Friday, January 31, 2014

I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing

Friday, January 31, 2014
No wonder you can’t believe!  For you gladly honor each other, but you don’t care about the honor that comes from the one who alone is God.          John 5:44 (NLT)


Calvin, the obnoxious five year-old, who often pontificates his thoughts on life and the universe to his stuffed tiger, Hobbes, is a monumentally-self absorbed narcissist.  The world, according to Calvin, does not revolve around the sun; the world revolves around Calvin!

Calvin has some company in this world.  Even in the church pulpit (and pew).The context of Jesus’ statement about the inability to believe, is when the religious
leaders were seeking a way to kill him.  They rejected Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God.  They didn’t believe in him, so, essentially they rejected God.  Unbelief!

Jesus told the religious leaders their main problem was their position.  Not that being a leader was (or is) wrong; organizations, even religious ones, need leaders to help keep focus on the group’s purpose.  In this case, the religious leaders’ main focus was to help people have faith in God and serve God’s greater Kingdom purposes.

But these leaders were self-centered, pride-filled, and it blocked their view of God.  They loved the admiration and respect their office commanded; it gave them a sense of power over the followers.  They loved the honor and preeminence their position gave in the community, but they missed the point entirely, that such pride was eating their ability to worship like cancer of the soul.

I call it “ministerial discount”.

I’ve been offered everything from clothing at 40% off, to free rounds of golf, just because it was known I’m a minister.  When I was new to the ministry I suspected at first that there was something not quite right about trading on ministerial credentials.  But, needing clothes, and liking golf, I gratefully accepted.  

I still like golf.  I began despising dress clothes when I retired.

But, I stopped (a long time ago) letting merchants know I’m a minister, until after the purchase is completed.  If God is my priority, keeping him clearly in view cannot be bought for the price of a three piece suit.

You and I, Calvin, were not put on this planet to be serene as we accumulate material things, accolades of others, or have everything done for us!

Man’s chief end and work is to love God and enjoy Him forever.  That’s hard to do when you’re hunting praise from people.

Today

Is there anything blocking your faith, your view and desire for God?
Now would be a good time to deal with that!



Title Photo:  http://wp.patheos.com.s3.amazonaws.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/files/2013/10/Lack-of-faith-3.png

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Hagar & Sarai

Thursday, January 30, 2014
Sarai, Abram’s wife, hadn’t yet produced a child.  She had an Egyptian maid named Hagar.  Sarai said to Abram, “God has not seen fit to let me have a child.  Sleep with my maid.  Maybe I can get a family from her.”  Abram agreed to do what Sarai said.  So Sarai, Abram’s wife, took her Egyptian maid Hagar and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife.  Abram had been living ten years in Canaan when this took place.  He slept with Hagar and she got pregnant.  When she learned she was pregnant, she looked down on her mistress.  Sarai told Abram, “It’s all your fault that I’m suffering this abuse.  I put my maid in bed with you and the minute she knows she’s pregnant, she treats me like I’m nothing.  May God decide which of us is right.”  “You decide,” said Abram.  “Your maid is your business.”  Sarai was abusive to Hagar and she ran away.  An angel of God found her beside a spring in the desert; it was the spring on the road to Shur.  He said, “Hagar, maid of Sarai, what are you doing here?”  She said, “I’m running away from Sarai my mistress.”  The angel of God said, “Go back to your mistress.  Put up with her abuse.”  He continued, “I’m going to give you a big family, children past counting.  From this pregnancy, you’ll get a son:  Name him Ishmael; for God heard you, God answered you.  He’ll be a bucking bronco of a man, a real fighter, fighting and being fought, Always stirring up trouble, always at odds with his family.” 
Genesis 16:1 - 12 (TMSG)
In 21st century Western culture we can only imagine the reality and nuances of ancient Eastern customs, the like of which drove Abram’s wife Sarai to place a household servant in her husband’s bed. 

But that’s what she did.  And the problems started immediately.

Hagar’s pride in her ability to conceive manifested itself in contempt towards the one she was to serve, Sarai.  And it was Sarai’s idea in the first place, but she now despised the outcome of her plan, and became so abusive to Hagar that the slave girl rain away.

A “rocky road” indeed!

Hagar found herself on a wilderness rocky road, wondering what to do.  God’s angel shows up and informs her that the son to which she would give birth would be the worst troublemaker in the East.

Hagar was defenseless – totally.  She was a slave, made to conceive a baby with an old man; she was pregnant and abused, and then kicked out to fend for herself.  Suddenly the rocky road is filled with boulders; huge ones, piled like a mountain! 

And did you notice that God’s angel proposes a plan that involves tolerating more abuse?  “Go back and tough it out….God is watching over this.”

Some days it seems like it just doesn’t pay to get out of bed!

Ever felt like Hagar?

Have you ever felt totally powerless?  No more answers, no plans or even a clue what to do next?  And then someone comes up with a plan for you (don’t they always?)!

How did Hagar respond?
She answered God by name, praying to the God who spoke to her, “You’re the God who sees me!” “Yes! He saw me; and then I saw him!”     Genesis 16:13 (TMSG)

Today

Have a little “Hagar faith”.

Your circumstances may be more difficult than Hagar’s (at least to you), but your response can be just as faith-filled.

And that’s what God wants – just trust Him; know that He sees you.  And if you are patient with your faith, in due time you’ll see His hand move.









Title Photo:  http://sunshineinthestorm.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/sarah-and-hagardwellingintheword.jpg 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

"Mother" Nature

Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Our overnight “guest”, a little bird, was huddling beneath the umbrella on our deck.  As the night summer storm’s thunder crashed, and lightning streaked through the sky in frightful displays of unleashed power, the little guy was covered, safe. 

I immediately thought of Psalms 17:8:  Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings. 

People who confuse God with "Mother Nature" don't know either.  Nature is cruel.  Nature causes planes and buses to crash with dozens of students dying.  Nature causes forest fires to rage out of control and make people homeless.  Nature encourages things like cancer and sinkholes that both swallow up things. 

People talk about “natural” with a smile.  “Natural” is good when you’re talking fiber and chicken parts without GMO’s.  Nature is harsh and mostly unforgiving in real time.

I have to shake my head in amazement when people talk about the “natural” order of life in terms of a calm resignation about death.  

Don't talk to me of "natural".  Death is natural for this world.  And it isn’t pretty!  

“Nature” is nobody’s mother!

Rather, speak to me of the protection of Almighty wings, where, even in the face of nature's most drastic attempts otherwise, I can live, move and have being. 

Speak to me of the God who created nature, but remember:  what is “natural” is not now what God created it to be.  We still live in a fallen world with natural forces that are impacted by sin and upheaval.

Nature is harsh and unfeeling.  God is so different than that!

Today

When you speak of nature and natural, remember the proper perspective of the One who could speak words like Peace, be still (Mark 4:39b) and nature obeys!









Title Photo:  http://www.deepintolove.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/bird-in-the-rain1.jpg

The Strength of a Marriage

Tuesday, January 28, 2014
As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.”  Ephesians 5:31 (NLT)
When our youngest, Carrie, married Shannon, they bought a house.  The house they thought they would buy turned out to have major problems (besides the bank that wanted them to sign all those papers!).

That house had a foundation problem; it was built on a shaky foundation.  Fifty years ago the code allowed 2' x 8' floor joists, spaced 24" apart.  Today that is considered substandard.  In addition, the basement leaked like a sieve.  It leans in several directions!  The construction was not exactly professional.

Secondary problems occur when you try to prop-up shoddy construction.  The previous owners had put poles in the basement to support the sagging floor; that only added to the problem, rather than helping to solve it.  As explained to me by the house inspector, when the poles took the weight off the sagging floor, it also took the load off the walls of the basement.  

That load is part of the strength of a basement wall.  Without the load from the covering floor, years of pressure from the outside dirt (and water that won't drain away) pushed the weakened walls in to the point where collapse of the walls (and the fall of any Humpty Dumptys above) is imminent!

Now, that house is a picture of what has happened to marriage and the family in our society today.  Divorce, like the basement poles, has become so simple, and prevalent in dealing with marital pressures, less than a third of marriages survive a dozen years any more.  There are weakened walls in marriage everywhere.

Now, God knew those pressures (financial, relational, emotional) would be in marriage.  In fact those pressures help a married couple become one flesh, which is God's design.  Like the pressure from above, those troubles drive us together to work out our marriage vows.  Take away that weight, and the weakened walls of marriage cave-in to the weight of the dirt and stagnant society that says: give it up; you don't need him...Pack it in, she's not worth it!

Today

If you’re married, give thanks in times of pressure – such times teach you where the strength of God is holding true to make you “one” in your relationship.

If marriage is in your future, resolve to prepare for the times of pressure; like all of life’s trials, God will use them to perfect something in you and your spouse.

If single-again through death or divorce, the pressure lessons of your life are still God’s blessing.

If you're single by choice, pray for married couples you know - they're going through pressure you can't see, and the walls do creak.  

 






 Title background:  Rod Anderson – http://www.christianpost.com/news/a-strong-marriage-60142/

Monday, January 27, 2014

Proof

Monday, January 27, 2014
The man heard Jesus “the healer” was in town. 

The man’s son was dying.

You don’t need an advanced degree in rocket science to figure out your next step!

The man begged Jesus to come heal his son.  Jesus stopped the man in his tracks; he wanted the man to think through his request.  If the man was actually coming to Jesus as the one who could return health to his dying child, it would mean complications for the future.  The man was a government official, and this public figure “coming out” in faith would have serious implications about his fitness to govern (not to mention his sanity). 

The official patently ignored Jesus’ challenge and restated his urgent request that Jesus come heal the boy before it was too late.  Jesus told him to go back home; his request had been granted. 

The amazing thing is that the government official took Jesus at his word and started home.  His faith was justified; on the way back home he met some of his household servants who informed him his son had recovered about the time Jesus said he would.

How would YOU have handled this?

As a logical sort, I like to have some proof before I leap.  Caution isn’t something I throw to the wind quickly.  

But then, this was not a time for caution; the boy was dying…and the man was a Dad.  You don’t let your son sit on the rails when a train is coming, you DO something.  

And, when Jesus is passing-by, you don’t stop to examine your entire theological system for misspelled words!  It’s time for faith!

Today

Has it been awhile since you dropped your guard and just trusted Him?

Maybe that promise at the altar has tarnished a little, waiting for you to throw aside caution and possible embarrassment and actually follow-through?

Maybe that neighbor you’ve wanted to help, but feared “getting-involved” is getting close to the edge and could use a word of encouragement?

Maybe you’re dabbling a little too much in dotting “i’s” and crossing “t’s”?

How about just doing what the government guy did – take-up Jesus’ challenge and invite Him to come home with you to give life to whatever’s dying?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sermon for January 26, 2014

And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it.  The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide.  I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne.  And the books were opened, including the Book of Life.  And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books.  The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave gave up their dead.  And all were judged according to their deeds. Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire.  This lake of fire is the second death.  And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire.   Revelation 20:11 - 15[1]
At most funeral services you hear something about the resurrection.  It is almost without exception that the second resurrection was left out of the sermon.  Did you realize that there are two resurrections?   
The Second Resurrection is Different from the First      

The first resurrection

The first resurrection is the Body of Christ.  That is a good news event!  This is the next great event that Bible prophecy says is going to happen.  God will begin the end of time by opening all the graves of Jesus believers who have previously died.  Immediately following, God will take all the living Christians in something of a massive teleportation to meet Jesus in the air.  The whole Christian family is with their Christ in the air! 

The second resurrection

The second resurrection is for those who are unsaved.  This is bad news.  Who are the unsaved?  Anyone who has not trusted in Christ for salvation.  The Bible says that all the people of all times will stand before the judge. 
…each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, Hebrews 9:27
Of course the choice is up to each individual to believe or disbelieve.  However, it is unbelief that will bring you to the second resurrection of judgment, and not the first resurrection of rewards.  And, in that day the Scripture declares, we will all stand before the judge.  This indicates there will be no place to hide; stand with Him or before Him. 

Do you want to be Judged by law…

Some folks imagine that simply being good is all it takes to make God happy – going to church, paying tithes, not kicking dogs, and helping little old ladies across the street.  Now, being good isn't bad (I even recommend it); but if you are going to count on your obedience, you'd better make certain you are perfect
The Bible says that offending only one of God's laws makes you a sinner.  If you choose to be judged on the merit of your behavior, you had better make certain you can stand in front of God perfect, sinless! 
Some folks imagine there will be some kind of scale approach to the judgment.  If you have done some good things in life they will be placed on the positive side.  The bad things you have done are placed on the other side of the scale.  The theory is, if the good outweighs the bad, God is convinced you're not so bad, and He lets you in heaven.  That, my friend, is about as plausible as the Mother Teresa shooting a man down in cold blood, and then standing before the judge with a list of the orphanages and hospitals.  Don't you believe they wouldn't strap her in the chair! 
Being judged by the law doesn't take into account anything good you've done, only the bad!  That's a dilemma none of us can deal with and overcome.  That's why God made the other judgment possibility available:

…Or Judged by Grace?

When you cannot stand in your own perfection, you can stand covered by the grace of Jesus.  He said that there is no one who comes to the Father, except through Him.  When you humbly confess your sinful condition (your inability to be perfect before God), and you ask Jesus to forgive you, He does just that!  And then when you stand before the Father, it is Jesus who stands in front of you.  The Father sees the perfection of His son, not your sin.
Which do you prefer; law or grace?
Remember if you choose to be judged by the law, the Ten Commandments -- everything you've ever said, done, or thought is written down in God's book of life (Rev 20:12).  Also, everything in that book is going to be revealed in that last day (Luke 12.2,3)
God will execute only one judgment at the second resurrection for all those who have refused to accept Jesus Christ as Savior – death! 
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Rom 6:23 (NIV)
A second reality about the second resurrection and its judgment...
The Second Death is Worse than the First
According to the Bible, the first death is temporary.  It begins, for the unsaved person, at Hell; and ends at the Great White Throne Judgment of God after the second resurrection.  That is bad enough.  However, the second death – judgment sentence of the second resurrection – is much worse than the first death.  It is:

Eternal 

Matthew's gospel account (25.41-46) gives this reality from the lips of Jesus himself:  "eternal fire...eternal punishment."  There is no end to the torment -- it is eternal.

Extreme  

In earlier chapters of The Revelation, John describes just how gruesome is the torment of unbelievers in the everlasting fire. 
The smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever, and they will have no relief day or night, for they have worshiped the beast and his statue and have accepted the mark of his name.”     Revelation 14:11
I recently read This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti.  It is a novel of the struggle between demons and angels, worked out in a small town.  Knowing something about the outcome of all struggles between good and evil, I found myself shaking my head each time some demon alluded to their "victories."  I'd think to myself, If you only knew what I know, you wouldn't be acting that way, fella! 
The second death is going to be eternal, extreme, and...

Equitable 

Some sins incur a greater degree of punishment.  At the time of his earthly trial, Jesus told Pilate that the sin of Judas' betrayal was greater than most.
Then Jesus said, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above.  So the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.”   John 19:11
In some way the balance sheets of God have got to be reconciled.  While one sin makes you a sinner, and guilty of all sin; there is some way in which God will repay every evil according to the degree of wickedness that accompanies the sin.  Judgment will be equitable, fair – and that's what makes it awesome and scary!
Now, if the second resurrection is so awful, and the second death something to be avoided at all costs, what can we do?  What should we do?  Notice the answer found in the third difference: 
The Second Birth is All That Can Prevent the Second Death
So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’  John 3:7
The first birth is natural; it comes to all of us in the natural order of things; we are human beings, children of Adam's race.  The first birth ends in death.  The second birth is spiritual...
For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies.  The Scriptures tell us, “The first man, Adam, became a living person.”  But the last Adam—that is, Christ—is a life-giving Spirit.  1 Corinthians 15:44 - 45
Notice Paul says that the last Adam (Jesus) is a "life-giving spirit"?  The first birth ends in the first death.  The second birth ends in eternal life.  What does it mean? 

Renewal Now

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person.  The old life is gone; a new life has begun!   2 Corinthians 5:17
The one true mark of conversion from death to life is a changed life.  And it isn't just the outward things we do.  It is the inward life.  Do you love more?  Do you hate and gossip less?  Are you more willing to see others' point of view?  Is your inner life changed?  Renewal Now; and...

Reversal Then

Jesus told his followers a story about a self-centered, uncaring rich man, and a poor beggar who lay at the rich man's porch.  The rich man cared nothing for God, or what God would have him do.  He was born just once.  The poor man had little of this world's goods, he was sick and no one cared for him.  Yet he loved God and was born twice. 
Both men eventually died and were judged.  The rich man wound up in torment, the poor man in paradise.  The rich man now called out to God and asked for a little relief.  God's answer:
…‘Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing.  So now he is here being comforted, and you are in anguish.   Luke 16:25
The second death is a place of knowing, remembering, feeling and suffering.  It is eternal, and worse than what we now call death.  There is only one thing in the universe than can prevent the second death – a second birth! 
Do you remember the recent Academy Award winning picture, Schindler's List?  It's a true story of a German manufacturer who literally spent his fortune bribing German officials to save the lives of people destined to die in the Holocaust of World War II. Can you imagine what it would have been like to have been one of those people assigned to one of those camps?  You've heard all the rumors about what happens there. Now, you're marched in the gates, and you see those smokestacks with the ashes polluting the air, and you're chilled by the knowledge that you're literally breathing the ashes of fellow human beings. 
There was no way out of that except one way.  There was no hope except one thing.  There was a list – Schindler's list.  A fortune had been spent to buy the lives of some 500 people. Those who were on that list did not have a special talent, did not have a special reason for being there, nothing exceptional or unexceptional about them.  It was just that their names were on the list.  And that list literally saved them from the fiery inferno[2]   
There is another list. 
Beloved, Jesus offers you the new birth, a spiritual birth, an escape from everlasting torment.  All it takes is the application of His blood.  He is willing.  The only question is:
Will you have it?
Will you accept Him now, and serve only Him?
There will come a time when all of history and destiny will be reduced to a list.  You are on Satan's death list – we are all sinners, and condemned by our sin.  Are you on Jesus' list of life?  Has the blood cleansed and made you whiter than snow?
Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection.  For them the second death holds no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him a thousand years.    Revelation 20:6
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
Watch the sermon video here



[1] All Scripture quotations from New Living Translation
[2]From a sermon by Dr. Frank Pollard, Jackson, Miss, broadcast on The Baptist Hour, (BH16-94TV)

Friday, January 24, 2014

Some Assembly Required

Friday, January 24, 2014
Design is a wonderful thing. It’s like having the instructions.

When our children were small we got a swing set for the back yard.  Elizabeth’s parents bought it; that was the easy part!  Assembly was left to me.  The instructions were included in the box…a 38 page manual entitled “some assembly required”.

Well, I, “Russell the Bright” decided I did not like what I read in those instructions; the manufacturer talked a language that was alien.  It said, put bolt A-17J.G-7 through spindle assembly (right and left) in a windmill fashion until you discover the framastat connected to integer-driven-molly bolt fasteners located in the blue stermer-gadget and secure with nut C-17 (no not that one, the other one).

Nuts, indeed!  I wanted to do it my way.  After four afternoons of struggling to get that swing set together I finally gave up and took it apart – I went back to the manual and did it the designer’s way.

It is the same thing when it comes to us human swing sets. We are designed by a Master Designer; we come complete with a manual, the Bible.  

Over the years I’ve ignored my share of directions, and often found I didn’t know quite as much as I thought I did.  Mostly it was costly in time and frustration.

With the “Scripture manual” ignorance can be deadly.

Today

Make certain you consult the manual before the day begins.

With life as complicated as it is these days, there is some assembly required!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Mary's Confusion

Thursday, January 23, 2014
Jesus' mother and father most certainly were confused at times.  They took Jesus to Jerusalem as a boy, and he stayed behind when they left.  When they finally realized he was not in camp, they retraced their steps and caught up with him at the temple.  The elders were sitting with their chins scraping the ground in amazement.  Jesus was teaching the teachers, the religious elite of Israel.  They'd never heard such wisdom – especially from a boy.  Mary and Joseph were also amazed, worried and confused. Raising a son like Jesus could not have been a boring experience!

We would be tempted to say that Jesus confused them.  However, it is more accurate to say they were confused; God is not the author of confusion1 Co 14:33.

Trace the life of Jesus backward from the temple incident about 10 years.  See Jesus as a two-year-old, toddling around the carpenter's shop.  Watch as he nears the bench where Joseph is putting together a chair – one of eight for a large order from a rich merchant. 

Inquisitively, Jesus begins to pick up one of Joseph's sharp woodcarving knives.  Joseph warns:  Jesus, son, No!  Don't touch those...they will hurt you.  Can you see the face of Jesus as he looks at his father, looks back at the knife, smiles ever so demonically and sticks his tongue at Joseph?  Can you see the Christ child stomping his feet and saying NO!  

Of course you cannot. 

Even though Jesus was a two-year-old at one point, he never acted like one.  Certainly he had to learn language and to like green beans; he had diaper issues too.  Jesus did not, however, have the seed of sin or rebellion. 

And that is why Mary, Joseph, and the rest of us humans have trouble understanding Jesus.  We, like Mary and Joseph expect two-year-olds and twelve-year-olds (and sometimes fifty-year-olds) to be rebellious, selfish and self-absorbed.  Jesus never did that. 

The confusion was (and is) ours. 

We expect things to go wrong, to see hatred and envy; we expect planes fly into Trade Centers and Pentagons.  That is the nature of a fallen world. 

When we see Jesus – love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, it confuses us.  That is why Paul urged us to think on things above Philippians 4:8.  It’s easy to be confused when you’re accustomed to the fruit of bitterness and Jesus shows up with the Fruit of the Spirit!

Today

As a believer, when you attempt to follow Christ and be His disciple throughout this day, remember that the world will not understand.  They’re not expecting you to act like your Master.

They will be as confused as Mary and Joseph and the temple elders. 

But the confusion is theirs – be about your Father's business anyway!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Best Man Gives the Toast

Wednesday, January 22, 2014
It’s a daily struggle to put into practice what John the Baptist knew even before the cross – that, for Jesus to be lifted up to the ends of the earth, his followers must decrease, or deny self.

And it must be our joy to do so.

When John’s disciples saw the popularity of Jesus blossoming, and their own ministry beginning to take a back seat, they questioned the Baptist about what to do.  John’s explanation was a “Jesus-like” metaphor.  He told them the one who has the bride is the true groom.  He said to his followers; think of me as the best man, the guy who stands next to the groom, ready to give the toast!

Can you raise a glass?

We live in a world that places a high importance on winning, being first.  Vince Lombardi, legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, is quoted as saying winning isn’t everything…it’s the only thing! 

In a world where people will do anything for that “15 minutes of first-place fame”…
·        Try out (badly) for American Idol
·        Post outlandish photos on Facebook
·        Party like tomorrow doesn’t matter….
….suggesting someone should take a back seat to anyone doesn’t get much traction. 

But, for the Christian it is the key to everything in the Kingdom.


In marriage, which is the metaphor John the Baptist chose to define the church’s relationship with Christ, when the wife (or husband) chooses to “decrease” by lifting up her spouse, putting the husband first, elevating her love to serve and bless her life’s mate, the appropriate response of the husband is to elevate his wife even higher.  Frankly, I have never met a married woman who wasn’t thrilled with her marriage if the man she was married to was willing to die for her!

Such is the way the bride of Christ and her Lord live.  As the church lifts up Jesus, God causes the church to shine, which in turn lets the world see the beauty of Christ.

Today

The Book of Common Prayer has a very “pray-able” petition for us to lift up:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

The prayer asks that we might shine – so that the world might see….Jesus!

Shine, church – let the world see your LORD!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Level Ground

Tuesday, January 21, 2014
I first heard it 35 years ago at a little Baptist church in Florida: 

The ground is level at the foot of the cross!

Of course the sentence means that all persons, rich, poor, old or young come to Christ the same way – by humbling your heart and confessing Jesus as your Lord[1].  And, according to the trustworthy Gospel, we are also kept on level ground that way.

But it’s easy to catch the fever.

Church Growth Fever

Pastors are mostly to blame.  Somehow the entrepreneurial fever sets-in on most preachers and we’re off to the races to build the biggest church since Solomon’s temple.  One denominational leader in the Florida Baptist Convention told me years ago that he’d determined …to build a roof over [my] church’s 19 acres…and I came really close to accomplishing it.  Of course, the rest of his story includes him almost losing his family over the frantic push to create his religious empire.  The fever has a cost!

Now, I’m not slinging mud here – I’ve done my part to force-bloom a church.  Truth be told, when the “nickels and noses-counting” becomes more important than praising and serving, it throws the whole foundation of the church “off-level and off-center”.

Been there Done THAT!

(More accurately – I’m done WITH that!)

Don’t get me wrong here; it’s not that I don’t want to see the church(es) I serve grow.  There’s nothing holy about a church remaining small; particularly if it’s fear or prejudice against “big”.  It’s still my bedrock conviction that a healthy church will grow.  But I’m much more interested in seeing the church healthy than prosperous.

I’m with the Psalmist – I love the Lord’s house, His dwelling.  I love the level-ground of brothers and sisters living and loving in harmony, singing a magnificent life-song of praise to the Lord.

What I reject is the corporate model, with the Pastor as CEO, driving sheep like they are worker-bees to be deployed, so we can have more noses under the roof and nickels in the offering plate. 

God created us equal and if I am to exercise genuine leadership, it will be without agenda or blueprints in hand; it will be simply to praise God in, and with, the full assembly of His people. 

And that is powerful, whether it is 35 in the pews on a Sunday, or 3,500.  If God is being lifted up, praised and honored, the ground is exceedingly level!

Today

Ask God to show you what “level” means in the vision He has for your life.



[1] Romans 10:9-10

Monday, January 20, 2014

A Thousand Years With Jesus

The millennial rule of Christ and His saints begins with a battle – Armageddon!

The Conquest of the Sword

ARMAGEDDON'S SUMMONS
Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, shouting to the vultures flying high in the sky:  “Come! Gather together for the great banquet God has prepared.  Come and eat the flesh of kings, generals, and strong warriors; of horses and their riders; and of all humanity, both free and slave, small and great.”  Then I saw the beast and the kings of the world and their armies gathered together to fight against the one sitting on the horse and his army.                                      Revelation 19:17 - 19 (NLT)           
The Armageddon event begins with the forces of evil gathering together, and God's burial detail (buzzards) being summoned in preparation for the devastation. 
This is one of the most gruesome thoughts in Scripture. God will gather all the world's scavenger birds in anticipation of a 100% casualty rate of His enemy’s soldiers.   
There will be no way to bury them.  The carcasses will feed the birds for months, and the bones of every evil man will be a monument to God's final victory for the entire thousand years of Christ's rule.
The question that has always been in my mind is:  Why does Satan bother?   After all, he knows he can't win.  David asked that same question,
Why do the heathen rage....    Psalms 2:1

Why, indeed!  Why does he do it? 

¨  Why does Satan fight a losing battle? 
¨  Why do the nations allow themselves to be deceived and follow along?  The answer to our question is found in the character of Satan himself:
Wealth is treacherous, and the arrogant are never at rest.  They open their mouths as wide as the grave, and like death, they are never satisfied.  In their greed they have gathered up many nations and swallowed many peoples. Habakkuk 2:5 (NLT)
Satan cannot stand God -- He would rather suffer in the abyss forever than to not fight against God.  He can't be satisfied with anything less than total control. 
He can't win; and he is committed to taking as many people into that misery as he can deceive!  It's a losing battle, and Satan's evil character is here unmasked, and will be displayed at Megiddo. 
He will be soundly defeated, and his armies will be history!  The Bible tells us that everything he stands for is on borrowed time.
For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions.  These are not from the Father, but are from this world.  And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave.  But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.   1 John 2:16 - 17 (NLT)
The Battle of Armageddon is the event of the second coming of Jesus Christ.  Satan and his minions gathered to murder Him the first time at Bethlehem and Calvary; there's no surprise here about their rage the second time. 
And do not miss this reality – when Jesus came to planet earth the first time it produced evil's most savage accomplishment, the crucifixion of God’s Son...and God used it to produce the blood which cleanses us from all sin, and the resurrection that echoes triumph through the universe! 

Armageddon will produce no less than the companion to that last advent – but there will be a new message, He has overcome death and Hell, and Satan is defeated!  Even when Satan takes his best shot, God's sovereign will is going to be the outcome.
ARMAGEDDON'S SWORD
And the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who did mighty miracles on behalf of the beast—miracles that deceived all who had accepted the mark of the beast and who worshiped his statue.  Both the beast and his false prophet were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.  Their entire army was killed by the sharp sword that came from the mouth of the one riding the white horse.  And the vultures all gorged themselves on the dead bodies.   Revelation 19:20 - 21 (NLT)
The battle of Armageddon is over in a single word.  All the amassed weaponry, technology and personnel are beside the point.  It is the single, powerful and unequivocal Word of God that settles this dispute. 
¨              The sword that goes out of His mouth is symbolism for His word.  Jesus spoke one word to the wind one time and it ceased whipping up the Sea of Galilee;
¨              He spoke to a fig tree and it withered;
¨              He spoke to a legion of demons torturing a man from Gadara and they threw themselves into a herd of hogs, and the man was made whole. 
Here Jesus, the living Word of God, speaks and the battle is over.  The beast and false prophet are thrown down (violently) into hell, the place burning with fire and brimstone. 
With that word, Jesus withdraws the breath of life from a billion man army.  The breath of life was given by God, and it can be taken away in an instant.
He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.    Colossians 1:17 (NLT)
The word consist means to hold together.  When Jesus lets go, everything comes unglued. 
And, immediately the scavengers move in.  Armageddon is over.  Victory is in Jesus, alone!

The Confinement of Satan

AN ABYSS SILENCE
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key to the bottomless pit and a heavy chain in his hand.  He seized the dragon—that old serpent, who is the devil, Satan—and bound him in chains for a thousand years.  The angel threw him into the bottomless pit, which he then shut and locked so Satan could not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years were finished.  Afterward he must be released for a little while.   Revelation 20:1 - 3 (NLT)
The abyss is the bottomless pit.  It is what the demons feared most:
The demons kept begging Jesus not to send them into the bottomless pit.
Luke 8:31 (NLT)
John Phillips, an author, tried to imagine what Satan will be doing during his imprisonment. 
There is a poetic justice in God's dealings with Satan.  Centuries ago, the evil one saw to it that the mortal remains of God's beloved Son were shut up in a tomb and sealed.  Throughout the Tribulation era, Satan has opened the abyss to plague mankind, once with horrible demons and once with the recalled soul of the Beast.  Now he himself is consigned to that dark hole and sealed in by an act of God, and there he rages in the most secure prison cell in the universe.  It is the condemned cell, and he knows it.  He has his thoughts to keep him company, and terrible thoughts they are -- thoughts of the day of his creation when he sprang mature, magnificent, and mighty from the hand of God; thoughts of the wide world that once he ruled as the anointed cherub; thoughts of the ways in which once he led the worship of the angel hosts; thoughts of God's throne and his attempts to seize it for himself; thoughts of his fall, of his entrance into Eden, of his short-lived triumph over the first human pair; thoughts of the sentence passed upon him and of his futile efforts to prevent the coming of the promised Seed; thoughts of Calvary and of his utter defeat; thoughts of the fleeting moments when he brought the world to the foot of the Beast and had seemingly triumphed at last; thoughts of the lake of fire just ahead.  He is given a thousand years in confinement to think.[1]
Anyone who has ever seen an interview with a Death Row inmate can imagine this scene.  There is nothing to do but think about what might have been, and what is coming. 

Satan had his chance.  He was a perfect specimen -- a powerful angel, second in command in the universe only to Jesus.  He decided to fight against God.  It was a bad choice. 

Satan once had the keys that unlocked the pit to unleash havoc upon the earth.  Now he's turned in his keys and he is the one who is locked up.  Because of that, on earth, during the thousand year (millennium) rule of Christ there is....
AN ABSENCE OF SIN  
The angel threw him into the bottomless pit, which he then shut and locked so Satan could not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years were finished.  Afterward he must be released for a little while.                                Revelation 20:3 (NLT)

Dr. Phillips suggested how the absence of sin will seem in the Kingdom,
Prosperity is evident from pole to pole and from the new river, which now graces Jerusalem, to the ends of the earth.  Poverty is unknown.  Every man has all that heart can desire.  There are no prisons, no hospitals, no mental institutions, no barracks, no saloons, no houses of ill repute, no gambling dens, no homes for the aged and infirm.  Such things belong to a past and lesser age.  The bloom of youth is on everyone's cheek, for a man is a stripling at a hundred years of age.  Cemeteries are crumbling relics of the past, and tears are rare.  The wolf and the lamb, the calf and the lion, the cow and the bear, the child and the scorpion, are all at peace.  Jesus has come, and the Millennium is here.  The golden age, so frequently heralded by the prophets of Israel's past, has dawned at last, and the earth is filled with the knowledge of God.  Jesus is Lord, and He rules the nations with a rod of iron.  His reign is righteous, and the nations obey.  The principles of the Sermon on the Mount are the laws of the kingdom, and men obey them because infractions are not allowed.  Sin is visited with swift and certain judgment.  The era lasts for a thousand years.[2]

What a day that will be!

So we have the Conquest of the Sword, Confinement of Satan, and…

The Coronation of Saints  

Then I saw thrones, and the people sitting on them had been given the authority to judge.  And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony about Jesus and for proclaiming the word of God.  They had not worshiped the beast or his statue, nor accepted his mark on their forehead or their hands.  They all came to life again, and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years.  This is the first resurrection.  (The rest of the dead did not come back to life until the thousand years had ended.)  Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection.  For them the second death holds no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him a thousand years.   Revelation 20:4 - 6 (NLT)

There are two outstanding realities about this passage:
REWARD
There is a great reward in store for those who have remained faithful to Christ, especially during time of persecution. 
Serving Jesus will have its reward.  William Shakespeare (1564-1616) said, Rather let my head stoop to the block than these knees bow to any, save to the God of Heaven. 
Saints who faithfully serve their Lord, through difficulty, and even good times, will sit with Him in Glory.
“Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that when the world is made new and the Son of Man sits upon his glorious throne, you who have been my followers will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.                    Matthew 19:28 (NLT)
REVERSAL
In the judging that the saints do, there are those who are judged.  This is a time for the tables to turn:
Don’t you realize that someday we believers will judge the world?  1 Corinthians 6:2 (NLT)

What will this judging be like?  It won't be revenge.  That judging is going to consist of carrying out the will of Jesus.  We will be ministering throughout all eternity.  It would do for all of us to practice here what we will be doing there.)
       And finally….

The Convulsion of Sin

This is it!  This is the final convulsion of sin for eternity.  After Satan has been bound up for a thousand years, and Christ has ruled in peace over the earth, there is one more sinful uprising.  (Only one more – He promised!)
SATAN'S RELEASE
When the thousand years come to an end, Satan will be let out of his prison. Revelation 20:7 (NLT)
Can you imagine the state of mind when Satan is let out?  His hate and solitude mixed together in the abyss for a thousand year bake off.  Wow! What an explosion!  We think his activity is bad now; wait until he is let out of the pen.  He will have had a thousand years to plot his moves and his mayhem.  What will he do?
SAME RUSE
He will go out to deceive the nations—called Gog and Magog—in every corner of the earth.  He will gather them together for battle—a mighty army, as numberless as sand along the seashore.  Revelation 20:8 (NLT)
He will use the same tricks he's been using since Eden.  Satan is cunning.  His chief weapon is deception.  He waits until he finds our weakness, then, when we drop our guard, he moves in for the kill. 

Why is he let loose again?


SAME REASON
Someone once said:  If you tell me the reason he was let out in the first place, I'll show you why God will let him out again.  God's reason is wrapped up in the sin problem.
He will go out to deceive the nations—called Gog and Magog—in every corner of the earth. He will gather them together for battle—a mighty army, as numberless as sand along the seashore. Revelation 20:8 (NLT)

Gog and Magog are symbolism from Israel's military history.  They represent the masses of enemies against God and His children. 

You ask the question:  Why doesn't God just do away with Satan, sin and the whole lot?  The problem is sin is not only in Satan – it's in us.  Didn't Jesus die to forgive our sin?  Yes, but He's not going to put up with it through all eternity! 

To deal with the problem of our sin nature, there must be one more demonstration of how deep the problem goes. 

We have people today – good, Christian people – who imagine that when Jesus comes, that will be the end of sin, and He will reign for a thousand years in perfect harmony. 
That is mostly true – except, during this millennial rule, while there will be no challenges to Christ's authority,
¨  There will be children born who know nothing of first-hand rebellion. 
¨  They will live without disease and crime. 
¨  They will truly enjoy the most peaceful time of all humanity.
“No longer will babies die when only a few days old.  No longer will adults die before they have lived a full life.  No longer will people be considered old at one hundred!  Only the cursed will die that young!   Isaiah 65:20 (NLT)

However, this rule of Christ is with a rod of iron.  No one will dare to rebel.  Man will be compliant out of fear.  After all, Jesus killed a billion soldiers to end Armageddon with just one word.
As soon as they hear of me, they submit; foreign nations cringe before me. Psalms 18:44 (NLT)
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!  Your enemies cringe before your mighty power.  Psalms 66:3 (NLT)
Sin will be a secret thing.  It will be – as it has been from the start – a matter of the heart. 
John Calvin said, The human heart has so many crannies where vanity hides, so many holes where falsehood lurks, is so decked out with deceiving hypocrisy, that it often dupes itself.[3]

Jeremiah told us about the sin that lurks in the heart:
“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?  Jeremiah 17:9 (NLT)

When Satan is released by God at the end of the millennium, it will be for showing that even after a perfect rule of Jesus with a rod of iron – with laws that can't be broken – the one place that God cannot rule without permission, is a man's heart.  The one thing God has granted to human beings which he will never take back is free will….choice to obey or disobey.
And as long as sin is in the heart, sin will dominate and control. 

That is why God dealt with our sin problem by going to the root – paying the death penalty.  If He was to preserve our right to choose, then He could not just force us to be good – He had to do something about the cause.
The demonstration will be fully visible as Satan deceives the masses of those who have just been waiting for an excuse to throw-off the rule of Christ.  They will respond to this arch-deceiver and find out that sin's wages have not changed!
SEALED REWARD
And I saw them as they went up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded God’s people and the beloved city.  But fire from heaven came down on the attacking armies and consumed them.  Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet.  There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.  Revelation 20:9 - 10 (NLT)

Devil, Satan, the arch-enemy, back in solitary! 
Exit-stage down!  Final exit.  Satan is banished forever!  Hallelujah!

God has promised that this deceiver will never again ply his trade.   

There are two questions left over about hell --

Is hellfire and brimstone a reality or symbolism?

I believe the Bible says exactly what it means to say.  However, the possibility of symbolism exists.  If it is symbolic, then it is worse than if literal! 

Symbols are only representative; reality is always broader.  And the broader a punishment, the worse.  Satan had better hope for the heat!
Why did God make such an awful place like this for man's state?                 

The fact is that God didn't do that!  This place was not made for man.
“Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.
 Matthew 25:41 (NLT)

The fact is that God only sends people to this place who desire to follow Satan.  He has made it clear to us how to escape hell. 
¨  Give control of your life to Jesus. 
¨  Believe in Jesus. 
¨  Trust Jesus. 
Don't even listen to Satan's lies, and you won't go there. 

The great German reformer, Martin Luther dreamed the devil came to him and asked him to open the door of his heart so that he could come in and discuss some very important matters with Him.  He said he answered this way:  I don't have the keys to the door; God has them.  Ask Him if you wish.  That is a good answer.  It is like the one that says:  Satan came knocking at my heart's door.  I sent faith to answer.  There was no one there. 
Beloved, that is the best that can be said about Satan – he won't be there.  Much better to spend a thousand years with Jesus!
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,



[1]John Phillips, Exploring Revelation, (Neptune, N.J., Loizeaux Brothers, 1993), 238
[2]Ibid, 237
[3]Reflections, Christianity Today. 4-5-93, 61