Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Lifter of My Head

"But You, O LORD, are a shield for me, My glory and the One who lifts up my head." Psalm 3:3

I walked about in my own fog this morning, as fog also hid the sun outside. I watched the morning news for a half hour as I tried to wake up, but could not shake off the sense of despair at the events that are unfolding around me. People being beheaded in America, mysterious plagues becoming pandemic, the White House invaded, and the lack of security coming to light. I decided I'd had just about enough, and turned instead to my usual "first sighting" in the morning: the Word of God.

God has been surprising me lately with passages that seem to "pop out" at me. I have read them before, but suddenly something new and fresh strikes me in a way I had not seen it before. I read in I Peter 1:13 a verse of encouragement for these troubled times:

"Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." (emphasis mine)

Hope. Anticipate the fact that Christ is coming soon. That brought comfort to my troubled soul. I decided to look up some cross references and I found this gem from I Corinthians 1. Keep in mind that Paul is addressing the carnal Corinthians, getting drunk at the Communion service and tolerating a brother who was in an incestuous relationship. Before he attempted any words of correction, he said this to them:

"I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus,that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge,even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you,so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ,who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord." I Corinthians 1:4-9

My eyes were being taken off of me, off of my surroundings and put back onto the only right thing in the universe: God Himself. I began looking up verses concerning the attribute of His faithfulness.He was faithful to the Old Testament saints, He was faithful to provide Christ as Substitute for all mankind, and He will be faithful to come back again, just as He promised He would. As long as I fix my hope on that, I cannot go wrong. If I look at what I see around me, then I will have what Jesus described would happen to men's hearts in the last days:

Luke 21:25 “There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves,men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

My heart will faint from fear and anxiety if I look to what is happening all around me. I know that I can be informed of trends and current events to be prudent, but I don't have to be occupied with them. Instead I can look to the only solution to all the problems: Christ's soon return to this planet. He will come and set things right and He will need no adviser to tell Him what to do.

I cannot help but think of Psalm 2:

Why are the nations in an uproar
And the peoples devising a vain thing?
The kings of the earth take their stand
And the rulers take counsel together
Against the LORD, and against His Annointed, saying,
"Let us tear their fetters apart
And cast away their cords from us!"

He who sits in the heavens laughs,
The Lord scoffs at them,
Then He will speak to them in His anger
And terrify them in His fury, saying,
"But as for Me, I have installed My King
Upon Zion, My holy mountain."

"I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD:
He said to Me, 'You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
'Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance.
And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron,
You shall shatter them like earthenware.'"

Now therefore, O kings, show discernment,
Take warning, O judges of the earth.
Worship the LORD with reverence
And rejoice with trembling.
Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way,
For His wrath may soon be kindled,
How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!

And so, now more than ever before, it is time for us set our hopes fully on the grace that will be revealed to us, as the Apostle Peter encouraged us to do. As we look into His Word and consider God's attributes, we will find our hearts taking courage. This is something we must do for ourselves, to get the strength required to get through these perilous times.

Even the prophet Jeremiah, weeping after he saw the devastation of his beloved country, found hope through this very thing:

This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I have hope in Him.”
The LORD is good to those who wait for Him,
To the person who seeks Him.
It is good that he waits silently
For the salvation of the LORD.

Lamentations 3:21-26

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Looking at the Tree

"When they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore it was named Marah. So the people grumbled at Moses, saying, "What shall we drink?" Then he cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree; and he threw it into the waters, and the water became sweet." Exodus 15: 23-25

In Exodus 14, the people of Israel had just been released from bondage to slavery in Egypt with a mighty deliverance by God. Yet their gratitude to God for His care and provision did not last long. It is easy for me to look at them and wonder how they could have been so blind. Yet these Old Testament saints' stories were included in the Scriptures for us, to be a warning for us, to not make the same mistake they did.

"For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ, Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, so we would not crave evil things as they also craved." I Corinthians 10: 1-6

The people were bitter because they were in the desert. They failed to see God's daily provision for them: the daily manna and the shoes that did not wear out. Instead they complained about their lot in life. They wanted to return to slavery. I am not much different than they are. My life has had its own twists and turns, and sometimes the answers seem too long in coming. I look around me for human comfort in desperation, but deep down, I know that people cannot fill my void.

Only God can. Last night as I tried to drift off to sleep, I was troubled and like the Israelites, wept my own tears of bitterness. Only my cat knew I was crying upon my pillow. Instead of falling to sleep, the tears woke me up and I knew I needed to draw near somehow to Him once again. I began reading a book called The Seven Sayings of the Savior on the Cross by A.W. Pink. Only in the first few pages my heart was drawn to see my situation with a redemptive review. I can be like Moses, I can look to the tree,and behold that the cross of Calvary was hurled once for all into the sin-filled bitter waters of life on this fallen planet. For every person on this earth suffers. Some suffer more than others but more suffering occurred during that period of Christ's crucifixion than all other human sufferings combined. We have a God who knows very well what it means to hurt. He has not left us without remedy, but has given us a provision to make even the hardest trials in life sweet by our knowing and walking with Him.

I can either believe that this world is spinning out of control or that a sovereign God who loves me has all things, including my life and all that happens to me, under His loving care and concern. It may not look so good outwardly, but neither did it look good when Jesus went to the cross, or when God darkened the planet and a great earthquake occurred. (Matthew 27:45-57) But sins were being atoned for in that darkest moment of human history and God used that black moment to bring about the greatest victory: raising Jesus Christ from the dead. Death, satan, all the powers of hell itself could not keep Him in that grave.

Moses did not know what to do when the people started to revolt, but at that moment, God showed him a tree. When I see things I don't like in my life, I can "see" in my mind God showing me a tree too. That tree is Christ's cross. It means the old me is gone forever, crucified with Christ, and I am now reconciled and in right relation with Him. It means knowing that God is sovereign, and is working even the hardest things in my life for an outcome that is ultimately sweet. All I need to do is to keep looking at the tree and trusting in my Savior.

"And we know with an absolute knowledge that for those who are loving God, all things are working together resulting in good, for those who are divinely summoned-ones according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28 Kenneth Wuest, An Expanded Translation)

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Meaningful Life

My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. Psalm 73:26

I spent time researching dead relatives lately. It sounds morbid, but I wanted to learn more about my natural family history.In this age of the internet and digital scanning, it is amazing what you can find. I scanned old newspapers for the names of family members that I wanted to learn more about, and searched to find snippets about them. One thing I learned was that my great grandfather accidentally shot off one hand, which then had to be amputated. I didn't know that. His hardware business sadly failed, and I found the ad that advertised selling off the hardware after his death. All that was left of his being a "major merchant" in his small town.

I typed in the names of some of my aunts and great aunts and uncles. I found they attended church functions, some poured tea, some played hymns. I read reports of visitors coming in from out of state and staying in their homes. (Yes, that was big news back then.) Interspersed among these stories were recipes, old fashioned advertising, a sense of a time of nostalgia somehow lost to our modern computer age. People read the papers back then, there were not a million other stories, movies, games and channels competing for their attention. People actually talked to each other, and didn't stare at their phones all day.

And yet as I searched for little nuggets about their lives, I struggled with a sense of despair about the meaning of it all. I saw pictures of them as children, little faces full of hope in antiquated photos, and then visited them as they lived in worn out bodies decades later,still hanging on to their dignity until the end. For we are made in the image of God. Lifetimes pass so quickly, and all that was left to their memory were tiny blips in the local paper about goings on in a little town in the Midwest while the planet continues to spin in a huge universe far beyond it. What makes our lives worthwhile?

My aunts and uncles had dreams, I am told, but most of them never got further than that small town. Not so my Dad. The youngest of eight children, he was the only one who went to college and left the community. He wanted something more than the little town in the Midwest had to offer. He became a very successful businessman. That didn't make him any better than them, just different, not really understood by them.

And yet isn't that what we all want? To be understood? To be validated? To be told, "Yes, your life is important." We seek that from each other, but the only one who can really give it to us is God.

And that is exactly what He offers each and every one of us. It doesn't matter where we live: in a small town or a big city. It doesn't matter how much money we make or how fancy a car we drive. It doesn't matter if we are famous in Hollywood or obscure, with no one knowing our name. The thing that could make their lives significant, and that can make any life significant is the fact that God Almighty, the Creator of the universe, actually wants, longs to have a relationship with us, us. We can do nothing for Him to benefit Him but still He loves us and wants to be our Shepherd. (Psalm 23) He even longs for us jealously! He doesn't want us to have idols because He knows that only He can make us happy. Nothing else in this world can. Nothing. This offer of an eternal love relationship with God is enough to make any life worthwhile, no matter what the circumstances,no matter what time we live in.

For God existed in all glory forever in heaven with His Father but at a certain point in time, the perfect point in time, He decided to step down from that royal privilege and live a life just like we do on this planet. He knew hunger, fatigue, loneliness, just like my dead relatives and just like I experience today. He thought that we were worth the trouble of Him dying for us. He lived the life here perfectly, took on all our sins, offers us new resurrection life with Him forever, so that our days also can have meaning even if it seems hopeless all around us. He is the Hope, our only hope.

"Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
Philippians 2:5-11

"To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory."
Colossians 1:27

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Be Not Anxious- Behold Him!

“Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin the world!” John 1:29

Twelve simple words spoken by the John the Baptist, yet what a world of meaning is contained within them. Have you beheld the Lamb of God lately? Have I? All we need to live the Christian spiritual life comes from truly beholding our gracious Redeemer and Lord. It is the cure for overcoming a life of fear and anxiety even in the chaos in which we live.

It is truly tempting to become fearful in this time. Jesus even predicted that fear would accompany the last days before His return. In Luke 21:25-26 He describes it: "And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming upon the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken."

We have seen these things: the natural disasters, signs in the heavens (like Blood Moons on Jewish feast days), and wars and rumors of wars. We have seen society crumble rapidly, and all sense of decency is gone.

Two thoughts then. One is for the person who may read this who has never heard that there could be good news in the midst of all the bad news in the world. John the Baptist told us what the good news was: "Behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world."

Do you believe that there was a man that did take on all the sins that mankind has ever committed? All the sins you ever committed? That paid freely for them all so that the only sin that could keep a person from heaven is unbelief? That Person was Jesus Christ, the Lamb spoken of in John 1:29. The word for Lamb is Amnos #286 in the Greek Lexicon to the New Testament. It refers to the Paschal Lamb, who was offered up during the first Passover when the Jewish people were being delivered from the Egyptians. The blood of the sacrificed lamb was put on their doorposts, and the angel of death "passed over" their house. The lamb offered had to spotless and without defect, and so Jesus our Savior was spotless and without defect. If He had sinned even one time, He would not have been qualified to be the Lamb of God. But He did not sin, ever in thought, word or deed, and that is why He was qualified to become our substitute.

"For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth: Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously: Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness; by whose stripes ye were healed." I Peter 2: 21-24

He takes our sins, and we take His righteousness, by one simple act of faith in His person.

"To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. For He hath made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." II Corinthians 5:19-21

So by placing your faith in Jesus Christ you can be relieved of worry about what will happen to you in the future, because you will then be a child of God and not a child of wrath. (Eph. 2:3) You can then, as a child of God learn about God's great love and care for you in the midst of all the evil and chaos which we temporarily see coming to a head right now. In the end, God will win. You can cast your every care upon this One who loved you so much that He died for you. (I Peter 5:6-7) You can start learning the limitless dimensions of His love for you, as the Apostle Paul wrote about in his letter to the Ephesians:

"That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and the length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled up with all the fullness of God." Ephesians 3:16-19

If you have just placed your faith in Him, then Jesus simply says to come and learn all about Him in Matthew 11:28-30. You will find He is kind and gracious. We need to learn about Him every day, for only learning about His great love for us will help us to overcome in these perilous days. Beholding Him, beholding His love, that is what will sustain us like nothing else can.