Apr 08

Shalom

Shalom

 

3 You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!

 4 Trust in the LORD always, for the LORD GOD is the eternal Rock. (Isa 26:3-4 NLT)

 

George (not his real name) was a graduate student at a prestigious eastern university. He had finished his course-work and had been diligently working on his doctoral dissertation for two years. Then disaster struck. His supervisor was denied tenure, and as a result, was terminated from the faculty.

What to do? George canvassed the other faculty members in his department to see if anyone else would take him on with his almost-complete project. No one would. Finally, one faculty member said he would supervise George, but only with a completely new project. So–. As George said, “I put two years of my life on the shelf and started over.”

After about a year of work on the new project, the faculty supervisor was giving George a ride home. When they stopped in front of George’s apartment, just as George was about to get out of the car, the supervisor, a man of a non-Christian faith, said, “George, I wanted to ask you a question. I have been watching you for this last year. If I were in your shoes, I would be a very angry man. I would be angry at the university, at the rest of the faculty, at my new supervisor who demanded a new project; I would be angry at the world. But you’re not angry. Does that have anything to do with your Christian faith?”

For the next hour and a half George was able to tell his supervisor how a settled trust in God through Jesus Christ means that God can put all the pieces of our lives together (the meaning of the Hebrew shalom)and give us what the world can never give – inner serenity, even in the midst of calamity and misfortune.

Apr 01

Security

Security

 

Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen. Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.” All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame. Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing?                    (Isaiah 44:6-10 ESV)

 

Idolatry is the manipulation of this world, this physical world, in order to insure my security. That is why the Bible speaks out against it, because there is only one way to find security in this world, and that is by releasing this world.

 

Ever since Eden we have become more and more neurotic about security because we have been looking for it on the wrong road.  Adam and Eve became insecure the moment they walked out through those flaming swords. In their anxiety they looked to this world for their security. If they were to survive, they had to have the rain, so they turned the storm into a god, a human-like being with more than human power. They did this thinking that they could control, or at least appease, such a being through sympathetic magic.

 

We, you and I, are, of course, far too smart for that.  We don’t put any faces on the storm any more. But we are working just as hard to control the forces around us as any ancient pagan ever did.  We are so fragile, physically, spiritually, and emotionally, and somehow we must bolster ourselves against all that threatens us. We, and our needs, are the beginning and end of everything.  This is what happens when we exalt the creation, and us in it, to the place of Yahweh, the I AM.

 

In fact, there is no security in the creation, and so long as we think there is, we will be idolaters, frantically trying to manipulate this world to give us what it never can. The only security is in the incomparable Creator, the Rock, and when we stop trying to manipulate him and his world, we will find true security in sweet rest in him and his gracious provision.

Mar 26

Perfect?

Perfect?

 

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.                                                    Phillipians 3:12-16 ESV

 

In Philippians 3:12 Paul says, “I am not yet already perfect, I have not attained.”  That gives us a lot of comfort: “Whew,” we say, “that lets me out. I don’t need to worry about how I live. Because if Paul, of all people, wasn’t perfect, my goodness, why should I worry?” But then in the fifteenth verse, after he has talked about what is true of him, he says, “Everyone who is perfect ought to have the same attitude that I have.” “Now wait a minute,” you say. “He didn’t say ‘perfect,’ he said ‘mature.’” Well, as a matter of fact, he did say “perfect,” both in verses 12 and 15 (check out the King James Version). So what has happened? Modern translators, reflecting modern culture, cannot stomach any idea of human perfectibility. So, even though Paul uses the same word in both places, they refuse to translate the second occurrence in the same way.

But if that is true, what is Paul saying? It looks like he is saying he is not perfect, but that everybody who is perfect ought to be like him! That makes no sense.  So what is he saying? He is using the word, purposely, I think, in two “perfectly” good, but different ways. On the one hand, he is saying that God is not done with him.  ”I don’t know Jesus yet like I plan to know Him, like I believe I am going to know Him.  I don’t know yet the full power of His resurrection in all that it could do in me. I don’t know yet the fellowship of His sufferings, the likeness to His death, in all the possibilities that it has for me. No, I am not finally perfected.”

However, he then says, “I will tell you what God has done for me. He has perfected me in this sense. He has made my heart one; he has made my desires one; he has made my goals one; he has made me one.  He has put before me the vision of what I may be in Christ, and He has imprinted it so much on my mind that everything in my life is subordinated to that vision, and in this sense, I am perfect, and you should be too.”

Brothers and sisters, that can be true for us. Done, finished, nothing more to be done? Of course not, not this side of heaven. But—one? Yes! “All for Jesus, all for Jesus, all my being’s ransomed powers; all for Jesus, all for Jesus, all my days and all my hours.” That perfection we can know—now.

Mar 18

More than a Bus Ticket

More Than A Bus Ticket

 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith –and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do       (Ephesians 2:8 – 10 NIV)

What was Jesus’ purpose in coming? It was to make it possible for the Old Testament promise to be realized. Yes, He came to die for our sins, but that isn’t the end purpose for which Jesus came. And a great deal of the tragedy of the evangelical church in America today is because we have missed that point.  Today it is largely impossible to distinguish believers from non-believers on the basis of the quality and character of their lives. Why is this? We think that Jesus is a bus ticket to heaven; you come to the altar and buy a ticket and wait for the bus to come.

No!  Jesus came so that the Holy Spirit as promised in the Old Testament could come upon His people and enable them to live holy lives (see Ezek 36:24 – 26). But the Spirit cannot take up residence in a filthy temple. So Jesus came to be the perfect sacrifice whereby our sins could be forgiven and the temple be made clean and the end result of the whole thing could happen – the Holy Spirit could come into our lives and take up residence and we could share His character (see Matt 13:42-45 about what happens when the temple is left empty).

That is the point being made in Ephesians 2:8 – 10. Many of us have memorized the first sentence and paid no attention to the second. That is exactly what has happened in the church. We are saved by grace, not by any good thing we have ever done. So, while it is good to do good things, they don’t really matter! No! Read the second sentence. The reason God created us is to do good works (that is, share his character, be holy).  That was his plan from the creation of the world (Eph 1:4). Jesus is not a bus ticket; in the Spirit he is the living, breathing presence in us, enabling us to live God’s life in the present world and forever more.

Mar 11

Intentional and Unintentional Sin

Intentional and Unintentional Sin

4 And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. 5 They were delighted and agreed to give him money. 6 He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present. (Luke 22:4-6 NIV)

54 Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance.

 55 But when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. 56 A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” 57 But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said. (Luke 22:54-57 NIV)

 

The two passages above illustrate an important point about the Bible’s understanding of sin. There is intentional sin, called “sin with a high hand [raised fist]” in Numbers 15:30, and there is unintentional sin, or going astray (Numbers 15:22). Judas’ sin was intentional. He planned it, discussed it, and looked for an opportunity to commit it. There is no stated sacrifice in the Old Testament for this kind of sin. Can it be forgiven? Certainly. But the problem is that committing it so scars us that genuine repentance (as opposed to remorse) becomes very difficult, as it was for Judas.

Peter’s sin, on the other hand, was unintentional. When he followed the mob to the High Priest’s house, denying his association with Jesus was the farthest thing from his mind. But in the moment, seeing how Jesus was being treated, and fearing the consequences for himself, when he was asked to identify himself with the defendant, he said the fateful words, “I do not know him.” How tragic! For three years Jesus had been revealing himself to Peter, so that Peter could know him intimately, and in the end Peter denied knowing him. But precisely because the sin was unintentional, when Peter recognized what he had done, he wept bitterly. This was not what he planned, not what he wanted, and he regretted it with all his heart. Jesus knew this, and weeks later, by the sea, he gently drew Peter back into the ministry that Peter had thought was forever closed to him.

Can we, through the Holy Spirit, be delivered from committing intentional sin? Yes! We can live lives that are to the very core intentionally, wholly, his. But will we ever be free from the danger of “going astray,” or from the need to guard our souls diligently against such a thing? No. To be sure, we ought to have such an experience of the Holy Spirit that we are more and more sensitive to his gentle voice pointing out the danger signals, and we ought not to fall into the same pit again and again. But Jesus knows our hearts, and as he said to Peter, he has prayed for us, and like Peter, he will meet us at our seasides.

Mar 05

Until it’s Over

Until it’s Over

4 In Solomon’s old age, [his wives] turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the LORD his God, as his father, David, had been. 5 Solomon worshiped Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites. 6 In this way, Solomon did what was evil in the LORD’s sight; he refused to follow the LORD completely, as his father, David, had done.                                          (1Ki 11:4-6 NLT)


However you look at it, Solomon’s story ends badly. After all his accomplishments, after all his glory, to have these things said about him. They are his epitaph. What a tragedy! It makes me think of the words of the famous baseball player, Yogi Berra: “It ain’t over till it’s over.” How easy it is for those of us who are older to think that that now that we have reached the sunset years, we can sort of coast. But it is not true. Our enemy remains the implacable roaring lion whose unchanging goal is to destroy us. He does not “back off” as we come nearer to the end of the earthly road. He is just as eager to destroy us in our last days as in our first. Regular examination of our motives, our commitments, and our behavior is just as necessary in the twilight as it was in the dawn.

But that brings us to another thought. Solomon’s story is not merely about failure at the end. That final failure was the fatal flowering of a plant that had been planted years before. Chapters 1 and 2 of 1 Kings tell us how Solomon became king and how his rule was firmly established. Then 3:2-15 tells the beautiful story of his humbly asking God for wisdom to rule God’s people, and of God’s gracious response. But what about the first verse of chapter three? It is almost an aside, as though the narrator is saying, “Oh, by the way….” But by placing it here at the very beginning of the story of Solomon’s accomplishments, the narrator is subtly saying that his “by the way” has deadly implications. The little verse says that Solomon married an Egyptian princess. What a coup! What an honor! What a great statement about the surrounding world’s recognition of Solomon’s significance at the very outset of his career. Yes, but it was something that had been forbidden by God. It was just a little thing, only worth a single verse. But it was not a little thing. It set a course in Solomon’s life that was to prove deadly in the end.

In the days before paved highways, when roads were simply muddy tracks, deep ruts would form. It is said that somewhere on the Plains was a sign saying, “Choose your ruts carefully, you’ll be in them for the next 40 miles.”  What seemingly unimportant little choices are you making today that will hold you in iron and perhaps even write your epitaph years from now?

 

 

Feb 27

Don’t Profane His Name

Don’t Profane His Name

 

“I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you profaned in their midst, and the nations will know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when I am hallowed in you before their eyes.                                 (Ezekiel 36:23 NKJV)

 

We pray, “Hallowed by thy name” in the Lord’s Prayer, but do we really mean it? I suggest that we American Christians, like the Judeans in exile, profane God’s name in a variety of ways. We are not talking about cursing or swearing here. We are talking about making it appear that God is helpless, or that he is a petty little being who exists for us. For instance, many preachers say in so many words, “God exists to make us happy. He exists to answer our prayers. He exists to make us rich.” No he does not! God is not a rabbit’s foot who exists to make our prayers come true. He is the I AM, the One on whose Being all the universe depends. He exists in himself in his triune nature. What he wants is to share with us the self-denying love the Trinity have for each other, and to have us share that love with one another. To suggest anything less is to profane his holy nature—his name.

When we pray that his name should be hallowed, we are asking that God’s incomparable nature might be seen in us. We are asking that the world might recognize that he alone is God, and that he alone has the power to deliver us from our addictions to wealth, pleasure, and comfort, and above all, to our own way. The Judeans were in exile as a result of their sin, and that made it appear that Yahweh could not deliver them, that he was as helpless as any other God. So God says that he will show himself holy through them.

Have we been delivered from the old habits, the old ways of thinking, the old guilts, the old hatreds, or are our lives and behaviors indistinguishable from the lost around us? To the degree they are indistinguishable, just to that degree, we are profaning the name of God.

 

 

Feb 20

Another Spirit

Another Spirit

 So Pharaoh asked his officials, “Can we find anyone else like this man so obviously filled with the spirit of God?”                                                                                                 Genesis 41:38 NLT

“I said to him, ‘Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, I know that the spirit of the holy God is in you and that no mystery is too great for you to solve. Now tell me what my dream means.

                                                                                                                        Daniel 4:9 NLT

It is interesting that the earliest recognition of the Holy Spirit at work in a person is in the book of Genesis and it comes out of the mouth of a pagan king. Do you remember? That king is the Egyptian Pharaoh. He has just seen this young Hebrew man, Joseph, come out of an Egyptian dungeon that had been only the bottom rung of some thirteen years of reverses, where all of his obedience to God has gotten him into deeper and deeper holes. Yet Joseph is not bitter against his Egyptian persecutor. He is not cynical, not sarcastic, not arrogant, does not even take credit for his ability to interpret dreams.  And after he has interpreted the dream, what does he do? Does he hug the bad news of the seven years of famine to his breast, thinking, “Good, they’re going to get what is coming to them.”? No, he does not. Instead he volunteers some good sound advice about storing up grain from the good years in preparation for the bad ones. It is no wonder that Pharaoh says, “Can we find such another in whom is the spirit of God?” That’s a pagan king talking. But that pagan recognizes that there is another spirit than the old human spirit at work in the life of Joseph.

Hundreds of years later, there is another situation that is remarkably similar. Here it is the Judean captive, Daniel, who tells the dream of his captor, the Babylonian monarch: Nebuchadnezzar. Once again, the pagan king recognizes a different spirit at work. Here there is not a breath of the vindictive, of the vengeful, of the self-serving that so often characterizes the human spirit. Here there is compassion, understanding, and a sincere desire to help. That is a different spirit indeed. Could such a spirit characterize you and me in our dealings with one another? Yes, indeed. The same Spirit who filled Joseph and Daniel is now the present possession of every one of us who have accepted  the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. It is only a question of turning him loose.

 

 

Feb 11

Suffering and Happiness

Suffering and Happiness

 

But before all this occurs, there will be a time of great persecution. You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will stand trial before kings and governors because you are my followers. (Luke 21:12 NLT)

 

“God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. (Matthew 5:11 NLT)

 

 

Back in the “bad old days” of Christian education, before it was thought harmful to have children memorize things, we had to memorize the Beatitudes. I remember wondering what they had to do with “being at” something. But I don’t remember ever thinking how bizarre they are. But they are. You’re blessed when you are poor? You’re blessed when you are crying? You’re blessed when people beat you up and throw you in a stinking dungeon because you’re a Christian? Come on! What is Jesus talking about!?

What he means is that when you chose Jesus then and more and more now in many parts of the world, you are choosing to be poorer than you could be, you’re choosing to be continually grieved over a lost and broken world, you choosing to face misunderstanding, hatred, and loss from a world that hated and misunderstood him. And when those things do happen to you for his sake, you can be happy?

Yes, you can. I had the great privilege of preaching in a church in Bucharest for a week in January in the early 90’s. It was 10 degrees Fahrenheit outside. The church held about 700, and there were easily 850 in it every night, packed to the walls. The contrast between that congregation and the American congregations I had been preaching to was startling. There were very few “beautiful people” present. Many, though not all, by any means, were old. Most were poorly dressed. Their faces were wizened and chapped with the cold. Almost all had walked through snowy streets, some for long distances, to get there. I knew that none of them were professional people—the professions were closed to any confessing Christian. If they could find any work at all, it was as a manual laborer. But the singing!—and the praying! You have never heard prayer until you have heard 850 people praying out loud—all at the same time. I stood with my eyes open watching them pray, and it struck me like a hammer: “these people are happy!” Then it struck me why that was: they had made the choice to be poor, to be harassed, to grieve, for Jesus’ sake, and they knew that they had made the smart choice.  My friend, choose Jesus, knowing the cost, and be happy!

Feb 05

Suffering Equals Glory

Suffering Equals Glory

 

But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Heb 2:9 ESV)

 

They wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and his great glory afterward. (1Pe 1:11 NLT)

 

Five times in the New Testament, the equation is made between Christ’s suffering and his glory: Romans 8:18; Hebrews 2:9; 1 Peter 1:11; 4:13; 5:1. Although the causal connection between the two is implied in the first, third, fourth, and fifth, it is made entirely explicit in the Hebrews passage: Jesus was glorified for one reason—because he suffered!  And the point that is being made in all those passages and the surrounding ones that depend on them is that the road to glory for us is likewise through suffering.

Such an idea is alien to everything we think and to a great deal of the preaching of the Gospel around the world today. It has to be said that one reason for the explosion of the Church in much of the so-called “Majority World” in the last 40 years is because a Gospel has been preached that promised power, wealth, and good health to all who have the faith to seize them.

But that is not what the Book says! The Bible says that for Jesus to confront the evil of the world and to “de-fang” it he had to suffer. That kind of suffering was exactly what the early church was experiencing, and they were asking their teachers, “Is this right?” And their teachers were saying, “Why are you surprised? If Jesus had to suffer to ‘bring many sons to glory,’ why do you think you’re going to get off scot-free?” Jesus himself had said as much (John 15:20).

In fact, it is through suffering that our character is refined, just as fire tempers steel, and purifies gold. We could even say that until we have met suffering and overcome it, we have not really grown up. Of course, only a neurotic seeks pain. But when pain comes, we need neither think we are being punished nor that God has somehow forgotten us. Rather, we can accept the fact that in a fallen world physical suffering is a given that can be made a tool for Christian growth, and that the pain of undeserved persecution is evidence that we really do belong to the Savior in his painful battle with evil.

 

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