Thursday, July 24, 2014

Congratulations and Best Wishes to the Happy Couple

My little boy got married this past weekend.  Sometimes it's hard to believe that he's all grown up now.  While I sometimes despaired of him ever getting to this point, I am proud of who he has become.  While there is still a lot of life ahead of him, he now has a life companion to share that journey with; and it looks to be a good journey together.  This world can be a rough and unforgiving place, but having someone to travel through it with you can make it much easier, especially when you are both also walking with God.

Mike and Jessica are off on their honeymoon now, and hopefully enjoying themselves immensely.  But the vacation will soon be over and it will be time to start sharing a home together, getting back to work and all of the other daily activities they find to do.  And it will be all too easy to forget about love when the freshness of the honeymoon wears off, the reality of everyday life starts to weigh them down, and expectations are not met.

But I pray for them, that their love, which is so overwhelming now will grow in depth and maturity.  While it will be challenging to maintain the emotional high that they feel now, love is so much more than a feeling.  Love in marriage is learning to appreciate your partner for who they are, not what you want them to be.  Love is giving yourself to your husband or wife, putting their interests ahead of your own, not with the expectation of sometime in return, but simply because of who they are.  Look out for each other, care deeply, and look forward to the years ahead.  It takes time and effort to learn to love, but the reward is well worth it.





Monday, July 14, 2014

The Foolishness of the Cross

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

       “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
         the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 NIV
The message of the cross: that mankind is sinful and estranged from God, that God took on human form in the person of Jesus, that he died on the cross for my sin and then rose from the dead on the third day, and putting my faith in the crucified and resurrected Jesus is the only way to a right standing with God.  That humanity is generally disinterested in God, apart from some ritualistic lip service seems clear.  But a crucified messiah seems to be a pretty far fetched method for bringing people into a meaningful relationship with God.

If I was God, I am sure I could have put together a plan that would have been more appealing to a lost humanity, one that would have reached a larger audience.  Why the cross?  Why not a permanent physical presence someplace on earth where people could see you and come to you?  Why not provide us with a checklist of the things we need to do to be acceptable to you (oh wait, he did do that)?  Why not reward those who accept you now with physical prosperity and health (like some claim)?

Many people today, as well as in Paul's day, rejected the message of the cross because it appeared to be foolish; it was weak and embarrassing; it did not make good sense.  And yet it was the way that God chose to introduce his salvation to us.  But why; why a criminal's death?  Some seem to believe that it is the only way God could deal with our sin, by having a perfect substitute take our punishment.  And indeed the scriptures do express his death in terms of him being a substitute.  But I have a hard time accepting that God was forced to do it this way to accomplish his purpose from the creation.

I believe that God intentionally chose the way of the cross because it would appear foolish to us.  God desires faith on our part, not intellectual reasoning and an emotional response to miracles.  God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.  Humanly speaking, the message of the cross is foolish.  But the "foolishness" of God is wiser than anything humanity could have accomplished.  It has the power to transform mortal and sinful humanity into children of God.

Embrace the foolishness of God.  Enter into relationship with your creator.  Let him transform you into a new creation.  Reasoning will never get you there.  Only faith in a crucified and resurrected Lord.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Hope

Hope is a word that is used frequently in the New Testament, with at least a couple of different uses.  Sometimes it is used in the sense of something that we want to happen but have no assurance of, which is how we commonly use this word today.  But other times it seems to have a much different meaning, a confident expectation of something that lies in the future.  And in that sense, hope is a key concept in the New Testament, yet one that most believers I have encountered seem to struggle with.

Implicit in hope is that we are dealing with something that has not yet happened, or at least that it is something that we do not currently recognize as having happened; it is something that I am looking forward to.  Paul expresses this idea in Romans 8:25 when he talks about waiting patiently for what we are hoping for, what we do not yet have.

In Ephesians 1:18 and 4:4, Paul talks about the hope that we are called to.  As believers, we are not called to hope, but to a hope.  Hope can be a kind of vague thought about what the future may hold.  But we are called to something much more specific that than.  And knowing what that hope is, will help us to keep our focus during this phase of our life.

What is our hope?
So what is this hope we are called to?  When I ask this question of other believers it often amazes me the silence I get in response.  Most will eventually get a response out, but it is apparent that it is not something that they are eagerly anticipating.  It seems rather to be something that is so far removed from their daily lives that it has little impact. But it is clear from reading the New Testament, especially Paul, that this hope was a major motivating factor for his life.

It is not uncommon to hear believers talk about salvation as an event in their past, the specific time when they surrendered their lives to the lordship of Jesus.  But it means so much more than that.  The New Testament talks about salvation in a present tense, work out your salvation, as well as in a future sense, now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed.  In 1 Thessalonians 5:8 Paul tells us to put on the hope of salvation as a helmet.  We will be delivered, or saved, out of this corrupt and failing body and world, and we should hold onto that expectation as a helmet, protecting us from the struggles and trials of this life as well as the pleasures and distractions of life here.

In Acts 23:6 & 24:15 Paul expresses his hope as concerning the resurrection of the dead, that his life here is not the end of the read, but only a step along the journey.  He also expressed this thought in 1 Corinthians 15:19, that this life is not all there is; if it was, we are to be pitied.  While resurrection is not all of the hope I have, it is a critical part of it.  Without resurrection, when I die in this life, it is over; there is nothing to look forward to.

In Titus 1:2 & 3:7 Paul expresses our hope as concerning eternal life.  Resurrection does not just lead to another temporary step, or series of steps, that eventually come to an end.  Instead we look forward to an eternity in fellowship with God.  Often we think of eternal life as simply living forever; but Jesus defines it in John 17:3 as knowing the Father and Jesus Christ.  Eternal life is not simply living forever; it is living in relationship with our creator and God.

And finally, in Romans 5:2 & Colossians 1:27 we see the expression hope of glory.  I am looking forward to experiencing the glory of God, and not merely as a spectator.  My experience with the glory of God will be very personal and first hand as a child of God and in intimate communion with him.

The hope of salvation, the hope of resurrection, the hope of eternal life, and the hope of glory; all of these are really aspects of the same hope.  Death in this life is really the entrance into the life that God is even now preparing me for.  I do not know nearly as much about that life to come as I would like to.  But I look forward to it with confident expectation.  And that expectation should have a dramatic impact on life today.  The more I look forward to that day, the more it will effect today.

What difference does it make?
If I have no hope for the future then I might as well enjoy this life to the fullest (1 Corinthians 15:3).  But as believers we do have that hope, and it should impact today.  If it makes no difference to the way I live today, is it really hope?

Colossians 1:3-6 describes two impacts that our hope for the future has on our today.  The first is that it enables me to have faith in Christ.  Sometimes there is some overlap in faith and hope, but here I believe Paul is saying that because of the hope we have, we are able to walk by faith today.  I can trust him now because I know he has my future.

The second impact mentioned in this passage is that I am enabled to love my fellow believers because of my hope.  Because we share a common hope we are drawn together.  And because we will spend eternity together, it behooves us to learn, not just get along, but to be one in heart and mind.

The author of Hebrews (6:19) describes this hope as an anchor for the soul; an anchor that is in the most holy place where God dwells.  No matter what storms of life may blow, that anchor will not drag and will keep us secure.  There are many things in this world that we might be tempted to put our hope in, but all of them could let you down and cause a shipwreck in your life.  But if our hope is in God and what he is preparing us for, then we are secure.  Even if we lose everything in this life, it is nothing compared to what is to come.

In Peter's first letter (1:13) he tells us to set our hope fully on the grace to be given us, and to do it with minds that are fully alert and sober.  The hope I have should not be something I keep on a back shelf and just pull out when I need a little boost.  Rather, it should always be at the front of my thoughts.  If that hope is ever before me, the tendency I have to get caught up in the things of this world would be tempered by the recognition that they are only temporary, and at most a faint imitation of what is to come; nothing to hold to or trust in.

One of the challenging things in life is dealing with the death of someone close to you, and for me that has been my parents.  But because of the hope that we all shared, even though I miss them, I was able to rejoice that they are, as my dad frequently said, "Safe in the arms of Jesus."   1 Thessalonians 4:13 tells us not to grieve over those believers who pass before we do, knowing that death in not the end, but rather a transition into something even better.

My hope should not not keep me from living in this world and making a difference.  But it should help me to keep from getting to attached to the temporary things of this life, and to put my trust in what God is preparing me for.  All the little things, and sometimes bigger things, that trouble me during the course of a day will not have nearly as much impact on my life and attitude if my hope is set where it needs to be.  All that goes on in this life is not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.


All passages below are from the NIV

John 17:3
Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

Acts 23:6
Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.”

Acts 24:15
and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.

Romans 5:2
through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.

Romans 8:18
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Romans 8:25
But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Romans 13:11
And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.

1 Corinthians 15:19
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

1 Corinthians 15:32
If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

Galatians 5:5
For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope.

Ephesians 1:18
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,

Ephesians 4:4
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called;

Philippians 2:12-13
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Colossians 1:3-6
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people — the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you.

Colossians 1:23
if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Colossians 1:27
To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

1 Thessalonians 4:13
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.

1 Thessalonians 5:8
But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.

Titus 1:2
in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time,

Titus 2:13
while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,

Titus 3:7
so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

Hebrews 6:19
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain,

Hebrews 11:1
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

1 Peter 1:3
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

1 Peter 1:13
Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.

Monday, June 23, 2014

What Purpose, Apart From God?

Does your life have purpose, a reason for being?  The answer to that question is really dependant on the existence of an intentional creator; a creator for this universe, and so, indirectly, you.  Is this universe and all it contains the product of a creator; God?  Or is it just the product of random chance?

Most people I have talked with seem to feel like their life has purpose; purpose gives meaning to life, and it keeps me going when life isn't fun. Google defines purpose as "the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists."  My purpose as a human is based on the reason for which I exist.  So just why do we exist?

I am convinced that this universe, and my life, were created by God, and that he had a reason for doing so.  I believe that reason has to do with preparing me, and others like me, for a life with him that extends beyond this universe.  God's purposeful creation gives my life purpose, a reason for being.  I exist because God made me, and he made me for a reason.

But what if there is no creator?  What if all we see is the product of blind chance?  Naturalism is a philosophy that operates under the assumption that all that is, is the result of natural processes, that there is no supernatural agent responsible for creation.  This is the position of atheists, as well as others who reject that the universe was intentionally created.

Now if naturalism is true, and we are simply the product of blind chance operating through natural processes, does life have any purpose?  To the naturalist, life is nothing more than a series of complex chemical reactions, that just happen.  It has no reason for its existence, and thus no purpose.  We are fundamentally no different than a bug or a rock.

But does it really matter if I have a purpose for being or not?  I believe it does.  If I have no purpose, then does it really matter what I do or how I live my life?  After all, my life is really little more than an accident, and will soon be over.  And nothing I have done, or failed to do, will really matter.  If I was to find a cure for cancer, or go down in history as the worst mass murderer, what would it matter?  If I, as well as those around me, are nothing more than minor blimps in cosmic history, with no purpose and no significance, then it does not matter whether I lived or not.  My life has even less purpose than the science experiment performed by a high school chemistry student, which at least is conducted for a purpose.

But it is hard to live like that.  I want to believe that my life has some purpose, that what I do really matters.  And so I invent purpose for myself.  I convince myself that I need to leave the world a better place than how I found it.  Or I set my purpose to be enjoying life to its fullest, experiencing all that the world has too offer.  But regardless the purpose I set for myself, whether self centered or others centered, it is not really the purpose that I exist for.  That purpose simply does not exist, at least not if we are only the product of blind chance.

Trying to live life as if it had purpose, while at the same time holding to naturalism is irrational, an incoherent worldview.  The only way ones life can have any real purpose is if it exists for a reason.  And there can be no reason for our existence apart from an intentional creator.  It is the creator who gives us purpose.  There is no other way.  We cannot give ourselves real purpose.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

It's a Matter of Perspective: Looking Ahead

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NIV
"Takes a licking and keeps on ticking".  While this was originally an advertising slogan for Timex watches, it could well be used to describe Paul's life as an apostle.  Beaten repeatedly with rods and whips as well as being stoned.  Shipwrecked multiple times, experiencing hunger and cold as well as abuse at the hands of both Jews and Gentiles.  Experiencing lengthy prison times, mob violence, a corrupt judicial system and, ultimately, beheading.  Paul suffered for the gospel like few others.  Paul's use of "light and momentary troubles" to describe all that he went through seems to be a dramatic understatement.  There seems to have been nothing either light or momentary about most of it.  Was Paul just masochistic, or is something else going on here?

It seems that Paul had a different perspective on life than most of us manage to adopt.  He had his focus on the eternal, the future that awaited him once this life ends.  His vision of that future was real and something that he looked forward to.  And he realized that the glory of that future was far greater than the troubles of this life, even one with as much trouble as his.

I try to run quite a bit.  And the running can be hard.  But I do it to a large extent because it enables me to travel further and easier when out on the trail.  I know what the miles spent running will buy me later on.  Paul's attitude towards his suffering was similar.  He knew that his troubles were achieving for him an eternal glory, and so he endured, fixing his eyes on the eternal unseen world.

Lord, help me to have a vision of the eternal and to have that life fixed in mind as I travel through this world.  Not growing attached to the temporary possessions and pleasures here or being discouraged because of rejection or abuse because of your name.  Thank you for what you are doing and have prepared for me.

Friday, June 13, 2014

What God Is Like

Everyone has some kind of a picture formed in their minds concerning what God is like.  Even those who do not believe he exists have a mental image that they argue against.  That picture is likely not very well defined, and may not be coherent, but it exists for each of us, and is reflected in how we believe or expect God to act in the world and towards us.  The thing that all of these pictures have in common is that they are all inadequate.  It is not possible for a finite mind to comprehend the infinite God.

As a Christian, most of what I know and believe about God is based on his revelation of himself in the Bible.  And is there really any other way?  If he chooses not to reveal something to me, I can really do no more than guess.  Fortunately he has chosen to reveal some of himself to us, although necessarily in terms that are meaningful to us.  The Bible, inspired by God, tells us, among other things, that God is the creator of the universe, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, loving, good, righteous and holy.

But there is a danger here if we try to picture him as being the way that we understand these words.  One of the most common examples of this I see concerns God being good.  For most people this conjures up the idea of being moral, and that is not necessarily wrong.  But when we do that we too often expect God to act according to our human morality.  But should we?  We can judge a dog as being good without expecting it to conform to human morality, so why should we expect the creator of the universe to conform to our morality?  It is not really logical to expect God to conform to our ideas of morality, or goodness, especially since we ourselves cannot even decide what is moral.

In the Genesis creation accounts we are told that God made man in his own image.  But we seem to have generally turned that around and formed God in our image.  While I have never heard anyone actually say it, in listening to people talk about God it appears like they view God as almost human, just bigger, stronger and smarter.  And God seems to like the same things we like and hate the same things we hate.  Thinking along these lines is essentially constructing a box that we put God into, placing limits on who he is and what he can do.  Again, I have never met anyone who would admit to doing this, but it seems like most of us do it to one extent or another.

I do believe that God is not like me in any significant way.  He is not just a super powerful human like being.  He is the creator and sustainer of a universe that is beyond my comprehension, both at the largest and smallest scales.  I cannot begin to conceive of the power and intelligence it took to pull that off.  He exists outside of time, at least as I know it.  So much of what I am and how I understand the universe around me is centered around time, something that does not apply to him.  When I try to think about existing outside of time I end up just spinning my wheels.

Isaiah 55:8-9 expresses that as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God's ways and thoughts higher than my ways and thoughts.  As much as I try and understand why God did something in a certain way, or allows something to occur, it is really beyond my comprehension.  I crave understanding of God, and I believe that is OK.  But I have to satisfy myself with getting no more than a glimmer, knowing that I am not capable of understanding him.

I do believe that he has a purpose in his creation and that he is working out that purpose.  I do not believe that humanity is capable of frustrating his purpose, although we do have a part to play in that purpose; a purpose will not be fully realized until we have left the restraints of this universe behind us.  In other words, I believe that this creation, and our presence in it, is only a temporary step in a much larger plan.

It would appear from the Bible that humanity does not have 'just a part' to play in God's purpose for creation, but has a central part.  It would seem that the primary reason this universe was created was to produce a redeemed church, not just for life here, but for his purpose in eternity.  And if that is true, then God has a special interest in humanity now, caring about us and our development.  We can express that as his love for us, but need to be careful that we don't try to limit him to love as we know it.

While there is a part of me that wishes I could completely understand God, I am really glad that he is beyond my comprehension.  I am afraid that if I could get my mind around him that it would make him smaller, at least in my mind.  I really like God being mysterious and far above me.  It makes him worthy of worship

So what is he like?  Unimaginable and far above my comprehension.  Not limited in space or time.  A purposeful creator.  Interested in his creation and caring about humanity.  Worthy of my honor and worship.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Worship in Spirit

God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.
John 4:24 NIV
To worship God is to show reverence or adoration for him.  Worship should be the natural response of a person who has encountered the creator of the universe; their own creator.  But for some reason worship seems to come hard for me.  I look forward to 'worship services' with the church body and enjoy both the older traditional hymns and many of the newer chorus'.  But how often do I actually worship God during these 'worship services'?  I am afraid that it is not nearly often enough.  And the fault is not with the worship team.

I am afraid that my motive for 'worship' is all too often selfish; I do it for my own benefit, for what I get out of it.  If I come away from the time recharged, then I would say that the worship experience was good.  If I come away empty, then the worship experience was bad.  Now I am not saying that real worship won't impact me.  But I do believe that the measure of worship should not be how I feel when done.

While I may indeed be recharged by true worship, I could also be recharged when no real worship is taking place.  Meeting together with other believers, singing some catchy songs about God and listening to his word can all change my mood and make me feel better when leaving.  How often do I come home Sunday afternoon feeling good because of the mornings experience, and have not actually worshiped the one who I claim as my Lord?

Worship is really about expressing reverence and adoration for God.  He needs to be the focus of my thoughts and feelings.  If I am not joining the chorus in Revelation chapters 4 & 5, falling down before the one who sits on the throne and praising him, then I am not really worshipping.

Jesus tells us in the passage at the top that true worship is a spiritual exercise.  It is not just a matter of saying or singing an appropriate set of words.  Worship only occurs when I fall on my face before the one who alone is worthy of my adoration, and praise him for who and what he is.

Worship for me is primarily an individual experience, even when I am surrounded by other people.  And it is an experience that is not nearly common enough in my life.  I long to worship more naturally.  And I yearn to be able to be a part of a koinonia that can worship together, not only in song, but also in prayer; that worships in spirit and in truth.

Because He is worthy!