Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Punch. Slap. Ouch. Thank-you.

My normal response to pain is not ‘thank-you’. I have discovered, with increasing clarity however, that some of the deepest most precious spiritual stuff grows out of pain. The Bible teaches this most plainly...but there is something about His words invading our routine multitasking everyday lives, that makes us sit up and take notice. When we go through something that really hurts, and at the end look back on the situation and see the great things God has done, it is hard to describe the wonder for a God who can use even terrible things and bring glory to Himself.

In Luke 24:26 we read the words of Jesus as He spoke on the road to Emmaus: “was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” (emphasis mine). Necessary for the Son of God, the creator of the universe, to suffer…now, that is a weighty thought. God, who can do anything, is all powerful, and knows everything still deemed it necessary for His Son to suffer in order to bring about peace between Himself and you and I. In the gospel of Mark 8:31 Jesus says that He must suffer many things, and then He foretold His rejection and crucifixion.

Our normal reaction when problems surface is to think - "why can't things just be smooth...why does this have to happen...why can't life be easy?  If we know God is all powerful then the concept of suffering just doesn't seem logical - at least on the surface.  After all, God could, if He chose, sweep His almighty hand and clear up any problem we are having.  

It’s hard to understand that even with the King of Kings, some painful things He has ordained as necessary.  He chooses not to wave a magic wand, even with His Son.  He chose to have His life, death, resurrection and ascension to be flesh and blood real, including the pain.  If the greatest act in Jesus life had to be accomplished through suffering,  it’s really not a surprise that great spiritual victories in our lives often surface as the result of pain.  Only a great and sovereign God could make good out of bad, light out of darkness, and sweetness out of bitter. 

Life hurts...but there is tremendous hope in Christ and He has the power to transform that which is hard and difficult into something incredibly good.  There is hope for today and even more for tomorrow by placing our faith and complete trust in Jesus Christ. 

Evidence of Existence

Some will try to claim there is no evidence that God exists. But take a look at Romans 1:20: “From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see His invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God.” (N LT) The marks of the Intelligent Designer, His order and design in the universe and His “fingerprints” all over humanity point to a Great Creator. Albert Einstein said: “My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illuminant superior Spirit who reveals Himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms by idea of God.”

The Bible tells us that two of the amazing attributes of God is that He is totally loving, and at the same, time totally just. While it is God’s desire that all acknowledge Him, receive Him as Lord, and accept His free gift of forgiveness, He still gives people the free will to choose. “…He is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to perish, so He is giving more time for everyone to repent.”(NLT) II Peter 3:9b

God has continually, throughout history, reached out to communicate with people. He uses nature, He uses circumstances, and He uses believers in the world. Jesus commissions us with the responsibility to compassionately go search out to the lost and tell the good news of not only a God who exists, but a God who loved the world so much, that He gave His only Son (John 3:16). God extended the ultimate plan of love in sending His Son, Jesus Christ to live among us, suffer, die, and come back to life, so that we might have the opportunity to connect with the living God. Even with that amount of sacrifice, God gives each person the free will to choose. And we all know, every choice has it’s consequence. The consequence of acceptance or rejection of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, extend into eternity.

"Oh, Grow Up!" (Maturity is Beautiful)

“Oh, Grow Up!”  (Maturity is Beautiful)

Speaking to a group of Jr. Highers about the concept of spiritual maturity brought the lesson to a point where I told each student to turn to their neighbor and tell him or her, “Oh, grow up!” Pandemonium broke out! These students relished the opportunity to get in each others face and shout, “Oh, grow up!”

When I think of people whom I look up to as heroes, I think of some of my older friends in the faith. One of the meanings of “hero” is someone who is a conqueror. My older friends in the church have conquered many of life’s obstacles. They have seen the expanse of the ages and how each stage of life, lived in concert with God’s Spirit, has deep value and meaning. Some have wrestled with great loss and grief, and come through shining. They understand just what it means to walk with the Lord during every era of our existence. My senior brothers and sisters in the Lord have lived through aspects of life that still puzzle me and they can counsel from having traveled the road previously. Some have navigated through life’s ‘curve balls’ and whether they scored a hit or swung and missed, they have learned much that they can pass on from their experience. There is a depth of understanding, a sense of patience and ‘how to take the long view.’ They understand now, from their unique perspective on life, exactly what the big things are – what is worth standing firm on and which items are insignificant and can therefore be let go. It’s the beauty of wisdom that I hear and see in them and even feel in their presence. Sometimes it’s just a knowing look, a mention that they are praying for me, or a hug when I really need it. It is concrete evidence to me of the Holy Spirit working in their lives. Yes, truly, maturity is beautiful.

Not Perfect, But Very Beautiful

I find it fascinating that when the ascended Jesus gave the apostle John ‘The Revelation’, John then communicated this vision to the seven churches. Jesus didn’t tell John to communicate his message to individual giants in ministry like Billy Graham or Mother Teresa. Jesus didn’t focus these messages to one person at a time. These messages were given to the churches - groups of believers bonded together to share the love and message of Jesus Christ. The people of the church were to live life together in such a way that the world would sit up and take notice.

True, most of the churches had problems. Jesus had some very specific and stern directives toward believers who were getting off track. Consider these strong words to the church at Laodicea from the Message (Revelation 3:15-16): “I know you inside and out and find little to my liking. You’re not cold, you’re not hot – far better to be either cold or hot! You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit.”

Whoa! Strong words…changes needed to be made! But Jesus also gave great affirmation and love to the church. Throughout history, the church has been chosen to communicate God’s message of love and reconciliation through Jesus Christ.

In our very individualistic society there are a lot of people – self proclaimed Christians – who prefer to try to live the Christian life away from the church. Our culture has decided to be cynical of “institutionalized religion”. Yet the hunger for the spiritual dimension in people’s lives remain. I recently ran across a blog where people, disillusioned by something about the church, tried to justify how they could supposedly live in community with believers and grow spiritually away from the church. However, one would be hard pressed to make a good case for that view point from Scripture. From the book of Hebrews: “And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging each other; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25.

The churches from Revelation had some problems. Churches throughout history struggle with problems because each church is made up of imperfect human beings. But the church is still God’s chosen instrument, and what God has chosen, I surely wouldn’t want to discard.

Wheaton professor, Dr. Gilbert Bilzekian explained the early church to a group of young students, which included Bill Hybels, who became the Senior Pastor of the Willow Creek megachurch in Chicago.

“Students,” he said, “there was once a community of believers who were so totally devoted to God that their life together was charged with the Spirit’s power. In that band of Christ- followers, believers loved each other with a radical kind of love. They took off their masks and shared their lives with one another. They laughed and cried and prayed and sang and served together in authentic Christian fellowship. Those that had more shared freely with those who had less until socioeconomic barriers melted away. People related together in ways that bridged gender and racial chasms, and celebrated cultural differences. Acts 2 tells us that this community of believers, this church, offered unbelievers a vision of life that was so beautiful it took their breath away. It was so bold, so creative, so dynamic that they couldn’t resist it. Verse 47 tells us that ‘the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

The early church wasn’t perfect (check out Acts 5 and the sudden death of Ananias and Sapphira) but it was very beautiful.

There are great reasons to stand up for the church in a culture that wants to dismiss it’s influence. We use the term “family” for the way we relate to each other in church because a church family really mirrors what happens in a traditional family. The closer we get the more there is opportunity for bumps and bruises. There are misunderstandings to work through and relationships can be tough. But there is nothing like a family working and loving each other in harmony. It can’t be replaced and the church can’t be replaced. The church is close to the heart of God, and when lived out by His design truly is very beautiful.

Our culture changes, our circumstances change, our seasons of life change, but none of these things preclude us from experiencing what Christ offers the world through the church – “a vision of life so beautiful that it took their breath away…so bold, so creative, so dynamic that they couldn’t resist.”

Monday, January 2, 2012

Please Come Home to God

Troubles in life are many.  Some happen to us, some we create.  But there is hope, because God knows all about that and is waiting for you, dear one, to come back to Him.  He wants to take your bruised and bleeding heart and heal and comfort you and give you a new life.  The Bible says, "...that  anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person.  The old life is gone;  a new life has begun!"  (II Corinthians 5:17 NLT)

You may have practical issues.  You don't know what to do next or how to overcome the bad situation you are in.  Life may seem confusing.  The one thing you can count on is God.  He never changes and is always faithful to you - ever waiting for you to come home to His arms.  He took the punishment that each of us deserve when He gave His Son, Jesus to a world that mistreated Him and crucified Him.  When that happened, He willingly took all our wrong upon Himself, and He was the only One that could do that for He never did anything wrong.  He did this so we could be made right with God.  It is a free gift.  Come home to God.  He will show you what to do next - but first, just come home.