Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Complacency

Monday, June 26, 2017
“I know all the things you do.  I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance.  I know you don’t tolerate evil people.  You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not.  You have discovered they are liars.  You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.  “But I have this complaint against you.  You don’t love me or each other as you did at first!  Look how far you have fallen!  Turn back to me and do the works you did at first.  If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches.  Revelation 2:1-5(NLT)
Complacency at any level just isn’t pretty.  It must have been a stinging, embarrassing moment when the church elders at Ephesus read this letter to the congregation.  It was one of seven letters Jesus dictated to the apostle John while he was being shown the future.  Mostly it was warnings to churches that had slipped off the serving trail.
Besides embarrassment, there had to be a wave of nausea rippling through the church as the gathered believers heard the warning that if they didn’t lose their complacent attitudes, their place of service in the Kingdom would be relocated to the unemployment line with other false prophets!  Jesus was saying, love me or leave me!  That is an either/or with no neutral choice!  In fact it is the choice against neutral!
This is a message any church can hear if we have enough sense to put our pride on hold and look past our former victories long enough to see how complacency, laziness, forgetfulness and just plain lack of caring have crept in and replaced what was once a passionate love for Christ.
If we can be objective enough to look at the clear handwriting on the wall (so to speak), we will see that most of the (so-called) “reasons” we have to explain why churches are falling apart these days is not a lack of programming, evil opposition, weak preaching, bad singing, too many choices, or indifference to God in the communities we serve.  The real reasons are unbelief in the pews, marked by unwillingness to tithe, serve, and give our time to the work of sharing the Gospel with lost people.  Joyfully serving Christ is the mark of first love in a believer; without that, how can we say we love Jesus?
Jesus told the believers at Ephesus they were at a cross-road, a tipping point, where their very existence as a church was at stake.  It was either return to first love of going all-out like they had at the start, or take the sign down from the door.
Complacency; not pretty and not honored in Heaven.

For You Today

There is a place to drop off the garment of complacency; it’s called an altar!
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!
NOTES

[i] Title Image: Pixabay.com

Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire (and Back!)

Friday, June 23, 2017
The high priest and his officials, who were Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.  They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail.  But an angel of the Lord came at night, opened the gates of the jail, and brought them out.  Then he told them, “Go to the Temple and give the people this message of life!”  So at daybreak the apostles entered the Temple, as they were told, and immediately began teaching.  When the high priest and his officials arrived, they convened the high council—the full assembly of the elders of Israel.  Then they sent for the apostles to be brought from the jail for trial.  But when the Temple guards went to the jail, the men were gone.  So they returned to the council and reported, “The jail was securely locked, with the guards standing outside, but when we opened the gates, no one was there!”  When the captain of the Temple guard and the leading priests heard this, they were perplexed, wondering where it would all end.  Then someone arrived with startling news:  “The men you put in jail are standing in the Temple, teaching the people!”  The captain went with his Temple guards and arrested the apostles, but without violence, for they were afraid the people would stone them.  
Acts 5:17-24(NLT)
Whenever you serve God wholeheartedly, and are following His leading, you can rest assured there will be problems, opposition, and the power of God confusing those who think they’re in charge, and dispatching the problems like mist lifting in the morning.
That’s the sum of jail time for the apostles: 
·       They were faithfully preaching Jesus, and got arrested.
·       An angel picked the lock on their cells and, there you have it, jailbreak…out of the frying pan!
·       The Sadducees in charge are stupefied, find the apostles preaching again and arrest them (this time more carefully) again…back in the frying pan.
There are a couple of really evident lessons here. 
1.     Problems and opposition are never the last word when you’re on mission for the Kingdom; they’re only proof God’s power is zeroing-in against the darkness of spiritual wickedness.
2.     When you encounter problems and opposition, never give them the power to end your mission, which is to always preach Jesus.  If God wants you to preach on the streets, in the church, or in a jail…He can arrange what needs to be arranged.  He’s good at that!

For You Today

What opposition or problems have caused you to consider backing-off preaching Jesus? 
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!
NOTES

[i] Title Image: Pixabay.com

Asking

Thursday, June 22, 2017
Bend down, O Lord, and hear my prayer; answer me, for I need your help.  Protect me, for I am devoted to you.  Save me, for I serve you and trust you.  You are my God.  Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am calling on you constantly.  Give me happiness, O Lord, for I give myself to you.  O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help.  Listen closely to my prayer, O Lord; hear my urgent cry.  Psalm 86:1-6(NLT)
Did you catch all the pleading verbs?  Bend, Hear, Answer,
Protect, Save, Be Merciful, Give, Listen, Hear; prayer like that is part of our life as believers. 
We ask because Jesus taught us to go to the Father; Paul took it a step farther and told us to come boldly to the throne[ii] for a large helping of grace!
But asking is only part of our prayer life. 
·       There is also adoration, when we look with loving hearts on the One who loved us enough to die for us and save us from our sinfulness. 
·       There is confession, the acknowledgement that we are sinful and humbly agree with God that there is no part of unholy thoughts and deeds that can be part of our relationship with the Heavenly Father.
·       And there is also thanksgiving, the praise of hearts that are forgiven and freed for service to our King.
Back to the pleading of our Psalm – there is nothing wrong with laying out your needs and the desires of your heart before the Lord.  But it is a good and helpful reminder of how God arranged the order answered prayer, and the kind of heart He wants to bless.  Note the Psalm once again:
Give me happiness, O Lord, for I give myself to you.
When we give ourselves unreservedly over and into the keeping of God, it is deferring our own will in favor of His.  It is like Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane:
“Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me.  Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”  Luke 22:42(NLT)

For You Today

In your prayer of adoration, confession, thanksgiving and asking, whose will are you seeking…yours or His?  If you can say BOTH, you may be a Methodist after all!
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!
NOTES


[i] Title Image: Pixabay.com
[ii] Hebrews 4:16

The Sacrifice of Praise

Wednesday, June 21, 2017
On October 31 the people assembled again, and this time they fasted and dressed in burlap and sprinkled dust on their heads.  Those of Israelite descent separated themselves from all foreigners as they confessed their own sins and the sins of their ancestors.  They remained standing in place for three hours while the Book of the Law of the Lord their God was read aloud to them.  Then for three more hours they confessed their sins and worshiped the Lord their God.  The Levites—Jeshuaj, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Kenani—stood on the stairway of the Levites and cried out to the Lord their God with loud voices.  Then the leaders of the Levites—Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah—called out to the people:  “Stand up and praise the Lord your God, for he lives from everlasting to everlasting!” Then they prayed:  “May your glorious name be praised!  May it be exalted above all blessing and praise!  “You alone are the Lord.  You made the skies and the heavens and all the stars.  You made the earth and the seas and everything in them.  You preserve them all, and the angels of heaven worship you.  “You are the Lord God, who chose Abram and brought him from Ur of the Chaldeans and renamed him Abraham.  When he had proved himself faithful, you made a covenant with him to give him and his descendants the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites, and Girgashites.  And you have done what you promised, for you are always true to your word.  Nehemiah 9:1-8(NLT)
The rebuilding of God’s temple in Jerusalem wasn’t the only restoration project on Nehemiah’s (or God’s) heart.  The people of Israel, who had been conquered time and again, had learned the lesson of humility; they now had to learn the lessons of victory.
Part of that re-training, to re-shape the children of God into usable messengers of God’s good news of salvation for the entire world, was to teach them to live in the sacrifice of praise.
Nehemiah called for a great praise and worship service, and all the people came dressed in sackcloth and ashes (not Easter bonnets and top hats!).  They stood in place for the reading of God’s Word for three hours, and then opened their hearts in response, confessing their sins, and their ancestor’s sins for three more hours!  Then the liturgy stopped, and the confessing stopped, and the priests called for the people to start praising God – to call out to Him.
If you noticed in the reading, every bit of the people’s calling-out praise to God was a rehearsing of what God had done for, and through the people of Israel.  This was a testimony meeting!  This was the sacrifice God was interested in…cleansed hearts in response to God’s Word, followed by the expression of cleared minds, speaking the praise of God’s lovingkindness.  Right minds that understood the presence of mercy!
It’s important to notice the pattern:  Word of God…Confession…Praise.
If ever our world needed to get this right, it is certainly now!

For You Today

When you take the Word of God seriously, how can you NOT confess your sins?  And once you’ve confessed those sins, is it not time to offer the sacrifice of praise?
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!
NOTES

[i] Title Image: Pixabay.com

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Keeping a Firm Grip on Biblical Teaching

Tuesday, June 20, 2017
As for us, we can’t help but thank God for you, dear brothers and sisters loved by the Lord.  We are always thankful that God chose you to be among the first to experience salvation—a salvation that came through the Spirit who makes you holy and through your belief in the truth.  He called you to salvation when we told you the Good News; now you can share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.  With all these things in mind, dear brothers and sisters, stand firm and keep a strong grip on the teaching we passed on to you both in person and by letter.  2 Thessalonians 2:13-15(NLT)
Years ago a leader in a church I served disagreed (rather strongly) with a decision I had made.  In the ensuing “discussion” I was trying to explain how I saw the circumstances and the reasons behind why I chose plan “A” rather than plan “B”.  The leader could not see it from my perspective and got frustrated.  His frustration took the form of an angry tone of voice and a shouted:  I know what I believe; don’t confuse it with facts!
That was not the kind of standing firm with a strong grip Paul the apostle had in mind!  Rather, Paul was encouraging the church to stand firm in the pathway of all the teaching he had passed on to them.
In the past several decades we have seen a loosening of the grip on Biblical truth, in favor of rationalizing human, sinful behavior.  The result in our day is a wave of individualism that has weakened the church and body of Christ.  It is easy to see some of those results in the life of the local church:
·       Church attendance comes in a distant third or less when compared to the beach, mountains or sleeping-in
·       Biblical standards of morality are merely suggestions – or just passed-off as superstitions of a past culture
·       Biblical authority is no longer questions; it is blatantly discarded, or, worse, denied as false.
It is rare to see a firm stand in the things of God today, and we can thank intolerance for accepting and learning the Word of God.  After all, how can anyone stand firm in the will of God if the Word of God is not known?

For You Today

What is it upon which you stand firm and grip strongly?
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!
NOTES


[i] Title Image: Pixabay.com

Sunday, June 18, 2017

A Father's Guiding Hand in Troubled Times

Monday, June 19, 2017
Finally, when we could stand it no longer, we decided to stay alone in Athens, and we sent Timothy to visit you.  He is our brother and God’s co-worker in proclaiming the Good News of Christ.  We sent him to strengthen you, to encourage you in your faith, and to keep you from being shaken by the troubles you were going through.  But you know that we are destined for such troubles.  Even while we were with you, we warned you that troubles would soon come—and they did, as you well know.  That is why, when I could bear it no longer, I sent Timothy to find out whether your faith was still strong.  I was afraid that the tempter had gotten the best of you and that our work had been useless.  1 Thessalonians 3:1-5(NLT)
I’m certain Paul considered the believers at Thessalonica his children in the faith.  His fatherly love for them shouts through this passage when he confesses he couldn’t stand it any longer, not knowing if they were still holding firm in the faith.  It seems Paul had heard about the persecution the young Christians were facing, and was anxious to know how they were faring.  It’s like that with fathers.  A father has dreams that his children’s dreams will come true; you want the best for them.
Yesterday was Father’s Day, and it was also the 99th anniversary of my Dad being born.  He went home to be with Jesus two years ago and I miss him terribly.  That being said, I would not draw him back from Heaven for even a moment, even if that were possible. 
But I do think often of his care for me, and the ways he was anxious for my well-being.  I never felt wanting when it came to being loved by my father.
When I was 16 I played high school football.  One time I zigged when I should have zagged, and a knee from another player found its way into my side, and that led to a speedy trip to the hospital in the back of Coach Weitz’s station wagon, and emergency surgery for a ruptured spleen. 
Mom and Dad spent six hours in the waiting room while the docs put me back together.  There was plenty of “waiting-room coffee” but nothing to eat.  I am told that when they wheeled me out of surgery around 10pm past my parents I was white as a sheet, unconscious, and had tubes, needles and IV bags hooked-up to arms, legs, and any other available spot.  Dad never ate lunch, and hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast that morning.  Sources say he turned white as his comatose son, got wobbly-kneed, sagged back into his chair and fainted.  Now my Dad was 6’2” and a man’s man, but the sight of his little boy in that shape drove any pretense of remaining strong when your kid might bleed to death.
Years later I can think of that whole escapade and laugh.  If Dad were still here he would say in his customary lame way:  That’s easy for you to say…you were taking a nap the whole time!
It’s true; I was out cold and never knew the real danger I faced, and how the doctors were busy saving my life.  But Dad never prayed so hard or felt so pressed and helpless.  Such is the burden of one who cares.

For You Today

It is a good reminder, Father’s Day, to remember and give thanks for those who have cared for you and guided you through troubled times. 
We have a Heavenly Father to thank, and for Whom we can be grateful!
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

NOTES


[i] Title Image: Pixabay.com

1 John 3:1-5 Heaven Series #7. Will We Know Each Other in Heaven?

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!  But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him.  Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears.  But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is.  And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.  1 John 3:1-3(NLT)
George MacDonald was a great Scottish preacher of another generation.   He was asked one time if we will recognize one another in Heaven; he responded:
Shall we be greater fools in Paradise than we are here?[ii]
Randy Alcorn in Heaven poses this question as a problem many people have with being able to recognize their loved ones at the reunion.  He says:  What lies behind that question is Christoplatonism and the false assumption that in Heaven we’ll be disembodied spirits who lose our identities and memories.  How does someone recognize a spirit? [iii]
Plato was the philosopher who considered the body as more of a liability than an asset.  Plato’s idea that we are much better off without these mortal bodies has affected (and infected) many believer’s view of what it will be like to live with God in the new heaven and earth.[iv]
There is no “memory wipe” even suggested in Scripture, where we would forget what our loved ones look like, or that they would forget.  This is based on human limitation to understand what heaven would be like, not sound theology. 
What about evidence to the contrary such as Mary at the tomb, and the two disciples on the Emmaus Road not recognizing Jesus?  These are troubling, but certainly explainable.  Mary lived in a culture where women did not make eye contact with men; she imagined it was the gardener.  But the instant Jesus called her by name she recognized him.  Likewise, the Emmaus Road disciples didn’t know Jesus at first, but there was a supernatural intervention that kept them from recognizing him (Luke 24:16)
So, contrary to the troublesome ideas that we won’t know each other in Heaven, let’s look at the Biblical evidence, starting from John’s epistle that we will not only know each other; we are going to know each other more deeply and completely than was ever possible here on earth!
1.     John says: We will be LIKE Him
After last week’s service one of our church members, Marie Cavaletto shared with me how someone had once told her there will be no babies in heaven, that we would spend eternity like Jesus, at age 33.  I’m not sure I like that…I did some pretty dumb things at age 33! 
Perhaps the person meant that since the Lord’s ministry culminated at that age, we will be like that…fully matured, fruitful and not elderly-weak, or childishly young.  I like to think that age won’t be a factor at all.  Eternity will change a lot of our earthly concepts, freeing us to understand that what we look like will not matter, because what we are matters more than anything.
That means, being like him will involve:

Gathering

Jesus appeared to more than 500 witnesses after the resurrection(1 Corinthians 15).  According to John’s Gospel(John 21) Jesus cooked breakfast for his disciples, and ate with them after the resurrection.  That means, with all due respect to Plato, the body Jesus had was real, and therefore vital.
If we’re going to be like Him, we will also have bodies, and not have to try to recognize which ghost used to be our mother-in-law!

Remembering

When Jesus appeared to his followers the first time in the upper room, Thomas was AWOL.  The next time Jesus offered his hands and side to the doubting disciple and told him to check out the scars(John 20).  The fact that we are going to be like Jesus means we will retain recognizable characteristics of our earthly bodies.
2.     John Says:  We will SEE Him Like He Is
One huge mistake the people of Jesus’ day made was failing to recognize God among them. 
Mary at the tomb, and the Emmaus travelers didn’t realize they were face to face with Almighty God.  But in that day our eyes will be opened
The Book of Revelation says much about the unveiling of Christ; in fact, the word “revelation” itself means to draw back the curtain
Everything about our misconceptions of who Jesus is, and what He is really like will clear away like a fog lifting in the morning.  We shall see Jesus without limitation!

He is Omnipresent

Omnipresence requires that a person is everywhere at once.  In the account of the transfiguration(Luke 9) Jesus took James, John, and Peter up to a place they couldn’t describe.  There they met (and recognized) Moses and Elijah. 
Scripture says Jesus’ whole appearance was otherworldly…transfigured and different than anything they’d ever seen.  And the disciples recognized the two prophets who had died hundreds of years before.  They’d never so much as seen a Facebook picture, yet they knew them. 
Some scholars, professors and pastors I’ve known have held that we will move at the speed of thought from one physical location to another.  I personally believe that’s too tame; if we’re going to be like Jesus, I don’t think omnipresence is too much of a stretch. 

He is Omniscient

Omniscience defined means knowing all there is to know.  This certainly includes knowing and recognizing our loved ones. 
But I believe there is much, much more to it than that.  I believe it means we will know as God knows…omnisciently understanding in every way all the strengths, weaknesses, joys, and sorrows our loved ones had and remember.
In heaven, because of knowing all there is to know there will never be any kind of communication breakdown. 
We will even understand ourselves perfectly!

He is Omnipotent

Because God is omnipotent, all-powerful (which is certainly going to be displayed at Armageddon), there will be the destruction of sin, death, tears, sorrow….all things will be made new.
What’s so utterly inconceivable is the incredible contrast between the Jesus of Bethlehem and the Lord of Heaven’s armies, who, with the breath of his mouth, the Sword of judgment slays every enemy with a single word.
We shall see that; and we shall share in that.
3.     John says: Knowing this changes us
In our text John writes that everyone who has this expectation…keeps himself pure. 
With everything we will see and all the people we will recognize and enjoy, as we gather and remember, in the joy of our omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent Lord, who will transform us to be just like him…it is no wonder Jesus took great pains to tell us to prepare.
And so, I ask you a much more pressing question than whether you will know, recognize and remember anybody; that question is:  will you be there to be known, recognized and remembered?
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!

Notes                               

[i] Title image: Russell Brownworth, Thunder Struck Ridge, Blue Ridge Parkway, 2006
[ii] Randy Alcorn quoting MacDonald in Heaven, (Carol Stream, Il, Tyndale House Publishers, 2004), p.345
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Alcorn, paraphrased from Appendix A, p.475

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Promise

Friday, June 16, 2017
Abraham was now a very old man, and the Lord had blessed him in every way.  One day Abraham said to his oldest servant, the man in charge of his household, “Take an oath by putting your hand under my thigh.  Swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and earth, that you will not allow my son to marry one of these local Canaanite women.  Go instead to my homeland, to my relatives, and find a wife there for my son Isaac.”  The servant asked, “But what if I can’t find a young woman who is willing to travel so far from home?  Should I then take Isaac there to live among your relatives in the land you came from?”  “No!” Abraham responded.  “Be careful never to take my son there.  For the Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and my native land, solemnly promised to give this land to my descendants.  He will send his angel ahead of you, and he will see to it that you find a wife there for my son.  If she is unwilling to come back with you, then you are free from this oath of mine.  But under no circumstances are you to take my son there.”  So the servant took an oath by putting his hand under the thigh of his master, Abraham.  He swore to follow Abraham’s instructions.  Genesis 24:1-9(NLT)
Promises are important!  We make promises over many issues of life.  Brides, grooms and the communities that are witnesses at weddings vow promises of fidelity and support.  Officials make promises to faithfully discharge the duties of their offices.  Children promise to be BFF’s (Best Friends Forever).
Abraham knew the promise God had made to him about where his descendants should be was so important, he made his servant swear an oath, a binding promise that in finding a bride for his son Isaac, he would never choose a Canaanite woman.
The ceremonial swearing of Abraham’s servant was quite different from our typical oath-taking, where we place a hand on the Bible, raise the right hand and make our promise.  Abraham had the servant put his hand under Abraham’s thigh.
The thigh was the seat of generative power, and the region of sacramental consecration, and to put the hand under the thigh was to acknowledge and pledge obedience to him who requires the oath.[ii]
Generative power, or the origin of “seed” for procreation of the species, was (and is) the central focus of heritage.  Let’s face it, you don’t leave your name and whatever estate you may have accumulated to just anybody; heirs are important.  To “swear” by the hand under the thigh was to put the future on the line. 
In addition, the servant, by placing his hand under Abraham’s thigh, was bringing into view the significance of the special mark of God’s chosen people, circumcision.  This was putting history and faithfulness to God in the mix of this promise. 
Abraham was requiring his servant to swear by everything sacred and holy, past, present, and future, that he would keep the promise.  This was not exactly a BFF promise on Facebook, given today and forgotten before the day ends.

For You Today

Jesus’ appearing in Bethlehem was the fulfillment of God placing his own hand (so to speak) under his own thigh, and promising He would come to redeem us from sin and death.j
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!
NOTES

[i] Title Image:  By James Brooks (29th Alaska Legislature opens) , via Wikimedia Commons
[ii] Barnes’ Notes on the Old Testament, Electronic Edition ©1999, Parsons Technology, Inc