie to ourselves by saying our act of adultery caused externally by someone else’s good looks. We lie to ourselves if we say that our greed is caused by our lack of money. We lie to ourselves if we say that envy is caused by our neighbor’s new car, and violence is not caused externally by video games or movies. It is and has been there all along, since our birth.

How do we tip the scales toward non-violence in practical terms? What does that looks like from God’s perspective? There must be a change in the heart. There must be a ‘God intervention.’ What can we do about violence in our hearts? Consider what James wrote: “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness…. What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.” Sounds very much like what God told Cain: “Sin is crouching at your doorstep” so be care what you decide to do. What are you going to choose to do? Cain chose to be a vigilante. Jesus came so that we could choose vigilance. Jesus does not want us to be doormats and wait for violence to erupt. As followers of Jesus he commands us to close the gap. He wants us to do as He did and engage with those who have been rejected by others. We are to reach out and connect with the wounded of our community before they snap and lash out in rage. We cannot end violence. But we can do much to bring down the level of insanity seen in tension and stress around us by living at peace with our brothers and sisters within and without the family of God.

The last straw is important…

Sometime during October 2008 Kathe and I were sitting at red light waiting for the light to change at this busy intersection in Pretoria South Africa.  Suddenly the car just died.  It was like someone had yanked out the battery.  I checked under the hood and yes everything was still there…and it should be OK since the battery was only a year and a half old.  This seemed to be the last straw for us in our woes with this 1994 Toyota Camry.  God had provided the car for us but during the last eight months it had been draining our bank account in repairs.  Now the car was dead and our bank account empty.  Needless to say, Kathe and I were not ‘happy campers’ as we called for a tow truck.

The tow truck operator got there and while he was busy getting the car onto his flatbed we did the paper work.  When we filled in the paperwork he noted that we were missionaries with an international organization, telling us that he too was a Christian.  I was giving him a litany of woes about not having any resources to fix the car and we were on limited income as volunteers and we really wanted to blow up the car.    He nodded and smiled not saying anything as he drove us to the compound where we work and there is a repair shop.  As he unloaded the car, I continued to list out my frustrations.  After he was finished he stopped and turning to both of us he asked us if he could pray for the car…specifically laying hands on it.  We were surprised and said yes…neither one of us thought that it would do any good…but hey…we were desperate!

The next day the mechanic told me that batteries here in South Africa last less than two years and so that was an easy fix.  And guess what?  God had prompted someone to add some extra to their giving and it was enough to pay for the battery.  But that is not the end of the story.

The car was still unreliable and full of noises that sounded like parts falling out.  On the mission field these cars are commonly called P&P…push and pray!  As we thought about the incident we talked about how we had done a lot of pushing but almost no praying.  As I thought about Philippians 4:6 that says: “…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” I was stuck with the fact that I had qualified needs to bring to the Lord: Important or Not so Important.  This was one of those divine appointments that God arranged not to help us with the car but to shift our paradigm as to the meaning of everything! Was it coincidence that of the hundreds of the tow truck drivers available in this large city that this one was a man of God?

You would think that we as missionaries would be experts regarding this whole area of pray.  When the man of God prayed for our car, it did not take long for us to realize that this was one particular area in our life that we were clinging on to with tight fists.  The result was that our attitude regarding the car was causing large amounts of stress, worry and unfaithfulness to our Sovereign Lord.  What changed for us for us?  The car is still the same.  But now we get into the car and ask God to keep it going.  We also remind Him on occasion [particularly when a new noise appears] that He provided the car for us and that we have given it back to Him to care for.  We also acknowledge [and this is the faith leap] that should He allow the car to quit again, we are going to trust Him to sort it out and not rely on our strategy.  We remind Him occasionally that He is the one that brought us to South Africa and has faithfully consistently provided for our every need…and this is just one of them.

That incident happened during October 2008.  Today is August 20, 2009.  The car has not so much as hiccupped.  It still sounds like a tin can full of nuts and bolts and it is scary to drive with steering that wanders on the road.  Ed Noble [teaching pastor at Journey Church in San Diego] made this observation about the human need for control:  “Not knowing makes us feel out of control and helpless.  Prayer helps us to remember and causes us to embrace that our good and all-wise God is always the one in control.” And the really cool thing is that once again God has demonstrated to us the truth of John 14:27 when Jesus made this promise “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let it be afraid“. God is so good!  Before coming on furlough Kathe and I were taking about what we have learned during these two years.  The thought occurred to me that if the Lord were to give us a new vehicle, I would miss the old bucket of bolts.  You see, we learned a new thing about trusting God.  Would we give our new and better car back to the Lord?  The choice would be up to us.

Interesting, is it not?

God is very concerned with all of me…my body, soul and spirit. “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” [1Thess 5:23-24] It is so easy to forget or simply not want to remember God’s faithfulness. Experiential knowledge of getting to know the ways of God has shown me repeatedly how deliriously willing He is to bless me. I had an interesting thought. I will never experience the ‘God of peace’ as long as I am at war with Him. Now you may be asking, how are you at war with God? War starts at the moment that I decide to put myself first before others. War starts as soon as I think that my Plan B is better than God’s only preparation of Plan A. Jealousy starts war when I commit idolatry by putting personal power, prestige or privilege before my love of God.